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 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 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 Williamstown Alliance. 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 and the match was a nil-all draw.
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.
So few members attended the 1870 annual meeting, presumably in respect of the 1869 season, that a club could not be formed. However, the Williamstown 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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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'. 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 1879, the Williamstown Council granted the Club use of the Gardens (now Fearon) 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 J. 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' 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.
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.
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. Willimstown had an indifferent season but did manage to play a game at the MCG against Melbourne which was lost, 4.1 to 0.3.
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 before the 1882 season and led to Alfred Thomas Clark resuming the presidency, replacing Cr J. Jobson who had served six years in that role but stood down to make the union possible. Duncan McLeod also resumed as secretary/treasurer. 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. It also was reported that Williamstown won its first game at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) in seven years in this season. 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 administration 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.
Williamstown's first official match as a senior club in 1884 was played at Gardens (Fearon) Reserve on May 3 against Fitzroy. It was 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 with R. James 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). J. 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, Clarke, 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. J. 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. 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 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 'Barkley Bill' Jones and J. Clark among the best followers in the colony and A. 'Ginger' Worroll as one of the best defenders. Captain C. Laming was named amongst the best centre players and 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, J. 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. 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 W. 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 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.
A South Williamstown members ticket from 1887
Two amalgamations came about by order of the VFA, which was determined to reduce the number of teams in the competition, in 1888 when Prahran combined with St Kilda and the two Williamstown teams merged. Soon after the end of the 1887 season, the two secretaries, 'Tottie' Fitzpatrick and J. McAlister, came to agreement on an amalgamation 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.
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 which gave good service for many years. W.H. Roberts MLC, rose from vice-president to take over as president from Alfred Thomas Clark, who served out the year as treasurer, while William 'Jasper' Jones returned after a season with Carlton to captain the combine. W.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. The 'new' Williamstown finished the 1888 season in third position, behind only South Melbourne and Geelong.
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. 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
By 1887 there were 18 clubs in the VFA and amalgamations were ordered. Williamstown and South Williamstown combined and adopted the present cricket ground as its playing headquarters. South Williamstown's colours were blue and white, and the now famous Williamstown colours of blue and gold came into existence through the blue of South Williamstown and the gold of the original Williamstown. Williamstown finished last in their first senior season in the eight-club VFA, winning only two games, losing eight and having three draws from 13 encounters. They showed improvement over the next three seasons, and managed third place in 1888 with thirteen victories and a draw from 19 matches, behind only South Melbourne and Geelong in the 16-team competition.
The discontent of the more powerful clubs was heading towards a climax as the 1896 season got underway. Reforms such as the control of fixtures by the VFA, the poor gate returns from some games, the unruliness of crowds at some grounds (particularly Port and North Melbourne) and the hostility to open payments to players all contributed to the dissatisfaction of the inner suburban clubs. 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. By October their plan for a strong competition of just eight clubs was out in the open, and so 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. 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. Some officials tried to save the situation by promulgating a two division system with promotion and relegation but were ultimately unsuccessful.
1898 was notable for the entry of Cr J.J. (John James) Liston into both football administration and public life. His name became synonymous with Williamstown for, over many years, he served in most positions, including 12 terms as VFA delegate as well as being a capable player and captain. He was also elected onto Williamstown Council around this time when in his early 20's.
The Williamstown team pictured outside the tennis club pavilion at the Pt Gellibrand/Morris Street ground, circa 1900
Williamstown 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. The 'Town's score remains the Club's record lowest-ever winning score. Nine consecutive victories 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. Williamstown finished second on the ladder in 1900 with 12 wins from their 15 matches in the best result since promotion to senior football in 1884. There was no finals play-off system in place in the VFA until 1903.
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. 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 Williamstown team of 1904 which made the finals for the first time
Following the introduction of a 'final four' system in 1903, Williamstown qualified for the first time by finishing in third position in 1904 behind North Melbourne and Richmond and followed by Port Melbourne. 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.
The Club finished a very creditable third in 1905 and had twelve good wins in 1906, missing the finals by the narrowest of margins. Williamstown appointed a coach for the first time in 1906 when Horrie Dick was given the role as well as being elected captain of the team by the players. Two boundary umpires were also introduced by the VFA in this year. Jim 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.
Williamstown won its first premiership in 1907 under new captain-coach Paddy Noonan, a star from North Melbourne. Ted Alley was vice-captain. They won the first six games straight to take top spot from the previously undefeated West Melbourne. A couple of defeats after the eleventh round relegated the team to second spot before top place was regained three weeks before the end of the home-and-away rounds. By winning 17 of their 20 matches (the first six and last eight consecutively), Williamstown had taken out its first minor premiership. Two of the defeats 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, 5.11.41 to 3.9.27 in the first semi-final, with former captains Horrie Dick and Tom McKinley playing for the Tri-Colours against their former team. 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 4.2 to 0.2 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 trailed 5.9 to 2.9 at three-quarter time, and 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, Joe Garbutt Snr, Bert Reitman, the Caldwell brothers, Arthur and Jim, Bobby Gibbs Jnr and Dick McCabe. The leading goalkicker was Bill Lambert with 19, who was still the assistant property steward at the Club nearly 50 years later.
