Season Summary: 1921
Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell, the youngest member of Williamstown's 1907 premiership team, returned from South Melbourne as playing coach for the 1921 season after having captained South's 1918 VFL premiership side.
Read club historian Gerard Drew's look back at our run to the 1921 Grand Final HERE.
Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell, the youngest member of the 1907 premiership team, returned from South Melbourne as playing coach for the 1921 season after having captained South's 1918 VFL premiership side and having represented Victoria. Older brothers, Arthur and Bob, had also played for Williamstown, the former having been killed at Gallipoli during World War I. Dick Condon was made vice-captain after transferring from North Melbourne and Harry Haughton, captain-coach in 1920, agreed to remain on as a player. Other new players were Tom Geisler from Hawthorn, Vic Truman from Carlton, Hugh Munro from Williamstown Juniors via Footscray, Bob King from Fitzroy, who worked at Newport Railway Workshops, Dave Elliman from Melbourne, Jack Wiseman from Prahran and former player, Harry Greaves, returned after a stint at Footscray. Future captain-coach and Recorder Cup and VFA Medal winner, Charlie Stanbridge, also joined the Club in this season from Prahran Juniors and Jim McAuliffe returned after a year with Williamstown Juniors.
Bob King, seen here on a Magpie Cigarettes trading card, came to Williamstown from Fitzroy during 1921 and made his debut against Footscray in the round 10 match at Williamstown aged 26 in a 5-goal defeat. He transferred to Williamstown Juniors as captain-coach in 1922 before returning to Williamstown in 1923. He played a total of 29 games for 'Town, after having played 63 games for Fitzroy from 1916-21 including a premiership in his first season. He never kicked a goal for either club.
Phil Skehan, a premiership teammate of Caldwell's and a butcher located in Douglas Parade, Williamstown, also moved across from South after the start of the season and, in his first game, against Essendon Town at Windy Hill in round 6, he collided with F. Richards of Essendon about 10 minutes into the first quarter and suffered severe concussion and a broken right leg. He died in hospital without regaining consciousness six days later from hypostatic pneumonia and concussion of the brain at the age of 26. He was the first VFA/VFL footballer to have lost his life as a result of an on-field injury. He had only received his transfer from South the Wednesday before the game.
Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday, 25 June, 1921
The season commenced shakily with two defeats in the first three rounds to the teams that would eventually finish first and second on the ladder at the conclusion of the home-and-away games in Footscray and Port Melbourne, by 15 points and 2 points, respectively. Interspersed between these two losses was a 2-goal win over Prahran at Pt Gellibrand. After the Port loss, there followed three consecutive victories by 10 goals at Glenferrie (Jim McAuliffe 5 goals, Caldwell best), by 45 points over Brighton at Williamstown and a 2-point win at Essendon in the match where Phil Skehan was injured and eventually died. Essendon led with 40 seconds to go when Fred Carpenter took a fine mark and kicked the winning goal, his fourth for the game, just as the bell rang. This left the Villagers in fourth place on the ladder after 6 rounds.
VFA Recorder, June 18 1921 - Team lists for the round 7 clash between Williamstown and Northcote at Westgarth St., the day after Williamstown's Phil Skehan passed away although he is still listed at #22. Included on Northcote's list is Gordon Helwig (#8) who would later play 60 games and kick 50 goals for Williamstown from 1929 until he suffered an injured knee while representing the VFA against the VFL at Princes Park in June, 1932. Helwig was 'Town's captain-coach for part of 1931 and captain in 1932 until injured. #15 for Northcote, Les Stone, had played for Williamstown in 1919 before transferring back to Northcote in 1920 and then returning to 'Town in 1923 and playing in the losing 1924 grand final team. Stone played a total of 42 games and kicked 5 goals for the Villagers in 1919 and 1923-24.
