‘THE NEW PONSFORD…….’

Alec Fraser had just begun to exhibit flashes of his precocious cricket talent in the mid-1920’s when the good judges handed him a moniker – ‘The Next Ponsford’……..

Bill Ponsford, the thick-set Victorian, was every kid’s idol in the pre-Bradman era. An opening batsman and run-scoring machine, his deeds have been forever immortalised by the naming of a Grandstand in his honour at the MCG – the scene of many of his triumphs.

Alec’s performances fell well short of the legend to whom he was compared, but nevertheless, he was to carve out a brilliant sporting career in his adopted home town………….

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Born and raised in Albury, his parents were Highland Dancing enthusiasts. Alec was just four when his father passed away, leaving his mum to single-handedly raise the four Fraser siblings.

There was never any chance of the lad, nicknamed ‘Tony’, pursuing the noble art of Highland Dancing……….he was enraptured by football and cricket, at which he showed exceptional promise.

Wangaratta Football Club first made contact with him when he was playing with Albury Rovers, in the Albury & District Football League.

After starring in premierships in 1926 and ‘27 alongside future triple-Brownlow Medallist Haydn Bunton ( who was two and a half years younger), Alec moved down the highway to join the ‘Pies, who teed up a job for him at the Co-Store in May 1928.

Wangaratta’s fortunes had plummeted since their glorious, unbeaten Premiership of 1925. A mass exodus of players – added to a financial crisis – forced them into a solid re-build. The first signs of a revival were shown when Fraser, and two other newcomers, Jim ‘Coco’ Boyd and Stan Bennett bolstered the side.

Against the odds, they held onto fourth spot – and a finals berth – despite going down by 29 points to St.Patrick’s in the final round. The arch rivals re-engaged the following week, in the First Semi-Final, and the ‘Pies held onto a smidgeon of hope of causing an upset.

Alas, disaster struck. St.Pat’s booted 30.12 to 9.8, with the dynamic, unstoppable, future Richmond captain Maurie Hunter snaring 19 goals. It remains the highest score, and biggest Semi-Final winning margin in O & M history………..

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19 year-old Fraser had certainly lived up to expectations at his new Club, and was selected in the Ovens and Murray team which played a VFL rep side at the Showgrounds in mid-season.

With five minutes remaining in a classic contest, O & M led by a point, but the VFL steadied, to win 16.15 to 15.14 . Skipper Harry Hunter, ‘Coco’ Boyd ( 5 goals) and old Albury Rovers team-mates Bunton and Fraser were their stars.

Whilst Bunton was lured to VFL football amidst a much-publicised recruiting frenzy which resulted in Fitzroy procuring his services in 1931, Fraser’s elevation came about in low-key fashion.

He received letters of invitation from Hawthorn, St.Kilda, Fitzroy and Footscray and, despite anguishing about making the move, agreed to turn out with the Saints.

They arranged employment at Leviathon Men’s Store in the City, but from the moment he arrived Alec was decidedly uncomfortable. He made a promising debut against Collingwood, and followed up with strong performances in losses to Footscray and Carlton, then headed home.

Wangaratta had, in his absence, begun a two-year hiatus in the Ovens & King League. The champion mid-fielder was warmly welcomed when he returned, mid-season. He figured in their successive O & K flags, and took out the B & F in 1932.

When the Pies resumed their place in the O & M in 1933 he was installed as vice-captain to the eventual Morris Medallist Fred Carey, and played his part in a nail-biting, pendulum-swinging Grand Final.

With the aid of a strong breeze, Border United led by 18 points at quarter-time, but the Pies proceeded to kick seven straight in the second, to hold sway, 7.2 to 4.4 at the long-break.

United again took over, adding 5.4 to three points, to take a 16-point lead into the final term, which developed into a pulsating affair. With the seconds ticking away, Wang doggedly preserved a seven-point lead, then United fought back with a late goal. They continued to attack strongly, but the siren blared, to signal a famous one-point Magpie victory.

An adaptable player with a good turn of pace, Fraser was initially tried as a winger, but gravitated to the midfield, where he was to stay for the next 14 years. His fitness, which he worked on assiduously, was maintained by competing in occasional district Athletic Carnivals.

