Originally appeared in The Argus 2-May-1908. Observer (Donald McDonald) the great Australian Journalist looks back at the best players in his 30 years writing on football.
OLD FOOTBALL DAYS. TEAMS AND MEN.
(Reformatted and images added by Michael Riley)
I have been writing about football for nearly 30 years, and played it a little, by way of apprenticeship.
My first experience of senior football was against Hotham. We brought them out on to a country grass plot, and night before the match, a family bereavement deprived us of ten of our best players—and the present agricultural editor of "The Australasian" was, I think, the smallest man amongst them.
Not more than a half-dozen of our poor countrymen knew the game, but they made up in ferocity what they lacked in skill. One or two played Irish rules, which were to kick high meet the ball with another fierce punt as it came down. Our colours were a green with a scarlet band-the rest was left largely to individual taste judgment in the matter of good wear and tear. Close-laced canvas jackets were match fancied. There was nothing to grip, and when new the canvas had a most unhappy effect upon the finger nails.
For two long forlorn hours George M'Shane and I played to each other and the majority of the Hotham team, which included such find footballers as Joe Traynor, Bruce, M'Lean Fuhrop, "Tiger" Gardiner, and ever so many more, played "for" us.
It was a sad and sore experience. I remember very vividly one particular "rib-bender" from the black-haired Mr. Bruce who really did not mean anything though he almost achieved manslaughter. We came to the Royal- park for another beating, found that a few of the Hotham cracks held us in poor esteem and got our revenge.
On that occasion we took in a substitute who said that he belonged to the Rising Sun. He really was the rising sun-E. Powell. who afterwards captained the Essendon team.
Later on I had a few games with Essendon just when they were promoted from the retirement of M'Cracken's paddock where football was sociable as well as a strenuous sport. Essendon gained strength and seniority by fusion with St. Kilda. They drew from that suburb such fine players as Colonel Fred Hughes, his younger brother, Dr.J.Wilfred Kent Hughes,-who as a boy was merely "Billy" - H. W. Bryant, the barrister (a fine half-back who closed his football abruptly with a fractured thigh, "Jumbo" Carter (who finished the game in a desperate fashion), George Miller (a fine player) and others whom I have forgotten. In the home-grown article they had three, great players in James Robertson. T. Chadwick and George Dodd
At that time local rivalries were a bitter feature of the game. It was even then apparent that one suburb could only maintain one senior football team - the trouble was which should be the team. So Carlton had its local trouble with the Carlton Imperial; there were no battles more bitter than those fought between Geelong and Barwon at the Corio Oval and a keen rivalry at Albert-park ended in the founding of present South Melbourne Club - though speaking from memory. I think many of the Albert-park men went over to Hotham.
It is difficult to make a comparison between the champions of a quarter of a century ago and the cracks of to-day. Practice was just as important then as now, but there was little, if any, training; certainly none of the physical exercises and the gymnasium preparations of to-day. The old game was of the slow, sturdy order, the player's want of fitness did not always find him out. Practice consisted mainly of drop- kicking and running with the ball; the high marking, especially in a crush, was not, nearly so good as it is now, the drop -kicking much better; hand passing was almost unknown: the "little mark”, a novelty of the game had yet to be elaborated into a nuisance. Every team was, more or less proud of the possession of a "goal-sneak" who kicked more goals than he sneaked and the best of the "sneaks" like Dedman of Carlton - now one of the rulers of the Association could easily hold his own with the pick of the present forwards. In like manner and with the same preparation, the cracks of the past would have been conspicuous men amongst the best of the moderns.
One has a kindly feeling for those old worthies. There is always a rosy glow about our early mornings and memory and imagination are apt to be confused. Trying honestly to keep the two faculties apart. I doubt if any team will show us this afternoon finer footballers than Coulthard of Carlton or Traynor of Hotham. They played the game under harder conditions.
The shoulder-to-shoulder charge. now penalised was considered one of the manliest features-and it meant woe to the man with a narrow chest. The little men had recourse to a trick of dropping suddenly in front of stronger and faster player which was quickly tabooed as "rabbiting." The phrase still survives in the rules though the practice is unknown.
The sly hits with fist and elbow which are the disfigurements of modern football were unknown, though it was not at all uncommon for differences of opinion to be settled privately at an early hour on the following Sunday morning.
If a dozen different men, all familiar with the games of the last thirty years. were asked to name the finest footballer they had ever seen there would without doubt be striking differences of opinion. Those who followed one team are naturally prejudiced, and strong, if earnest, in their preferences.
Some great players come into the range of vision when one looks for the champion.
In the middle distance we see Peter Burns, Young and M'Kay of South Melbourne; Baker, james Wilson, T. Parkin, and H.M'Lean, of Geelong; M'Kenzie, M'Ginnis, Moysey, and D. Aitken of Melbourne; Thurgood, Adams and Forbes of Essendon: S. Bloomfield and M'Intosh, of Carlton; Cleary, Worrall, Banks and Sloane of Fitzroy; Tankard and Carroll, of North Melbourne; Marmo of Footscray; Jones and Warren, of Williamstown, Hannaysee of Port Melbourne; and ever so many more.
In recent years we have seen great, footballers in Cumberland of St. Kilda; Condon and Drohan of Collingwood; Trotter of Fitzroy; Johnson, of Carlton; Chase of Brunswick and Armstrong, of West Melbourne.
Source: Otway Jack's Football Cards
Source: Otway Jack's Football Cards
Ranging over them all and considering their manifold merits, it is difficult to find one outstanding player, but driven to a choice I should name F. M'Ginnis of Melbourne, as a peer amongst them all. He was in every sense a model footballer if not a flyer, he had sufficient pace. His strength was altogether deceptive - only those who felt it fully realised it; yet he never used his strength ungenerously, but played the fairest of football. There was no weak point in his powers - he kicked marked and ran with equal facility, yet without trace of selfishness. Further, be nearly always led a forlorn hope, for Melbourne was weak in the years he played with them. He had to make his own opportunities. The best compliment I ever heard paid to M'Ginnis was the spontaneous observation of a little St. Kilda player:- "If I had your strength or you had my temper, what terrors we would be."
Next to M'Ginnis I would place Coulthard, Peter Burns, and Thurgood; though the neatest cleverest footballer I have seen was Hannaysee of Port Melbourne.
Effective captaincy is a rare gift amongst footballers, many of whom gain the leadership rather by their merit as players than by their capacity for control. The need for good captaincy is greater now, I think than at any other period in the history of Australian football. The best captains I have known were, perhaps, Alick Dick, of Essendon; Elms, of South Melbourne; Strickland, of Collingwood; Houston, of North Melbourne; M. Minchin of South Melbourne; and Worrall and Sloan, of Fitzroy. All things considered, I think Dick, Elms, and Houston, as football generals, take precedence in that order.
OLD FOOTBALL DAYS. TEAMS AND MEN. (1908, May 2). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 18.
On Trove http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10672526
NoteFor more information on Donald McDonald see:
Australian Media Hall of Fame: http://halloffame.melbournepressclub.com/article/donald-macdonald
Australian Dictionary of Biography: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macdonald-donald-alaster-7335