​Gordon Rattray (Fitzroy)

​Collingwood's Len "Flapper" Hughes

​"Snowy" Atkinson (Fitzroy}

​Capitulation at Collingwood - VFL round nine, Saturday 28th June: Collingwood versus Fitzroy at Victoria Park

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"Con" McCarthy (Collingwood}

"Football at Victoria Park on Saturday where Collingwood and Fitzroy played, was of various types and grades, but the game had a stirring climax. Fine footballers who failed early redeemed themselves later, and the winning team carried the day after one of the most vigorous offensives witnessed for a considerable time.”[1}

After eight completed rounds both Collingwood and Fitzroy had won 5 of their seven matches and lay in third and fourth places on the VFL ladder respectively. Matches between the two sides were always keenly anticipated, and this one more than most, given tboth their high positions on the premiership ladder and the fact that it was their first meeting since the end of the war. Given that the match was being played at the Magpie fortress of Victoria Park Collingwood were warm pre-match favourites. A massive crowd estimated at 32,000 turned up and they certainly got their money’s worth as the finish of the match was just about the most exciting of the 1919 season.

Fitzroy had not won at Collingwood since 1913, a premiership year for the ‘Roys, but there were many who felt that their 1919 combination was at least on a par with that of six years earlier and so a strong showing was eagerly anticipated. In the first quarter, however, Collingwood was much the better side, although in truth neither team produced football that was particularly compelling. Kicking with the aid of a fairly strong breeze the Magpies were quick in taking advantage and had a goal on the board within three minutes off the boot of Harry Curtis, a beanpole-shaped ruck man of the old school. Weather conditions were inimical to fluent football as, in addition to the wind, there were intermittent showers of rain throughout the afternoon rendering both playing surface and ball extremely slippery. 

At the first change Collingwood had registered the games only two goals, and led by 13 points, 2.5 (17) to 0.4 (4). The football had been unkempt and energy sapping, but in the second term there would be some improvement. Shortly after the resumption Len Wigraft kicked Fitzroy’s first goal and for a short while the ‘Roys enjoyed a purple patch. Fitzroy forward Robert Merrick was engaged in a great tussle with his Magpie opponent Alex Mutch, who was a tough and tenacious defender. Merck, however, was strong overhead, and it was after taking a towering mark that he registered his first and his side’s second goal. 

Continuing to press forward Fitzroy soon had a third goal on the board, courtesy of Gordon Rattray, a wily and persistent player who, in the opinion of Roy Cazaly, was responsible for inventing the torpedo punt.[3] 

Rattray’s goal had the effect of giving impetus to the Magpies who shortly afterwards obtained their only goal of the quarter. The scorer was “Con” McCarthy, who kicked truly after taking a fine mark from wingman Tom Drummond’s typically penetrative pass. 

Fitzroy responded with a series of attacks, from the last of which Merrick again evaded Mutch to mark the ball before quickly playing on and kicking truly. At the main break therefore the Maroons were in the lead by 3 points, 4.6 (30) to 3.9 (27).

In the third quarter Collingwood blew the game open by kicking 6.3 to 1.0, thereby opening up a seemingly match-winning lead of 30 points. Play during this term was characterised by a number of noteworthy individual efforts. Collingwood’s “Dick “ Lee scored the Magpies’ first goal of the quarter with a superb drop kick, and the Magpies smaller players, such as Tom Drummond on a wing, centreman Percy Wilson, and skilful utility “Gus” Dobrigh, came increasingly to the fore with some speedy and intelligent football. Had it not been for some fine defensive work, most notably by “Snowy” Atkinson, Fitzroy might have sustained even greater damage during this term. The Magpies though still managed to add another five goals to their tally by the last change, at which point the scoreboard read Collingwood 9.12 (66); Fitzroy 5.6 (36).

Most spectators could have been forgiven for believing the match as good as over but the Fitzroy players had other ideas. Nevertheless, the first five minutes of the final term did nothing to encourage optimism on Fitzroy’s part as the scores remained unchanged. Then Chris Lethbridge split the centre with a high punt kick to claim for the Maroons’ sixth goal but there still seemed no reason for alarm bells to ring in the Magpie camp. Gradually, however, the regularity with which with the ‘Roys were eating into Collingwood’s lead made the threat impossible to ignore. Fitzroy’s seventh goal was kicked by Wigraft after a tremendous mark against three opponents. Moments later the same player added another major score, and suddenly the deficit was less than two straight kicks. Next Rattray, escaping the attentions of his direct opponent, collected the ball and went on a swerving run which culminated in possibly the goal of the match. With plenty of time left on the clock Collingwood’s advantage was now a mere two points, 9.12 (66) to 9.10 (64).

The Magpies then came to the fore but desperate defending by Fitzroy restricted them to just a couple of behinds. With time-on fast expiring the Maroons launched one last desperate assault on goal and play became bottled up by a scrimmage in the square. Scenes of great confusion followed as the ball traversed the goal line and players of both sides appealed to both the field umpire, Jack Elder, and the goal umpire. Their ruling - confirmed later - was that the ball had last connected with the shin of Fitzroy’s Tom Heaney, and that therefore it was a goal. Collingwood’s players protested in vain; the match was effectively over, and the ‘Roys had emerged with the most improbable of victories by a 3 point margin, 10.11 (71) to 9.14 (68). Best players for the victors were Wigraft, Rattray, Atkinson, Robert King and George “Shorty” Shaw. The Magpies were best served by ruckman Les “Flapper” Hughes, McCarthy, Charlie Pannam, Wilson and Drummond.

Fitzroy’s win elevated them to second place on the premiership ladder, while Collingwood dropped to fourth. However, ultimately it would be a season to celebrate for the Magpies who ended up capturing the premiership thanks to an 11.12 (78) to 7.11 (53) challenge final defeat of Richmond. A week earlier the Tigers, who were an emerging force in league football, had upset Collingwood by 29 points in the final.

Following a disappointing loss of form during the second half of the season Fitzroy ended up finishing fifth, and consequently missed the finals. In their final match of the season the ‘Roys faced Collingwood at Brunswick Street, knowing that a win would ensure finals participation, at the expense of either Carlton or Richmond. After leading at every change by 7, 13 and 2 points the Maroons meekly capitulated under Magpie pressure in the final term and lost by 3 goals.


FOOTNOTES

[1] “The Age”, 30/6/19, page 11.

[2] There were nine clubs in the VFL in 1919, one of which had a bye each week. 

[3] This seems extremely unlikely. The kick can easily be produced by accident and was, in all likelihood a feature of the game from its earliest days.