Mentone Grandstand, 1928. Courtesy Mentone Cricket Club.
Mentone’s first football premiership came forty years after the town originally formed a team, for it was ten years after the Great War ended before the club reached its coveted objective.
Mentone footballers were slow to re-organise after peace was declared in November 1918. The return to normal life allowed the resumption of organised sport, particularly team games that had been discontinued during the war when many young males were in the services. The Federal Football Association, to which Mentone had belonged in pre-war days, re-organised its competition and fixtures were set for the 1919 season. Actually, a ‘Sandringham Association’ had run a competition in 1918 but several teams dropped out until only four remained in July. Mentone, Cheltenham and Mordialloc did not take part. Mentone did not re-join the Federal in 1919 and neither did Mordialloc. It should be remembered that early in 1919 the pneumonic influenza epidemic claimed many lives and made social gatherings risky. Townspeople in some places took the safe course and club activities were deferred. However, Cheltenham entered the eight-team competition that saw Sandringham win the first post-war Federal flag.
On March 20 1920 the Moorabbin News reported that the recent Federal Football Association meeting had accepted entries from ten clubs for the coming season and Mentone was included. It was to be the beginning of a period that brought the club its first real success in the local football world, but there would be many disappointments along the way. When the 1920 football season eventually began on May 1st twelve clubs had entered the Federal competition: Black Rock, Brighton District, Chelsea, Cheltenham, Glenhuntly, Hampton, Heatherton, Mentone, Moorabbin, Mordialloc and Sandringham.
Mentone’s re-entry into the Federal brought appeals for financial support in the local press with reminders that over thirty former players had gone to the war and that it had been five years since the club had been fully functional. Citizens should help returned men to set up their sport and recreation again. So said the club officials in their appeal for funds. The Recreation Reserve Committee gave eight pounds towards the cost of erecting a shower at the pavilion and a working bee in April did the work. Despite the enthusiasm Mentone had little on-field success in 1920, finishing eleventh out of twelve teams. Heatherton was the only team it beat twice, though it had a win over Glenhuntly and a walkover against Chelsea which was suspended from the competition in August after its players and supporters attacked an umpire during its home game against Moorabbin. The umpire had to be locked in the change room of the Moorabbin team before he made a quick exit in a buggy pursued by a mob pelting it with what objects they could lay their hands on. Three Chelsea players were suspended for life after the Federal Committee heard reports of the match. Late in the season Mentone drew with Mordialloc in its best performance, but it had lost fifteen other games. It was little consolation that the team could easily watch other teams in the finals played at Mentone Oval where Brighton won the premiership. The twenties had begun badly for Mentone Football Club with heavy defeats almost weekly in its first post-war season . Only four players received praise in press reports: Mewett, Woff, Comber and Gorman. There was a long way to go.
The club turned its fortunes around in 1921, its image changing right from the season’s outset. In March at the annual general meeting the club changed its colours from the red and blue strip to the yellow and black Richmond design, from that date on being known as the Mentone Tigers. On the field the club showed great improvement, winning ten out of the eighteen home and away games to miss out narrowly on a finals appearance by finishing fifth. Brighton and Mordialloc beat the Tigers easily in home and away fixtures but Mentone recorded wins against nearly all the others, and in one game against Moorabbin, Ward kicked 14 goals in a twenty-goal drubbing of the ‘market gardeners’. Ward had teammates who were also often mentioned for their efforts, including Harry, Mewett, Hanna, West, Fitzsimmons, Fox, Fullarton, Taylor and Casey.
During 1922 and 1923 Mentone remained competitive but could not climb out of the bottom half of the ladder. In 1922 the club won three games and lost nine. It won four and lost 10 the next year, but in both years only a couple of clubs dealt out heavy defeats, the ones against neighbouring Cheltenham being the most galling. Sullivan, Ward, West, Hanna, Hogan, Berry and Bowden were Mentone’s best that year.
In 1923 the Mentone juniors made the semi finals in the second year of the under 18 competition but lost to Brighton. Two juniors named West figured in the best players, and, with other youngsters also improving, showed there were hopeful signs for the club’s future.
