‘DOC’ KELLY……AND THE ROARING TWENTIES……

It’s September 1925 and Wangaratta’s streets are busier than normal on this Show-Day Saturday.

The talk is of cattle and sheep, the weather and crops, and of today’s big game – the Ovens and Murray Grand Final.
Standing outside his Reid Street surgery, a young dentist, Dr.Kelly, acknowledges the good wishes of the passers-by, as his own thoughts wander towards Wangaratta’s encounter with Hume Weir this afternoon………………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Luck’s a fortune. Sixty-six years later, I discovered that the same ‘Doc’ Kelly was still a practicing dentist. Having read of the exciting football era of the ‘Roaring Twenties’, and with a keen eye for a good yarn, I popped over and knocked on the door of his Yarrawonga home. I was met by a lively 90 year-old with, I soon discovered, a memory like a steel-trap. He was eager to share the memories of the greatest day of his football life……….
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
On display in his lounge-room is the 1925 team photo. Pinned to it is a newspaper article proclaiming this side to be the best ever assembled in country Victoria. He begins to dissect the team.
Born in the Yarrawonga area, James John Kelly chose Wangaratta as his first business venture after leaving university. He was quickly seconded into the local side when it was discovered that he had above-average football ability.IMG_3210
Wangaratta had been runners-up to St.Patrick’s for the past three years. But, through a stroke of luck, the Postal Department were putting new lines throughout the district and many jobs were created. It helped your employment prospects a fair bit if you happened to be a good footballer.
And so they came, from near and far. ‘The Doc’ could pick out 11of the 20 who found work in this fashion:

“Now this was a big, strong side; hardly had a weak link,” he tells me, providing a little resume’ of each player in the photo:
“This fellow came from out at the junction…… Emmett Maguire was his name. He only played in 1925 – captained NSW in later years……That’s Dinny Kelleher; they had him at half forward……There’s his brother Dan, up the other end. They came from Badaginnie …..Good players. I thought Dan was better, but Dinny went down and played with Carlton and South Melbourne.  Another of our players, Alan Skehan, joined him at Carlton at the same time”IMG_3212
“That’s Martin Moloney – they had a butcher shop in Wang, just near my practice…….Jack Hoare came from Tungamah.  Jack skittled me accidentally one day. He lined someone up and hit me. I was a sick man for the rest of the day. He later played with Melbourne. How he got there I do not know.”
The ‘Doc’ digressed to tell me a tale which indicates how football could open doors, even in those days: “There was a star player who trained with us, then went up to the Weir looking for work. He said: ‘I’ll play footy for you, but I don’t want to work.’
“ ‘You won’t have to work,’ he was told. ‘What you’ve gotta do is put a shovel or an axe over your shoulder. Just look like you’re working.’ “

“I asked them a couple of months later how ‘so and so’ was going. ‘Oh, no bloody good. He was too lazy to carry the shovel. He spent all day sitting behind a post reading the paper and wondered why they gave him the sack !’ ”
Percy Rowe, who had led Albury in 1924, was recruited to coach this array of talent. ‘Oily’, who had been a member of some good Collingwood teams, went back later on, in fact, to play in another two premierships with the ‘Woods.
“Percy Rowe was a big fellah. The worst kick I ever saw in my life. He couldn’t kick you in the guts if you were lying down,” the ‘Doc’ joked . “But he dominated the ruck. He got good money to coach in those days. Ten quid a week and accomodation for him and his wife at the Council Club.IMG_3203
He was a carpenter by trade. Quite a good leader and a lovely chap, Percy.”
Wangaratta went into the Grand Final as hot favourites.

They were unbeaten, and had won most games by big margins.
But a great opening burst by Hume Weir saw the ‘Pies down by 14 points at the first change. Wang fought back well and at three quarter-time had the game in their keeping. They kicked 10.11 to 7.8 to chalk up the club’s first-ever flag. Percy Rowe, Dinny Kelleher and a young player, ‘Rowdy’ McKenzie, were the stars, according to the papers.
The Magpies returned home in triumph, by train, but ‘Doc’ Kelly says there were no celebrations.photo
“I heard later that someone was looking for me down at the Show that night, but I was safely tucked up in bed. Not like the boys these days.”
“They were good times. I remember we used to get changed in an old shed on the west side of the Showgrounds. There were no showers. We’d go home an have a bath after a game. When we played away we’d catch the train about midday and be dressed, ready to play when we reached our destination…………”
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Wangaratta retained most of their premiership line-up in 1926, and continued to battle with  St.Patrick’s for dominance of the league.
They finished the home and away games in second position, but just before the finals, eight team members lost their jobs because of the termination of the telephone work in the district.
A public meeting was held to try to keep them in Wangaratta, at least until the finals were over, but it had an unsettling effect on the players and led to what became infamously known as the ‘bust-up’.
The Magpies got into the Grand Final easily enough, and met old foes St.Patrick’s, who had the right of challenge as minor premiers, after dropping an earlier final.
The match was played at Corowa, and Wang was annihilated – 18.20 to a paltry 6.9.
The legend grew that certain Wangaratta players laid down; that money changed hands in the Council Club in Grand Final week; that the ‘bust-up’ culminated in a fight on the train, as the team returned from Corowa.
But ‘Doc’ Kelly refused to acknowledge that anything as despicable as a bribe influenced the team’s performance.
“I respected the people in the club too much, to say that anyone was bought off……….What happened has gone through my mind many, many times over the years……I asked myself: Did they train, those fellows who were working out of town. Yes, I blame our inability to get together and train, as the reason for our failure.”

“As to the ‘blue’ on the train……it was a Benalla player who clocked one of our supporters and caused an argument………”
I think the ‘Doc’ preferred to leave it that. Coach Rowe, prior to his departure from Wangaratta, was emphatic that every player tried his darndest.
The ‘bust-up’ left the Wangaratta Football Club in tatters, as most of the players sought employment elsewhere. They had a huge debt of £132, and repeated efforts to find a coach for 1927 were in vain.
“They came to me, and I said: ‘Oh well, I’ll take it on. I tried to coach, that’s all I can say. I had some blokes who could have run from the North to the South Pole, but weren’t worth a damn as footballers.”
He may have been a little over-critical of himself, as the Club blooded many players. And the administration was happy with his efforts. The Annual Report stated that: ‘……..the team, which was coached by J.J.Kelly, did very well. We have made considerable ground to wipe the debt off. The Club decided on local players instead of highly-paid men from elsewhere. Coach Kelly has given up a lot of time to do the job honorarily……..’
‘Doc’ Kelly decided to retire after that season. Concerned that a football injury could hinder his profession, he maintained an avid interest in the game from the other side of the fence.
He shifted his practice to his home town of Yarrawonga in the early ‘30’s, and remained a keen Pigeon fancier, rarely missing a home game…………….
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Six years or so after our meeting, ‘Doc’ Kelly passed away. He had continued with his mechanical dentistry work until well into his nineties. His son, who had rarely heard him discuss his footy career, treasured the insight that it gave into his younger days…………….IMG_3208

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s