He proved a loyal side-kick to the great Fred Carey, and the pair guided Wangaratta to another flag in 1936. Surprisingly, the Pies slumped, and won just two games the following year, to collect the wooden-spoon.

This heralded the arrival of a new coach, Norm Le Brun. Wang rebounded strongly to convincingly outpoint Yarrawonga in the 1938 decider. “It was the greater all-round strength and teamwork of players like Ernie Ward (6 goals), Norm Le Brun and Alec Fraser that took them to the flag….” the Border Morning Mail reported.

The nomadic Le Brun departed after one more season, and 11 applicants signified their interest in the plum Wangaratta coaching post.

Fraser was appointed, for the princely sum of two pounds 10 shillings per week. There were many obstacles ahead, with the season being played against the backdrop of World War 2, but the League heeded the Prime Minister’s call to ‘carry on regardless’.

It was hardly an ideal scenario for a rookie coach to be thrust into. The Pies found the going hard in this condensed 10-game season, and bowed out of the finals when knocked over by Yarrawonga in the First Semi.

It was an anticlimactic conclusion to the O & M football career of a 203-game Wangaratta champion……..

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One of the first people to make Fraser’s acquaintance upon his arrival in Wangaratta had been a rough-hewn ‘cockie’, Clem Fisher.

The pair were to become as ‘thick as thieves’ as footy team-mates in 1928, but more to the point, also went on to establish themselves as undoubtedly Wangaratta’s greatest-ever opening batting combination.

They were poles apart as personalities.

Fisher could bluntly be termed a ruthless, ‘win at all costs’ cricketer who had no qualms about bending the rules of the game if it meant victory could be achieved.

Fraser was his direct antithesis. Universally admired as a true gentleman, he was a quietly-spoken, well-respected, humble soul.

And whilst Fisher would assert his dominance at the crease early, and was inclined to bludgeon the bowling, Fraser was a stylist, with excellent timing – a caresser of the ball.

Alec had already provided a glimpse of his class by becoming the first Century-maker on the newly-laid Showgrounds wicket in November 1928. It was the first of 15 centuries and 37 half-centuries he scored in WDCA cricket, many of them carved out on this strip of turf he was to call his own. He went on to compile 7131 runs in Club matches.

He collected his first WDCA batting average in 1932/33 and the last in 1954/55, when he averaged 69.7, at the ripe old age of 46.

He and Clem ‘clicked’ as a pair when they first came together at Country Week in 1929, and thereafter rarely failed to give Wangaratta the start they needed.

Their stand of 243 against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 took Wang to a total of 2/319 ( Fraser 158*). Three days later, Alec retired on 119, in a score of 8/393. The Fraser/Fisher unbeaten partnership of 250 against Wimmera in 1937 remains a WDCA Country Week record.

His five ‘tons’ and nine half-centuries at Melbourne were a contributing factor to the three CW titles that Wangaratta clinched during their Golden Era of the thirties.

With the drums of War beating loudly, sport was put on the back-burner, but Alec’s application to join the Army was denied because of his flat feet.

Instead, he, his wife Bess, and their two young daughters Noeleen and Desma moved to Melbourne in 1942, where they took over a Greengrocer’s shop in Whitehorse Road, Balwyn. Alec played with the local Sub-District side, winning the batting average in two of the six years in which he played .

On their return to Wangaratta, he operated a Mixed Business on the corner of Baker and Rowan Streets and again threw himself headlong into local sport.

He accepted the captaincy of the newly-formed St.Patrick’s Club. Some observers rated a century he made ( 104 out of 173 ) in the 1949/50 Semi-Final as his finest WDCA knock. St.Pat’s had finished on top of the ladder, and rated their chances of winning the Grand Final, but had to share the flag with Wangaratta when bad weather ( and the encroaching football season ) brought a halt to proceedings.

Alec played his last WDCA season in 1955/56, with new club Magpies, an offshoot of the Wangaratta Football Club. As its Secretary and elder statesman, there were glimpses, in a handful of games, of the Master of the crease that he had proved to be for over two decades………..

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The shy, teen-ager who arrived in Wangaratta as an unproven commodity in 1928, departed the playing field as a WDCA Life Member and Hall of Fame inductee ; a Wangaratta Football Club Life Member and Team of the Century centreman.

Alec Fraser passed away in 1983, aged 74……..

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