One Hundred Years Ago: Round 18, 2nd September, 1911

The scandals of the VFL in this period seem wild and woolly by today’s standards, but it must be said they don’t look out of place with the general conduct of Melbourne society at the time. Both state and city were in many ways still recovering from the most controversial period in their history, when many who were thought respectable pillars of society had been uncovered as swindlers and frauds. Old laws and concepts had been discredited. New ones were still forming. Football’s transition from amateur to professional pursuit was but one of many unsettling changes that were occurring in Australia and around the world as tensions built towards the First Word War.

Melbourne’s prosperity and population exploded in the wake of the gold boom, which had been followed in the 1880’s by a speculative land boom that had ruinous consequences for many. The  financial, business and bankruptcy laws of the day, such as they existed, were a scoundrel’s dream. Their lax nature was a virtual invitation to reckless exploitation of the many loopholes offered. And many ‘sound gentlemen’ of Melbourne’s financial and legislative elites showed themselves unable to resist an invitation.

From 1891, the whole financial house of cards had spectacularly crashed to ground. Numerous building societies and banks declared bankruptcy, as many were revealed to be little more than empty vessels for the raising of unsecured finance to support an ever escalating bubble of speculation. Financial reports had proved to be greater works of fiction than any novelist could create. The State Legislature had behaved as little more than a rogues gallery version of a gentleman’s business club, with Premiers, cabinet ministers and members of both houses implicated in venal deceits and conspiracies.

All too late, working folk and small businessman alike had to face the fact that those they elected had often connived with business associates to squander their life savings. Thousands lost their homes. Many more lost their jobs. Poverty was rife. The population of Melbourne declined as many fled the deprivation for far off fields. The city took many years to fully recover. Many individuals never did.

Put in this light, the shenanigans of football clubs pale by comparison. By forming in 1897, as the worst depths of the depression showed some improvement, the VFL had shown fortuitous timing. By remaining a cheap diversion for the masses, football had maintained its popularity though economic travails. Officially declared or not, it also provided necessary income for many who played it.

Which takes us in a roundabout way back the final round of the 1911 regular season.

What had promised to be the battle for top spot between Essendon and South Melbourne had been gazumped by South’s loss to Geelong the previous week. The only advantage to be gained now, if any, was psychological. Nevertheless, more than 20,000  flocked to a boggy EMCG to watch the spectacle.

South rested Belcher, Caldwell, Milne and Gough. Essendon won the toss and led handily with the breeze. They maintained a four goal advantage into the final break. Coming home with the wind and a wet sail, South closed to 5 points but couldn’t get their nose in front. The Same Old remained undefeated at home for the season. The two games these clubs had contested through the season had finished at a win apiece, both decided by less than a straight kick.

The top side had once again been notable for their evenness of contribution. Alan Belcher had taken advantage of the absence of brother Vic to dominate in the ruck, Percy Ogden made the most of his mid-week tribunal reprieve to kick 3 goals, and Lou Armstrong was again coolly efficient. The continuing improvement in Bill Busbridge’s form in defence was a further boost to finals hopes.

For South, the wiry frame of Bruce Sloss again dominated. Observer thought, ‘nothing in the game was so remarkable as the manner in which a slightly built and not overpowerful player like Sloss lasted it out on a heavy day’. In support, Arthur Hiskins kicked 3 goals, Dick Casey 2. In just his third game, young Mark Tandy had shown promise on a wing, a sign of the long career ahead of him.

With 15 wins and a draw from 18 games and a percentage of 178.3, Essendon had completed a dominant home and away season. But ahead in a fortnight lay a clash with the only team they hadn’t defeated during the season. For South, a semi final with Collingwood lay ahead next weekend.

The other close contest of the final round of the final round saw Essendon’s semi-final opponent Carlton shade Melbourne by 8 points. The Blues had their nose in front the whole day but couldn’t shake a Melbourne team that had shown improved late-season form. The highlight of the clash was the goal shoot-out between rival spearheads Vin Gardiner (C) and Harry Brereton (M), who each finished with 5. Brereton’s haul saw him finish the regular season with 46 goals to head the goal kicking table from Gardiner (44) and South’s Len Mortimer (also 44).

