1911 revisited: Round 18
Round 18, 2nd September, 1911
The scandals of the VFL in this period seem wild and woolly by today’s standards, but it must be said they don’t look out of place with the general conduct of Melbourne society at the time. Both state and city were in many ways still recovering from the most controversial period in their history, when many who were thought respectable pillars of society had been uncovered as swindlers and frauds. Old laws and concepts had been discredited. New ones were still forming. Football’s transition from amateur to professional pursuit was but one of many unsettling changes that were occurring in Australia and around the world as tensions built towards the First World War.
Melbourne’s prosperity and population exploded in the wake of the gold boom, which had been followed in the 1880s by a speculative land boom that had ruinous consequences for many. The financial, business and bankruptcy laws of the day, such as they existed, were a scoundrel’s dream. Their lax nature was a virtual invitation to reckless exploitation of the many loopholes offered. And many ‘sound gentlemen’ of Melbourne’s financial and legislative elites showed themselves unable to resist an invitation.
From 1891, the whole financial house of cards had spectacularly crashed to ground. Numerous building societies and banks declared bankruptcy, as many were revealed to be little more than empty vessels for the raising of unsecured finance to support an ever escalating bubble of speculation. Financial reports had proved to be greater works of fiction than any novelist could create. The State Legislature had behaved as little more than a rogues gallery version of a gentleman’s business club, with Premiers, cabinet ministers and members of both houses implicated in venal deceits and conspiracies.
All too late, working folk and small businessman alike had to face the fact that those they elected had often connived with business associates to squander their life savings. Thousands lost their homes. Many more lost their jobs. Poverty was rife. The population of Melbourne declined as many fled the depravation for far off fields. The city took many years to fully recover. Many individuals never did.
Put in this light, the shenanigans of football clubs pale by comparison. By forming in 1897, as the worst depths of the depression showed some improvement, the VFL had shown fortuitous timing. By remaining a cheap diversion for the masses, football had maintained its popularity though economic travails. Officially declared or not, it also provided necessary income for many who played it.
Which has takes us in a roundabout way back the final round of the 1911 regular season.
What had promised to be the battle for top spot between Essendon and South Melbourne had been gazumped by South’s loss to Geelong the previous week. The only advantage to be gained now, if any, was psychological. Nevertheless, more than 20,000 flocked to a boggy EMCG to watch the spectacle.
South rested Belcher, Caldwell, Milne and Gough. Essendon won the toss and led handily with the breeze. They maintained a four-goal advantage into the final break. Coming home with the wind and a wet sail, South closed to five points but couldn’t get their nose in front. The Same Old remained undefeated at home for the season. The two games these clubs had contested through the season had finished at a win apiece, both decided by less than a straight kick.
The top side had once again been notable for their evenness of contribution. Alan Belcher had taken advantage of the absence of brother Vic to dominate in the ruck, Percy Ogden made the most of his mid-week tribunal reprieve to kick three goals, and Lou Armstrong was again coolly efficient. The continuing improvement in Bill Busbridge’s form in defence was a further boost to finals hopes.
For South, the wiry frame of Bruce Sloss again dominated. Observer thought, "nothing in the game was so remarkable as the manner in which a slightly built and not overpowerful player like Sloss lasted it out on a heavy day". In support, Arthur Hiskins kicked three goals, Dick Casey (right) two. In just his third game, young Mark Tandy had shown promise on a wing, a sign of the long career ahead of him.
With 15 wins and a draw from 18 games and a percentage of 178.3, Essendon had completed a dominant home and away season. But ahead in a fortnight lay a clash with the only team they hadn’t defeated during the season. For South, a semi final with Collingwood lay ahead next weekend.
The other close contest of the final round of the final round saw Essendon’s semi-final opponent Carlton shade Melbourne by eight points. The Blues had their nose in front the whole day but couldn’t shake a Melbourne team that had shown improved late-season form. The highlight of the clash was the goal shoot-out between rival spearheads Vin Gardiner (C) and Harry Brereton (M), who each finished with five. Brereton’s haul saw him finish the regular season with 46 goals to head the goal-kicking table from Gardiner (44) and South’s Len Mortimer (also 44).
Fitzroy hosted Richmond at Brunswick St to see out their respective seasons. Once again the Tigers were dogged by inaccurate shooting for goal in their 23-point loss. Their tally of 4.10 maintained their record as the worst converters for the season, with a goal accuracy of only 38%. In their fourth VFL season the Tigers continued to search for the combination to bring them success.
For Fitzroy, Bruce Campbell managed four goals again to maintain a successful personal latter half of the season. Fitzroy finished two wins adrift of Collingwood for fourth spot, but the dramas of the year had laid a foundation for success to come.
The worst MCG crowd of the season¹ – just 1,071 – watched University secure the wooden spoon with a comfortable loss to Geelong. The Pivotonians squandered chances in the opening term before romping to a 10 goal victory. Percy Martini enjoyed his best haul of the season with seven goals and George Heinz (right) helped himself to three. For the bedraggled Students, Derwas ‘Dave’ Cumming managed to score five of their seven goals in a lone hand.
This was only Geelong’s second away win of the season, highlighting the major flaw in their campaign. Perversely, the other away win had been against Collingwood at Victoria Park.
Too late to save their season, St Kilda committee and players had resolved their differences, allowing a handful of regulars to bolster the team for the final round. Morale still can’t have been high, and this is reflected in Collingwood’s 54-point winning margin and 101-point tally. The St Kilda club further blotted its copybook when a group of young male supporters took exception to umpire Tulloch and (literally) stoned him. Ernie Sellars remained the sole Saints’ shining light by kicking four goals.
Tom Baxter (left) kicked four goals for Collingwood, while Dick Lee scored three. More significantly for the Magpies’ finals campaign, captain-coach George Angus was again unable to take the field, putting his finals participation as a player in doubt.
In a season that produced only eight triple-figure scores, strike-hit St Kilda had conceded four of those totals in the last month. Yet, remarkably, they would crawl out of the wreckage of this season to play off for the premiership in just two years time.
This was the third season in a row that Essendon, South, Carlton and Collingwood comprised the top four.
For the statistically minded, the average team score across the season was 54 points. Goal accuracy across all teams was 42.63%.
The leading goal scorers for each club in the regular season were as follows:
|Harry Brereton (Mel)||46|
|Vin Gardiner (Car)||44|
|Len Mortimer (SM)||44|
|Percy Martini (Gee)||40|
|Lou Armstrong (Ess)||34|
|Mick Maguire (Rich)||29|
|Tom Baxter (Coll)||27|
|Bruce Campbell (Fitz)||25|
|Ernie Sellars (Stk)||22|
|Bert Hartkopf (Uni)||19|
And so to the finals.
Round 18, 1911 results
Round 18, 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.
1. Indeed, 1071 is the lowest recorded attendance figure for any V/AFL match at the MCG, the next lowest being 1924 for a Melbourne-Geelong match in 1919. For a full list of MCG attendance figures, click here.
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