85 CFC Games Played
1 CFC Goals
By Michael Roberts:
Collingwood has pulled off some wonderful recruiting coups over the years, but it’s arguable if any have had the overall impact on the club of Bill Strickland.
Strickland was one of the 40 players running around Victoria Park the day the Pies played their first ever game as a senior football club, back in 1892. The only trouble was, on that day, he was playing for Carlton. But a year later he crossed to Collingwood as an experienced leader, where he went on to become Collingwood’s first great captain and one of the pivotal figures in the club’s early years – helping save the Magpies from early extinction and eventually piloting them to a Premiership and into the VFL.
Collingwood, as the newest club on the block, could scarcely have imagined that a player with Strickland’s profile could end up at Victoria Park. But there was a dispute over the captaincy at Princes Park, and Strickland became dissatisfied with both his fellow players and the committee. Both sides decided it would be better to part ways after the 1892 season.
This was Collingwood’s opportunity – and they pounced. To the surprise of many, Strickland agreed to join a team whose first season had produced only three wins, 14 losses and a draw. Inexplicably, however, the VFA’s Permit Committee refused to grant Strickland his permit, without which he could not play. The dispute dragged on into the season, and numerous letters appeared in major newspapers criticising the committee for its puzzling and unreasonable stance.
Collingwood appealed and, amidst a good deal of public outcry, the original decision was overturned. “Strick” eventually took the field for the first time against Essendon in Collingwood’s fourth game of the season. He looked rusty in the first half but improved markedly in the second. After the club’s next game, a victory against Williamstown, he was elected captain to replace McPherson. Soon, reporters were proclaiming him to be “the Strick of old”.
Almost immediately, Collingwood’s fortunes improved – both on and off the field. Strickland returned to his best form and, by 1894, newspapers were remarking that he had “rediscovered all the dash and cleverness which rendered him one of the most accomplished of Carltonians.” “He marks the ball every time it comes his way and never fails to kick it into the part of the field where his men are likely to make the best use of it,” said one reporter. A subsequent analysis of the club’s season revealed that Strickland was the team’s best player that year.
The move to Victoria Park reinvigorated Strickland’s career. So much so that, by 1896, during which he turned 32, he was named as Champion of the Colony and widely noted to be one of the two best players of the season. Again he was retrospectively adjudged to have been Collingwood’s best player that year.
Just as importantly, he was by that stage regarded as one of the finest and most astute captains in football. His efforts in the grand final were particularly memorable. After a nervous start (Collingwood initially refused to be photographed before the game for fear that to do so would jinx the team), the Pies settled down quickly. It was an exceptionally hot day, and Strickland marshalled his troops superbly to ensure they would be fit for the run home. He implored them to “take it easy” in the third quarter, then swung the high-marking defender Jack Monohan to centre half-forward for the last. Monohan’s final quarter destroyed South Melbourne but Strickland also played a splendid game, being “as spry as a colt” and displaying “masterly generalship”. Collingwood’s first flag owed much to Strick’s efforts, and especially to his nimble football brain.
His leadership had proved vital to the club in other ways too. At a time when there were no coaches and the captain played a major role in shaping a club, Strickland gave Collingwood direction and helped instil discipline that had been lacking in the first season. He was ready to stamp his authority, even where star players were concerned (in 1895, the brilliant Dick Condon was called before the committee and made to promise to “obey the captain on the field without stopping to argue”), and in so doing set standards that underpinned the Magpie successes of the next 40 years.
Strickland had originally intended to retire after the 1896 season, but his good form and fitness convinced him to stay on to see the Magpies through their first year in the VFL. At the end of his playing career, the 1897 Annual Report said: “The place of such a fair and honest man, combining as he did the qualities of a first-class player with the ability of an able general, will be hard to replace. What Strick has been to Collingwood and the game, only those closely associated with it can estimate and his fellow workers feel his loss will be a severe one”
But Strick was not lost to the game, or to Collingwood. He became Collingwood’s first official coach in 1904, having been an unofficial mentor to the team for years before. He spent more than a decade on the committee, as vice-president and VFL delegate, and also served with the Australasian Football Council and even managed Victorian touring teams.
Previously a “licensed victualler” (in more modern parlance he ran a pub) in Johnston Street, Strickland took up employment with the Federal Government and moved to Sydney. There he continued his involvement in football, coaching a police team with considerable success, and also spent more time pursuing his other great interest — fishing. He was also a composer of music, once having written a piece called Quadrille, Magpies which the local band played at the unveiling of a new clock on the club’s grandstand in 1894. Strickland lived in Sydney for the rest of his days and survived until the grand old age of 95.
Bill Strickland undoubtedly earned the title of being a great servant of the game: his contributions to football were extensive. But his time as a Magpie player and captain – and all that he did outside the playing arena – had an even more profound impact on those around him, and on all at Victoria Park. He remains a true pioneering hero of the Collingwood Football Club.
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* Player statistics include VFA (Victorian Football Association) results.