7 CFC Games Played
4 CFC Goals
By Glenn McFarlane:
Les Oram signed up to become an Anzac and a Collingwood footballer in the same year.
It was early 1916, and the 23-year-old mechanic enlisted in the AIF as part of the motor transport section, which meant he was required for a period of time in Australia before an eventual departure overseas.
That also meant he was able to balance his training with the military with a short stint at the Collingwood Football Club.
After one game with Heidelberg in 1914, a local newspaper opined that “his captaincy and superb play called for the admiration of all fair spectators and participants.” It seems to have been this combination of leadership and skills that led the Magpies to take him first to the District side, and then into the seniors. He was one of no fewer than five captains of local teams in the inner northern suburbs the Magpies recruited in that period.
By the end of April 1916 he was a fully-fledged Magpie. And he did not take long to make an impression on coach Jock McHale, who granted him his first game against Fitzroy at Brunswick Street Oval in Round 3.
It was a memorable debut match that ended in a thrilling draw. And Oram more than played his part, as a midfielder who spent time both forward and on the ball, being involved in several key passages of play, especially late in the game as it headed towards its pulsating climax. The Winner wrote of his performance: “I was particularly struck with Oram, one of their new players. He did many fine things, and in all his work displayed the coolness of a veteran. He was playing his best in the exciting closing stages.” The Australasian named him amongst the Magpies best players and said he “looks like developing into a serviceable player”.
Unfortunately, after such a promising debut, he was forced out of action the following week by his duties as a driver in the ambulance corps. He returned against Richmond in Round 7, and for the most part was a regular contributor for the remainder of the season, playing mostly in the forward pocket or half-forward, with occasional spells on the ball. He was reasonably quick and a lovely kick, and had a habit of standing up in the big moments.
His best performance came against Fitzroy the next time Collingwood played them, when he nailed two goals as the Magpies held on to win by one point. After that game The Winner again enthused: “Oram was another player whose fine work went a long way toward ultimate victory. Whether following or forward, he was ever in the thick of it, and always doing something serviceable.”
To prove it was no fluke, he backed it up with two more goals against Richmond the following week – including two from a long way out that one journalist noted as “the best two goals of the day”. He was also a member of the semi-final side which lost to Fitzroy – four of his seven games were against the Maroons – but did not trouble the scorers as the Magpies went down by a goal to the eventual premier.
That match would prove to be his final for the club. One newspaper named him amongst the most promising newcomers of the season. But after seven games and four goals, his VFL career was over.
Oram had his orders to leave for the front, and he bade his wife Hilda goodbye – the pair were living in Mahoney St, Richmond – as he left Australia bound for England in late 1916. He served his country well in France, and spent some time training in England. He became a Corporal, survived the war, and returned home not long after Collingwood won the 1919 “Peace Premiership.”
While he never played for Collingwood again, he continued to play football, and would eventually become a successful coach in the country regions.
Bush footy was tough back then, and on one occasion Oram had to front court as a witness to a wild brawl in 1925 during a Stawell-Murtoa match. The local paper said: “Les Oram, a Stawell player, said he noticed four or five players fighting about 20 yards away. He did not see the beginning.”
Oram opened up a motor car business in Stawell, where he also played football during the early 1920s, and it operated well until a downturn in business in 1926 brought about its closure. The loss of the business was due to the “bad business season for the sale of cars” and from the non-payment of debts from some of his clients.
That didn’t stop him from playing the game that he loved. But the end of the business no longer tied him to the Stawell district and he ended up chasing the opportunity to play and coach elsewhere. The first stop was Sorrento, where he was a member of that club’s first premiership side in 1929. He kicked a goal in the opening term of the grand final and was a constant in “engineering attacks” for his side.
It was a fitting reward for a player whose one shot at playing VFL was curtailed by the war. Still, he gave so much back to the game that he loved, and was a well-known footballer in the areas that he played, and was once described as “a brilliant captain.”
Oram died in Elmore on July 22, 1966 – 50 years to the day from his third last game of VFL football, against Carlton.
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