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Footscray, with sixteen wins and just two defeats, finished the minor round comfartably ahead of the field in what was a top-heavy VFA competition in 1920. Second placed Brunswick and North Melbourne who ended up third both had thirteen wins, while fourth team Port Melbourne managed twelve. Next best with a 9-9 record were Northcote, leaving no one in any doubt that the four best sides would be contesting finals.

The first semi finals saw second placed Brunswick overcome fourth placed Port Melbourne by 24 points, 5.15 (45) to 2.9 (21). The following week saw Footscray and North Melbourne contest one of the most controversial matches in VFA, indeed Australian football, history. In the dying moments of a fiercely contested match, with Footscray ahead by 5 points, North launched one last desperate attack which culminated in full forward Bill Considine taking a mark some thirty metres from goal. After awarding the mark umpire Hurley became aware that the bell was sounding, and blew for time, but many Footscray supporters believed that the bell had begun ringing before Considine had marked. The result was an invasion of the playing arena by hundreds if not thousands of Tricolours fans - so many that the police proved unable to remove them. After conferring with Association authorities umpire Hurley ruled “no game”, and the decision was eventually taken that the match would be replayed, although it was not until a fortnight later that the replay actually took place. This re-match proved just as tight and tense as the first encounter, with Footscray ultimately emerging victorious by 4 points, 10.9 (69) to 9.11 (65). The Tricolours then faced Brunswick knowing that, if defeated, they would, as minor premiers, be entitled to play the Magpies again to decide the destiny of the premiership.

The 1920 VFA final was played at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground in bright, fine conditions, with a strong and cool southerly breeze blowing straight up the ground. Paying spectators  numbered 15,294 yielding gate takings of £931/12/-. The actual attendance was closer to 18,000 because some 2,500 spectators were admitted to the ground free of charge.

The match was fast and open from the start, with Footscray on top, but Brunswick faring better in open play. Fortunately for the Tricolours the Magpies were not wearing their kicking boots, and their first four scoring shots all produced behinds. In reply, Footscray could only manage a single minor score.

The opening goal of the encounter came after a fluent Brunswick move involving Cahill, Alessio, Christie, Shand and Kiely, with the last named obtaining the score. Footscray responded with a behind to Banbury, but the Magpies continued to enjoy the better of exchanges and added a behind of their own off the boot of Christie. Finally Footscray managed to move the ball forward with purpose and conviction and after good interplay between Grierson and Howell the ball was transferred to Martin who goaled. 

Following this breakthrough the Tricolours’ energy and work rate increased noticeably. Ruckman Carmody’s seemingly goal-bound shot was blocked but before the Magpies could clear the dangerCraddock obtained possession for the Triicolours and was awarded a free by umpire Hurley. From the resultant  kick he split the centre for maximum points.

The game had changed, and now it was Footscray calling the shots. The Tricolours’ third goal was not long in coming, and again it was their skipper Craddock who obtained it. Shortly before the end of the term Craddock had another opportunity to score but he only managed a behind. At the first change therefore Footscray, despite being distinctly second best for much of the quarter, led by 9 points, 3.2 (20) to 1.5 (11).

Brunswick surged into attack at the start of the second term and they soon had their second goal on the board courtesy of Christie. Playing with great vim and vigour the Magpies repeatedly swept the ball forward and “Footscray were badly beaten in the open, and the men were all out of place”.[1] Fortunately for the men from the west Brunswick kicked badly, adding three behinds in quick succession. Although this was good enough to put them level on the scoreboard their dominance was such that they should have been two or three goals in front at this stage.

Finally, after yet another sweeping attack, Carmody was presented with an easy opportunity close to goal which he converted. 

Footscray’s first concerted attack of the quarter proved productive as Craddock converted to level the scores once more. The Magpies once again assumed control, only to let themselves down once again by poor kicking for goal. Towards the end of the quarter they were made to pay as Footscray hurriedly added 1.2 to go into the main break with a 4 point advantage, 5.4 (34) to 3.12 (30).

“Supporters of Footscray were well satisfied with this state of affairs as they expected the Magpies to lead at half-time. The final stages were looked to as Footscray’s. It was thought the speedy ‘Wicks would crumple up under the bulldog intensity and remarkable staying power of the tricolours. So, in the end, it proved, but not till wearers of the red, white and blue had had the scare of their lives.”[2]

Footscray mounted a penetrative attack at the start of the third term but only a behind resulted. From the ensuing kick in the Magpies took the ball the length of the field and Moore kicked truly. Over the next few minutes the ball travelled repeatedly from end to end with no addition to the score. The deadlock was ultimately broken by Kiely who had a running shot and goaled for the ‘Wicks. Footscray attacked from the resumption and Howell had a chance but his shot hit the goal post.

