Monday 14 September, 1903
THE LEAGUE PREMIERSHIP.
COLLINGWOOD AND FITZROY. A MAGNIFICENT STRUGGLE.
COLLINGWOOD WINS BY 2 POINTS.
NOTES BY OBSERVER.
A fine finish to a fine season was the general expression of opinion on the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday, when Fitzroy and Collingwood played off for the league premiership.
The struggle was one of the most desperate yet seen on a Victorian football ground, and the issue remained in doubt up to the last kick.
With a fine afternoon the attendance was a very large one, the turnstiles showing 32,363 but, as a matter of fact, they do not fully record the crowd, which was slightly smaller than that at the final match on the same ground last year.
The number then present was 33,890, and the gate £891, as against £838 on Saturday. As a rule the games from which most are expected in good football are a disappointment, owing to over-anxiety, and for the first few minutes on Saturday it looked as though this game would be no exception, for players were scrambling, fumbling, and falling over each other in an uninteresting way, but, after about 10 minutes they settled down, and the play was worthy the occasion.
The excitement was exceptional, and as the teams settled into their places for a start the hum increased to a roar that was continuous all through. And there was reason to roar before the game was over.
It was interesting to listen at critical phases of the game when a shot for what seemed a likely goal was missed, and hear ten thousand voices roar in chorus the one word, “Behind!”
Collingwood were the first to make an impression, Rowell getting very close to goal for them before Naismith and Trotter turned the attack. Fitzroy having worked it slowly round the right wing, there was a great roar from the crowd when Milne went up in front of Monahan, marked and with a place shot, scored first goal.
In the ruck Walker, of Fitzroy, was hitting out to Trotter who invariably made good use of the ball; and Rowell and Condon had chief hand in turning another assault by Fitzroy that looked dangerous.
Collingwood’s first goal seemed to me rather an unfortunate affair. Condon got it from a free kick, close up, but, a great many were of opinion that the free kick should have gone to the other side. The players were still over-running it in their great anxiety, but Rush put in a fine dash for Collingwood, who had what slight favour there was in the wind. A fine dash of Beecham’s carried it up to Brophy so quickly on one occasion that when the Fitzroy forward got it there was not a man on his own side far enough forward to play to. Failing in this attempt they came again, and M’Speerin, getting it nearly out of a crush, scored Fitzroy’s second goal.
Some dashing football that followed was for a time all in favour of Collingwood, Angus being very conspicuous in the ruck. Rowell put in some of his meteoric dashes, while Peers and Pannam were also playing finely. It was from some neat interchanges between Angus, Pannam, and Lockwood that the latter wound up with a clever goal, while Rowell, also helped by Angus, missed one soon afterwards. Fitzroy were attacking again when the first bell rang, with Collingwood leading by a point.
Thus far the game was being played at times in a nasty spirit. If players were not striking each other, they stuck out their fists at times where someone on the other side was most likely to run against them, and more than one player was cautioned.
The rucks were constantly changed during the day, Fitzroy trying B. Sharpe, Brophy, and M’Speerin for the second quarter, instead of Milne, Wilkinson, and Trotter; while Collingwood, who began with Incoll, Angus, and Condon, changed to A. Leach, Peers, and Tulloch.
On the wing Pannam had been beating Millis rather badly, so Trotter was put up against him. The wisdom of it was doubtful, for Trotter excels with a free hand.
In the early part of the second quarter the football improved immensely, and just when Fitzroy were expected to make an impression their game got disappointing, and Collingwood were unmistakably playing with a better system. They rarely made a mistake in passing, always knew where to find their own man, and measured the distance to him with the nicest skill. Once it looked to me as though Trotter had scored, but only one flag went up. Opinions differed as to the decision in the press-box, and probably outside it also.
At the start of the game Fitzroy was most fancied, but Collingwood played such good football all through the second quarter that popular opinion swung in their favour. Tulloch and Peers were playing very smartly in their ruck, and Monahan back marking as safely as ever, while M’Cormack, Condon, and Rowell all kept black and white well to the front.
Just towards the finish of the quarter the game seemed to be turning slightly in favour of Fitzroy, but there was nothing material, and at half-time Collingwood led by five points.
