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1910s - History of the Western Bulldogs Football Club

‘The poet has it that, in the spring, young men’s fancies lightly turn to thoughts of love, and, while this may be true, there is no doubt that, in the autumn, the aforesaid fancies turn to thoughts of football.’
(‘King Football’, Footscray Advertiser, 5 March 1910)

Saturday half-holidays, introduced in 1909, gave people more free time to watch sports. Football’s popularity flourished – particularly with women. Preston merged with Northcote in 1912, and were replaced in the VFA by Melbourne City who were, in turn, replaced by Hawthorn in 1914. Games against Brighton had become a social highlight of the season, with supporters indulging in periwinkles and cockles on the foreshore during the half-time break. The 1910 season marked the luring of Collingwood’s Bob Nash as captain/coach and the final season of Joe Marmo – three-time premiership player and colossus in defence for over a decade. Footscray formed a harmonious relationship with the Footscray Juniors, benefitting through the recruitment of players, such as Johnny Craddock.

In 1911, to curb the growing professionalism in the game, the VFA adopted standard payments to players. The year also marked the first time ladies were charged admission to grounds – a ‘ladies’ pavilion was even provided at the Western Reserve. Sadly, October saw the death of long-serving president, James Cuming. Regarded as a father figure at the club, he had referred to the players as ‘my boys’ and had overseen a highly successful period, including four premierships.

The club unveiled a new grandstand and scoreboard in 1912 when Jim Cassidy, again, took over as coach. The team emerged as a power and earned the nickname ‘The century makers’ by kicking century-plus scores. New and established stars included Jim Baxter, Archie Clark, Roy Cotton, Johnny Craddock, Art Gregory, William ‘Ching’ Harris, Vic Samson and forwards Jim ‘Comet’ Knight and Vernon Banbury – a football wizard. Despite their brilliance, the side were defeated in the grand final by Essendon Association.

In 1913 (the year the Footscray Ladies’ Committee held a bazaar to wipe the club debt), Footscray came from behind to score a 1 point win over North Melbourne in the grand final. Art Gregory, star of the day and hero of the match, kicked the winning goal just before the final bell. The 1913 premiership captain, Johnny Craddock, again led the team into the 1914 grand final – however, rumours of match-fixing regarding the acrimonious loss to North Melbourne by 35 points led to player reprisals. The outbreak of war in 1914 and growing casualty lists, particularly news of the Gallipoli landing at the start of the 1915 season, forced the VFA season to be curtailed and the competition to go into recess during 1916-17. Players and officials rushed to enlist. Players Tom McClusky, Joey Duane, Wally White, and former wingman Bert O’Connell lost their lives serving their country. The hostilities in Europe contributed to the conscientious retirement of ‘Ching’ Harris, legendary fullback of 21 seasons and nearly 300 games.

The VFA resumed with a condensed fixture in 1918 and Footscray finished last. But, with the war over by 1919, Footscray entered the battle for the ‘Peace Premiership’ with renewed vigour – and with a new secretary, E.J. (Ernie) Smith. Ruckman ‘Chook’ Howell and spearhead Harry Morgan (72 goals) were recruited from South Melbourne (VFL) and, led by the inspiring Johnny Craddock, who kicked 4 goals, the ‘Tricolours’ triumphed on grand final day in what would be the start of a golden era for the club.

 

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