Williamstown FC - History
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Tom Wills, father of Australian Rules football, was present at the meeting of May 17, 1859
What we now call Australian Rules football was played in Victoria and the other colonies from the 1840's, but in 1858 it came into greater prominence when some cricketers, football enthusiasts and schoolboys played a number of scratch matches on the Richmond Paddock in Melbourne. The Melbourne Football Club was formed on May 14, 1859, at the Parade Hotel, East Melbourne, (later named the MCG Hotel) after a scratch match against South Yarra on Richmond Paddock. On May 17, a committee of MCC members and journalists, including Tom Wills, drew up a set of ten rules that became the code under which most other clubs eventually played. The first game under the 'Melbourne' rules, as they came to be known, is thought to have been a meeting between Scotch College and the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School on 7 August, 1858, at the Richmond Paddock where 40 players on each team battled for three hours without either team scoring. The game was resumed two weeks later and, when no goals were again scored, the game was declared a draw. Tom Wills umpired the game.
The South Yarra and St Kilda clubs were soon formed, and occasional teams representing Emerald Hill, Prahran and University also appeared. Geelong Football Club came into existence on July 18, 1859, at a meeting at the Victoria Hotel on the corner of Moorabool and Malop Streets in Geelong.
The May 17, 1859, 'Melbourne Rules', later renamed 'Victorian Rules' following the meeting in May, 1860
Richmond appeared on the scene in 1860 but was not related to the current AFL team and Mark Pennings in his book, 'Origins of Australian Football: Victoria's Early History' writes that 'Booroondara, Collingwood, Williamstown and University were other clubs that emerged' (in 1860). He added that 'there are no reports about matches played by Booroondara or Williamstown'. He also records that 'the first football "council" was held at the Argus Hotel (in Collins Street) on May 28 (1860).' The Argus newspaper confirmed on 29 May, 1860, that a Williamstown delegate was invited along with eight fellow delegates to the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to reconsider the 'Melbourne' rules, formalise them and to reach an agreement on them. They were renamed the 'Victorian Rules' at the meeting and continued to evolve into the game we all know today. Pennings wrote that 'representatives from Melbourne, St. Kilda, South Yarra, Richmond, Scotch College, University, Williamstown, Collingwood and Booroondara were in attendance'. The Collingwood team was not connected to the current AFL team. The invitation to participate in formulating rule changes for season 1860 would not have been extended to the Williamstown Club if it did not exist or was not regarded as a bona-fide team by the Melbourne Football Club. Geelong was not present at the meeting as it went into recess shortly after its inception, until being revived in a gathering at the British Hotel in Corio Street, Geelong, on May 21, 1860.
The 'Rules of Football' as drawn up at the meeting at the Argus Hotel on May 28, 1860, where a Williamstown delegate was present
Documented evidence from the Melbourne and Williamstown press of the day suggest that the football club was formed by members of the Williamstown Alliance Cricket Club in order to keep fit during the off-season. The Age reported on Tuesday, 29 May, 1860, that the Williamstown Football Club was formed on 18 May, 1860, at the first annual general meeting of the Williamstown Alliance Cricket Club, held at the Mechanics Institute in Electra Street. Hugh Ronald Reid was elected the first secretary and treasurer of the football club and also played. Reid was a founding player and also first secretary of the Alliance Cricket Club. The article went on to state that 'the first match of the season was appointed to take place on the Queen's Birthday'. The Williamstown Independent newspaper reported on 2 June 1860 that 'the members of this newly-formed Club enjoyed their first game on Saturday last.' Furthermore, in the Williamstown Chronicle of Saturday, 16 June, 1860, Williamstown Alliance invited interested locals to meet at their ground, Market Reserve, for football practice. The Williamstown Chronicle also reported on 30 June, 1860, that the football club was to play a 'friendly' scratch match on Market Reserve that day at 10.30 am.
The annual report of the football club for 1914 refers to it being a 'jubilee' year, meaning the 50th year of existence, which puts its formation as 1864. However, secretaries of football clubs often had to rely on information that was not always accurate. In this instance, there appears to be confusion about the year the Club was reformed with the actual year of its formation. With the demise of the Williamstown Alliance Cricket Club, which amalgamated with the older Williamstown Cricket Club in 1861, it is possible that the football club merely went into recess until 1864 or that any matches that did occur in this period were simply not reported on by the newspapers of the day. Furthermore, the publication entitled 'The Footballer' of 1875 noted that 'at the beginning of 1864, football, which had been growing in favour, received additional impetus from the advent of Emerald Hill, Royal Park and Carlton. Stimulated by the example of these latter, Brunswick, Collingwood (not the current AFL team, which was formed in 1892) and Williamstown followed suit'. There are also references to the fact that Williamstown Football Club was formed in 1870, which is known to be incorrect as the club was reorganised for a second time in that year.
Clubs also began to appear in regional areas, with Sandhurst forming in 1861 and a Ballarat side in 1862, together with Bendigo, Kangaroo Flat and Maryborough. Royal Park also emerged in May, 1862, along with Essendon and Flemington, followed by Eastern Hill in 1863. St Kilda disbanded in 1863 due to insufficient numbers to field a side but re-emerged in 1873. The famous Carlton club was formed in July 1864 but did not play a game until 1865, while Emerald Hill became a formalised club in 1864. A Fitzroy team also appeared in 1864 but was a different club to that which joined the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in 1884. Brunswick and West Melbourne were also on the field by 1865.
So, although there is documented proof that a Williamstown team existed in 1860, there appeared to be a period of inactivity which was not uncommon in those early days of our game, where clubs would form one year, go into recess the next and then reappear again at a later stage. Also, due to the relative newness of the sport, the newspapers of the day didn't rate a game of football highly and, subsequently, did not report on them. The next attempt to reform the football club appears to have been in 1864, although there are no records in existence or newspaper articles to testify to that fact. The Melbourne Herald reported on July 5, 1865, that the Williamstown Council granted the football club approval to use Market Reserve for the 1865 season. Williamstown played a number of other junior teams in 1865, including games against H.M. Customs and Union, but its first recorded match took place against Carlton at Royal Park on July 15 which resulted in a 2-0 loss (only goals were recorded and the best of three goals decided the winner). In the return match at Williamstown on July 2 1866, after Carlton had kicked the opening goal, William Rigall, a Melbourne player who had agreed to play for Williamstown as an emergency, broke his leg after being thrown into the picket fence by Carlton's Frank Hillsden and the game was abandoned. Riggall had also played for Royal Park in 1865 and Carlton in 1866. The only other recorded game in 1866 was on June 9 when Williamstown played H. M. Customs, or the Melbourne Customs Club, at Market Reserve and the match was a nil-all draw 'after two hours hard work and many severe spills on either side', as reported by The Argus on June 11.
Click on the link below to view one of Bruce Davis' productions on the early days of the Williamstown Football Club
After 1866 there again appears to be another period of inactivity or temporary recess with no records of any games played, although in Pennings' book Williamstown is still listed as a minor/junior club for the 1869 season. It is more than likely that the Club would have played a few unrecorded matches during the period 1867-69 around the district against other local teams that were not worthy of reporting because it was often difficult to organise matches in the metropolitan competitions, due to the distance and the poor condition of Market Reserve. This state of affairs were not uncommon around the 1870's and, even if Williamstown played only one or two scratch matches, or none at all, it is entitled to claim a continuity of existence from a much earlier point as there were no other clubs playing in Williamstown at that time.
The Williamstown Chronicle reported on April 21, 1870, that so few members attended the annual meeting in respect of the 1869 season, that a club could not be formed. However, the Chronicle reported on May 7, 1870, that 'steps are being taken to reorganise the Williamstown Football Club.' Mr James Arthur Thompson, who played for the Club in the 1860's, was instrumental in affecting the reorganisation of the football club once again in 1870, and it was reported in The Argus on May 23 that 'a meeting of the club will be held at the Mechanics Institute on Tuesday next for the purpose of thoroughly organising the club'. The Chronicle stated on 28 May that 'thanks to the exertions of Mr Thompson, a sufficient amount was collected last week to purchase a ball and on Saturday afternoon about a dozen players had a friendly game'. Thompson was also a long-serving member of the Williamstown Cricket Club, and was its secretary in 1888 when he drew up the agreement by which the football club finally agreed to utilise the present cricket ground for all their home games.
Statue of Alfred Thomas Clark in Williamstown Botanical Gardens, the Football Club's first recorded president in 1870 and who would serve 11 years in that role over three terms (1870-71, 1873-1875 and 1882-1887)
Whilst no records can be found of any games in 1870, the Club must have been in existence due to the reference in the 1875 edition of 'The Footballer' to the 'new edition of Williamstown, which was formed in 1870.' The Australasian newspaper, when reviewing the senior and more important junior clubs at the end of the 1870 season, listed Williamstown amongst 'Other Clubs' and gratuitously added that the brief reference was 'just to show that the existence of the club was not entirely forgotten'. Also, 1870 was the first year that the Club had a recorded president in Alfred Thomas Clark, local MLA for 17 years and founder of the Williamstown Advertiser, and local printer, Duncan McLeod, was the first recorded secretary since Hugh Ronald Reid in 1860. Clark and McLeod held those posts for two seasons until replaced by J. Springhall (president) and C. Piper (secretary) for the 1872 season before Clark and McLeod resumed their roles in 1873. Jack Litchfield then became secretary in 1874 and 1875. The early captains of the team were C.F. Payne (1870), H. Norman (1871-73) and D. McCallum (1874-75). The Argus of April 6, 1872, reported that, at the annual meeting held in respect of the 1871 season, that 'the colours of the club were also settled, light blue with a white stripe'. This is confirmed in a report in the Chronicle of May 15 1874 that 'it was resolved to adopt a knickerbocker uniform of blue and white'.
James Arthur Thompson, a player in the 1860's, organised the meeting in May 1870 that restarted the Club
The first record of Williamstown winning a game was reported in the Chronicle on 29 July, 1871, when it defeated Wesley College three goals to nil a week earlier. There was also a game against East Melbourne at Williamstown on August 5 which, it was reported in The Argus of August 7, that 'resulted, after a well-contested game, in a decisive victory for the former' (East Melbourne), two goals to nil. There was also another game at Williamstown on September 2 against the Southern Club which, according to The Argus on the following Monday, 'the Williamstown men won, obtaining a goal kicked by A. Weatherall.' These two teams played again on September 23 at Fawkner Park.
From this point in time, the Williamstown Football Club would continue uninterrupted until today except for the recesses in 1916-18, inclusive, in respect of World War One and 1942-44, inclusive, in respect of World War Two. In 1872, the Chronicle reported that, of the ten matches played by the Club that season, four games were won, three were lost and three were drawn. It was also reported that, at the annual meeting for the 1872 season, held at the Mechanics Institute on April 1 1873, that 'the committee hopes to be able to start a second twenty, owing to the great interest of members'. In 1874, the Club played 12 matches, six of which were won, three were lost and three drawn. One of these matches was on August 1 where it was reported in The Argus two days later that the 'Williamstown Club sent a team to Hawthorn to play the local club, but the game was brought to an abrupt conclusion in consequence of the Williamstown men declining to play any longer with the umpire, who they considered was not impartial.'
The first ground used by Williamstown was the Market Reserve, opposite St Mary's Catholic Church, and bounded by Cecil, Cole and Hanmer Streets. This was before the girls school was built alongside South Williamstown State School. It was not a good surface for football and was often criticized by visitors. St Kilda claimed 'that the surface was covered with lumps of rock' and, in The Argus of June 23 1873, it was stated that 'the Williamstown ground, which is ..... one of the worst that could be selected for football purposes, as independent of being almost a quagmire, it is covered in different places with large pieces of bluestone which makes it very dangerous to play upon.' The Leader newspaper of 28 June 1873 very similarly described it as 'one of the worst grounds that could be selected for football purposes, as, independent of being a regular quagmire, it is covered in several places with very dangerous obstacles in the shape of large pieces of bluestone.'
The ground was shared with another club called Battery United, which was formed in 1877 and became the second strong team in the Williamstown area and similarly found games difficult to organise in its early seasons. Its first president was Alfred Thomas Clark, local MLA for 17 years from 1871-87 and founder of the Williamstown Advertiser, who was the first recorded president of Williamstown Football Club in 1870. SJ Fowler was one of the early secretaries and one of their first captains was J. Rees. Battery United's colours were blue and white, and it may have been at this stage that Williamstown, whose original colours were dark blue knickerbockers, guernsey and hose with a blue cap with a white stripe down the centre, adopted black and yellow in 1884 when Williamstown entered the VFA due to Geelong already having a dark blue and white uniform. These colours were retained until 1888, and also featured a black cap with a yellow Maltese cross.
In April 1879, The Argus reported that the Williamstown Council 'resolved to give the local football club permission to play their matches for the coming season in the Gardens Reserve', then regarded as one of the best grounds in the Colony, but not on a permanent basis because the oval was still subject to casual lettings by the Council. Although odd matches had been played there in the past, including a game against Carlton on 17 August, 1878, that attracted more than 5,000 spectators, most fixtures were played on the Market Reserve. The new ground was a vast improvement and was looked on by the new administration of President Cr John Jobson and Duncan McLeod, returning as secretary, as a big step towards gaining senior status. The only major success that Williamstown experienced in these formative years was in 1876 when it competed with other 'junior clubs' for the Junior Challenge Cup. In 1865, the Athletics Sports Committee began a competition for football clubs that was known as the Challenge Cup, with the principal competitors being Melbourne, Carlton, Geelong, Royal Park, South Yarra and University, but games were often played against 'junior' clubs such as Williamstown, which were allowed 23 or 25 players against the senior club's 20 players. Lack of a controlling body meant that the more powerful clubs such as Melbourne and Carlton tended to concentrate their fixtures against each other and were under no obligation to spread their roster of games. One solution was the establishment of a Junior Challenge Cup to cater for the second tier clubs such as Williamstown, East Melbourne, Richmond, South Melbourne, West Melbourne and Brunswick, as by 1875 clubs had been divided into three categories - senior, junior and minor.
It was decided at a meeting held at Hansen's Hotel on Bourke Street in April of 1876, that the winner of the Junior Challenge Cup would be decided by the awarding of points for wins (2 points) and draws (1 point), a system that would be adopted in latter years in senior ranks. At the completion of the season, the Cup was awarded to Williamstown, which won 10 of its 12 games with one draw to beat a team called South Park by just one point, 21 to 20, followed by South Melbourne (15 points) and Fawkner (13 points). The result was decided in the last game of the season against South Melbourne at Albert Park which resulted in a 2-0 win to Williamstown. 'The Footballer' publication of 1876 stated 'the denizens of the fishing village have a substantial proof to show of their ability and zeal in pursuit of the manly sport, having won the Junior Challenge Cup after a close run with South Park'. Bob Waycott was captain and P. Conroy vice-captain. R. Murray was leading goalscorer with a total of 7. With 104 members, sound administration, the Challenge Cup and a second and third teams, it seemed that Williamstown was due for senior status, but that would not happen until 1884. The Cup itself was long-lost until discovered in 1995 in the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum (now the Australian Sports Museum) at the MCG by James Grzonek, son of Club historian, Ray Grzonek, during a casual visit to the museum. The trophy, which had been presented to the then-president of the Club, Cr John Jobson, by members of the victorious team had been purchased by the museum in late 1993. By 1876, The Argus considered 'the Club to be in a very flourishing condition, no less than 102 members being on the books'.
The 1876 Junior Challenge Cup, won by Williamstown, was discovered at the Australian Gallery of Sport (now the Australian Sports Museum) at the MCG in 1995 by James Grzonek, son of Club historian, Ray Grzonek
There were a number of meetings of interested clubs before the Victorian Football Association (VFA) was formed on May 7, 1877, to promote and extend football throughout the colony, but this did not bring about the administrative reforms that were expected, eg secretaries of senior clubs refused to relinquish their right to draw up the season's programme as they were of the view that this was a 'club matter'. In effect, this meant that clubs could control promotion to, and relegation from, the senior grade by the simple process of including a strong junior team in the senior fixtures, and little progress was made over the next few years due to the selfish club interests which prevented such things as paid umpires, points for wins and draws, boundary umpires, independent tribunals for reported players and a properly drawn-up fixture. The Challenge Cup and the Junior Challenge Cup were discontinued with the formation of the first controlling body, the VFA. The new competition included eight clubs with senior status and many junior teams, but only the senior teams qualified for the VFA premiership.
The 1877 annual report reveals that 12 games were played in that season, of which only 2 were won, 8 lost and 2 draws. A total of 7 goals were kicked, of which P. Conroy scored 5, and 15 goals were scored against Williamstown. The Villagers kicked 16 goals during the previous season, and the decrease in performance was put down to the retirement of several of the Club's better players and the superiority of competing clubs such as Carlton and Melbourne. There was also an issue of players simply failing to turn up for games as 'on a great many occasions not more than 10 of the team chosen put in an appearance, the average for the season being about 15 per match'. The Captain, Bob Waycott, and vice-captain, J.C.F. Ulbrick, instituted a fine of one shilling for players who failed to turn up for games without a valid excuse. On a more positive note, it was reported that 'the number of members obtained during the season reached the large number of 109, which is the largest number yet obtained since the formation of the club'. West Melbourne visited Williamstown on September 1, 1877, and The Argus reported two days later that 'West Melbourne complained of the partiality of the crowd, and stated that the team was hooted all the way to the railway station because it beat the local players.'
Organisation of fixtures continued to be a problem and only nine games of the 16 proposed by Williamstown in 1878 were played. By way of example, St Kilda's proposed visit to Pt Gellibrand on July 13 was cancelled due to the Saints only having 11 players available while East Melbourne cancelled its scheduled game with Williamstown because the East players preferred to watch the Carlton v. Melbourne game. A notable change to the game occurred in 1879 when behinds were registered for the first time although they still weren't counted in the result and the winner was still the side that kicked the most goals. Williamstown had an indifferent season but did manage to play a game at the MCG against Melbourne which was lost, 4.1 to 0.3. Williamstown ventured to Geelong for the first time in 1878, and the inaugural VFA premier team, Carlton, also paid a visit to The Village in August, drew a crowd of 5,000 and won by a single goal. These were two of the 9 games played during the season, of which only 2 were won, 5 lost and 2 drawn. A total of 7 goals were kicked by the Villagers and had 16 scored against them. The leading goalkicker was J. Rees with three. Captain of the past two seasons, Bob Waycott, departed for Sydney at the end of the year and was replaced by D. Burke.
Williamstown played 15 matches in 1879, winning 4, losing 8 and drawing 3. An improved total of 19 goals were scored while 22 were kicked against The Villagers. Leading goalkicker was again P. Conroy with 6. Another local club, North Williamstown, appeared in 1879 and, although destined to be no more than a junior club, it nevertheless made its mark on local football history by fielding three teams and producing a number of senior players for Williamstown and other clubs. Its home ground was where the current Williamstown High School now is. 'The Football' publication of 1879 stated that the 'Fishing Village is strong in football, and musters three clubs, Williamstown, North Williamstown and Battery United ..... although there is not much to choose between the last two. Whether from defections from its ranks or indifference, the elder club (Williamstown) has not shown the spirit ..... that characterised its doings when the Junior Challenge Cup was carried off in 1876.'
Efforts were made in the pre-season of 1880 for Williamstown and Battery United to amalgamate so that a stronger team could be fielded to make a bid for inclusion in the senior grade, but this proved unsuccessful. A merger between the two clubs did eventually occur under the Williamstown name in April 1882 and led to Alfred Thomas Clark resuming the presidency, replacing Cr John Jobson who had served six years in that role but stood down to make the union possible. Duncan McLeod also resumed as secretary/treasurer, taking over from J. Silke. An improved performance resulted from the amalgamation, with 11 wins, 4 draws and 3 defeats the result of the club's 18 matches. J. Page became the first Williamstown player to kick 10 goals in a season. Membership increased to 136, which was more than the minimum of 80 required for VFA senior status, and there was a resultant larger pool of players from which to select a team. Another issue that Williamstown faced in achieving seniority was the lack of a fence around its ground to enable admission to be charged so, at the end of 1882, the Club borrowed 70 pounds from the Commercial Bank of Australia for this purpose.
Williamstown's progress as a junior club reached its peak in 1883 when it played a draw against Melbourne, defeated Essendon 2 goals to one, and then beat Brunswick 4.7 to 1.2, in a season that saw 20 matches played for 10 wins, 5 losses and 5 draws. Four of the matches were against 'senior' clubs, including the victory over Essendon. It also was reported that Williamstown won its first game at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) in seven years in this season. 42 goals were scored by The Villagers with 27 kicked against them, and Jimmy MacKrell and captain J. Rees led the goalkicking with 8 goals each. Club secretary, Duncan McLeod, saw the late season run of on-field success as the catalyst for elevation to senior ranks of the VFA. The improved performances, an enthusiastic Club administration, a membership of 205 and a controlling body willing to admit new clubs to the elite group was a fortuitous combination which saw the door open for Williamstown to take its biggest step-up in football history. Also in 1883, the Victorian Junior Football Association (VJFA) was formed, and Williamstown's 'Second Twenty' or reserves played in that competition, along with other local teams Osborne, Alberts and Prince Imperial. The long campaign for senior status was at last recognised and full membership of the VFA was granted to both the Williamstown and the newly-formed Fitzroy Clubs at the start of the 1884 season. The admission of two new clubs brought the number of seniors back to eight (Carlton, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, Hotham, South Melbourne and Williamstown) but the prestige was offset by the indiscriminate entrance of other clubs to senior grade over the next few seasons. Fifteen clubs were competing by 1886, eighteen in 1887 and sixteen in 1888. This period created more dissatisfaction with VFA control and the older clubs resented the influx of so many newcomers and undoubtedly gave rise to a desire for another controlling body. Attempts to save the VFA by reducing the number of teams by 1888 failed to placate these strong clubs from the inner suburbs and, as we know, eight seceded to form the VFL in 1896.
Departures from the 1883 playing list included C. Alexander (Essendon) and W. McAlister (Melbourne), while C. Solomon joined from Sandhurst but moved to South Melbourne before the year was out. Williamstown's first official match as a senior club in 1884 featured the team's new outfit of blue jersey and knickerbockers, black and yellow hose and a black cap with a yellow Maltese cross in the centre and was played at Gardens (Fearon) Reserve on May 3 against Fitzroy. It was also Fitzroy's first recorded game, and resulted in a win, 2.14 to Williamstown's 0.3, before a modest crowd of 400. Ted Cherry was the first captain with Fred Ulbrick his deputy and Dick 'Commotion' James was named best player. The team achieved its first competition points the following week when it drew with Hotham (North Melbourne) at Gardens Reserve, 2.6 to 2.8 (only goals counted at this stage of the game's development, even though behinds were recorded). Jack 'Oily' Clark kicked both goals for Williamstown. The Club celebrated its first win over a senior side when it lowered Carlton's colours on the Garden Reserve on July 19, 4.11 to 2.12, with vice-captain Ulbrick named best player and Jones, Clark, Kennedy and Smith also doing well, while H. Reed kicked 2 goals. Two weeks later Williamstown visited Fitzroy for the first time and the seaside team failed to score while the home team kicked 5.12. Despite this setback, 'Town managed a draw with South Melbourne, 1.3 to 1.2, back at Gardens Reserve the next week, its best effort against this strong VFA club. The biggest boilover of the season occurred on September 27 at the Garden Reserve in the last game of the season when Williamstown downed the previously unbeaten Geelong, 3.11 to 2.10, with the Pivotonians, as Geelong were then known, scoreless in the first half. Jack Kennedy was named best player. It was the only time that Williamstown was to defeat Geelong in the VFA. The team finished last in its first senior season, winning only the two games against Carlton and eventual premier Geelong. There was also three draws. Charlie Laming took over as captain during the season. Ernie Warren was the top goalscorer with 7 while Jimmy MacKrell kicked 5. There was 7 wins against junior clubs during the season. Junior club, Sandridge, changed its name to Port Melbourne in this year, in line with the change of name of the suburb. Williamstown Juniors was also admitted to the Victorian Junior Football Association in May 1884.
William Fagg 'Jasper' Jones commenced playing with Williamstown in 1885 and, until he finished up in 1893, appeared 118 times for the Villagers and kicked 27 goals. He was made captain in 1888-89 after the merger with South Williamstown. He also played one season with Carlton in 1887, completing 18 games for just one goal. He became a VFA central umpire in 1894.
