One Hundred Years Ago: Round 13, 15th July, 1911

Even at this early stage in the VFL’s existence, football had insinuated itself through all levels of Melbourne society, managing to simultaneously exemplify and transcend  class divisions within the city. For a clear example of this you needed to look no further than the Essendon and Collingwood clubs as they prepared to face each other in a crucial round 13 fixture at Victoria Park.

The Essendon club had been from its inception a very different proposition to those hard scrabble inner suburban clubs like Collingwood. In many ways Essendon owed its foundation to the McCracken family, whose patriarch Robert had made his fortune in the brewing and pub-owning industries. The McCrackens had been involved in the establishment of the Essendon borough and had a share in the building of the railway line to the area. They were also integral in the founding of the Royal Agricultural Society. The football club’s formative years took place amongst the paddocks of Ascot Vale, with many of its early players the sons of horse racing or farming families.

The space behind the McCracken family residence Ailsa – ‘McCracken’s  Paddock’ as it was known – provided the club with its first home ground in 1873. The family are credited as the instigators of the club’s red and black colours, and Robert’s 17 year-old son Alex (a product of Scotch College) was the club’s first secretary. The team’s first captain was Coiler McCracken, Robert’s nephew.

When the VFA was formed in 1877 Essendon was an inaugural  member. By  1891 the club began a run of four successive premierships, establishing them as the successor to Geelong as the power club of the Association. Even in these days complaints over money were circling. Essendon stood accused of offering financial inducements to lure players from district teams, and even from interstate.

The club had left the Essendon area in 1882 when the council had refused them permission to make the Essendon Recreation Reserve their home. The good folk of the district apparently still regarded cricket as the only sport fit for gentlemen, which had a certain irony as the football club took up residence with the then powerful East Melbourne Cricket Club. It would not return to the old district until 1922.

The move to the East Melbourne Cricket Ground served a dual purpose, being more convenient to the city. This suited the increasing number of white collar workers and public school students now joining the club’s playing ranks.

By 1905 Alex McCracken was chairman of the Victoria Racing Club, and had reason to come into conflict with a significant Collingwood figure in the person of John Wren. Wren’s Collingwood Tote had long been an irritant to the VRC and the exclusive ‘gentlemen’s’ betting clubs of the city. Wren had acquired a notoriety for more than just the Tote, but when his horse Murmur won the Caulfield Cup in 1904 this was a step too far for many. The sight of the Governor making presentations to a Collingwood tough inflamed establishment sensibilities.

When Wren returned the following year with an enlarged stable geared for an assault on the Melbourne Cup the VRC refused his horses’ nominations. No public reason was given, but the VRC had effectively deemed Wren an ‘undesirable’ person.

Lest football club allegiance be said to have played a key role, it should be noted the secretary of the VRC at the time was Frank Madden, who was also speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Frank was the brother of John, Chief Justice of Victoria and Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University. John also happened to be the most important patron of the Collingwood club in its early years.

The social entwinements were more complicated than the game plans back in this time.

None of this would have much exercised the players’ thoughts as they faced up at a soggy Victoria Park. A howling northerly wind chilled the bones of the 20,000 who had packed the ground to watch the Magpies  seek redemption  for the historic defeat Essendon had dished out in round 4.

Not wanting to repeat that experience, and with conditions in any case not conducive to attractive play, Collingwood were happy to turn the game into a slog. Players massed around the ball and scrimmages ruled the day. Those scoring shots which could be manufactured were invariably hurried, with inaccuracy a feature. Essendon scored their third and final goal in the 2nd term, but it proved sufficient as Collingwood only managed two for the entire game. The collective score of 5.22 probably sums up the encounter.

Best for the victorious Same Olds was follower Alan Belcher, who used his strength effectively in the clinches, as did his opposite number Les Hughes. Magpie winger Jim Sadler was the best running player on the day. Jock McHale had both hands ‘kicked’ in a pack, and had to continue on with them swollen and sore.

Attentions were focused on Princes Park for rather different reasons. Following University’s threat to boycott this fixture after the controversies of round 4, a rather apologetic air hung over the ground. The two main Navy Blue figures of controversy, Gotz and Bamingham, had ‘been given a spell’ for the afternoon. Carlton has not always been so diplomatic.

After both teams played a tentative version of touch football in the opening quarter, normal operations resumed in the second. Carlton piled on 6 goals to effectively end the contest. Jim Marchbank was one Blue who managed to play as though the match mattered, whilst Viv Valentine ‘got plenty of amusement out of the game’. Jack Brake was ‘more productive than 10 other of his team mates’.

South Melbourne’s followers swelled the MCG crowd to 11,706 as they took on Melbourne in better ground conditions. The Fuchsias continued their improved recent form by leading at half time, before South demonstrated their evenness of contribution by running out 13 victors. Harry Brereton had continued his run of form with another 4 goals, which vaulted him to second on the goal kicking table behind South’s Len Mortimer, who also managed 4 goals.

The win kept South Melbourne in close contest with Essendon for top spot. As the VFL finals system of the day offered the top team right of challenge even if they lost their semi-final, this would remain a crucial race.

