Season Summary: 1931
James Taylor 'Jim' Gray became president of the Club in 1931, taking over the role from Cr JJ Liston who stood down after eight years in the position, just one short of the record run of the recently deceased James Hall, who presided over the Club from 1894-1902. Gray had been a vice-president in 1929 and 1930 and would be president until the end of the 1935 season before reverting to the vice-presidency in 1936 and 1937. Gray also left the oil company he had been managing at the end of 1935 where he had found jobs for six or seven players at the time, and when Gray left so did the players - from the company and the Club.
By 1931 the Depression had worsened, and apart from players being out of work, the public was not in a position to financially support football clubs. Cr JJ Liston stood down as president after eight years in the role, just one short of the record run of the recently deceased James Hall, who presided over the Club from 1894-1902. Cr Liston was also out of the Williamstown Council after more than 30 years, during which time he was mayor 7 times. He was not lost to football as he served as president of the VFA until his death in April 1944. In 1945, the JJ Liston Trophy was established in his honour to be awarded to the best and fairest player at the end of each season, replacing the Recorder Cup and VFA Medal. He gave service to the Club for nearly forty years.
Wally O'Brien transferred to Footscray in late June of 1931 and went on to play 49 games and kick 2 goals with the Tricolours from 1931-34 before playing a further 2 games without kicking a goal with Fitzroy in 1935. He was the younger brother of 1930 Williamstown captain-coach, Jack O'Brien, and played 32 games and kicked 14 goals for 'Town from 1929-31. He passed away on October 11, 1983, aged 76.
WA-born Jim Shanahan, who had played previously with Collingwood, Carlton and Fitzroy, was appointed playing coach but his employer, the police department, would not allow him to continue in the role and he was forced to resign a week before the opening round of matches even though he was a constable stationed at Williamstown. Gordon Helwig was appointed in his place but he too, being a member of the Air Force, found himself in the same position and had to stand down. Jim Toohey, a former Fitzroy player and coach of Williamstown Juniors, was eventually appointed non-playing coach on June 22 with Helwig captain before first, Harold Johns (who was subsequently suspended for 10 weeks after his first outing as skipper for elbowing a Prahran opponent), and then Ted Cahill took over the leadership role role at the end of June. Arthur 'Porky' Sykes was originally named vice-captain but Shanahan filled that role until Jack Barnes became vice-captain when Cahill became captain. Shanahan had played with Camberwell before joining the Club in 1930. The change of captain and vice-captain came about after the 30-point loss to eventual runner-up, Northcote, at Williamstown in round 8. For the round 9 game at Toorak Park against Prahran, selectors were so dissatisfied with the team's performances that both the captain, Gordon Helwig, and vice-captain, Jim Shanahan, as well as Con Drew were dropped due to non-attendance at training, although Helwig was engaged in Air Force duties. Ted Cahill acted as captain with Jack Barnes vice-captain, and Helwig and Shanahan returned to the side for the following game against Port Melbourne.
Horsham Times, January 20, 1931
The Herald, January 17, 1931
Many changes occurred during an unsettled year, with Rex Byrne returning to Northcote and later playing two games for Fitzroy in 1934, Leo Drew went to Daylesford as coach soon after the start of the season and C.K. Adams, who joined in 1931 from Brighton, transferred to Moorabbin in late June. Captain-coach of 1930, Jack O'Brien, made a comeback for a few games before retiring after the round 4 game against Brighton and crossing to Newport. His brother, Wally, transferred to Footscray in late June and went on to play 49 games with the Tricolours from 1931-34 and then two games with Fitzroy in 1935. Another Jack O'Brien then joined the Club from Daylesford after having played earlier with South Melbourne and Hawthorn before the close of clearances on June 30 as did Bill O'Brien after 2 games with South Melbourne in 1930. Bill Whitburn returned from Essendon Seconds in June and brought Bert Jaensch with him while Tom Meehan also returned from Collingwood Seconds. Other recruits included N.A. Graco, Vic Donnelly and A.T. Winnell from North Melbourne Seconds, Eric Shade from Footscray, Tom 'Midgie' Hill from Williamstown Seconds, Dave Hyde from Laverton, Charlie Walsh from Williamstown CYMS, A. Farrell from Woodlands via Footscray Seconds, C. Bodycoate from Werribee, Hec Neal from North Williamstown Juniors, Jack Thompson and Joe Paul who both played 14 games with North Melbourne and Matt Goggin from Lethbridge. Arthur Sykes sought a clearance to Richmond during the year but this was refused. One of Williamstown's best and most decorated and longest-serving players in Arthur Cutting arrived at the Club in this season from Yarraville via Footscray Seconds. He would go on to play 159 games up until the end of 1945 (the official Club record at the time), including the premierships of 1939 and 1945, won the VFA Medal in 1938 and 1939, tied for the Recorder Cup in 1938 and was runner-up in 1939 and won Club best and fairests in 1938 and 1939.
