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1895: A celebration of the 125th anniversary of the first really great moment in Fitzroy Football Club history

04-Oct-2020

 

By David Leydon

“The bell ending the game was greeted with wild cheering from the Fitzroy supporters. The local Mercury newspaper reported that towards the close of the game, Fitzroy supporters were almost beside themselves with excitement”The First One Hundred Seasons: Fitzroy Football Club 1883-1983


One of the, often neglected, greatest moments in the long history of the Fitzroy Football Club is our first Premiership which was won way back in 1895 – 125 years ago this month.

Fitzroy Football Club was formed in 1883 and played its first game in 1884 in the old Victorian Football Association (VFA) which was the premier local competition of the day.

Always competitive in our early years in the VFA, Fitzroy finished runner up in 1892 and the signs were there of what was to eventually become more than a decade of dominance in Victorian football.

These were the years in the VFA where there were no finals. The team that finished on top of the ladder at season’s end were declared the Premiers.

Another quirky rule of the day was that, although the scores showed behinds that were kicked, they effectively counted for nothing in the overall result of the game. In other words, the only scores that counted were the goals. A game that had one team kicking 3 goals 5 behinds and the opposition kicking 3 goals 8 behinds was considered a draw based solely on the goals. This explains the end of season ladder which showed Fitzroy recording an astonishing 5 draws.

After a slow start to the 1895 campaign, Fitzroy got on a roll and, with three games to go, were clinging to top spot on the ladder.

The Roys could not afford to drop a game with three other clubs breathing down their neck on the ladder. It just so happened that these last three games were all against highly placed teams Geelong, Essendon and South Melbourne and, to make it more difficult, the Roys had an unusually high number of injuries to key players.

In the first of these late season games, Fitzroy beat second placed Geelong and then drew with Essendon the following week.

That meant everything was riding on the last game of the season.

Fitzroy had to travel down to South Melbourne and either win or draw that game to be Premiers. Second placed Geelong were playing the mid-ladder Port Melbourne and it was widely expected by all the sports writers of the day that, with injuries to key players, Fitzroy would lose and Geelong would get over Port to snatch the Premiership.

The boys from old Fitzroy had other ideas.

After a slow start against South, where the opposition scored two early goals, the Roys gradually threw off their nerves and found their feet in a game marred by a strong wind.

With just minutes left in the final quarter, Fitzroy were a goal behind and the mood in the crowd was sombre.

Enter the legendary Jim Grace.

The Fitzroy City Press perfectly described what happened from here:

"Jim Grace shot out from the ruck, evidently with the intention of having a snap shot – prudence, and an energetic appeal from his brother Mick, caused him to give the latter a mark, with the happiest result. Fitzroy supporters tossing their hats with delight and warmly grasping each other by the hand.

The players on the field also rejoiced. Billy McSpeerin fairly hugging Mick Grace, who was congratulated by all the other players within reach, the back players contenting themselves with turning Catherine wheels and other symptoms of joy.


When the final bell sounded Fitzroy’s joys knew no bounds – there were ringing cheers, any amount of handshaking, and a longing on the part of hundreds to congratulate one of the players – it didn’t matter which as long as he was a ‘Royite’."

As it turned out Geelong was beaten that same afternoon by Port Melbourne and Fitzroy finished a comfortable 6 points clear on top of the ladder.

The final 1895 ladder (4 points for a win, 2 points for a draw. Percentage was not applicable in these years).

 

 

TEAM                     GAMES        WON       LOST      DRAWN      POINTS     
Fitzroy 18 12 1 5 58
Geelong 18 13 5 0 52
Melbourne 18 13 5 0 52
Collingwood 18 12 4 2 52
South Melbourne 18 9 7 2 40
Essendon 18 8 8 2 36
Port Melbourne 18 7 8 3 34
North Melbourne 18 7 10 1 30
Williamstown 18 6 11 1 26
Footscray 18 6 11 1 26
Carlton 18 5 11 2 24
Richmond 18 4 11 3 22
St.Kilda 18 3 13 2 16

 

The 1895 Premiership win was the start of a golden era for the Roys as they went on to win more flags in the newly formed VFL in 1898, 1899, 1904 and 1905. 

Some of the early club greats played in this 1895 team which was Captained by the legendary Tom Banks, who The Australasian described in such glowing tones as “no truer footballer or stouter hearted champion ever trod the turf”.

The records show that other players to represent Fitzroy that year (some without first names recorded) included: Tom Reynolds, Buckley, Sam McMichael, Flynn, Pat Hickey, Brooks, Leckie, Dan Moriarty, Reilly, Jim Grace, Mick Whelan, Carney, E.Staniland, Sumpter, Billy McSpeerin, Tyrell, C.Lamley, Mick Grace and Bill Cleary.

On the 125th Anniversary of that stirring victory, we fondly remember and salute each of these wonderful 1895 ‘Royites’.

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