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The Magpies' Percy Wilson

“It has been a good season, with sidelights and the incidents almost as numerous and as interesting as in the palmy days of the sport.”[1]

“It was not at all good football. League finals are not as a rule the best reflex of the game. The best football is usually shown in the second “round” of the home and home series, when clubs are fighting for places.”[2]

With 13 wins from 14 minor round matches South Melbourne comfortably topped the VFL ladder 3 wins clear of second placed Collingwood. Carlton and St Kilda (both 8 wins) completed the final four. South Melbourne’s only defeat of the season came in round four against St Kilda at the Junction Oval. The margin was a mere 5 points. Opposed in the semi final by Carlton South had eked out a grinding, unconvincing win by 5 points, 8.10 (58) to 7.11 (53). The other semi final had seen Collingwood come from 7 points behind at three quarter time to claim victory by 9 points, 7.16 (58) to 7.7 (49). The final between South Melbourne and Collingwood would only decide the season’s premiers if South were victorious. As minor premiers the southerners enjoyed the right of challenge which, when invoked, would necessitate another match, known unsurprisingly as the challenge final.

Play in the opening quarter was fast and physical which inevitably undermined the more spectacular features of the code. Moments after the commencement Robertson of South goaled.  Collingwood hit back almost immediately when, following a scrimmage in the goal square, “Dick” Lee picked the ball up and kicked truly.

Umpire Elder appeared to have decided to allow players a lot of leeway with respect to the game’s more physical aspects. Space in which to move was therefore at a premium, and the most conspicuous players early on were all defenders - Vic Belcher and Arthur Rademacher for South, and “Con” McCarthy for the Magpies. Collingwood continued to attack after their goal and a long kick from ruckman Les “Lofty” Hughes sailed over the heads of the South defenders and was swooped on by “Snowy” Lumsden who snapped truly.

As would be the case for much of the day play see-sawed repeatedly from end to end. After South centre half forward Tom O’Halloran had missed with a comparatively easy shot on the run Gerald Ryan raised two flags with a kick from virtually the same spot. Next it was Collingwood’s turn to attack, and another long, high kick went over the heads of South’s backmen. First to it this time was Charles Laxton and, like Lumsden a few minutes earlier, he managed to spear the ball through for a goal.

The quarter ended with the Magpies 4 points to the good, 3.3 (21) to South’s 2.5 (17).

“Alan” O’Donoghue[3] and Jack Howell excited cheers from the large crowd after taking spectacular marks early in the second term. Otherwise, however, play tended to be drab and somewhat pedestrian. Among the few players to catch the eye consistently were Hughes, Laxton and William Walton, all of Collingwood. South’s was a more even team effort with no individuals standing out.

As the quarter went on both sides had numerous chances to score but with the exception of a handful of behinds to the Magpies all such opportunities were wasted. Shorty before the bell for half time “Dick” Lee marked in a forward pocket for Collingwood and with the resultant kick registered the only major score for the term. South indeed had not troubled the scorers at all in this quarter, and the Magpies had extended their lead to 16 points, 4.9 (33) to 2.5 (17).

During the half time break John Worrall, the former top player and coach, now a journalist, spoke to “a prominent Southerner, who said: - “Our boys are very excited. They are not showing to advantage, but I am hopeful that some master-hand will steady them down in the second half.”[4]

The speed of the play increased noticeably after the long interval but there was still a lot of fumbling and kicking by both sides tended to be errant and haphazard. The opening goal of the quarter went to South, off the boot of O’Halloran. Lee then missed an easy goal scoring chance, whereupon South swept the ball to the opposite end of the ground and Ernie Barber, after fumbling an easy mark, followed up quickly, gathered up the ball and kicked his side’s fourth goal of the match. The deficit was now a single straight kick.

