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1950s - History of the Western Bulldogs Football Club

‘I have never heard of a man who has been so much 100 per cent for Footscray. Always in addressing the players he has told them that they were not playing for themselves, but for the club and this city.’
(Footscray councillor Bill Hatfield, referring to captain/coach Charlie Sutton)

Arthur Olliver led Footscray to tenth in 1950, his final season as captain/coach, finishing his career as club games record holder. Defenders Len McCankie and Marty McDonnell retired. The season had proved unlucky, with six games lost by a goal or less – although a future star was unearthed in Jack Collins.

The 1950 best and fairest, Charlie Sutton, was appointed captain/coach in 1951. The dynamic Sutton, with his infectious personality, quickly imparted a will-to-win spirit. He reinforced experienced campaigners Angus Abbey, Dave Bryden, Wally Donald, Alby Linton, George McLaren and Dick Wearmouth with new blood, in Peter Box, Herb Henderson, Jim Gallagher, Arthur Edwards and Ted Whitten. The Dogs reached the first semi-final against Essendon, only to go down by just 8 points. Despite the recruitment of Roger Duffy, Brian Gilmore, Doug Reynolds and Don Ross in 1952, Footscray dropped to tenth, enduring injuries and a motorbike accident to Peter Box.

Having experienced six past losing finals appearances, Footscray won their first VFL semi-final in 1953 and advanced to the preliminary final against Geelong. Although beaten, Sutton was buoyed by the fact they were building towards a premiership. Harvey Stevens, son of Arthur, won the best and fairest and John Kerr, Jack Nuttall, Ron McCarthy and Ron Stockman had strengthened the side. A highlight was when Footscray held Fitzroy to just 1 goal (the lowest score of the century). The backline, anchored by Donald, Henderson, Bryden, Alan Martin, Whitten and Gallagher was a key to Footscray’s success during the mid-1950s. Termed the ‘Defence of the Century’, they kept the opposition to record low scores.

In 1954, Footscray finished second, achieving the double chance – on schedule, according to Sutton’s four-year plan. The Bulldogs disposed of minor premiers Geelong in the second semi-final and met Melbourne in the grand final. The day was a glorious one, with Footscray dominating from the outset and doubling Melbourne’s score, 15-12 (102) to 7-9 (51). Inspirational Sutton led by example, kicking 3 goals and taking out a few opponents, according to his own instructions to ‘Shop early and avoid the rush’. Full forward and VFL leading goalkicker Jack Collins kicked 7 goals, but overall team effort, camaraderie and club spirit carried the Bulldogs to this historic victory. The players were given a celebratory civic reception at the Town Hall.

Remarkably, Footscray finished with more wins in the next home-and-away season but missed the 1955 finals by the smallest of percentages. In 1956, the year Melbourne staged the Olympic Games, Sutton retired as a player and centreman Peter Box won the Brownlow Medal. Inaccurate kicking cost Footscray the preliminary final against Collingwood.

The team’s indifferent form in 1957 saw Sutton controversially replaced as coach by 23-year-old Ted Whitten. The only highlight for the Dogs was Jack Collins winning the League goalkicking with 74 goals. The VFL celebrated the centenary of football in 1958, but loss of form, transfers and retirement of many of the premiership players led to the decline of Footscray towards the end of the decade. However, the recruitment of John Schultz, a young ruckman from Boort, would soon gladden the hearts of Footscray supporters.

 

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