1884 inaugural captain, Ted Cherry, departed for Hotham (North Melbourne) in the off-season while new players included local William H. 'Barkly Bill' Jones from Melbourne, A. Scrivenger from West Geelong, T. Taylor from the Geelong area while G. Hall crossed from Fitzroy during the year. Williamstown finished sixth in 1885 with 9 wins and 2 draws from 18 matches, including the first victory over Melbourne at the MCG on July 4, 2.1 to 1.8, and their first win against Essendon on September 5 at home, 4.17 to 0.1. Also, 'Town kicked its first-ever goal against Fitzroy in its third attempt when it visited Brunswick St on June 13 but went down again, 1.14 to 4.3. At South Melbourne on August 1, Williamstown held the home side goalless in the first half but eventually lost 6.6 to 1.5 in front of a crowd of 8,000. The next week at home, 'Town had ample opportunities to win against Fitzroy but poor kicking at goal proved costly and were defeated, 3.5 to 2.19. The Australasian newspaper named vice-captain 'Barkly Bill' Jones and Jack 'Oily' Clark among the best followers in the colony and Alf 'Ginger' Worroll as one of the best defenders. Captain Charlie Laming was named amongst the best centre players and newcomer, T. Taylor, who kicked 14 goals in senior games and 19 in all matches, as one of the best forwards. Due to Richmond's admittance to the VFA in 1885, the new club added a blue sash to the jumper to avoid a clash with Williamstown's black and yellow colours. Meanwhile the 'Second Twenty', Williamstown Juniors, took out the VJFA premiership by going through the season undefeated, with five draws and two walkovers/forfeits. The team kicked 54 goals and conceded only 16.
Drawing of a football game, from the Williamstown Chronicle, 23 June, 1888
Ernie 'Dick' Warren, played 1884-92, 134 games, 52 goals, leading goalscorer 1884 & 1886, captain 1891, one of 6 brothers to play for Williamstown, died in May 1938
Three Williamstown captains, from left, Jack Worrell 1886, William 'Jasper' Jones 1888-89 & M.J. 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick 1887
Because of the money from football crowds, in 1886 the Williamstown Cricket Club invited the Football Club to share their ground at Point Gellibrand, an offer which was declined due to the lack of a guarantee about the ground's tenure. The Cricket Club then formed their own team, South Williamstown, which was created one Saturday afternoon in late March by 200 prospective members who met at the cricket ground under the chairmanship of Cr Walter Clarke, who became the first president at a meeting held at the Mechanics Institute the following Monday. Four patrons and 21 vice-presidents were also elected, many of whom occupied similar positions with Williamstown. Application was made to the VFA the same evening as the initial Saturday meeting and was accepted subject to the requisite number of financial members being obtained over the weekend, with the Williamstown Football Club delegate, W.H. 'Barkly Bill' Jones, supporting the application. Strangely, the two teams never played each other in the two seasons they both existed because of the arranged matches rather than a drawn fixture, which did not occur until 1888. It was realised that neither club would achieve success whilst competing with each other for officials, players and finance, and so Williamstown made strenuous efforts to have the newcomers amalgamate, as happened with Battery United back in 1882, but wouldn't agree to the Cricket Club's conditions of tenure of the cricket ground, where it was proposed for the combine to play.
The VFA was on an expansionist path in 1886 and almost doubled the number of clubs when it admitted Port Melbourne, Footscray, St Kilda (the third incarnation to represent the area), Prahran (an amalgam of junior clubs South Yarra, Hawksburn and Southern Cross) and South Williamstown, which was led by Williamstown's vice-captain of 1885, W.H. 'Barkly Bill' Jones, who had a falling out with the Club's secretary of the time, Duncan McLeod, and bolstered by many players from Williamstown Juniors. Also in 1886 came the abandonment of games being divided into two halves in favour of four 25-minute quarters, which was much fairer in terms of wind and light advantage. Also, a bell was to be rung at 3pm notifying sides to be ready to play at 3.10pm, with a timekeeper from each competing club tasked with ringing the bell to signal the end of each quarter. The practice of waving two flags for a goal and one for a behind was adopted later in the season after Essendon secretary J. Graham had witnessed this when his club toured Tasmania in June. Central umpires were using whistles by June, and there was also talk of having boundary umpires. In response to secret payments to players, the VFA confirmed the strict prohibition of professionalism, with any player found guilty of accepting money to be banned for 12 months.
Players from 1885 who departed in the off-season included 13 players who went over to South Williamstown, with 1885 vice-captain, 'Barkly Bill' Jones, 1884 vice-captain A. Alexander, and Hugh Currie being the biggest losses. Recruits included Gilbert 'Gib' Currie and D. Jones from Williamstown Juniors and J. Parkes from South Adelaide. The Villagers, under the captaincy of Martin Joseph 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick, enjoyed a similar season to the previous year with an equal number of wins and losses in premiership matches. The 'Town made a bright start, beating Fitzroy for the first time at Gardens Reserve 2.3 to 1.11 on May 1 but flew the Club flag at half-mast while the players wore black armbands in tribute to vice-president, Dr Figg, who passed away on the morning of the match. They then downed Essendon at East Melbourne 6.10 to 2.13 before meeting eventual premier Geelong at Gardens Reserve and losing badly 10.14 to 0.8 before a crowd of 3,000. They bounced back the next week to defeat the visiting St Kilda 11.7 to 1.0, with Ernie Warren kicking 6 goals. Williamstown hosted a team from New South Wales on the Queen's Birthday weekend before a record crowd of 6,000 and won easily, 6.15 to 0.7. Another victory followed at Punt Road against Richmond, 5.15 to 4.12, which elevated the 'Town to fourth place on the ladder. Defeats at South Melbourne, by 2 goals despite a best-on-ground effort from Jasper Jones, and at North Melbourne by 4 goals and at home against Carlton by 2 goals and Melbourne by 1 goal saw the team drop to sixth by the end of June. Williamstown defeated the touring South Adelaide team, 4.6 to 1.7, at Gardens Reserve before embarking on the first visit to Port Melbourne for a VFA game on July 10. The result was a 3-goal defeat, perhaps due to the fact that most of the team came over on the 'Gem' steamer which broke down, delaying the start of the game until after 3.30 pm and ending in the dark. Port also won the return clash at Williamstown on July 31 by 4 goals. Victory over Footscray at Gardens Reserve, 4.17 to 3.2, before a crowd of 3,000 was followed by a draw at Fitzroy before a big victory over University, 6.11 to 1.8. Losses away to Carlton by 2 goals and Geelong by 6 goals was followed by a win over Richmond by 2 goals at Gardens Reserve which saw Williamstown in 8th position at the end of August. An easy 6-goal victory at home against Essendon, which could not muster a full complement of 20 players, and another win at St Kilda gave hopes of a finals berth before defeats at home at the hands of Hotham (North Melbourne) and South Melbourne. The 'Towners' Jack Kennedy had his finger so badly broken in the game against South that it was amputated. The season concluded on October 2 with a win over Melbourne, 4.9 to 3.13, leaving Williamstown in 9th place on the ladder with 11 wins, 11 losses and 1 draw from their 23 matches. According to the Australasian newspaper, Alf 'Ginger' Worroll was regarded as one of the best followers in the colony, while 1885 captain Charlie Laming and William Fagg 'Jasper' Jones were named amongst the best forwards despite Ernie Warren finishing equal second on the VFA goalkicking list with a total of 24, including 6 in the game against St Kilda early in the season. The Club had in excess of 400 members in this year.
Hotham (North Melbourne) bad boy, Joe Tankard, came to Williamstown in 1887 but stayed only one season
In 1887, the Villagers lost vice-captain and arguably their best player of the 19th century, William Fagg 'Jasper' Jones, who transferred to Carlton, as well as Charlie Laming who went to South Melbourne and Alf 'Ginger' Worroll and W.G. Sinclair who moved to Essendon and W. Wyatt went to Port Melbourne. The Fribbs brothers crossed to South Williamstown during the year, along with five other players. They did recruit three fine players from Hotham (North Melbourne) in Joe Tankard, Tom 'Dutchy' Peters and Eddie Williams who had been let go due to their 'disorderly behaviour on and off the field' in 1886. Tankard had been arrested and fined 5 shillings in September 1885 for fighting in Royal Park and in September of 1886 was again arrested and gaoled along with four other young men for allegedly committing an 'outrage' on a woman in Royal Park. The woman disappeared shortly after the alleged incident and was still missing by the time the case came before the courts and the five accused were discharged. Then, in October of 1887, the mayor of North Melbourne reported Tankard to the police for drunken brawling in public, for which he was fined and spent 14 days in gaol. On a more positive note, Tankard was widely attributed with introducing the high, or finger-tip, mark to the game as chest marks were normally taken at the time. Other recruits were 5 players from South Williamstown, including former player Hugh Currie, Guest from Tasmania as well as Boyd and Reid from South Melbourne. In March, the Club suggested that an amalgamation with South Williamstown would be in order due to the latter's lack of success, even though it had won 6, lost 3 with 5 draws from its 14 senior games in its debut season and was undefeated until round 8. One of South Williamstown's victories in 1886 was a 10-goal win over St Kilda as well as draws with eventual 4th-placed Port Melbourne and 5th-placed Fitzroy. This may have been more to do with Williamstown's desire to move to the cricket ground where admission could be charged in an attempt to solve its financial problems which was not possible at Gardens Reserve. Williamstown, captained in this season by Martin Joseph 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick and D. McDonald, remained in the middle bracket of clubs, with regulation wins against lower teams such as Footscray (which failed to score at all in the game at Gardens Reserve on June 18, and could muster only 1.1 to 4.5 in the return game at Western Oval on August 6), University (which Williamstown defeated 5.26 to 3.8 at Gardens Reserve on August 27, and 8.9 to 1.7 in the return game), St Kilda (4.11 to 2.5 at Gardens Reserve on September 17) and Prahran (8 goals to NIL at Gardens Reserve on July 16) but the Villagers continued to struggle against the more powerful South Melbourne team, which won 3.7 to 0.2 at South's ground on July 30 and 6.13 to 2.9 in the return game at Gardens Reserve on August 20, and Geelong, which won 5.15 to 0.3 at Corio Oval on May 14. The 'Town also lost to Port Melbourne twice, once again, by 4 goals in the season opener at North Port and by 3 goals in the return game at Gardens Reserve on May 28. The 'Town did manage to narrowly down Melbourne at the Gardens Reserve on May 21, despite leading by 3 goals at three-quarter time, and beat Richmond by the same margin at home on June 4. The Tigers reversed the result in the return match and secured its first-ever win over Williamstown at Punt Road on July 23, 5.16 to 1.2. A draw was also played against Hotham at Gardens Reserve, in one of the best games of the season, with brothers Hugh and 'Gib' Currie best for the Villagers. Williamstown did not play eventual premier, Carlton, or fourth-placed Fitzroy. By season's end Williamstown finished in 6th position with 9 wins, 8 losses and two draws from their 19 games, a commendable result considering the small population and competition for players from South Williamstown. The team kicked 67 goals and had 76 goals kicked against them.
Best players during the year were 'Gib' Currie, 'Dinah' Griffin, Bobby Gibbs, captain 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick along with the Hotham bad boys. One of these, Eddie Williams, also topped the goalkicking with 13. The three Ballarat sides in the competition, South Ballarat, Ballarat Imperial and Ballarat, took the number of clubs to 18 which made the VFA rather unwieldy and was causing division between the strong and weak clubs. Williamstown drew with Imperials, 5 goals each at Gardens Reserve on the Queen's Birthday holiday but were soundly beaten in the return match at Ballarat's City Oval, 6.14 to 1.0, on June 11. The Villagers did beat Ballarat easily, 6.1 to 1.5, at Gardens Reserve on June 25 and similarly lost the return game at City Oval, 12.23 to 1.1, on September 3. South Williamstown did not do so well in its second VFA season, and won only 3 games (over University, Prahran and St Kilda, which finished immediately above them on the final ladder) with 13 losses and 2 draws. One of these losses was by 10 goals to Melbourne, 13.11 to 3.8, at Williamstown on May 28, and in the game at Fitzroy on July 9 South Williamstown only managed to score one behind to the 'Roys' 4.9. Williamstown's membership increased slightly to 218 in this season.
A South Williamstown members ticket from 1887
Two amalgamations came about by order of the VFA in 1888, which was determined to reduce the number of teams in the competition, when Prahran combined with St Kilda and the two Williamstown teams merged. This was followed by the withdrawal of University and the dumping of the three Ballarat teams in 1889, which trimmed the ranks to a more manageable 12 teams. A second Prahran club would re-emerge in 1899. Soon after the end of the 1887 season, the two secretaries of the Williamstown clubs, 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick and J. McAlister, came to agreement on an amalgamation in February 1888 and then conferred with the cricket club secretary, James Arthur Thompson, on terms for use of the cricket ground. A special meeting of the Williamstown Club on February 11 accepted both the conditions for the merger with South Williamstown and the terms of the cricket club for use of its ground. This ended all the years of insecure tender of the Gardens Reserve, where many fine games had been played, with the victory over the undefeated Geelong in 1884 being the greatest of them all. Another development in 1888 was the adoption by the VFA of the 'ladder' based on four points for a win, two for a draw and a percentage system that had been devised by the Association secretary T.S. Marshall in 1887.
The only known photograph of the South Williamstown team, taken in 1887 after the club's charity match against Carlton at the end of the season. Captain, William H. 'Barkly Bill' Jones is kneeling in the centre holding a football
As soon as the union was effected a new wooden grandstand was erected and officially opened in December 1887 which gave good service for the next forty years, until replaced by the current concrete stand that was built in 1929. William Henry Roberts MLC, rose from vice-president to take over as president from Alfred Thomas Clark, who would die at sea near Sri Lanka on his way to London on May 19, 1888. William 'Jasper' Jones returned after a season with Carlton to captain the combine, while William H. 'Barkly Bill' Jones, so named after his hotel, The Barkly Arms (later the Oriental), the initial captain of South Williamstown, was made vice-captain. It was also decided to adopt new colours, and the now famous blue and gold came into football for the first time. This was a combination of the yellow from Williamstown's black and yellow and the blue from South Williamstown's blue and white. The first guernsey was all blue with a yellow waist band. This design has changed in terms of neck vees, sashes, monograms and vertical stripes but from 1914 onwards, with the exception of one season in the early 1930's when the waist band re-appeared, it has been the yellow sash that has been used. Richmond were then free to drop the blue from its colours to become black and yellow, which soon led to the nickname of The Tigers. Hotham bad boy, Tom 'Dutchy' Peters transferred from Williamstown to South Melbourne after just one season, while his two former teammates Joe Tankard, after 12 games, and leading goalkicker of 1887, Eddie Williams, returned to Hotham, which changed its name to North Melbourne following the change of name of the suburb. 'Stacks' Wallace transferred to Melbourne. The better South Williamstown players in Jones, Johnny Fribbs, Harry Claringbould, Dick 'Bloomer' Salt, Andy Henderson and Don Murray were retained by the new entity, while Harry Ryde crossed from South Melbourne. Alf 'Ginger' Worroll also returned from Essendon while ex-Prahran vice-captain F. Baillee and Tasmanian defender George 'Bud' Williamson joined during the year. The 'new' Williamstown finished the 1888 season in third position, winning 13 games, losing 6 and drawing one, only two games behind premier South Melbourne and runner-up Geelong, in its best season in the original VFA.
The season opened on May 5 with a one-goal win in the Club's first game on the cricket ground against Footscray before a crowd of 1,500, with 'Jasper' Jones and 'Bud' Williamson best. This game also featured the first use of an electric timekeeping alarm developed by watchmaker, Mr EH Kirby, of Nelson Place, which signaled the end of each quarter by a loud ringing noise which could be heard all over the ground. Prior to this, umpires kept time by carrying a watch in their pocket or referring to the the clock on a ground's pavilion if there was one. A resounding loss at Fitzroy was followed by a win at home over Essendon, its first loss for the season, with Dick 'Bloomer' Salt kicking three of the 'Town's four goals and 'Barkly Bill' Jones best-on-ground, before a draw at South Ballarat's Eastern Oval watched by a crowd of 6,000. Williamstown's first win over Port Melbourne in the VFA occurred on May 26 at the cricket ground, with a 4.7 to 2.5 victory, with all four goals coming in the first quarter and Port kept to a goalless second half. Jasper Jones was again Williamstown's best but was reported for abusive language by umpire Trait. This result was reversed in the return match at Port on June 30, 5.11 to 1.5. A surprise loss to Essendon at the East Melbourne ground, 3.3 to 1.9, was followed by the second victory for the year over Footscray at Western Oval on June 9, 8.8 to 4.10, with Ernie Warren kicking 3 goals and Harry Ryde, who was to die from tuberculosis in 1890, best player. Williamstown were victorious at St Kilda the next week which ended the Saints three-game winning streak, who were able to score just one goal from 18 scoring shots. The Villagers then won their fourth successive game with another victory over Footscray, with Jasper Jones reported once again. By the end of June, Williamstown was in 6th position with 6 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw from their 10 matches. The team was easily beaten by Ballarat at City Oval, 5.4 to 0.4, but then downed the visiting Carlton team, the premiership favourites, by 4 goals at Gardens Reserve, kicking three unanswered goals in the last quarter. Jasper Jones was reported yet again while Johnny Fribbs was best player. The Villagers enjoyed a big win over University at the cricket ground on August 4, 10.23 to 2.3, due to only 10 of the students turning up. Substitutes made up the numbers. Rover Andy Henderson kicked 5 goals for the winners. University forfeited the return game on September 29. Williamstown convincingly downed the previously unbeaten South Ballarat side at the cricket ground on August 11, 8.12 to 2.9, with Harry Claringbould booting 4 goals, but several players were in dispute with the Club and 'Gib' Currie, 'Dinah' Griffin and Bobby Gibbs did not play. The issue arose when Currie played with a junior team when the 'Town had a week off on July 28, and the committee prevented him from playing again until the VFA ruled on his permit status, and the other two stood down in support. Things got worse the following week when Williamstown were defeated by Carlton at the MCG on August 18 with the Blues kicking four unanswered goals in the last quarter after the scores were level at the final change. 'Bud' Williamson was best for the Villagers, who were again without 'Gib' Currie and Bobby Gibbs, and 'Barkly Bill' Jones and Harry Smith were both reported for abusive language towards umpire Trait and were both suspended for the rest of the season.
Report from the Williamstown Chronicle of September 8, 1888, of a public meeeting held to discuss the abusive language charge brought by Umpire J.J. Trait against Williamstown vice-captain, William 'Barkly Bill' Jones, during the match against Carlton on August 18 at the MCG. The VFA tribunal suspended Jones for the remaining six matches of the season in relation to the allegation.
Despite these setbacks, Williamstown continued to push for a top three finish with a fine win at home over Fitzroy, which led by two goals at quarter-time but were kept goalless after that while the Villagers added 4 goals. The 'Town supporters continually abused the umpire and threatened him with acts of violence, while Fitzroy's youthful larrikin gang who called themselves 'The Forties' went on a rampage at Williamstown train station after the match as the local police concentrated on protecting the umpire. (The ‘Fitzroy Forties’ was a collection of local toughs who were an ever-threatening presence on the terraces and in the streets afterwards. They would often get in fights with gangs and members of other clubs. According to Richard Stremski in Kill for Collingwood, the Collingwood gangs were more than happy to accommodate the Fitzroy toughs, one saying they loved heading up the road to the Brunswick Street Oval where “if you don’t get good football [at least] you’re bound to have bloodshed.”)
Williamstown Chronicle match report of the Williamstown v. Fitzroy game on August 25, 1888
This good form was maintained with a convincing win at Footscray the next week, 6.18 to 1.5, with 'Bloomer' Salt best-on-ground. There was crowd trouble at three-quarter time and police had to restore order after a nasty brawl. The team was brought back to earth at North Melbourne the next game with a 5-goal to 3 loss after North gained a winning break in the third quarter largely due to former 'Towner Joe Tankard's fine play. Williamstown then knocked off the Saints at the cricket ground by 5 goals to 3 in the penultimate round of games. Being awarded the 4 points for University's forfeiture of the last game, Williamstown gained its only top three finish in pre-VFL days, behind only premier South Melbourne and Geelong. The Villagers took advantage of an inequitable fixture to accumulate as many wins as possible against less talented opposition but still accounted for Carlton and Port Melbourne along the way. Newcomer Andy Henderson and J. Smith topped the goalkicking for the season with 10 apiece.
The guernsey after the 1888 merger with South Williamstown, blue with a yellow waist band. Ted Alley was recruited from Footscray Juniors and was knocked out just before half-time at Port Melbourne in 1905. Later that season against Richmond, Alley was the victim in a report of the Tigers' centre half-back Bill Lang, a heavyweight boxer who won the Australian title in 1909, lodged by the Williamstown club alleging unduly rough play. Alley was captain of the Club's first premiership team in 1907, after captain-coach Paddy Noonan sensationally resigned not long before the end of the home-and-away season.
Gilbert 'Gib' Currie, came from Williamstown Juniors in 1885 and played for three seasons before joining Carlton, died in 1910 aged 45
The creeping tide of professionalism caught up with uncompetitive amateurs University by 1889, which after several years of mediocrity, withdrew from the VFA while the three Ballarat clubs disappeared, reducing the number of competing teams to 12. A Collingwood committee was formed in June with a view to forming a senior club with support coming mainly from Britannia Juniors. An application for admission was rejected by the VFA, which were of the view that there were enough clubs in the competition. 'Barkly Bill' Jones departed for premier South Melbourne in June after losing the vice-captaincy while the disgruntled 'Gib' Currie crossed to Carlton and Harry Claringbould went to Melbourne while Jack Warren went back to Richmond at the end of June. Most recruits came from local zones, other than J. McDonald who came from South Melbourne, and the money saved was put into ground improvements but the Club was finally in a sound financial position. Williamstown's rise to the top four was short-lived and in 1889 the Villagers plummeted to tenth position on the 12-team ladder, with only Melbourne and Footscray below them, having just 5 wins, 13 defeats and two draws for the year. The season got off to a bad start with a loss to Essendon at East Melbourne on May 4, 6.7 to 1.8, and then defeat at South Melbourne, 6 goals to 3, with Harry Ryde, the man who would contract TB later in the year, return to Tasmania and pass away in August 1890, best for the Villagers. Meanwhile, the two draws against Port Melbourne on May 18 at Williamstown, after a tough and goalless first half with skipper William 'Jasper' Jones best, and at Geelong on June 29, when the Pivots led by two goals at half-time before being worn down by the 'Town, had merit considering Port finished third and Geelong fifth. This was Williamstown's best result against the Pivots since it beat them at Gardens Reserve in 1884 and was the only other time it did not lose to Geelong in the VFA days.
The Age reported that the club was experiencing internal disorganisation, and there was some doubt as to whether all players were doing their best to win, underlined by nine losses in ten rounds, interspersed with the draw at Geelong, during the season. The last of these was Footscray's first win of the season and first-ever over the 'Town, at the Western Oval on August 24. There were serious repercussions at Williamstown after this humiliation, as some commentators were of the opinion that Footscray were not good enough to be in the VFA. Rumours circulated that a Williamstown bookmaker had offered 5 pounds to some local players to 'play dead', but an investigation by the Club committee could find no evidence of this. However, rover Andy Henderson and defender George 'Bud' Williamson were dropped for the next game owing to their poor performance against the Tricolours. The Club strenuously denied the action was for any other reason, but Williamson even went to the effort of sending a statutory declaration to The Herald in an attempt to clear his name. The Williamstown Chronicle also reported that Henderson wrote to the Club committee demanding it provide evidence that he was paid off in this match. Ironically, Williamson moved to Footscray the next season and later captained South Melbourne.
Captain 'Jasper' Jones did his best to set a good example, while the efforts of newcomer Foote, 'Ginger' Worroll, McPherson, Lyle, Cooper, J. Smith and Gibbs were praised. During the season, Williamstown played 20 games for 5 wins, 13 losses and two draws, with three of these victories coming in the last four games, including a 6-goal win over Melbourne, 9.13 to 3.5, at Williamstown, which broke the eight-game losing streak, and another at St Kilda, 5.4 to 3.18, on September 21 in the penultimate round of games. Once again there was trouble between Williamstown and St Kilda supporters when a fight broke out after a 'bell topper' was knocked off the head of a young St Kilda supporter. In the last round, Williamstown gained revenge for its earlier loss to Footscray in another spiteful match between these arch-rivals. The Tricolours held a narrow lead at quarter-time but the Villagers were back on level terms by half-time. The fireworks started in the third quarter when the 'Town started to get on top. An all-in brawl started in the crowd and the players were soon caught up in the action. 7 reports resulted, and one Williamstown player, W. Young, was suspended until the end of the following season for striking A. Ley, the Footscray captain. Anderson of Footscray was also suspended until the middle of the next season for throwing and shoving umpire Shaw. The Villagers won the match, 6.12 to 1.5, with Jasper Jones and Dick Salt best for the victors.