The match was being played at a tremendous pace. The Tricolours were winning in the ruck courtesy of Howell and Carmody but around the ground Brunswick had the edge.The Magpies therefore did the bulk of the attacking but in the run up to the quarter time break they only managed to add three behinds to their tally. Footscray’s attacks were more infrequent, but from one of them Roy Park, the ex-University and Melbourne player, registered a goal so that when the bell rang the scoreboard showed an inaccurate Brunswick on 6.15 (51) leading Footscray 6.7 (43).

Brunswick’s inaccuracy proved to be tantamount to kicking themselves in the foot. Early in the final quarter though they continued to enjoy the bulk of the possession and indeed to play better football than the Tricolours. Within a few minutes of the restart the Magpies had extended their lead to 19 points thanks to goals from Christie and Alessio.

“Down went the Footscray supporters’ hopes, and even the neutral pressmen judged that the tricolours’ knell had rung. Like a giant among the pigmies (sic.), Howell burst through, and transferred to Holden, who forwarded. Park secured the ball, and with uncanny cleverness wormed his way past a bunch of foemen and kicked. Straight as an arrow the ball sped and a yell proclaimed success.”[3]

Then came the twin mishaps which might well have sealed Brunswick’s fate as first Christie and then Adams registered minor scores from kicks which hit the goal post. Footscray rallied, and Park once more drilled the ball through for maximum points. Although still 15 points in arrears the Tricolours began to play with poise and confidence while many of the ‘Wicks players suddenly seemed tired. Footscray attacked again, and a high kick was pumped deep into the forward pocket where two Brunswick talls contested the mark with Roy Park, the most diminutive player on the field. Park, however, could leap, and on this occasion he did so with interest, and pulled down an amazing grab. Then, making light of the tight angle he kicked truly eliciting the loudest roar of the afternoon from the large crowd.

The Tricolours continued to hold sway during the closing minutes, and another goal and behind put them just 3 points in arrears. Inevitably, the decisive goal of the encounter was booted by Park following another tremendous mark. Shortly afterwards Craddock stretched Footscray’s lead to 4 points after a near miss. The drama, however, was not yet over. Drawing on every last ounce of energy they possessed the Magpies launched one final, desperate attack in which virtually the entire team surged forward. With the seconds ticking away, and the ball deep into the Brunswick forward lines, a free kick was awarded to McInerney, the ‘Wicks right half back flanker. The resultant kick would decide the destiny of the 1920 VFA premiership pennant. Had it been a forward taking the kick a goal would almost inevitably have ensued, but McInerney was unused to opportunities of this sort, and like so many of his team mates had previously done he kicked waywardly, and only managed a behind. Seconds later the final bell rang and Footscray had snatched a memorable victory by 3 points, 10.9 (69) to Brunswick’s 8.18 (66).

GOALS - Footscray: Park 5, Craddock 3; Howell, Martin   Brunswick: Christie 3; Kiely 2; Alessio, Cahill, Moore
BEST - Footscray: Howell, Park, Martin, Mckenzie, Samson   Brunswick: Cahill, McInerney, Hassett, May, O’Connor

“The match was pulled out of the fire. While great credit is due to Footscray’s final fighting quality - an acquisition that has undoubtedly won them the premiership - it cannot reasonably be said that they were a better team than Brunswick. For fully three parts of the game Footscray were the dominating side. Superior pace and system characterised the players’ efforts; but in the all-important department of goalkicking they suffered badly by comparison. Footscray played splendidly on occasions, yet were the underdogs most of the time. To the victors belong the spoils, still Brunswick played a dashing game; their concerted brilliancy repeatedly thrilling the onlookers. The winners are a solid combination, and have repeated their last years performance by succeeding in the greatest match of the series.”[4]



FOOTNOTES

[1] “The Independent”, 16/10/20, page 1.

[2] Ibid, page 1.

[3] Ibid, page 1.

[4] John Worrall in “The Australasian”, 16/10/20, page 21.

Footscray's 1920 VFA premiership-winning team

Park Pounces - VFA Final, Saturday 9th October 1920: Footscray versus Brunswick at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground