Carlton's Rod McGregor
Viv Valentine (Carlton)
Collingwood's "Dick" Lee
Charlie Hammond (Carlton)
By 1915 the rivalry between Carlton and Collingwood had developed into one of, if not the, sternest in the VFL. When Collingwood developed its famed “system”, based on neat, co-ordinated forward thrusts in which short kicking, notably the stab pass, featured prominently along with a good deal of handball, Carlton, under the league’s first ever coach, Jack Worrall, were the first team to come up with an effective counter. The Blues players were instructed to mark their opponents as tightly as possible, and when in possession to kick long and high to position, thereby making the most of the aerial prowess of many of their players. Carlton had used these ploys consistently ever since 1905 and, given their success, saw no reason to alter them.
Collingwood and Carlton confronted one another at Victoria Park in round sixteen of the 1915 season the Magpies were top of the VFL ladder with 12 wins from 13 matches, with their only loss having been sustained against Carlton in round 7 at Princes Park. The margin - just 2 points. The Blues meanwhile lay in third place having won 10 and drawn 1 of their 13 games. As was almost invariably the case during the first world war, spectators tended to patronise one of the week’s matches at the expense of all the others. Thus, on this particular Saturday, a crowd of some 25,000 crammed into Victoria Park for what was unequivocally the match of the day, while the league’s other three fixtures were played out in front of negligible attendances. Carlton were missing their top forward, Vin Gardiner, but were bolstered by the unexpected inclusion of three players who had signed for AIF but granted leave to play. The Magpies were more or less at full strength.
Conditions for football were almost perfect. The weather was cool and dry, and the playing surface firm. The only negative feature was a strong northerly breeze which blew across the oval and, given their respective styles of play, might have been expected to impede Carlton more than Collingwood. Such indeed proved to be the case early on as the Magpies, deploying a good deal of effective handball, managed to rattle on three goals without off the boots of Dick Lee, Malcolm “Doc” Seddon and Harry Kerley. However, late in the quarter some slipshod play by the Magpie defence allowed the Blues to capitalise with a goal of their own, scored from point blank range by Charlie Hammond, making the score at the first change Collingwood 3.0 (18); Carlton 1.1 (7).
Play in the second term was rugged and tempestuous, with first Carlton and the Collingwood taking the initiative. At one stage the Blues led by a point, but the Magpies fought back hard to forge ahead by 16 points, 6.2 (38) to 5.4 (34). Collingwood’s style of play was described as beautiful to watch, but a trifle flashy. At half time both teams were cheered from the ground.
The Dark Blues dominated the opening minutes of the third term, but their kicking was wayward, and they only managed 4 consecutive behinds. This, however, was enough to level the scores, and it produced a determined and telling response from the Magpies, who went a goal in front courtesy of "Dick" Lee. Shortly afterwards Laurence “Gus” Dobrigh, marking close in, nabbed Collingwood’s eighth major. Viv Valentine then pulled a goal back for the visitors, but the Magpies responded with another goal to Lee, leaving them 15 points to the good at the final change: Collingwood 9.5 (59) to Carlton 6.8 (44).
The last quarter proved, for the most part, to be the equivalent of an arm wrestle. Neither side scored until ten minutes from the end when a goal to the Dark Blues brought them to within 9 points. The goal was the culmination of one of the best passages of play of the match, involving neat interplay by hand and foot between Rod McGregor, Harry Haughton, Alf Baud ending with a mark to Herb Burleigh close in, from which he could scarcely miss. Several members of the Collingwood team looked to be tiring, whereas the Blues were playing intelligently, finding teammates repeatedly with crisp, accurate foot passes.
With the game in the balance “Gus” Dobrigh of Collingwood indulged in a long, swerving run during which he evaded two Carlton opponents but was snared by the third. The Blues promptly took the ball almost the entire length of the ground and Jimmy Morris, with a clever snap, goaled, reducing the deficit to just 3 points.
Collingwood rallied, but could only manage a couple of behinds, and with the crowd now at fever pitch the Blues attacked and, after Collingwood defender Alfred “Pen” Reynolds’ pass was fumbled by Alec Mutch, Valentine swooped in to snatch up the loose ball and kick truly. Carlton had now hit the front by a solitary point.
From the resumption the Dark Blues again attacked but Les “Flapper” Hughes saved the day for the Magpies with a soaring mark. Collingwood then pushed forward in numbers, but Carlton’s defence stood firm to the end, leaving the final scores Carlton 9.9 (63) to Collingwood 9.8 (62).
Most press reports were critical of what was seen as Collingwood’s over-indulgence in handball and tendency to run with the ball too frequently. The Blues meanwhile were praised for the dash and vigour of their play, but in truth, given Carlton’s eventual margin of victory, there can have been very little to choose between the sides.
Best afield, by common consent, was Carlton follower and occasional defender Harry Haughton. “Whether forward or back, his effect on the match was tremendous. His marking was magnificent, and he has unusual dash for a big man” Other Blues players to catch the eye were Rod McGregor, the consummate counterman, rover Viv Valentine who booted 3 clever goals, defender Andy McDonald and half back flanker Alf Baud, of whom Roy Cazaly once remarked he made Haydn Bunton senior look “ordinary”.
Apart from his mistake near the end which cost his side the match Collingwood’s best player was probably Alec Mutch, while others to do well included Paddy Rowan and “Doc” Seddon, both of whome were newly enlisted soldiers.
Collingwood went on to claim the minor premiership in 1915 with a record of 14 wins and 2 defeats (both of which had been inflicted by Carlton). The Magpies then sustained an unexpected 34 point reversal in their semi final against Fitzroy, but having topped the ladder they would have a second chance by playing the team which won the final in a challenge match. That team proved to be Carlton, and for the third time during the 1915 season they proved to have the Magpies’ measure, winning on this occasion with something to spare - in the end at any rate. The first three quarters were as fiercely contested as their round sixteen minor round meeting, with Carlton leading by just 5 points at the last change. However, in the final term the Dark Blues added 5.4 to 1.0 to win in the end by 33 points.
 “The Australasian”, 14/8/14, page 21.
 “Leader”, 14/8/15, page 19, gives the player to have mis-passed the ball as Percy Wilson.
 Ibid, page 20.
 Perhaps surprisingly, Haughton’s application to enlist in the AIF had been rejected. See “The Argus”, 9/8/15, page 11.
 Rowan would die in action at the Somme in 1915. Sedan was gassed while serving on the front line, but survived, and indeed played some of the best football of his career in his final three seasons after the war.
Battling Blues - VFL round 16, Saturday 7th August 1915: Collingwood versus Carlton at Victoria Park