Another of the rare victories in this season was over St Kilda, 4.10 to 2.8, at Williamstown on June 15. A group of 30-40 larrikins, mostly from Prahran, followed the St Kilda team and caused trouble at this game, with one of the group throwing a rock at Williamstown's Alf 'Ginger' Worroll and another jumping the fence and knocking down one of the other Williamstown players. A Williamstown supporter retaliated and knocked over the St Kilda fan before police intervened. The best effort was the 5.8 to 1.4 win against eventual 7th-placed Fitzroy before a crowd of 6,000 on the muddy Williamstown Cricket Ground on June 1, where 'Ginger' Worroll kicked two of the 'Town's five goals in a best-on-ground display. Worroll put in another best-afield effort the following week against Carlton at South Melbourne, when the Blues held a 3-goal lead at three-quarter time before the Villagers played all over them to reduce the margin to just one goal by the final bell. Ex-Williamstown player, 'Gib' Currie, was best for Carlton. There was also a victory over a touring Southern Tasmanian side, 1.4 to 0.1, at Williamstown on the Queens Birthday holiday. A crowd of 5,000 came to Williamstown on July 6 to see Essendon down the Villagers in the first home loss since the amalgamation with South Williamstown, despite a brilliant game from defender 'Bud' Williamson. Essendon captain, Bill Fleming, said after the match that it was 'the roughest game he had ever played in'. Local supporters were quite unhappy with the visiting team and umpire Harry Wilson and showered them with mud and rocks, and Wilson had to be escorted to the train station by police. Williamstown had a reputation for crowd trouble and South Melbourne refused to play at the cricket ground. There was another incident at the game against North Melbourne at Williamstown on September 14 when some of the crowd started brawling and the police had to make arrests to restore order. Against this background, Williamstown had 540 members in this season, the largest since the formation of the Club in 1860. The Villagers kicked a total of 65 goals for the season and had 79 kicked against them. Bobby Gibbs senior was the leading goalkicker for the year with a total of 13.
Williamstown's new captain for 1890, J. McDonald
By the 1890's, Australia was in the grips of depression which saw real GDP fall 17% over 1892 and 1893 and 30% between 1891-95. accumulating foreign debt that had reached 40% of export earnings by 1890, aggravated by a maritime strike at Melbourne and all the other port capitals in mid-1890 when a ship's fireman was dismissed. London banks began to withdraw loans from Australia, which created a crisis in the real estate market. The accompanying financial crisis, which reached a zenith in 1893, was the most severe in Australia's history. The government had no money to grow the economy and had a massive debt, and with rising unemployment, which reached 30% by 1893, and increasing bankruptcies, tax revenues were in sharp decline. The unravelling of the property boom of the 1880's led to an abrupt collapse of private investment in urban development and a sharp pullback in public infrastructure investment. Also, a drought in 1895 accentuated and prolonged the depression, which had a profound effect on the development and popularity of football in Victoria. As attendances declined funds became scarcer and jobs for players were harder to find, which meant that many clubs could no longer afford the wages once dispensed to players. Those that adapted best to these new conditions did so by investing resources into developing their local junior zones, as this did not require the wages normally paid to talented prospects. VFA secretary, Theo S. 'Thop' Marshall, was fiercely opposed to professionalism and was determined to recover the amateur roots of the game. He fought to equalise gate money between the clubs and refused to confront the realities of professional sport as it developed in the late 19th century. Marshall, therefore, played a major role in the split that led to the formation of the VFL in 1897 due to the unrealistic constraints he attempted to place on the stronger clubs as football transitioned from its amateur past to its professional future. The transfer and permit rules he introduced to prevent players from migrating to the highest bidder further aggravated the situation, as the sporting media of the day claimed that under-the-table payments to players were rife and urged the VFA to accept the reality. The impact of the discovery of gold in WA was also profound as the money available in the West saw more than 70 of the finest footballers leave Victoria to play in Perth, Fremantle and Kalgoorlie, which led to a decline in the quality of the VFA competition and subsequently made it much less attractive for the paying public and crowds were only a third of what they had been in the 1880's. As membership numbers began to decline some clubs fell into financial difficulties and were virtually insolvent and dispensed with reserves teams. Many of the crowds intimidated players and umpires and rioting and brawling, particularly at North Melbourne and Port Melbourne, was common. Also, Essendon dominated the VFA to such an extent that they won four consecutive premierships between 1891-94 and stifled the competition.
Against this backdrop, Williamstown entered the new decade under a new captain, Jim McDonald, with Ernie Warren as his deputy, but the 'Town did even worse in 1890, swapping places with Footscray who finished 10th, while the Villagers came last. The Williamstown Chronicle was very critical of the team's attitude to training in its April 26 edition but the situation was not helped by the departures of Dick 'Bloomer' Salt and Don Murray for Carlton and McPherson to Fitzroy, while disgruntled rover, Andy Henderson, transferred to North Melbourne and George Williamson crossed to Footscray after the bribery allegations of the previous season and Williamson would go on to captain South Melbourne in 1896. Young was suspended for the season as a result of his report in the final game of the previous year against Footscray. Harry Claringbould returned from a season with Melbourne, as did Walter Warren from Ballarat. In between Footscray and the Villagers was Richmond, half a game ahead of Williamstown. Against 14 defeats, only two wins were achieved, against eventual third-placed Fitzroy at Williamstown on August 2, 5.2 to 4.13, in the 'Roys' sixth-consecutive loss, and the ninth-placed Port Melbourne on a foggy day at Williamstown on July 5, 3.7 to 2.6. There were also two draws, against Footscray on May 31, and Melbourne on September 6, with 'Jasper' Jones kicking 2 goals and being best-on-ground, in a total of 18 games. St Kilda recorded its first-ever victory in the VFA over Williamstown and first since 1879 in the opening game by just one goal, 4.3 to 3.15, with the ever-reliable 'Ginger' Worroll best for the Villagers. Worse was to follow the following week at East Melbourne, going down to Essendon, 9.4 to 2.6, followed by Melbourne's first win of the year over the Villagers, 5.11 to 2.8. The draw with Footscray at Williamstown on May 31 didn't seem to thrill the Tricolour supporters amongst the crowd of 7,000 who swamped the trains after the match and could not be held back by the station staff or police, and two panes of glass were broken in a scuffle. Fitzroy kicked its highest-ever score of 14.12 to Williamstown's 3.3 at Brunswick St on June 7 and the 'Town remained winless after going down at Richmond the following week, 6.12 to 1.3. The season's first victory followed in the fog match at Williamstown against Port Melbourne on July 5, with Walter Warren best. At the conclusion of the game, which the Villagers won by a goal, several hundred Port supporters rushed to catch the Gem ferry back across the bay but found out that the service had been terminated for the day due to the thick fog. They then went to the railway station in order to take the train although the ferry ticket did not entitle them to use the train. The Argus reported that the railway officials and police were unable to control the crowd that rushed the train. The Villagers' decline was emphasised the following week when it met eventual runner-up Carlton at the MCG on July 12 and was annihilated, 15.15 to 0.2, with the Blues kicking its highest-ever score to date and greatest winning margin in an era of low scoring. Ex-Williamstown player, 'Bloomer' Salt kicked three goals for Carlton. Williamstown also failed to kick a goal against Footscray at the Western Oval on August 9, although the Tricolours only managed two themselves. Williamstown lost narrowly to North Melbourne at the cricket ground in the last game of the year on September 20, 3.8 to 2.11, after the visitors trailed at three-quarter time but Andy Henderson's best-on-ground performance against his old club helped North to get over the line. The Villagers were without luck as they hit the post 4 times during the game. Alf 'Ginger' Worroll was the leading goalkicker for the season with a rather modest total of 5.
In 1891, the VFA introduced the commencement of fixturing with effect from the 1893 season onwards in response to the practice for many years of secretaries from the big clubs organising their own schedule of matches to boost gate money and impoverishing the smaller clubs. Also, umpires commenced a game by bouncing the ball in the centre of the ground rather than relying on a kick-off, which had been the norm ever since the game's inception. Quarters were also set at 25 minutes, and the goal umpire had to consult with the field umpire to confirm a score before waving the flags. Behinds were still not counted in a team's score although they were signalled and recorded. 1890 vice-captain, Ernie 'Dick' Warren, was promoted to captain in 1891 with 'Jasper' Jones his vice-captain. Former players Tom 'Dutchy' Peters (North Melbourne), Dick Salt (Carlton), J. Ward and Eddie Williams all returned to the Club, while S. Johnson moved across from Footscray but, being a poor club, the 'Town relied mostly on local talent, mainly from South Williamstown juniors. The best recruit turned out to be classy Woodend player, Bob McCubbin, a relative of the revered Australian painter, Fred McCubbin, who would be one of the Club's finest during the next decade. Departures included follower Johnny Fribbs (Fitzroy) and Alf 'Ginger' Worroll, after 7 seasons with Williamstown, who crossed to Port Melbourne. Victories over Richmond and Melbourne in the final two games of the 1891 season enabled Williamstown to finish ninth, ahead of Footscray, Port Melbourne and Richmond. The Villagers managed four wins and three draws from their 18 matches, which was double the number of victories of the previous year. These were over Richmond at Punt Road in round 7 (7 goals to 5) with Dick Salt best-afield, at Footscray in round 9 (2 goals to 1), at Williamstown over Richmond in round 21 (7 goals to NIL) with Salt best again and over Melbourne also at Williamstown in round 22 (5 goals to 3). In the win over Footscray, the Tricolours' Sammy Hood lost his temper and threw the ball into the umpire's face and subsequently received a four-match suspension. The big win over Richmond was the 'Town's first sucess since round 9, a streak which included 7 defeats and two draws. One of the draws was the scheduled game against North Melbourne on July 11 at Williamstown which was called off due to heavy rain, but featured a ceremonial bouncing of the ball in the middle of the ground before it was abandoned. The players from both sides entered the field in their overcoats and exchanged a couple of marks before leaving. The nil-all draw gave the sides two points each. The others were in round 2 at the MCG (1 goal each) against Melbourne and the round 17 match at Footscray (2 goals each). Williamstown did not play eventual premier, Essendon. The worst performance was at South Melbourne in round 4, with the Villagers going down 9.17 to 1.1 and scoring just one behind in the second half. They also lost the following game to eventual runner-up, Carlton, by 7 goals, 8.18 to 1.5, with the Villagers unable to score in the first and last quarters. Another 7-goal defeat was suffered at Fitzroy in round 19, going down to the eventual third-placed 'Roys, 11.8 to 4.7. The following week at Port Melbourne, Williamstown kicked just 7 behinds with the wind in the first quarter and 2.8 in the third quarter to go down by two goals, 5.7 to 3.15. It was Port's first win after 11 consecutive defeats and a draw. Best players for the season were centreman and vice-captain, William 'Jasper' Jones, followers Dick Salt and Gus Brownfield, defenders J. Bogle and Tom 'Dutchy' Peters, and forwards Jack Kenny and T. Sansom. Brownfield also led the goalkicking with a total of 10 in a team total of 73 for the season while 102 goals were scored by the opposition. Ted 'Dinah' Griffin was picked to represent the VFA in a game against South Australia at Adelaide Oval on June 16, which SA won 5 goals to 4 despite the Association not fielding the strongest-possible side as some players declined the offer to play after the VFA refused to pay them. In tough times, married men and those from working class backgrounds could ill afford to lose wages while travelling to another colony.
Williamstown were struggling financially by 1892 and could no longer afford to recruit country players and was on the lookout for wealthy patrons. Many of the players of the 1880's had started leaving the club, including the 1888-89 captain and 1886 and 1891 vice-captain, William Fagg 'Jasper' Jones, who crossed to junior club North Williamstown. Former vice-captain, William 'Barkly Bill' Jones, returned to captain the Club but without success. The other notable departures were Tom 'Dutchy' Peters (Bendigo) and Eddie Williams (Port Adelaide). Andy Henderson returned from North Melbourne after two seasons following the bribery allegations of 1889, while Johnny Fribbs returned early in the season after a year with Fitzroy. Season 1892 marked the entry of the newly-established Collingwood Football Club, which emerged from the Brittania junior club, to the VFA after many years of effort and lobbying, increasing the number of competing teams to 13. The suburb of Collingwwod may have been poor, but the VFA was well aware of the fanatical support that the Magpies were likely to attract and they were more than welcomed into the senior footballing fold. In other developments, the three Ballarat clubs were excluded from the VFA premiership and were encouraged to form their own association and club delegates prepared their fixtures for the last time, ensuring that the big clubs played each other twice. Collingwood and Williamstown had much in common in its inaugural season with both clubs winning three and drawing one of their 18 games, and taking up the two bottom positions on the ladder at the end of the season. The 'Town kicked two more goals than Collingwood over the course of the year, enabling it to avoid last placing but the Magpies won their only encounter for the season at Williamstown in round 5 (4.4 to 3.10). South Williamstown Juniors recruit, Mally McCallum, was best player for the Villagers. The season got off to a bad start with a 5-goal defeat at Port Melbourne, the second-bottom side of 1891, 9.8 to 4.3. All four of the Villagers' goals came in the third quarter and only two behinds were scored for the rest of the game. The 'Town's Bob McCubbin was best-on-ground. Another 5-goal defeat followed in the first home game of the year against Geelong, 8.13 to 3.0, and it was becoming apparent that the appointment of 'Barkly Bill' Jones as the new captain had not been well received by his teammates. Williamstown collected their first points for the year in round 3 with a draw against eventual fourth-placed Melbourne at Williamstown (5 goals each), after the 'Town came from 2 goals down at three-quarter time and trailing the Fuchsias all day. The worst performance of the season came the following week in round 4 at Fitzroy, going down to the eventual runners-up 14.23 to 0.3, with the Villagers failing to score in the first quarter and registering just one behind only in each of the final three quarters. 11 consecutive defeats followed, including an 8-goal loss to eventual premier, Essendon, at East Melbourne in round 8, 9.13 to 1.7. There was another disaster at Punt Road in round 12, when Richmond kicked their record score of 12.11 to Williamstown's 2.2, which was also the Tigers' greatest-ever winning margin. The Villagers improved dramatically two weeks later in the return match at Williamstown, reducing the margin to just 1 goal but losing yet again, 5.5 to 4.4. The 'Town's Johnny Fribbs was best-on-ground and it was reported that the Richmond players had to contend with small boys throwing dirt and mud at them, while Williamstown players allegedly threw 'missiles' at the ball when the Tigers were taking a shot at goal. Williamstown led the eventual fourth-placed Melbourne at half-time in the round 15 game at the MCG, 3.1 to 2.6, but a 4-goal third quarter by the Fuchsias consigned the 'Town to its 14th loss of the season. The victories were all in the last three games for the year over Footscray at Williamstown in round 17 (7 goals to 1), over North Melbourne at Williamstown in round 18 (4 goals to 2) and over Port Melbourne at Williamstown in round 19 (4 goals to 3). The Villagers were in control of the game against Footscray after a 3-goal second quarter opened up a handy lead, which was repeated in the final quarter while the Tricolours added just a behind to their score after quarter time. Andy Henderson and Bob McCubbin were fine players for the winners, but Williamstown were still on the bottom of the ladder at the end of August, half a game behind Collingwood. The win over North Melbourne in round 18, 4.7 to 2.6, was the 'Town's first against them as a senior team, and the first since 1881 when the team was known as Hotham, with Johnny Fribbs and Walter Warren best players. The victory against Port in the last game of the season was due to the Borough's inaccuracy as they booted 3.10 to Williamstown's 4.2. Walter Warren was the only player to kick more than 10 goals for the season with 12. Follower Bob McCubbin, rover Johnny Fribbs, 'Dolly' Hall in defence, Warren and J. Ward in attack, and vice-captain Bobby Gibbs, 'Dinah' Griffin, A. Morone and Gus Brownfield all tried their best to lift the team. In better news for the district, North Williamstown were the Victorian Junior Football Association premiers of 1892.
Follower Bob McCubbin tried out with Melbourne in the pre-season practice matches of 1893 but his application for a clearance was turned down by the VFA permit committee who were clamping down on players changing clubs for money and he returned to Williamstown. The Villagers improved marginally in 1893 to win four games and draw three of the 20 matches it played to finish in 10th place, ahead of Carlton, Richmond and North Melbourne. The first of these victories was at Footscray in round 8 when the 'Town kicked 3 goals straight to the Tricolours 2.12 (behinds still didn't count towards the result even though they were recorded), with the Villagers' 'Yorky' Dyson best-on-ground. The others were at Punt Road in round 12 (6 goals to 1) after the Villagers kicked 3.7 to 0.2 in the first quarter and never relinquished the lead, at Williamstown over St Kilda in round 15 (8 goals to 2), with Bob McCubbin best-on-ground and Walter Warren prominent in the biggest victory of the season, and at Williamstown over wooden-spooner North Melbourne in round 20 (7 goals to 2). In the St Kilda game, vice-captain Ted 'Dinah' Griffin was reported and subsequently suspended for striking the Saints' 'Bunney' Archer during the game. The draws were at Port Melbourne in round 4 (2 goals each) in a game where Bobby Gibbs snr starred and Peter Ritchie sustained a broken leg, against Richmond at Williamstown in round 5 (1 goal apiece) and at Williamstown against Fitzroy in round 19 (4 goals each), with Gus Brownfield best-on-ground. The Villagers were short of players and were forced to enlist four substitutes who refused to play because they hadn't been picked regularly during the season. The other Williamstown players lifted and managed the draw against the eventual fifth-placed 'Roys after trailing at half-time, with 'Yorky' Dyson also prominent. The team did extend eventual third-placed South Melbourne at Williamstown in round 11 by kicking 5.1 to 6.5. The Age reported that the Villagers' last quarter comeback had the South timekeeper in such a state that he 'was desperate to finish the game while South was still ahead.' It was reported that he 'rushed into the arena and seized the bell, ringing it violently' until 'the umpire ordered him off the field.' With Johnny Fribbs and Ted 'Dinah' Griffin in fine form, the Villagers led at quarter-time before South fought back to have a two-goal break at the last change. The 'Town stormed home kicking three quick goals but South managed to hang on. The Southerners had no such anxious moments against Williamstown in the opening game of the year at South Melbourne, winning 12.8 to 2.11, in the Villagers' worse performance of the season. Timekeepers were again in the news in the last game of the season when Melbourne visited Williamstown and won 4.7 to 2.5 with Walter Warren best-afield. The Sportsman reported that 'the 'Town timekeeper vented his spleen by hitting the Melbourne timekeeper over the back with the bell'. In rounds 16-18, three consecutive games at Williamstown were lost by just one goal to Footscray, Port and Collingwood, respectively. A total of 77 goals were kicked by the Villagers for the season and 96 goals were kicked against it. Walter Warren was again leading goalscorer for the year with 13, while better players were Johnny Fribbs, P. Shanahan, 'Yorky' Dyson, Gus Brownfield, captain Bobby Gibbs snr, Bob McCubbin, the Warrens (Walter and Peter), 'Jasper' Jones, John Sheehan, vice-captain 'Dinah' Griffin and C. Grunden. Follower McCubbin was selected to represent the VFA against South Australia at Adelaide Oval on June 10, which the Association won 4.7 to 2.9, while McCubbin and Shanahan were picked in the side that played Norwood at the same venue two days later, with the VFA again victorious 6.9 to 2.10. 'Yorky' Dyson was named one of the best defenders in the colony and McCubbin one of the best followers at the end of the season in The Evening Standard. There was discussion about a merger with local junior club North Williamstown, the VJFA premiers of 1892, during the year but nothing came of it.
Former players, Andy Henderson from North Melbourne, and Dick 'Bloomer' Salt, after a year out of the game, both returned to Williamstown in 1894 while 'Jasper' Jones turned his hand to umpiring and Walter Warren transferred to Carlton briefly before returning to the Village after just one week. Bob McCubbin's brother, George, joined him at Williamstown after crossing from Footscray. 'Hawkie' Hawkerstone from Camberwell was another recruit. Jack Kenny assumed the captaincy with Gus Brownfield his deputy. Future mayor of Williamstown, James Hall, began his 9-year reign as Club president in this year. The 'Town remained in 10th place in 1894 despite losing the opening 7 games, including a 7-goal defeat at Williamstown against eventual premier, Essendon, in round 2, 9.9 to 2.4, the heaviest defeat of the season. Six of the 'Dons goals came in an opening-quarter blitz to the Villagers score of zero. It was reported in The Herald on May 11 that a Richmond player 'held his opponent so cheaply that he smoked a cigarette on the field' during the opening match of the season at Punt Road which the Villagers lost 9.12 to 6.7. The third defeat of the year was at Williamstown against Carlton, 7.5 to 4.10, which ended the Blues worst-ever run of 16 consecutive losses. Williamstown's Queen's Birthday match on May 24 at Footscray was highlighted by the Villagers forfeiting their half-time score due to having 21 players on the field and subsequently losing 3.8 to 1.2. It was reported in the Australasian newspaper that Williamstown were so incensed that a player 'ran at the umpire and pushed him away when a decision did not meet with his approval.' 'Mallee' McCallum was best for the 'Town. The Villagers lost to Collingwood yet again in round 6 at Williamstown despite being more than double the Magpies' score at half-time. Collingwood's five-goal third quarter sealed the win while the 'Town could only manage four behinds in the second half. Fitzroy's narrow win at Williamstown in round 8 was achieved with a goal two minutes before the final bell, with Walter Warren kicking all of the Villagers' goals. The first victory of the season came in round 9 over Richmond at Williamstown (7.6 to 3.6) but that was followed by a 5-goal defeat at the MCG at the hands of eventual runner-up, Melbourne, where the Fuschias led 7.2 to NIL at half-time before Williamstown kicked its entire score for the match of 4.1 in the third quarter. Port Melbourne was again in trouble with the VFA after the four-goal draw at Williamstown in round 11. The Villagers were disgusted with Port's behaviour and lodged a complaint about their 'brutal play' and refused to play the return match at North Port Oval. Umpire G. Molyneux reported Port player Drew for striking Williamstown's George McCubbin and the entire team for 'ignoring his rulings, and were guilty of rough play, bad language and fighting' according to the Sportsman newspaper, but the VFA did nothing and the charge against the Port player was dismissed. The Villagers got off the bottom of the ladder with a 4-goal win over St Kilda at Williamstown in round 12, 7.10 to 3.8, with future captain, Jack James, best-on-ground. The season gained some respectability between rounds 14-19 with a draw against North Melbourne at Arden Street (3 goals each) with Bob McCubbin in brilliant touch, a 2-goal win over bottom side, Carlton, at University Oval, a 1-goal victory against Footscray at Pt Gellibrand, a 4-goal win at St Kilda followed by another draw with North in the return match at Williamstown (3 goals each). Despite trailing the Tricolours all day, Williamstown kicked three unanswered goals in the last quarter to pinch the 7 goal-to-6 victory, with 'Dolly' Hall and Jack James best for the 'Town. The Argus reported on August 27 that 'Williamstown's fine win at St Kilda was led by a best-on-ground effort from Johnny Fribbs. This was a praiseworthy effort given that he forgot his uniform and took the field in a costume that Sancho Panza (a fictional character in the novel Don Quixote) might have worn as livery'. The Villagers kicked 11 goals against the Saints, including 5 in the second quarter, and Peter Warren, brother of Walter, booted 4 goals for the winners. This gave the 'Town five wins and three draws from 18 games. A total of 80 goals was kicked by the team during the season and 96 goals were scored against them. The Warren brothers kicked 30 goals between them with Walter booting 17 and Peter 13. Walter Warren was also selected to represent the VFA against South Australia at the MCG on July 21, which the Association won easily, 13.15 to 0.6. Walter 'Dolly' Hall and the Warren brothers played for the VFA in an exhibition match against Essendon at Victoria Park on September 22 which the Association won 5.10 to 0.7 with Walter Warren kicking 3 of the goals. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1894 season, held at the Mechanics Institute in Electra St on March 25, 1895, committeeman Mr G.V. Baker proposed that any present and future players who played with the team for three years be granted life membership, the first time that the issue of life memberships had been raised.
