In 1912 Melbourne Football Club made the latest in a long series of visits to Tasmania dating back to 1886. During that time the Redlegs played a total of 12 matches against teams from both the north and south of the island, winning 8, losing 3, and drawing 1. On their most recent journey to the Apple Isle in 1910 Melbourne had defeated Southern Tasmania by 17 points, 11.6 (72) to 8.7 (55). The 1911 visit would see the same two sides competing.


Few people gave the Southern Tasmanian combination much chance of overcoming a side which would ultimately finish the 1912 season in 6th place (out of 10) in the VFL. The locals seemingly had good reason for pessimism given that, just a fortnight earlier, the southerners had suffered a 13 point reversal against their northern counterparts in Launceston. However, using the results of previous contests as a gauge for how a particular team is likely to perform on a subsequent occasion is a notoriously fickle undertaking, and Saturday 6th July would turn out to be a red letter day in the history of football in Hobart, and indeed in Tasmania as a whole.


Many members of the crowd of approximately 5,000 who filled the stands and outer at the Upper Cricket Ground were probably there fully expecting to see their favourites crushed by a team vastly superior in all elements of the game. “However, all those who went with the idea of scoffing remained to praise for without exception the contest was one of the finest, if not the finest, that has ever been seen in these parts.”[1]


Match reports suggest that the football produced by the southern Tasmanian side was atypical of that seen in the local competition so far in 1912. Most of the games in the STFA had been dour, congested affairs with open football at a premium. However, the visitors were renowned for their fast, classy style of football, and where they led the home side followed, making all in all for a marvellous spectacle.  “‘I wouldn’t have missed this for a sovereign,’ said a well known supporter of the winter pastime as he made his way homewards at the conclusion of the match. His sentiments were but the sentiments of all who saw the game.”[2]
The players in the Melbourne team were bigger and stronger than the locals, but also slower, and it was southern Tasmania’s pace, coupled with some prodigious kicking to position, which enabled them to win the game.


Prior to the start of the match the Melbourne players treated the crowd, and their opponents, to what was described as a collective “war cry, a very wild and fearsome affair”.[3] Weather conditions were almost perfect for football, and the crowd was vociferous and, at least at the outset, vociferous in its support of the local combination.


The first half of the contest was extremely even, with the advantage fluctuating regularly. At the first change the home side led by a point; at the main interval it was the visitors by 9 points. During the third term southern Tasmania assumed complete control almost everywhere to add 6.5 to 2.2 and effectively win the match. Melbourne endeavoured to stem the flow by using rough-house tactics but the locals seemed to be made of india rubber and bounced back repeatedly. Moreover, the umpiring in Tasmania was probably somewhat sterner than in the VFL, and as a result the Redlegs conceded a succession of free kicks, some of which had a direct impact on the scoreboard. At three quarter time that scoreboard showed the home combination 3 goals to the good, 10.9 (69) to Melbourne’s 7.9 (51).


The Redlegs opened the final term brightly and had soon reduced their deficit by 6 points courtesy of a goal from Adams. The southerners responded strongly, but only a rushed behind ensued. For the next few minutes the play hurtled from end to end with no score to either side being registered. Finally, the home team broke the deadlock with a behind to Sharp, and from the kick-in Bailey marked and capitalised fully by kicking a crucial goal. A flurry of behinds followed for southern Tasmania but the final ten minutes of the encounter were all Melbourne - everywhere except on the scoreboard. Only Tomkins, who converted an easy chance after marking near goal directly in front, managed to elicit two flags from the goal umpire, but it was not enough, and although the Redlegs were attacking aggressively when the final bell sounded the result of the match had already been decided. Final scores were southern Tasmania 11.14 (80) defetaed Melbourne 9.10 (64).


Best players for the victors included Tudor, who performed with great verve and dash across the half back line, plus his fellow defenders Roy Bailey, Bryan and Carroll. Keith Bailey produced a sterling effort in the ruck for southern Tasmania, and he waas well supported by his rovers. For Melbourne, rover and half forward Hedley Tomkins stood out, with other noteworthy displays coming from centreman Jim Fitzpatrick, full back Hugh Purse, and followers Bill Hendrie and Alf George.


Southern Tasmania confronted two other mainland club sides during the 1912 season, and although beaten they acquitted themselves well on both occasions, getting within 13 points of a powerful Port Adelaide and going down by 20 points to VFL club Richmond.


FOOTNOTES


[1] “Daily Post”, 8/7/12, page 3.


[2] Ibid, page 3.


[3] Ibid, page 3.

Redlegs centreman Jim Fitzpatrick

Hedley Tomkins of Melbourne, pictured later in his career when he played for East Perth and WA

Bill Hendrie (Melbourne)

Redlegs Flounder in Hobart - Challenge Match, Saturday 6th July 1912: Southern Tasmania versus Melbourne at the Upper Cricket Ground, Hobart

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