Williamstown history - Feature videos
1921 Premiership- 100 years on (By Gerard Drew)
2021 is 100 years since Williamstown's 1921 VFA premiership, the second flag in the Club's history.
After finishing in fourth place at the conclusion of the home and away season, the 'Towners won all three finals games and defeated minor premiers Footscray in the Grand Final 8.9.57 to 5.9.39 in front of a crowd of 20,000 fans at Brunswick Street Oval.
1921 was a tumultuous year for both Williamstown and the VFA with many significant events taking place throughout the season.
APPOINTMENT OF JIM CALDWELL AS CAPTAIN-COACH
Jim ‘Ginger’ Caldwell was the youngest member of Williamstown’s 1907 premiership side, the Club’s first, after being recruited from Newport Juniors in 1905. He transferred to South Melbourne in 1909 and played 155 games and kicked 34 goals up until the end of 1919. He captained South in his last two seasons, including the 1918 premiership side, and represented the VFL on two occasions. He played briefly for Footscray in the VFA in 1920 before becoming captain-coach of Camperdown, the first coach of a club in the Western Districts.
Jim returned to Williamstown as captain-coach for the 1921 & 1922 seasons, before heading to Perth as captain-coach in 1923 & 1924. He returned to Melbourne in the second half of 1925 to coach Carlton and then moved on to Rutherglen in 1926 as coach. He coached South Melbourne for four matches in 1929 before resigning and passing away later in the year, on August 20, aged just 41. He was selected on a wing in the WFC Team of the Century and is a member of the Club’s Hall of Fame.
Two brothers, Bob (1895-1904) and Arthur (1902-10), also played for Williamstown. Arthur was also a member of the 1907 premiership team and spent one season with St Kilda in 1909. Arthur died as a result of gunshot wounds received at Gallipoli on July 14, 1915.
PASSING OF PHIL SKEHAN
Phil Skehan was a teammate of Jim Caldwell in South Melbourne’s premiership team of 1918 and, following a dispute with South, he was cleared to Williamstown in June 1921 after 38 games in red and white. The following weekend he was selected in Williamstown’s team for the round 6 match at Windy Hill against Essendon Association and, at about the 10-minute mark of the first quarter, he was involved in a violent collision with an Essendon player named Richards and sustained a broken leg and severe concussion.
He was taken from his home in Douglas Parade, Williamstown, to Coonara Private Hospital in St Kilda Road the following day after suffering a brain hemorrhage and never regained consciousness before passing away the following Friday night at the age of 26, leaving behind a wife and infant child. He was believed at the time to be the first footballer to lose his life as a result of an on-field injury. A coronial enquiry held shortly after found his death to be accidental.
NORTH MELBOURNE LEAVE THE VFA
The 1921 season was disrupted when North Melbourne suddenly disbanded after round 8, just prior to the scheduled clash with Williamstown at Arden Street, and the Villagers were the only team that never played North in this season. This was a result of off-field manoeuvres in both the VFA and VFL which stemmed from the scheduled closure of the East Melbourne Cricket Ground at the end of the season in order for the Flinders Street railyards to be extended so as to accommodate the parking of new electric trains.
This meant that the Essendon VFL team had to find a new home after playing at the ground since 1882. In late June 1921 it announced that it would move to Arden Street, as 800 of Essendon's 1700 members lived in North Melbourne, West Melbourne and Kensington and the Club felt the gate returns would be greater in the more centrally-located North ground. North saw this as an opportunity to enter the VFL as it was felt that Essendon could not retain its name while playing at Arden St and that soon the majority North Melbourne-based members would force it to be rebranded as North.
The North committee formally announced that it would seek an amalgamation with the Essendon VFL club for the 1922 season and promptly disbanded rather than play out the season as the VFA had threatened the Club and the entire committee with disqualification and it also gave the players time to seek a transfer before the 1 July deadline. North Melbourne Juniors offered to take over the senior Club's fixtures, but the VFA rejected the proposal.
Three players from North came to Williamstown, namely Herb Miles, Jack O'Connell and Bob Clark, with the first two going on to play in the premiership team. (Miles was the father-in-law of Bill Raffle and grandfather of John Raffle). It was a presumptuous move by North as no agreement had been reached with Essendon on the matter of a merger. The VFA appealed to the State Minister for Lands, requesting that he veto Essendon's move, as the Arden Street ground was owned by Melbourne City Council. He upheld the appeal, and within two weeks Essendon had reached agreement with the Essendon Council to play for the next five years at Windy Hill. This prompted the Essendon Association team to disband in December, bringing an end to its 22-year existence.