James Hall, president of the football Club from 1894-1902, was also Mayor of Williamstown in 1902-03
Walter Warren commenced his record-equalling reign as captain of Williamstown in 1895, replacing the unsuccessful Jack Kenny, with Walter 'Dolly' Hall as his vice-captain. All of the Club's recruits came from local juniors and the Colac area, with Jack Kennison returning after a season with local side Osborne, bringing Harold Barnes with him while Laurie Ogilvie joined from North Williamstown. 1894 vice-captain, Gus Brownfield, transferred to Fremantle but was back by the end of June, while Bob 'Coronation' Caldwell went to West Melbourne Juniors but returned in 1897 to play for five further seasons. The year began with a ladder-topping win over St Kilda at Williamstown, 7.3 to 4.8, led by captain Walter Warren's three goals, before losing at Fitzroy to the eventual premier by a goal, 3.13 to 2.2, followed by a draw at Port Melbourne (4 goals apiece). A 3-goal loss to Essendon at East Melbourne was followed by victories at Williamstown over Footscray, 7.7 to 5.6, and North Melbourne, 5.8 to 4.9. In the Footscray encounter, the win was set up with three unanswered goals in the first quarter, including an alleged '60-yarder' from Walter Warren. Recruit Dick 'Ironsides' Hall was best-on-ground. Eight consecutive losses in the middle of the season from rounds 8-15 ended any premiership hopes, one of these being to eventual third-placed Melbourne, 3.9 to 2.1, after the Villagers had led for most of the game despite scoring just one behind after quarter-time. The 'Town's Jack James was best-on-ground. The Australasian reported on July 13 that 'Williamstown supporters gave Melbourne no end of trouble in this match, for they kept the ball out of play and, in some instances, even went so far as to run away with it when wind and game were in the visitors' favour. At one stage several Melbourne supporters sent out a posse to retrieve the ball.' One Williamstown supporter even put a penknife into the ball in an attempt to waste time. The Villagers failed to score a goal at South Melbourne in round 10, managing just 6 behinds to South's 3.7, and kicked 4.19 to 5.4 to lose against Richmond at Williamstown in round 13, bearing in mind that behinds were recorded but did not count towards the score. To make matters worse, the Villagers demanded a count of the Tiger players, suspecting they had 21 on the field, but got it wrong. The 'Town won three of the last four games, downing Carlton at Williamstown in round 17, 3.11 to 2.6, Port Melbourne at Williamstown in round 18, 6.5 to 3.4, and St Kilda at the Junction Oval in round 19, 7.9 to 4.7, after trailing the Saints at three-quarter time before unleashing a 4.8 to NIL final quarter. St Kilda was struggling to get a regular team together by the end of the year and tried out 6 new players in this game. In the final round, Williamstown suffered its biggest defeat of the year, losing to eventual fourth-placed Collingwood at Williamstown, 10.4 to 4.7, to round out the season. The game was all over at quarter-time, with the Magpies leading 5.3 to NIL. The Villagers finished one rung higher on the ladder in ninth position with six wins and one draw in the 18-round season. Walter Warren finished equal 11th on the VFA goalkicking list in 1895 with a total of 14, while brother Peter booted 13 goals out of a team total of 69. The Age named Walter Warren one of the best forwards in the colony, Jack James one of the best rovers and Bob McCubbin as one of the best followers. The Argus regarded Johnny Fribbs as one of the best followers and concurred with The Age on James and Warren. The Australasian regarded Warren as the only Williamstown player worth mentioning.
In what turned out to be the final season of the Association competition before the formation of the Victorian Football League, the discontent of the more powerful clubs was heading towards a climax as the 1896 season got underway. The VFA was clearly struggling and the top clubs began planning to secede. Reforms such as the control of fixtures by the VFA, the poor gate returns from some games, the unruliness of crowds at certain grounds (particularly Port and North Melbourne) and the hostility by VFA secretary Theo S. Marshall to open payments to players all contributed to the dissatisfaction of the inner suburban clubs. Marshall's attempts to eradicate semi-professionalism indirectly contributed to the drain of the colony's best players to WA, where the money on offer there attracted over 60 Victorian footballers, including some of the VFA's greatest players. The resultant decline in football standards led to reduced attendances, less gate money for the powerful clubs and the subsequent agitation for a breakaway competition. The club's financial resources were largely derived from gate takings, so the most powerful clubs were those that could attract the biggest crowds, and those clubs (South Melbourne, Geelong, Carlton and Essendon) were earning as much as ten times the income that the poorer clubs such as St Kilda, Richmond, Footscray and Williamstown were capable of generating. This led to a situation whereby the VFA became effectively divided into two 'divisions', whereby the wealthy clubs, who were the premiership contenders, chose to play each other as many times as possible in a season to bolster their financial positions and only played against the poorer clubs at the start of the year, effectively in practice matches to prepare for the big games against the other powerful clubs. The top echelon also included clubs that were connected to the strong teams by professional and personal ties, such as Melbourne and Fitzroy, while St Kilda was not particularly affluent but its administrators were middle class gentleman with contacts. It became clear that these clubs were meeting regularly to find a way of discarding the weaker clubs and making drastic alterations to the rules. In July rumours were circulating that the weaker clubs would be cut from the competition and then on 2 October their plan for a strong competition of just eight clubs was publicly announced the day prior to the play-off game (the first in VFA history) for the premiership between Collingwood and South Melbourne at the East Melbourne ground, which was won by the Magpies, 6.6 to 5.5. Essendon, Geelong, Collingwood (after only five seasons in the VFA), Fitzroy, Melbourne, South Melbourne, Carlton and St Kilda left the VFA to form the VFL, leaving only North Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Footscray, Richmond and Williamstown. The 'Town secretary and former captain, 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick, remained defiant and claimed that he was glad that his club had remained loyal to the VFA. He claimed that every effort was made at reconciliation with the new VFL clubs but they had said that it was 'our way or the highway'. Over the next 100 years, despite the loss of Richmond, Footscray, North Melbourne and eventually Hawthorn to the VFL, the VFA survived and occassionally thrived in competition with the VFL/AFL until finally succumbing and being replaced by the current Victorian Football League.
Rover Jack James, in his fourth season with the Club, took over the captaincy from Walter Warren in 1896, who remained on as vice-captain. 'Yorky' Dyson, who had played with the Club since 1890, left for Williamstown Juniors but was back by the end of May, P. Shanahan crossed to Footscray and Peter Warren went to West Perth during the year. The season commenced with a loss, two draws and a win over Richmond in the Villagers' only home game in the first four rounds. The victory over the Tigers was highlighted by a great game from Walter Warren who kicked four goals. Three consecutive defeats followed, including an 11-goal loss to Melbourne at the MCG, who kicked a record-equalling 15 goals and achieve its greatest winning VFA margin. The Fuschias' 8-goal final term was also a record. The Herald, reporting on the wet round 7 clash at Williamstown against second-placed Collingwood, stated that 'the ground was in bad shape for the match between the locals and the visiting Collingwood team because the sheep, which are allowed to graze on the playing ground to keeep the grass down, broke out on Friday night, thus causing the reserve ground to be in the condition it was.' Captain Jack James was again prominent for the 'Town, which went down, 4.3 to 3.5. The following week, Williamstown lost to Essendon for the ninth consecutive time, 7.6 to 3.2, this time at Pt Gellibrand. The Villagers returned to the winners list with successive two-goal victories over Footscray and North Melbourne at Williamstown. The Tricolours were up against it when three of their better players, Stranger, Hood and Pender, preferred to go to the races. Former captain, Ted 'Dinah' Griffin, was best for the 'Town. The worst performance of the season at Geelong followed, with the Villagers going down to the eventual third-bottom side, 12.14 to 0.2, the biggest margin ever between the two clubs. Williamstown returned to the winners list with victory over Carlton at the University Cricket Ground in round 13, 3.7 to 2.3, with Walter Warren best-on-ground. Another big loss was incurred at Fitzroy in round 14, with the 'Roys triumphing 10.13 to 3.4. The round 16 western derby at Footscray ended in controversy and a draw after umpire McCoy abandoned the game after fights broke out during the final quarter, ending in a melee between all the Footscray and Williamstown players, many of whom then left the field. The Villagers rounded out the year with three successive victories over teams that were to finish below them on the ladder. They were too good for eventual wooden-spooner, Richmond, at Punt Road in round 17 despite registering just 4 goals from 17 scoring shots to the Tigers' 2.1. They then beat St Kilda at Williamstown in round 18, 5.10 to 2.3, with Walter Warren again best-on-ground, kicking three of the five goals. The 'Town got home by just one goal from lowly Carlton in the last game, despite the Blues leading at three-quarter time, thanks to another marvellous contribution from Walter Warren who booted 5 goals. The Villagers eventually finished in eighth place on the 13-team ladder in 1896 with seven victories for the season to go with eight losses and three draws. Ironically, they finished above three of the breakaway clubs in St Kilda (ninth), Geelong (eleventh) and Carlton (twelfth). Walter Warren again had a fine season, finishing fourth on the VFA goalscoring list with 23. According to The Australasian and The Age, Warren was one of the leading players in the colony, while The Age nominated Harold Barnes and Laurie Ogilvie as 'a capable pair of juniors'. Defenders 'Mally' McCallum and first-year player J. Barclay, midfielders Thompson and 'Dinny' Riley, and ruckmen Bob McCubbin and J. Fagan were other good players during the year. Sadly, player Barclay passed away during the off-season while another player in Sydney Chester drowned at the Williamstown back beach in March 1897 while trying to secure a boat, aged 27.
Brunswick, the strongest of the junior clubs, was admitted in 1897 to make a six-club competition. There is no evidence that Williamstown was ever mentioned or displayed any desire to join the breakaway group, but it may have had something to do with the fact that its ground was farther from the city than any of the other Melbourne clubs. Fitzroy, which joined the VFA in the same year as Williamstown, was close to the city, its supporters could walk to most of the other grounds and was able to attract players more easily. Geelong was another matter, as it was a perennially successful club and had made overtures to the Association to shed the weaker teams as far back as 1889 and develop a more streamlined competition. Essendon had similar views. In 1894, these two clubs along with Melbourne and Fitzroy favoured a six-team breakaway league with the inclusion of Ballarat and Bendigo. Collingwood favoured a reduction in numbers by a series of mergers, such as Footscray and Williamstown, Carlton and Fitzroy and South Melbourne with Port Melbourne. The matter simmered until the end of the 1896 season, when the top 5 clubs on the ladder plus Geelong invited the formerly powerful Carlton and St Kilda, favoured because of its southern location, to join the other dissidents. Some VFA officials tried to save the situation by promulgating a two division system with promotion and relegation but were ultimately unsuccessful. Walter Warren regained the captaincy in 1897, in a season where behinds were to be counted as part of a team's score which brought about a reduction in the number of drawn games but the VFA did not follow the VFL's lead by introducing finals until 1903. Williamstown's first points for the season did not come along until the round 4 draw with Richmond, 8.4 to 7.10, which would have been a victory in seasons past. The first victory came two days later on the Queen's Birthday holiday against the newly-admitted Brunswick, before a goalless effort against Footscray, 0.4 to 2.10. The Villagers held Brunswick to a solitary behind four weeks later. Williamstown eventually finished in fourth place with 10 wins, 9 losses and the draw against the Tigers. The 'Town's aggregate of 106 goals for the season, boosted by a score of 13.15 against Brunswick in the last game, was second only to premier Port Melbourne's total of 136. Three Williamstown players in Walter 'Dolly' Hall, George McWilliams and Walter Warren represented the VFA in the game against the Ballarat Association played on July 31 at Eastern Oval, Ballarat, which was won by the VFA 7.8.50 to 6.11.47, with Warren booting 4 of the goals. 1897 was notable for the entry of Cr J.J. (John James) Liston into both football administration and public life when he joined the general committee of the football club. His name became synonymous with Williamstown for, over many years, he served in most positions, including 12 terms as the Club's VFA delegate. He was also elected onto Williamstown Council around this time when in his early 20's. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1897 season held in March 1898, it was noted in the Williamstown Chronicle that 'the balance sheet was not at all gratifying, inasmuch as the club had lost heavily over the sale of tickets and gate receipts, due in a very large measure to the formation of the League'.
A reduction in the size of teams from 20 to 18 players occurred in 1898 along with an order-off rule which was abandoned after two seasons. Star follower Bob McCubbin transferred to Collingwood at the age of almost 30 in this season and played the first 6 games of the year before being dropped and was back at Woodend, from where he was recruited in 1891, by the following year. Williamstown were on top of the ladder after round 1 following a big 52 point win over Brunswick at Pt Gellibrand, the fifth consecutive victory over the 'Wicks since they joined the VFA. Two defeats followed to Footscray and North Melbourne, before a 3-goal win over Richmond in the fourth home game of the season and then another victory at Brunswick to have The Villagers in third place on the ladder. In round 7, Williamstown ventured to Footscray and two players came to blows in the last quarter with Footscray leading 4.3 to 2.7. The Williamstown Chronicle reported that 'the umpire called a ball-up, separated the combatants and bounced the ball. Play had hardly again started when two other players were seen at variance, and were punching at one another. A spectator now jumped over the fence, and in a minute people were rushing onto the ground from all points of the compass. Play was out of the question. The umpire took the ball and went off the ground, and with him the Williamstown players, but 'Scray stayed out time, when the umpire came out of the dressingroom and declared the match a win for Footscray.' A VFA committee of enquiry into the fracas recommended that Williamstown players Dinny Riley be disqualified for the remainder of the season, McNamara for a month and a reprimand for Dick 'Ironsides' Hall. This was the catalyst for five successive losses, including 6-goal defeats at Port Melbourne and Richmond. The season's third victory over Brunswick and then a 14-point win at Pt Gellibrand in round 12 over eventual premier, Footscray, in the best performance of the season, could not lift Williamstown from second last on the ladder. The season was rounded out with three consecutive losses at Port Melbourne, North Melbourne and Richmond. Williamstown finished in fifth place in the six-team competition with five wins from their 15 games.
The VFA admitted West Melbourne and a re-formed Prahran team in 1899 to build the competition up to eight teams. Williamstown improved to beat each of the other clubs at least once and eventually won 11 of their 21 games to finish fourth on the ladder. Once again the Villagers failed to kick a goal at Footscray on May 27, scoring just 0.3 to 8.4, in the season's heaviest defeat but in the return match on July 15 Williamstown downed the eventual premier, 4.3 to 3.6. This was followed up on July 1 with a win over Port Melbourne, 4.7 to 0.5, the Villagers' first victory over Port since 1892. The other meritorious performance was against eventual runner-up, North Melbourne, at Williamstown in round 15 when The Villagers triumphed by a point, 4.10 to 3.15. North almost stole the game after kicking only nine behinds up until three-quarter time and then adding 3.6 to one goal in the final term. Brunswick were defeated for the eighth consecutive time in round 2 in the Club's biggest win for the season by 33 points and where The 'Wicks failed to score in the first three quarters. However, Brunswick had their first VFA victory over the 'Town in round 9. Newcomers Prahran and West Melbourne were both defeated, and there were also a victory over Richmond in round 6. In the round 13 clash at Richmond, the Tigers kicked 5 majors from 5 shots at goal in the first 15 minutes of the game but only won by 9 points in the end. The Argus newspaper considered the best players for the year were Frank 'Jinner' Worroll, Walter Warren, Dave Barty, Tom Hedley, Bob Caldwell and Jimmy Thompson.
Dick Houston came from North Melbourne in 1900 to captain Williamstown for one season only
Essendon Town joined the Association in 1900, increasing the number of teams in the competition to nine. Its home games were played at the Essendon Cricket Ground (Windy Hill) while the Essendon team in the VFL continued to play at East Melbourne. Due to it also playing in the red and black colours, Brunswick changed to black and white jumpers in this season and wore them for the first time in the opening game against Williamstown, which The Villagers won 4.10 to 2.8. Former North Melbourne and Geelong player, Dick Houston, who had captained North in 1890 and 1898, came to Williamstown in 1900 and because of his experience was elected skipper. There was resentment that an outsider was given the role ahead of the more-than-capable local Walter Warren, but it didn't seem to effect the harmony of the team as the 'Town enjoyed its best season to date and was even in line to win the premiership until late in the season. In fact, the Villagers headed the VFA ladder for the very first time after round 7, 1900, when the Seagulls defeated Footscray, the eventual premiers, 2.8.20 to 2.3.15, at Pt Gellibrand in a top-of-the-table clash with captain Houston inspiring. The 'Town's score remains the Club's record lowest-ever winning score. Despite the inaccurate Villagers kicking 19.52 in the first five rounds (of which Archie Guthrie contributed 1.12), nine consecutive victories, including a forfeit by Brunswick which arrived at Williamstown on June 30 without the players jumpers, to start the season was the best by a Williamstown side until 1957, when the team won all 20 home-and-away rounds before losing both finals. The run of wins was only ended by the Villagers' poor kicking at North Melbourne in round 11 in the 3.6 to 1.12 loss. Following the round 14 clash at Port Melbourne which Williamstown won, 2.17 to 2.4, the Port captain, Syd Hickey, and another Port player, Arthur Knox, were both served letters advising them 'that their services will not be again required by the Port Melbourne Football Club.' Both players transferred to Williamstown the following year, although Knox later returned to Port in 1903.
Arthur 'Knobbo' Knox transferred to Williamstown from Port Melbourne in 1901
The victories continued until the visit to Footscray in the penultimate round of games. Both teams had lost only one game to that point and, as the premiership was still decided by the club which won the most games, this clash was virtually for the pennant. The Tricolours had the match sewn up by quarter time, kicking 3.7 to 0.1, and were still 4 goals up at half-time. Footscray went on to win 7.16 to 3.5 to earn its third consecutive title, while Williamstown lost its final game of the year to Prahran by 8 points. Williamstown finished second on the ladder in 1900 with 13 wins from their 16 matches, three games clear of third-placed Richmond, in the best result since promotion to senior football in 1884, and were the only side to defeat the powerful Footscray team during the season. There was no finals play-off system in place in the VFA until 1903. First-year player, Edward Staniland, was the leading goalkicker for the year with a total of 16 to Walter Warren's 11, including a haul of 5 against West Melbourne at Williamstown in round 15 in a 56-point win, the season's biggest victory margin. Houston was also a fine cricketer and played 23 first-class matches for Victoria between 1885 and 1898, with a highest score of 72 when he captained Victoria to a win over Tasmania in 1893-94. He also scored 213 not out against Brighton when playing for Williamstown in 1902-03. He was caretaker at the Williamstown Cricket Ground at the time of his death in November 1921 at the age of 58. President of the Club from 1888-93, William Henry Roberts MLC, passed away on 5 November at the age of 53. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1900 season held in April 1901, the issue of life memberships was raised again as the resolution carried at the annual meeting of 1894 that any player who represented the Club for at least three years be granted life membership had still not been acted upon. Vice-president JJ Liston moved that this requirement should be extended to four consecutive years of service, a motion that was seconded and carried.
The Williamstown team pictured outside the tennis club pavilion at the Pt Gellibrand/Morris Street ground, circa 1900
Williamstown president since 1894, James Hall, succeeded Theodore Fink as VFA president in 1901 but continued to also preside over the Villagers' affairs in the two years he headed up the Association. He was the first of four Williamstown officials to attain the VFA's highest office, with the others being John James Liston (1929-44), John Grieve (1989-92) and Tony Hannebery (1993-94). Hall was also mayor of Williamstown in 1902-03, Commodore of the Hobson Bay Yacht Club and president of the Williamstown Bowling Club in 1903-04 and 1911-12. He passed away suddenly at the age of 68 in July 1930 whilst touring Central Australia. Veteran Walter Warren resumed the captaincy in 1901 after Dick Houston moved on and the Villagers finished fourth with seven wins, eight losses and a draw from 16 matches. After losing the opening two games to Prahran and Footscray, the team then won seven and drew one of its next nine matches, including the season's biggest victory by 55 points over Essendon Town at Williamstown in round 6. There was also a 34-point win against Footscray at Pt Gellibrand in round 12 and a 28-point victory over Prahran the week before. The Villagers then lost the remaining five matches, including defeats by Port Melbourne, Richmond and North Melbourne, who all finished above Williamstown on the final ladder. Second-year player, Edward Staniland, won the Club goalkicking with a total of 25, including 5 against Essendon Town at Williamstown in the 55-point victory. JJ Liston became Williamstown's delegate to the VFA in this year, and also became mayor of the city later in the year.
Season 1902 was similar to the previous year with Williamstown again finishing fourth, this time with eight wins and eight defeats from its 16 games. The highlight was the 7.3 to 3.9 victory over Port Melbourne in the final game of the season which denied the Borough a chance at the premiership as Port and Richmond had won the same number of games going into the last round and making a playoff appear likely. However, the Tigers downed Prahran by 25 points while the Villagers upset win handed Richmond its first premiership. Arthur 'Skelly' Caldwell, brother of Williamstown players, Bob 'Coronation' Caldwell (1897-1901) and Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell (1905-08 & 1921-22), commenced playing for the Villagers in this season while Walter Warren retired as a player at the end of 1902 after 17 solid seasons as a player. This is most probably the record term for a Williamstown player but sadly records were not kept in detail until the mid-1930's by new secretary, Larry Floyd. His six seasons as captain (1895-99 & 1901) is equalled only by Gerry Callahan and Ben Jolley in Williamstown's rich history. He only stood down as skipper in 1900 due to Dick Houston being lured across from North Melbourne for one season only.
Walter Warren, one of six brothers to play for Williamstown, was captain 1895-99 & 1901, leading goalscorer 1892-1896 & 1898-99, and retired as a player at the end of the 1902 season after 17 years. Walter passed away in 1953 at the age of 80.
William Fagg 'Jasper' Jones, played from 1884-86 then went to Carlton in 1887, returned to Williamstown and captained the side in 1888-89 before retiring in 1893 after 115 games. He passed away on March 9, 1947 aged 84.
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. 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. 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. The Villagers also lost their first encounter with newcomers, Preston, in round 3 by 12 points as, with the train service out of action, the 'Town played two men short for part of the game at Preston.
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. 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 general meeting held in April 1904, Treasurer JJ Liston, alleged that Williamstown were blocked from the finals 'owing to Footscray throwing away its match against West Melbourne purposely.' The first life memberships were awarded at this meeting, all going to former players Bobby Gibbs snr (1885-1899, 171 games, 46 goals), Jack Kenny (1887-1899), Mick Roche (1895-1898), Dave Barty (1899-1902), Ted 'Dinah' Griffin (1886-1897, 167 games, 37 goals), Harold Barnes (1895-1901), Walter Warren (1886, 1890-1902) and Walter 'Dolly' Hall (1892-1900). 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.
The Williamstown team of 1904 which made the finals for the first time the following season
The Villagers dropped a rung to sixth position in 1904 with 10 wins and 8 defeats from the 18 home-and-away games. A total of 91 goals were kicked for the season while 79 goals were scored by the opposition. Narrow losses in the opening four games, all by less than 9 points and including a 1-point loss to eventual premier North Melbourne, were followed by five consecutive victories that saw The Villagers just outside the four. Subsequent wins were followed by losses and the team never really challenged for a finals place, although three consecutive victories in rounds 15-17 left Williamstown in fifth position on the ladder but two games behind fourth-placed North Melbourne. The season concluded with a 2-goal defeat at the hands of West Melbourne. Len 'Mother' Mortimer showed sound form in attack and booted 29 goals for the year, the highest total since Ernie Warren's 30 in 1886, including 6 goals out of 8 against Preston at Williamstown in round 16 in a 34-point victory. North Melbourne were again premiers, but this time it was awarded the pennant when Richmond refused to play in the grand final after the appointment of umpire Allen. Richmond were not happy with his handling of the semi-final which they had lost to North by two points, and when the VFA failed to relent the Tigers elected not to contest the final. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1904 season, held at the Mechanics Institute in Electra St on April 1 1905, life memberships were awarded to players Vic Manderson (1901-1906, 60 games) and Charlie 'Jigger' Viney (1899-1903, 44 games).
Tom McKinley, captain of Williamstown in 1903-04, transferred to Footscray in 1905 and three years later led that team to the 1908 VFA premiership. He was replaced as skipper by Horrie Dick. Despite McKinley's loss, the Villagers were not short of talent with the addition of Ted/Ned Alley after 16 VFL games with South Melbourne and qualified for the finals for the first time in 1905 by winning fourteen of the eighteen home-and-away games to finish in third position behind North Melbourne and eventual premier Richmond and followed by Port Melbourne. Williamstown were always well placed in the race for the finals, winning the first five games and nine of the first 11, including a 6-goal victory over eventual premier, Richmond, at Pt Gellibrand in round 5. There was also the season's biggest win by 78 points over Essendon Association at Windy Hill in round 4. Two losses followed before another four consecutive victories, which saw The Villagers in second place on the ladder after round 11. A surprising defeat at Footscray the next week and then a 5-goal loss at Richmond saw the 'Town slip back to third place, but then another run of four consecutive wins, including victories over eventual finalists, North Melbourne (by 6 points) and Port Melbourne (by 25 points), secured Williamstown's first finals appearance. However, the jubilation was short-lived as Williamstown went down to North Melbourne in the first final, 5.5.35 to 3.8.26, at the East Melbourne ground. Len 'Mother' Mortimer led the VFA goalkicking with a total of 48, the highest number achieved by any Williamstown player in a season to date, and the first Williamstown player to lead the Association goalkicking. He kicked 9 in Williamstown's big win over Brunswick in round 11 at Pt Gellibrand, 12.5 to 3.7, and booted 8 in the 78-point win at Windy Hill against Essendon Town in round 4, 13.16.94 to 2.4.16. The third president of the Club, John Jobson, passed away on September 21 at his home in Station Road at the age of 81. He presided over the Club from 1876 to 1881. Billy Davies and Horrie Dick were selected to represent the VFA against the South Australians at Punt Road on 24 June, but Dick arrived late for the game and was replaced in the selected side. SA won the match by 7 points. Ted Alley and Davies played for the VFA in the return match at Adelaide Oval on August 5 which SA won by 3 points. The Club had 445 members in 1905.
