Explore the History of australian football

Herbert Milne of Fitzroy.

Controversial Collingwood centreman Dick Condon.

As mentioned in the introduction to the 1903 season, one of the home and away clashes between Fitzroy and Collingwood in 1903 took place in Sydney. Despite some atrocious kicking for goal, Fitzroy won this match with some comfort, 7.20 (62) to 6.9 (45). It was the Maroons’ fourth consecutive win and at that stage of the season they topped the ladder as the league’s only undefeated side.

When the two teams next met in round eleven at Victoria Park Collingwood turned the tables with a hard fought victory by 20 points. In so doing they joined ladder leaders Fitzroy on 9 wins, trailing only on percentage. Thereafter the Magpies and Maroons continued to dominate the competition and they finished the home and away and sectional matches in first and second places respectively, comfortably clear of third placed Carlton and fourth placed Geelong. This dominance was reinforced in the semi finals when Collingwood withstood a stern challenge from the Blues to edge home by 4 points while Fitzroy comfortably accounted for the Pivotonians to the tune of 52 points.

Under the terms of the finals system in operation this year minor premier the Magpies’ right of challenge had been negated by their semi final loss. This was because both they and Fitzroy entered the final having won 15 matches for the year and lost 3, and the right of challenge was conditional on the minor premier having won more matches than its opponent. Had Geelong rather than Fitzroy qualified for the final and ended up winning, the Magpies could have issued a challenge because their overall record was significantly superior to that of the Pivotonians.

Collingwood, which was the reigning VFL premier, was aiming to become only the second club since the league’s inception in 1897 to win consecutive flags. The first team to do so had been Fitzroy, in 1898 and 1899. The Magpies certainly boasted all the hallmarks of a champion side, combining ferocious determination with team skills of the highest order. They were also blessed with an abundance of individual talent in the shape of such players as skipper Lawrence Tulloch, wingman Charlie Pannam, rover or centreman Dick Condon, full back Bill Proudfoot, and versatile big man Jack Monohan.

“Lardy” Tulloch was one of the all-time great Collingwood captains, which, given that he was born in Carlton, has to be regarded as almost the supreme irony.  He joined the club in 1894, but struggled initially to make his mark.  Indeed, after sitting out much of the first half of the 1896 season with injury, he actually announced his retirement, which meant that, when the Woods secured their first ever premiership at the end of the year with a play-off win over South Melbourne Tulloch was missing.

In 1897, Collingwood was one of eight renegade clubs to quit the VFA, and start a new, rival competition, the VFL.  For reasons which are unclear, it managed to persuade Tulloch to re-think his intention to retire, and he not only fronted up for the season, he produced far and away the best football of his career to be one of the Magpies' best and most consistent performers.  Tough, skilful and extremely versatile, he could play with equal effectiveness at both ends of the ground, and was widely admired for his air of authority, and the unflappable way he went about his business regardless of the pressure he was under, or the state of the match.  In 1902 he was a popular choice as Collingwood skipper, and promptly steered the side to its second flag, and its first since the formation of the VFL.  In the challenge final against Essendon he played a tireless game as a follower as the Magpies rattled on 6 second half goals to 1 to win “pulling away” by 33 points, 9.6 (60) to 3.9 (27).  “Lardy” Tulloch would retain the role of club captain until he retired at the end of the 1904 season, having played 132 VFL games plus an unspecified number in the VFA.  The VFL portion of his career saw him kick 67 goals.

Following his retirement as a player, Tulloch enjoyed an auspicious career as a VFL central umpire, in which capacity he officiated at the 1907 premiership decider between Carlton and South Melbourne.

Charlie Pannam senior was one of the chief architects of Collingwood's famed short game - known as “the system” - which was honed on a club trip to Tasmania in 1902, and which centred on a newly invented kick, the stab pass.  Pannam was a master of this kick, but his pace, skill and general nouse gave him plenty of other strings to his bow.  He played mainly as a wingman, but was also dangerous near goal, and in 1905 he topped the VFL goal kicking list with 38 goals.  

Pannam commenced his career with the Woods during the club's time in the VFA, and was heavily instrumental in the 6.9 to 5.10 premiership play-off victory of 1896 against South Melbourne.

