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.