1905 captain Horrie Dick was appointed the Club's first coach in 1906
Williamstown appointed a coach for the first time in 1906 when 1905 captain Horrie Dick, who had played with the Villagers since 1901, was given the role as well as being elected captain of the team by the players. Missing from the 1905 line-up was Len 'Mother' Mortimer and Billy Davies who crossed to VFL clubs South Melbourne and Essendon, respectively, while Frank Wilcher went to Collingwood after spending the 1905 season at South Fremantle. Wilcher, born in Williamstown in August 1883, would go on to become the Mayor of Williamstown in 1927-28. After 31 games and 67 goals for the Villagers, Mortimer would go on to play for South for 10 seasons, kicking 289 goals in his 153 matches. He topped the Swans goalkicking in each of his first seven seasons and played in their inaugural VFL premiership side in 1909. Davies would go on to play 65 games for Essendon from 1906-09, including the losing 1908 VFL grand final, before returning to the Villagers in 1910. The 'Town had twelve good wins in 1906, missing the finals by half a game due to Footscray drawing with eventual premier, West Melbourne, which won its one and only pennant during nine years in the VFA. After winning six of the first seven rounds, with the only defeat being to eventual premier, West Melbourne, by 4 points only, Williamstown lost to North Melbourne, Footscray and Port Melbourne in successive weeks to drop from second to fifth on the ladder by round 10.
They recovered to win six of the next seven matches, including a 10-point victory over West Melbourne at Williamstown in round 13, to be in fourth place after round 17 but had to visit Footscray in the last game. The Tricolours were fifth at the time, two points behind, but by kicking 5 goals to one in the third quarter they set up a 9.10 to 5.4 victory to displace Williamstown from the final four. Footscray were the only team to defeat the Villagers twice in this season. Cricketer, Jimmy Matthews, also played football for Williamstown in 1905-06 and 1908-10 as well as 12 games and 18 goals for St Kilda in the VFL in 1907, before making his test debut against England in 1912. On May 28 that year, he created history by taking two hat-tricks with his right-arm leg-breaks on the same day in the first Test against South Africa in Manchester during the triangular series between Australia, England and South Africa. He had previously taken a hat-trick for Victoria against Tasmania at Launceston in the 1908-09 season. His total of 46 goals for Williamstown in the 1906 VFA season put him equal second on the Association goalkicking list and also earned him interstate selection against the South Australians. He kicked 7 goals at Port Melbourne in the opening game of the season in a 46-point win, 6 goals against Preston at Williamstown in round 2 in a 36-point win and 8 goals against Essendon Association in round 3 at Williamstown in a 67-point victory to give him 21 goals after the opening 3 games. Half-forward flanker, Billy Jones, also had a good year with 22 goals and was also picked in the VFA representative team. Two boundary umpires were introduced by the VFA in this year and Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell, a player who was to play a big part in Williamstown's history left Newport Juniors to play a few games during the 1906 season, joining his brother, Arthur. Club membership increased to 649 in 1906.
1906 captain-coach, Horrie Dick, went to Essendon in 1907 where he played just the one game before transferring to Footscray, while Williamstown made the finals for the second time, not only finishing on top of the ladder with fifteen wins from its 18 home-and-away engagements but also winning its two finals to take its first premiership after 24 years of senior competition. Under new captain-coach Paddy Noonan, captain of North Melbourne's 1903-04 premiership teams, and with Ted Alley as vice-captain, they won the first six games straight, including victories over the other three eventual finalists, Richmond, West Melbourne and Footscray, to take top spot from the previously undefeated West Melbourne when The Villagers downed them by 10 points in round 6. Three defeats over the next six weeks relegated the team to second spot by round 12 before top place was regained by virtue of another 6 consecutive wins, including another victory over eventual runner-up, West Melbourne, and the season's biggest win over last-placed Preston by 58 points in round 17. The match against West Melbourne ended in controversy when the timekeepers ended the game 5 minutes early when West had the wind and only needed a goal to win the game. There was also two victories by 56 points, over Brunswick in round 4 and Preston in round 8. The Club's first minor premiership was secured with victory over Port Melbourne at Williamstown in the last round, 13.18 to 7.10. Two of the three defeats during the home-and-away rounds were to Essendon by 3 points and Port Melbourne by 2 points. The round 12 game at Punt Road against Richmond attracted a crowd of 12,000. The final four was made up of Williamstown, Richmond, Footscray and West Melbourne. Williamstown beat Footscray at East Melbourne Cricket Ground, which is now the site of the Jolimont railyards for the third time in this season, 5.11.41 to 3.9.27 in the first semi-final, with former captains Horrie Dick and Tom McKinley playing for the Tricolours against their former team. Only one goal was scored in the first half, with Williamstown leading 1.9 to 0.5, before the Villagers added four goals to one in the third term to set up the win. Billy Jones was best for the 'Town, followed by Wyn Outen in the centre, Dick McKay in defence, Jim Caldwell on a wing and Mat Outen on the ball.
The grand final, also played at East Melbourne, before a crowd of 15,000 against West Melbourne saw Williamstown with a handy lead at quarter time of 4.4 to 0.2, thanks to Bob Briggs' 3 goals, before West improved to trail by only 11 points at half-time, 4.5.29 to 2.6.18. West had the wind in the last quarter but still trailed 5.9 to 2.9 at three-quarter time, but repeated attacks on goal by West at the start of the final term resulted in four behinds before Jim Addison steadied the 'Town with a goal. West replied with a fine goal from Lou Armstrong but Williamstown sealed the game when rover Bobby Gibbs jnr kicked the side's seventh goal while West continued to add behinds. When the bell rang to end the game, Williamstown had won their first pennant outright, 7.10.52 to 3.16.34. Hurley was the umpire and the goalkickers were Bob Briggs 3, Jim Addison 2 and Bobby Gibbs Jnr 2. Top players in that premiership year were Billy Jones, Ted Alley, Percy Garbutt, Bert Reitman, the Caldwell brothers, Arthur and Jim, Bobby Gibbs Jnr and Dick McKay. The leading goalkicker was Bill Lambert with 19, who was still the assistant property steward at the Club 50 years later. During the year Wyn Outen rejoined the Club after playing 54 games with St Kilda and Bert Reitman transferred from Collingwood after 12 VFL appearances. Williamstown also kicked their highest-ever score to date in this season when it booted 14.12 to 5.8 against Preston in the round 17 game at Pt Gellibrand. Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell and Billy Jones represented the VFA in a game against South Australia at East Melbourne on 8 June which was won by SA by just one point with Jones kicking 3 goals. Jones and Dick McKay were selected in the VFA team in the return match at Adelaide Oval on 27 July, won by the Association by 11 points. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1907 season, held at the Temperance Hall in Electra Street in March 1908, life memberships were awarded to former players Bob Caldwell (1895-1904) and Arthur Britt (1903-1906) and current players Howard Lewis (1905-1908) and Billy Jones (1904-1909).
1907 captain-coach Paddy Noonan sensationally resigned just prior to the last home-and-away match after being dropped from the side. As a result Ted Alley captained the team for the remainder of the season and Wyn Outen was his deputy. Some players believed that Noonan would be conflicted playing against West Melbourne as he lived in that area but he had played well against West in the home-and-away games and he was a former North Melbourne player and not from West Melbourne. They also thought that he was too friendly with opposition teams.
Williamstown's 1907 premiership team was:
Backs: Bert Reitman Dick McKay Ted Alley (c.)
Half-backs: Howard Lewis R.J. Johnston Percy Garbutt
Centres: Jim Caldwell Wyn Outen (v.c.) Arthur Caldwell
Half-forwards: Billy Jones Jim Addison Frank Worroll
Forwards: Ernie Jamieson Bob Briggs Will O'Shea
Followers: Mathew Outen Bob Monar
Rover: Bobby Gibbs jnr
One other notable event that occurred in 1907 was the Port Melbourne Cricket Ground being prohibited for use by the VFA over the last three weeks of the season, due to a complaint by Richmond and the umpire about the behaviour of Port players and supporters following the round 15 game between the two clubs at North Port which the Tigers won by 7 points. Port then had to play a home game against Preston at Williamstown and Essendon Town at Richmond. Games resumed at Port Melbourne the following season.
The 1908 year was preceded by a tumultuous off-season when Richmond left the VFA and joined the rival VFL, and North Melbourne and West Melbourne were banished from the competition for attempting to do likewise as a merged entity known as the City Football Club. University, which had won the Victorian Junior Football Association premiership in 1907, was also admitted to the VFL. Left with just seven clubs, the VFA admitted Brighton from the Metropolitan Junior Football Association and Northcote from the Victorian Junior Football Association. As North Melbourne and West Melbourne were left without a competition to play in, both clubs were declared defunct by the end of March. By the middle of April a new North Melbourne Football Club had been formed and was re-admitted to the Association on the grounds that nobody who had previously served on the committees of North or West Melbourne were involved in the new entity. The VFA also reduced the number of players on the field in this season from 18 to 17 by removing one of the ruck/follower positions from the game.
Williamstown took its winning sequence to 10 with victory in the opening two games over Port Melbourne and Preston before losing to Essendon Association at Windy Hill by 7 points before a crowd of 6-7000, when the 'Dons were on top of the ladder. Seven wins in the first eight games indicated the reigning premier was on track for another finals appearance until a four-goal loss to Footscray created doubts. The Villagers enjoyed a good season winning 12 of the 18 home-and-away games to finish third, behind Footscray and Essendon but with the highest percentage of all teams. The team kicked their first century score with 17.21.123 to North Melbourne's 5.6.36 in round 7 at Pt Gellibrand, with Bob Briggs kicking 5 goals. They followed this up with a score of 14.16.100 to Northcote's 1.9.15 in round 8 with Jim Addison booting 5 goals. Williamstown also topped the ton in round 13, beating newcomers Brighton 16.4.100 to 2.9.21 with Bob Briggs kicking 6 goals, and downing North Melbourne in the return clash at Arden St. in round 16, 17.19.121 to 6.4.40, when Briggs kicked 10 majors. This was a record number of goals in a game for Williamstown and was not bettered until Harry 'Soapy' Vallence booted 18 against Oakleigh in 1939. Briggs also kicked the most goals in a season for the 'Town with a total of 59, which placed him second on the VFA list. Jim Addison also kicked 39 for the year, which gave him seventh place. The team kicked a total of 157 goals and 223 behinds while opponents booted 95 goals and 146 behinds during the season. Williamstown bowed out of the finals race in the first semi-final, losing to Footscray at North Melbourne, 6.9.45 to 4.6.30, before a crowd of 12,000. Three players made their debut for the Villagers in this game in McKinley, Shelley and Vincent, replacing Lamb, William Carrie and Arthur Caldwell. Best players for the 'Town were Bob Monar, Bert Amy, Bobby Gibbs jnr, Jim Addison, captain Wyn Outen, Frank Ellis and Jim Caldwell.
Footscray went on to win the grand final, defeating Brunswick at the MCG before a crowd of more than 40,000, a record which would stand until the 1939 grand final. Williamstown secretary, A.H. Johnson, had rather ingeniously suggested to the VFA that the final be played there on a public holiday when the American fleet was in town which attracted thousands of people to the city in the morning. On July 11 in 1908 at Williamstown for the round 13 game against Brighton, flags were flown at half-mast as a mark of respect for three former secretaries who had passed away since the last home game, namely George Fleming (1901-02), Tom Edmunds (1897-99) and Duncan McLeod (1870-71, 1873, 1876 and 1882-87). A Ladies Committee was mentioned for the first time in the annual report for the year, headed up by the wife of the Club secretary, Mrs A. H. Johnson. Ted Alley and Dick McKay represented the VFA in a game against South Australia at Adelaide Oval on 20 June which was won by SA by 7 points. Alley, Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell and McKay also played for the VFA in a game at Broken Hill on 27 June which the VFA won by just one point. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1908 season, held at the Empress Pavilion in Garden St in March 1909, life memberships were awarded to former players W. (George) Baker (1902-05) and Tommy Hall (1904-08).
1907 premiership full-forward, Bob Briggs, joined Fitzroy in 1909 and played for two seasons in 26 games for 47 goals, leading the 'Roys' goalkicking in 1910 with 30. He then transferred to St Kilda in 1911 for one season, playing 7 games and kicking 7 goals. Premiership teammate, Arthur 'Skelly' Caldwell, went to St Kilda in 1909, playing 8 games before returning to Williamstown the following season. His brother, Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell, the youngest member of the 1907 premiership team, also transferred to South Melbourne in 1909 where he would go on to play 155 games until the end of 1919 and captaining South's 1918 premiership team, before returning to Williamstown and captain-coaching the team to the premiership in 1921. West Melbourne attempted to rejoin the VFA for the 1909 season, a move that was eventually rejected on the grounds that 11 teams in the competition would create byes. Prahran and Essendon Association dominated the home-and-away rounds, losing only 5 games between them, and it was left to Brunswick, Footscray, Williamstown and Brighton to fight for the remaining two finals spots. All four finished with 11 wins and percentages decided that eventual premier, Brunswick, and the Tricolours would compete for the premiership. The Villagers missed out by 3.9%, perhaps due to an indifferent start to the season with three losses in the first four rounds, although two of these defeats were to Prahran by 4 points at Toorak Park in round 2 which was played in torrential rain and by 7 points at Windy Hill in round 4. The only success was a 9-goal win over Port Melbourne at Williamstown in round 3, the year's biggest winning margin. Four successive victories had The Villagers back in the four by round 8, including wins over eventual premier, Brunswick, by 3 goals in round 7 and a one-goal win over finalist, Footscray, in round 5. There was also a 6-goal victory at Arden St in round 6, where 1907 premiership half-back flanker, Percy Garbutt, kicked 5 goals. 28yo Garbutt was found unconscious outside the Woolpack Hotel in Nelson Place on the following Tuesday evening after falling and striking his head. He missed the following game against Northcote. A surprise loss at Preston and then defeat at the hands of Prahran for the second time had the 'Town back in fifth place by round 11. A narrow victory at Port Melbourne and then a one-point win over Essendon at Williamstown in round 13, 5.3 to 4.8, gave hope of a finals berth. This game was marked by exhibitions of violence in the last 17 minutes of the match after Williamstown had taken the lead after a long snapshot from the wing by Garbutt rolled through the unguarded goal. The Argus reported 'it was really a game of no-man-standing, with the play congested between the two half back lines, and in between them two sets of angry men struggling, tearing and punching ..... with sly tripping, deliberate punching, and all the worst features of the game, displayed to between 6,000 and 7,000 people.' McIntyre of Essendon and Garbutt were both reported during the game, and at the end, as the players walked from the field, Bert Atkyns of Essendon rushed at Bob Monar of Williamstown 'and struck him a heavy blow' at the pavilion gate. Monar promptly retaliated and police intervened, took their names and charged them both with riotous behaviour. This incident had its sequel at the Williamstown Police Court on July 27 where all charges were eventually dismissed. Umpire Alley handed out more than 80 free kicks during the game, almost equally divided between the two teams.
Losses to Footscray at Western Oval the next week and at Brunswick two weeks later put paid to the notion of participating in the finals. The season was rounded out with victories at Northcote by 5 points and Preston by 45 points at Williamstown. In the final game against Preston, the Villagers needed either Brunswick or Footscray to lose and for victory over the Bullants by between 100 and 140 points to make the final four. The first two requirements were met but due to the suspension of so many players, the 'Town struggled to field a team and had to coax Billy Jones out of retirement and play an untried junior in Wilson. Jim Addison was the season's leading goalkicker with 26, followed by future Test cricket player, Jimmy Matthews, with 22 and 1908 vice-captain, Percy Garbutt, who also kicked 22. Bert Reitman was considered the most consistent player during the season and Charlie 'Gately' Hartshorne the best junior player.
Billy Davies, who had played with Williamstown from 1901-05 before going to Essendon for four seasons, returned after 65 games at VFL level, while a new committee imported Edward 'Copper' Rourke from Prahran as captain-coach in 1910 with Alick 'Roody' McKenzie the new vice-captain. Rourke was unsuccessful and was not reappointed in 1911 after the team dropped to seventh place on the ladder with just eight wins from its 18 home-and-away games. One of these victories was by 115 points over Preston at Williamstown in round 2 (18.14.122-1.1.7, Bert Amy 5 goals) and by 75 points in the return match at Preston in round 11 (17.21.123-6.12.48, Bill Kerr 5 goals) and a 4-goal win over eventual fourth-placed Prahran in round 5. There was also a one-point loss to eventual premier, North Melbourne, at Williamstown in round 6, 8.15-8.14, and a two-point loss to preliminary finalist Essendon Association in round 16 at Williamstown. Player unrest reached a head on the Thursday night before the round 8 clash with Footscray when it was reported in the Victorian Football Follower of 2 July that 'the players met ...... to thrash out and settle the difficulties amongst them'. 'It could easily be seen that the seasiders just at present are not a happy family'. The meeting achieved little as the Tricolours won convincingly, 14.16.100-3.9.27, at Williamstown. Umpire Hume awarded 87 free kicks during the game, 46 to Footscray and 41 to the Villagers. The team bounced back the following week, downing Northcote by 55 points at Williamstown, 12.20.92 to 5.7.37 (Jimmy Matthews 4 goals). 1910 was also the season that the Club temporarily adopted a yellow WFC monogram on a blue guernsey. Jimmy Matthews finished eighth on the VFA goalkicking list with his 30 majors for the season, followed by Bert Amey with 21 and Bill Kerr 16. Matthews also represented the Association along with Alf Weidner and Alick McKenzie against South Australia at North Melbourne on June 18, which the VFA won by two goals, 9.12 to 8.6. The Club also reportedly considered a move back to the Gardens Reserve, its former home ground before the amalgamation with South Williamstown in 1888, but nothing came of the idea. Forward, Bill Kerr, pased away at the age of 28 in February 1911 after contracting typhoid fever.
Rourke's selection was an interesting one as the former West Melbourne captain transferred to Prahran when West disbanded and was captain of the Two Blues in 1908-09 before he was one of four players sacked after an unsatisfactory performance in the 1909 second semi-final against Brunswick. Rumours circulated that the players accepted money to 'play dead' although the VFA didn't have an investigation and the Association was comfortable enough to grant the quartet permits to play elsewhere. Two of the other Prahran players, Bennion and Julian also joined the 'Town, although the former had played previously with the Villagers. Rourke crossed to Northcote in 1911 and was appointed captain there also after the original skipper, Alf Beck, resigned after the opening game.
Williamstown, under new captain-coach Ted Alley, again finished seventh in 1911 but in winning only five games out of the 18 home-and-away rounds it experienced its worst season since 1893. One highlight was the selection of two Williamstown players, Bert Reitman and Alf Weidner, in the VFA side that defeated the South Australians in Adelaide on July 8, 6.12 to 5.5. The others were a 6-point victory over grand finalist Brunswick at Williamstown in round 13, 5.15 to 5.9, and a 64-point win at Preston in round 2, 13.20.98 to 5.4.34. The worst effort for the year was arguably the 3-goal loss at Northcote in round 8 when the 'Cotes were last on the ladder. This was Northcote's first-ever victory over Williamstown in the seventh clash between the two teams. The defeat by Brighton at Williamstown by 21 points in round 16 was little better and was only the second time the Penguins had beaten the Villagers since joining the VFA in 1908. Bert Amey was leading goalkicker with 15, followed by Robert Collins on 10 and Walter Litchfield with 9.
Further changes to the VFA occurred in 1912 with the amalgamation of the Northcote and Preston clubs and the admittance to the competition of a new entity called the Melbourne City Football Club, which played at the East Melbourne ground for two winless seasons. After several years of unsuccessful on-field performances by both Northcote and Preston, the VFA was keen to see an amalgamation of the two clubs which represented neighbouring northern suburbs of Melbourne. The new entity was formally known as the Northcote and Preston Football Club but played its games at Northcote, retained Northcote's colours and the team in the VFA was known as Northcote. At the same time, the Association was looking to field a team in the inner city area, a region historically dominated by VFL clubs. This vision was finally realised in 1912 with the advent of Melbourne City, and the two changes kept the size of the competition at ten teams. The number of players on the field was further reduced to sixteen in this season, four years after reducing the numbers from eighteen to seventeen in 1908.
1912 was similarly unsuccessful for Williamstown, and the newly appointed high profile captain-coach, 37yo George 'Jack' Angus from Collingwood, failed to see out the season due to illness suffered after the disastrous 84-point defeat at Brighton in round 15, the Penguin's third consecutive win over the 'Town. Angus had played 157 games for the Magpies from 1902-11, was captain of the 1910 premiership side and also played in the 1902-03 pennant-winning teams. Angus passed away in November 1917 at the age of 42. Bert Reitman stepped up to become captain. The Villagers won the opening two games against Port Melbourne and newcomer Melbourne City but then lost the next seven matches, including a 1-goal defeat at the hands of second-bottom side, Prahran, and a 3-goal loss to the lowly Northcote. A 79-point defeat at Footscray in round 9 had The Villagers in ninth position on the ladder, above only the winless Melbourne City. The team rebounded by downing Port Melbourne again, this time by three points at North Port Oval in round 10. The following week Williamstown kicked their highest-ever score to date of 21.15.141 to Melbourne City's 1.8.14 in round 11 at Williamstown (captain-coach George Angus 5 goals). Consecutive losses to eventual finalists, Essendon Association and Brunswick, were followed by a 3-goal win at Prahran and then the 14-goal drubbing at the hands of sixth-placed Brighton. The Villagers miraculously defeated the ladder-leading North Melbourne by 25 points at Pt Gellibrand the following week in the season's best performance and the first victory over the Northeners since 1909. The home-and-away rounds were completed with a one-point win at Northcote and a five-point loss at Williamstown to eventual grand finalist, Footscray. Significant improvement in the second half of the season, which saw 5 victories in the last 9 games, resulted in the Villagers finishing seventh with 7 wins and 11 losses from the 18 home-and-away rounds. In the round 3 game at Essendon on May 11, umpire Kendall awarded 111 free kicks in a fiery game between the 'Dons and Williamstown, which works out to one every 55 seconds approximately. Bert Amey was the season's leading goalkicker with 18, followed by Busbridge with 11 and then Harden, Howarth and May on 10. Former player from 1890-96, John 'Yorky' Dyson, passed away in April at the age of 43 after suffering a blood clot on the brain while fishing at the Stevedore St pier.
1907 premiership defender, Bert Reitman, took over the captain-coach mantle for the 1913 season and the team showed belated improvement, winning eight of its last 10 games to finish fifth with 12 wins, just half a game behind fourth-placed Brunswick which drew with North Melbourne during the year. The year commenced with a 3-goal loss at the Western/Whitten Oval to eventual premier, Footscray, and defeats were suffered in three of the first five games, with the only victories being over Northcote and Melbourne City, teams that would finish second-last and last, respectively. The season improved with a narrow win over eventual finalist, Brunswick, and then an 11-goal victory over Port Melbourne at Williamstown, which saw The Villagers in sixth place on the ladder. A narrow loss at Essendon was followed by the season's biggest win by 70 points over Brighton at Williamstown and then the best performance of the year, a one-goal victory over eventual premier, Footscray, also at Williamstown. A surprise defeat at Northcote was followed by three successive wins, including a thrilling one-point defeat of eventual grand finalist, North Melbourne, at Williamstown in round 12. A 5-goal loss at Brunswick dented the 'Town's finals hopes, but then another string of wins in the last three rounds of the home-and-away games made sure that Williamstown were still a chance to make the finals right up until the last round and needed Brunswick to down Essendon Association. Williamstown players and officials sailed to their engagement at Brighton and returned victorious, 11.19 to 8.10, but Essendon defeated Brunswick, 14.11 to 7.12, to clinch a finals place and deny the Villagers their first appearance since 1908. During the season, the 'Town gave supporters some anxious moments with narrow victories over fourth-placed Brunswick by 3 points at Williamstown in round 6, eventual premiers Footscray by a goal at Williamstown in round 10, runners-up North Melbourne by a point also at Williamstown in round 12 and third-placed Essendon by 9 points at Williamstown in round 17. The team also lost to Essendon at Windy Hill by 2 points in round 8. The round 14 clash with Prahran at Williamstown ended in controversy when the secretary, Arthur Johnson senior, was alleged to have rung the bell to end the game rather than the official timekeeper with the Two Blues 8 points in arrears but kicking with a strong breeze and had scored 2.3 to NIL in the last term. 9 goals 20 behinds were scored at the end to which Prahran were kicking during the game and only 1.4 at the other end of the ground.
