Season Summary: 1903

Tom McKinley was captain of the team in 1903 and 1904 before being lured by Footscray in 1905 and went on to captain their 1908 premiership side. McKinley had joined Williamstown in 1897 and went on to play 107 games and kick 27 goals up until the end of 1904.

The bye was eliminated when the number of teams in the VFA increased to ten in 1903 with the admission of Preston, which had won the three previous Victorian Junior Football Association premierships. This meant that each team played the others twice during the season in an 18 home-and-away series. James Hall stepped down from the president's role he had held since 1894 mainly because of his additional duties as VFA president and was succeeded by local MLA, Alex Gordon Cuthbert Ramsay. JJ Liston was treasurer in this season and Martin Joseph 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick returned to the Club after a number of years with the VFA to become secretary during the year, replacing W.J. Canning, after starting the season as assistant secretary. Billy Bremner crossed to Melbourne in the off-season and would go on to play 23 games over the following two seasons despite being 30 years-of-age when he made his VFL debut. Arthur Britt joined the Club during the season after 3 games with St Kilda and 1 with Melbourne the year before. Tom McKinley became captain with Fred Houghton his deputy. Future Test cricketer, Jimmy Matthews, made his debut in this season while another recruit was Frank Wilcher who would go on to play 53 games with Collingwood from 1906-09 and become mayor of Williamstown in 1927-28. 

Williamstown Chronicle, April 18, 1903

Following the introduction of a 'final four' system in 1903, Williamstown were left to rue the drawn match with eventual premier, North Melbourne, in round 5 at Pt Gellibrand. The Villagers also lost their first encounter with newcomers, Preston, in round 3 by 12 points as, with the train service out of action, 'Town played two men short for part of the game at Preston. Nevertheless, in an improved performance, the team finished just two points behind fourth-placed West Melbourne and with a much superior percentage. Footscray was the only team to inflict defeats on the Villagers in both encounters during the year. 'Town scored 111 goals and 188 behinds, which was the highest aggregate achieved by the Club since the introduction of the points system. The opposition recorded 79 goals and 146 behinds. Second-year player, Edward Prescott, was the leading goalkicker with a total of 25 for the season.   

North Melbourne, which was expected to dominate the competition after the breakaway, finally won a pennant after overcoming Richmond, which won the minor premiership, by 21 points in the grand final challenge match. The finals system introduced by the VFA in this season meant that all but the four top teams dropped out of the competition after the home-and-away rounds. The second team then played the fourth in the first semi-final followed by the second semi-final between the first and third teams. The final would be played between the winners and if the victorious team also led the list at the completion of the home-and-away rounds, it would be declared the premier team. However, if the top team was defeated in the second semi-final it could challenge the winner of the final to a grand final. Also, if the top team was defeated in the final after winning the semi-final, it could challenge the winner of the final to another game for the premiership. This system was used by the VFA for about thirty years until replaced by the 'Page-McIntyre System' in 1933, which had the added virtue of always ensuring that a grand final would take place.  


Local Test cricketer, Jimmy Matthews, made his football debut with Williamstown in 1903 and played 81 games and kicked 134 goals until 1913, with a year at St Kilda where he played 12 games and kicked 18 goals in 1907. He was the leading goalkicker at Williamstown in 1906 with 46, making him equal second on the VFA list and earned him interstate selection against SA. He was also leading goalscorer in 1910 with 30 goals. A right-armed leg spinner, he played first-class cricket for Victoria from 1906-15, and 8 Test matches for Australia taking 16 wickets. He is the only player in Test cricket history to take two hat-tricks in the same match, which he achieved against South Africa in 1912. 

They did defeat the eventual runner-up, Richmond, by a point in round 2, and downed Port Melbourne in both home-and-away games, by 32 points in round 4 and 49 points in round 13. After making a late bid for the finals by winning the last four home-and-away games all by comfortable margins, including the season's biggest victory of 51 points over Prahran at Williamstown in round 17, the Villagers missed by half a game, with 10 wins, 7 losses and the draw. Three of the losses were by 9 points or less. They also had a superior percentage to fourth-placed West Melbourne and had beaten them by 33 points in their round 15 clash. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1903 season, held in April 1904, Treasurer JJ Liston alleged that Williamstown were blocked from the finals 'owing to Footscray throwing away its (round 16) match against West Melbourne purposely.' The Williamstown Chronicle reported on August 22 that 'owing to the unexpected defeat of the Footscray team by West Melbourne last Saturday, the chance of 'Town being included in the four to play off for the premiership, are very remote indeed. It does not appear that Footscray were much concerned about last Saturday's contest, seeing that there were so many absentees.' Six of the Tricolours' regulars did not play, and their leading forward, Dave De Coit, failed to appear after half-time. 

