What do you do for an encore?

 

Footscray was the team I wanted to play for since the time I saw Ron Gaunt take a hat-trick when I was a kid” – Barry Watson March 1980 

A President under pressure domestically, the newly elected Prime Minister heads overseas in an attempt to display his diplomatic bona-fides and the Utzon designed Sydney Opera House is front and centre of the nation’s conscience.

A summary of recent local and international current affairs?

No, October 1973, actually. Richard Nixon’s Watergate woes have seen his approval rating drop to a disastrous 27%. Approaching the first anniversary of the “It’s Time” inspired victory Prime Minister Gough Whitlam declares his recent visit to Japan and China as “the most successful and productive overseas mission to be taken by an Australian Government delegation”. Queen Elizabeth is in Harbour town to officially open the Sydney Opera House.

Marvellous Melbourne’s population stands at 2.597,200. A five room weatherboard house in Thornbury will cost you $15,000. Helen Reddy, still basking in the glory of her recent Grammy success, returns to her place of birth and is scheduled to perform at Festival Hall. Ms Reddy’s home town’s musical tastes, if the 3XY “Top 40” chart of that November 1 is any guide, could be described as dubious (Tie a Yellow Ribbon – Dawn – No 32) diverse (Tom T Hall – Old dogs & children – No 2) or down right despicable (Bobby “Boris” Pickett – The Monster Mash – No1). Disaster flick “The Poseidon Adventure” continues its lengthy run (a whopping 10 months) at the Hoyts Cinema Centre in Bourke Street.

Victories in the WS Cox Plate, the Derby & Sandown Guineas establish 3 year old Taj Rossi as the undoubted star of the Spring/Melbourne Cup Racing Carnival. The 1974 VFL draw is released and Carlton, still suffering from the physical and mental scarring inflicted by Richmond a month earlier learns the first chance to avenge the Grand Final pummelling it received at the hands of the Tigers will come in Round 3 of the following season. Bev Congdon’s Kiwi’s arrive to fulfil their obligations as Australia’s opponent for the upcoming summer. The November issue of Cricketer magazine hits the newsstands featuring an article on how to get fit for cricket by none other than Kerry O’Keefe – disturbing!

Victoria, backing up from a fighting draw at the Gabba, face Ian Chappell’s South Australian’s at the MCG. Footscray, who’d celebrated their silver anniversary in the Victorian Cricket Association the previous season, have two vacancies to fill for the forthcoming weekend visit to Melbourne University due to Ray Bright & Alan Hurst’s interstate commitments. The Bulldogs split their opening two contests, a loss to the MCC at the picturesque Albert Ground preceding a one wicket win over North Melbourne at Arden Street. Hero for ‘Scray in the victory under the Gasometer was the aforementioned Hurst who’d grabbed 6/54 in the Kangaroo’s 1st innings score (9/117). Later in the afternoon, with the Dogs in trouble at 7/99, Hurst smashed his side to safety (9/140) scoring an unbeaten 35. Five consecutive boundaries are the highlight of this rare gem that delivered an invaluable six points for the Red, White & Blue.

These compulsory changes meant two debutants – John Crawley, an off spinner recruited to the Western Oval from Sydney grade club Randwick and local boy Barry Watson, get their first XI call up.

It had been a long journey for Watson, having toiled in the clubs lower elevens for six seasons after arriving at the Western Oval from Sunshine United. “I captained the Footscray Dowling Shield side. We had a squad stacked with talent, players such as Graeme Joslin, Jeff Collins, David Nicol and Alan Hurst”.  Footscray was indeed blessed with an embarrassment of riches during the late 60’s/early 70’s, counting amongst its rank – test (Les Joslin, Ken Eastwood, Alan Hurst and Ray Bright) state (Ron Nicholls) state squad (John Sharp, Jeff Collins) and under age  (Graeme Joslin) representatives. But finally, with both Hurst and Bright unavailable (both would make their Australian debuts within the next 12 months), Watson, two months shy of his 23rd birthday would make a belated introduction to the top level of Melbourne club cricket on Derby Day, November 3 1973.

