​Len Gale (Fitzroy)

"It was wonderfully fast and fierce, with no turning of the other cheek, and while the play was too intensive to be scientific, all instinctively knew that great things would happen ere the old Lysander bell would peal out its final tones.” (John Worrall in “The Australasian”, 21/10/22)

Collingwood finished at the head of the VFL ladder in 1922, a win and a half ahead of Essendon (111.6%) and Fitzroy (108.8%), and two wins clear of Carlton. In the semi finals Essendon accounted for Carlton by 5 points, while Fitzroy surprised with a gallant 4 point triumph over Collingwood. The final saw Fitzroy coming from behind to defeat the Dons by 23 points leaving Collingwood, as minor premier, to face the ‘Roys for the flag.

“It was a common phrase throughout the city and the suburbs during the week to hear football patrons remark, “Well, I think Collingwood is the more finished side, but that Fitzroy team never gives in”. It was a well deserved compliment.”[1]

The weather - hot, humid and overcast - was on the face of it inimical to good football, but both sides made light of the situation as they combined to produce the best football seen during the finals. In terms of style, the combatants were very different: Collingwood were famed for their mastery of the short game, while Fitzroy excelled in kicking the ball long to position and using their pace to advantage in one on one contests.

From the outset, the match was played at a frenetic pace, although neither side managed to play with any real fluency. Collingwood full forward “Dick” Lee was prominent early, and obtained the game’s first couple of goals, whereupon the Maroons moved Jim Atkinson onto him. This had the desired effect of nullifying the Magpie champion’s impact. The situation was mitigated by Collingwood’s tendency of trying to pass the ball to Lee at every opportunity when there were other, potentially profitable options available.

The ‘Roys hit their straps during the closing stages of the first term and added a couple of goals leaving the score at quarter time Fitzroy 2.5 (17); Collingwood 2.3 (15).

The Magpies were the better side for much of the second quarter, but their superiority was not fully reflected on the scoreboard. At the long break it was Collingwood 4.5 (29) leading Fitzroy 3.6 (24), “and no one could confidently say which team had the better winning chance. It was wonderfully fast and fierce, with no turning of the other cheek, and while the play was too intensive to be scientific, all instinctively knew that great things would happen ere the old Lysander bell would peal out its final tones. Supporters of both sides were satisfied at the interval, Collingwood in that they were holding their own in skill and personal contact, and Fitzroy in that they only had five points to make up.”[2]

VFL Challenge Final - Saturday 14th October 1922: Fitzroy versus Collingwood at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 

The third term got underway in quite dramatic fashion. Gordon McCracken of Fitzroy won the tap, which he directed to Len Gale, who went on a short dash before finding Freake with a pinpoint pass. Freake was roughly thirty-five metres from goal and made no mistake. Fitzroy had hit the front, and no Collingwood player had yet touched the ball in the third quarter.

Playing inspired football the Maroons continued gto dominate, and five into the term they had increased their lead to 14 points, 6.7 (43) to the Magpies’ 4.5 (29). The remainder of the third quarter was evenly contested, the two sides going goal for goal so that at the final change it was Fitzroy 15 points to the good. Line scores were Maroons 9.10 (64); Collingwood 7.7 (49).

“It was a brilliant and fierce term, in fact the most brilliant quarter of the final series, and the great crowd gave full vent to their feelings. Not only had the pace and force increased, but also the teamwork, the standard vieing with the best of former years.”[3]

During the early stages of the final term the Magpies fought back determinedly, but their kicking for goal was wayward. Nevertheless a succession of behinds reduced the deficit was to just 11 points. Realising the danger, the ‘Roys increased their work rate, and it was they who registered the first goal of the term. This meant that in order to have any chance the Magpies had to get the next goal but instead it was Fred Williams, running in from the wing, who put Fitzroy 23 points to the good. Collingwood finished with something of a flourish, adding two goals of their own, but it was a case of too little too late, and the Maroons ran out deserved winners by a margin of 11 points.

Two Fitzroy players, Bert Taylor and Jim “Snowy” Atkinson, stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the field. Taylor, whether rucking or resting in defence, produced a first class all round exhibition of football, chiefly characterised by superb marking and kicking plus plenty of dash. Atkinson was in the thick of the action for much of the match, and in keeping Collingwood sharpshooter “Dick” Lee quiet he too can be said to have made a sterling all round contribution to the ‘Roys’ cause, Other Fitzroy players to shine included Gorden McCracken, who marked brilliantly, rover Clive Fergie, full back Horrie Jenkin, and 4 goal forward Jimmy Freake. 

The Magpies were best served by some of their smallest players, notably Ed Baker, the best Collingwood man on the ground, and also Leo Wescott and Tom Drummond. They were somewhat hamstrung, however, by the fact that so many of their “gun” players such as Charlie Pannam, the Coventry brothers, Gordon and Syd, and Charlie Tyson were inconspicuous. Pannam admittedly had an excuse: he had been the most prominent player afield in the opening fifteen minutes but then sustained an injured ankle which greatly impeded his movement.



FOOTNOTES

[1] John Worrall writing in “The Australasian”, 21/10/22, page 21.

[2] Ibid, page 21.

[3] Ibid, page 21.

Explore the History of australian football

The Magpies' Syd Coventry

​Charlie Pannam (Collingwood)

​Gordon McCracken (Fitzroy)