‘A SALUTE TO THE CENTURIONS……..’

The dreaded Covid-19 Crisis has created confusion on a global scale……and local Football has become entangled in the maelstrom.

The proposed regulations are still hazy, and are changing by the week…..When will it be feasible to kick off again ?…….Won’t the absence of crowds have a devestating effect on Club finances ?…

It’s an open-ended debate. But compare it to the quandary facing the game in the aftermath of the Great War.

The nation was still recuperating . Having been bereft of organised competition for three and a half years, local footy was sluggish on the uptake. Clubs had to basically start from scratch….. the shadow of the Spanish Flu was also lurking ominously……..

Yet once the initial steps were taken to resume, administrators found that players and supporters, having been deprived of the sport they loved for so long, responded enthusiastically………

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Wangaratta is commemorating a famous premiership this year…… It’s the Centenary of their 1920 Ovens and King flag triumph over Eldorado.

The two Clubs had developed an intense rivalry from the time they first tangled, in 1903. The Red and Whites ( or the ‘Blood and Bandages’ as they were often dubbed ) had won three flags and were always at – or near – the top of the O & K ladder.

They reaped the benefit of having several handy players employed on the Dredge, and their proximity to Wangaratta added a ‘Local-Derby’ type flavour to clashes with the ‘Pies.

When the O & K resumed in 1919, so did hostilities between the arch rivals. Sharing a win apiece during the Home-and-Away rounds, they were slated to meet in a crucial Final at Beechworth.

The start of the Mid-Week game was delayed a couple of hours, due to the late arrival of a special train from Wangaratta, jammed with 600 spectators. Dusk was falling on Baarmutha Park when the match concluded at 6.30.

The large crowd witnessed an epic encounter. Wangaratta sneaked home by a point – 2.3 to 2.2, but because Eldorado had been the minor premiers, League regulations allowed them the right of challenge.

This time Wangaratta hosted the game, which attracted 2,000 spectators; the majority of them barracking for the home team.

It developed into a bloodbath. Eldorado held sway virtually from the first bounce and led 2.10 to 0.5 at three quarter-time. They went on with the job in the final term, adding 4.6 to a solitary point.

It was a decisive victory, but the ripples of discontent from the demoralised Wangaratta camp developed into a crescendo the following week.

The newspaper report of the Council meeting was headlined: FOOTBALL, OR BULL-FIGHTING ? The Mayor, Cr. Billie Edwards said he watched the game in horror. He added: “I am satisfied that football is now a rotten sport.”

Councillor Tweed was more expansive: “I am disgusted with the displays of savagery that took place in that Grand Final. The piece of Silver Plate that was the cause of all the trouble should have been given to the winner long ago,” he thundered.

“Wangaratta played good, clean football, but they were subjected to viciousness and brutality. I must protest against the Wangaratta ground being used for such a degrading display……….”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Magpies spent the summer months licking their wounds.

Recruiting had been kept to a minimum. Of course the League’s Radius Rule restricted them to landing players who resided no more than five miles from town. This was designed to curtail the bigger Clubs from lavishing money on expensive imports, or pinching players from the smaller towns in the League.

But there was certainly a sense of solidarity within the Wangaratta camp. Part of that could be attributed to the solid leadership of Arthur Callander, a local businessman, who became the Club’s first Post-War President when elected in 1919.

Callander had attended St.Patrick’s College, Ballarat, a well-known football nursery. When he returned home to take his place in the family Emporium, he quickly involved himself in the sporting affairs of the town.

In fact, you’d liken him to a 1920’s version of Eddie McGuire. He was 26 ( younger than many of his players ) when he took over the leadership of the footy club, and was also promptly voted in as O & K President.

With a stable bank balance of 6 pounds 12 and sixpence and a healthy list of players, there was genuine optimism around the Wangaratta camp.

On-field problems, though, needed to be dealt with. Long-serving Peter Prest resigned from the Captaincy. There was a suggestion he was offended that some players were always kicking to their mates, to the detriment of the side.

The loyal veteran Harold Hill, who had begun with the Pies back to 1908 and had also acted as secretary/treasurer, was nominated for the role, as was another old-timer, Les Kewish.

Hill was elected, but later stood down because he felt unsure he had the full support of the group. The position was eventually handed to Bob Metcalf. Decorum seemed to have been restored to the playing ranks.

But consistency plagued their performances during the season. They scored percentage-boosting wins against bottom-rungers North Wangaratta, Everton and Milawa, but it was a different story against tougher opposition.

They got home by less than 10 points in each of their clashes with Beechworth and Whorouly, but had fallen well-short against the well-equipped Eldorado and ever-improving Moyhu. At the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds Wangaratta were entrenched in fourth spot, with a 10-4 win-loss record.