In 1907, Pannam joined VFA side Richmond, and helped that club gain admission to the league the following year.  However, in 1909 he was passed over for the coaching job, and left in disgust.  Pannam spent the 1909 season as captain-coach of VFA under-achievers Preston, before eventually returning to Richmond as non-playing coach in 1912.

Charlie Pannam senior's sons, Charlie junior and Alby, both represented Collingwood with distinction between the wars (and, in Alby's case, also during world war two), and the dynasty continued into a third generation with grandsons Ron and Lou Richards.

Dick Condon was a dazzlingly skilful centreman who, like Pannam, played a major role in the development of Collingwood's famed “system”.  Despite this, Condon was scarcely an archetypal team player, and was frequently involved in altercations with team mates, club officials and umpires.  In 1900 he was suspended “for life” for abusing an umpire, but the penalty was eventually lifted after eighteen months, and in 1902 he once again became a key member of the Collingwood side.  He was captain-coach of Collingwood in 1905-6, but in trademark fashion he managed to upset both his team mates and the club hierarchy, and was shown the door.

After spending the 1907 season umpiring in Tasmania he returned to Victoria the following year and joined fledgling league side Richmond.  In 1909, he was appointed coach - much to the disgust of former team mate Charlie Pannam, who resigned from the club in protest - but lasted only a year before becoming such a constant source of irritation to all concerned that he was asked to leave.  Condon subsequently moved to New South Wales where he spent the 1910 season coaching East Sydney to a losing grand final against YMCA.

Uniquely among Collingwood's ten year players, Dick Condon was never made a life member of the club, and a century on it is hard to avoid the impression that here was a troubled soul whose personal deficiencies prevented full expression of what may well have been a unique talent. 

One of the genuinely great figures in Collingwood's illustrious history, Bill Proudfoot played in the club's very first VFA match in May 1892 against Carlton, and remained an integral member of the side for fifteen seasons.  He had begun his senior career with Britannia, the club from which Collingwood would derive most of its players and officials when it was formed prior to the start of the 1892 football season.

Regarded at the time as a veritable “man mountain” at 184cm and 101.5kg, Proudfoot was a formidable on-field presence as he combined enormous strength and power with considerable pace.  He also marked and kicked well, and boasted, in abundance, the trademark Collingwood trait of immense passion and loyalty for his team.  He served as club captain in 1898, part of the 1899 season, and 1901.  At the MCG in 1894, Proudfoot was the first ever Collingwood player to represent Victoria, when he was part of a formidable backline that kept the visiting South Australians goalless.  Most of his football was played on the last line of defence, and he was at full back in the VFL premiership deciding matches of 1901-2-3.  In both 1902 against Essendon and 1903 against Fitzroy, the Magpies won, but in 1901 they went under to Essendon, with Proudfoot's departure from the fray owing to injury arguably the single most decisive factor in their loss.  In 1905, Proudfoot was recalled to the Collingwood side for the challenge final clash with Fitzroy, despite having missed most of the season through work commitments; however, he could not prevent the Magpies from losing the match by 13 points.  Nine years earlier, however, he had helped the club to its first ever flag, courtesy of a 6.9 to 5.10 (behinds not counting) victory over South Melbourne in a play-off, which had to be arranged after both teams finished level on points at the head of the ladder.  This was the last VFA premiership to be contested prior to the breakaway of eight of the competition's wealthier and more ambitious clubs - of which Collingwood was one - to form the VFL.

When he retired in 1906 Bill Proudfoot was estimated to have played in excess of 180 games, of which between 106 and 108 were in the VFL.[1]  Based on his stature in the game and his contribution to it, one imagines that he must have been a strong candidate for inclusion in his club's official “Team of The Century”, but most V/AFL clubs, including Collingwood, tended for some reason not to include their early champions in these combinations.

Jack Monohan was a brilliant follower or defender who was renowned for his superb aerial ability.  One of the few players capable of matching it with Albert “The Great” Thurgood, Monohan was controversially omitted from Collingwood's 1901 grand final line-up against Essendon, whereupon Thurgood gleefully cut loose with a near best afield performance as the Same Old ran away with a comfortable win.  The Magpies never thereafter made the mistake of dropping Monohan, and he repaid them with consistently brilliant performances for the remainder of his 234 game career, which had begun when Collingwood was still in the VFA, and finished at the end of the 1907 season.