Williamstown played Northcote the day after Phil Skehan passed away, and players from both teams, as well as the umpires, all wore black armbands in his memory. This was the first of three successive defeats which were then experienced, including the second loss for the year to Footscray. The season's biggest victory occurred the next week at Toorak Park, with 'Town downing Prahran by 95 points, 16.26.122 to 3.9.27, with Harry Haughton kicking 6 goals. A 4-goal loss at Port Melbourne, where the weather was so bleak and the wind so strong that Port full-back, Bill Briscoe, donned an overcoat when the Borough was kicking with the breeze, preceded a string of four consecutive wins, all by big margins, over Hawthorn (46 points, McAuliffe 5 goals, Elliman best), Brighton (45 points, Condon best), Essendon Association (58 points, Carpenter 6 goals & best player) and Northcote (64 points). The game at Northcote was virtually to decide who would finish in fourth position.
Williamstown players and supporters travelled across the bay in a steamer for the match with Brighton, where the Penguins did not score their first goal of the game until nearly half-time. In the game against Essendon, they (Essendon) had difficulty in fielding a team owing to the absence of half a dozen of their regulars, and a committeeman eventually had to take the field to make up the numbers. The Argus reported that 'towards the end several players had to be separated after displaying menacing attitudes. For the remainder of the game the play was strenuous, and after the match the Essendon players were serenaded to the station by hoots from a crowd of unruly youngsters.' The final home-and-away game resulted in a 2-goal loss to finalist, Brunswick.
A team photo taken at Williamstown during 1921, before the game against Prahran in round 2. The original timber pavilion at the ground can be seen in the background. Jack MacDonald is second from the right in the middle row and Ruben Smith, father of five-time premiership player and former Club games record-holder, Ray Smith, is second from the left in the middle row. Ruben played 17 games and kicked 4 goals from 1919-21 after coming from Yarraville Juniors. Third player from the left in the front row is Laurie Smith. Third player from the right in the back row is 1920 captain-coach and leading goalkicker, Harry Haughton, and second from the right in the back row is head trainer of the 1920's, Bob Daval, who crossed to Richmond in 1927, became head trainer there in 1936 and received life membership of the Tigers in 1947 after 19 years of service.
Photo of the Williamstown and Footscray teams taken before the round 10 clash at Williamstown on July 16, 1921. The game was won by the Tricolours by 30 points, 11.9.75 to 6.9.45. Jack MacDonald, who started with 'Town at the age of 14 in 1911 and played 155 games and kicked 11 goals up until the end of 1924, is shown seated in the middle row second from the left. He was vice-captain in 1920 and played in the 1921 premiership team. He also served in World War I. He became a life member in 1961 and was a committeeman from 1956-64 and a vice-president from 1965-73. The umpire shown in the front row holding the football was named Thompson.
The 1921 season was disrupted when North Melbourne suddenly disbanded after round 8, just prior to the scheduled clash with Williamstown, and the Villagers were the only team that never played North in this season. This was a result of off-field maneuvers in both the VFA and VFL which stemmed from the scheduled closure of the East Melbourne Cricket Ground at the end of the season in order for the Flinders Street railyards to be extended so as to accommodate the parking of new electric trains. This meant that the Essendon VFL team had to find a new home after playing at the ground since 1882. In June 1921 it announced that it would move to Arden Street, as 800 of Essendon's 1700 members lived in North Melbourne, West Melbourne and Kensington and the Club felt the gate returns would be greater in the more centrally-located North ground.
North saw this as an opportunity to enter the VFL as it was felt that Essendon could not retain its name while playing at Arden St and that soon the majority North Melbourne-based members would force it to be rebranded as North. The North committee formally announced that it would seek an amalgamation with the Essendon VFL club for the 1922 season and promptly disbanded rather than play out the season as the VFA had threatened the Club with disqualification and it also gave the players time to seek a transfer before the 1 July deadline. North Melbourne Juniors offered to take over the senior Club's fixtures but the VFA rejected the proposal.
Jack O'Connell, pictured here in the Sporting Globe of January 6, 1923, was one of three players from North Melbourne that joined Williamstown during 1921 when North disbanded, together with Herb Miles and Bob Clark. He played on the wing in 'Town's premiership victory over Footscray at Fitzroy's Brunswick Street Oval before crossing to South Melbourne the following year without a clearance and debuted against Richmond at the Lake Oval in round 7. O'Connell played with South until the end of 1924 before becoming captain-coach of Ararat in 1925. O'Connell played 12 games for Williamstown without kicking a goal in 1921 and 5 games at the start of 1922 before leaving for South. O'Connell was also a gifted runner and won the Geelong Gift in 1923.
