Great Football Dramas — No. 13 Fitzroy First To Smash Collingwood's Great System
By P. J. Millard ("Short Pass")

This article originally appeared in the Sporting Globe (Melbourne) 20-Jul-1935 p8

WHILE the famous Collingwood team of 1902, with their brand-new system, were careering through the season in an unbroken sequence of brilliant victories, it looked as though no side could live against them. To their seemingly effortless but devastating system, which was paralysing powerful opponents and revolutionising the game, there appeared to be no immediate counter.

Yet Fitzroy, with resourcefulness and football brains, actually found a means of check-mating the apparently invincible system, and, by carefully thought-out tactics, downed the mighty Magpies in a sensational semi-final that season.

Having demonstrated that Collingwood's new style of play was vulnerable. Fitzroy left the scene, defeated by Essendon in the "final." That removed the big obstacle from the 'Woodsmen's path. Beating Essendon, they won the 1902 premiership—their first since the formation of the League in 1897, though in all the preceding seasons they had been one of the leaders, well up on the premiership list. They were second to Essendon in 1901.

Collingwood discovered their system accidentally while on tour in Tasmania early in the 1902 season.

From Triumph To Triumph

To say that the Magpies flabbergasted other League sides with their revolutionary methods when they returned to Melbourne is to put it mildly. Geelong were their first victims—and at Geelong too, Collingwood, although just off the boat after severe seasickness, won by 12-12 to 6-8. Geelong got the shock of their lives, vainly chasing an elusive ball. That was the ‘Woodsmen's tenth victory of the season. They had lost only two matches, and were level for first place with. Essendon and Fitzroy their great rivals.

From triumph to triumph soared the Magpies as though practising witchcraft with the ball. In their dazzling run they trounced, in turn. Fitzroy, St. Kilda by 19-13 to 1-4, Essendon. Carlton, South Melbourne, Fitzroy and Geelong. An apparently irresistible combination, scintillating with stars. Collingwood looked certainties, not only for the premiership, but to sweep through the season without defeat, beyond the two in their pre-system days.

On Saturday, September 6, 1902, came the thunderbolt, Collingwood, -the supposedly invincible team, met their Waterloo in a semi-final at the hands Fitzroy- up to then a less impressive side on paper and performances, semi-final was played before a crowd of 12,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. On the same afternoon Essendon (9.7) defeated Melbourne (7.9) in the other semi-final, at Carlton oval

Scores quarter by quarter, in the sensational Fitzroy-Collingwood semi-final were:—

Fitzroy2.35.58.999.10 (64)
Collingwood0. (48)

Fitzroy's victory was clear-cut and convincing.
Many colorful football personalities, some of them still helping the game they love, took part in that memorable match, the teams being:—

Backs: J. Lockwood, Proudfoot, Dummett.
Half-backs: McCormack, Monahan, Bob Rush.
Centres: Pannam, F. Leach, Allan.
Half-f.: E. Lockwood, Rowell, Tulloch (c)
Forwards; Angus, A. Leach, Pears.
Followers: Hailwood, Fell.
Rover: Condon.

Backs; B. Best, Geoff. Moriarty, McDonald
Half-b. Jenkins, Jim Sharp, McCarthy
Centres: Bartless, Clarke, Shea
Half-f: Wilkinson, Brosnan, Trotter
Forwards: McSperrin (c), Milne, W. Naismtth.
Followers: E. Sharp, Smith.
Rover: Barker.

Umpire: Gibson.

Before the semi-final. Fitzroy realised that extraordinary measures were essential for any hope of success against Collingwood's by now highly-developed system, which had attained such perfection that at times it appeared that the Magpies had the ball to themselves in a match, and that all opposition had magically vanished! So efficient were the Magpies that they ' planned many moves before the match with blackboard and chalk in their dressing room. Imaginary moves were made and check-mated, as in a game of chess.

Audacious Plot Hatched

At a Fitzroy players meeting on the Thursday before the match a crafty, but amazingly simple, plot for, Collingwood's overthrow was hatched. It was all very audacious, because Fitzroy were a smaller and lighter side than Collingwood, did not possess as many: champions, and had none of Collingwood's prestige and aplomb. The Maroons, however, had a remarkably, even side. Hardly one man stood out; from his fellows, if the peerless Percy Trotter be excepted.

Every Thursday night before a match, Fitzroy would hold a players meeting to devise the field strategy for the Saturday. They were no formal affairs. but intensely earnest discussions, in which every possible angle of play was explored, and plans laid to overthrow the enemy. Every player had a say, Officials and trainers also gave advice. Fitzroy was fortunate to have a fine band of old players headed by Tom Banks, as chairman of the selection committee, and Con Hickey s secretary, filling those positions. Their advice was invaluable. After assimilating all the views, the captain and vice-captain would plan the Saturday’s strategy.

In this way was the bombshell for Collingwood prepared. Billy McSperrin captain, and Gerald Brosnan, vice-captain, applied the finishing touches.

The plan was for every Fitzroy man to mark a Magpie for his own, and stick to him like glue, thus preventing those swift match-winning exchanges. Ted Rowell, Collingwood’s wonderful goal-kicker of those years, was to be specially checked. In previous matches his long shots, shots, mostly placed, from half-forward, had wrought havoc. It was the fashion then for the crack goal-kicker to be centre half-forward. Dick Lee set the new vogue of a full-forward. goal-sneak a few years later.

A severe blow to Fitzroy was that Tammy Beecham was unable to play, through injury. He was the very man to keep Rowell reasonably quiet. Even so. the Maroon defenders seemed to cope! with Mr Rowell pretty well!

Fitzroy s strategy, was carried out to the letter by a grim, resolute band. of players. They stuck to their men like leeches.

Sporting Globe 20-Jul-1935 P8 Jim Sharp Fitzroy
Sporting Globe 20-Jul-1935 P8 Jim Sharp Fitzroy

Short-Lived Joy

Fitzroy's jubilation was short-lived: They went under to Essendon in the preliminary final by 6.9 to 4.10. But they had achieved undying l fame as the first team to vanquish Collingwood, the side of super footballers. glistening with its new system.

Dramatically regaining their confidence. and form, and playing magnificently, Collingwood romped home by 9.6 (60), to 3.9 (27) against Essendon in the grand final and so won the 1902 League pennant in brilliant style. Rowell and Lockwood each got three goals for the Magpies, and the immortal Albert Thurgood, who was closely guarded, only one for the 'Dons.

That was Collingwood's first of nine League premierships — a record. Fitzroy are next with seven, and then follow Essendon with six, and Carlton with five. In 38 seasons, since the League was formed in 1897. until 1934. Collingwood; have missed the "four" only five times— another record.

Whether they .would have been premiers in 1902, had Essendon not knocked Fitzroy out in the preliminary final, is unwritten football history.


Editors Note

Images from the Semi Final

Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 1
Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 1

Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 2
Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 2

Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 3
Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 3

Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 4
Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 4

Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 5
Punch Melbourne 11 Sep 1902 P17 Fitzroy V Collingwood 5

Collingwood Team

Collingwood 1902
Collingwood 1902

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