Captain-coach Paddy Noonan sensationally resigned just prior to the last home-and-away match. As a result Ted Alley captained the team for the remainder of the season and Matt 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 North Melbourne player and not from West Melbourne. They also thought that he was too friendly with opposition teams.
Richmond and University were admitted to the VFL in 1908 and were replaced by Northcote and Brighton. Williamstown enjoyed a good season winning 12 of the 18 home-and-away games to finish third. 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 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 Briggs also kicked the most goals in a season for the 'Town with a total of 59. Jim Addison kicked 39 for the year. Williamstown bowed out of the finals race in the first semi-final, losing to Footscray, the eventual premiers, at North Melbourne, 6.9.45 to 4.6.30, before a crowd of 12,000. 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 the passing of three former secreataries who had passed away since the last home game, namely G.W. Fleming, T.E. Edmunds and Duncan McLeod. 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.
A new committee imported W. 'Copper' Rourke from Prahran as the new captain-coach in 1910 with A. McKenzie the new vice-captain, but Rourke was not successful and was not reappointed in 1911. This was also the season that the Club temporarily adopted a yellow WFC monogram on a blue guernsey.
1912 was similarly unsuccessful, and the newly appointed captain-coach, George Angus from Collingwood, failed to see out the season. Once again, Ted Alley took over and Bert Reitman stepped up to become vice-captain. The one highlight of the year was the score of 21.15.141 to Melbourne City's 1.8.14 in round 11 at Williamstown (George Angus 5 goals) which became the 'Town's highest-ever score to date. In the game at Essendon on May 3, umpire Kendall awarded 111 free kicks in a fiery game between the Dons and Williamstown, which works out to one every 55 seconds approximately.
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. Eleven matches were won and seven lost to make the final four for the first time since 1908, but Williamstown were beaten by Footscray in the first final, 13.12.90 to 5.6.36 at East Melbourne before a crowd of 7,000.
Hall was reappointed non-playing coach for 1915 and Ted Alley became captain in lieu of Bert Reitman who retired and was awarded life membership. Bob Gibbs was elected vice-captain. Nine wins and four losses in a season truncated due to the advent of World War I saw Williamstown finish in third spot, but 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. Captain, Ted Alley, was dropped by the match committee for the final due to his late arrival for the previous match against Hawthorn.
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. 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.
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 Bob Gibbs vice-captain. Pre-war skipper, Ted Alley, transferred to Hawthorn and took Reg Wallis with him. 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.
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. One of the victories was over eventual runners-up, Brunswick. Haughton was leading goalscorer with a total of 24.
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 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 team recovered from this setback to finish the season in fourth place with 9 wins and 7 losses, 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. The preliminary final was also played at East Melbourne against Footscray, and Williamstown had a 4-point lead in the third quarter when a torrential hail storm hit the ground and caused the game to be abandoned. 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 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 MacDonald.
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.
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 Syd 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.
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 'Monty' 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.
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 'Monty' 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.
The VFA decided to bring its strength up to 12 clubs by admitting Oakleigh and Sandringham in 1929. 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.
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. 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.
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. Jim Shanahan had been appointed playing coach but his employer, the police department, would not allow him to take up the role. Gordon Helwig 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 Helwig captain. Arthur 'Porky' Sykes was originally named vice-captain but Shanahan finished in that role after things were straightened out. Shanahan had played previously with Collingwood, Carlton, Fitzroy and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 records not being kept prior to 1935, Brooks became officially the first player to reach 100 senior Club games in the round 6 match at Sandringham, 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 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 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 226 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 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. 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 player Bert Amy 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.
An early-season sensation occurred when the 1938 negotiations with 21yo Ron Todd were resumed after Councillor 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. Vallence kicked 111 goals for the year and Todd got 99. Norm Chisholm took out the best and fairest award. Former players, Frank 'Jinner' Worroll (1907 premiership player) and Fred Houghton both passed away during the year as did former secretary, Arthur Johnson senior, and G. Miles, a former committeeman.