Three players from North came to Williamstown, namely Herb Miles, Jack O'Connell and Bob Clark. It was a presumptious move by North as no agreement had been reached with Essendon on the matter of a merger. The VFA appealed to the State Minister for Lands, requesting that he veto Essendon's move, as the Arden Street ground was owned by Melbourne City Council. He upheld the appeal, and within two weeks Essendon had reached agreement with the Essendon Council to play for the next five years at Windy Hill. This prompted the Essendon Association team to disband in December, bringing an end to its 22-year existence. The VFA wanted to maintain its most central club and re-admitted North in December, on the proviso that an entirely new committee be appointed just as what had occurred in 1908. After North disbanded, the team that was scheduled to play North had a bye but received four points. Williamstown was the only team that had two byes during the season. It was a perculiar coincidence that in 1907, when Williamstown won their last premiership, North Melbourne were disqualified for attempting to enter the VFL and in 1921 the same thing occurred.
1907 premiership player, Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell, returned from South Melbourne in 1921 after 11 seasons and 155 games and captaining South's 1918 premiership team to captain-coach Williamstown. Caldwell was selected in the WFC Team of the Century on the wing and is a member of the WFC Hall of Fame.
The team recovered from the setback of Phil Skehan's demise to finish the season in fourth place with 9 wins and 7 losses, plus the two byes, one win in front of Northcote, and then downed second-placed Port Melbourne in the first semi-final at East Melbourne before a crowd of 15,000 by 26 points, 15.11.101 to 11.9.75, even though Port had won both home-and-away clashes during the year and finished four wins clear of the Village on the final ladder. In fact, 'Town did not manage to beat any of the other finalists, being Port, Footscray and Brunswick, during the year and was not expected to advance very far. After an even first quarter with Port kicking with a slight breeze, Williamstown kicked six goals to two in the second quarter to open up a 4-goal lead by half-time. This was extended to 26 points by three-quarter time, and both sides kicked 3.2 in the last term. The Argus reported that 'Port's undoing was the result of being repeatedly penalised for breaches of the rules - notably holding and pushing opponents - and in this offence their captain (Steve Leehane) was the principal offender.' Williamstown were faster, stronger in defence and not lacking in determination. Fred Carpenter kicked 4 goals while best players were Bob King, Harry Haughton, Norm McDonald, Carpenter, Jim McAuliffe, Stan Mitchell, Dick Condon, Jack MacDonald, Laurie Smith, Jack O'Connell, Charlie Stanbridge, Dave Elliman and Hugh Munro. In the Sporting Globe on August 24 1935, while reminiscing about this game, it was remarked by sports reporter, P.J. Millard, that 'Bob King, as on many other occasions, was Williamstown's star in that stern struggle. His marking at centre half-back was dazzling. Association supporters still talk about it. By many he is regarded as one of Williamstown's three greatest players since the (First World) war, Allan Geddes, of Richmond, and Arthur Sykes being the others.' Despite playing against each other as senior clubs since 1886, this was the first occasion in which they had met in a final.
The Argus, September 24 1921 - starting line-ups for the first semi-final at East Melbourne Cricket Ground, won by Williamstown 15.11.101 to Port Melbourne 11.9.75.
The preliminary final was also played at East Melbourne against Footscray in front of a crowd of 10,000 supporters, and Williamstown held a 4-point lead half-way through the third quarter after the Tricolours had kicked 3 goals in 3 minutes when a torrential hail storm hit the ground. The playing surface was turned into a sheet of ice within a minute of the storm hitting and caused the game to be abandoned with the score reading 10.5.65 to 9.7.61. The Argus reported that 'the oval was a sea of ice, and further play was impossible. Some of the players had been cut with pieces of jagged ice and ..... one of the boundary umpires (famous old player Mick Madden) had several wounds on his head.' Footscray wanted to resume the game once the storm had abated but Williamstown declined, and a hurried meeting of Association officials decided to abandon the match. Fred Carpenter again kicked 4 goals and better players were Stan Mitchell, Carpenter, Jack MacDonald, Jack O'Connell, Hugh Munro, Harry Haughton, captain-coach Jim Caldwell, Charlie Stanbridge, Dick Condon, Bob King, 'Ginger' Armstrong and Norm McDonald.
