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Bill Plunkett of Norwood.

Port's Arch Hosie

Norwood ruckman, and later administrator, Jim Gosse.

Tight Clash Between Old Rivals - SAFA Premiership Decider, Saturday 5th October 1901, Norwood versus Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval

Reviewing the 1901 football season in “The Advertiser” of 7th October of that year “Onlooker” ventured the opinion that it had been “not very eventful”. However, he went on to suggest that this was by no means a bad thing, as the previous few seasons had been blighted by acrimonious altercations between club representatives, mainly with regard to the controversial inception of district football.[1] It seems that the constant verbal sparring between the clubs had had a pronounced negative impact on the way in which football was perceived by the general public, which in turn inevitably adversely affected attendances. In 1901, clubs appear to have reached an unspoken agreement to be less voluble about their differences, with the result that attendances at SAFA matches increased for the first time in many years.

Perhaps the most noteworthy event of the 1901 season was the addition to the competition of a seventh club, Sturt. Based at Unley, the newcomers predictably finished last in their debut season, but by no means gave the impression that they were out of their depth. They managed 5 wins from 17 home and away matches, and only ended up with the wooden spoon thanks to having an inferior percentage to West Torrens. The other team to fail to qualify for the final four was West Adelaide, which won 6 games and lost 11.

The finals system adopted by the SAFA in 1901 was a curious one. Indeed, one might go so far as to describe it as nonsensical. The four teams to qualify for the major round were, in order, Norwood, Port Adelaide, North Adelaide and South Adelaide. Anyone reading the results of the finals matches which followed might be forgiven for imagining that the system employed by the SAFA foreshadowed the Page-McIntyre system which came widely into force thirty years later. However, this was not actually the case.

The 1901 SAFA major round commenced on 14th September with matches between top team Norwood - the “junior premier” - and second-placed Port, and between third-placed side North and fourth-placed South. After these matches, the loser of the match between North and South was eliminated, but owing to the result of the Norwood-Port clash so, somewhat idiosyncratically, was North. The explanation takes some digesting, but the key point to bear in mind is that Norwood, as junior premier, was guaranteed a place in the premiership-deciding match irrespective of the results of the finals matches which preceded it. Had the red and blues defeated Port in their semi final they would have confronted North the following week in what would effectively have been a grand final, and Port would have been eliminated from contention. As things turned out, however, Port triumphed over Norwood, and in so doing qualified to play off for the premiership. Norwood meanwhile played North on 21st September in what was effectively a meaningless match, as whatever the result, it would be Norwood which would front up against Port in the grand final. Norwood actually ended up downing North, giving the impression that the match was effectively a kind of preliminary final, but in truth it was nothing of the kind. The only positive feature of Norwood’s victory was that it doused the fires of controversy which would almost certainly have been ignited had North won but nevertheless been eliminated from finals contention.

For reasons which are unclear, a fortnight’s break separated the nonsensical Norwood-North encounter and the premiership decider between Port and Norwood. This attracted widespread criticism, particularly given that the match had to be played in hot, sultry weather, “and had it not been for the fact that the players were in excellent condition, the fight for supremacy would have been more severe, and it would have told more heavily upon the contestants”.[2]  Moreover, the surface of the oval had been top-dressed in preparation for the cricket season, meaning that although the match took place in extremely dry conditions the playing surface was extremely slippery, and had a noticeably adverse effect on the standard of football produced by both teams. Nevertheless, the closeness of the scores to some extent compensated for this, and the crowd of roughly 6,500 was kept engrossed right to the end.

Prior to their clash on 5th October Norwood and Port Adelaide had met one another three times during the season, with the Redlegs successful in both minor round matches, and Port turning the tables in the semi final. The ease with which Port, who at the time were interchangeably known as either the Seasiders of the Magentas, triumphed in the semi final led many to accord them favouritism leading into the re-match. Port won the semi final with consummate ease, by 50 points, 8.13 (61) to 1.5 (11). However, what those who clambered so eagerly onto the Seasiders’ bandwagon failed to take into account was the fact that, from the blue and reds’ perspective, the match was virtually meaningless, as owing to the crazy finals system in force they would be automatically entitled to play off for the premiership irrespective of the result. Those in the know would not have been at all surprised therefore when the last, and most important clash between the sides of the 1901 season saw the Norwood players take to the field harbouring a demonstrably different mind-set to three weeks earlier.