The 1940 Williamstown team at one of the losing finals at Toorak Park - Arthur Cutting (back row far left), Ron Todd (back row, second from left), Colin Wilcox (back row, fourth from the right), Norm Chisholm (middle row, third left), Harry Vallence (middle row, fifth left), Eric Glass (middle row, far right), Cliff Johnson (front row, left), Reg Thomas (front row, middle), Stan Jamieson (front row, right)
Ron Todd's best friend, Des Fothergill, joined Williamstown in 1941 after being joint winner of the Brownlow Medal the previous season. Gordon Ogden was re-appointed as captain-coach but missed half the season due to illness, injuries and business reasons and Fothergill was made vice-captain. Other newcomers were Lou Salvas (Auburn), Bob Spargo (Footscray via Essendon), 16yo Andy Taylor from the local high school, 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. Rover Jack Paterson retired after 77 games. The team missed the finals by finishing in sixth position, a disappointing result considering the recruitment. 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. Ron Todd broke his ankle, Arthur Cutting missed a number of games with illness and Norm Chisholm was out injured for half the year. 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, giving him 337 goals from his 61 games. 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.
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 and Captain JH Fearon and three former full-forwards in Jim McAuliffe (1919-29), Jim Matthews (1903-13) and Jack 'Judy' Munn (1924-27), who was killed in action.
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. 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 a few games 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. 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 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. 17,000 attended the second semi-final at St Kilda when these two teams met again, and this time Williamstown 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 ever head the Association's goalkicking at the end of a season, something even the great Harry 'Soapy' Vallence couldn't achieve. 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 (1931-45) and Eric 'Tarzan' Glass (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.
The Seagull emblem was officially adopted by the Club in 1945, after borrowing the idea from the Williamstown Athletic Club
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, 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-Seuer, Jack Cockburn and Cliff Johnson all moved on, although Johnson did play one senior game during the year. Gordon Ogden 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. 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 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 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. 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 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. Reg Harley won the best and fairest. At the end of the season, Williamstown played Camberwell in Launceston. During the season, the bootstudder, M. McGregor passed away, as did life members M. Roach and G. Williams.
Alan Williams and Ron Todd were re-appointed captain-coach and vice-captain, respectively, and new recruits included Alf Sampson after 60 games with Footscray and Doug Dowling returned from South Melbourne. Keith Abberton, Norm Bernard and Ken May were promising juniors who joined. Norm Chisholm, after more than 90 games, transferred to Newport as coach, as did Dick Harris at Yarraville. 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 and 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 by 5 goals, before meeting Sandringham again in the preliminary final. Captain-coach Alan Williams could not play due to injury. This 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, 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.
Reg Harley was again best and fairest for the year from Doug Dowling and Harold Peacock was best first-year player. 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 60 and Doug Dowling 54. President of the Club in the first premiership year of 1907, Bob Ferguson, passed away in 1947 as did former players, Alick 'Roodie' McKenzie (64 games, 1903-10) and Charlie 'Jigger' Viney (44 games, 1899-1903). 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 1947 team at Williamstown with vice-captain Ron Todd at the front, followed by Lou Salvas, Theo Greenland, Alf Sampson, Colin Wilcox, Murray McRae, Harold Peacock, captain-coach Alan Williams, Bruce Chapman, Reg Featherby, Jack Danckert, Mal MacPherson, Gordon Williams, Henry Taylor, Gordon Cameron, Danny Knott, Reg Gardiner 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. Gordon Ogden was appointed to the vacant post from a big field of applicants. 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 and Ted Ryan returned from Collingwood. Good locals who joined up included Gordon Williams, Johnny Walker and Bill Sheehan. 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, but a run of wins carried the team back in to the four by round 10. This stretch of victories extended to 13 to give the Seagulls top place on the ladder at the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds on percentage from Brunswick. Williamstown had won both contests during the season, but 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. 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, the Seagulls trailed for most of the game but got back to within a point of Brighton in the last quarter before the Penguins held on to win their first VFA premiership by 9 points, 13.16.94 to 13.7.85. 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, including 10 in round 1 against Yarraville. Mal MacPherson led the Club goalkicking with 59 while Colin Wilcox won the best and fairest award. Former 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 official 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, Jack Vinall, was captain-coach with Jim McKnight the vice-captain.
The disappointment of three unsuccessful seasons was swept away in 1949 when the Club won its fifth pennant, 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 Ron Todd as captain. Colin Wilcox became vice-captain. Alan Williams retired to concentrate on his Healsville guesthouse, Harold Peacock went to America 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 joined a junior team. 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 in the country 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, he was cleared back to the Seagulls and was soon starring and played a magnificent game in the return clash with Port. 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. The Club's best and fairest award was named The Andy Taylor Memorial Award from 1951 until 1999, inclusive.
Williamstown met Preston in the opening round after having played Yarraville in round 1 every season since 1929. 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 but with mounting injuries 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. Grand Final day provided some early thrills for supporters 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, '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 Johhny Walker emerged with the ball and kicked a goal from a very narrow angle 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 Sheehan. The crowd of 40,000 was the third best-ever to witness a VFA match. 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.
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
Goals record holder: Ron Todd 672
Most premierships as coach: Wally Carter 3 (1954-55-56)
Longest-serving coach: Gerry Callahan 201 games (1958-67)
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
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