Tip-Top Roys - 1899 Final: Fitz v South Melb
[Principal Source: 'The Argus', Monday 18 September 1899]
“The rain prevented anything like a crowd at the St Kilda ground on Saturday, but the 4,000 or 5,000 people who braved the elements, and came out armed with overcoats and umbrellas, were amply rewarded for their pains by seeing a magnificent tussle. From the first bounce to the very last tinkle of the bell it was a battle between two earnest, strong teams, and the crowd entered into the excitement, and what it lacked in numbers it made up in enthusiasm. Many thought that the adverse weather committee would have stepped in, but they decided to let the game go on. South Melbourne would have preferred a postponement, but Fitzroy wanted to get the game over, and would not consent.”
Reigning VFL premiers Fitzroy were warmly favoured to secure successive flags after winning 14 of their 17 matches prior to the grand final. Fourteen of these matches came during a conventional home and away series in which the eight league clubs faced each other twice, and Fitzroy, with an 11-3 record, finished at the head of the ladder. The Roys won both of their encounters with South Melbourne during that time: resoundingly at home in round 4 (6.19 to 3.4), and narrowly in round 11 at the Lake Oval (5.9 to 4.9, after scores had been tied at the last change).
The eight clubs were then split into two round robin sections of four clubs each, which played each of the three other clubs in their section once. The two section winners then met in the final, with the team that had finished at the top of the ladder at the end of the home and away rounds having the right to challenge the winner of this match (unless, of course, it was itself the winner, in which case it won the premiership).
Both Fitzroy and South Melbourne won all three of their round robin matches, the Roys over Carlton, Melbourne and Collingwood by 1, 38 and 14 points respectively, and South over Geelong (by 3 points), St Kilda (70 points), and Essendon (15 points). The southerners, who had won only 5 of their 14 home and away matches to finish 6th knew that they would be required to defeat Fitzroy twice in order to claim the flag. This would be an extremely difficult task, as Fitzroy had won the last 4 meetings between the teams, most of them resoundingly, and were widely acknowledged as, by some measure, the most accomplished team in football at the time. Boasting players of the calibre of follower Mick Grace (1899 Argus Player of the Year), centre half back Pat Hickey, rover Billy McSpeerin, centre half forward Fred Fontaine, full forward Geoff Moriarty, and full forward Jim Grace (left) they had strength on every line, and their success rate of 81.1% over two seasons was significantly better than that of any other league club.
South, too, had many fine players, including centre half forward Harold Lampe, follower Mick Pleass, wingman Herb Howson, and key defenders Dave Adamson and Charlie Goding, but the general consensus was that, overall, they lacked both the experience and the panache of the Roys.
Fitzroy were without key forward Bert Sharpe, whose father had died the previous day, and in consequence of which all the players in the team wore black arm bands Chris Kiernan was initially selected to replace Sharpe, but when he failed to show up, Bill 'Bice' Cleary was asked to strip instead. Art Henley, who injured himself during the pre-match warm-up, and Harry Purdy were absentees for South Melbourne, while Pleass, Bill Fraser and Henri Jeanerrett all carried injuries into the game.
How The Teams Lined Up
|B:||H. McEwan||G. Moriarty||E. Jenkins|
|HB:||J. Deas||P. Hickey||A. Sloan (C)|
|C:||E. Drohan||H. Clarke||K. Robinson|
|HF:||P. Descrimes||F. Fontaine||W. Dalton|
|F:||A. McDougall||J. Grace||W. Cleary|
|FOLL:||M. Grace||W. Potter||W. McSpeerin|
|B:||W. Armstrong||D. Adamson (C)||F. O'Hara|
|HB:||G. Davidson||C. Goding||A. Trimm|
|C:||H. Howson||W. Windley||J. O'Hara|
|HF:||H. Jeanneret||H. Lampe||C. James|
|F:||A. Henley||C. Colgan||W. Fraser|
|FOLL:||M. Pleass||J. Garbutt||R. Bryce|
Rain was falling steadily as the players ran out, and there was a strong breeze from the Elwood end, favouring the city goal. Adamson of South, having won the toss, elected to kick with the aid of this breeze.
From the initial bounce South Melbourne moved swiftly into attack. Fitzroy, particularly through Hickey and Jack Deas, defended stoutly, but South persisted and Lampe, from a free, posted the first score of the game, a goal. Two South supporters behind the goal were wielding immense red and white umbrellas, which they waved triumphantly as the ball sailed through – a sight that would become quite familiar during the course of the game, though perhaps not quite so much as the South fraternity might have wished.
South’s Howson, on a wing, was a particularly prominent presence early on, several times outmarking and outpacing his direct opponent Eddie Drohan. It was somewhat ironic therefore that Drohan’s first major involvement, as he teamed well with McSpeerin (right), almost brought an equalising goal for the Roys. After receiving the ball back on a ‘one-two’ from McSpeerin, Drohan’s probing kick found Jim Grace, whose running snap shot from an angle looked to be going through for a goal, only to end up striking the post, to the accompaniment of groans from the Fitzroy contingent in the outer.
On the whole, however, South seemed sharper than Fitzroy, with Joe Garbutt, Howson, Jeanerrett and Lampe continually in the thick of it. Lampe it was who nabbed South’s second major, and he might well have had more goals during this term if his kicking had been more penetrative.