Football was now taken much more seriously. The club’s 1924 general meeting was called in February and serious training began in March, much earlier than when the decade began. The Federal Association also became stricter by stating that teams not on the field by 3.15 p.m. would be fined, and a non-appearance by 3.25 p.m. would result in a forfeit of that game. The late starting times are surprising by today’s standards, but understandable in a period when people had to work on Saturday morning in nearly all occupations. Other rules were being tightened, and there was a general discouragement of player payments; paid player imports were seen as detrimental to local hopefuls.
The 1924 season brought great success to Mentone, laying a foundation for the club to become a power in the Federal on the way to the ultimate goal of a premiership. The team won eleven games and lost seven to finish fourth. In the ten-team competition Mentone won against all except Mordialloc, and no defeat was by more than a few goals. Chelsea and Bentleigh were beaten by large margins but Mentone won most other games by between one and four goals. When the first semi-final day came Mentone kicked straight to defeat Edithvale by one point, 14-8 to 13-13. The final at Cheltenham was a low scoring game in windy conditions where Mordialloc kicked 6-16 to Mentone’s 4-7. Being runners-up to the strong Mordialloc side was no disgrace.
President Hugh White led a hard-working committee with Colin Fenwick as his secretary. The Tigers had many new players. Cadman, a centreman, was skilful. Ranking, Matthieson, Round and Poore were other good recruits. With established team members, Sullivan (best player in the final), Taylor, Bolger, Fox, Berry, Hogan and others playing well, the basis for a powerful side developed during the year.
During the year two unusual incidents caused comment. In Mentone’s game against Cheltenham a Cheltenham player, angry with a number of free kicks given to the Tigers, attacked the umpire, striking him with his fist. He was later disqualified for five years. When the Tigers visited Chelsea a fierce storm with hail and high winds struck the ground during the last quarter. Mentone at the time led by six goals and Chelsea had registered only one behind. The teams agreed to seek the shelter of the change rooms and abandon the match, a rare occurrence in the intensely competitive Federal Association.
For the next three years Mentone Tigers pleased their supporters with many wins and a position constantly near the top of the ladder. However, the premiership flag proved just beyond the reach of the improved team. In 1925, with 13 wins and 5 losses after the home and away season, Mentone went down by fourteen points to Cheltenham, the eventual premiers, in the second semi final and finished third. The next year the club went a little higher with 14 wins and only 4 losses, a record they then consolidated by turning the tables on Cheltenham in the semi-final with a four-goal win. In the final Moorabbin beat Mentone by just nine points. The premiership was agonisingly close, but there would be more frustration before dreams could be realised.
Before the 1925 season had begun president Hugh White died and Alec Poore took over the leadership, with R. Maskell as secretary and Colin Fenwick as delegate to the Federal Association. Fullarton and Patterson were prominent on the committee, while H.P. Peterson played a role as a member of the Federal Tribunal. A ladies’ committee, formed in 1926, began to raise funds, and carnivals were held to build up reserves for the new brick grandstand, then being planned.
During 1925-6 the Tigers attracted some important talent. New names on the team sheets were destined to be there for some time and many would feature in bringing the club a flag. Corboy, a rover, received much notice. There were three Wests; Bob, Fred and Ted. Others included Shaw, Hartnett, O’Brien, Banks, Henderson, Hutchinson, Barr, Meighan, McGaw, Sharpe and Stuckey. Among the older players, the centre line of Round, Ranking and Cadman was described in the press as Mentone’s great strength.
The Federal was an even competition at the time. Mentone played many close games against Cheltenham, Mordialloc and Moorabbin, the three oldest rivals, but there were many nail-biters against Edithvale, Aspendale and Carrum as well. The easiest wins came versus Bentleigh and Chelsea, though even these were not by the huge margins of earlier years.
The 1927 season opened with a flurry of activity. There were practice matches against West Melbourne and Coburg Rovers, a movie night at the Picture Theatre (the skating rink had changed its name), and fortnightly dances in the Recreation Hall for fund-raising and social enjoyment. At the AGM Father Tim O’Sullivan (Catholic Parish Priest) and Dr Pigdon (local GP) were made vice presidents of the club, indicating the breadth of support the football team had attracted. The talk about a new grandstand and club rooms had not produced any concrete plans at that stage but fund-raising for the imminent construction continued as the season began. H.P. Peterson was elected president of the Victorian Junior Football Union, an administrative body for football below the level of the VFL and the VFA. He had already become a life member of Mentone club and the Federal Association. Mentone was important to the Federal Football Association with Peterson and Fenwick in top administrative positions and many finals being played on the Tigers’ ground. A Mentone premiership was the one thing that was missing.