Both Semi-finals produced surprising results. The Magpies finished on strongly to defeat Moyhu, whilst Beechworth caused a shock by clinging on to a three-point win over Eldorado.

This pitted Wangaratta against Beechworth in the Final. They’d scored one-point wins over the boys in Red and Black in both of their 1920 meetings. It proved another nail-biter, with the Pies falling in by 5 points – 7.7 to 6.8.

The game’s aftermath , sadly, was shrouded in controversy. Wangaratta’s Peter Prest claimed that he’d been offered 10 pounds by a well-known citizen to ‘throw’ the Final.

Rumours also circulated that several Beechworth players had been bribed to ‘play dead’. It prompted one of them, ‘Brahma’ Davis, to pen a firm denial to the newspaper. “We just played poorly,” he stated.

The League decided to take no action on the matter.

Thankfully, too, as Eldorado, the Minor Premier, had exercised their right to challenge Wangaratta for the flag………

Wang shocked their opponents with an electrifying first quarter, and, to the surprise of the large crowd, which had paid 73 pounds 5 shillings at the gate, went on with the job.

They had a virtually unassailable 32-point lead at three-quarter time. But Eldorado fought back valiantly. In the dying stages they had all the play. The siren beat them, as they went down by nine points – 10.11 to 8.14.

“Norman McGuffie was the most consistent and best player. Les Kewish was ever-clean and ‘Scotty’ McDonald, the most popular man in the team, played well as usual,” said the Chronicle scribe.

The Pies were basking in the glory of their first premiership in 15 years……….

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Two years later, under the guidance of Arthur Callander, Wangaratta returned to the Ovens and Murray League, then took out their maiden O & M flag in 1925.

An inspirational figure, Callander was to remain at the helm for eight years, during which the Club played in seven Grand Finals. At one stage, in the mid-twenties, he was wearing multiple hats as President of Wangaratta, the O & M, the Wangaratta Athletic Club, Wangaratta Turf Club, St.Patrick’s Race Club and North-East District Racing Association.

It was said of Callander that: “Everyone who meets him becomes his friend. He has the facility of combining dignity and good fellowship.”

But, as we glance through this 1920 line-up, we recognise several others who were to make a sizeable impact on the town in the decades to follow:

…….Like Gordon ‘Scotty’ McDonald, who stood just 5 feet 4 inches and was renowned for his bravery throughout 147 games in Black and White. He played on until the early thirties, rejecting frequent approaches to try his luck in League football. He opted instead, to stick with his job as a grocer at the Co-Store, which he held until just before his death.

When Wangaratta fell upon hard times McDonald combined his playing duties with the role of Secretary from 1927-‘30. He remained a fervent Magpie.

……..Martin Moloney, along with ‘Scotty”, figured prominently in Wangaratta’s 1925 O & M premiership side and was a fixture in the line-up for many years. The family’s Butchery, on the site of the present-day Moloney’s Arcade, in Reid Street, became Martin’s domain.

………Norman McGuffie’s sojourn with Wangaratta lasted from 1919 to 1962. He proved to be a star in his 107 games. Upon hanging up the boots in 1927, he joined the Committee and stayed for 35 years. Incorporated in this was four years as Secretary/Treasurer, from 1935-‘38, and two spells as President, from 1949-‘53 and 1959-‘62.

……..Vic Woods possessed the tall, lean physique of his son Graeme, who became one of the O & M’s finest ruckmen in 249 games with Wangaratta. Graeme was a regular inter-League representative and played in 6 premierships. His son Richie carried on the family tradition, playing with Wangaratta during the seventies.

………When Marty Bean retired as a player he took over as Wangaratta’s Head Trainer for 17 years. Many footballers, searching for that extra yard, sought the tutelage of the astute ‘Old Fox’. The Showgrounds was Marty’s stamping-ground in summer, as he fine-tuned athletes for more than four decades, training three Wangaratta Gift winners.

………..One of Marty’s protege’s was the Club’s boundary-umpire, Jim Larkings, who pursued a lengthy, successful athletics career. He filled the minor placing in Gifts around the State on so many occasions, without ‘greeting the judge’, that they nicknamed him ‘The Shadow King’.

Like ‘Old Marty’, Larkings’ preferred mode of transport was a trusty bicycle, which was still conveying him around town – and down to the footy from his Swan Street residence – well into his nineties……….

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

P.S: As a sidelight to the recollections of Wangaratta’s 1920 Premiership, the Club was recently contacted by descendents of Jim Gleeson, a key member of the team.

