The Land of Bacon and Milk (1903)
In Preston's first V.F.A. Season way back in 1903, they pulled off a win against Port Melbourne when “the Boroughs” visited Preston Park for the first time.
Preston at the time was a sparsely populated villgae, a little over 5,000 people spread over nearly fourteen square miles, mostly dairying, but with a couple of prominent tanneries and, as the title of this piece suggests, ham and bacon curing factories at the southern end of the town.
Port Melbourne trailed the home side most of the day, and just after three quarter time, Port officials, somewhat bemused by Preston's dominance, called for a count of the home side's players, a move that proved rather embarrassing.
From The Standard, Port Melbourne's local newspaper, Saturday, August 20, 1903:
Port's fortunes have fallen lower this season than ever before, but still they have a band of sworn supporters who stick to them through success and adversity.
It was a call on their loyalty to ask them to journey to the Land of Bacon and Milk for the mere sake of seeing a football match with nothing in the shape of honours attached to it. Yet they responded well, and made up a large complement of passengers - that is, large for a Preston train.
When the destination was reached it was found that the newly fledged V.F.A. club had a fine ground but with as yet very little in the manner of conveniences for spectators. Those, no doubt, will come. Ports could not muster up a team and had to impress into services two or three novices. Preston, on the other hand, was well represented.
A gusty north-easterly blew right into the town end goal. A tricky ball was provided and its trickiness was enhanced by the vagaries of the wind. Some of the ways and decisions of the umpire were as vagatory as the wind and ball, although on the whole, he did fairly well. Greatly owing to these things, the exhibition was not of a high class character. Of course, there were exceptions to this rule. Likewise, there were times when it was nearly as "muffy" as the match on the P.M.C. ground the previous Wednesday.
Three parts of the game was almost a failure as a display of football, but it provided plenty of amusement, and most people were satisfied. Preston at times were good in the air and showed a glimpse of system, but Ports played with a vigour and bull-headedness that defeated its own purpose. Most of the men were on the ball, especially in the last quarter which led to some unnecessary handling of men. Breaches of the rules were very frequent, but despite all this, the game was played in a proper spirit.
The home team with the wind had all its own way in the first quarter, Ports only getting the ball over their half way mark once or twice. Only for their failure at goal-kicking Preston must have placed the issue beyond doubt. But, as it was, they left an element of uncertainty about it, and Ports' chance had to come. However, it did not come so well as their supporters had wished. For Preston not only stopped the visitors, with the wind, from adding more than five points to their score, but also put a point on their own tally.
Both teams showed to a much better advantage in the third quarter, and the game was more even. The home team, also, turned their opportunities to greater use, scoring two goals out of four shots. Port succeeded in kicking a point against the wind.
The visitors were destined to lose their six points in a most curious manner. Soon after the three-quarter time bell rang, something was seen to be amiss. It transpired that Preston were alleged to have been playing 19 men. A line-up and a count of players took place, when, lo and behold! It was Ports that were discovered to have an extra man afield!
How this misadventure took place nobody could tell, but yet it was plain somebody had blundered. Ports suffered their fate by losing their six points. Some of the spectators - and among them were several Preston supporters - expressed strong suspicions that Preston did have 19 men on the field, having, they say, counted them. A Preston player was seen leaving the ground just prior to the three-quarter time bell, but that he ever returned is open to doubt.
The final term was one of sheer "bullocking". After Preston had a "say", and had scored a goal, Pettit did the same for Ports. Another rush by the home team, and the game waged for a while around the Port goal. At last Gibson got a half-dozen points for the locals, while sitting on the ground. Ports after this had the best of the game and secured three goals in succession.
Suspicions are entertained that Preston were playing 19 men for three fourths of the game and someone gave the skipper "the wink" and he sent a man off the ground. If this is true, then Ports actually won the game in the end by kicking 4.1 to Preston's 2.2.
Port Melbourne officials later blamed the embarrassing mix-up on their players having to change in two different sheds at the ground, but suggestions were also made that the Port president had offered the club's share of the gate takings to the team if they won the match, perhaps engendering a burst of over-enthusiasm amongst the "novices" in the contingent.
They also continued the Standard’s claim that the Preston captain (William Gates) sent a player off the ground to hide behind a tree after he noticed Port officials frantically trying to attract the umpire’s attention.
As for The Standard's claim that Port actually "won" the game, the rather more authoritative weekly, The Sportsman, suggested that "Preston would have won the game comfortably regardless of the count".
So in the manner of gratuitous comments made by winners to losers since time immemorial, we can only suggest to The Standard ... "fellas, look up the scores in tomorrow's paper".