University captain Les Stillman took the initial honours when he called correctly and offered first use of the pitch to the visitors. Graeme Joslin & Ron Nicholls combined for an opening stand of 40 before Nicholls (14) departed, Joslin (31) following 16 runs later. When Ken Eastwood (1) became Colin Costorphin’s second victim of the afternoon the Dogs had lost 3/22 and were in desperate need of a period of consolidation. Captain Vic Roach and Jeff Collins took the team to tea without any further loss, Footscray (3/106) at the break. Collins (42) left shortly after the resumption. With the score at 4/112, Barry James Watson strode on to playing arena at the Melbourne University Oval, his lengthy apprenticeship finally at an end.

In hindsight batting Watson at No 6 on debut ahead of more experienced players such as John Sharp or Lindsay James was a massive vote of confidence in the first gamer. “I hadn’t done enough with the bat during the early years at Footscray, 72 was my best score to date” If he had any nerves, they weren’t on display that afternoon. Indeed Watson proved to be the dominant partner scoring 38 of the 71 runs he added for the 5th wicket with Roach, the pair together for just on an hour, the first 50 coming in just 42 minutes.  The dismissal of Roach (47) saw the arrival of the dynamic John Sharp. Sharp, a destructive middle order batsman and penetrating medium/fast bowler is one of only three men to take 100 wickets and score 2000 runs for the Bulldogs at District cricket level. He’d returned to the Kennel at the start of the season after spending the previous campaign at local sub district club Yarraville. By seasons end, his last at District Cricket 1st XI level, Sharp had secured his fourth club champion award.

With just over an hour and a quarter remaining and their team desperate for quick runs, Watson and Sharp took the long handle to the Student attack, their fifty partnership reached in just over half an hour, the hundred at the same clip. By this stage Watson was within striking distance of a three figure score, but, unfortunately was starting to suffer from fatigue.  “I was nervous and I started dry retching – I’d run out of energy” To the diehards in attendance it must’ve appeared a case of close, but no cigar, for the new boy.

Entering the final over of the afternoon with 91 runs next to his name, Watson needed a fair slice of luck if he were to successfully notch a first up ton. He advanced to 94, and regained the strike when Sharp added another three runs. With three balls remaining in the days play opportunity knocked, and Watson eagerly snaffled it dispatching John Kozeniauskas’ offering for maximum result.  Having reached the milestone Watson promptly hammered the next ball to the boundary for good measure. At stumps Footscray, (5/312), Watson (104) & Sharp (49), the unbeaten duo conspiring to add 129 runs in 79 minutes.

In his Monday morning review in the Melbourne Age, Glenn Lester wondered “…how such a dashing batsman (Watson) could languish for so long in the wilderness”

“It (the century on debut) was a bit of a shock, something I certainly never expected would happen. It was quite exciting, but I was aware that I’d batted on an absolute belter which was typical of the University wicket in those days”   A first up win for Watson was completed when Sharp (5/51) spearheaded the Bulldogs to 1st Innings points a week later, University (172) never a realistic chance to pass the target.

Splitting time between the firsts and seconds for the remainder of 73/74, Watson finished his initial 1st XI campaign with 143 runs at an average of 28.6. The first glimpse at his potential as an all rounder came in the December visit to Glenferrie Oval when he grabbed 4/82 against Hawthorn East Melbourne, his victims including Bob Cowper (96), the former Australian Test representative just failing to post his second century against the Dogs in as many innings.

A semi finalist in 73/74, Footscray dropped from finals contention the following season as Watson was reduced to a cameo role (91 [email protected] – 3 [email protected]). The appointment of Lindsay James as captain for 1975/76 coincided with Watson cementing a permanent place in the senior squad taking 24 wickets at a cost of 17.50, the highlight coming in a rare MCG clash against Melbourne, Watson bagging 6/58. He scored 189 runs at an average of 15.75 in the middle order, his improved performance with bat and ball significant factors in helping the Bulldogs make a swift return to finals action. “The 75/76 team’s success was based around a new attack that included Tony Culph, Peter Dredge, Ray Bright and me. We relied on Ron Nicholls, Ken Stone and Graeme Joslin for runs, with Bright lending support in the middle order”

Footscray advanced to the 75/76 final in bizarre circumstances’. With his team 8/95 in their first innings and still trailing by 124 runs, Carlton captain Keith Stackpole declared his team’s first innings closed. Stackpole may have been confused regarding the total his side required to avoid the follow on, which was 100 runs. When Bulldog skipper James asked the Blues to bat again the game was as good as over. “I’m pretty sure Keith wasn’t aware they’d be asked to bat again, ultimately it didn’t matter as they had to try and make a game of it. There was a decent crowd at the Western Oval that day and our supporters really gave it to Stacky – they were extremely vocal.”