St Kilda and Fitzroy fought out a fairly even first half at the Junction Oval before the Maroons took complete control after half time. The final margin was almost 10 goals. Percy Parratt and Bob Rahilly kicked 3 each, and Tom Reardon continued to dominate for Fitzroy. For the Seasiders, Bill Woodcock fought on manfully, supported by Eicke, Pierce and Thomas.

Fitzroy replaced Collingwood in fourth spot with this victory.

The final match of the round saw Geelong visit Punt Rd to tackle the Tigers. A win would again have the Pivotonians on the heels of the top four. This looked likely as they piled on 6.6 to 0.2 kicking with the wind in the first quarter. Joe Slater (2 goals) and Harry Marsham (3) were particularly prominent as Geelong maintained a policy of shooting from long range with success.

Richmond came charging back in the second term, kicking 5.6 to 0.1 and only trailing by 5 points at the half. The Tigers had run the ball close to goal to score in the second term. They continued to maintain possession in the third, and they were now awake to Geelong’s tactics, effectively sealing the game by restricting them to only 2 goals. Richmond easily accounted for the 12 point ¾ time deficit and ran out comfortable winners.

Young Mick Macguire had kicked 4 goals for the victors, who got a lot of drive from best on ground Billy Schmidt who kicked 3. The Tiger centre line of Syd Reeves and  Frank McCashney were also dominant. For the Pivot, Slater and Marsham had been the best, along with rover George Heinz and Dick Grigg across half back.

The loss continued Geelong’s poor form away from Corio and effectively ended their finals prospects.


Collingwood 1.3   1.5   2.9  2.11 23 Sat 15-Jul-1911 Venue: Victoria Park
Essendon 2.1   3.3   3.5  3.11 29 Essendon won by 3 pts
Carlton 1.3   7.5   8.8  9.12 66 Venue: Princes Park
University 0.3   0.7  1.10  2.10 22 Carlton won by 44 pts
Melbourne 2.0   5.3   5.6   7.7 49 Venue: MCG
South Melbourne 2.3   3.5   7.6   9.8 62 South Melbourne won by 13 pts
St Kilda 2.5   2.6   3.8   3.8 26 Venue: Junction Oval
Fitzroy 0.1   3.6   8.6 12.12 84 Fitzroy won by 58 pts
Richmond 0.2   5.8  6.10 11.14 80 Venue: Punt Road
Geelong 6.6   6.7  8.10  8.12 60 Richmond won by 20 pts


Rd 13 Ladder
ES 13 42 165.8
SM 13 42 151.3
CA 13 36 130.0
FI 13 32 119.9
CW 13 32 103.9
RI 13 24 89.7
GE 13 22 92.0
ME 13 18 87.9
SK 13 8 61.2
UN 13 4 59.3



Flying High: Michael Maplestone

The Argus

AFL Tables

John Wren Gambler: Niall Brennan

Kill For Collingwood: Richard Stremski

Encyclopedia of AFL/VFL Footballers: Russell Holmesby & Jim Main



About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. johnharms says

    Bad loss for the Cats.

    This is a fascinating look in to the ealry days of footy and the class divide. It’s hard to imagine in these days when class divide is still real, but less visible.

    I also like how you have given a history of each club at the appropriate moment in the season.

    Do you know where the ‘Same Olds’ nickname came from?

  2. John Butler says

    Thanks JTH

    The Same Olds came from a song the supporters sang during that run of VFA premierships back in the 1890’s. It was a parody of an old poem set to music called “Same Old Essendon”.

    Football and class. It was then as it is today. Rich folks just have better PR now.

  3. Dave Nadel says

    Good answer, JB and also a very interesting post. Am I right in assuming that “Ailsa” is the building that used to be the Mercy Catholic Teachers College and is now the headquarters of the “Church” of Scientology? If I am right, can you figure out where McCracken’s paddock was in relation to contemporary Ascot Vale?

  4. This may not be the place but here goes:

    JTH and JB – I don’t believe that society today is divided by class as it so obviously was in 1911. Australia today, besides the groups on the margins like the super rich and the chronically poor, is essentially one big middle class. In my view the divides lie within this giant group. And the divisions are between various interest groups whose names normally end in “ism” or “ist”.

    We are a more fractured society but not a class divided society.

    JB – I find these historical snippets fascinating. Can’t wait to see what happens! The Cats in 1911 remind me of the Cats in the 1970s.

  5. johnharms says

    Where do I start Dips!

    Maybe I should just make an observation: to get wage-earners to believe they are mini-capitalists is no mean feat.

  6. John Butler says

    Dave, according to Mapelstone’s history of Essendon, Ailsa stood partly on the area that is now Mercy College, in Mount Alexander Rd opposite the tram depot.

    Ailsa fronted Kent St, which is apparently still there. There’s also now an Ailsa St in the area in honour of the family manse.

    McCracken’s Paddock seems to be placed south of Kent St, between the railway line and Mr McColcough’s property.

    That’s the most specific information I’ve uncovered.

