Explore the History of australian football

Jack Cooper of the VFL

The last quarter saw the visitors hopelessly outclassed as, using a fresh, dry ball, South Australia combined with immense fluency and purpose, rattling on 3.6 to 0.1 to win 'pulling away'.  In the entire history of football there have been very few instances of first choice, ultra-committed Victorian combinations being totally outplayed, but the carnival deciding match of 1911 was certainly one of them.  Final scores: South Australia 11.11 (77); VFL 5.4 (34)

Since the beginning of the twentieth century the Victorians and South Australia had clashed eight times, with the fact that both states had been successful four times surely affording conclusive proof that the VFL was not at this stage the pre-eminent force in the game it was eventually to become.

Goalkickers for South Australia were Frank Hansen 3; Angelo Congear, William 'Shrimp' Dowling, Ernie Johns 2; 'Vic' Cumberland, 'Shine' Hosking, while for the VFL 'Dick' Lee got 2, and Alan Belcher, Ern 'Ginger' Cameron and Bill Hendrie.

Best for the winners included Dowling, Hosking, Leahy, Tredrea, Johns, Oakley and Cumberland, while the VFL were best served by Belcher, Cameron, Bernie Herbert, George Heinz, Jock McHale, Cooper and Viv Valentine.

In a gesture which highlighted the fine spirit in which the entire series had been played, after the match the Victorians presented their conquerors with an urn, ostensibly containing 'the ashes of Victorian football'.  It would be the Vics who would most emphatically have the last laugh, however, as South Australia's next victory over them in a carnival would not occur for nearly three quarters of a century.


​[1] Collingwood played North Adelaide in a challenge match, with the South Australian side winning by 2 points.  Both teams, needless to say, were without their carnival players. 

Jack Tredrea (South Australia)

South Australia, captained by Bert Renfrey, who had represented New South Wales at the Melbourne carnival three years earlier, had no injury worries, and were at full strength.

The game got underway in light drizzle, with the Victorians, who were aided by a two to three goal breeze in the opening term, first into attack.  During the first few minutes of the match quite a few of the South Australians experienced difficulty in keeping their footing on the greasy turf, and their handling of the greasy ball was slipshod.  The VFL, by contrast, played a hard, bullocking style of football, forcing the ball forward by any means at their disposal, and initially at least this proved more effective than the home side's attempted adherence to the standard principles of open, flowing football.

As the first quarter wore on, however, South Australia began to play with greater assurance and fluency, teaming well together, and occasionally making their opponents look slow and cumbersome in comparison.  The Vics were persistent, however, and by a combination of relentless determination and raw physicality succeeded in stymieing most of the home side's attacking ventures, whilst occasionally mounting counter thrusts of their own that the croweaters were hard-pressed to repel. 

During the second quarter South Australia lifted the tempo, and began to implement the system they had adopted to such good effect in their previous games.  Central to this system was the use of Hosking as a loose man in the forward lines, where he acted as the fulcrum for many of his team's attacks.  The Victorians had done their homework, however, and, initially at any rate, limited the effectiveness of this ploy by smothering the life out of South Australia's centreline, thereby cutting off the Port Adelaidechampion's supply.  Thus, although the home state enjoyed the majority of the possession, there was little to choose between the sides on the scoreboard at the long break.

If any spectators expected the Victorians' supposed superiority in fitness to tell during the third term they were in for a surprise, as it was the South Australians who seized the initiative shortly after the resumption.  The cessation of the rain certainly helped, but the visitors nevertheless had the benefit of an appreciable breeze, which might have been expected to aid their cause.  The croweaters, however, were completely dominant, with Tom Leahy winning the rucks, 'Shrimp' Dowling in effervescent form around the packs, 'Shine' Hosking cutting loose throughout the forward lines, and the likes of Jack Tredrea and Harry Cumberland imposing themselves physically all over the ground.  The Victorians were forced onto the defensive for virtually the entire quarter, only troubling the scorers once (a behind), while South Australia attacked almost incessantly.

Victoria's Alan Belcher

After a dry week, the carnival committee took the decision to water the Adelaide Oval on the Friday evening prior to the final day's play in the championships, which opened with Tasmania scoring a noteworthy 5 point win over Western Australia, following which the home state and the VFL contested the match that would decide the destiny of the championship.  During the second half of the opening match rain swept in from the hills and was still falling steadily by the time the main game commenced, rendering the already greasy playing surface treacherous in the extreme.  Many of the 20,000 or so South Australians in the ground must have thought the gods were smiling on the Victorians, who played in conditions of this sort week in week out in Melbourne, and who could therefore be expected to feel right at home.  Indeed, the VFL players "were more sanguine than they would have been on a dry day, but they were opposed against a team which was individually and collectively superior to them, and when the final bell rang they admitted it like sportsmen".

Both teams had been comparatively untroubled in their three previous games in the carnival, although South Australia had looked by some measure the more impressive combination.  The Victorians had overcome New South Wales (by 24 points), Tasmania (31 points) and Western Australia (20 points), while the croweaters had downed the same three opponents by margins of 71, 67 and 73 points respectively.  Most pundits expected a closely fought game, but with the arrival of the rain it was hard to resist the impression that the odds had shifted conclusively in the Big V's favour.

Not that the Victorians had been without their problems, many of which had to do with injuries to players.  Of the initial touring party of twenty-three players, two had fallen by the wayside even before a ball was kicked: University's Dave Greenham sustained an injury during pre-carnival training in Melbourne, and Dave Smith of Essendon was incapacitated shortly after the players arrived in Adelaide, and was forced to return home. During the Victorians' first couple of games more players succumbed to injuries and for the match with Western Australia only seventeen fit men were available.  Fortunately, Collingwood Football Club was in Adelaide during the carnival,[1] and the Vics were able to bolster their ranks by prevailing upon experienced interstate footballer Jim Sharp, who had moved to the Magpies that year after ten seasons with Fitzroy, to join them.  Equally fortunately, by the time of the decisive clash with South Australia the VFL had a full team of eighteen players available, with both Bob Pierce (ankle) and Jack Cooper (groin) having recovered from injuries incurred against the Tasmanians a week earlier.

Bill Eason (Victoria)

Bert Renfrey (South Australia)

The Captains

 “We got what we thought we wanted, a wet, heavy ground, but they beat us.  I think they would have beaten us by more if the ground had been dry and fast, as it was during the week.  They are a wonderful team – better than any other I have seen.  I think our centre line held their own, but they had the best of the ruck, and their forwards were exceptionally fine.  I do not think I have ever seen a more unselfish lot of forwards.  Their backs were very solid, too, and they were surer than we were in the air and on the ground.  Of course, our men being away on a trip were not in their best condition.  All through the carnival we have not been playing up to Victorian form, but even if we had done so I do not think we should have won."  (VFL captain Bill Eason quoted in "The Advertiser", Monday 14 August 1911) 

Croweaters Do It In Style - Carnival Match, Saturday 12th August 1911, South Australia versus Victoria