An interesting match will be played in Melbourne tomorrow, when representative teams from the League and Association will meet to decide Victorian football supremacy.

Although the Association is an older body than the League, the League matches draw larger crowds. The Victorian Association plays under the old rules of throwing-in from the boundary and the "flick" pass, but for tomorrow's match they will play under the Australian Football Council rules. All League and Association matches have been postponed, and a large attendance is likely to witness the match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The League will be eager to avenge the 1924 defeat which Essendon (1924 VFL premiers) suffered at the hands of Footscray (1924 Association premiers).

Advertiser and Register (Adelaide 5-June-1931 p.8)


King George V - Australasian 28-May-1932 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection
King George V - Australasian 28-May-1932 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection

For football followers in Victoria, the King's Birthday weekend of June 1931 arrived accompanied by a definite buzz of excitement. The first VFL-VFA game since 1902 was about to commence at the MCG.1

Many Victorian football followers in 1931 would still have remembered the original 1897 split between the VFL and VFA, just as they would have remembered the 1908 desertion of Richmond to the VFL and the 1925 departure to the big league of Hawthorn, Footscray and North Melbourne. The last big game between the VFA and VFL had been the famous 1924 Footscray (VFA premiers) victory over Essendon, VFL premiers. In 1931, for both competitions, and for their supporters, pride was definitely at stake.

After the upheavals of the 1920s, the Victorian Football League had become, with certainty, the dominant football competition in Victoria. (In interstate competition, the League was also supreme. Between 1919 and 1929, South Australia had been competitive against the VFL, winning seven of 22 games. The 1930's would turn out to be different - South Australia won only three of 17 games between 1930 and 1939. The VFA’s standing in interstate competition could not be gauged as it had been cut out of interstate football since before the First World War).

In 1931, the ‘Great Depression' had long set in. Across the whole of Australia extremely high unemployment made life difficult and tough for most working-class people. Sir Isaac Isaacs had been sworn in as the first Australian-born Governor-General of Australia. Cinemas had recently been refitted for ‘talkies’ (although Charlie Chaplin, among others, continued to make silent films). In May 1931, the construction of the World's Tallest Building, the ‘Empire State’, had just been completed.

In sport, Phar Lap had won the 1930 Melbourne Cup and, after fourteen Test matches and eight Test centuries, the young Don Bradman’s Test match average was 94.45. In Melbourne, on the Saturday night of the 1931 King's Birthday weekend, the 21-year-old local boxer Ambrose Palmer went up against the American Herman Bundren. This was a rematch of their Sydney fight a few weeks earlier. Palmer won both bouts on points. The following year he became Australian Heavyweight champion. Palmer continued boxing professionally until 1938. 2Palmer also turned out as a regular senior player for Footscray in the VFL, his football career spanning the period between 1933 and 1943.3

In the VFL, Collingwood’s run of four successive premierships (1927-30) was about to end. 1931 would be Geelong’s year. Twenty-year-old Haydn Bunton, in his first season with Fitzroy, was on his way to the first of his three Brownlow Medals, while at Richmond, a young Jack Dyer was completing the first of his many seasons with the Tigers.

The Argus newspaper reported on King's Birthday weekend that the VFL had recently addressed the issue of umpires apparently not hearing the final bell. Mr Rush, the Collingwood representative, protested the awarding of a goal to Carlton after the bell the previous Saturday.4 The first siren, rather than a bell, was used by the VFL in an Essendon-Geelong match of 1933.

Most VFA clubs struggled to cope in the early years of the Depression. The King’s Birthday newspapers reported that Brighton Football Club had adopted “drastic economies” by letting go their non-playing coach and reducing player payments. Oakleigh, perhaps more fortunate, seemed to be heading for its second VFA flag in a row.4

The Teams

The VFL and VFA both fielded strong representative teams on King’s Birthday 1931. A representative side that includes players from all or most of the various clubs in a competition is not always the strongest possible team, but it does spread the burden of risk, especially important in a mid-season fixture. Twenty-two of a possible twenty-four teams were represented at the MCG on King’s Birthday. Notably, South Melbourne was not represented in the VFL team.