The surprise victory over Carlton side saw the Bulldogs progress to the clubs second VCA First XI Final. Paul Sheahan (189no) headlined the Demons efforts, Melbourne (348) setting their opponent a formidable task. Ray Bright (78) was gallant but Footscray (239) fell a fair way short of glory. “Paul Sheahan was a great player. When we beat them at the MCG earlier that year he (Sheahan) was run out for 54. Knock him over for the same score in the final and it would’ve been a different story” At seasons end Watson received the highest individual accolade when he pipped Bright by two votes (109-107) to win his first club champion award.

Footscray acquired the services of John Shepherd for the 1976/77 & 1977/78 seasons believing the former West Indies Test all-rounder would provide the missing piece of the premiership puzzle. Shepherd was sensational taking out the Ryder Medal in his first summer and coming third a year later, but team success still eluded the Dogs. Competition for the ball amongst the Footscray attack was fierce and Watson’s work load was (almost) halved from 140 overs in 75/76 to a mere 75 twelve months advanced. When an opportunity to coach Williamstown in the Sub District Cricket Club presented itself for the 77/78 season Watson took his talents to Point Gellibrand.

“There was a suggestion of bad blood between John and myself. Nothing could be further from the truth, we were good mates. I loaned John my golf clubs the second summer he was out here”. Watson’s summer with the Seagulls proved to be a frustrating one “We were undefeated after Christmas and finished fifth with 65 points, the top side Preston ended up on 69. As for sixth, they managed the grand total of 28 points. It was an extremely disappointing end to the season. Great club Williamstown.”

Fast forward six months and Watson was back on Barkly Street. His 25 wickets were a major factor in a rejuvenated Bullies team emphatically sweeping away the disappointment of failing to finish in the top four the previous year by snatching the minor premiership on the final afternoon of the 1978/79 home and away fixture. A semi-final match up with Richmond at Punt Road awaited. “We had some terrific battles with Richmond during my time at Footscray, very little separated the teams during the late 70’s/early 80’s”. Watson starred making 49 – Footscray (193) and captured 3/40, but sadly the Bulldogs bowed out at the semi-final stage for the third time in six seasons. The soon to be deposed Australian test captain, Graham Yallop (90 no) battled through a debilitating calf injury to drag the Tigers (7/197) across the finish line. “We’d had a pretty good season, but the dressing rooms were fairly desolate following the semi-final loss.”

Denied the opportunity of a breakthrough title with yet another early finals exit left a sour taste in the mouths of the vanquished, and whilst the near miss had the potential to act as a spur for the still title-less Footscray, their form for most of the summer of 79/80 was average at best. Victories in their last three games were required to guarantee a finals berth. The end of season trifecta of wins against Ringwood, recent nemesis Richmond – Watson describing the Tigerland triumph “Terrific. It knocked them out of contention and (almost) guaranteed us a spot in the finals” and a final day win against Hawthorn East-Melbourne. With their finals tickets validated the Dogs had earned another shot at glory.

On Wednesday March 19, 1980, three days prior to a home semi-final against Collingwood, Barry Watson was awarded the highest individual honour in Melbourne District Cricket, the Ryder Medal. He polled 36 votes, Doug Gott (Collingwood) and Shaun Graf (St Kilda) equal runners up with 28 votes apiece.

