Melbourne the mystery team
Melbourne (alias "the Red Legs", alias "the Fuchsias") has long been regarded as the "mystery team" of the League.
The side's ability to play brilliantly one Saturday and very poorly the next has puzzled coaches, captains and committees for years past. They all agreed that the team suffered from "temperament," but how to cope with that temperament, and assure the side playing at least consistently throughout the season, was a problem that had given birth to many a wrinkle on the countenances, and many a grey hair in the heads, of M.F.C. executives.
But this season, though the side has not enjoyed overmuch success, the Red Legs are playing with the consistency which had previously been lacking in their play. They have "gone down" to Carlton, Geelong, Richmond, Footscray and Fitzroy, but only by very small margins, and have gone down with a fighting spirit that revealed a strength in their play that augurs well for their success ere the season closes.
I spoke of this added "force" in the side when chatting to "Checker" Hughes, who came across from Richmond this year to coach the Red Legs, in the Melbourne training room last week.
"That Melbourne is a very much stronger team than usual, is proved in what Dan Minogue said in his speech to the Carlton side before they went out to play our team last Monday," Checker told me. "He said to them: 'Men, when you go out there today, remember that you're up against a different Melbourne—not the one to which you've been accustomed. They're going to bump you, and they're going to bump hard—so don't be surprised when you find yourself up against a forceful side'."
"I'm very pleased with the way the team's been shaping," Checker said. "They haven't been winning matches, but with practically a new side of men, recruited from all parts of the State (and from other States, too), and with the necessitation of so many weekly changes through accident and illness, the team hasn't had a chance to settle down. When they're able to play the same eighteen Saturday after Saturday (as the selectors would have them do) they'll prove one of the hardest teams to beat in the League."
A Melbourne stalwart of past seasons, Jim Abernethy, was pulling on his boots in a corner. "Hello, Jim! going to play again?" I hailed him. "Just having a run to keep in form in case I should be wanted," he told me.
The name of Jim Abernethy is one that will not readily be forgotten in the annals of Public School football. Playing in the centre for Wesley College—a school that has given such champions to League football as Ivor Warne-Smith, Gordon Rattray, Arthur Tulloch, "Dooley" Lilburne and Jim himself—"Aber" (as they called him for short) was the idol of all schoolboys, and so often did he handle the ball that there developed a shout that became almost a war-cry: " 'Aber' again—'Aber' again!"
In another corner of Melbourne's' spacious dressing room, two ex-Fitzroy players were preparing to go out for a run—Colin Niven (now vice-captain of Melbourne), and Arthur Dickens, who was a great performer for the Maroons on the wing. Arthur roved effectively for the Red Legs last season, but injured his leg in a practice match, and has thus not been able to strip for the team this year. However, he gave himself a gentle try-out in a friendly game with his firm's team last weekend, and as he managed to notch five goals, it seems that it will not be long before he is available for selection.
Colin Niven is the ex-Maryborough champion, about whom so much fuss was made when it was reported he was coming to play in Melbourne. With perhaps the exception of Haydn Bunton, no country footballer has created such a stir as Colin, and I can well recall the flutter of excitement that stirred football followers when it was reported in the paper that he was to come up and strip for Essendon. But he changed his mind and decided to stay with Maryborough—and then some years later it was reported that he was to play for Melbourne. But it was with Fitzroy he finally stripped…and now, after playing with the Maroons for three years, and also captaining them, he has come across to act as first lieutenant to "Pop" Vine.
“Singing in the bath tub" is the order at Melbourne, and vocal inflictions, ranging from excerpts from musical comedy to what was no doubt intended to be gems from grand opera, assailed me from the direction of the showers. I found two other ex-team mates, in Eric Glass and Les Jones, sharing a tub and splashing away to their hearts content. Both come from the East Fremantle team, Western Australia, and are having their first years with Melbourne. Les Jones is a centre player of class, who looks like developing into the outstanding pivot player in the League, and Eric Glass is a stocky follower and a half-forward, capable of kicking a lot of goals.
"Les and I have always been together," Eric said to me. "We played with East Fremantle together, we came over to Victoria together, we're both playing with Melbourne, and we're working on the M.C.C. ground together."
In another bath-tub, I found Harry Long, who is proving this year a brilliant defender for the Red Legs. Harry came to Melbourne from the apple isle of Tasmania, recommended by that ex-Fitzroy dasher, "Snowy" Atkinson.
Bill Libbis, who has come across from Collingwood, and "Pop" Vine, the Red Legs' captain, were also there. Pop is slowly striking form again after his enforced absence through illness, and (as a change from his long service at centre half-back) is sharing the first ruck with Colin Niven and Percy Beames. Surely no new player to League football ever had a more nerve-wracking debut than did Pop Vine when he played his first game with the Red Legs in 1926. It was made in the Grand Final game against Collingwood—and thus he enjoyed the honor of his first League game being a premiership one.
A chat with Gordon Ogden elicited the information that his famous father, "Butcher" Ogden (after whom Gordon is nicknamed), who roved so brilliantly for Essendon, is still fit and willing to enjoy a game of football.
"We often play with him in friendly Sunday games," Gordon told me, "and whenever he plays he is always the best man on the ground. He's still a better footballer than either my brother Terry or I." He must be playing well to be better than Gordon, for this young back man is at present one of the best defenders in the game.
I found Fred Pleass, the genial head-trainer, giving an injured ankle the benefit of his hot air—mechanical "hot air," I mean! Fred was with the team as head-trainer in their premiership year—in fact, has been with the Red Legs in that capacity for 10 years. He was a trainer al Richmond in 1923 and in 1920 was head-trainer of St Kilda.
As both trainer and masseur, Fred has done splendid work for the players since his association with the club, and has ever been ready to treat injured men at all times of night and day. Fred was also the first secretary and organiser of the South Melbourne Open Sea and Life-saving Club, formed in 1913, and first secretary of open-sea bathing in Port Phillip Bay. He was physical culture instructor to the Albert Park Methodist School for six years.
On the way out of the room I stopped to chat to tall Bob Johnson, who has been such a tower (literally) of strength to the Red Legs since he came across from Northcote in 1926. Bob has not been feeling too well of late, and has been suffering from back trouble, but he assured me that he has "never felt better in his life than at present," and that "the old trouble has all cleared up." This should be good news to Melbourne supporters, for Bob at his best is the hardest high-mark to check in League football.
Title: Round the training rooms. No. 3—MELBOURNE
Author: F. Keith Manzie
Publisher: Table Talk (Melbourne, Victoria: 1885-1939)
Date: Thursday, 15 June 1933, p.10