Explore the History of australian football

Records of junior football in Perth at the close of the nineteenth century are scant, but it does not appear that the fledgling Subiaco Football Club, which chose maroon and blue as its colours, enjoyed much success in its inaugural season - 1896 - in the First Rate Junior Association. Improvement would be quick, and success woulds soon arrive, however.

Originally based on a stretch of common ground off Mueller Road the club found a more suitable home in 1898 at a new recreation ground in West Subiaco, later known as Shenton Park. This relocation to enhanced playing premises coincided with, and perhaps partly helped initiate, enhanced on field performances, culminating in Subiaco's first ever premiership, clinched in mid-August, two games from the end of the season, with a 4 point victory over Fremantle Imperials.[1]  Two seasons later in 1900 Subiaco brought the nineteenth century to a highly satisfactory end by repeating the achievement after incurring just a single loss for the entire season.

Subiaco's emergence as a junior football power was timely given that the Western Australian Football Association, after a number of seasons during which the game's image had been severely tarnished by profligate roughness among its players, had begun to consolidate, and indeed was now looking to expand. Subiaco, along with fellow 1st Rate Junior Association powerhouse North Fremantle, appeared to have all the necessary credentials for admission to the higher tier (not least of which was the fact that both clubs had their own secure playing venues), and their elevation to the WAFA in 1901, bringing the number of clubs in that competition to six, was no surprise. Buoyed therefore by the all pervading optimism which embraced Australia as it embarked on the new adventure of nationhood, those associated with the Subiaco Football Club could probably see no reason to feel anything other than supreme, unbridled optimism as the Century of Change commenced.

To call Subiaco's first decade or so of involvement in the WAFA inauspicious would be a tremendous understatement. In the eleven seasons between 1901 and 1911 the side finished bottom of the ladder more often than not, and managed a wretched success rate of just 18.3%. The club's cause during this time was not helped by the fact that, for much of the period, it was effectively without a home ground, for Shenton Park had deteriorated to such an extent that, for several seasons, it was unusable. In 1908, however, a new ground, Subiaco Oval, constructed on the site of the club's original paddock at Mueller Road, was opened, and both Subiaco and, in years to come, Western Australian football itself, had a new home.

At around the same time as the move the club began to recruit more ambitiously, but on field improvement was slow to arrive. In 1911, the side gave some signs of having turned the corner, but overall seemed incapable of maintaining a high level of performance for the entire four quarters of a game; ultimately, it finished second from bottom, albeit with the comparatively respectable return of 4 wins from 13 matches.

With the recruitment of South Australian football nomad, and eventual legend of the game, Phil Matson, Subiaco would improve considerably in 1912. Strongly built, swift of foot, combative, and a spectacular aerialist, Matson also possessed a formidable football brain which he would later employ to great effect as coach of the outstanding East Perth sides which dominated Western Australian football immediately after the Great War. Matson's debut in a maroon guernsey was delayed by a clearance wrangle with his former club North Fremantle, but once this was resolved he quickly emerged as the lynch-pin of the team.

As the 1912 season wore on it soon became clear that the chief protagonists in the battle for the flag were going to be perennial finalists East Fremantle and persistent under-achievers Subiaco. These two sides met on three occasions during the minor round, with Subiaco taking the honours overall with two wins to one, an achievement which effectively netted the club its first ever minor premiership.

The first weekend of the 1912 finals pitted Subiaco against third placed South Fremantle, a match which the Maroons won easily to set up the expected premiership play-off against Old Easts. Controversially, given the relative status of the two teams, the WAFL authorities[2] nominated Fremantle Oval, East Fremantle's home ground, as the venue for this match. If Subiaco lost, it would be granted the opportunity to challenge, and the venue for the challenge final would be Perth Oval, but as minor premier it perhaps justifiably believed that it ought to have been granted the right to attempt to finish things off right away in front of a sympathetic audience. 

The Final

The audience at Fremantle Oval was far from sympathetic to Subiaco, and the fact that the Maroons went into the game minus two key players in the shape of the season's top goal kicker, Herb “Hubba" Limb (injured), and the formidable "Digger" Thomas (suspended) made their task even more daunting.

During the opening term East Fremantle, who were kicking into a very slight south westerly breeze, began brightly, with their very first attack culminating in Chas Doig missing an easy scoring opportunity. A couple of minutes later Robinson registered the game’s first goal with a fine punt kick on the run. The Maroons responded with a period of sustained attacking pressure. After a couple of near misses Billy Orr had an easy set shot for goal from close in but his kick hit the goal post. For the remainder of the quarter Old Easts, playing aggressively, and teaming well, dominated affairs, and goals to Corkhill and Rawlinson gave them a 19 point advantage at the first change - a lead which scarcely reflected the scale of their superiority.