A glimpse at Watson’s stellar season (including finals) reads as follows:

  • 49 wickets at a cost of 15.85 each, 114 (or 41%) of his 273 overs were maidens
  • On four occasions returned with a haul of 5 wickets
  • Bowled unchanged through 7 games, accounted for 39 of 40 overs from his “end” in the match against St Kilda
  • Made 212 runs at an average of 19.27 his top score (70) v Fitzroy at the Western Oval (Merv Hughes’ First XI debut)

“Doug Gott was the pre poll favourite. Shaun Graf’s good start saw him jump out to an early lead which resulted in him getting a Shield call-up and spending most of the season playing for Victoria. It proved to be a superb decision by the state selectors. After the poll I heard the home and away game at Victoria Park was vital as Doug (Gott), Ray Bright and I took four wickets apiece, and we all made twenty or so with the bat. We won the game which may have determined who got maximum votes. My heart almost bounced out of my chest that evening, winning the Ryder was a great honour. But the focus quickly turned to the weekend game against Collingwood. We had final(s) to win  and they were first and foremost on the agenda. Winning the Ryder was, and remains, a big thrill.”

With the competition’s best player title his, Watson turned his attention to helping his side to a much sought after pennant. Batting first Footscray were skittled for 105, Collingwood 3/51 in response at the completion of the first days play. If sub editors on Flinders and Lonsdale Streets were preparing the Bridesmaid Bulldogs banner headlines for their next run you couldn’t have blamed them.  The following morning saw the Pies consolidate, reaching 4/68 before a devastating spell from 18 year old Mervyn Hughes (5/32) resulted in a catastrophic collapse, Collingwood losing 6/6 and all out for 74.

“We still fancied our chances prior to the start on Sunday morning. We were proud of our record at the Western Oval and it was obvious opposition teams had a serious dislike for our wicket. Merv was quick and swung the ball at pace. He’d only established himself in the side after the Christmas break so he was relatively unknown at the time. We knew we had a goodun.  I’ll never forget Lee Perussicch’s gem of a catch at cover. The ball was running away from him, it wrapped up the match”.

Surviving a semi-final sayonara Footscray’s next stop was the Albert Ground and a date with destiny, their opponent – St Kilda. When considering the intimate confines of the quaint venue on the outskirts of the CBD, the Dogs 1st innings total (221) was less than imposing. Rex Bennett (6/37) and Watson (3/43 from 30 overs) initially suffocated then smashed St Kilda (121). After 32 seasons of futility the Boys of the Bulldog breed finally had their day. “Because we had to bat a second time, the champagne was put on ice. Once we’d completed the task there was a sense of relief rather than one of excitement”.

The man Watson credits with making it all happen for the Dogs was Captain-Coach Lindsay James.

“He (James) played it hard but fair, never failed to give 100%. As a coach he was measured in everything he said. He had the respect of everyone, and by that I mean each and every player throughout the four elevens. We would’ve run through a brick wall for him”. In the clubs 1979/80 annual report James was described as “the architect behind the clubs success” the 30 year old wicket keeper-batsman having “Instilled invaluable assets such as team spirit and unity with a complete lack of individualism”

The summer of 1980/81 saw Watson (24 wkts @18.42) back up his Ryder Medal and Premiership success making two appearances for Victoria in the interstate one-day competition. The Dogs suffered a premiership hangover and slid out of the top bracket. 1981/82 would be Watson’s final campaign under the crimson cap of the Footscray Cricket Club, taking 40 wickets.  Bookending his career with the extraordinary Barry Watson’s 92nd and final senior appearance with the Doggies would be in the Labour Day weekend clash at Punt Road, a game also known as the Mud Match  https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/premier-cricket-the-mud-match-of-82/

This Sunday, November 3, marks the 40th anniversary of Barry Watson’s senior debut. He was the 122nd player to represent the Footscray Cricket Club in the Victorian Cricket Association (VCA) since the clubs entry into the competition at the start of the 1948/49 season. His Derby Day ton was the 35th century scored by a Footscray First XI batsman in the VCA. He remains, to this day, the most recent Footscray player to score a First Grade century on debut. He played 92 senior matches, making 1104 runs at an average of 16.98, taking 181 wickets at a cost of 18.19 each.

Watson was awarded Life Membership of the club in 1980.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done Barry and well written Mic as a cricket tragic , I love reading stories such as these and , Smokies triumph .
    Some very prominent names in cricket history mentioned we also played against
    Paul Sheahan in , Ad turf cricket he was a brilliant player not sure if a six he hit has landed yet , 25 yrs or so later ! Thanks Mic

  2. Keep ’em coming Mic. Fantastic. FECC are strong and viable again – what’s your predictions for the Dogs this season in Premier Cricket?

