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28 CFC Games Played
0 CFC Goals
Jasper Barclay was a supremely talented sportsman who was good enough to play football for three clubs in the pre-VFL era. But his career – and his life – ended prematurely in his mid-20s when he was the victim of a freak sawmilling accident near the country town he called home.
Percival William Barclay was born near Heywood in the western district of Victoria in 1871. His family were among the most widespread and well-known of the early settlers in the area, having built and established the old Greenvale Inn just outside Heywood in the 1840s and owning a number of sawmills.
Young Percy first made headlines in 1881 when, as a nine-year-old, he was in a nasty accident at Portland. During the rolling of the cricket pitch, the youngster’s head was somehow pressed into the ground. But he didn’t let that deter him from his love of sport, and he became one of the region’s best footballers, cricketers and athletes.
His family moved to Carlton in the 1884, and at 17 he began his career with Fitzroy. He kicked a goal against Ballarat Imperial in his first match, but beyond that his record at Fitzroy is unclear and he seems to have spent a fair bit of time with the Fitzroy Juniors. So when Collingwood was formed in 1892, it was no surprise that ‘Jasper’ – nobody seems to know where the nickname came from, but it seems to have been limited in use to his footy career – crossed to the new club in search of greater playing time.
He missed the Magpies’ first ever match, but was named on a half-back flank in the second and in a forward pocket in the third. He played 11 games in that first season and 17 in 1893, becoming increasingly specialised in his role as a running, athletic defender. “He was the smartest of the defenders,” wrote The Australasian after one game in 1893. “He showed all-round good play.” The Sportsman said he was “very brilliant” after a game against his old team, Fitzroy, late the same year. And at the end of that season, The Australasian named him as one of the Magpies’ best 10 players of the year.
Still in his early 20s, Jasper looked set for a long career at Victoria Park – though he still liked to return home to Portland to play cricket in the summer. But he fell in love with a girl from Rutherglen, and they married and went to live in her home town.
Jasper/Percy continued his football with the Rutherglen Football Club. He was part of their inaugural premiership in the Ovens and Murray League in 1895 – but that was the year he made headlines that year for all the wrong reasons.
During the final match of the season against Beechworth, Jasper was seen to strike an opponent named Harry Thompson while the latter was already on the ground. The incident sparked a crowd invasion of the ground. Police charges for ‘insulting behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace’ were laid, Barclay was hauled before the courts where he pleaded guilty and was ultimately fined 10 shillings, with a further 10 shillings in costs.
It was an unsavoury end to his time in Rutherglen, and the Barclays returned to Melbourne in 1896. Jasper this time pulled on the Williamstown jumper, and in his one season there was rated by a local newspaper as being among the club’s best handful of players. Williamstown officials would later say he had come to be regarded as “one of the club’s most respected players”. His son Charles was born during the year.
But at the end of 1896, Jasper again returned home to Heywood. It would prove to be a fateful decision.
While there, he did some work at the Righetti & Son’s Sawmill. As the Portland Guardian reported on 30 December: “A workman was unfortunate enough to allow his axe to slip off a log and strike the hand of a fellow employee named J. Barclay. The force of the axe was almost expended, otherwise a terrible injury would have been inflicted. As it was the axe cut the back of Barclay’s hand sufficient to sever the sinews of two of the fingers…”
Percy was attended to by a doctor in Portland, but the wound became infected. Less then two weeks later, after a short illness, he died at the St Vincent’s Hospital in Fitzroy. He was aged just 25. In a cruel twist for his family, one of Percy’s uncles, Robert Barclay, along with a cousin, had been killed in a sawmill explosion in 1895. Tragedy was nothing new to the extended family.
Even though Jasper had been away from Victoria Park for three seasons, the Magpies were deeply upset at his untimely demise. The club sent a floral tribute and letter of condolence to the family,and a collection was taken up to raise funds for his widow and young child (who would later die in the First World War). A sum of £6 – a decent amount at the time – was raised.
That says much about Percy ‘Jasper’ Barclay’s standing as a footballer at Collingwood. In just 28 games he’d obviously made a big impression on all those around him. Had he stayed at Collingwood after 1893, he might well have been part of our first flag, and the team that made it into the VFL era.
Special thanks to Harold Peacock at www.historyoutthere.com for his help in compiling this biography
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* Player statistics include VFA (Victorian Football Association) results.