Commercialisation of the game was alive and well in the early 20th century
The Club's first non-playing coach was appointed in 1914 when Alex 'Joker' Hall was lured across from Essendon Town. The previous year's captain-coach, Bert Reitman, stayed on as skipper in his final season with Tom O'Halloran his vice-captain. Melbourne City dropped out of the competition and was replaced by Hawthorn. The season commenced promisingly with four consecutive victories, including a 3-goal win over eventual finalist, Essendon Association, at Williamstown in round 1 and the two biggest wins for the year at Northcote (63 points) and at home over Port Melbourne (48 points), which saw the Villagers in second place on the ladder. Reality arrived when clashes with some of the stronger teams in the competition resulted in four succesive defeats, including a 2-goal loss to eventual grand finalist, Footscray, and a 1-goal defeat at the hands of eventual premier, North Melbourne. Williamstown also suffered the ignominy of losing by 3 goals at Glenferrie in Hawthorn's first victory in the VFA after the newcomers had lost their first six games by an average of 7 goals. The 'Town had slipped to seventh place on the ladder by round 8. A narrow win at Brighton and a narrow loss at Prahran preceded another string of four consecutive victories, including the second win for the season over Essendon Association, and the Villagers were back in third spot. Defeats at the hands of the eventual grand finalists, Footscray and North Melbourne, both by 3 goals, interspersed with wins over Brighton and lowly Hawthorn rounded out the home-and-away rounds. Eleven matches were won and seven lost in making the final four for the first time since 1908, but Williamstown were beaten badly by Footscray in the first final, 13.12.90 to 5.6.36 at East Melbourne before a crowd of 7,000. The Villagers led by 7 points at half-time but were over-run in the second half by the Tricolours, who added 6.3 to NIL in the third term and 4.1 to just two behinds in the last. Better players were Bert Amy, Bobby Gibbs jnr, vice-captain Tom O'Halloran, Jack Macdonald, Bert McTaggart snr, Stan Mitchell, Richard Anderson, Norm Busbridge and Tommy Jones. Len 'Toff' Elliott led the goalkicking with a total of 22, followed closely by Bert Amy with 21 and Ted Busbridge with 19. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1914 season, held at the Empress Pavilion in Garden St. in March 1915, life membership was awarded to the retiring 1907 premiership player and 1913 captain-coach, Bert Reitman, after eight seasons of service. He was also made a life member of the VFA for 'valuable services rendered to the game'. Former player (1902-05), life member and assistant to the training staff, George Baker, passed away during the year. The Club had 1357 members in this season, made up of 837 males, 423 ladies and 97 youths.
Hall was reappointed non-playing coach for 1915 and Ted Alley became captain in lieu of Bert Reitman who retired after playing for the 'Town from 1907-14 and being awarded life membership. Bobby Gibbs jnr was elected vice-captain. Nine wins and four losses in a season truncated to 13 rounds due to the advent of World War I saw Williamstown finish in third spot. The season started well with four wins in the first five games, with the only defeat being by two goals at the hands of eventual premier, North Melbourne, at Williamstown in round 2. A 7-point loss at Brunswick in round 6, followed by an 8-point win over Northcote at Pt Gellibrand and a 10-point defeat by Prahran left Williamstown in fifth place on the ladder after round 8. The Villagers jumped two rungs to third after consecutive wins at Port Melbourne (by a solitary point) and at Williamstown over Brighton by 64 points, the season's biggest win and the sixth consecutive victory over the Penguins. The second loss for the year to North Melbourne, this time by four goals, was followed by two wins over Essendon Association and Hawthorn to round out the home-and-away rounds. Williamstown was no match for North Melbourne on its home ground in the second semi-final and went down by 48 points, 11.14.80 to 4.8.32. The Northeners increased their lead at every change, by 9, 21 and 28 points, and The Villagers only managed two goals after quarter time to the eight kicked by North. Best for the 'Town were Charles Dunne, Stan Mitchell, Richard Brown, J.S. Middleton, Robert Monk, Richard Anderson, Jimmy Harrison, Jack Macdonald, Bobby Gibbs jnr, Artie Adams and Fred Harden. Three soldiers on leave, Richard Anderson, Charles Dunne and Jack Macdonald, played for Williamstown in this match. Captain, Ted Alley, was dropped by the match committee for the final due to his late arrival for the previous match against Hawthorn and Bobby Gibbs jnr led the team. Leading goalkicker for the year was Fred Harden with 14, followed by Stan Mitchell with 13 and Bobby Gibbs jnr on 12. By season's end, thirteen players, including Bert McTaggart snr, one vice-president (Harry Cox) along with coach, Alex Hall, had enlisted and left for the European front. 1907 premiership player, Arthur ' Skelly' Caldwell, brother of 1921 premiership captain-coach, Jim 'Ginger' Caldwell, passed away on 26 July, 1915, at the age of just 29 in a military hospital in Malta as a result of gunshot wounds to his spine and arm received at Gallipoli. He played 84 games for Williamstown from 1902-10, and spent the 1909 season with St Kilda where he played 8 games. At the annual meeting in respect of the 1915 season, held at the Oddfellows Hall in Pasco St in May 1916, life memberships were awarded to president of 1912 and 1913 and VFA delegate from 1909-11, John Anthony Dennis, and present-day VFA delegate, R. Morrison.
Former player, Arthur Caldwell, passed away in 1915 from injuries received at the Gallipoli landing
Arthur Edward Caldwell. Private 4th Battalion Australian Infantry – 8 games for St Kilda in 1909. Arthur was 25 when he died on active service on 26 July 1915. Born in Young in NSW his family moved to Melbourne soon after. Arthur went to school at North Williamstown Public School. His brother Jim Caldwell played 155 games with South Melbourne. Arthur’s other brothers Thomas and Joseph also served overseas, Thomas winning a Military Medal for his bravery in action. On 26 July 1915 Arthur died as a result of wounds he had sustained at Gallipoli. He had been transferred in a hospital ship to Malta. He is buried at Addolarata Cemetery in Malta.
The VFA then went into recess in 1916 and 1917 due to the Great War and could not muster a full complement of clubs when it resumed in 1918, with only Footscray, Northcote, Port Melbourne, North Melbourne, Prahran and Brunswick participating. The VJFA continued during this period in order to provide sport for those too young and those not able to go overseas and to keep some spark of interest in the Association for those charged with the task of rebuilding the competition after the war ended. Williamstown Juniors won the pennant in 1916 in that competition. Whilst the 'Second Twenty' had won premierships previously, this was the first in the VJFA. The Juniors were minor premiers in 1917 and won both finals to take a second successive premiership. They then contested their third grand final in a row in 1918 but went down to Footscray by 16 points. These two teams played off again for the title in 1919, but this time Williamstown Juniors were successful, winning by just 5 points, and taking off the John Wren Shield, donated by the legendary Collingwood benefactor, and personally handed over to captain-coach Paddy Kenneally at a celebratory dinner. Former spearhead, Ted Staniland, who played for Williamstown from 1900-03 after crossing from Fitzroy, passed away at the age of just 44 on September 1, 1917. At the annual meeting held in respect of the 1918 season in which Williamstown did not compete, held at the Mechanics Institute in Electra St in March 1919, Club secretary of 1914-18 and former committeeman, Arthur Prideaux, was awarded life membership.
W. (Reg) Wallis, pictured in 1914, played for Williamstown from 1912-15
Williamstown returned to the VFA in 1919, with Alex Hall again non-playing coach and Bert Amy, who had played with Port Melbourne in 1918, captain and Bobby Gibbs jnr vice-captain. Pre-war skipper, Ted Alley, transferred to Hawthorn and took Reg Wallis with him. In total, 23 people connected to the Club had enlisted and served on the European front during the war, the most of any of the VFA clubs. Of these, former players, L. Coward (leading goalkicked 1913) and 1907 premiership player, Arthur Caldwell (84 games, 1902-10), failed to return. An honour board was commisssioned by the Club to commemorate the sacrifice made all those who volunteered. The return to the field got away to a flying start with a 92-point victory at Brighton in round 1, with Williamstown having 40 scoring shots to 8 by the Penguins. Rover, Stan Mitchell, booted 5 goals. Two defeats at the hands of eventual runner-up, North Melbourne, and the greatly improved Hawthorn, were followed by wins over the lowly Port Melbourne and Essendon Association. Four consecutive losses, to eventual premier, Footscray, by 50 points at Williamstown in the season's biggest defeat, as well as to other finalists in Northcote and Brunswick, saw the Villagers in 8th place in the 10-team competition by round 9. Five victories in the next 6 rounds elevated the 'Town to 5th place on the ladder and a finals appearance was realistic. However, 7-goal losses at Footscray and then Northcote made the task impossible. The home-and-away rounds were concluded with a 13-point win over Prahran at Williamstown. Captain, Bert Amy, was the best of the goalkickers with a modest 16, in a season that saw nine wins and nine losses and fifth place on the ladder, 3 wins out of the final four. Membership in respect of the 1919 season showed a decrease on pre-war numbers, with only 295 male members, 72 ladies and 34 youths. Former vice-president and general committeeman, V. Martin, and W. Thomas, both passed away during the year.
A new committee reverted to a playing coach in 1920 and appointed Carlton follower, Harry Haughton, to the position with Jack MacDonald as his deputy. The season was not a great success with eight wins and ten losses and sixth place on the ladder. The season opened with a 1-goal victory over eventual wooden-spooner, Brighton, before falling by 3 goals at Footscray. Consecutive wins over Northcote and Hawthorn elevated Williamstown to second position on the ladder, before eight losses over the subsequent 10 weeks destroyed any finals aspirations. One of these defeats was at Northcote by 76 points to a team that did not even make the finals. Eventual premier, Footscray, also inflicted an 11-goal loss on The Villagers at Williamstown the week before. The season ended on a positive note with wins in three of the last four games, including a thrilling 2-point victory over eventual grand finalist, Brunswick, at Williamstown in round 17. Haughton was leading goalscorer with a total of 24. Membership doubled in this season to 580 male members, 89 female members and 69 youths. Cecil McLean and Bert Sutton were both selected to represent the VFA in a series of 3 games against a WA Goldfields team at Kalgoorlie during the year.
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. Dick Condon was made vice-captain and Harry Haughton agreed to remain as a player. 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 had no sooner taken the field when he collided with an opponent and suffered severe concussion and a broken right leg. He died in hospital 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.
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, respectively. There followed three consecutive victories by 10 goals at Glenferrie, by 45 points over Brighton at Williamstown and a 2-point win at Essendon in the match where Phil Skehan was injured. This left the Villagers in fourth place on the ladder after 6 rounds. Three successive defeats 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 the '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 preceded a string of four consecutive wins, all by big margins, over Hawthorn (46 points), Brighton (45 points), Essendon Association (58 points) and Northcote (64 points). The final home-and-away game resulted in a 2-goal loss to finalist, Brunswick.
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 manouvers 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. 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 the majority of its 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 they felt the VFA would prohibit the Club from playing on and it also gave the players time to seek a transfer before the 1 July deadline. 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 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.
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, 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. After an even first quarter, the 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. Fred Carpenter kicked 4 goals while best players were Bob King, Harry Haughton, Norm McDonald, Carpenter, Jim McAuliffe, Stan Mitchell, Dick Condon, Charlie Stanbridge, Dave Elliman and Hugh Munro.
The preliminary final was also played at East Melbourne against Footscray in front of a crowd of 10,000 supporters, and Williamstown had 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. Fred Carpenter again kicked 4 goals and better players were Stan Mitchell, Carpenter, Hugh Munro, Harry Haughton, captain-coach Jim Caldwell, Charlie Stanbridge, Dick Condon, Bob King, 'Ginger' Armstrong and Norm McDonald.
The replay 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 the '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. Captain, Jim Caldwell, broke a small bone in his forearm in the replayed final, but took the field with his injured arm in plaster. He 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 Bob King, vice-captain Dick Condon, Jack MacDonald, former Footscray player Hugh Munro and 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. Other good players of that season were Jim 'Corker' Jamieson, Harry Haughton, Fred Carpenter and Norm McDonald. Other major goalkickers were former captain-coach Harry 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. 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, who retired after the premiership win after commencing with the Club in 1911. 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.
Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday, 29 October, 1921
1922 got off to a bad start with Bob King transferring to Williamstown Juniors as captain-coach, Charlie Stanbridge crossed to Port Melbourne, Dave Elliman went back to the VFL, 'Ginger' Armstrong went to the country and 'Corker' Jamieson retired. During the year Harry Haughton took up a country coaching position and Jack O'Connell crossed to South Melbourne without a clearance. Nevertheless, Williamstown made the final four on percentage from Brunswick and Hawthorn, but went down to Port Melbourne in the first semi-final, 13.14.92 to 8.3.51. Jim McAuliffe was leading goalkicker again with 48. Essendon Association amalgamated with North Melbourne before the season but the merged entity played on under North's name. A Geelong team was also admitted.
1921 premiership captain-coach, Jim Caldwell, decided to give playing away at 36 years of age after 81 games with Williamstown and accepted a non-playing coaching position in the country in 1923. Recruits included new captain-coach Charlie Laxton from Collingwood (who resigned as captain during the year but continued on as non-playing coach), Johnny Martin from Footscray (father of the star of the 1950's of the same name) and Bob King returned from Williamstown Juniors. The team did better than the year before, winning 12 times, the last six home-and-away games consecutively, and losing six to finish in third place, before losing the second semi-final to Footscray at North Melbourne, 12.7.79 to 6.11.47, before a crowd of 20,000. Fred Carpenter kicked 63 goals from full-forward and was second on the VFA list behind Port's George Taylor with 65. Carpenter's best return was nine goals against Geelong Association in round 13 at Williamstown. The Recorder Cup was introduced during this season, which was awarded to the VFA's best and fairest player based on the field umpires votes, and became the official award for many years. The Cup was donated by the proprietors of the Association's weekly match publication 'The Recorder'. Footscray's captain, Con McCarthy, was the first recipient.
Fred Carpenter was appointed captain-coach in 1924 when Charlie Laxton retired, with Aub Holten vice-captain. The team ended the home-and-away rounds in second position with only 5 losses from the 18 games. The season was highlighted by large crowds, including more than 9,000 at the Port-Williamstown match at Port, whilst the Footscray game at Williamstown attracted 10,000 and when Footscray met Port Melbourne in round 16 at Port 17,000 attended. Williamstown downed Brunswick by 11 points in the first semi-final, 8.9.57 to 5.16.46, before 23,000 at North Melbourne. The next final against Footscray was a disaster that would banish the Club to the football wildernesss for many seasons. With only six members of the 1921 premiership side remaining, Williamstown did not kick a goal until the end of the last quarter and, after trailing 9.9 to 0.4 at three quarter time, managed to outscore the Tri-colours in the final term but still lost, 11.11.77 to 3.4.22. One of the 'Town's best years ended in the worst possible manner by the ignominious final game defeat. Captain-coach Carpenter headed the Club goalkicking with a total of 34 and Tom Geisler was voted best player for the season. Footscray, which had won 9 premierships, including 4 in the previous 6 seasons as well as twice runner-up, then defeated VFL premier Essendon in a benefit match for soldiers and gained admittance to the VFL, along with North Melbourne and, surprisingly, Hawthorn, leaving the VFA with only two of its original clubs.
Coburg joined the VFA in 1925, and Fred Carpenter crossed to Port Melbourne after 108 games and 235 goals after commencing a business there and Alan Geddes went to Richmond without a clearance. Bob King had retired during 1924 and Dick Condon, after 112 games, did not continue. Stan Mitchell was another to drop out after 115 games and, soon after the start of the year, Norm McDonald transferred to Footscray. With all the transfers and retirements, many new faces appeared in 1925, including a new coach in George King, a follower from North Melbourne. The players preferred Hughie Munro as captain and the new coach was only second in charge on the field as vice-captain, a most unusual arrangement. Only 4 matches were won and sixth place obtained in the 8-team competition. Norm McDonald took out the leading goalkicker award by scoring 13 before he crossed to Footscray.
Preston and Camberwell were admitted to the VFA in 1926, restoring it to a 10-team competition. Williamstown won only four games and all by narrow margins at home, to finish last for the first time since 1892. Johnny Martin, who started out with Williamstown Juniors before starring with Footscray as a rover had been appointed captain-coach with Sid Conlon vice-captain. Arthur 'Porky' Sykes commenced with the 'Town in this season and was to become one of the best half-backs in the VFA and a multiple Club best and fairest winner. Frank Rigaldi was leading goalscorer with 20.
Leo Drew joined Williamstown in 1927 from the local districts and played 83 games up until 1933. He is pictured here on a W.D. & H.O. Wills cigarette card in his last season
Jack Lord of Melbourne and St Kilda was appointed captain-coach for the 1927 season, replacing Johnny Martin who continued on as a player, and performed so well he won the best and fairest award. Leon 'Onty' Beer was made vice-captain. Tom Geisler (113 games) and Hughie Munro (90 games) retired at the end of 1926 and Jack MacDonald was made a VFA life member for his services to the game. The team improved to win seven matches with one draw from 18 games to finish sixth on the ladder. Parker was leading goalscorer with 19. Remarkably both the first and second semi-finals in this year were drawn, necessitating a 6-game final series. Roy McKay was runner-up in the Recorder Cup in this season.
Yarraville entered the VFA in 1928 from the VJFA after Geelong Association dropped out after six unsuccessful seasons. Williamstown's slight improvement in 1927 was short-lived as the team was back to second last with just three wins. Leon 'Onty' Beer was appointed captain-coach and Hugh Munro emerged from retirement to become vice-captain. Kenny was leading goalscorer for the year with 18. The Club reverted its guernsey design to a yellow waist band instead of the sash for this season, perhaps due to the influx of recruits from Williamstown CYMS which also wore the band, but the Club soon reverted to its usual style.
John 'Barney' Lonergan joined Williamstown in 1929 and played 50 games up until the end of the 1934 season
The VFA decided to bring its strength up to 12 clubs by admitting Oakleigh and Sandringham in 1929, and also introduced a single reserve player to replace an injured teammate. Williamstown finished eighth with 9 wins and 13 losses. Hugh Munro received lfe membership after completing 100 games during the 1928 season. Leon Beer transferred to Yarraville and the new committee appointed George Beasley from Collingwood to the vacant captain-coach position. Norm McDonald returned from Footscray to become vice-captain but later in the season when both become unavailable, Gordon Helwig captained the team. Jack O'Brien led the goalkicking with 32. Jim McAuliffe attempted a comeback after a few seasons in the country without success. Martin Joseph 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick, former player and captain of both the firsts and seconds at Williamstown, passed away in 1929 at the age of 63. He was also Club secretary and delegate to the VFA, as well as VFA secretary. Another to pass away in 1929 was 1907 premiership wingman and 1921 premiership captain-coach, Jim Caldwell, who played 70 games with Williamstown from 1905-08 and 1920-22. He also played 155 games with South Melbourne from 1909-19. He died on August 20 at the age of just 41 as a result of peritonitis.
Tom Byrne was recruited by Carlton from Ararat in 1929, playing 4 games before transferring to Williamstown where he played 39 games and kicked 33 goals from 1930-33. He crossed to Fitzroy in 1934 but did not play a senior match and finished the season with Prahran. He was then recruited by Hawthorn, where he went on to play 61 games and kick 70 goals from 1935-39. He passed away in November 1984 at the age of 76.
1930 proved a much better year, with the team returning to the final four and the new grandstand opened, replacing the old pavilion which had served for over forty years. The building was divided into two sections, one of which was placed at Spotswood and the other at Newport. George Beasley departed for Oakleigh and Jack O'Brien, the leading goalscorer of 1929 was appointed captain-coach. The team finished third with 13 wins from 20 games played but lost their only final to Oakleigh, 11.10.76 to 6.15.51. The team kicked their highest-ever score of 21.19.145 at Sandringham in round 18, and O'Brien led the goalkicking again with a total of 50. President of the Club from 1894-1902, James Hall, passed away suddenly at the age of 68 in July 1930 whilst touring Central Australia. 1905 captain and the Club's first captain-coach in 1906, Horrie Dick, who played for the Villagers from 1901-06, also passed away on 20 January aged 52.
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 Cr James Hall who presided over the Club from 1894-1902. Cr Liston was also out of the Williamstown Council after 30 years, during which 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. He gave service to the Club for nearly forty years. 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. WA-born Jim Shanahan, who had played previously with Collingwood, Carlton and Fitzroy, had been appointed playing coach but his employer, the police department, would not allow him to take up the role. Gordon Hellwig was appointed in his place but he too, being a member of the airforce, found himself in the same position. Jim Toohey, a former Fitzroy player and coach of Williamstown Juniors, was eventually appointed non-playing coach with Hellwig captain. Arthur 'Porky' Sykes was originally named vice-captain but Shanahan finished in that role after things were straightened out. Shanahan had played with Camberwell before joining the Club in 1930. Many changes occurred during an unsettled year, with Rex Byrne leaving for Northcote and Leo Drew went to Daylesford as coach soon after the start of the season. Jack O'Brien made a comeback for a few games before retiring along with his brother, Wally. Another J. & W. O'Brien then joined the Club, Whitburn returned from Essendon and Meehan likewise from Fitzroy. For the round 9 game at Toorak Park against Prahran, selectors were so dissatisfied with the team's performances that both the captain and vice-captain were dropped. Jim Sinclair was leading goalkicker in a disappointing season with 34.
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 when his employer, the police department, refused to let him take up the appointment due to work committments, although he continued playing as vice-captain to skipper Gordon Hellwig
1932 saw the Depression hit hard, but Williamstown gained a wonderful player and clubman in Fred Brooks from Carlton, who was teaching at Williamstown High School. Three consecutive wins to start the season looked promising but was followed by four successive losses left the team struggling again, and the dismal season came to a merciful end with the Club eighth with nine wins and eleven defeats The only notable performances were wins over finalists Coburg and Preston and honourable 3-point losses to Port and Preston. Jim Sinclair was again leading goalscorer with 30. Arthur 'Porky' Sykes won the best and fairest award.
The Williamstown team of 1932, pictured in front of the new grandstand built in 1929 and officially opened in 1930. Fred Brooks is third from the left in the second back row. Tom Byrne is fourth from the right in the second back row. Coach, Jim Toohey, ex-Fitzroy player from 1913-17 and 1920, is fifth from the left in the back row. 'Barney' Lonergan is the third player from the left in second front row. To the right of him is Arthur 'Porky' Sykes, then captain Gordon Hellwig and then Arthur Cutting, fourth from the right in the second front row. Cairo Dixon is on the right of the front row.
Economic conditions in 1933 were every bit as bad as the previous two seasons and running football clubs was no longer a pleasure due to tight finances and lack of interest. Charlie Stanbridge, who played in Williamstown's 1921 premiership team, returned at the age of 34 to become captain-coach after giving good service to both Port and South Melbourne. Harold Johns became vice-captain. Con Sheehan transferred to Yarraville after 71 games. The team won one less game than the previous season and slipped one rung on the ladder to ninth, although victories were achieved over three of the four finalists. Bob Addison was leading goalkicker with 23. Charlie Stanbridge was the Club's first Recorder Cup winner and tied with Oakleigh's Dave Withers for the newly-introduced VFA Medal. Stanbridge also took out the Club best and fairest award. Ted Cahill kicked 8 goals against Brighton at Williamstown in round 6.
This season ticket for 1933 is the earliest in the Club's collection
Season 1934 was possibly the worst ever experienced in the Club's history. Ted Cahill was appointed captain-coach with Jack Barnes vice-captain. Stanbridge transferred to Camberwell as assistant coach. Injuries took a toll and, on occassions, officials and trainers had to take the field. After the Prahran match at Toorak Park, Cahill and an official had an altercation and Barnes sided with his captain and never played with the Club again. Cahill was leading goalkicker with 47 in a team that finished last with just two wins, a draw and 15 defeats. He also took out the best and fairest title. Growing tired of the disappointments, frustrations and dissension, the entire Committee said they would not be available for the coming 1935 season and the Club was in severe debt and the future was most precarious. President, Jim Gray, stepped down and also left the oil company he had been managing, where he had found jobs for six or seven of the players at the time. When Gray left, so did they. The assistant secretary and occasional seconds player, Larry Floyd, took over the secretary post and organised a new Committee, with only Mick and Steve Maloney from the old Committee willing to carry on.
Charlie Stanbridge played in Williamstown's 1921 premiership side before transferring to Port Melbourne the next season where he played for 3 years before joining South Melbourne for 5 seasons where he played 69 games. He then returned to Port Melbourne for 3 seasons before coming back to Williamstown as captain-coach in 1933
The first move was to appoint Fred Brooks as captain-coach with Reg Taylor vice-captain for 1935. Only three matches were won and last place on the ladder ensued. Stan 'Snowie' Lawler kicked 60 goals, more than a third of the total goals scored by the team for the year. Brooks never missed a match and tied with Jim Dowling of Brunswick for the VFA Medal. Games records began to be kept by new secretary, Larry Floyd, from this season onwards. Controversial captain-coach of 1907, Paddy Noonan, passed away on 27 January, 1935, at the age of 59.