The 1927 season proved to be a huge disappointment. Mentone lost its first two games, and, despite some big wins, finished fifth and out of the finals with 12 wins and 6 losses. Moorabbin went on to win its second flag in a row.
The Tigers’ season was not all bad news. The club attracted new players in Bell (playing coach), Bowtell, Eccleston, Wimbridge, Gaskin, Maude, Coghlan and Larkin. They thrashed several teams, notably Heatherton and Bentleigh, but Middle Brighton, Moorabbin and Mordialloc beat them, albeit narrowly in a couple of games. Even though the team was not as successful as in previous years the support grew. Mrs J. Gorman, who ran the Daffodil Café in the town, donated five guineas as a prize for the popular player contest. This raised funds, as people had to pay one penny for each vote they cast for a chosen popular player in the team. Another incident brought support from an unusual source.
Mentone’s Wimbridge had been reported by umpire O’Brien on June 25th in a match against Chelsea. The offences were serious: throwing the ball deliberately to hit the umpire, disputing decisions and using bad language. At the tribunal Mentone called Father Tim O’Sullivan to give evidence. This was a clever attempt to win favour from the adjudicators by having a minister of religion, a parish priest, deliver words in defence of the Mentone player. There was widespread respect for churchmen at the time and Father O’Sullivan was also well known as a fair-minded and tolerant man. He was also a vice president of Mentone club and hardly a disinterested observer. Father Tim said in evidence that as he watched the game umpire O’Brien had him ‘all at sea’ in his interpretations and, among other comments, stated that the umpire had lost control of the game. When called, Wimbridge denied throwing the ball at the umpire. He claimed he threw the ball to a player who had been awarded a free kick and the umpire had ‘run into it’ as he moved position. On the language issue he stated that in response to excessive instructions from umpire O’Brien he had said, ‘Would you like to kick it for me?’ when awarded a mark. Other evidence suggested that this was not all he said. Wimbridge was suspended for two weeks for the bad language. However, the tribunal president criticised umpire O’Brien as well, suggesting that the O’Sullivan evidence had been noted and probably reduced the Mentone player’s sentence. Parish priests were not often directly involved in secular football clubs, but Tim O’Sullivan was passionate about sport, and it must have irritated him that he was transferred from Mentone parish in 1928 and missed being closely connected with the club’s first premiership.
When the 1928 football season began in April, word spread that a tender for the new grandstand had been accepted and the successful builder would complete the job in twelve weeks at a cost of just over 1200 pounds. A few weeks after this, on May 5th, the New Mentone Theatre opened on the corner of Balcombe Road and Point Nepean Road. The palatial cinema created great local excitement, attracting large audiences by using glamorous advertising spreads in the local press and on billboards. The new grandstand at Mentone Oval was opened in July with great fanfare. Frank Scudds, the hotelier and active supporter of the football and cricket clubs in the early 1900s came back as a guest of honour. Mentone was having a boom year and the football team began to make its contribution.
The season began with three wins, but then Moorabbin defeated the Tigers comfortably, reminding players that the market gardener Magpies were the defending premiers and would be tough to beat. After this Mentone kept winning. Some victories were hard-won, as in the sixth game where Mordialloc never gave in and lost by only eight points. Cheltenham also gave the Tigers two close games and in the second one nearly snatched a win after trailing by five goals in the last quarter. Mentone dealt out heavy defeats to all the other teams and finished the home and away season on top of the ladder with 16 wins and 2 losses (both against Moorabbin). In one game Mentone kicked 36 goals against Heatherton with a young player called Forbes booting 22. Sides such as Edithvale, Chelsea, Bentleigh and newcomers, Wells Road, received heavy defeats. Mentone had improved, but locals speculated as to whether it could beat the established Federal powers, Moorabbin and Cheltenham, in the heat of the finals pressure.
Moorabbin Football Team at the Dane Street Oval, 1928. Courtesy Moorabbin Historical Society.