Jim Toohey, pictured here when playing for Fitzroy in 1914, was appointed Williamstown non-playing coach for the 1931 season on June 22 after the original appointee, Jim Shanahan, was unable to continue due to his employer, the police department, prohibiting paid outside employment. His replacement, Gordon Helwig, was similarly employed by the Air Force and found himself having to stand down. Toohey also coached the Villagers in 1932, the first appointee to coach for more than one season since Jim Caldwell in 1921/22. He began his football career in WA and was recruited by Fitzroy in 1913 from North Fremantle, playing until 1917 when he enlisted and served in France during World War I. He continued on with Fitzroy in 1920, playing just the opening game against Richmond to eventually finish up after 78 games and 102 goals before transferring to Prahran as captain-coach. He played for Prahran and briefly for North Melbourne in 1921 before becoming captain-coach of Williamstown Juniors. He played with the Juniors in 1922 when Bob King was captain-coach, and became captain-coach of the Juniors again in 1923 at the age of 37 when King returned to Williamstown. Toohey played in Fitzroy's 1913 premiership side and their 1917 runner-up team. He was re-appointed coach of Williamstown for the 1932 season in December 1931. He also played with and/or coached Stawell, Kalgoorlie, Subiaco, Balwyn and Kingsville.
The season opened brightly with a 32-point win at Yarraville in front of a crowd of 9,000. Goggin and Winnell both kicked 3 goals on debut with Billy Blake best player. The first home game for the year was against eventual premier, Oakleigh. Williamstown trailed by just 4 points at three-quarter time before the Oaks unleashed a 6.7 to NIL final term to run out victors by 47 points. The Villagers went down again at Brunswick the following week, this time by 33 points, despite leading by two goals at quarter time. There was another win in round 4 over lowly Brighton at Williamstown, 12.20.92 to 7.12.54, with Ted Cahill booting 4 goals and Arthur 'Porky' Sykes best-on-ground before a 2-goal loss to eventual wooden-spooner Camberwell at Pt Gellibrand where Williamstown kicked 1.9 to NIL in the last quarter to throw away another win. The Argus reported that a meeting was held on the Thursday night after training before the next match against Preston with players and the committee 'at which an endeavour was made to ascertain the cause of the unexpected failures in recent matches. In consequence the team was not announced till midnight.' The meeting achieved little as 'Town went down again, this time at Preston by 3 goals.
Arthur Cutting came to Williamstown in 1931 from Footscray Seconds after earlier playing with Yarraville in 1929. He would go on to play a then Club-record 159 games and kick 8 goals up until the end of 1945, excluding the war recess of 1942-44 and the one season he spent as captain-coach of Wimmera Rovers in 1934. One of Williamstown's most highly-decorated players, he was vice-captain for part of 1938 after Neville Huggins transferred to Prahran early in the season, and tied for the Recorder Cup with Bill Downie of Northcote. He also took out the VFA Medal in 1938 & 1939 and was runner-up in the Recorder Cup in 1939 as well as winning the Club best and fairest award in 1938 and 1939. Cutting was also a dual premiership player, playing on a half-back flank in both the 1939 and 1945 pennant-winning teams. He was awarded the best player in the 1939 final series. Cutting was a life member and also a member of the Club's Hall of Fame.
Williamstown then lost to Sandringham for the first time since the Zebras entered the competition in 1929 at the Beach Road Oval in round 7 by 16 points. The fourth of seven consecutive defeats occurred the next week with a loss to eventual runner-up, Northcote, at Williamstown by 5 goals, 13.16.94 to 9.10.64. A further loss at Toorak Park by 4 goals now had 'Town on the bottom of the ladder. This was the match where the captain, Gordon Helwig, and vice-captain, Jim Shanahan, were both dropped from the team. On the Monday after the loss to the Two Blues, Jim Toohey, who played 78 games with Fitzroy from 1913-17 and 1920 and 8 years in WA, was appointed non-playing coach of the team after Jim Shanahan was prevented by the Commissioner of Police from continuing as coach and his replacement, Gordon Helwig, was similarly barred from continuing in the role by the Air Force. As reported by The Argus Toohey, 'in view of the difficulties of the Club, has agreed to act in almost an honorary capacity'.
Captain Liley was a vice-president of Williamstown in 1926, 1930-31, 1939-41 and 1945-52. He was awarded life membership in 1950.
The situation was exacerbated by another defeat, this time at the hands of Port Melbourne by 32 points at Pt Gellibrand after Williamstown led by 3 points at half time but kicked just 1.4 to 7.3 in the last half of the game. The seventh successive defeat occurred at Coburg in round 11 with a 10-point loss, 6.19 to 6.9, although the Burger's inaccurate kicking prevented a bigger blowout. Arthur Cutting made his senior debut in this game, kicking two goals and featuring in the best players while Bill Whitburn made his first appearance for 'Town since May 1928. The new Jack O'Brien from Daylesford and Bert Jaensch also debuted in this game.
