1900 VFL Challenge Final: Melbourne v Fitzroy - Fuchsias' farcical flag
[Principal Source: 'The Argus', Monday 24 September 1900]
“For the season which closed on Saturday it may be claimed that, taken all round, it was successful. The great drawback, however, is still the manner in which the league decides the premiership.”
The last VFL premiership decided in the nineteenth century remains one of the most controversial ever. After a standard home and away series of fourteen rounds, Fitzroy, with 11 wins and three losses, topped the ladder, five wins and as many places above Melbourne. The eight league clubs were then split into two four team sections, with the two section winners - Essendon (3 wins 0 losses) and Melbourne (2-1), as it turned out - then contesting the final. This resulted in a dramatic and somewhat fortunate win to Melbourne, 7.3 (45) to 5.13 (43), setting up what was effectively a challenge final against original minor premiers, Fitzroy.
The Maroons, who had won two of their three sectional sectional fixtures, went into the premiership decider with a 13-4 record for the season, compared to Melbourne's nine wins and nine defeats. The two meetings between the sides had both resulted in comfortable wins to the Roys, by 39 points at the MCG in round five, and by 25 points in the round 12 return. Many observers claimed that the Fuchsias did not deserve to be contesting the season's decisive match, and there was widespread criticism of a finals system which allowed this to happen. Nevertheless, the match certainly whetted the appetite of the public, attracting a crowd of 26,000 – more than six times bigger than the previous year – to the East Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Fitzroy were at full strength, while Melbourne were slightly weakened by the absence of wingman William Bowe, who had been injured in a collision with Essendon's George Stuckey during the previous week's final.
|F:||P.Descrimes||G.Brosnan (top right)||C.Kiernan|
The ground condition, to use racing parlance, was ‘good to firm’. There was a light southerly breeze favouring the pavilion end to which Melbourne skipper Richard Wardill elected to kick after winning toss. A couple of minutes in they took lead with a minor score after Wardill’s kick was touched by Moriarty just before crossing the goal line by Moriarty – the first of four such saves he was to effect during the afternoon.
'Tammy' Beauchamp registered the equalising behind a couple of minutes later, after which Fitzroy remained in attack for several minutes, culminating in the game’s first goal to Lou Barker, “to the accompaniment of great cheering”.
Melbourne’s kicking was very wayward at this stage, often going directly to Fitzroy players. The Fuchsias were also somewhat loose defensively, allowing Fitzroy players too much leeway. However, the Maroons were not able to capitalise with any major scores, and the next goal, when it arrived, was Melbourne’s, courtesy of a John Leith (left) place kick, after he had taken a superb mark. A snapped goal from out of a pack by Tom Ryan then gave Melbourne a narrow advantage, which they scarcely warranted, at the first change.
Quarter Time: Melbourne 2.3 (15); Fitzroy 1.4 (10)
Fitzroy opened second term determinedly, and Mick Grace (right), after marking strongly, soon had their second goal of the match on the board. It proved to be the only major score of the quarter, however, as play became scrappy and congested, with neither team able to contrive a telling attack. Fitzroy enjoyed more possession and territorial supremacy, but Melbourne’s defenders were now playing much more tightly, and easy possessions were at a premium.
Half Time: Fitzroy 2.7 (19); Melbourne 2.5 (17)
In complete contrast to the second quarter, “the third term saw some of the finest football exhibited this season”. Play was fast, fierce and for the most part evenly contested, but the breaks, when they occurred, all seemed to go Melbourne’s way. Shortly after the resumption, Fred McGinis booted a behind to reduce the arrears to a single point. According to ‘The Argus’ writer, it was a chance the Tasmanian champion would normally have converted, but his performance in this match was, it later emerged, being undermined by a severe cold.
Wardill’s behind not long afterwards made the scores even, and as Melbourne began to attack almost constantly, their persistence was rewarded with a goal to the same player.
Melbourne continued to attack, and when Stewie Geddes was awarded a free kick 40 yards out he made no mistake with an elegant drop kick that brought rapturous applause from the crowd.
Fitzroy responded by attacking energetically, but the Melbourne half backs in Maurie Herring, Bill McClelland and 'Henry' Parkin, together with the backline of Jack Purse, Ted Sholl and Leslie Rippon, were all in excellent form. Indeed, the only further score for the quarter was a behind on the break to Melbourne, making the three quarter time score Melbourne 4.8 (32); Fitzroy 2.7 (19)
Two quick behinds to Fitzroy early in the last quarter gave their supporters hope that a comeback was in the offing, but the Melbourne defenders soon settled back into their stride, and made scoring almost as difficult as it had been during the previous term. Much maligned earlier in the season, they combined with immense assurance and confidence to repel the overwhelming majority of their opponents' attacking thrusts. The only goal of the term came from a clever snap by Grace, which reduced the margin to 5 points, but although the Roys continued to attack they were only able to add one further behind to their tally, with Melbourne wingman Eric Gardner in particular proving an unlikely stumbling block on at least three decisive occasions. Followers Vic Cumberland and George Moodie (right) were also formidable presences for the Fuchsias all over the ground during the vital closing minutes of the game.
Final Score: Melbourne 4.10 (34); Fitzroy 3.12 (30)
Melbourne: Langley, Wardill, Purse, Rippon, Gardner, Sholl
Fitzroy: Grace, Drohan, Clarke, Hickey, Robinson, Moriarty
Melbourne: Geddes, Leith, Ryan, Wardill
Fitzroy: Grace 2; Barker
ATTENDANCE: 20,181 at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground
The somewhat anomalous nature of Melbourne's 1900 premiership was emphasised in the ensuing seasons. The side was reasonably competitive in 1901, narrowly missing the finals, and the following year saw it bow out to Essendon at the semi final stage; after that, however, the Fuchsias would not again contest the finals until 1915, even succumbing to the indignity of the wooden spoon in 1905 and 1906.
The Roys, by contrast, would remain a significant force in the game for more than two decades, securing further flags in 1904, 1905, 1913, 1916 and 1922. Only when Collingwood won their eighth VFL flag in 1928 would they lose their status as the league's most successful club.
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