1911 revisited: Round 14
Round 14, 22nd July, 1911
Even before the VFL had begun, the Australasian newspaper had formed the following opinion of the St Kilda football club:
“There are two classes of men who play football. With one the pleasure of participating is more than sufficient recompense for defeat: the other class thinks that a win is above everything else. To the first class I think those happy, genial Saints belong.”
But for a ‘happy genial’ group they sure knew how to fight amongst themselves.
Formed in 1873 following the demise of the South Yarra club, St Kilda’s idiosyncratic early history began - appropriately enough - on the ‘Alpaca Paddock’ where it’s early games were played. The St Kilda district at that time was a thriving seaside area of grand homes and festive bohemian tendencies. These tendencies often seemed reflected in their football team.
Though they were an inaugural member of the VFA in 1877, by 1879 the club was in trouble. Not one team member had fronted for a game against Essendon, prompting the club to withdraw from the remainder of the season. They would spend the next seven seasons in lower ranks.
By 1886 they had regrouped. Most crucially, they also moved to the St Kilda Cricket Ground at the Junction. The club still struggled, and ‘merged’ on very favourable terms with Prahran for the 1888-89 seasons. As late as 1896 the club’s own official history (politely) suggests "the dedication of Saints players was still very much open to question". In that year half a dozen players got on the 'wrong train' en route to Victoria Park, finding themselves instead at Flemington for an afternoon’s racing while the remainder of the team was flogged by the eventual premiers.
It is fair to say that St Kilda’s inclusion in the initial group of clubs who broke away to form the VFL in 1897 was largely due to their superior home ground, and the fact that only they and South Melbourne were located south of the Yarra.
Not that VFL life proved any easier. Symbolically, the team arrived 45 minutes late for their VFL debut at Victoria Park. (Wrong train again?) It could be argued in another sense that they really were several seasons late, as they lost their first 48 matches at VFL level. Even the prized first victory in Round 1 of 1900 only came after the fact via a protest post-match.
Little had generally improved from there. By the beginning of 1911 they had ‘won’ nine of the first 14 VFL wooden spoons. One brief interlude of respite had been semi-finals appearances in 1907-08, though both had produced defeat at the hands of Carlton, their close companion at the bottom of the ladder up until 1902.
Though the collective team effort was usually wanting, St Kilda was rarely short of star individuals. The only problem was they consistently had trouble hanging on to them. Money wasn’t the only problem, as the club regularly went into debt to attract players from around the country (a habit they maintained for many a year). Just to take 1911 as an example, Vic Cumberland (SA), Dave McNamara (Essendon Association), Bill Stewart (Prahran), Jack Wells (Carlton) and Vic Barwick (Brighton) were amongst the star Saints playing elsewhere.
Unity — or lack thereof — was a recurring issue. It certainly hadn’t ever been a club hallmark, as in-fighting between committeemen and between committee and players had dogged the club’s efforts.
Which brings us to Round 14 and St Kilda’s match against Melbourne.
Observer describes the scene as thus: "there was an atmosphere of excitement at the St Kilda ground...just as if it were the eve of a political crisis". The St Kilda players were aggrieved and threatening not to take the field. The team had been unhappy that the committee hadn’t organised ‘smokers nights’ for their entertainment, as they believed was their entitlement. The final straw had been a committee decision to withdraw change room passes from a number of members. Two members seemed the particular focus of concerns – Mr G. A. Eicke (father of Wells) and former player Joe Hogan, who was ‘chummy’ with most of the players. From an historical distance one hopes more cause for complaint was being left publicly unstated.
"Mr Hogan held a reception in the member's reserve, and right around the ground the attitude of the committee and the grievances of the players were subjects of keen discussion". When a strike seemed imminent Hogan entreated the players to take the field, which finally helped resolve the issue in the short term. A bemused Melbourne team had been on the field for some time before Harry Lever led the Saints out.