If Monohan had a weakness it was that his kicking tended to be erratic, but even this improved towards the end of his career making him virtually the consummate footballer.

The Magpies stood head and shoulders above virtually every other side in the VFL in 1903, but if there was one team believed to be capable of derailing their premiership ambitions it was Fitzroy. Indeed, when the two sides had last met in a finals match it had been the ‘Roys who prevailed. That meeting had taken place twelve months earlier in a semi final, and there were some who believed that if the Maroons managed to harness their full potential they were eminently capable of duplicating the feat.

Fitzroy’s most noteworthy players were the same as in the previous few seasons. Bill McSpeerin, although no longer skipper, was producing the best and most consistent football of his career. The immensely versatile Fred Fontaine was also displaying impressive form. Rover Percy Trotter, follower Herbert Milne, and centreman Tammy Beauchamp were some of the Maroons’ other key performers.

In the opinion of many of the Fitzroy supporters who saw both Percy Trotter and Haydn Bunton senior in action, there was little if anything to choose between the pair in terms of all round football ability.  Both had superb balance, were extraordinarily quick, marked well, and could pass the ball with pinpoint accuracy.  Trotter though could do something that Bunton notoriously could not, which was kick well with both feet.  Moreover, in the opinion of former umpire Jack Elder, Trotter's kicks were more penetrating than Bunton's.[2] Jack Worrall was also an admirer, making the following observation:

"At a big circus show a performer is placed inside a canon, and at a given signal is actually shot out of it.  When I see Trotter roving for Fitzroy, my thoughts turn to that fellow being shot out of the gun, for that's how Trotter comes out of the pack." 

Wearing the red cap that was to become his trademark wherever he played, Trotter made his VFL debut with the Maroons as an eighteen year old in 1901, and within a couple of seasons he was universally acknowledged as one of the most accomplished players in the game.  He made his VFL interstate debut in 1903, and the same year was best afield in Fitzroy's losing grand final team against Collingwood.  He had more than adequate consolation in 1904 and 1905, however, as the Maroons secured successive flags with grand final wins over Carlton and Collingwood.  Trotter's personal form peaked in 1905 when, in the opinion of many, he was the finest player in the VFL for the year.

Fitzroy reached another premiership play off in 1906, but lost to Carlton, and the following year, after 109 VFL games and 144 goals, Trotter jumped ship, without a clearance, "for private business reasons"[3] and joined ambitious VFA side Essendon Association, which simultaneously appointed former Essendon champion Jack 'Dookie' McKenzie as coach.

After three years which saw the Dreadnoughts slowly begin to emerge from the doldrums, Trotter accepted an offer to play for East Fremantle.  Technically, however, because he had crossed to the VFA without a clearance, he remained bound to Fitzroy, and was ineligible for Old Easts until a proper clearance arrangement had been negotiated.  Oblivious - or casting a blind eye - to this, East Fremantle chose to play him anyway, and it was not until several matches into the 1910 season that the authorities caught up with the matter, and Trotter was forced to stand down.

Percy Trotter's clearance to play for East Fremantle finally arrived early in the 1911 season, and, after a somewhat tentative start, he soon began to function on full throttle.  In that year's grand final he was a key contributor with 5 goals as Old Easts demolished West Perth by 51 points.

Appointed captain of the club in 1912, Trotter retired at the end of the season, and, as was the wont of many of his contemporaries, turned to umpiring.  However, when he served abroad during world war one he again donned the boots on occasion and was said to have lost little if any of his earlier prowess.

In 2002, Percy Trotter was chosen on the interchange bench in Fitzroy's official “Team of the Twentieth Century”.

Popularly known as “Boxer”, Herbert Milne was a champion follower renowned for his energy, athleticism and guile.  He was at Fitzroy from 1902 to 1910, during which time he played 122 VFL games and kicked 69 goals, and was a dual winner of the club's best and fairest award.  A VFL representative, he played in the inaugural Australasian championship series in Melbourne in 1908.  Crossing to South Melbourne in 1911 he added a further 31 games and 14 goals, playing some of the finest football of his career until a knee injury, sustained against Essendon in the losing grand final of 1912, forced his retirement.