TheSun 5Jun1931 p18 Alan Hopkins Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection
TheSun 5Jun1931 p18 Alan Hopkins Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection
Alan Hopkins, who had lined up for VFA side Footscray in the famous 1924 match against Essendon, was still playing for Footscray and about to represent the VFL against the Association. (A number of Essendon players from the same 1924 match were, conversely, now playing in the VFA - although none of them would participate in this 1931 match. The former Essendon players were:Greg Stockdale (Northcote), Norm Beckton (Sandringham), Frank Maher (Oakleigh), Tom Fitzmaurice (Yarraville) and Harry Hunter (Yarraville). 5

The VFL Football Record of the day could not resist a little jab at the Association, remarking

"It is interesting to note that the League selection committee consists of three, viz., Messrs. D. Crone, A. J. Dummett and J. Irvine; whilst the Association team was selected by a delegate from each of the clubs comprising that body—rather an unwieldy number." (Football Record 6-June-1931, p.9)

A number of aging, big name players were missing from the VFA team:
  • Brighton captain Cyril Lilburne, a former Richmond captain.
  • Preston captain Roy Cazaly, formerly of St.Kilda and South Melbourne.
  • Brunswick captain Charlie E. Pannam?, formerly of Collingwood and South Melbourne.
  • Sandringham captain Norm Beckton, a former Essendon captain.

The VFA replaced the injured George Hunt (Brighton) – originally selected - with Eric Fleming (Oakleigh). Paddy Walsh of Essendon and Bill Mohr of St. Kilda, who had been included in the original twenty-four VFL names, were also injured.6

Reginald Wilmot writing as 'Old Boy' in the Argus, listed a wide range of players who would 'certainly improve the VFL team'. These included a significant number of Geelong, Collingwood and Richmond recommendations. Others were mentioned such as Peter Reville (South Melbourne), and Tommy Downs (Carlton) who a few weeks later would receive a sixty-week suspension for allegedly kicking Richmond captain Maurie Hunter.

Selection is always contentious, and Wilmot wrote "Football enthusiasts must take the team as they find it.".7

VFA Team in Royal Blue and Gold- Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection - Photographer Unknown
VFA Team in Royal Blue and Gold- Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection - Photographer Unknown

Back Row: Edward Bourke?, Joe Garbutt, Unknown, Frank Seymour, George Rudolph, Eric Fleming, Unknown, Unknown, Charlie Barnes
Middle Row: Bill Koop, Bert Taylor, A. Sykes, Unknown
Front Row: Unknown, Clarrie Mears, Doug Nicholls, Unknown, W. Lowe, Bill Summers?

BacksBill Koop
Joe Garbutt
Port Melbourne
Bert Taylor
Preston (Captain)
Half Backs Ted Bourke?
George Rudolph
Oakleigh (Vice Captain)
Arthur Sykes
CentreCharlie Barnes
Tom Brooker
Port Melbourne
Doug Nicholls
Half ForwardsRoy ‘Ginger’ Rodwell
ForwardsBill Summers?
Frank Seymour
Bill Bedford
Port Melbourne
FollowersEric Fleming
RoverClarrie Mears

Emergency: Arthur Lowe (Coburg) (19th man)

VFL Team in Dark Blue - Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection - Photographer Unknown
VFL Team in Dark Blue - Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection - Photographer Unknown

Back Row: Joe Kelly, Harold Matthews, Bert Foster, Charlie Davey, Reg Hickey, Gordon Coventry, Len Metherell, Alan Hopkins, Bill Spurling, Harold Rumney, Basil McCormack
Front Row: Charles Cameron, Jack Titus, Syd Coventry , Arthur Batchelor, Ted Poole, Len Johnson, Howard Okey, Bill Tymms

BacksSyd Coventry
Bill Tymms
Harold Rumney
Half-BacksHarold Matthews
St Kilda
Reg Hickey
Basil McCormack
CentresCharles Cameron
North Melbourne
Howard Okey
Joe Kelly
Half ForwardsJack Titus
Bill Spurling
Alan Hopkins
ForwardsArthur Batchelor
Gordon Coventry
Charlie Davey
FollowersBert Foster
Len Metherell
RoverTed Poole

Emergencies Len Johnson (19th man), Phillips, Alan Geddes (Richmond)

Links for Player Pages
1931 VFL v VFA Charity Match - Association Team
1931 VFL v VFA Charity Match - League Team


Umpires and officials were evenly selected from both the VFA and VFL.