Observer summarises the events that followed: "For the next 25 minutes it was largely a game of kick for kick, with all the Melbourne players at one end kicking to Eicke (left), of St Kilda, at the other end. The whole object of the Melbourne team appeared to be to kick the ball to Eicke..." "The state of the game at the end of the quarter was that on eight occasions Eicke had not been able to prevent the ball going past him and Melbourne had 3 goals 5 behinds to their credit." To St Kilda's 1 behind.
After that desultory first term, "thenceforward... some of the St Kilda men livened up, but to very little purpose".
The final score was 11.11 to 5.9. Fuchsia Ted Politz kicked four goals, his largest haul in what proved to be a modest 26-game career.
At the conclusion of the game 22 players signed a petition outlining their objections to the committee, who agreed to meet on the following Monday night. The players had uttered no explicit threat after the game but their intentions were clear. Much more was to follow.
Whilst player rights were being disputed at the Junction Oval, a match of much more consequence to the top of the table was taking place at Victoria Park. South Melbourne were battling for the vital top position with Essendon, while their Collingwood hosts were still fighting for a finals berth.
"The largest crowd at Victoria Park this winter" had assembled for the contest. Rain during the week had kept the ground a bog, necessitating the players to wear studs "more than an inch in length" in their boots. It didn’t help much. With the ball almost impossible to pick up on the run, much "wild kicking" made the packs a risky place to be.
Goals to George Angus and Jack Green gave Collingwood the quarter-time lead, which they extended in a slogging second term. Leading by three goals at the half they seemed well placed. The duels across the centre were a highlight: Gibb (C) versus Caldwell (SM) on one wing and Sadler versus Prince on the other. George Bower was competitive with McHale in the middle.
Trailing by 12 points at the final break, South came hard in the final term. Arthur Hiskins kicked his second goal to make it six points the difference. Bob Deas then marked 12 metres out with the chance to tie the scores. He missed to the groans of thousands of South supporters. From the kick-in Herbert Milne punted the ball forward for Alf Gough to mark. The shot was difficult but time was running out. He kicked truly and Collingwood had no time to reply. South had won by a solitary point.
Jack Scobie had shone in defence for South, as had Milne following. For the Magpies, Sharpe had again been their best in defence.
Corio Oval was in better condition to greet Fitzroy as they sought to consolidate fourth spot. Geelong’s team and committee had been roundly criticised through the week and they responded by leading at half time. Fitzroy then threatened early in the third term as Bruce Campbell kept scoring goals, but from the midpoint of the quarter the game became all Geelong. Observer was moved to say they made their opponents look like "hacks" as ran away with the game to the tune of 35 points.
Percy Martini (left) kicked four for the victors, and Harry Marsham kicked two as well as dominated in the ruck. Dick Grigg "marked superbly" despite being "laid out with a bad knock to the nose" in the second quarter. For Fitzroy, Campbell kicked four goals, and skipper Lal McLennan starred along with defender Fred Bamford. By losing Fitzroy missed a golden opportunity to sneak a break on the Magpies.
Carlton ventured to a soggy Punt Road to take on Richmond. The ground was not improved by the curtain-raiser baseball match. The Tigers jumped out of the blocks with five first-quarter goals despite kicking "up the slope". Thereafter the Blues slowly hauled them back in before romping away in the final term.
Fred ‘Pompey’ Elliot led the way for Carlton with three goals, Jim Marchbank dominated the ruck and Viv Valentine again showed himself to be a ‘clipper’, though Observer thought Carlton played through him too much. Bill Mahoney and Jim Reeves were again prominent for Richmond, and young Mick Maguire kicked three goals.
Essendon travelled down the road to the MCG to take on University in front of 8,044 (mainly visiting) fans. Observer felt they played a ‘negative game’, but they seemed to have the Students’ measure all day, running out comfortable 38 point winners. In a statistical oddity, six Essendon players kicked two goals each to make up the Same Olds’ dozen.
The win kept Essendon on top by percentage from South Melbourne, while Fitzroy clung to fourth spot with four rounds to go.
Round 14, 1911 results
Round 14, 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.
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