The match was scheduled to start at 3pm, but as often appears to have been the case at the time the players from both sides were tardy in making an appearance, and it was not until 15 minutes past the hour that umpire Bilsborrow got proceedings underway. Norwood enjoyed the perfect start, and barely 20 seconds had passed when Kirkwood kicked truly after marking. From the resumption, the Redlegs again surged into attack, but Cowan failed to convert a relatively easy goal scoring opportunity and the Magentas relieved the pressure. The ensuing few minutes saw the play concentrated near the middle of the ground as the backlines of both teams stood tall.

During this early phase of the match Port indulged - perhaps a better word would be “over-indulged” - in a short game, which in 1901 meant maintaining possession of the ball by means of kicks of a mere two or three metres followed by “little marks”. On some occasions, these kicks were actually thinly disguised throws, with the foot being moved in token fashion towards the ball which was then actually propelled by means of the hands.

Port dominated possession for a time, but failed to make much headway at first. Finally, however, Davis levelled the scores after marking Wisdom’s long pass, and not long afterwards the same player added a second goal from open play. The Seasiders continued to hold the upper hand, thanks largely to the fact that their handling of the ball was noticeably surer than that of their opponents. Unlike the Redlegs, the Port players were also indulging in handball, considered by some contemporary observers to be a risky tactic, but such was not the case on this occasion. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, however, the Magentas had, when the quarter time bell rang out, only managed to add another behind to their tally, while the Redlegs, after an isolated forward flurry, managed likewise. At quarter time therefore a margin of 6 points separated the teams, with Port on 2.1 (13) leading Norwood 1.1 (7).

Port was again in the ascendant early in the second quarter, but the Norwood defence stood firm. Frustration appears to have set in, and tempers flared, with Smithers of Port perhaps the major culprit. Umpire Bilsborrow was quick to intervene, however, and thereafter cooler heads prevailed, with the play if anything becoming somewhat monotonous.

The first score of the term, a behind, was registered by Norwood, and this seemed to stimulate the players of both sides to intensify their efforts. On one occasion, the crowd roared with laughter as diminutive Port player Smithers crashed into Norwood’s redoubtable Bill Plunkett and somewhat surprisingly sent him toppling to the ground.

As the pace of the match increased, so did the standard of play, but scoring opportunities were at a premium for both sides. By the long break Port’s tally had improved by just a solitary behind whilst Norwood had only fared marginally better, registering two minor scores. The half-time scoreboard read Port Adelaide 2.2 (14) to Norwood 1.3 (9).

Port dominated the early stages of the third term, but could only manage a succession of minor scores. When Norwood finally captured the initiative they quickly made the Seasiders pay courtesy of a goal from Webb. The score at this stage was Port 2.5 to Norwood 2.3. The Redlegs continued to dominate, but Port defended well, if sometimes on occasion with a somewhat liberal interpretation of the game’s rules. Webb, who was a dominant figure for Norwood at this stage, came in for some particularly rough treatment from the opposition defenders.

After a flurry of near misses McFarlane finally registered full points to put the red and blues in front, and shortly before the final change a goal from Dawson gave Norwood some breathing space. At three quarter time the Redlegs held a 10 point advantage, 4.3 (27) to Port’s 2.5 (17).

Whatever Port skipper Arch Hosie said to his team mates during the interval clearly had an impact as, once play resumed, the Magentas surged into attack and had a goal on the board within a minute. Healy was the scorer. A couple of minutes later Quinn added another major score for the Seasiders who suddenly looked the more likely victors.