Fred Houghton, pictured here in the 1904 Sporting Judge magazine, played 91 games and kicked 28 goals for Williamstown from 1900-1905 and was vice-captain in 1902 and 1903. Houghton played with Footscray from 1896-99 before crossing to 'Town.

The first life memberships were awarded at this meeting, all going to former players Bobby Gibbs snr (1885-1899, 171 games, 46 goals, captain 1893), Jack Kenny (1887-1899, 83 games 10 goals, captain 1894), Mick Roche (1895-1899 & 1903-05, 32 games 2 goals), Dave Barty (1899-1902, 45 games 21 goals), Ted 'Dinah' Griffin (1886-1897, 167 games, 37 goals, captain 1892), Harold Barnes (1895-1901, 62 games 3 goals), Walter Warren (1886-1902, captain 1895, 1897-99 & 1901, 102 games 85 goals) and Walter 'Dolly' Hall (1892-1900 & 1903, 78 games 1 goal, vice-captain 1895 & 1899). It was North Melbourne's first pennant since competing in the VFA from the inaugural season in 1877, downing Richmond in the grand final 7.6 to 3.9. Spearhead, Ted Staniland, who led the Club goalkicking from 1900-02 was badly injured in a workplace accident in June when the horses on his lorry bolted and he was thrown under the wheels, seriously injuring his leg. The 30 year-old Staniland never played again. Despite his absence for much of the season, the Villagers still managed to kick 111 goals and 188 behinds while 78 goals and 146 behinds were scored by the opponents. 


Williamstown Chronicle, July 11, 1903. The incident occurred at the round 10 match at Western/Whitten Oval on July 4, won by the Tricolours by 21 points, 6.8.44 to 3.5.23. The umpire was named Murphy. 


Williamstown Chronicle, July 11, 1903. The half-time altercation with the umpire referred to above was not related to an on-field incident involving Williamstown's Arthur Britt, who was playing his first match for the Villagers after being cleared from St Kilda during the week prior to the game, and Footscray's 'Ching' Harris, who allegedly slung Britt violently by the neck in the third quarter.                                                     

Arthur Britt (1903-06, 43 games 22 goals), pictured on a 1905 Wills cigarette card, was involved in a controversial incident at Footscray in round 10, 1903, in his first game for Williamstown.                                                                            

Arthur Legge, pictured here in Punch magazine of June 27 1907, came to Williamstown in 1902 after playing with North Melbourne Juniors in 1900/01 and played 25 games and kicked 9 goals up until the end of the 1903 season. He was cleared to Essendon in 1904 and went on to play 69 games and kick 30 goals up until 1909, including the 'Don's 1908 grand final loss to Carlton. He passed away at his home in Glenhuntly on January 15, 1941, aged 59. 


Ted Staniland, pictured here in Fitzroy's 1895 premiership team photo, came to Williamstown from Fitzroy Juniors in 1900 and played 44 games and kicked 64 goals up until he was badly injured in a work accident and never played again. Born in Yorkshire, England, he played 19 games and kicked 12 goals for Fitzroy in the VFA in 1895-96, including the 1895 premiership, and 5 games and 3 goals for Fitzroy in the VFL in 1897 after being recruited from Fitzroy Juniors. He returned to Fitzroy Juniors in 1898-99 before coming to Williamstown. He was leading goalkicker for 'Town in 1900 (16 goals), 1901 (25 goals) and 1902 (13 goals). In June 1903, he was driving a horse-drawn lorry when the horses bolted and he was thrown under the vehicle and sustained a serious leg injury, which ended his football career. He passed away at his home in Napier Street, Fitzroy, on September 1, 1917, aged 44.  


 The Age, June 5, 1903



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