1909 Victorian Season Overview

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Written by Tony Persoglia


The story of British Association Football in Victoria doesn't begin here, but 1909 would prove to be a pivotal moment in its growth, as the first ever league competition commenced in earnest after a wave of unprecedented activity behind the scenes.

The genesis of a competitive league could be traced almost ten months earlier, after numerous newspaper advertisements placed by Harry Dockerty in both The Age and The Argus in July of 1908, calling for those interested in forming a British Association Football Club. As many as "60 enthusiasts assembled at Middle Park" in what would have been an intriguing sight, if only for how the teams were selected, let alone the quality of the matches at play. However, the turnout provided evidence that there was enough interest in the British game and a meeting was called for Tuesday July 28 at the Orient Hotel in Bourke Street, with a view to forming a league and electing office bearers.

Thus, in the space of a week, there had been a call for interested players, a gathering at Middle Park where games were played and a meeting which ultimately formed the league. There, it was suggested that practice matches would be held every Saturday before the committee would form clubs. By the following week, the numbers increased so much that a target of eight clubs was suggested. Practice matches continued every Saturday and numbers continued to swell.

A representative match was played against the s.s. Persic on August 15, along with a selection of games involving teams loosely named B, C, D and E. These took on more significant monikers, such as the "League Eleven" and "Kerr's Eleven", with a representative match against the H.M.S. Powerful played on August 31 at the Richmond Cricket Ground. With only a few weeks of football under their belt, the Victorians outclassed the visitors 4-1, and the match report in The Argus the following day revealed that the Association's membership had swelled to 152 players. The entire Victorian squad comprised of British-born players, many, if not all, appeared in what would be the first ever league season.

    

By September, district clubs were formed, and the first set of practice matches involving Albert Park, Carlton United, Fitzroy, Prahran, South Melbourne and St Kilda were played at Middle Park on September 26. The Association would eventually move into recess come early October. Be it the period of inactivity between then and April, or simply a case of waning interest, not every club returned in 1909. Albert Park are a notable absentee and while South Melbourne were organising practice matches as late as April, they disappeared from news sources soon thereafter.

The final addition to the league was Williamstown, formed with the prompting of John M Roberts, who posted a letter to the Williamstown Chronicle which was published on February 13, searching for readers who were keen to "form a British Football Association Team in Williamstown". A meeting was eventually held on the evening of March 5 and so the Williamstown British Association Football Club was born. For more detail, you can read the article as it appeared in the Chronicle on March 13. Intriguingly, seven of the club's members were linked with the Naval Depot, which would compete as a stand-alone entity some fifteen years later.

While interest appeared keen, securing a playing field proved more of a challenge. A number of locations were mooted, and they ultimately appeared at three separate venues, no mean feat considering the league season ran a short ten rounds and only five of them would have been declared 'home' matches. Gardens Reserve would be utilised most often, but they also appeared at Victoria St in North Williamstown as well as the Workshops Cricket Ground in Newport.

With a host of practice matches organised in April through to early May, it may have been difficult for the local press to keep tabs on the goings on of the Association, so much so that no league fixtures were published at all prior to the season, save for the opening five rounds which appeared in the Chronicle after the first round of competition had been done and dusted. As it was, the league commenced on May 8, 1909, with a single match at the Gardens Reserve, Williamstown playing host to St. Kilda, who ran out winners 3-0 courtesy of goals to Hodgkinson, Dolan and Evans. It is likely that Middle Park was unavailable on the opening day of the season, hence the absence of any other matches to complete the round.

The rest, as they say, is history.

You can view the results of the remaining twenty-nine matches of the season as well as a number of match reports for selected encounters as they appeared across various newspaper publications. Without the advent of Trove, bringing all of this information together would simply not have been possible. Along with the league, 1909 also saw the birth of the Dockerty Cup, or as it was known in its early incarnation, the Challenge Cup. Carlton United would become the first team to achieve the League-Cup double, backing up their unbeaten run in the league to cap off a truly dominant season. There were also a few representative matches played, Victoria taking on and beating H.M.S. Powerful for the second time in a year before being comprehensively beaten by Western Australia 3-0 in June. There was also a local international between England and Scotland, a five-goal encounter praised as one of the finest games of 'soccer' football played all year.

The photos below have been sourced from Mark Boric and can be found in the latest version of his fantastic Victorian Football Statistical History.

    

The first photo is of the all-conquering Carlton United, the second is St Kilda, who would have to make do with second place and a runner-up finish in the Challenge Cup.


Last updated: 1 October 2019.