Fred Brooks agreed to stand down as captain-coach when North Melbourne released Neville Huggins to take up that role in 1936 and also George Jerram arrived as his deputy. Improved form saw seven victories, all at home, and an eighth finish. Stan 'Snowie' Lawler had another good season in front of goals and kicked 49. Huggins won the VFA Medal and also the Club best and fairest award.
During the 1937 season the incumbent president, Cr J R Bell passed away. Neville Huggins was re-appointed captain-coach as was his deputy, George Jerram. Huggins missed games with a knee injury but played well enough to win the Recorder Cup and tied with Jack Lowry of Prahran for the VFA Medal. Huggins also won the Club best and fairest for the second time with Fred Brooks runner-up. Due to games records not being kept prior to 1935, Brooks became officially the first player to reach 100 senior Club games in the round 5 match at Williamstown against Brighton, although it is likely others had achieved this milestone earlier. Stan 'Snowie' Lawler continued to play brilliantly in front of goals and broke the Club record with 69 for the season and also brought up his 200th career major in the last home-and-away game.
1938 saw the introduction to the VFA of the controversial 'throw-pass' and South Melbourne champion Laurie Nash transferred to Camberwell without a clearance. Overtures were also made by Williamstown to Collingwood's young forward, Ron Todd, but the Club was not in the financial position to compensate him with a lucrative contract. Vice-captain George Jerram was elevated to captain-coach narrowly over Huggins, who was thought to be an individualist and would be an even better player without the burden of captaincy. Huggins was made vice-captain but was replaced by Arthur Cutting when he transferred to Prahran. New recruits included Reg Thomas (South Melbourne), Colin Wilcox (Melbourne), Cliff Johnson (South Bendigo), Jack McDonagh (Footscray), Jim Quinn (Hawthorn), Ted Cahill's brother, Pat (Footscray District League), and George Fitch and Stan Jamieson from local side, Williamstown Districts. Fred Brooks retired and amateur Peter Robertson transferred to Canberra. After winning the opening game at Yarraville only one more victory occurred and the last eleven matches were lost in succession and the team finished on the bottom of the ladder, 3 games behind Sandringham. Jack Paterson led the goalkicking with 31 and Arthur Cutting tied with Bill Downey of Northcote for the Recorder Cup and won the VFA Medal outright as well as the Club best and fairest with recruit Colin Wilcox runner-up. Former committeeman, Bill Donlen, passed away during the year. The Club seconds made the finals but were eliminated by Brunswick. The name of Rodd Todd was first mentioned in 1938 when a local councillor, Allan Deacon, who worked with the young Collingwood full-forward, told the Club that Todd was interested in any offer from Williamstown. Some tentative discussions occurred but the Club was not financially sound enough to make a substantial offer to him.
1939 saw the appointment of Fred 'Pop' Harsley as president and Bill Dooley as a vice-president and the formation of a Ladies Committee for the first time, headed up by the President, Mrs S. Rae, the secretary, Mrs Evelyn Spicer, and the treasurer, Mrs E. Hanrahan. Following the retirement of George Jerram as a player, a search for a high profile captain-coach began and resulted in the appointment of 134-game Melbourne back pocket, Gordon 'Butcher' Ogden, for 5 pounds a week. The committee then went after Carlton star, Harry 'Soapy' Vallence, who nearly joined up the season before. He came to wooden-spooner Williamstown for less money (3 pounds and no contract) than what he was on at the VFL premiership-winning Blues but he was almost 34yo at the start of the season. Another star recruit was Melbourne's Eric 'Tarzan' Glass along with 6'3" Mattie Cave from Yarraville, who had played with both Footscray and St Kilda. Bill Spokes and Doug Menzies (Footscray) along with locals Bert McTaggart, Norm Chisholm and Tom Ward were others to join the Club. Stan Lawler headed to Preston with Vallence's arrival after 66 games and 227 goals, and Reg Taylor retired after 91 games. Reg Thomas was appointed vice-captain to Ogden. Vallence's recruitment looked promising when he kicked 9.2, including six in the last quarter in a losing side at Camberwell in round 2, and successive wins in the last 7 rounds of the season secured fourth place on the ladder and the Club's first finals appearance since 1930. Williamstown met Northcote, who they hadn't defeated since 1933, in the first semi-final at Toorak Park and won a thriller in the dying minutes with a score of 11.14.80 to 10.14.74, with Vallence kicking 7 goals. Prahran was the opponent in the preliminary final and Williamstown triumphed again by 7 points, 17.19.121 to 16.18.114. This time Vallence kicked 8. The grand final was at the MCG before a crowd of 47,000 and was the first time Williamstown had met Brunswick in a play off. Despite leading by almost 4 goals at half time, Brunswick let the 'Town back into the game in the third quarter with an 8 goal term and they went on to win by 9 points, 14.20.104 to 14.11.95, to go from last to premiers in one year. Vallence booted 5 more to give him 133 for the season, including 18 at Oakleigh in round 14, a new Club record and also the Club's highest-ever score of 25.24.174. It was the first time in the Club's history that three of the team kicked over 40 goals and four over 30 (vice-captain, Reg Thomas 43, Stan Jamieson 41 and Jack Paterson 36 were the others). It was also the first time in either VFA or VFL football, since the adoption of the 'Page' finals system in 1933, that a team other than those finishing first or second after the completion of the home-and-away rounds had gone on to take the premiership. Arthur Cutting won his second VFA Medal, the fifth consecutive such award for a Williamstown player, as well as the Club best and fairest from Jack Paterson and Jim Quinn. Former captain, Bert Amy, who played 119 games from 1908-1919, passed away during the year. Port Melbourne and Williamstown met for the 100th time on May 6 in round 4, with the 'Town victorious by 9 points.
The 1939 Williamstown grand final squad and starting positions v. Brunswick at the MCG on Saturday, October 7
An early-season sensation occurred when the 1938 negotiations with 21yo Ron Todd were resumed after Councillor Allan Deacon advised the Club that the Magpie spearhead was there for the taking, and it was announced on March 21, 1940, that he had signed with Williamstown for 3 years for a 100 pound sign-on fee and 6 pounds per game. The VFL threatened legal action to restrain Todd and influential Collingwood supporters, including John Wren and the Galballys, convinced him to return and Todd said he would donate the 100 pounds to a wartime 'comfort fund'. He played in Collingwood's last practice match and seemed certain to stay there, but Todd announced on radio the night before the first round that he would be playing with Williamstown the next day at Yarraville and 18,000 people turned up to see him play his first Association match.
Ron Todd running out for his first game for Williamstown at Yarraville, round 1 1940, before a crowd of 18,000. Todd kicked four goals while Harry 'Soapy' Vallence kicked 15 in a 148-point victory
Gordon Ogden was re-appointed captain-coach and Harry Vallence became vice-captain. The only player missing from 1939 was Bert McTaggart who had transferred to Carlton. In the first match at Yarraville, the VFA's highest-ever score was missed by two points with a score of 36.20.236 to 12.16.88, including 12 goals in the first quarter and 13 in the third. Vallence kicked 15 goals, Todd and Jamieson 4 each. Mrs JJ Liston unfurled the first premiership flag for 18 years the next week at the first home game of the season, before the team defeated Brighton 20.19.139 to 8.15.63 to head the ladder for the first time in years. A Club record of 14 consecutive victories were achieved from round 14, 1939, to round 5, 1940, when Northcote won by just 9 points. This record was not broken until 1956/57. The team finished on top of the ladder, two games clear, and the only blemish was the electrocution death of 1939 premiership player, Bobby Willett, at his work in late May. He had played 62 games over 4 seasons. Coach Ogden did not play in the second semi at Prahran against Port and the 'Town were badly beaten, 24.14.158 to 13.14.92. The preliminary final against Prahran was little better and the season was over after the 15.21.111 to 11.16.82 defeat. The Two Blues, who finished runners-up to Port, visited Williamstown in round 6 and lost by 83 points after the Seagulls kicked a record 15 goals 2 behinds in the third quarter. Vallence kicked 111 goals for the year and Todd got 99, the highest tally for a player that finished second on a club list. Norm Chisholm took out the best and fairest award. Former player, Frank 'Jinner' Worroll (1907 premiership half-forward flanker who started with the Club in 1896), passed away on September 19 at the age of 63. Former teammate, champion ruckman Fred Houghton, who played from 1900-1905 and was vice-captain in 1902-03, also passed away during the year as did former secretary of 1912-13, Arthur Johnson senior, and G. Miles, a former committeeman.
The 1940 Williamstown team at one of the losing finals at Toorak Park -
Back row: (from left) Arthur Cutting, Ron Todd, unknown, unknown, Colin Wilcox, Doug Menzies, Matt Cave, unknown
Middle row: (from left) Jack Patterson, Eddie Deller, Norm Chisholm, Gordon Ogden, Harry Vallence, George Fitch, Eric Glass
Front row: (from left) Cliff Johnson, Reg Thomas, Stan Jamieson
Ron Todd's best friend and Northcote Cricket Club teammate, Des Fothergill, joined Williamstown in 1941 after being joint winner of the Brownlow Medal the previous season. Another Northcote cricket product, Ivan Miller, who played 4 first-class matches for Victoria between 1933-36 and VFA football for Northcote in 1936-37, also came across. Gordon Ogden was re-appointed as captain-coach but missed half the season due to illness, injuries and business reasons while Fothergill was made vice-captain. Other newcomers were Lou Salvas (Auburn), Bob Spargo (Footscray via Essendon), 16yo Andy Taylor from the local high school, 1939 premiership centre half-forward Bert McTaggart (back from Carlton) and Ossie Bownds (Albury). Bownds had one arm only half its normal length but could still take chest marks and occassional one-handed grabs and could run bouncing the ball one-handed. 1939 premiership rover Jack Patterson retired at the end of 1940 after 77 games and 109 goals. The team missed the finals by finishing in sixth position with 12 wins and 8 losses, a disappointing result considering the recruitment of Fothergill to play alongside Vallence and Todd, however the war had a great deal to do with the team's performance as many players were not able to train due to tme being in camp and employed in munition works. Eventual runner-up, Coburg, was defeated twice and a Club record score of 29.19.193 was posted in the round 7 clash with Sandringham at Williamstown. Vallence kicked 20 of the goals, a new Club record, and brought up his 1000th VFL/VFA goal during the second quarter after marking, kissing the ball and kicking truly. 722 of these came from his 204 games with Carlton. Ron Todd broke his ankle and kicked only 39 goals in his 11 games, Arthur Cutting missed a number of games with illness and Norm Chisholm was out injured for half the year with a bad knee. Fothergill had a brilliant season even with being burdened by the captaincy for half the season, winning the Recorder Cup and the VFA Medal as well as the Club best and fairest from Colin Wilcox. He also kicked 78 goals. Vallence scored 93 goals to lead the goal-scoring, giving him 337 goals from his 61 games over 3 seasons with the 'Town. Steve Warner from the Reserves was killed in Second World War action during the year, and the Seconds also won the premiership, beating Coburg 18.17.125 to 10.21.81, their first pennant since 1919. They had three different coaches during the year due to military duties, firstly Jim Quinn, then Stan Jamieson and finally Bert McTaggart. Quinn obtained leave to play in the grand final. Andy Taylor was considered the best first-year player, with 'Tarzan' Glass awarded the most consistent and Cliff Johnson the most improved. Life members and former committeemen, A. Moon and J. McDonnell, both passed away during the year.
The VFA suspended the competition due to the war in April 1942, and many players went to VFL sides. Harry Vallence was appointed Carlton reserves coach and took Andy Taylor with him, Norm Chisholm and Bert McTaggart went to Footscray and Lou Salvas to Hawthorn. By 1944 the VFA reserves competition resumed and Williamstown appointed Gordon Ogden as coach and reached the semi-finals before losing to Camberwell by two goals. JJ Liston passed away during the recess, on 12 April, 1944, as did fellow lifemembers Cr JA Dennis, Captain JH Fearon, and former captain Bert Amy, who played 119 games from 1908-1919. Three former full-forwards in 1921 premiership player and leading goalkicker, Jim McAuliffe (1919-29), twice leading goalkicker and Test cricketer Jimmy Matthews (1903-13) and 1924 grand final player, Jack 'Judy' Munn (1924-27), who was killed in action during the war, also passed away. Former secretary of 1921-22, Les Thompson, and former vice-president and member of the training staff, Harry Cox, were others who passed on during the recess.
Arthur Cutting, recruited from Yarraville in 1931, would go on to play 159 senior games for Williamstown until the end of 1945, by which time he was 36yo. He played in the 1939 and 1945 premiership teams, won the 1938 and 1939 VFA Medal (narrowly beating the great Laurie Nash of Camberwell) and tied with Bill Downie of Northcote for the 1938 Recorder Cup, the predecessors of the JJ Liston Trophy. He also won the 1938 and 1939 Club best and fairest awards. His record of 159 games was the most by a Williamstown player until surpassed by Colin Wilcox in 1949.
Upon the resumption in 1945, Bill Dooley snr accepted the presidency and Larry Floyd the secretaryship after an absence of five years. The Recorder Cup and VFA Medal were merged into one award named the JJ Liston Trophy in honour of the great VFA, Club and municipal leader. Maurie Hearn, vice-captain of Fitzroy's 1944 premiership team, was appointed captain-coach and 'Tarzan' Glass was made vice-captain. Fothergill returned to Collingwood for family reasons after the VFA declared an amnesty on all players who had left clubs without a clearance and Todd wanted to do likewise but was met with an obstinate Magpie committee who were still bitter over his departure in 1940, and Todd eventually re-signed with Williamstown after being 'expelled' by Collingwood, a club for which he had not played since 1939. Harry Vallence transferred to Brighton where he was living and working, while Mattie Cave and Reg Thomas retired. Reg Featherby, Reg Harley and Fred 'Snowy' Matthews were promoted from the Seconds and became regular seniors for a long time. Gordon Ogden, captain-coach of the seniors from 1939-41, played just 7 matches but then retired due to injury after 56 games since 1939. He played a big part in the reforming of the Seconds in 1944. Hugh Torney and Jack Cockburn (both Essendon), Geoff Spring and Doug Dowling (both RAAF) were new recruits, while Dick Harris was acquired from Richmond later in the year. Jack Vinall, Bruce Chapman, Athol Teasdale and Stan Fox were local recruits and Norm Chisholm returned from Footscray. Victory was attained in the first 6 rounds, the best start to a season since the 9 wins in 1900. In the match at Preston in round 3, Todd kicked 5 of Williamstown's 7 goals in the first ten minutes of the game before finishing with a score of 11.7 to 1.2 at quarter-time and going on to a 6-goal victory. Todd finished with 13 majors for the game. They met the undefeated Coburg at Coburg in round 9 in a top-of-the-table clash before a crowd of 21,000, a record to that point for a VFA home-and-away game. The Lions won by 27 points, with Todd kicking 10.1 for Williamstown and Jack 'Skinny' Titus 8 for the 'Burgers. Ten consecutive wins followed, including Williamstown's first win at Brunswick since 1923 in round 17 and the first victory at Northcote since 1930 in round 19, before the still-undefeated Coburg came to Williamstown in the last home-and-away game. 14,000 spectators (a record for the ground) saw Coburg triumph again, this time by 3 goals, to inflict just the third defeat for the year on the Seagulls. Todd kicked 6 of Williamstown's 12 goals.
A record crowd of 17,000 attended the second semi-final at St Kilda when these two teams met again, and this time Williamstown led all day apart from a brief period just before half-time and triumphed, 12.16.88 to 8.23.71, but Coburg were without Titus on this occasion. Port Melbourne knocked Coburg out of the finals the following week in the preliminary final, and met Williamstown in the grand final at St Kilda before a crowd of 39,000, the fourth highest attendance in the ground's history. The Seagulls were untroubled in defeating Port, apart from the third term when the Borough reduced the margin to just 7 points at the last change, before running out winners by 37 points, 16.21.117 to 10.20.80, with Todd kicking 6 goals to break Bob Pratt's VFA record 183 for Coburg in 1941. Todd's 188 goals made him the first Williamstown player to head the Association's goalkicking at the end of a season since Len Mortimer in 1905, something even the great Harry 'Soapy' Vallence couldn't achieve. The feat was also an Australian senior football record. Over the 22 games for the season, he averaged 8.5 goals and his return of 20 at Oakleigh in round 5 equalled the Club record, shared with Vallence. In the return match at Williamstown he kicked 13. Arthur Cutting (159 games, 1931-45, the Club record) and Eric 'Tarzan' Glass (82 games, 1939-45) both retired after the grand final, although Glass became coach of the Seconds in 1946, and the Club's first interstate trip was undertaken, to Broken Hill for a 10-day visit and an exhibition game against Coburg. Fred 'Snowy' Matthews won the Club best and fairest from Colin Wilcox, with Geoff Spring and Reg Harley best first-year players. During the season it was decided to adopt the seagull as the Club emblem and for the team to be known as 'The Seagulls', although a local press correspondent gave the team this name in one of his articles some years previously. The team had been known as 'The Villagers' up until this time, and the seagull insignia was really borrowed from the Williamstown Athletic Club, which had always used it since its inception in 1925, although there was a reference by a journalist in the Melbourne Punch of June 8, 1893, to a Williamstown and Collingwood game the previous weekend whereby 'the Magpies displayed more bottom than the Seagulls'.
The Seagull emblem was officially adopted by the Club in 1945, after borrowing the idea from the Williamstown Athletic Club
The 1945 Williamstown grand final squad and starting positions v. Port Melbourne at St Kilda's Junction Oval on Saturday, October 6, crowd 40,000
Todd kicked 6 goals in the grand final to give him an Australian record of 188 for the 1945 season
Williamstown undertook their first interstate end-of-season trip to Broken Hill in October 1945
The Coburg team included future Richmond star, Des Rowe (#11), and former Richmond star, Jack Titus (#12), as well as future Club games record-holder, Dave Starbuck (#16)
Maurie Hearn moved on to Port Fairy where he took over a hotel, and Collingwood vice-captain, Alan Williams, after 115 games for the Magpies since 1938, was appointed in his stead for the 1946 season with Ron Todd as vice-captain. Other than Arthur Cutting and 'Tarzan' Glass, Hugh Torney, Eddie Deller (130 games and 1939 premiership player), Ben Le Sueur, Jack Cockburn and Cliff Johnson all moved on, although Johnson did play one senior game during the year. Gordon Ogden had retired during 1945. Geoff Spring trained with Richmond but decided to stay at Williamstown but Doug Dowling went to South Melbourne and played just 4 games, spending most of the year in the Seconds. Reg Ryan went to North Melbourne without a clearance after 10 games for the Club, only the second Williamstown player to do so in the past 20 years. Bill 'Bomber' Wells joined after 14 games with North Melbourne and 22 with St Kilda, Lou Salvas returned from Hawthorn, 16yo rover Mal MacPherson from the Footscray District League and Gordon 'Kisser' Cameron from Carlton were other newcomers. Locals Theo Greenland, Harold Peacock and 19yo Murray McRae were other additions. 1939 premiership player, George Fitch, made a comeback but then transferred to Yarraville as did Jack Scarffe. 'Soapy' Vallence, at almost 41 years of age, also played against Williamstown in this season for Brighton and kicked 6 goals in the round 2 game at Elsternwick but only two in the return clash at Williamstown. He retired at the end of the season, despite kicking 11 in his last game and booting 77 for the season. The Seagulls won both games against Brighton.
The season commenced promisingly with four consecutive victories, including an 89-point win over eventual premier, Sandringham, in round 3 at Williamstown, before going down at Coburg by a solitary behind. A draw at Pt Gellibrand with eventual runner-up, Camberwell, in round 10 preceded a surprise loss at Brunswick the following week before five consecutive victories, including a second win over eventual premier, Sandringham, this time by 38 points. The round 18 clash at Williamstown with fellow finalist, Port Melbourne, which resulted in a 7-point victory, was eventful in that it was discovered after the game that two of Williamstown's premiership pennants were missing. When it was reported that two men had been seen leaving the ground with suspicious bundles under their coats, Bill 'Bomber' Wells and Ron Todd went in pursuit of the two suspects and, when they were located, a short scuffle ensued before the flags were returned to the ground by the two players.
The team was never far from the top all season and finished in second spot at the completion of the home-and-away rounds but lost the second semi-final at St Kilda to Camberwell, 12.19.91 to 11.14.80, after looking the winner until half-way through the last quarter, when the Cobras broke away to establish a handy lead. The Seagulls fought back magnificently and almost snatched the game after Harris and Macpherson goaled before Wells missed from 5 yards out. When Salvas scored a major with a 70-yard kick, Williamstown were just 4 points in arrears. Camberwell scored a behind before Todd, who failed to kick a goal all day, marked on the half-forward line and elected to throw-pass the ball instead of taking a shot at goal. Camberwell swooped on the ball and rushed it upfield for a goal to end the game.
The preliminary final, also at St Kilda, drew a record preliminary crowd of 24,000 and, after an 8 goal to 1 third quarter, the Seagulls were 40 points in front at the last change against Sandringham, in their first finals appearance since joining the VFA in 1929. Aided by a strong breeze, the Zebras rallied with 7.7 to Williamstown's 1.2 to win by just one point, 16.19.115 to 16.18.114. Dick Harris and Mal MacPherson both kicked 5 goals in Ron Todd's absence through injury. Williamstown had beaten Sandringham by 89 points at Williamstown in round 3 and by 38 points at Sandringham in round 13. Todd kicked 13, 11 and 12 goals in the first three rounds and ended up with 114 to lead the Association goalscorers once again. Dick Harris was third with 87. Harris, a rover, kicked 10 against Preston at Williamstown in round 15. 21yo Reg Harley won the best and fairest award in just his second season of senior football from Fred Matthews. At the end of the season, Williamstown played Camberwell in Launceston, the second such interstate end-of-season trip undertaken by the Club. During the season, the bootstudder, M. McGregor passed away, as did life members M. Roach and G. Williams. Colin Wilcox played his 100th senior game for the Club during the season.
The 1946 season was marked by a number of serious injuries, most notably the broken leg sustained by 1945 premiership ruckman George Archibald at Williamstown against Brighton in round 13, which ended his career with the Seagulls. Andy Taylor also suffered a severe leg injury, while Reg Featherby, Colin Wilcox, Jack Sullivan, Harold Peacock, Ron Todd, Geoff Spring, captain-coach Williams, Norm Chisholm, Gordon Cameron, Lou Salvas, Stan Jamieson and Frank Hughes jnr were all regular players who missed games through injuries. In the game at Sandringham in round 14, only the full-forward of the entire goal-to-goal line of the previous week was available. A lightning premiership was played for the first time between all the teams that failed to make the grand final, which was won by Williamstown after defeating Port Melbourne, Oakleigh and then Prahran in the final.
Alan Williams and Ron Todd were re-appointed captain-coach and vice-captain, respectively, for the 1947 season, and new recruits included Alf Sampson after 60 games with Footscray and Doug Dowling returned from South Melbourne. Keith Abberton, Norm Bernard, Joe Lyon and Ken May were promising juniors who joined. Norm Chisholm, after more than 90 games, transferred to Newport as captain-coach during the season, as did Dick Harris at Yarraville after playing 5 games in 1947 and 37 in total for the Seagulls and registering 145 goals. Bill Wells went to Murtoa as captain-coach and Stan Jamieson finally retired after 69 games.
1947 was similar to the year before with four consecutive victories to open the season, including a 76-point win over Northcote at Williamstown in round 3, before going down by 5 goals at Port Melbourne to the eventual premier. They bounced back to down eventual runner-up, Sandringham, by 50 points at Williamstown in round 6, before two narrow wins at Coburg (1 point) and Preston (2 points) preceded a loss at Oakleigh by 2 points. Five consecutive victories followed, including a 20-point win over Port at Pt Gellibrand, followed by 3 losses in the last six home-and-away games, including a 12-goal thumping at Brighton, which did not even make the finals, in round 21. The team sat in either first or second position on the ladder all season and eventually finished with 16 wins by the end of the home-and-away rounds to finish in second spot behind Port, who they lost to in the second semi-final by 5 goals, despite leading by 28 points at quarter-time and being level at three-quarter time before falling away. Captain-coach Alan Williams could not play in the preliminary final against Sandringham due to injury. This game was almost a repeat of the previous year's meeting, with Williamstown leading by 31 points at the last change, which increased to 39 points early in the last quarter, before the Zebras added 7.8 to the Seagulls 2.4 to hit the front shortly before the siren to run out winners by three points. Williamstown's score of 16.18.114 was exactly the same as the year before. Despite the narrow defeats in the 1946 and 1947 preliminary finals, since the resumption of VFA senior football after the war recess, Williamstown had won 49 of 68 matches played with one draw, and many of the 18 losses were by small margins and only two of the defeats were at Pt Gellibrand.