The severity of the hailstorm that struck Melbourne on October 8, 1921, that led to the abandonment of the final against Footscray at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, can be seen in these three photos of the nearby Melbourne CBD.
The replay, effected by a heavy ground and a greasy ball due to rain, was won by Williamstown by just 3 points, 9.14.68 to 10.5.65, which was the last game played on the famous old ground as the Railways Commissioners required the ground for railway purposes as detailed above. The crowd of 8,000 saw the Villagers get away to a good start and lead 4.5.29 to 1.0.6 at quarter time. Poor kicking for goal in the second quarter reduced 'Town's lead to 13 points at half-time, which was further narrowed to just 10 points by the last change of ends. Footscray, kicking with the breeze, scored a goal to reduce the margin to 3 points with two minutes remaining but Williamstown hung on to score a hard-fought victory, with Jim McAuliffe and Stan Mitchell both kicking 3 goals. Better players were Mitchell, vice-captain Dick Condon, Jim Caldwell, 'Ginger' Armstrong, Bob King, Dave Elliman, Hugh Munro, Jack MacDonald, Jack O'Connell and Laurie Smith.
As Footscray finished on top of the ladder they had the right to 'challenge' Williamstown to a rematch, which took place at Fitzroy's Brunswick St. Oval on October 22 in front of a crowd of 20,000. This was the one and only time that this venue was used for a VFA finals match and only occurred due to Fitzroy Cricket Club having a bye in the first round of district cricket. Captain-coach, Jim Caldwell, broke a small bone in his forearm in the replayed final, but took the field with his injured arm in plaster. Footscray selectors were so displeased with the form of the team in the replayed final that eight changes were made for the 'challenge' match.
After Caldwell won the toss and kicked with a strong breeze, the Villagers got away to a bright start kicking to the Brunswick St. end and led 2.1 to 0.4 at quarter time, despite the heavy ground and the greasy ball proving difficult to hold. Despite Bob King's aerial supremacy and the valiant efforts of the other defenders, the Tricolours used the wind to their advantage and had taken the lead by half-time, with the score reading 3.6 to 2.5. A 5-goal third quarter gave 'Town a 9-point advantage at the last change, 7.5 to 5.8, and when Footscray's Dr. Roy Park, the former University and Melbourne player and Australian and Victorian cricketer, hit the post within seconds of the start of the last term a close finish appeared likely. However, that was their only score for the term while Williamstown added a goal from rover, Norm McDonald, after a smart tap-down from Harry Haughton, to become the first team to win the VFA flag from fourth place.
Williamstown's 1921 premiership team was:
Backs: Charlie Stanbridge Herb Miles Tom Geisler
Half-backs: Dick Condon (v.c.) Bob King Jack MacDonald
Centres: Jack O'Connell Dave Elliman Laurie Smith
Half-forwards: Jim Caldwell (c.c.) Harry Haughton Hugh Munro
Forwards: Fred Carpenter Jim McAuliffe Stan Mitchell
Followers: Jim Jamieson Richard Armstrong
Rover: Norm McDonald
Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday, 29 October, 1921
Caldwell was named among the best players in the premiership victory, downing the Tricolours 8.9.57 to 5.9.39. Other good players on the day were best-on-ground, Bob King, vice-captain Dick Condon, Jack MacDonald, former Footscray player Hugh Munro, Herb Miles, Tom Geisler, Jack O'Connell, Laurie Smith, Dave Elliman, Richard 'Ginger' Armstrong, Stan Mitchell and Fred Carpenter (3 goals). Jim McAuliffe, who kicked 2 goals to give him 63 for the season, a new Club record, and made him second on the VFA list behind George 'Toots' Taylor of Port Melbourne, who booted 78. The team kicked a total of 196 goals and 242 behinds (1418 points - a new Club record) to 143 goals and 200 behinds (1058 points) during the course of the season.