Fitzroy hosted Richmond at Brunswick St to see out their respective seasons. Once again the Tigers were dogged by inaccurate shooting for goal in their 23 point loss. Their tally of 4.10 maintained their record as the worst converters for the season, with a goal accuracy  of only 38%. In their fourth VFL season the Tigers continued to search for the combination to bring them success.

For Fitzroy, Bruce Campbell managed 4 goals again to maintain a successful personal latter half of the season. Fitzroy finished two wins adrift of Collingwood for 4th spot, but the dramas of the year had laid a foundation for success to come.

The worst MCG crowd of the season – just 1,071 – watched University secure the wooden spoon with a comfortable loss to Geelong. The Pivotonians squandered chances in the opening term before romping to a 10 goal victory. Percy Martini enjoyed his best haul of the season with 7 goals and George Heinz helped himself to 3. For the bedraggled Students, Derwas ‘Dave’ Cumming managed to score 5 of their 7 goals in a lone hand.

This was only Geelong’s second away win of the season, highlighting the major flaw in their campaign. Perversely, the other away win had been against Collingwood at Victoria Park.

Too late to save their season, St Kilda committee and players had resolved their differences, allowing a handful of regulars to bolster the team for the final round. Morale still can’t have been high, and this is reflected in Collingwood’s 54 point margin and 101 point tally. The St Kilda club further blotted its copybook when a group of young male supporters took exception to umpire Tulloch and (literally) stoned him. Ernie Sellars remained the sole Saints’ shining light by kicking 4 goals.

Tom Baxter kicked 4 goals for Collingwood, while Dick Lee scored 3.  More significantly for the Magpies’ finals campaign, captain-coach George Angus was again unable to take the field, putting his finals participation as a player in doubt.

In a season that produced only eight triple figure scores, strike-hit St Kilda had conceded four of those totals in the last month. Yet, remarkably, they would crawl out of the wreckage of this season to play off for the premiership in just two years time.

This was the third season in a row that Essendon, South, Carlton and Collingwood comprised the top four.

For the statistically minded, the average team score across the season was 54 points. Goal accuracy across all teams was 42.63%.

The leading goal scorers for each club in the regular season were as follows:


Harry Brereton (Mel) 46
Vin Gardiner (Car) 44
Len Mortimer (SM) 44
Percy Martini (Gee) 40
Lou Armstrong (Ess) 34
Mick Maguire (Rich) 29
Tom Baxter (Coll) 27
Bruce Campbell (Fitz) 25
Ernie Sellars (Stk) 22
Bert Hartkopf (Uni) 19



And so to the finals.


Essendon 4.3   5.5   9.8   9.9


Sat 02-Sep-1911 Venue: EMCG
South Melbourne 1.1   3.3   5.8  8.10


Essendon won by 5 pts
Carlton 2.1   6.3   7.6   9.8


Venue: Princes Park
Melbourne 2.0   4.1   7.5   8.6


Carlton won by 8 pts
Fitzroy 1.3   2.4   4.6   8.9


Venue: Brunswick St
Richmond 0.1   1.6   2.8  4.10


Fitzroy won by 23 pts
University 1.0   3.0   6.3   7.4


Venue: MCG
Geelong 1.6  9.10 10.14 15.17


Geelong won by 61 pts
St Kilda 1.1   3.2   4.2   6.8


Venue: Junction Oval
Collingwood 5.8   9.9  14.9 15.11


Collingwood won by 57 pts



Rd 18 Ladder
ES 18 62 178.3
SM 18 54 140.4
CA 18 52 142.0
CW 18 48 124.4
FI 18 40 113.6
GE 18 34 99.9
ME 18 30 98.6
RI 18 28 91.2
SK 18 8 48.1
UN 18 4 52.1



The Argus

AFL Tables

The Wild Men of Sydney: Cyril Pearl

The Land Boomers: Michael Cannon

Up Where, Cazaly? : Leonie Sandercock & Ian Turner


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. “Financial reports had proved to be greater works of fiction than any novelist could create.” Nothing’s changed. Read a Federal Budget in the last few years?