Field: Scott (League), Murray (Association).
Boundary: Fitt (League),Martin (Association).
Goal: Bell (League), Woolfe (Association).

Timekeepers—J. Keating, Carlton (League) and W. J. Walker, Northcote (Association).
Football Record 6-June-1931, p.26.

Match Summary

VFL v VFA 1931 P1 - Source:State Library of Victoria
VFL v VFA 1931 P1 - Source:State Library of Victoria


Reginald Wilmot, writing as 'Old Boy' in the Argus, had been covering the football for over twenty-five years. His summary of the game was widely read:

Rain during the night and on Saturday morning and steady rain after midday had made the ground like a swamp. There were pools of water along the Harrison Stand wing, and with further rain threatening, it was a tribute to their enthusiasm for the game and their desire to help charities that so many people should have been prepared to risk a ducking. -Old Boy - Argus 8-June-1931 p.138

16,000 people turned out for the match. The warm-up game between State School teams was abandoned owing to the rain and the state of the ground. Music was provided by Preston Boys Band who played before the big match and Malvern Tramways Band who played during the intervals.7

VFL Football Record 1931 VFL v VFL p.21 Ross Faulkner Advertisement
VFL Football Record 1931 VFL v VFL p.21 Ross Faulkner Advertisement

Argus photo
Argus photo

Before Half Time

A few examples give the character of the VFL-VFA match:
Argus 8-June-1931 p.13.

...until halftime at any rate the entertainment was highly interesting, and the numerous falls, the splashing and sliding though the pools and the extraordinary antics of the players provided much amusement to onlookers. In addition there was a highly skilful exhibition of wet-day football, in which for the first half the Association players more than held their own. and at the interval Association supporters were enthusiastic and confident that their men would triumph.

''The first League rush was well turned but it was more like water polo than football. Players slithered and splashed, and found it impossible to hold the ball or keep their feet."

The first goal came after five minutes of play, clever passing by Hearn and Bedford taking the ball close to goal, where Mears scored with a quick kick off the ground - first blood to the Association.

In the stands women shrieked with delight at the grotesque but involuntary antics of the players, and the crowd fairly roared as Syd Coventry dived into a miniature lake.

Still pressing, the Association might have scored again, Mears missing an easy shot. Then the League took a hand and after Titus had kicked a behind, he did better with his next shot, and kicked a nice goal.

Half Time Score
League 2. 5 (17)
Association 3. 5 (23)

Belated Mark - Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection
Belated Mark - Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection

After Half Time

‘Old Boy’ continued:
Argus 8-June-1931 p.13

During the interval, however, the League men realised that they must dally no longer, and from the bounce of the ball after half-time the Association was outplayed and outmanouvred, and the game was then never in doubt. The reason for the change is not far to seek. As long as the League players were content to jog along leisurely the contest was even, but the moment the real pressure was applied the Association ranks broke.

In the third term the League kicked 6 goals 10 behinds to nil. In the final quarter the League kicked 4 goals 2 behinds to the Association’s 4 behinds. The final scores were
League 12. 17 (89)
Association 3. 9 (27)

Jack Titus, with five majors, was the leading goal kicker for the match.
Titus marks - Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection
Titus marks - Australasian 1931 - Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection

Best on Ground

‘Old Boy’ enthused about the performances of a number of players:

The best man on the ground was Basil McCormack, the Richmond half-back who seemed to revel in the mud. His dashes were irresistible and he has seldom shown better form. Rumney the Collingwood defender was not far behind him, his determination and dash being bewildering to the opposition forwards. He also did useful ruck work.