  7. John Butler says

    Dips, any place is good for a chat. :)

    Without turning this into a political bean-feast, I think that pretty much all available data tells us we live in a time when the concentration of wealth is highest at the top end since WWII. As for 1911, I’d have to research it. But I think the answer might surprise.

    Because the average standard of living is now more sustainable for more people doesn’t alter that fact.

    Yet the common perception would be as you propose. It’s interesting that people now think that because they have their super in a fund, which invests in shares, that they somehow have a common purpose with the top end of town.

    If anything, I would have thought the last fiasco on Wall St demonstrated that the top end of town will screw the average investor without blinking if it suits their purposes.

    That so many still think otherwise would seem proof that money spent on PR is money well spent.

  8. JB – hmmm PR. Plenty of that around at the moment.

  9. John Butler says

    Hard to tell what’s PR and what’s actual news a lot of the time now Dips.

  10. Dave Nadel says

    JB. It is a while since I read Maplestone or the official history of the (former) City of Essendon. However South of Kent St sounds right. When my son went to Ascot Vale Primary a few years ago he had a mate who lived in a house on the south side of Kent St. I remember being amazed how deep the properties were on that side of Kent – about three times the size of most Ascot Vale properties. However if the area had been part of McCracken’s property and subdived later than the rest of that part of Ascot Vale and Flemington, that would explain it. Interesting, not very important but interesting

  11. Ailsa reminds me of the urbane Peter Allis on those celebrity golf shows with Ronnie Corbett (Sean Connery was a frequent guest and bloody good golfer). Peter would look across the waves from Turnberry to the rock in the bay – “the locals say when you can’t see Ailsa Crag it’s raining; when you can see it, it’s about to rain”.
    What about those old Shell World of Golf shows with Henry Longhurst as special comments man. I think the host was American, but I can’t remember his name. I used to love the pre-Trevino “wild man” pros like Miller Barber who had a swing that makes Jim Furyk look pure. His regular TV partner Orville Moody (Mum was obviously a Kittyhawk fan) was a Tommy Lee Jones look-alike who won the 1969 US Open – after winning through local and regional qualifying!!! Those were the days.

  12. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Gee JB, Collingwood lost? Don’t seem to handle that very well these days because it is so rare.

    Class issue is interesting. I wonder what proportion of the middle class is in debt up to their eyeballs? Methinks plenty. Loans were not given out so easily and the fact that so many seem well off today masks the fact that their great grandchildren will still be paying off their debts. The class divide is bigger than ever, but as JTH says, steps are taken to hide it, particularly by the predominantly right wing media.

  13. John Butler says

    Phil, you’re middle class as long as you can find someone to loan you the money (or offer the credit).

    If house prices keep rising you can pretend your’e masking the debt. But if they fall (as in the USA), then it starts to unravel.

    But this is a topic much bigger than a footy column…

  14. Phil – love to have a chat with you about this one day. I find it fascinating too. Some hold onto the idea of class like a security blanket. Being of Irish peasant stock I suppose people would call me working class. What does that mean? Do I have to dress a certain way?

    I for one hate being pigeon holed. I like to think I can look at an issue and reach my OWN conclusion, not shrouded by ideas that I belong to a particular indefinable, invisible, class. And I think most (certainly not all) go about their day to day activities without giving this nonsense a thought – at least in a lucky country like Australia anyway.

    Go Cats

  15. John Butler says

    PB, I loved those celebrity golf shows. So civilised.

    American golfers seem much duller today as a whole. Is it because they all come from universities now?

  16. John Butler says

    Dips, your’e right to say that the old parochial identities have largely disappeared (except maybe in FNQ). And that’s no bad thing in many ways.

    Things would be better if people thought a bit more about issues rather than just saying ‘that’s the way it is’.

  17. Mark Doyle says

    Thanks for another piece of interesting Melbourne footy history! Some interesting comments on class remind me of debate in the Communist Party many years ago. I do not believe that there is any class divide in our contemporary society. The only divide is based on income and wealth and all people in Australia have an equal opportunity to get a good education and access to a trade or professional qualification so that they can get a well paid job. We are a very lucky country as Donald Horne said. There is no poverty in any Australian city or town. We have a reasonably good social welfare system which provides for disadvantaged people by way of a government income and a range of safety net services provided by the various Church based charity organisations. People on the dole in Australia are relatively well off compared to most people in the world – they are in the top 10% of worldwide income earners. The only people in Australia who live in poverty are some Aboriginal people in remote communities who do not have access to reasonable standards of housing, health, education and job opportunities. My sister and niece have just returned from Ethiopia where there is real poverty.

  18. John Butler says

    Thanks for the comment Mark.

    I’d agree that poverty in Ethiopia is an entirely worse thing than poverty in Australia.

    But I don’t think you can say we have no poverty here. Obviously remote aboriginal communities are some of the most cited examples, but there are a significant number of homeless people in Australia who live in cities and towns.

    You’d only have to ask those charity organisations how much their workload has increased in recent times. People fall between the cracks for all sorts of reasons.

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