The Medal that Jim received as the Most Popular Player of 1920 (Best & Fairest) has been handed down through generations of his family. They’re keen to pass it on, for inclusion among the Club’s Memorabilia.

Covid-19 has jeopardised a planned function, but some time in the future the Pies hope to formally ‘Salute the Centurions’…………..

Featured

THE ALL-ROUNDER, THE IMPORT, AND THE COACH WHO STAYED

The Wangaratta Football Club has existed, in some shape or form, for more than 128 years.

Its history reveals stunning highs, cataclysmic lows, and the usual dramas and controversies that beset all sporting organisations.

A handful of the game’s greats have worn the Black and White……There have been characters, rascals and undesirables – and people of great devotion and unswerving loyalty.

In short, there has been a smorgasbord of personalities.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of three such ‘characters’, who turned out for the Pies in the early days of the 20th century……..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

  THE ALL-ROUNDER

Charles Bernard Meadway was 20 when he made his way into Wangaratta’s O & M side during the 1899 season. For most of the next 16 years he would prove to be one of the team’s stars – when he was available.

He was born in Dunedin (N.Z) and his family moved to Australia six years later. The Meadways resided in Bendigo, before eventually settling in Wangaratta.

His sporting career ran parallel, in some respects, to that of the legendary Bill Hickey, who is regarded as possibly the town’s finest all-round sportsman.

But Bernie wasn’t far behind. A brilliant cricketer, he was the WDCA’s leading wicket-taker on four occasions, and hit four WDCA centuries. His ‘hands’ of 130, 150* and 143 indicated that he was partial to a decent stint at the crease.

But his stand-out knock came in 1907/08 when he hammered 210* for Wangaratta against Oxley. It remains the fourth-highest individual WDCA score. For good measure, in the same match, he took 11 wickets.

Later that season, he was selected in a Victorian Country Cricket team, which played a match against the Melbourne Cricket Club at the M.C.G.

Years earlier, on the eve of the 1902 footy season, Bernie appeared set for a lengthy absence from the sporting arena when he enlisted to fight in the Boer War. Fortunately, a month later, peace prevailed and he returned to the playing ranks.

During the early 1900’s Wangaratta alternated between the O & M.F.A and the Ovens and King District Association. After playing his part in an O & K flag in 1905, it was announced that Meadway had made his last appearance, as he would soon be playing with Carlton.IMG_4046

But, after just one game with the Blues, he was back with Wangaratta, and helped them to another flag.

Collingwood lured Bernie down for a run the following season. Reports filtered back that he had been constantly mentioned for his brilliant play in his VFL games. But inevitably, the boy from the bush returned home after three games.

It was the sport of Trap-Shooting that captured his attention and prompted lengthy absences from the Wangaratta side.

His effort of ‘grassing 23 sparrows in a row, and 108 birds without a miss, gave Meadway a world-record in 1907.

‘He used ballistic powder and a beautiful Clarborough and Johnstone gun,’ stated the Chronicle. But in a sombre message, which would have caused some heart-ache to Wangaratta fans, they reported that he intended to retire from football to concentrate on Sparrow-Shooting.

This, however, proved a fallacy. Bernie continued to combine his shooting excellence with regular cricket and football appearances.

After one exciting victory in 1912, a supporter rushed into verse to laud the performance of the Wangaratta side:

“Come let us join together, boys, and sing to all a song.

Of how we play at football and roll the ball along,

Of how we beat Moyhu, who thought they were too strong –

When we’re playing to be Premiers.

“Gil Ebbott is our rover, boys, for ever on the ball.

He can travel with the best of them- the daddy of them all.

When Meddy runs at a man, then someone’s sure to fall.

When we’re playing to be Premiers………….”

Bernie Meadway was 36 years old, and still single, when he played his last game for Wangaratta, during the 1915 season. He enlisted with the AIF and joined the Remount Unit in the deserts of the Middle East.

He returned from the Great War in 1919, to become a successful businessman and continue his shooting career. He won the first of his six Australian Championships in 1920, and competed on three occasions against the world’s best at Monte Carlo……….

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

THE ‘FLY-BY-NIGHTER

Bernie Meadway, in his handful of games in 1915, would have no doubt made the acquaintance of Albert Hezikiah (Vernon) Bradbury, who was one of the most ‘colourful’ identities ever to be lured to the Wangaratta Football Club.

Bradbury was a flamboyant midfielder/forward, who made three appearances with St.Kilda before being lured to Footscray in 1910, aged 20.IMG_4047

The Footscray  Advertiser reported in 1914 that: ‘The football Oval was the stage from which Banbury kept crowds entranced with his wizardry.’ . ‘He marked, feinted and twisted with a nonchalance that often left his opponents flat-footed and humiliated. There are few footballing dodges of which he is not the master……’

The champion, whose favoured position was centre half forward, once hit the post seven times in a match against Port Melbourne in 1912 – a record which still stands.

