With the Australian Rules football season commencing, I thought it appropriate to fly this article from the grand old (flag) days of the great game.
Who would have thought footballers and umpires singing from the same hymn page. I don’t reckon the Mordi Bloods or Frank Vergona ever did. From 1935 to 1940 a Melbourne Newspaper ran a very successful fundraiser The Herald Football “Get Together”. Money was raised for the Blanket Appeal. Poor families and the homeless were the beneficiaries helping them keep warm through Melbourne’s cold winters. I’m not sure, but it may have been a response to the after shocks of the Great Depression.
Featured on the debut program in 1935 was the Melbourne Boy Footballer’s Mouth Organ Band fresh from a victory in the Junior Australian Championships at South Street, Ballarat (a repeat of the previous year). Not sure the footballer’s term being reported is accurate as they didn’t go under this title at the Championships. There may have been some footballers in the thirty strong members, whose average age was fifteen.
This Little Piggy
Footscray were crowned inaugural winners of the community singing contest. Northcote Football Club was represented with a ballet production titled ‘This Little Piggy Went To Market’ and Carlton President David Crone sang a duet with his wife. Indigenous Fitzroy champion Doug Nichols produced a stunning viola effect on the gum leaf in his rendition of Little Old Church In The Valley. There was a second Get Together held that year at the end of the season to allow those who couldn’t attend the first – due to the event being so quickly booked out. Two events per year would be repeated in subsequent years, except in 1940.
In the second event of 1935, Northcote repeated their ballet again and Melbourne players stepped up as well with their unique Butterfly Ballet ably led by Bull Adams – Oh Dear! Lloyd Jones (St.Kilda footballer), had the honour of playing Handel’s Largo and Evensong on the Town Hall organ. Lloyd remarked, “When I came from Stawell to play football for St. Kilda I little thought that I’d be given the privilege feeling the keys of the City Council’s £40,000 organ.”
The Lost Chord
In 1936 Footscray’s efforts were thwarted by Essendon. The previous year Footscray performed a brilliant rendition of John Peel, but they may have bitten off more than they could chew by attempting, for the first time by a choir in Melbourne, four massed parts of The Lost Chord. Another performance was held in September this year too with Hawthorn taking the chocolaties.
Fitzroy centreman Len Stott was not only adept with a football in hand, but he was also no slouch with the mouth organ in his dukes. He performed in a mouth organ quintet on the 1937 show. On the program of 1938 (below), he backed up again performing a novel mouth organ composition along with the same crew except for the substitution of Ben Collier (Geelong Trainer) for umpire Allan Coward. In 1937 Fitzroy was involved for the first time and maybe the only time in the community singing. Triple Brownlow medalist Haydn Bunton was the conductor for the Fitzroy contingent and regular rehearsals were held under the grandstand (my home away from home see Winger Griffiths). Bruce Andrew reportedly was also noted for his abilities playing the bones. In the second production of 1937, Brownlow medallist, Essendon’s Dick Reynolds, was interviewed by comedian and radio personality Charlie Vaude. Charlie provided training for the players in in the minstrels section of the program.
A big part of the night was the The Football Minstrel Chorus, but as this is no longer kosher, and rightly so, it is better to leave this aside. Except to say that the footballers could be recognised by their numbers which were identified in the program. In 1937 the minstrels in number order were 1/ Frank Anderson (Carlton) 2/ Dick Hingston (Melbourne) 3/ Bull Adams (Melbourne) 4/ Jack Crane (Richmond) 5/ Tich Edwards (Fitzroy) 6/ Jack Cotter (Richmond) 7/ Len Stott (Fitzroy) 8/ Rory Fischer (Melbourne) 9/ Len Thomas (South Melbourne) 10/ Bernie O’Brien (Footscray) 11/ Jack Hale (Carlton) 12/ Des Fothergill (Collinswood) 13/ Len Jones (Melbourne) 14/ Ron Fisher (St.Kilda) 15/ Ted Ellis (North Melbourne) 16/ Jim Greenham (Footscray) 17/ Roy Jacobsen (South Melbourne) 18/ Frank Kenny (Yarraville) 19/ Reg Garvin (St.Kilda) 20/ Hugh Torney (Essendon) 21/ Ted Rippon (Essendon) 26/ Ron Todd (Collingwood) 27/ Dick Abikhair (Hawthorn) 29/ Son Griffin (Hawthorn) 30/ Mick Price (Carlton) 31/ Jim Toone (Brunswick) 32/ Gordon Ayling (Melbourne) 33/ Alex Penny (Yarraville) 34/ Bruce Andrew (Collingwood).
In the community singing contest of 1938 Essendon defeated Collingwood by a solitary point. Was it the beginning of the Colliwobbles?
The Fitzroy Sway
In 1939 Footscray defeat Northcote. St.Kilda footballers provided grand entertainment, teaming up with Fitzroy’s Tich Edwards for a good sailor number. Tich (pictured smiling dressed in white in the foreground) was a perennial highlight of the shows through the later years. Tich performed the Fitzroy Sway on the 1937 show which, I gather from one report, was an interpretive dance (amusing eccentric dance were the words used). The second half of the program was conducted by Carlton President David Crone, who had become a life member of the Get Together.
In 1940 several members of the production were already in the services with many fighting overseas. However some of the troops in A.I.F camps were granted furlough to perform. Popular North Melbourne coach Len Thomas and Fitzroy rover Tich Edwards were two of these that teamed together unrehearsed.
Just a wee bit extra on Len Stott and Tich Edwards of Fitzroy. Leonard Wilbur Stott was born in Geelong West on the 16th November in 1909. He was nephew of Geelong wingman Eddie Scott. Len’s early education was provided by Ashby State School. When he came to Melbourne he went to prestigious Ivanhoe Grammar. In 1929 Len joined the Preston Football Club, but after a season he retired when he suffered a severe illness. Three years later he rocked up at Fitzroy and, after a couple of seasons, he was a regular feature in the first eighteen, although he did struggle with illness and injury. Outside football Len was a wood machinist and a fine cricketer at Heidelberg. He passed away on the 7th May 2000 in Heidelberg. He played 62 games with Fitzroy and kicked 16 goals.
Albert Arthur Edwards (Titch) was born in Ascot Vale on the 20th August 1915. He played 36 games and kicked 22 goals. In 1961 he coached Fitzroy for one game (a win over Carlton) when coach Len Smith was unavailable. Tich passed away on the 15th October 2002.
Many moons ago I put some harp on Greg Champion’s VFL Park In The Dark (Roos is like a Mexican Dancer), bit rough and ready as I played live on air over an old recording of Gregs. Straight from the radio to you. Thought I might bang it in here for other Fitzroy tragics.