Gradually, however, the Redlegs began to battle their way back into the match. Play was fast and fiery, and several fists were thrown, but the men from the Parade were beginning to achieve dominance, and the ball was spending more and more time in their forward lines. Fortunately for Port, the red and blues’ kicking for goal was errant, but four consecutive behinds nevertheless saw them re-establish a lead, which they never lost. The Magentas continued to fight things out until the bell but apart from a woeful miss from close range by Strawns never really looked capable of breaking through. The Redlegs finished the match full of running and emerged worthy winners in the end by 4 points, 4.9 (33) to 4.5 (29). In truth, the margin could and should have been somewhat greater as Norwood missed a profusion of easy goal scoring opportunities, particularly during the second half. The Redlegs were also superior to Port both territorially and in terms of possession.

Several noteworthy players took part in this match. Norwood ruckman Jim Gosse played well in excess of 100 games for the club - the precise number is not known - between 1894 and 1905, and the 1901 premiership was one of three to which he would contribute. He represented South Australia four times. Once his playing career was over Gosse became Norwood club president, a position he retained for twenty years.  In 1936 he donated the South Australian centenary premiership cup to the SANFL.  Knighted after world war two for his services to the state, Gosse once memorably declared "I think the Australian game of football is the finest thing in existence for the public to look at".

Gosse’s team mate Bill Plunkett enjoyed outstanding success and an immense reputation in two states.  He began with Norwood in 1896, and was one of four brothers to represent the club.  In 1901 he played with both Norwood and West Perth and, forty years before Stan Heal managed the same feat with Melbourne and West Perth, he achieved premiership honours in two different states in the same season.

After 1901, Bill Plunkett stayed in the west where he was regarded as one of the state's top footballers.  In 1904, he was chosen to captain Western Australia's first interstate team on its eastern states tour, and the following year he led the Cardinals to a controversial premiership win over East Fremantle.  All told, he played 50 senior games for West Perth, plus 2 for Western Australia.  It is unknown precisely how many games he played for Norwood, as the club did not commence maintaining such records until 1907, but it is known that he played twice for South Australia.

When East Perth entered the Western Australian Football Association in 1906, Bill Plunkett was appointed as the fledgling club's inaugural coach, but only managed to steer the side to 1 win from 17 starts.

Ruggedly relentless and inspirational, Port skipper Arch Hosie was a lynch-pin of the club for fourteen seasons, during which time it won three premierships and was runner-up on four occasions.  He later had two brief stints as coach of the club, in 1909-10, and 1924-5.

As a player he was aggressive but fair, and boasted extraordinary versatility.  Many of his finest performances came in the ruck, but he was almost equally effective in the centre or across half back.  In 1901-2-3 he captained Port, and was state captain for a couple of years as well, leading South Australia to a famous victory over the VFL in Melbourne in 1902.  In all, he played for South Australia 6 times.

In 1898, Hosie received a trophy from the club for “the best all round player”, as a result of which he is listed in the record books as Port Adelaide's earliest known best and fairest award winner.  He retired at the end of the 1903 season, his final tally of senior grade appearances unknown.

The name “Quinn” is among the most pre-eminent in the history of the Port Adelaide Football Club, and Jack Quinn, who was a forward in the club’s 1901 grand final side, was the founder of the “Quinn Dynasty”. In later years his sons Jack, Tom, dual Magarey Medallist Bob, and George all represented the club with distinction.  Jack Quinn was a talented forward who topped the SAFA's goal kicking list with 32 goals in 1907.  He was captain of the Magpies, as the club was by then nicknamed, in both 1904 and 1905. In 1898 he had spent a season playing for White Feather in what was then a very strong WA Goldfields competition.

Over the course of the ensuing decade both Norwood and Port would further affirm their status as among the state’s leading clubs. Between 1902 and 1910 the Redlegs would play off for the premiership on three occasions, triumphing in 1904 and 1907, while Port would capture three flags from seven grand final appearances.


FOOTNOTES

[1] This was the requirement that players represent the club based in the electorate zone in which they resided. The system was implemented on a loose, voluntary basis in 1897, but in 1899 it became compulsory.

[2] “The Advertiser”, 7th October 1901, page 8.