Fitzroy repeatedly ruined their attempted counter forays with fumbling, over-elaboration, and slipshod disposal, while the southerners, by contrast, teamed well together. The bell rang with South 14 points to the good, having sent out a clear message to their opponents that they were not going to surrender the 1899 flag without a titanic struggle.
Quarter Time: South Melbourne 2.3 (15); Fitzroy 0.1 (1)
At the start of the second term Adamson strengthened South’s backlines by deploying half forward flanker Charlie James as an additional defender.
South resumed the second quarter as they had ended the first, seeming quicker to the ball than the Roys, as well as more decisive and neater in their movements. They went straight into attack from the opening bounce, but Deas made a telling last gasp save for Fitzroy, who then surged into attack themselves. The attack culminated in Alf McDougall seemingly soccering a goal, only for umpire Crapp to concur with South defender Adamson, who claimed that the ball had struck his arm while in transit. A single flag, accordingly, was raised by the goal umpire, amidst a chorus of catcalls from the Fitzroy supporters.
South spent the next few minutes of the game adopting rugby tactics by repeatedly, and quite deliberately, kicking the ball out of bounds, mainly along the St Kilda road wing, which was the defensive side of the ground from their perspective.
The southerners continued to seem the stronger side, but Hickey, at half back for the Roys, was “irresistible”, and made it extremely hard for them to advance into a scoring position.
Play began to get willing, and there were some signs of temper as Fitzroy's Kelly Robinson, Cleary and Jack Dalton, in turn, were warned by the umpire for rough play.
As the term wore on, Fitzroy gradually started to assert themselves more, but two successive behinds to skipper Alec Sloan, who had moved onto the ball from his half back flank, were all that they could muster until a concerted rush engineered by Hickey culminated in Mick Grace goaling with a trademark hefty punt kick.
South’s tactic of ‘kicking to touch’ saw them concede many free kicks, but these tended to be much too far from goal to cause concern. Finally, however, a clever piece of play by the Fitzroy small men enabled Mick Grace to break clear and send an excellent pass to Fontaine (left), who marked, and then goaled.
South hit back strongly, but they continued to find Hickey, who “was skirmishing behind the ruck like a rugby half back”, impassable, and at the long break Fitzroy had captured a one-point advantage.
Half Time: Fitzroy 2.4 (16); South Melbourne 2.3 (15)
The Maroons were straight into attack after the opening bounce of the third term, but Goding (right) and Howson combined to repel them and launch a counter-offensive which ended with a spectacular snapshot from Lampe “which deserved a better fate than a behind”. Colgan eventually got South Melbourne’s third goal when he was freed after being pushed in the back by Ernie Jenkins.
Midway through the third term the rain relented briefly for the first time, but when it resumed it was more torrential than ever.
For the remainder of the quarter, neither side managed to make a decisive breakthrough, but it was “grand football”, and the small crowd was thoroughly immersed in it. When the bell rang the southerners had established a seven-point advantage.
Three Quarter Time: South Melbourne 3.7 (25); Fitzroy 2.6 (18)
During the three quarter time break the wind strengthened “and a nasty drifting rain came in”. South opened the final term brightly, only for Hickey to inspire a swift and purposeful response from the Roys, which yielded a couple of behinds.
From fully 90 yards, Lampe went for goal using a place kick, but the ball fell well short, and was marked, almost inevitably, by Hickey. Fitzroy then maneuvered the ball the length of the ground, with McSpeerin marking just in front of the behind post. Before South’s defenders knew what was happening the Roys rover had played on and kicked truly to put his side ahead by the narrowest of margins. Another Fitzroy behind followed shortly after to Fontaine, and then South mounted a strong rally, which culminated in Lampe taking a mark well within range only for his kick to be touched off the boot by the man standing on the mark, Mick Grace, a minor score resulting. Shortly afterwards, another shot from Lampe was marked near the goal line by Sloan, who galloped off before passing to Drohan, whose thumping clearance put the ball well out of danger. This proved to be the last significant action of the game, as Fitzroy managed to bottle play up near the centre of the ground for the remainder of the quarter, amidst the increasingly frantic shrieks and yells of both sets of supporters.
Final score: Fitzroy 3.9 (27); South Melbourne 3.8 (26)
Best afield, by some measure, was Hickey. “Nominally he was half-back; as a matter of fact, he was everywhere, forcing when forcing was needed, and defending when defence was required. He took all the bumps too.”
Rover McSpeerin was “cool and clever as ever”. Others to do well for the Roys included Deas, Drohan, Jenkins and Henry Clarke,
The southerners were best served by effervescent wingman Howson, sturdy follower Garbutt, Jack Davidson and Bert Trimm across half back, and vigorous, hard-working forward Lampe, and tireless ruckman 'Mick' Pleass (left).
|South Melbourne||2.3||2.3||3.7||3.8 26|
Fitzroy: Hickey, Clarke, Jenkins, Drohan, Deas, McSpeerin
South Melbourne: Howson, Garbutt, Lampe, Davidson, Trimm, Pleass
Fitzroy: Fontaine, M.Grace, McSpeerin
South Melbourne: Lampe 2; Colgan
ATTENDANCE: 4,823 at the Junction Oval