Other good players of that season were Jim 'Corker' Jamieson, Harry Haughton and Norm McDonald. Other major goalkickers were former captain-coach Haughton with 33, Fred Carpenter 26, Hugh Munro 17, Stan Mitchell 13, Fred Harden 12 and Norm McDonald 11. Jim McAuliffe and Stan Mitchell were both selected to represent the VFA in a clash with a WA Goldfields team at East Melbourne in August, which the VFA won 18.10.118 to 2.5.17, with McAuliffe kicking six of the goals.
Membership increased again in this premiership season, with 720 male members, 253 female members and 100 youths. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1921 season, held at the Mechanics Institute in Electra Street in March 1922, life membership was awarded to player, Fred Harden jnr, who retired following the premiership win after commencing with the Club in 1911 and playing 74 games and kicking 49 goals. He was the leading goalscorer at the Club in 1915. The Club's VFA delegate from 1914-21, life member and incumbent local councillor, Richard Morrison, passed away at the age of 45 on May 20. He had been assistant secretary in 1905 and a vice-president in 1913. The Club also lost the 1900 captain-coach, Dick Houston, who passed away on November 27, 1921, at the age of 58. Bob Daval became head trainer in this season after crossing from Williamstown Juniors and he held that post until he transferred to Richmond in 1927, became head trainer there in 1936 and received life membership of the Tigers in 1947 after 19 years of service. Former captain, Bert Amey, received VFA life membership early in the year after his retirement as a player at the end of 1919. He played 129 games and kicked 118 goals for 'Town from 1908-19, excluding the recess in respect of World War I from 1916-18. Amey was captain for part of 1911 after Ted Alley's resignation, was vice-captain in 1913 and then skipper again in his final season. He was leading goalkicker in 1911 (15 goals), 1912 (18 goals) and 1919 (16 goals). He played one season with Port Melbourne in 1918 when Williamstown was still in recess.
Former Williamstown player and life member, Norm Busbridge (1912-20, 59 games 24 goals), commenced the season as captain-coach of Williamstown Juniors but resigned in July and was replaced by future senior Williamstown coach, Jim Toohey, who had played briefly for North Melbourne before they disbanded after starting the year as captain-coach of Prahran. The Juniors finished in third place. In November 1921, Williamstown, along with Prahran and Footscray applied to join the VFL, while Camberwell, Coburg and Geelong West applied to join the VFA. All applications were rejected. Williamstown also made it known that it preferred the Gardens (Fearon) Reserve to the cricket ground and was willing to pay cash for a new fence and the erection of a pavilion although it would prefer the removal of the Cricket Club pavilion and its re-erection on the Reserve.
1921 premiership squad
Back row: Dave Elliman*, Bob King*, Jim Jamieson*, Charlie Stanbridge*, Cyril 'Pompy' Blunt, Harry Haughton*, Bob Clark, Richard 'Ginger' Armstrong*, Tom Geisler*
Middle row: Hugh Munro*, Fred Carpenter*, Herb Miles*, Jim Caldwell (captain-coach)*, Dick Condon (vice-captain)*, Jim McAuliffe*, Jack MacDonald*
Front row: Jack O'Connell*, Laurie Smith*, Stan Mitchell*, Norm McDonald*
* = played in 1921 grand final v. Footscray at Brunswick St, won by Williamstown 8.9.57 to 5.9.39
1921 premiership team, featuring winger Laurie Smith (middle row, third player from right), full-back Herb Miles (middle row, second player from right), captain-coach Jim Caldwell (middle of front row) and vice-captain Dick Condon (front row, third from right)
The Australasian, October 29, 1921
The Herald, May 21, 1921
Williamstown Chronicle, May 21, 1921
The Club's VFA delegate from 1914-21, life member and incumbent local councillor, Richard Morrison, passed away at the age of 45 on May 20. He had been assistant secretary in 1905 and a vice-president in 1913. The Club also lost the 1900 captain-coach, Dick Houston, who passed away on November 27, 1921, at the age of 58.
Pictured here on a Celebrities Series football card of 1887-89, 36yo Dick Houston came from North Melbourne VFA in 1900 to captain-coach Williamstown for one season only. Apart from being a fine cricketer, Houston was also an accomplished footballer and played for North Melbourne and Geelong in the VFA before coming to Williamstown. He was curator at the Williamstown Cricket Ground when he passed away on November 27, 1921, at the age of 58.
Williamstown Chronicle, December 3, 1921.
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