An  undercurrent of  discontent  pervades Ovens and  Murray  football,  as  the dominance and pursuit  of success   by  two clubs  threatens  the well-being of the League……..

Sounds  topical,  doesn’t it ?

Maybe,  but  I’d like to take you back on a  trip through time , to a similar circumstance. To an era when  different  cultures were in vogue  and a passionate environment  inflamed the most intense  rivalry that the League has seen.

The year  is  1924  .  Albury have re-joined  the O & M after having been  part  of  the Albury & Border  Football league  since the cessation of the Great War.  The  other  team  representing  the town of Albury  is  St.Patrick’s, who  have  just completed  a hat-trick of premierships.

Cleaver  Bunton, the most revered  and influential figure in the  O & M’s long history, had a ‘ringside seat’  to the ‘goings-on’.   As a star player, Albury secretary and a delegate to the League, Cleaver  witnessed , with growing  concern , the effect  that  the developing  antagonism  was having on the game.

He recalled …”There  was keen rivalry between the players of both clubs, but it was civil war between  the so-called supporters.  When Albury and  St.Patrick’s  were opposed the gate-takings were the answer to a Treasurer’s dream.”

“Many of those attending  the  matches had no interest in football, but were only interested in the colour of the guernseys. The boycotting of  certain  businesses was rampant, citizens being verbally and physically assaulted.  Christian doctrines were mocked;  in short,  a society was fractured  by bigotry in its worst form. I saw many friendships fall apart.”

“I was keeping company with a nursing sister from the Albury Base Hospital, Eileen Bridget O’Malley, whom I subsequently married.   Despite the fact that I was the only footballer she knew,  her support was  for  St.Patrick’s and her abuse was for me.  We had a courtship of a little over two years and, during that period ,were harassed by relations and friends.”

“One Sunday afternoon  we decided  that the time had arrived to do something  definite about our marriage. Firstly, we decided  not  to  be married in a Church, but in a Presbytery or Parsonage and we would toss  a coin to decide the venue. The toss was in my favour, whereupon  Eileen said we would be married in the Methodist Parsonage. I responded  that  I  had another idea. This was that Father  Percy, a friend of mine and a champion footballer, would be asked to marry us. We were driven to Balldale and tied the knot in front of a mate of mine,  Charlie Kennedy, and  Fr.Percy’s housekeeper.  Never was there a happier marriage consummated”

St. Patrick’s  made it four flags in a row in 1924, but had to bow to a Wangaratta side in 1925, which had been  heavily bolstered by many  stars employed  on construction of  the new Postal  lines.  But St.Pat’s   belted  the Magpies to win the 1926 flag  and,despite shocking inaccuracy (12.29) were  far too good for  Albury in  front of a huge crowd , in 1927.

So the ‘Greens’  had won  6 premierships in seven years.  They  again met  Albury  in the 1928 decider and this time the Tigers  exacted  their revenge  in a classic  contest , winning 12.8 (80) to 8.16 (64)

Soon  after the Grand Final , Bunton  decided that it was time to rectify  an untenable situation. He arranged to meet  Father Slattery , the  St.Patrick’s  President.   He recalled:   “After  a period of four years it had become abundantly clear that the scourge must be abated. I  suggested to  Father Slattery that  the remedy was  to disband  St.Patrick’s.  We eventually agreed to make an approach to our respective club committees to disband.  Both committees agreed .   Then came another  problem  – to  find substitute clubs.”

“A  perfect  solution was  evolved by forming West Albury and East Albury Football Clubs. Those living east of Olive Street  became  East Albury  players and those residing  to the west of Olive Street threw in their lot with West Albury.  When the two teams met for the first time in 1929, 34 of the 36 players  taking part were former  St.Patrick’s  and Albury players.”

They  played off  in the 1929 Grand Final, with West  Albury, including  Cleaver  Bunton and his 3 brothers , George , Haydn and Wally proving victorious over  East Albury,  17.16 (118) to 15.14(104).

Sixty years later, when Cleaver  Bunton  penned his memoirs, he expressed satisfaction  at  the  result of his  meeting   with Father Slattery .  “Bigotry, as we knew it then, has disappeared”, he said.

Bunton  made an  incalculable contribution to Ovens and Murray football, but this  would have to  have been   his boldest and far-reaching decision.

Post- Script :    West Albury received  approval  from the O &M to change their  club name to Albury in 1933.   In the  same year  East Albury  became  Border United-   an amalgamation of East Albury and  Weir United.


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