...on the other wing there was a thrilling contest between Nicholls (Northcote) and Kelly (Carlton), Nicholls perhaps handled the ball more often, and his rushes and squirming out of packs brought him rounds of applause. Kelly's value was that he used the ball to best advantage. He was less spectacular but more effective.

Wilson Cartoon - The Sun Sun 8 Jun1931p18 Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection
Wilson Cartoon - The Sun Sun 8 Jun1931p18 Source: State Library of Victoria Newspaper Collection

Final Notes

‘Old Boy’ penned a fairly limp compliment about the Association players: "...but for the Agreement which prevents the League from taking Association players without a clearance more than half the Association men would readily find places in League teams". His comment is interesting, as at least seven of the Association players had played League football already and a further four would go on to play at least a few VFL games.

Those who had already played League football:
  • Bill Koop (Carlton) 20 games
  • George Rudolph (Richmond) 80 games
  • Eric Fleming (Geelong ) 105 games
  • Ted Bourke (Richmond, South Melbourne) 38 games
  • Charlie Barnes (Melbourne 1927-29) 33 games
  • Frank Seymour (Carlton, Fitzroy) 11 games
  • Harry Johns (Footscray) 20 games

Those who would go on to play League football:
  • Doug Nicholls (Fitzroy) 54 games
  • Roy Rodwell (Footscray) 51 games
  • Bill Bedford (Fitzroy) 5 games
  • Joe Garbutt (St Kilda) 7 games

Rain Insurance

In consideration of the weather, the King’s Birthday match had been insured against rain. The Argus provided details of the deluge:

Mr S.W. Hedger, Secretary of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind had paid £115 for rain insurance for the match, insuring against 10 points of rain between 11am-3pm on the Saturday of the game.

It was a wise precaution for between the named hours 24 points of rain fell, and so, to use a sporting expression, Mr Hedger won easily.

There had been 95 points of rain up to 9am, then 4 points between 9am and 11am and then steady rain through the match.

It is interesting to note that Mr Hedger has on several occasions taken out a similar policy, but this is the first time that he has succeeded in “winning the bet” with the insurance company.9


Parking Fees - Argus 26-June-1931 p.15
Parking Fees - Argus 26-June-1931 p.15

Charity fared well from the match, with Gate Receipts £782, MCG Member Donations £250+ and Rain Insurance Collection £1500. The football profits from sale of the Football Record went to charity.10 Parking fines were also donated to charity.11

Expenses came to "no more than £25". This was in large part the premium on players injury insurance and probably also the cost of the rain insurance. Players, umpires, trainers, ground staff and the band participated without payment. Police did not charge for their services.12

Considering all the details, around £2500 was raised.

The money was donated as follows:
Blind Institute - 80%
Lord Mayor's Fund - 10%
Queen Victoria Hospital Appeal - 10%

Future Games

The VFL and VFA would play a number of games over the next few years, the VFL triumphing in each.13
1932 VFL 15 17 (107) d VFA 14 15 (99) Margin of 8
1934 VFL 21 17 (143) d VFA 17 8 (110) Margin of 33
1936 VFL 16 21 (117) d VFA 10 1 (61) Margin of 56
1936 VFL 14 15 (99) d VFA 10 1 (61) Margin of 38
1937 VFL 26 25 (181) d VFA 11 11 (77) Margin of 104

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End Notes

3. BOXING. (1931, June 6). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 11. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4401830
4. FOOTBALL. (1931, June 6). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 11. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4401848
5. Football Record 6-June-1931 p9
6. FOOTBALL. (1931, June 2). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 9. Retrieved December 4, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4393618
7. FOOTBALL. (1931, June 3). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 16. Retrieved November 26, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4390892
8. FOOTBALL. (1931, June 8). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 13. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4389457
9. (1931, June 8). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 8. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page484559
10. Football Record 6-Jun-1931 p.3
11. PARKING FEES FOR CHARITY. (1931, June 26). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 15. Retrieved November 26, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4397444
12. FOOTBALL. (1931, June 6). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. :1848_1956), p. 11. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4401848