East Fremantle continued to reign supreme in the second quarter. Their players were noticeably faster than Subiaco’s, and they passed the ball around with consummate accuracy. The Maroons, by contrast, appeared uncertain and demoralised. A writer in “The West Australian” likened their play to that of schoolboys.[3] With the exception of Joe Scaddan and Phil Matson Subiaco had no winners, and managed to add a mere behind to their total for the term. Old Easts again failed to assert their dominance to the full, however, and added only a single goal, courtesy of Hesketh. At the main break the scoreboard showed East Fremantle on 4.7 (31) leading Subiaco 0.3.

Theoretically at any rate the Maroons were still in the match, and during the early part of the third quarter they gave their supporters heart by at last playing with a modicum of dash and system. East Fremantle’s rover Percy Trotter registered a goal from a place kick soon after the resumption, but Subi fought back and minutes later Morgan procured their first goal. A second major to the Maroons at this stage would have made things interesting but despite threatening to break through they never quite managed it. Instead it was Old Easts who registered full points off the boot of Chas Doig who, having missed a number of comparatively easy chances earlier in the match, made absolutely certain of converting on this occasion by running virtually all the way up to the goal line before unleashing his kick. The Subiaco players’ heads visibly dropped after that, and to the delight of the largely pro-East Fremantle crowd it was the blue and whites who dominated proceedings completely for the remainder of the term. A goal to Dix was supplemented by a series of behinds, leaving Old Easts with a match-winning 45 point lead at the final change.

The football in the last term resembled a procession, with East Fremantle attacking incessantly, and the Subiaco backs, with the single exception of Sid Snow, seemingly at a loss as to how to respond. The Maroons did at least manage a second goal during the quarter, off the boot of Scaddan, but Old Easts added six, to win with ridiculous comfort by 81 points, 13.19 (97) to 2.4 (16).

The Challenge Final

Once a team is resigned to defeat it often capitulates completely, meaning that it is unfair to use its performance as a true measure of its ability. This fact needs to be borne in mind when attempting to understand what happened when Subiaco and East Fremantle confronted one another again just one week later in the challenge final. Admittedly, Subiaco was strengthened slightly by the return to the team of Limb, while the switch of venue from Fremantle Oval - East Fremantle’s home ground - to Perth Oval might also be seen as being to the Maroons’ advantage. But nothing could have prepared the large crowd for so dramatic a form reversal as they were to witness.

Mind you, the first half of the match held few clues as to what was to transpire, and indeed corresponded very closely to that of the previous Saturday, with Old Easts doing the majority of the attacking and carving out a good, but by no means match-winning lead. In the opening term East Fremantle kicked 3 goals to 1 before adding the only major of the second quarter to lead by 19 points. Old Easts’ dominance was achieved by accurate kicking to position, often over long distances, and, just as a week earlier, by their players repeatedly being first to the ball.  Subiaco, by contrast, endeavoured to combine running with the ball with short passing, neither of which proved effective. Almost immediately on resumption after half time, however, the whole match was turned on its head by Subiaco’s adoption of similar tactics to their opponents. At full forward, “Hubba” Limb, the idol of the Subi supporters, repeatedly outmarked his man, and registered all 3 of his side’s goals for the quarter. Elsewhere, Phil Matson was head and shoulders above every other player on the field, playing with great verve and tenacity, while Joe Scaddan, William “Horrie" Bant, William “Joe” Bushell and Jack Diprose were among quite a few others to put the dire memories of the previous week’s clash conclusively behind them.

At the final change Subiaco enjoyed a 3 point advantage, but given that Old Eastswould be playing with the assistance of the breeze in the fourth term many spectators probably imagined that they were likely winners. However, for the first fifteen minutes or so the Maroons’ dominance continued and they added a fifth goal to extend their lead to 9 points. The remainder of the quarter saw East Fremantle attacking determinedly, but the Subiaco backline refused to give an inch, with the result that the score remained unchanged until the final bell. That score was Subiaco 5.8 (38) defeated East Fremantle 4.5 (29).

Phil Rickman Hesketh was Old Easts' best, with Sharpe, Spencer, Robinson and Riley also doing good work.

​Subiaco's triumph was a prelude to a brief halcyon period which yielded further flags in 1913 and 1915. East Fremantle meanwhile would remain a force in West Australian football for decades to come.


[1] A new scoring system, whereby goals counted for 6 points, and behinds were worth 1, had been introduced in South Australia and Victoria in 1897, and the same innovation was implemented in Western Australian football this year.

[2] The Western Australian Football Association became the Western Australian Football League in 1908. 

[3] "The West Australian", 6/10/12, page 10.

Phil Matson, a true football legend

Subiaco's Jack Diprose, shown wearing the colours of his first league club, West Perth

William Bushell (Subiaco)

​Dramatic Form Reversal - WAFL Final and Challenge Final, 5/10/12 & 12/1012: Subiaco versus East Fremantle, Fremantle Oval and Perth Oval