Williamstown returned to the winner's list with a surprise victory by 3 points over an inaccurate Northcote, the eventual runner-up, at Westgarth Street, 10.6.66 to 8.15.63, with Jim 'Sandy' Sinclair kicking 4 goals and newcomer Eric Shade best player. The Villagers followed this up with a 10-point victory at Williamstown over Brunswick with Gordon Helwig booting 4 goals and Arthur Sykes best player. The trip to Port Melbourne in round 14 resulted in a 26-point defeat, followed by a narrow 8-point loss at Williamstown to ladder-leading Yarraville after the Villagers led at three-quarter time by 4 points.
Hec Neill came to Williamstown in 1931 from North Williamstown Juniors and Newport and played until the end of 1933 before transferring to Melbourne. He returned in 1940 and then crossed to Yarraville in 1941. He played a total of 48 senior games with Williamstown and kicked one goal. Below is a photo of the medal he received from committeeman, Ernie Young, for most improved junior player in respect of the 1931 season.
A 39-point defeat at the hands of Coburg in round 16 preceded the season's worst loss at Oakleigh by 15 goals, 17.28.130 to 6.4.40. Williamstown were without Arthur Sykes and Con Sheehan who were in the VFA representative squad which played NSW at the S.C.G. and won by two goals. The NSW team was captained by Williamstown's 1921 premiership centreman, Dave Elliman, in the Association's first interstate trip since a game in WA in 1923. The last round of the home-and-away matches was postponed by a week due to the heavy rain that fell prior to the scheduled fixture. The season was rounded out with a 35-point win at Williamstown over Sandringham, 14.14.98 to 7.21.63 with Jim 'Sandy' Sinclair kicking 4 goals and Billy Blake best player. The Zebras took the field with only 17 men and nobody on the bench and another player was carried from the ground in the second term but had two replacements after half-time. A Sandringham supporter, Mr John Richard Knight, collapsed and died at the ground during the game.
An extract from Larry Floyd's book on the history of the VFA and Williamstown - the goalscorers of 1931
The season was a flop with only 5 victories out of the 18 contests and the team finished third last as against third top the previous year. A 3-point win over Northcote, eventual runners-up to Oakleigh, at Westgarth Street in round 12 was the only highlight. Jim 'Sandy' Sinclair was leading goalkicker in a disappointing season with 31, although he is credited with 34 in Larry Floyd's book, as per the above. The season's aggregate fell to 166 goals and 213 behinds (1209 points) while the opposition put together 202 goals and 264 behinds (1476 points).
Arthur Sykes, who finished equal fourth in the Recorder Cup in 1931, also represented the VFA against the VFL at the MCG in June and against NSW at the SCG in August. Harold Johns also played against the VFL while Con Sheehan was in the side that played NSW. In the first clash between the rival leagues since 1902, the Association were soundly defeated by the VFL on a wet day at the MCG, 12.17.89 to 3.9.27. The VFA were successful in the game against NSW at the SCG before a crowd of 9,000 winning 16.11.107 to 13.17.95.
The Association Football Recorder, September 5 1931 - Williamstown goalkickers list for season 1931, headed by Jim 'Sandy' Sinclair with 31 although Larry Floyd had his record as 34 majors for the year.
The Association Football Recorder, September 5 1931 - the ladder at the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds.
On July 7, the Club treasurer, Will Davis, passed away at the Caulfield Military Hospital, where he had been for 3 months, at the age of 38. He had been in that role since 1930. Jim Toohey was re-appointed coach in December, the first person to serve in that role for more than one season since Jim Caldwell in 1921-22. Future long-serving senior player and 1939 premiership team member, Eddie Deller, played in the Williamstown Seconds side in this season. He would make his senior debut in 1932 and go on to play 130 games up until 1945.
Jim Shanahan, formerly of Fitzroy, Carlton and Collingwood, came to Williamstown from Camberwell in 1930 and was appointed playing coach for the 1931 season but had to resign in April, a week before the first game, when his employer, the police department, refused to let him continue with the appointment due to work committments, although he continued playing as vice-captain to skipper Gordon Helwig until both were dropped for the round 9 game at Prahran due to non-attendance at training.
The Age, July 8, 1931 - the Club's incumbent treasurer, Will Davis, passed away at the Caulfield Military Hospital on July 7, where he had been for 3 months, at the age of 38. He had been in that role since 1930.
Williamstown Chronicle, July 18, 1931
Williamstown Chronicle, September 12, 1931 - At the round 18 game at Williamstown against Sandringham on August 29, a Zebra supporter, Mr John Richard Knight, collapsed and died at the ground during the game.
Eric Shade joined the Club in 1931 after playing 20 games with Footscray in 1929 & 1930. Originally from Williamstown CYMS, Shade would go on to play 37 games and kick 24 goals up until the end of 1933.
The Age, December 19, 1931 - Joey Tankard played 12 games and kicked 3 goals with Williamstown in 1887 after transferring from Hotham (North Melbourne) following a number of off-field incidents. After just one year with 'Town, he returned to Arden Street in 1888. Tankard, generally regarded as the pioneer of the 'finger-tip' mark, passed away on December 18, 1931, a little over a week after his wife, Emily.
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