Collingwood were on top for the next few minutes but their play was untidy, and they proved unable to capitalise. Bill Twomey, for example, was frequently a conspicuous figure with his exhilarating pace, but his judgement was awry, and he was proving more of a liability than an asset. Finally Hughes, the best player on the ground at this stage, grabbed the ball from a ruck contest near goal and fired the Magpies a further 6 points in front. Another goal attempt by Collingwood a couple of minutes later was stopped on the line by South.

The closing phase of the third quarter brought the best football of the match. Play was still fast and fierce, but there was also now a cohesion to it that had been lacking. Time and again the ball was sent fluently from one end to another, but for the time being both defences stood firm. Finally, after Barber had missed completely from an angle, Chris Laird obtained the ball and made no mistake. It was now a 5 point ball game, but within a couple of minutes “Dick” Lee had extended the Magpies’ lead to 11 points with a goal on the run from close in.

The time-on period brought two more goals, another to Laird for South and, almost at the death, another to Lumsden for the Magpies. At “lemons” the scoreboard read Collingwood 7.12 (54); South Melbourne 6.6 (42).

On resumption Collingwood raced into attack with William Walton, Tom Wraith and Charlie Pannam featuring. The last named registered a behind and the Magpies’ lead was looking handy.

South responded with a purposeful attack but Albert Colechin and Alfred Reynolds combined well for the Magpies and relieved the danger. Next it was Collingwood’s turn to attack but Lee, normally the deadliest of kicks, sent his shot across the face of goal, and South relieved. South then mounted a quick counter which culminated in their full forward Gerald Ryan making no mistake with a running shot. A behind from Howell moments later reduced the arrears to just 5 points.

Collingwood pressed forward once more but Belcher managed to intercept the ball and clear. The Magpies again attacked and Walton’s shot registered a minor score - Collingwood in front by 6 points. South, paying with greater purpose and fluency than at any previous stage in the match, swept the ball forward from the kick in, and to the raucously expressed delight of their fans, levelled the scores thanks to a goal from Ryan.

With time ticking away an attacking foray by the Magpies saw Lee’s shot marked in the goal square by Belcher, and the threat was repelled. Collingwood’s next attack did bear fruit, however, albeit that it was only a behind, kicked by Lumsden. The closing moments were frenetic and pulsating as South tortuously worked the ball forward. From a scrimmage near goal the ball popped out and Laird was on hand to soccer it over the unguarded line for full points. Play had barely recommenced when the bell sounded leaving South Melbourne victors by 5 points, 9.8 (62) to 7.15 (57).

Best players for the victors were follower Howell, full back Sam “Chip” Turner, centre half forward O’Halloran, wingman Wood and full forward Ryan, while the somewhat unlucky losers were well served by ruckman Hughes - arguably the best player afield - rover Laxton, centre half forward Walton and centreman Percy Wilson.

“In reviewing the great and intense struggle it is hard to conceive how Collingwood was defeated. In the first half they were the more finished and resolute side, handled the ball in cleaner and superior manner, helped each other better, were mostly in front, and, contrary to all expectations, showed more dash. From the bounce of the ball it was unmistakably apparent that the southerners were rattled. They overran the ball frequently, fumbled at times shockingly, and when two of their men were battling with an opponent both in their eagerness went for the ball instead of one lending the other a helping hand."[5]

The match attracted a crowd of 39,168 spectators, the most since 1913, and produced receipts of £1,175/7/ . Seated in the eastern grandstand were some 400 returned soldiers who no doubt would have listened with interest during the half time interval to a group of recruiting sergeants addressing the crowd. Perhaps reflecting people’s newfound optimism over the outcome of the war they were not subject to the usual abuse and heckling but were well received.


FOOTNOTES

[1] “Pivot” writing in the “Leader”, 14/9/18, page 23.

[2] Ibid, page 23.

[3] His given name was Aloysius.

[4] “The Australasian”, 14/9/18, page 23.

[5] Ibid, page 23.

​Last Gasp Win for South - VFL final, Saturday 7th September 1918: South Melbourne versus Collingwood at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

South's Vic Belcher

Artie Wood (South)

​Charlie Pannam (Collingwood)

Charlie Laxton (Collingwood)