1911 revisited: Round 13
Round 13, 15th July, 1911
Even at this early stage in the VFL’s existence, football had insinuated itself through all levels of Melbourne society, managing to simultaneously exemplify and transcend class divisions within the city. For a clear example of this you needed to look no further than the Essendon and Collingwood clubs as they prepared to face each other in a crucial round 13 fixture at Victoria Park.
The Essendon club had been from its inception a very different proposition to those hard scrabble inner suburban clubs like Collingwood. In many ways Essendon owed its foundation to the McCracken family, whose patriarch Robert had made his fortune in the brewing and pub-owning industries. The McCrackens had been involved in the establishment of the Essendon borough and had a share in the building of the railway line to the area. They were also integral in the founding of the Royal Agricultural Society. The football club’s formative years took place amongst the paddocks of Ascot Vale, with many of its early players the sons of horse racing or farming families.
The space behind the McCracken family residence Ailsa - ‘McCracken’s Paddock’ as it was known - provided the club with its first home ground in 1873. The family are credited as the instigators of the club’s red and black colours, and Robert’s 17 year-old son Alex (a product of Scotch College) was the club’s first secretary. The team’s first captain was Coiler McCracken, Robert’s nephew.
When the VFA was formed in 1877 Essendon was an inaugural member. By 1891 the club began a run of four successive premierships, establishing them as the successor to Geelong as the power club of the Association. Even in these days complaints over money were circling. Essendon stood accused of offering financial inducements to lure players from district teams, and even from interstate.
The club had left the Essendon area in 1882 when the council had refused them permission to make the Essendon Recreation Reserve their home. The good folk of the district apparently still regarded cricket as the only sport fit for gentlemen, which had a certain irony as the football club took up residence with the then powerful East Melbourne Cricket Club. It would not return to the old district until 1922.
The move to the East Melbourne Cricket Ground served a dual purpose, being more convenient to the city. This suited the increasing number of white collar workers and public school students now joining the club’s playing ranks.
By 1905 Alex McCracken (right) was chairman of the Victoria Racing Club, and had reason to come into conflict with a significant Collingwood figure in the person of John Wren. Wren’s Collingwood Tote had long been an irritant to the VRC and the exclusive ‘gentlemen’s’ betting clubs of the city. Wren had acquired a notoriety for more than just the Tote, but when his horse Murmur won the Caulfield Cup in 1904 this was a step too far for many. The sight of the Governor making presentations to a Collingwood tough inflamed establishment sensibilities.
When Wren returned the following year with an enlarged stable geared for an assault on the Melbourne Cup the VRC refused his horses’ nominations. No public reason was given, but the VRC had effectively deemed Wren an ‘undesirable’ person.
Lest football club allegiance be said to have played a key role, it should be noted the secretary of the VRC at the time was Frank Madden, who was also speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Frank was the brother of John, Chief Justice of Victoria and Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University. John also happened to be the most important patron of the Collingwood club in its early years.
The social entwinements were more complicated than the game plans back in this time.
None of this would have much exercised the players’ thoughts as they faced up at a soggy Victoria Park. A howling northerly wind chilled the bones of the 20,000 who had packed the ground to watch the Magpies seek redemption for the historic defeat Essendon had dished out in round four.
Not wanting to repeat that experience, and with conditions in any case not conducive to attractive play, Collingwood were happy to turn the game into a slog. Players massed around the ball and scrimmages ruled the day. Those scoring shots which could be manufactured were invariably hurried, with inaccuracy a feature. Essendon scored their third and final goal in the second term, but it proved sufficient as Collingwood only managed two for the entire game. The collective score of 5.22 probably sums up the encounter.
Best for the victorious Same Olds was follower Alan Belcher, who used his strength effectively in the clinches, as did his opposite number Les Hughes. Magpie winger Jim Sadler was the best running player on the day. Jock McHale had both hands "kicked" in a pack, and had to continue on with them swollen and sore.
Attentions were focused on Princes Park for rather different reasons. Following University’s threat to boycott this fixture after the controversies of round four, a rather apologetic air hung over the ground. The two main Navy Blue figures of controversy, Gotz and Barningham, had "been given a spell" for the afternoon. Carlton has not always been so diplomatic.
After both teams played a tentative version of touch football in the opening quarter, normal operations resumed in the second. Carlton piled on six goals to effectively end the contest. Jim Marchbank (right) was one Blue who managed to play as though the match mattered, whilst Viv Valentine "got plenty of amusement out of the game". Jack Brake was "more productive than 10 other of his team mates".
South Melbourne’s followers swelled the MCG crowd to 11,706 as they took on Melbourne in better ground conditions. The Fuchsias continued their improved recent form by leading at half time, before South demonstrated their evenness of contribution by running out 13-point victors. Harry Brereton had continued his run of form with another four goals, which vaulted him to second on the goal kicking table behind South’s Len Mortimer, who also managed four goals.
The win kept South Melbourne in close contest with Essendon for top spot. As the VFL finals system of the day offered the top team right of challenge even if they lost their semi-final, this would remain a crucial race.
St Kilda and Fitzroy fought out a fairly even first half at the Junction Oval before the Maroons took complete control after half time. The final margin was almost 10 goals. Percy Parratt and Bob Rahilly kicked three each, and Tom Reardon continued to dominate for Fitzroy. For the Seasiders, Bill Woodcock fought on manfully, supported by Eicke, Pierce and Thomas.
Fitzroy replaced Collingwood in fourth spot with this victory.
The final match of the round saw Geelong visit Punt Rd to tackle the Tigers. A win would again have the Pivotonians on the heels of the top four. This looked likely as they piled on 6.6 to 0.2 kicking with the wind in the first quarter. Joe Slater (two goals) and Harry Marsham (three) were particularly prominent as Geelong maintained a policy of shooting from long range with success.
Richmond came charging back in the second term, kicking 5.6 to 0.1 and only trailing by five points at the half. The Tigers had run the ball close to goal to score in the second term. They continued to maintain possession in the third, and they were now awake to Geelong’s tactics, effectively sealing the game by restricting them to only two goals. Richmond easily accounted for the 12-point three-quarter time deficit and ran out comfortable winners.
Young Mick Maguire (right) had kicked four goals for the victors, who got a lot of drive from best on ground Billy Schmidt who kicked three. The Tiger centre line of Syd Reeves and Frank McCashney were also dominant. For the Pivot, Slater and Marsham had been the best, along with rover George Heinz and Dick Grigg across half back.
The loss continued Geelong’s poor form away from Corio and effectively ended their finals prospects.
Round 13, 1911 results
Round 13, 1911 ladder
For further 1911 season details, click here.
This is an updated version of an article that first appeared on the www.footyalmanac.com.au website.
- Flying High: Michael Maplestone
- The Argus
- AFL Tables
- John Wren Gambler: Niall Brennan
- Kill For Collingwood: Richard Stremski
- Encyclopedia of AFL/VFL Footballers: Russell Holmesby & Jim Main
Julien Peter Benney 16 May 2020
The game between Collingwood and Essendon was the 31st game where both sides scored three or fewer goals in fifteen VFL seasons. Although scoring had already increased substantially in the previous dozen seasons – from 37 points per team per game to 54 – I wonder if anyone would have known that there would have been only three such occurrences (which, owing to their rarity, are much more familiar to the football historian) in the next 109 plus seasons?
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