  3. Malcolm, Crio, thank you very much for your comments, they’re much appreciated.

    Malcolm: I’m thankful that I got an opportunity to watch club cricket in Melbourne when every now and then Test players would make an appearance, and the Shield players were automatic selections when the state team had that weekend, or in the case of two day games, weekends off. Great for those in attendance, good for the development of those coming through the system.

    Crio: I think the 4 from 5 start is the best the Dogs have enjoyed since the season they bid farewell to the Western/Whitten Oval (96/97, just before Christmas). Jake Haberfield has been a terrific acquisition & new coach Chapman is an imposing figure. Good chance to finish inside the top 8, lot depends on keeping the current squad on the field as injuries to Wright, Green & Robertson and the loss of Wes Robinson (returned to WA) have tested the clubs depth. Hope to see you at MGH Oval after the carnival.

    MCR

  4. Another well written article Mick. Barry Watson was a stalwart of the club , and a key contributor to the 79-80 flag. That semi final brings back some memories, the Pies second day batting collapse, handing the Dogs a celebrated victory, putting them into the Grand Final; marvellous. Can you recall the chap who ran on the ground, pursuing the players with a bottle of spumante ? It takes all sorts. Speaking of memories of District Cricket, i hear Roger Page, the long time Fitzroy scorer, and bookseller of note, is about to appear in his 600th game. Now there’s a claim to fame.

    Glen!

  5. chris bracher says

    Captivating read Mic. Boy, how you love that club.

  6. Glen – The second morning of the 79/80 semi final bring back some terrific memories. Can’t quite put a name to the Spumante sprinter. Saw Mr Page when the Dogs took on Fitzroy/Donny a couple of weeks ago, still going strong. Bravo Roger, great innings, many more to come hopefully.

    Chris – Thanks. Would be nice if the number of pennants could be doubled in the next year or so. Hope that’s not asking too much.

    MCR

  7. Cowshedend says

    Mic, fantastic piece, a true gentleman and fine player Barry Watson, a different unit from the great Jack Sharp( also a ripping bloke).
    Went to a game at the MCG in about 1969 and Dogs were playing the MCC and Sheahan square cut Sharpy just short of a zac,as it left the bat all you could hear echo throughout the empty stands, was Jack yelling something about LLoyd Bridges, because all i can remember was something that sounded like ‘SeaHunt”

  8. Sharpy, hey! A story on him would be interesting. A colourful character with Footscray Cricket Club, and Yarraville Football Club.

    Glen!

  9. CSE/Glen – Many thanks. The game you’re referring to may be Ray Bright’s First XI debut. Someone told me his first game for the Dogs was at the MCG. I’ll check it out and try and get a score.

    Mr Sharp filled in as team manager in last weekends game against the Bombers. Dogs won, so perhaps Sharpy may consider retiring with an unblemished record. He was a pretty handy player for the Eagles at a time they were unlucky not to get promoted back to Division 1.

    One correction to the above story – Barry captained the Dowling Shield in 66/67. The four players mentioned Joslin, Nicol, Hurst and Collins played that level earlier.

    Bad error on my behalf, apologies to all concerned. And yes, a big thank you to Barry for his time in preparing the story.

    MCR

  10. Peter Binns says

    Fabulous read Mic!

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Superbly written Mic. It’s a pity the Premier cricket doesn’t get the media attention it deserves, would love to read more about all of the games instead of just scorecards in the paper. Love your passion for the history of your great club.

  12. Peter, Luke thanks for your comments.

    I mentioned in response to Malcolm’s comments how fortunate I was to see District cricket at its “fiercest” during the 70’s and 80’s. At that time the competition received extensive coverage in the two Sunday papers (Press & Observer) as well as Sun, Age and Herald. A list of just some the journalists who covered club cricket in Melbourne during that period was quite impressive – Peter McFarline, Garry Linnell, Mick Lovett, Mike Sheahan, Richard Yallop and Greg Baum.

    This mornings Murdoch had scores from all nine First XI clashes played on Saturday, yet my copy of the Sunday Age could find space for just three of those matches. Very sad.

    MCR

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