The VFA wanted to maintain its most central club and re-admitted North in December, on the proviso that an entirely new committee be appointed, just as what had occurred in 1908. After North disbanded, the team that was scheduled to play North had a bye but received four points. Williamstown was the only team that had two byes during the season. It was a peculiar coincidence that in 1907, when Williamstown won their last premiership, North Melbourne were disqualified for attempting to enter the VFL and in 1921 the same thing occurred.
At the completion of the home-and-away rounds of the 1921 season Williamstown finished in fourth position, one game clear of Northcote but three and a half games behind third-placed Brunswick. Footscray (first) and Port Melbourne (second) made up the final four.
Williamstown had not beaten any of the other finalists during the season and was not expected to advance beyond the first semi-final, which was played against Port at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 24 before a crowd of 15,000. After Port led by a goal at quarter time, the Villagers added 6.5 to 2.1 in the second quarter to open up a handy 22-point lead by half-time.
Williamstown advanced the lead to 26 points at the last change, which was the margin at the end of the game, 15.11.101 to 11.9.75. Fred Carpenter kicked 4 goals while best players were Bob King, Harry Haughton, Norm McDonald and Carpenter.
In the Sporting Globe on August 24 1935, while reminiscing about this game, it was remarked by sports reporter, P.J. Millard, that 'Bob King, as on many other occasions, was Williamstown's star in that stern struggle. His marking at centre half-back was dazzling.Association supporters still talk about it. By many he is regarded as one of Williamstown's three greatest players since the (First World) war, Allan Geddes, of Richmond, and Arthur Sykes being the others.'
ABANDONMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINAL
Williamstown advanced to what is now called the preliminary final against Footscray at East Melbourne on October 8 in front of 10,000 spectators and held a 4-point lead half-way through the third quarter (after the Tricolours had kicked 3 goals in 3 minutes) when a torrential hailstorm hit the ground.
The playing surface was turned into a sheet of ice within a minute of the storm hitting and caused the game to be abandoned with the score reading 10.5.65 to 9.7.61. The Argus reported that 'the oval was a sea of ice, and further play was impossible. Some of the players had been cut with pieces of jagged ice and ..... one of the boundary umpires had several wounds on his head.' There were even reports of the hail cutting holes in umbrellas.
Footscray wanted to resume the game once the storm had abated but Williamstown declined, and a hurried meeting of Association officials decided to abandon the match due to the risk of injury to players. Fred Carpenter again kicked 4 goals and better players were Stan Mitchell, Carpenter, Jack MacDonald, Jack O'Connell, Hugh Munro, Harry Haughton, and captain-coach, Jim Caldwell.
THE PRELIMINARY FINAL REPLAY
The replay of the abandoned ‘preliminary’ final, effected by a heavy ground and a greasy ball due to rain during the week leading up to the game, was won by Williamstown by just 3 points, 9.14.68 to 10.5.65, the first victory over Footscray since round 5 of 1915. The Tricolours had only lost one game during the season prior to this match, at Port Melbourne by 2 goals in round 7, and also played a draw in round 2 at Brunswick.
This was the last game played on the famous old East Melbourne Cricket Ground as the Railways Commissioners required the Flinders Street railyards to be extended so as to accommodate the parking of new electric trains and was the catalyst for the Essendon VFL team’s proposed move to Arden Street.
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, 1.5 to 3.3 including three successive misses by Jim McAuliffe, reduced 'Town's lead to 13 points at half-time, which was further narrowed to just 10 points by the last change of ends, although the Villagers had 10 more shots at goal to lead 8.14 to 8.4. McAuliffe goaled from a free kick inside four minutes of the start of the last quarter, which would be ‘Town’s last score of the match.
Footscray, kicking with the breeze, battled on and scored a goal to reduce the margin to 3 points with just two minutes remaining but Williamstown hung on thanks to Stan Mitchell and Jim Caldwell bottling the ball up on the wing to score a hard-fought victory, with McAuliffe and Mitchell both kicking 3 goals, although McAuliffe also registered 7 behinds. Better players were Mitchell, vice-captain Dick Condon, captain-coach 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 to decide the premiership, which took place at Fitzroy's Brunswick St. Oval on October 22 in front of a crowd of 20,000.
