The strange case of Archie Whitfield

 

Monday of this week (March 3rd) marked the 120th anniversary of the birth of Archie Whitfield, one of Footscray’s early VFL players. Whitfield’s name is not one likely to be remembered by many — even diehard Bulldogs fans — as he only played one senior game for the Tricolours, way back in 1927.

 

However, perhaps with a little bit of luck, Archie Whitfield’s story could have been very different. Whitfield had been plying his trade in the forward and back lines of Sunshine when he came under the notice of Doggies’ selectors in early 1927. He was invited to play in Footscray’s pre-season practice matches where he won high praise, pleasing “the most exacting of critics”.

 

Whitfield’s form wasn’t enough to secure him a place in Footscray’s senior side when the season proper started, but he was named as an emergency along with Bill Doolan for the Bulldogs’ Round 3 clash against Hawthorn. As it turned out, both Whitfield and Doolan got the call-up, with Frank ‘Dolly’ Aked (whose father died on the morning of the game) and Artie Malberg (illness) late withdrawals.

 

The 27-year-old Whitfield lined up at full forward in the match at Whitten Oval, and despite the fact that the Dogs were kicking into a stiff breeze in the first term, scored the home side’s only two goals of the quarter to keep them in touch with Hawthorn. Whitfield did not kick another major, but made an important contribution as the Bulldogs got up to win by 26 points.

 

In Monday’s match report in The Age, Whitfield was described as doing “brilliant work” and named as the Dogs’ best behind Allan Hopkins, who kicked five goals.

 

After such a debut, Archie Whitfield would have been entitled to expect a good — if short (given he was already 27) — senior career ahead of him at the Kennel. But, for reasons lost in the mists of time, Whitfield was omitted from the team for the Dogs’ next game. He was not injured, as he is recorded as kicking four of Footscray’s seven goals in the Seconds against Richmond the following week.

 

That was not enough to earn him a senior recall, and by the end of June, Whitfield found himself lining up at full forward for Northcote in the VFA, alongside Doug Nicholls (who would later make a name for himself at Fitzroy). He kicked four of Northcote’s 11 goals as they held on to win a thriller against Port Melbourne.

 

The Bulldogs’ loss was Northcote’s gain, and one wonders what might have been had Archie Whitfield’s two-goal debut been rewarded with a second match.

 

Whitfield’s story has a remarkable footnote. Five years to the day after his one and only VFL match, his cousin — Les Whitfield — made his debut for Essendon. Like cousin Archie, Les joined the rare group of players to have scored a goal on debut, kicking a major to give the Dons the lead midway through the second quarter. But if two goals weren’t enough for cousin Archie to retain his place, one goal might not be enough to save Les.

 

And it wasn’t. Les was dropped and never played at VFL level again. And so he joined Archie as one of the V/AFL’s ‘one game only’ club.

 

So spare a thought for the memory of Les and Archie Whitfield as we mark the 120th birthday of Archie (who died aged just 52 in 1952) this week.

 

@AndrewGigacz

 

Archie Whitfield’s story and those of many other one-game players will be featured in the forthcoming book, The One And Only — Stories of V/AFL players whose first game was their last, by Andrew Gigacz and Mic Rees.

 

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About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Gigs, if this story is indicative of what’s coming up in your book, then bring it on! A story both interesting and perplexing.

  2. Gigs and Mic,
    Sounds like a great idea for a book.

  3. Love this Gigs. I know it’s an issue of time but your piece does make readers ask the obvious question: what happened in the week after the debut? You’ve probably exhausted the newspapers – I suppose next step would be to find family members and ask them. But that is an unrealistic task to set yourself given the scope of the project. You have 1100 players to profile!

    Great idea for a book.

  4. Good stuff Gigs, look forward to your and Mic’s book.

    I’m intrigued Archie kicked those 2 goals, but never played again. I’m thinking about the chaps who played a sole game but got a few goals.

    I recall Daryl Gilmore played one game for Carlton, V Melbourne in early 1983 kicking 3 goals in his only match. I’m of the impression there were other one gamers with 3 goals, but i’m curious who’s kicked the most goals for a one gamer.

    Do i wait for the book, (release date ?) or can you share the knowledge?

    Glen!

  5. Intriguing Gigs and yes certainly left plenty of questions

  6. You got the project off the ground … fantastic Gigs. Looking forward to the read (Les and Archie were a good taster.) See you at the footy for one of the early rounds.

    And just while I’m on the site, some funny stuff I’ve come across on the Coronavirus

    In the Age today, Depo77 commented, “Don’t worry about Coronavirus- Australia has a massive diarrhoea problem it seems.”

    Further on this dunny paper stockpiling madness, while an ebay listing of an 8 pack of Sorbent had a highest bid in the thou$ands the other day, another listing in the dunny paper category was Dan Brown’s “The Da vinci Code”. I think that left of field thinking will solve the toiletry needs of a great many ‘one book a year’ types should they run low.

  7. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read Gigs! Archie must have done something terribly wrong or inappropriate after the game not to have been picked again. Chatted up the coaches wife??

  8. Shane Reid says

    What a great read. How do we order the book? I’d love to get a copy

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific stuff Mic and Gigs.
    These stories are precious. We all ask : What what might have been ?” at some point in our lives.

    Darcy and Bertie McDougall (ripper names) played a game each for CollingwoodFC in 1904 and 1910 respectively. Related ?

    Long live Archie and the one game wonders.

  10. Thanks all. I’m uncovering some great stories as I research this.

    JTH: I am hoping to interview family members of at least a few of some of the older one-gamers.

    SHANE: Mic and I have set an ambitious target of having the book out at finals time, but this may not be attainable. We’ll see how we go. I’ve done some brief initial research of about 350 of the 1100+ one-gamers and I’m hoping to get through the list by the end of March. April, May and June will be spent interviewing and writing.

    As soon as I know more I’ll let everyone know.

    Cheers,

    Gigs

  11. That’s a great yarn and poses quite a few questions…maybe those really short careers were common back then, due to the socio-economic concerns of the day? Who knows? Nick Smith’s father (Nick finished his career with the Swans last year) spent a couple of years with Lorne in the early eighties, where he was a stand-out player…he went back to the big smoke and spent the rest of the next season with StKilda reserves until the last game of the season when he was promoted to the firsts, and played only that one last game…

  12. Thanks Murray. Malcolm Smith’s one match yielded nine touches and a behind. I’m hopeful of tracking him down and asking him about the circumstances of that match. Did he know that he was only going to play that one game as a “reward” as someone on Twitter suggested? I hope to have the answer to that in the book.

    Malcolm is one of 11 Smiths to play just the one V/AFL match.

  13. Gigs, the more that various snippets emerge here and elsewhere, the more eager it makes us eager for the release of your book with Mic. I suspect that you’ll have enough material to go on to an expanded sequel at the rate you’re going.

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