Tammy Beauchamp (sometimes rendered phonetically as “Beacham” or “Beecham”) was a brilliant, stay at home centreman who especially relished the big occasion.  He played a total of 135 games for Fitzroy between 1899 and 1903, and from 1905 to 1908, with his most memorable performances coming in the premiership deciding matches of 1903 and 1905 against Collingwood.  The former game went right down to the wire, with the Roys losing by in the end by 2 points, while the latter match brought a comfortable 13 point victory.  A common factor in both games, however, was Beauchamp's superb performance in the centre.  

Beauchamp spent the 1904 season with Norwood, but was unfortunate enough to suffer an injury which ruled him out of that season's ultimately successful finals campaign.

In 1901 and 1902, Tammy Beauchamp was selected to represent the VFL against South Australia.  His consummate skill and tremendous fairness made him a firm favourite among both Fitzroy supporters and general connoisseurs of the game.

Weather conditions for the match were not ideal, it being “hot enough for December, and further spoilt by a gusty cross wind, that was a detriment to both teams.” [4] Despite this, however, an absorbing tussle ensued, although the opening minutes were somewhat marred by over-anxiety on the part of both sides, resulting in many wayward kicks and a proliferation of fumbling. Gradually, however, the standard of play improved, and although the match was played with immense vigour and desperation there were also numerous passages of excellent football.

Collingwood did most of the early attacking but found the Fitzroy defence, in which Naismith and Trotter were particularly conspicuous, impenetrable. When the Maroons finally managed to mount their first attack they showed the Magpies how it should be done. Slowly, almost painstakingly, they worked the ball along their right wing before a long kick towards the goal square found Milne, who had eluded Monohan. Using a place kick, the Fitzroy follower calmly registered the game’s first goal.

With Walker in the ruck finding Trotter repeatedly with cleverly aimed taps the ‘Roys continued to dominate, but Collingwood’s defence stood firm. Finally, following a rare forward thrust, the Magpies levelled the scores when Condon goaled after receiving a rather fortunate free kick. The Fitzroy supporters were furious, feeling that the free should really have been paid to one of their players.

The next few minutes saw play flowing from end to end without either side managing to get close enough to goal to attempt a shot. Collingwood was looking marginally the better side at this stage, but it was the Maroons who claimed the next goal courtesy of McSpeerin who snapped truly after bravely ploughing in and gathering the ball from the midst of a dense, frenetic scrimmage of players.

The Magpies responded by discernibly raising the intensity of the play and producing the best and most cohesive football of the quarter. Following a neat, fluent move involving Angus, Pannam and Lockwood the last named tied the scores with a fine goal. Shortly afterwards Collingwood’s West Australian forward Ted Rowell booted a behind, which was the margin by which his team led at the first change, the scoreboard reading Collingwood 2.3 (15) to Fitzroy 2.2 (14). Towards the end of the quarter play had begun to get spiteful and more than one player was cautioned by the umpire.

The second term saw the Magpies’ famed “system” coming to the fore. “They rarely made a mistake in passing, always knew where to find their own man, and measured the distance to him with the nicest skill.”[5] Nevertheless, it was the ‘Roys who first troubled the scorers, with Trotter only narrowly failing to register full points - or, at least, that was the opinion of the goal umpire. Many Fitzroy supporters as well as some neutral observers believed that Trotter had kicked truly, and given the closeness of the scores at the end this remained something of a contentious issue.

Most of the remainder of the second quarter was dominated by Collingwood. With Tulloch and Peers prominent in the ruck, M'Cormack, Condon, and Rowell obtaining an abundance of possessions all over the ground, and Monohan proving near impassable at full back, the Magpies added 1.1 to 0.2 to head into the long break with a 5 point advantage, 3.4 (22) to 2.5 (17).

The third quarter brought typical finals football: fast and furious with just a hint or two of brutality. Collingwood’s play was neater, but Fitzroy had more goal scoring opportunities. However, neither side managed a goal, with the Magpies leading at the final change by 4 points, 3.6 (24) to 2.8 (20).