Once again, injuries played a big part in the team's fortunes during the season, with captain-coach Alan Williams, having two absences including the vital preliminary final, Fred Matthews suffering head, kidney and foot injuries, while Gordon Cameron broke a finger then suffered a leg injury at Prahran and then fractured ribs at Port Melbourne. Others to miss were Bruce Chapman (cut head and badly bruised chest and shoulder), Norm Chisholm (head injury), Dick Harris (facial injury), Reg Featherby (broken finger), Colin Wilcox (knee injury), Alf Sampson (leg injury), Mal Macpherson (hip), Harold Peacock (knee), Geoff Spring (shoulder) and 17yo Henry Taylor in his senior debut suffered a badly jarred ankle.
22yo back pocket player, Reg Harley, was again best and fairest for the year from Doug Dowling and Harold Peacock was best first-year player. Harley had not missed a game since making his debut in 1945. Ron Todd won the Club's goalkicking honours for the third consecutive season with 82, which was fifth on the VFA list, whilst Mal MacPherson kicked 58 and Doug Dowling 55. Todd played his 100th senior game for Williamstown in the losing preliminary final and kicked his 500th goal during the season. President of the Club in the first premiership year of 1907, Bob Ferguson, passed away in 1947 as did former players, William Fagg 'Jasper' Jones on March 9 aged 84yo (118 games, 1885-86, 1888-91, 1893), Alick 'Roodie' McKenzie (64 games, 1903-10) and Charlie 'Jigger' Viney (44 games, 1899-1903). Former committeeman, Bert Clasper, also passed away. Former senior player, Jack Vinall, was in charge of the reserves, which reached the finals and beat Port in the first semi but was beaten by eventual runner-up, Prahran, in the preliminary.
The 1948 team at Williamstown with captain Ron Todd at the front, followed by vice-captain Lou Salvas, Theo Greenland, Alf Sampson, Colin Wilcox, Murray McRae, Harold Peacock, Alan Williams, Bruce Chapman, Reg Featherby, Jack Danckert, Mal MacPherson, Gordon Williams, Henry Taylor, Gordon Cameron, Danny Knott, Les Gardner and Doug Dowling
Alan Williams bought a guesthouse at Healsville during the off-season which prevented him continuing as coach in 1948 but he indicated that he would be able to play on. 1939 premiership captain-coach, Gordon Ogden, was appointed to the vacant post from a big field of applicants, the first non-playing coach since Jim Toohey in 1931-32. Ron Todd and Lou Salvas were selected as captain and vice-captain respectively. After 68 consecutive games, Reg Harley went to South Melbourne in exchange for Jack Danckert, while Geoff Spring transferred to Richmond in exchange for Danny Knott and Ted Ryan returned from Collingwood. Good locals who joined up included Gordon Williams, Johnny Walker and Bill Sheahan. Bill Redmond came later as a result of a dispute between Carlton and North Melbourne which led to him being disqualified as a VFL player and Williamstown swooped on him. Doug Dowling lost form and was cleared to Oakleigh after 44 games, and Norm Bernard dropped out during the year. The season got off to a shaky start, and three successive defeats in May saw the team in seventh spot on the ladder, its lowest placing since 1938, and defeats were suffered in 4 of the first 7 games. One of the victories was at Brunswick, who finished second on the ladder, by 7 points in round 2. A run of wins, triggered by a 101-point victory over Prahran at Williamstown in round 8, carried the team back in to the four by round 10. This stretch of victories extended to 13, including victories over the three other finalists, Brighton (19 points), Northcote (63 points) and Brunswick for the second time (22 points), to give the Seagulls top place on the ladder at the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds, for the first time since 1940, on percentage from Brunswick. The Seagulls were the only team of the previous year's finalists to make the four, something which had only occurred once before in VFA history in 1929. In 1924 both the previous year's grand finalists missed the final four.
Although Williamstown had won both contests during the season, the 'Wicks were flag favourites leading up to the second semi clash at St Kilda. 15,000 people saw the 'Town win easily, 17.13.115 to 9.20.74, equalling the previous Club record of 14 consecutive victories in 1939/40 and would not be bettered until the 20 successive wins of 1956/57. This was the Seagulls first win in a final since the 1945 premiership. The Seconds also defeated Coburg, 12.19.91 to 12.14.86, earlier in the day. The Williamstown-Brighton grand final attracted a crowd of just 18,000 due to the drawn VFL grand final being re-played the same day. After getting away to a good start in the drizzling conditions to lead by 11 points at quarter time, the Seagulls then found themselves trailing for most of the game after the Penguins added 5 goals in the second quarter. They got back to within a point of Brighton in the last quarter after a goal from vice-captain, Lou Salvas, before the Penguins replied and then managed to hold on to win their first VFA premiership by 9 points, 13.16.94 to 13.7.85. Williamstown's fortunes dived when ruckman and former captain-coach, Alan Williams, was stretchered from the field at the start of the third quarter with the recurrence of a leg injury. Former 'Town player, Tom New, who played 7 senior games in 1941 and won the Seconds best and fairest in that premiership year for the Reserves team, was named amongst the best players for Brighton. This was the first time that Williamstown had been runners-up since 1924. Todd kicked only one goal and lost form and confidence during the season and ended up playing on a half-forward flank and kicked just 55 goals for the year, which included 10 in round 1 against Yarraville. 19yo Mal Macpherson led the Club goalkicking with 59 while Colin Wilcox won the best and fairest award. Former vice-captain of 1936-37 and captain-coach of 1938, George Jerram, passed away on May 20 at the age of 43 after suffering a fractured skull from hitting the footpath following an incident outside the Cricket Club Hotel in Clarendon Street, South Melbourne. Other former players in Ed Hall and Vic Manderson (1901-06, 60 games), a life member, as well as former vice-president and committeeman, Harry Roberts, passed on during the year. The Seconds won the premiership, beating Oakleigh in the grand final by just 4 points, 15.16.106 to 14.18.102. Former senior player of 1945/46, Jack Vinall, was captain-coach with Jim McKnight the vice-captain. The VFA introduced an extra reserve player in this season, bringing the number to two on the bench. Another interstate end-of-season trip was undertaken to Adelaide and Port Lincoln in late October.
Williamstown's 1948 team
Back row: Bruce Chapman, Ted Ryan, Harold Peacock, Murray McRae, Alf Sampson, Theo Greenland, Reg Featherby, Mal Macpherson
Middle row: Bill Sheahan, Colin Wilcox, Johnny Walker, Lou Salvas, Ron Todd, Gordon Cameron, Jack Danckert, Alan Williams, unknown
Front row: Bill Redmond, Fred Matthews, Alan Collins
The disappointment of three unsuccessful seasons was swept away in 1949 when the Club won its fifth pennant and the third since 1939, defeating Oakleigh at St Kilda in an epic grand final. The team finished the home-and-away rounds on top with 16 wins from 21 matches, once again under the coaching of Gordon Ogden and with Ron Todd as captain in his last season. Colin Wilcox became vice-captain after Lou Salvas was occupied with his foot running until early in the season. Alan Williams retired to concentrate on his Healsville guesthouse, Harold Peacock went to America for seven months for work while visiting his sister who had moved there after the war (but returned and was controversially included in the last home-and-away game against Yarraville without any training) while Ted Ryan transferred to Stawell, Joe Lyons became captain-coach of Kaniva Districts FC and Dan Knott moved on. Alan Strang came across from South Melbourne, while local talent in John Molyneux, Charlie McLaren, Lou Barker and Max Hughes joined the Club. Bill Wells returned from coaching Murtoa (1947) and East Ballarat (1948) and opened a business in Port Melbourne and asked for a clearance to the Borough. This was granted, but after 8 inconspicous games, including one against Williamstown in round 3, he was cleared back to the Seagulls and was soon starring and played a magnificent game in the return clash with Port at Williamstown in round 14 in a 10-point victory.
Williamstown met Preston in the opening round after having played Yarraville in round 1 every season since 1929. A 13-point win at Preston was followed by a 2-goal victory against Brunswick at Pt Gellibrand before the season's first defeat at Port Melbourne in round 3 by 14 points, which saw the Seagulls drop to fifth on the ladder. Four successive wins followed, including one over fellow-finalist, Coburg, by 8 points in round 5. A defeat by 21 points at Oakleigh, the eventual runner-up, preceded another string of four victories, including one over the eventual third-placed, Brighton, by 50 points in round 11, to set up the season with 8 wins in 9 games. Three defeats over the next six weeks, including surprising losses to Prahran and Northcote which finished third and fourth last at season's end, saw the 'Town drop to second on the ladder. Top spot was regained by the end of the home-and-away games with three consecutive wins, including one over eventual runner-up, Oakleigh, by 7 points at Williamstown played in gale-force conditions, where 14.42 was kicked to one end of the ground and 3.3 to the other. The year's highest score and biggest victory (by 88 points) came at Camberwell in round 20 (Todd 11 goals), after the Cobras led at quarter-time. The final game against the eventual last-placed Yarraville was eventful in that Williamstown led by 11 goals at three-quarter time after kicking 8.8 to NIL in the third quarter before the Eagles added 10.5 to 1.1 to almost snatch the game, before the Seagulls fell over the line by 8 points. This marked the first time that the Club had appeared in 5 consecutive final series, and the team had finished either first or second in every season since the resumption after the war recess.
Williamstown Chronicle, September 16 1949, list of available players for second semi-final team v. Oakleigh
Williamstown met Oakleigh in the second semi at St Kilda in front of 23,000 spectators. The Oaks led at every change by 20, 26 and 22 points and it was only 'Town's compact defence, led most notably by 'Bomber' Wells, that kept the lead within bounds, but with Oakleigh's mounting injury toll the Seagulls fought back and Ron Todd's 7th goal in time-on in the last quarter gave them the lead and they hung on to win, 14.13.97 to 13.14.92.
The Age, September 19, 1949
Grand Final day provided some early thrills for the 40,000 spectators, the third highest in VFA history, when Port seconds staged a great last quarter (after being held scoreless in the third quarter) to draw with Williamstown reserves, 9.17.71 apiece. The senior game was almost a repeat of the second semi with Oakleigh leading at every change, by 7, 25 and 3 points at three-quarter time. With time almost gone in the last and the Oaks leading by 3 points, 'Bomber' Wells accused an Oakleigh opponent of wasting time after receiving a free kick on Oakleigh's half-forward line. The umpire agreed and, after reversing the free kick, Wells' kick went deep into the forward line where Johnny Walker emerged with the ball and kicked a goal from a very narrow angle with 22 seconds remaining to take the lead for Williamstown. The siren sounded shortly after to herald a Seagull win by 3 points, 10.5.65 to 8.14.62, with Walker collapsing with severe cramp and being stretchered from the ground. Many considered Lou Salvas to be the real hero of the victory with his ruck-work in the third term which kept Williamstown in the game. Others to play well were Keith Abberton, Jack Danckert, Bill Wells, Gordon Cameron, Colin Wilcox and Billy Sheahan. Ron Todd needed six goals in the grand final to give him 1,000 in senior VFL/VFA football but he kicked 5 to leave him stranded on 999. He considered playing on in 1950 to reach the milestone but an overseas trip stopped him. It was argued that Todd was deprived of a goal in a game in 1940 and, had Club officials got the records corrected, Todd would not have only been celebrated with 1,000 career goals but the Club would have had two century goalkickers in the one season, Todd and 'Soapy' Vallence, a record that surely would never have been beaten. Todd also missed 4 games in his final season when suspended and finished with 95 goals, runner-up to Keith Warburton of Brighton with 101. Mal MacPherson celebrated his 21st birthday on grand final day and by season's end had registered 78 games and 192 goals in three seasons with one premiership. Reg Featherby won the Club's best and fairest from Alf Sampson and Bill Wells. John Molyneux was best first-year player. The Club's record since the resumption after the war was being finalists 5 years in a row, which was a Club record to that time, and from 113 matches since 1945, 84 were won, 1 drawn and 28 defeats suffered, with only 3 of those defeats occurring in the 52 games played at Williamstown. During the season, Colin Wilcox passed Arthur Cutting's record of 159 senior games and had 173 by season's end. During the year, Fred 'Pop' Harsley, who was about 50 years of age, passed away. The Seconds, still under the control of coach, Jack Vinall, lost the grand final replay to Port, 12.25.97 to 11.8.74. John Leonard won the reserves best and fairest award.
The tragedy of the season was the passing of Andy Taylor, who had joined the Club as a 16yo from Williamstown High School in 1941. A knee injury sustained in the war stopped him playing regularly after the cessation, and he put his legs in irons for 12 months in an effort to get fit again. He played some games with the Seconds in 1949 and was selected in the seniors for a game at Coburg in round 16 on July 30 but was forced off the ground in the third quarter with a recurrence of the knee problem. He then passed away tragically on September 20, less than two months later, at the age of just 25 after 26 games and 15 goals. The Club's best and fairest award was named The Andy Taylor Memorial from 1951 until 1999, inclusive. The Club's first-ever premiership captain in 1907, Ted/Ned Alley, who played with the Club from 1905-15, also passed away on July 18 aged 67, as did former president of the Club in 1939/40 and life member, Fred 'Pop' Harsley, in early May after a long illness. Former players, Harry Stock (1925-29) and Cyril 'Pompy' Blunt (1921), were others the Club lost during the year. The fifth consecutive interstate end-of-season trip took place in October, when 63 players, officials and supporters, aboard the vessel 'The Spirit', travelled to Wollongong and Sydney and an exhibition match was played at Wollongong against a combined Illawarra-Sydney team in continuous rain on October 9.
Ron Todd flies for a mark in the grand final while Lou Salvas #2 looks on
Williamstown's Norm Bernard attempts a spectacular mark during the grand final
Ron Todd #1 attempts to mark in the grand final while Mal Macpherson waits for the ball to drop
Captain Ron Todd and coach Gordon Ogden embrace after the final siren
After making the finals in the next three seasons, Williamstown fell away before finishing third in 1930. It came last in 1938 in one of the worst years in the club’s history and was on the brink of disaster, winning only two games. It had also finished last in 1934 and 35 and near last in 1933, 36 and 37. Secretary Larry Floyd and financial-backer Bill Dooley (great-grandfather of Leigh and Paul) lured Gordon 'Butch' Ogden as captain-coach in 1939 from Melbourne FC, who led the team to the premiership with a nine-point victory over Brunswick at the MCG, 14.20 to 14.11, before a crowd of almost 50,000. Top players in that year were Colin Wilcox, Arthur Cutting, 'Tarzan' Glass, Eddie Deller and champion goalkicker, 'Soapy' Vallence, who kicked 113 goals that season.
Williamstown (the town) was named after King William IV in 1837 and was often referred to as the “village” in 19th century Melbourne. The nickname “The Villagers” stuck with the football club until the late 1930's when Floyd and Dooley decided a more appropriate synonym was needed and adopted the “Seagulls”. Larry Floyd, a former Reserve-grade player with the Seagulls from 1930, was a very good secretary at Williamstown during three terms in that position between 1935 and 1949, and later became secretary of the Carlton Football Club from 1952-55. The grandstand at the Williamstown ground is named in his honour. He also represented Williamstown in the State Parliament for many years.
After 1939, Williamstown enjoyed a lot of success, aided by the recruitment of two Collingwood VFL stars in Ron Todd (1940) and Brownlow Medallist Des Fothergill (1941). Todd was a prolific goalkicker, booting 188 in the 1945 premiership season and a career total of 672 at Williamstown, more than any other Seagull. Fothergill won the VFA best and fairest award, the Recorder Cup, and kicked 77 goals during his sole season with the Seagulls before the competition went into recess from 1942-44 due to the Second World War. Maurie Hearn, Dick Harris, Mal Macpherson and Reg Harley were other fine players during the premiership years of 1945 and 1949, the latter being once again coached by 'Butch' Ogden after being runners-up in 1948.
For a more detailed analysis of the period from 1950 onwards, please refer to the respective decades under the 'HISTORY' tab on the website
In the 1950's along came Johnny Martin, Billy Williams, Adrian Dullard, Harry Simpson, Alby Linton, Johnny Walker and the great Gerry Callahan, along with famous coach, Wally Carter, from North Melbourne. Flags in 1954, 55, 56, 58 and 59 almost put Williamstown in the unbeatable class. In 1957 the team was undefeated in the home-and-away round and then inexplicably lost both finals. The teams of the 50's were skillful and well coached by Carter and Callahan and the string of premierships was fair reward for an era of good management and hard work.
Gerry Callahan, champion ruckman and defender of the 1950's, played in five premiership teams, two as captain-coach
Then Williamstown slumped and by the middle of the 60's was headed for Second Division at the end of 1967. The mecurial Max Papley – leading goalkicker (1964) and best and fairest winner (1966) at South Melbourne – was appointed Captain and Coach and, after losing the Grand Final in 1968, went on to win promotion to First Division the next season and made the grand final in its first year back, the only club to ever achieve this. Papley was a fine player and an excellent coach who left his mark on Williamstown and the VFA.
Max Papley, recruited as captain-coach in 1968 and took Williamstown to three grand finals, winning in 1969
Max was followed by Barry Gill (ex-Carlton) and then the Club appointed Ted Whitten as Coach in 1975. Williamstown finished last and it was back to Second Division and farewell to EJ! Mal Allen from the enemy – Port Melbourne – won a Second Division Premiership in 1976 and Willi returned to the First Division for one year. Merv Hobbs (Footscray), Rod Oborne (Collingwood and Richmond) then Hobbs again had little success.
The Board then had the foresight to appoint Terry Wheeler in 1984 and by 1986 he had gathered a group of players together, including AFL legend Barry Round, and was good enough to win Premierships in all three grades in 1986.
Captain-coach, Terry Wheeler, with Club president, Tony Hannebery, and new recruit, Barry Round, at Round's first night at training in 1986
More excitement was to follow. After two Grand Final defeats by Coburg in 1988 and 1989, Williamstown had a thrilling, come-from-behind victory in the 1990 grand final, led by captain-coach Barry Round, against Springvale. This Premiership was posssibly the most satisfying of them all, won in the face of tremendous odds. Appearing to finish runners-up for the third consecutive year, the events in the last quarter almost defied belief. Great memories captured in full living colour for everyone to see and re-live.
Scenes in the rooms after the 1990 grand final with Jack Aziz, Brian Patterson, trainer John Hogg, a young David Round and father Barry with the cup
All football clubs have their good and poor times. It is the measure of good football clubs that strength is gained from adversity. During the middle 1990's Williamstown slipped badly after finishing runner-up to Sandringham in 1992. Success began to desert the club and in 1995 the Club failed to win a game in either the firsts or seconds. The administration had also lost its way and the Club was on the brink of folding and joining many other ex-VFA teams on the scrap heap. The spirit of the players who remained with the Club in that period, such as Tony Pastore, Saade Ghazi, Adam Bugeja, Richie Hore, Adam Hough, Tommy McGowan and Troy West, amongst others, was quite remarkable, as many others left for 'greener pastures'.
Grim headlines at the end of the winless 1995 season, the worst year in the Club's long history
The cycle turned in 1996 with the appointment of new President Greg Swann and General Manager Brendan Curry who procured Merv Keane (ex Richmond premiership player) as Senior Coach. As in 1939 and 1968, a football team is led by its administration. The revamped Board and staff of the club begun the long and difficult task of establishing a long-term future for this proud club.
The mid 1990′s saw many changes to the competition. Firstly VFA clubs were granted a licence which linked each club with an affiliated TAC Cup Under 18 club – in Williamstown’s case the Western Jets. With the competition and its member clubs struggling to survive financially, a dwindling supporter base and our relevance in the football landscape diminishing, a revamp of the competition was necessary.
Following the VFA changing its name to the VFL in 1996, the decision to cease the AFL Reserves competition in 1999 opened the possibility of AFL clubs aligning with VFL clubs. The Western Bulldogs decided to split their players between Williamstown and Werribee for the 2000 season. At the completion of the 2000 season the Western Bulldogs decided to go alone with Werribee which opened the door for a Williamstown-Collingwood alliance. It was a perfect partnership with both clubs having a strong working class background, large supporter base and enjoyed success over a long period. Great names like Ron Todd and Des Fothergill had been outstanding players at both Williamstown and Collingwood.
The Williamstown/Collingwood alignment lasted for 7 years (2001-2007) and the highlight was the 2003 Premiership coached by Brad Gotch over Box Hill at Princes Park. During this alignment the Williamstown Football Club, on the back of establishing a strong and successful gaming venue (Seagulls Nest), was able to flourish financially and this was further boosted when Williamstown obtained a gaming and liquor license for a new venue at Caroline Springs called “The Club”. Another significant feature of this alignment was that Collingwood’s 2010 AFL Premiership contained 16 of the 22 players who had graduated to AFL level after beginning their careers with Williamstown in the VFL. Williamstown also had Brownlow Medallists Nathan Buckley, Dane Swan and Shane Woewodin represent the Seagulls during this time.
Successful Williamstown coach, Brad Gotch, with co-captains, Troy West and Brad Lloyd, and the 2003 premiership cup
At the end of the 2007 season, Collingwood chose to field their own stand-alone side in the VFL and Williamstown formed a new alignment with western suburbs neighbours, the Western Bulldogs. This partnership lasted six seasons and over those years a number of players graduated from the Seagulls to the Bulldogs. In 2010 another Brownlow Medallist in Jason Akermanis wore the famous Williamstown jumper in a number of games.
The Williamstown Football Club did not play or train at its Point Gellibrand home in 2011 due to an $8.3 million redevelopment. This saw the Club playing the majority of its home games at Werribee with one-off home games at Torquay, Keilor and Wangaratta.
At the conclusion of the 2013 VFL season, the alignment between Williamstown and the Western Bulldogs ended, allowing the club to return to its traditional standalone structure in 2014.
2014 was also the club’s 150th year anniversary, and to celebrate, a Hall of Fame function was held to celebrate the club’s history and also induct 51 past players, officials and volunteers into the Williamstown FC Hall of Fame. Five past players (Ron Todd, Ray Smith, Gerry Callahan, Barry Round & Ian Rickman) were also elevated to ‘Legend’ status.
In their first season returning to standalone status, Williamstown reached the preliminary final against Box Hill and only narrowly missed out on a grand final appearance.
In 2015 Williamstown won their first premiership since 2003 and their first back as a stand alone club. The Seagulls, coached by Andy Collins, defeated Box Hill by 54 points at the Docklands stadium with Michael Gibbons named best-on-ground and recipient of the Norm Goss Memorial Medal.
Williamstown captain Ben Jolley with coach Andy Collins and the 2015 premiership cup
Three Williamstown men have been President of the Victorian Football Association – J.J. Liston (he of the Liston Medal and Liston Stakes and the second-longest serving VFA president), John Grieve and Tony Hannebery (former player, 10-year President of WFC and former All-Australian Amateur footballer).
Williamstown has proved a great training ground for coaches as well. Wally Carter and Terry Wheeler both coached VFL/AFL teams after success at Williamstown. This club is a great organisation – like many football clubs it has a great reservoir of committed people who are here only to see the club succeed.
Williamstown Football Club won a premiership in each decade of the 1900s except the second – 1907, 1921, 1939, 1945, 1949, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1969 (Second Division), 1976 (Second Division), 1986 and 1990, followed by two more in 2003 and 2015. Each of these Premierships hold special memories for our club.
Games record holder: Ben Jolley 217 (2008-2018)
Goals record holder: Ron Todd 672 (1940-1949)
Most premierships as coach: Wally Carter 3 (1954-55-56)
Longest-serving coach: Gerry Callahan 202 games (1958-67, 118 wins, 81 losses, 3 draws)
Longest-serving captain: 6 seasons, Walter Warren (1895-1899 & 1901), Gerry Callahan (1954-59) and Ben Jolley (2012-17)
Most premierships as player: 5 Gerry Callahan, Ray Smith, John Ramsay (1954-55-56-58-59)
Longest-serving president: Trevor Monti 17 years (1999-2015)
Longest winning sequence: 22 (1956-57)
Longest losing sequence: 19 (1994-95)
Norm Goss Medallists: Tony Pastore 1986, Barry Round 1990, Adrian Fletcher 2003, Michael Gibbons 2015
J.J. Liston Trophy winners: Charlie Stanbridge (1933*), Fred Brooks (1935**), Neville Huggins (1936** and 1937*), Arthur Cutting (1938* and 1939**), Des Fothergill (1941*), Johnny Martin (1956), Barry Round (1987), Brett McTaggart (1988), Saade Ghazi (1989), Paul Dooley (1996) and Michael Gibbons (2016 and 2018)
*The award was then known as The Recorder Cup. Stanbridge also won the VFA Medal the same year, as did Neville Huggins in 1937, Arthur Cutting in 1938 and Des Fothergill in 1941.
** The award was then known as The VFA Medal.
J. (Jack) Field Medal winners: Best and Fairest in Second Division Ian Nankervis (1968) and Colin Boyd (1976)
To see all williamstown premiership sides please click on the link below
To see williamstown football club team of the century click on the link below
Williamstown team of the century