This was the one and only time that this venue was used for a VFA finals match and only occurred due to Fitzroy Cricket Club’s first and second teams having a bye in the first round of district cricket.
It was the third consecutive week that the two teams had met each other. Captain-coach, Jim Caldwell, broke a small bone in his forearm in the replayed final, but took the field with his injured arm in plaster. Footscray selectors were so displeased with the form of the team in the replayed final that eight changes were made for the 'challenge' match.
After Caldwell won the toss and kicked with a strong breeze the Villagers got away to a bright start kicking to the Brunswick St. end and led 2.1 to 0.4 at quarter time, despite the heavy ground and the greasy ball proving difficult to hold. Despite Bob King's aerial supremacy and the valiant efforts of the other defenders, the Tricolours used the wind to their advantage and had taken the lead by half-time, with the score reading 3.6 to 2.5.
A 5-goal third quarter gave 'Town a 9-point advantage at the last change, 7.5 to 5.8, and when Footscray's Dr. Roy Park, the former University and Melbourne player and Australian and Victorian cricketer, hit the post within seconds of the start of the last term a close finish appeared likely. However, that was their only score for the term while Williamstown added a goal from rover, Norm McDonald, after a smart tap-down from Harry Haughton to secure the flag for the Villagers.
Caldwell was named among the best players in the premiership victory, downing the Tricolours 8.9.57 to 5.9.39. Other good players on the day were best-on-ground, Bob King, vice-captain Dick Condon, Jack MacDonald, former Footscray player Hugh Munro, Herb Miles, Tom Geisler, Jack O'Connell, Laurie Smith, Dave Elliman, Richard 'Ginger' Armstrong, Stan Mitchell and Fred Carpenter (3 goals).
Jim McAuliffe, who kicked 2 goals to give him 63 for the season, a new Club record, and made him second on the VFA list behind George 'Toots' Taylor of Port Melbourne, who booted 78. The team kicked a total of 196 goals and 242 behinds (1418 points - a new Club record) to 143 goals and 200 behinds (1058 points) during the course of the season.
Other good players of that season were Jim 'Corker' Jamieson, Harry Haughton and Norm McDonald. Other major goalkickers were former captain-coach Haughton with 33, Fred Carpenter 26, Hugh Munro 17, Stan Mitchell 13, Fred Harden 12 and Norm McDonald 11.
Jim McAuliffe and Stan Mitchell were both selected to represent the VFA in a clash with a WA Goldfields team at East Melbourne in August, which the VFA won 18.10.118 to 2.5.17, with McAuliffe kicking six of the goals.
Before the end of the year, Williamstown, along with Footscray and Prahran, which finished second-last on the 1921 ladder, had unsuccessfully applied to join the Victorian Football League, although the Tricolours did gain admittance in 1925.
1921 VFA Grand Final
Footscray: 0.4 3.6 5.8 5.9 39
Williamstown: 2.1 2.5 7.5 8.9 57
Date: October 22nd, 1921
Venue: Brunswick Street Oval
Williamstown's 1921 premiership team:
Backs: Charlie Stanbridge Herb Miles Tom Geisler
Half-backs: Dick Condon (v.c.) Bob King Jack MacDonald
Centres: Jack O'Connell Dave Elliman Laurie Smith
Half-forwards: Jim Caldwell (c.c.) Harry Haughton Hugh Munro
Forwards: Fred Carpenter Jim McAuliffe Stan Mitchell
Followers: Jim Jamieson Richard Armstrong
Rover: Norm McDonald
1921 premiership squad
Back row: Dave Elliman*, Bob King*, Jim Jamieson*, Charlie Stanbridge*, Cyril 'Pompy' Blunt, Harry Haughton*, Bob Clark, Richard 'Ginger' Armstrong*, Tom Geisler*
Middle row: Hugh Munro*, Fred Carpenter*, Herb Miles*, Jim Caldwell (captain-coach)*, Dick Condon (vice-captain)*, Jim McAuliffe*, Jack MacDonald*
Front row: Jack O'Connell*, Laurie Smith*, Stan Mitchell*, Norm McDonald*
* = played in 1921 grand final v. Footscray at Brunswick St, won by Williamstown 8.9.57 to 5.9.39
Additional editing provided by Nicholas Sacco
Director nomination applications are open until Wednesday 17th November 2023.
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