He was a star in Footscray’s 1913 premiership victory, but was one of 5 players sacked by the Club when they played abysmally in the 1914 Grand Final. It had been alleged that more money changed hands in that game than any other in the VFA’s history.

IMG_4041
Footscray’s 1913 VFA Premiership team. Vernon Banbury is far right, middle row.

So, when Wangaratta were looking to bolster their ranks upon being re-admitted to the O & M, they sought the services of the mercurial star, who had become available – and reportedly amenable to the lure of a ‘quid’.

The spectre of War hung over the O & M in 1915. There was some conjecture as to whether matches should continue whilst fighting raged overseas, but nevertheless,  the season rolled on.

The Magpies chalked up a handful of wins – and a draw against the all-powerful Rutherglen. But their most exciting victory came in a heart-stopper against contenders Albury.

With minutes remaining, Edwards kicked a goal to bring Wang within a point. The sides drew level, then Banbury, displaying his great skills, evaded several opponents to snap the winning behind.

He had been a more than handy player with Wangaratta, but, upon the abandonment of the O & M at season’s end, because of the War, he returned to the city.

Vernon found his way back to Footscray, and featured in their successive VFA flags of 1919 and ‘20. He resigned briefly during the latter season when supporters accused him of playing ‘dead’.

By now his life was in disarray, and his reputation as a playboy had cast him as a controversial figure. Overlooked for the 1922 Grand Final, which Footscray lost to Port Melbourne, he was subsequently disqualified for life by the VFA, for the attempted bribery of Port players.

The erratic career of Vernon Banbury took another turn when, in a defiant gesture towards the VFA, the Footscray Football Club bestowed Life Membership upon him at their next Annual Meeting.

Eighty-two years later, in 2010, he was admitted to the Western Bulldogs’ Hall of Fame………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

THE COACH WHO STAYED……

Matt O’Donohue was Banbury’s team-mate, and another of the Footscray players who had become embroiled in the bribery scandal that emanated from their 1922 Grand Final loss.

It was alleged that the lightly-built rover and Bulldog vice-captain had offered an on-field bribe to a Port Melbourne opponent, George Ogilvie. It came as a shock to Footscray fans, who had come to love and respect the local lad. Thankfully, the charge was not sustained.IMG_3836

But O’Donohue had already decided to move on. He accepted a coaching appointment with Wangaratta, and was introduced to a welcoming crowd at the club’s March 1923 Annual Meeting.

He proved an inspiring leader, and introduced a slick, systematic, running game, with an emphasis on handball, which troubled all sides.

His own form was quite outstanding, although he was to come in for his share of rough treatment during the season.

Unfortunately, for O’Donohue’s coaching aspirations, he ran slap-bang into the fabled St.Patrick’s line-up.  ‘The Green Machine’, in the midst of a Golden Era, proved too strong for Wang in the 1923 Grand Final and triumphed by 17 points.

After the Pies  finished runners-up again the following season, he handed over the coaching reins to Percy ‘Oily’ Rowe in 1925, but continued to be one of the ‘big guns’ in a team which boasted stars on every line.

He and big ‘Oily’ proved a lethal ruck/rover combination and played a major part in Wangaratta snaring their first O & M flag. Fighting back from a sizeable quarter-time deficit, they out-pointed Hume Weir by 21 points .IMG_4043

O’Donohue’s class at the fall of the ball was recognised the following season, when he was selected to rove to Rowe in the O & M’s representative clash against the VFL at the Albury Sportsground.

His swansong game with the ‘Pies came in their resounding 14-goal defeat at the hands of St.Pat’s. It was his fourth successive O & M Grand Final, and  a sad farewell for the veteran.

He sated his sporting urges by playing cricket and golf, but continued to follow the fortunes of the footy club with a keen interest.

Arthur Callender, the respected administrator who had engineered Matt’s move to Wangaratta, had become a close confidant, and coaxed him into becoming his off-sider in some of the sporting organisations with which he was involved.

At one stage Matt was concurrently Secretary of the Athletic, Turf and Speed-Coursing Clubs, whilst Callender held the role of President.

When the outbreak of World War II forced the disbandment of the Carnival in 1940, it terminated O’Donohue’s reign as Secretary. He had held the position for 17 years, and had become renowned for his contribution to sport in Wangaratta……….

 

*With assistance from ‘UNLEASHED’, the Western Bulldogs’ History”