For much of the last quarter it looked likely that Collingwood would run away with the match. Tulloch, Leach and Condon were dominating the rucks, and much of the Magpies’ inter-passing was both pleasing to the eye and penetrative. On one occasion Dummett, Monahan, Pannam, Condon, and Lockwood ferried the ball swiftly from one end of the ground to the other without a single Fitzroy player touching it. Indeed, many of the Maroons’ players looked dead on their feet, and when Addison scored Collingwood’s 4th goal most observers probably felt that it was “game over”.

Fitzroy though refused to lie down. Their play was less fluent and systematic than that of the Magpies, and by sheer desperation they forced the ball forward. To his own surprise as much as anyone’s, Millis found himself in possession of the ball near goal without an opponent anywhere near him. Running on, he made no mistake, giving rise to the loudest roar of the afternoon from the immense crowd. The stage was now set for a nail-biting finale.

Despite looking more the more assured side when in possession, the Magpies increasingly found themselves on the back foot owing to Maroons fanatical determination and aggressive attack on the ball. For the remainder of the quarter, only Fitzroy troubled the scorers, but McSpeerin, Millis and Brosnan all missed relatively easy chances. Brosnan’s miss, which came after he marked close in with moments remaining, was particularly glaring - not to mention galling if you were a Maroons fan. Barely had play resumed when “in a wild tumult the last bell rang”.[6] The final scoreboard showed Collingwood 4.7 (31) having defeated Fitzroy 3.11 (29).

It was hard to deny that the Magpies had been the best team in the VFL over the course of the entire season, and were therefore deserving premiers. However, it would also be fair to observe that their triumph was not greeted with universal acclaim. Writing in “The Australasian”, Markwell summarised the concerns of many:

There is just one matter connected with the mighty 'Woodsmen which I approach with diffidence, and it is the fact that (whether rightly or wrongly I cannot say), they are widely talked of as a team amongst whom the cloven foot of veiled professional ism is permitted to freely tread. For the sake of Collingwood, for the sake of its gifted players, for the sake of the league, and, more than all, for the sake of football, the honour and fame of which I estimate above the petty question of premiership, I trust, and I believe, there is no scintilla of reason for suspecting that anything underhand is being done at Collingwood. If, however, the rumours and suspicions that are abroad concerning the dub have any foundation in fact, I can forecast in the near future the alienation of the manlier element in the club, the quick decline of football in the district, and a very serious injury to the league as a body, and to the game itself throughout the length and breadth of Australia. There are players in the Collingwood team, who will, I feel certain, take steps to disprove the rumours that are current, and that tend to discredit the club; and I am content to leave it to them to prove to the suspicious public that there is not amongst them a single individual who looks for or receives any payment for his playing.[7]

Doubtless Markwell’s concerns were both genuine and representative of the views of the public at large. However, it can also be argued that they were unrealistic. Football was evolving fast. It was no longer a casual pastime, but a burgeoning industry, and it is therefore no surprise that its primary participants - the players - were increasingly starting to believe that their efforts warranted financial reward. In 1911 the VFL, fully aware by that time of the way in which the wind was blowing, officially sanctioned the payment of match fees to players.

Despite having lost the final, Fitzroy had, in the view of many observers, the best player afield in the shape of rover Percy Trotter, who was in the thick of the action from start to finish. The respective centremen, McCormack of Collingwood and Beauchamp of Fitzroy, also produced noteworthy performances, aided in part by their habit of playing wide of one another. Charlie Pannam was probably the Magpies’ best player, with Monohan, Proudfoot and Rowell also doing well. For the ‘Roys, McSpeerin, Milne and Barker were consistently effective.


FOOTNOTES

[1] There remains some uncertainty over whether or not Proudfoot took place in a couple of matches during the 1905 season.

[2] See The Encyclopedia of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 441. 

[3] Ibid., page 441.

[4] “The Australasian”, 19th September 1903, page 21.

[5] “The Argus”, 14th September 1903, page 7.

[6] Ibid., page 7.

[7] “The Australasian”, op cit., page 21.

A Titanic Tussle - VFL final, Saturday 12th September 1903: Collingwood versus Fitzroy at the Melbourne Cricket Ground