The game had improved greatly on the first rough scramble, and brilliant football was seen at times. At the interval the wind suddenly changed to the south, and for ten minutes promised to blow heavily, then gradually died out altogether. In this quarter Collingwood showed the nicer football in occasional patches, one run of exchanges between Rowell, M’Cormack, and Pannam being very fine. Fitzroy’s dashes were strong, occasionally slightly frantic, and their forwards seemed rather overmatched—at any rate, they could never work the ball into a good position and missed from difficult angles.
In that third quarter it was a grand game, with all the excitement the lookers-on could possibly desire. Neither side scored a goal, but Fitzroy had the best chances, and in failing to use them to better account looked as though they had missed their opportunity. Collingwood dropped a point on the quarter, and were leading by four points.
All the indications favoured a great finish, and for the important ruck work Collingwood had in at the finish Condon, Tulloch, and Leach, while Fitzroy relied on Barker, Milne, and Brophy.
For a little while it looked as though Collingwood were going to walk away with it for their exchanges were still far superior to anything on the other side, and on one occasion Dummett, Monahan, Pannam, Condon, and Lockwood, by the prettiest bit of concerted football seen during the day, took it the full length of the ground without a Fitzroy man getting a hand on it. Fitzroy were plainly flurried just then, and when Leach passed it down to Addison, who scored fourth goal for Collingwood, they appeared for a moment to abandon all hope.
Collingwood faces beamed both on and off the ground, and they were almost running over Fitzroy. Both were much distressed, for the day was hot, the ground hard, and the pace terrific, but Fitzroy were apparently the more exhausted. Under such adverse conditions, it was with rare pluck that they struggled on, and when from a sudden dash Millis scored their third goal—to such a roar as has not often been heard on the ground —they lifted themselves to the occasion with splendid courage, and fought hard for the goal that would give them victory.
With unmistakable dismay in their faces, the Collingwood backs saw this beaten team coming at them again. M’Speerin had a good chance but spoiled it; then Millis had it within range on an angle and went very close, but not close enough. Point by point the Collingwood lead shrank, but only a few minutes were left to play, and for Fitzroy a goal meant everything.
It seemed that the reward for their rare gameness had come when Brosnan got a mark right in front and within range. He took a deliberate shot, was a couple of feet on the wrong side of the goal post and then in a wild tumult the last bell rang.
Collingwood had won a magnificent game by two points, but beyond the two points there was nothing in it either way, and Fitzroy had the melancholy satisfaction of knowing that, after all the hard battling of the season, their captain had the chance to win all the honours, with one straight kick and upon that miss the four months’ issue turned.
It was a game of which one might well say, “The victor is vanquished; the vanquished is victorious.”
To sum it all up one might have tossed a coin at the finish to see which side should be premiers, and neither would have a grievance in losing. But the 33,000 people went home well content with having seen such a finish to a stirring season. Both sides were completely exhausted, and many of the players felt the strain greatly.
J. Sharpe of Fitzroy, who had played a fine game for his side, collapsed immediately after the match, and his friends had an anxious half-hour before he regained consciousness. The worst sufferer was undeservedly one of the finest footballers in the game, Barker of Fitzroy, getting a fearful cut under the eye in a collision just on the finish of the game.
After the match there was a suggestion that the two clubs should meet again next Saturday to play a game for the charities. In every sense I think the proposal a mistake. There are occasions on which it is best to leave well alone, and this is one of them.
A good and sufficient reason why it should not be played is that it would not be a success.
The struggle is over as far as Fitzroy and Collingwood are concerned, and people would prefer the recollection of Saturday’s game rather than the repetition of one which, by comparison, would be but a sham.
We have never had a club match that was worth watching when there was no premiership points involved, and next Saturday the lovers of football will prefer visit East Melbourne, in the hope of seeing Richmond and North Melbourne, in the final for the association premiership, play just such another game as they had on the Melbourne ground on Saturday.
1903 ‘FOOTBALL. THE LEAGUE PREMIERSHIP.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 14 September, p. 7, viewed 16 August, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10571957
Collingwood: 2.3 3.4 3.6 4.7 (31)
Fitzroy: 2.2 2.5 2.8 3.11 (29)
Collingwood: Addison 2, Condon, E. Lockwood.
Fitzroy: Millis, Milne, McSpeerin.
Collingwood: Pannam, Proudfoot, McCormack, Monohan, Fell, Rowell
Fitzroy: Trotter, Beauchamp, Milne, McSpeerin, Barker, Walker
Crowd: 32,363 at the MCG.