    Great stuff JB.

  2. John Butler says


    That’s the depressing aspect of all this. So much of it just happens again! And again!

    But it must be said, even though we don’t think much of our current crop of pollies, they’re a mile ahead of the jokers who filled the parliaments in the 1890’s

  3. The Wild Men of Sydney is a super book – I found a copy and purchased it many years ago.

    Terrific stuff, JB.

    I am surprised we don’t read about this sort of behaviour from today’s sound gentlemen in the various dailies. But then again, I’m not.

  4. JTH

    If they had Cyril Pearl and Michael Cannon on the history syllabus at school kids would be much more interested in history.

    What a bunch of ratbags our forefathers were.

  5. I remember when Cannon’s The Land Boomers came out in the late 60s and I discovered how many of Melbourne’s top families had fortunes based on using bankruptcy to avoid paying debts. Several of their Great Grandchildren were people I knew at Uni.

    Our current State premier (for example) is descended from a man who paid his creditors about a farthing in the Pound. – W.L. Baillieu. It was just as well the footy was so good in the nineties and the pre WWI period. The Land speculators had left mosrt Victorians with little else in their lives.

  6. Dave

    As a Moorabbin boy I remember Tommy Bent’s statue standing pride of place on Nepean Highway before it was widened.

    Pentridge would have been a more appropriate spot.

  7. JB

    Tommy Bent was the most accurately named Australian politician of all time. Like David Hookes or Derek Kickett, his name defined his life.

  8. Another absorbing week of the VFL, and relayed clearly, with just the right inflection on this and that, as it pertains to each game or the times Mr Butler.

    I have also enjoyed Pearls account of the media and political times in ‘Wild Men’. I compared it to the tale told in Deadwood, another fabulous story of how society is literally built up from the mud and sludge of man’s inherent greed. And Dips, if I were taking aim in our times, it would be at BHP, Shell, Wall St and others ahead of lame duck Fed Budgets. Has anyone read Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’? It would seem to have parallels.

    Of note this week in your account Mr Butler are two things. First, this: “The St Kilda club further blotted its copybook when a group of young male supporters took exception to umpire Tulloch and (literally) stoned him”. That’s an article in itself surely.

    Secondly: Bert Hartkopf (Uni) 19 – Uni’s leading goal kicker. Yes, I’ve tapped him because of his great sounding name. Also, I’d be interested to know how his percentage of goals for Uni compares with players higher up the list and what their total is in percentage terms for their club’s total goals.

    Once again, great stuff.

  9. John Butler says

    Agreed Dave. Tommy was as bent as they come.

    Benjamin and Theodore Fink would be candidates in the name stakes though.

    But in terms of corrupt behaviour, there was such a field to choose from.

    eg. James Munro – Premier of the state who tried to flee bankruptcy by appointing himself Agent-General to London and scarpering. Whilst still in office!

    Or Sir Matthew Davies, whose web of interlinked companies lent and borrowed between each other to hide the fact they were all technically broke. Lost millions but never went to gaol.

    Or the Lord Mayor. Or the government statist

    The list goes on and on.

  10. John Butler says

    RK, twas your mention of ‘Wild Men’ at an Almanac lunch that set me on the trail. Thanks. It’s a great read.

    Bert kicked his 19 from only 9 games. Did his knee mid season and that was pretty much it for Uni.

    Dave Cumming was next for Uni this season with 17 (from 10 games).

    Uni kicked 98 goals for the season.

    Perhaps more remarkable is Dr Roy Parks’ effort for Uni in 1913. 53 goals out of 123 in a side that won 1 game.

  11. John Butler says

    As for stoning at the footy, there was a fair bit of it going on.

    No umpire appreciation week back then.

    Also makes you wonder about the conditions in the outer.

  12. John Butler says


    Further to your goal scoring enquiries.

    Brereton’s 46 came out of Melbourne’s 136 = 33.8%

    Ernie Sellars 22 goals for the Saints was out 94 (23%). But he only played 8 games. Says a lot for the rest.

    Percy Martini (what a name) kicked 40 out of 140. (28.5%)

    For the finalists, you’ll have to read next week. :)

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