The Tigers had recruited extra talent to bring the team this far. After the first five games Jim Tarbotton appeared. He was an ex-Fitzroy player and became coach. Whoever recruited him knew that his hard-won VFL experience would be crucial and Tarbotton, a key position player, did not let the team down. Phillipson, Blake, Bryce, Reid, Conlon and Meiklejohn were other new men that year when there was quite a large turnover of players before the team that played in the finals was selected.
Cheltenham knocked out Chelsea in the first semi-final and Moorabbin once again beat Mentone, 11-9 to 8-13, in the second semi. This was not the end for the Tigers. Under the system used at the time they had the right to challenge whichever team won the final because Mentone had led the premiership ladder before the finals began. Moorabbin played the winner of the other semi-final, Cheltenham, and scraped a win by one point! They could not claim the flag. The Tigers used their right of challenge and the Grand Final was set to be played at Mordialloc the next week, September 22nd. Moorabbin had beaten Mentone three times in 1928, so it had reason to be confident.
Mentone’s team for the Grand Final lined up as follows:
Backs: J. Kerr, Leo O’Brien, A. Maude
Half Backs: Frank West, Phil Manning, Jack Banks (Capt.)
Centres: T.Keogh, Barnett, Fred West
Half Forwards: A. Reid, Jim Tarbotton, K. Bell
Forwards: J. Forbes, E. Conlon, Robert West
Rucks: A. Bryce, Sam Shaw
Rover: J. Gaskin
At the time there were no replacements (later called 19th and 20th men)
Mentone Football Club - Senior Premiers 1928 - Back row: R Lyons (trainer) A Reid, E Conlon, J Reid, A Bryce, J Kerr, J Forbes, D Robinson (Trainer) Centre: K Bell, S Shaw, F West, J Tarbottom, J Banks, T Keogh, J Micklejohn, P Manning, Front: R West, A Maude, J Gaskin, A Robinson, E West, L O'Brien.
The largest crowd ever to attend the Mordialloc Oval to that time arrived for the Grand Final on a blustery, unpleasant Saturday. Moorabbin won the toss and kicked to the end favoured by the strong wind, but the swirling breeze made scoring difficult and the Magpies kicked only 1goal 7 behinds to Mentone’s 2 behinds during the first term. O’Brien and Manning held firm in defence, denying the defending premiers scoring chances. The second quarter was Mentone’s. Jim Tarbotton kicked two crucial goals while Sam Shaw and Bob West also kicked majors as Mentone led 4-2 to 1-10 at half time. Then, despite Jack Banks and Barnett playing the games of their lives, Moorabbin added four goals to take a 14 point lead at the last change (5-14 to 4-6). The Tigers attacked from the outset in the last quarter with several behinds being added before Bob West goaled. A dogged battle then went on with Moorabbin three points ahead. With only minutes left umpire Halfpenny awarded Fred West a free kick about 30 yards out from goal and the Mentone forward calmly drop-kicked a major to give the Tigers the lead. From the bounce another free gave Bryce a chance to score a behind just prior to the final bell. Mentone had won the game by four points and the flag was theirs.
There were scenes of unprecedented joy in the Tigers’ rooms after the game. Grown men hugged and even kissed each other! The News mentioned the Mentone committeemen who went wild with glee. Frank Alloid (Pres.), Jack Furmedge (Sec.), Stan Carter (Treas.), Rube Maskill, Alec Poore, Herbert Edwards (Mordi. Mayor), and Dr Colohan were all there in the change room, revelling in the excitement.
But what of the players! The reports said that Tarbotton had matched up with Moorabbin Magpie star, Scott, and kept him quiet. Moorabbin’s other star, Virtue, did well but defenders, Jack Banks, Leo O’Brien and Phil Manning, had limited his effect. Barnett, a rover and centre man, was best on the ground while Shaw and Gaskin gave great service. Many others, including Bob West and Fred West, the goal kickers, received praise. Tarbotton said that the team had bumped as hard as the Magpies had and ‘played them at their own game’. He was proud of them.
As the game finished the Moorabbin supporters staged a hostile demonstration against umpire Halfpenny, claiming that he had blown ‘time off’ when West had received that vital late free kick. West had kicked the goal before the umpire had blown ‘time on’, they said. During the next week this claim went to the Federal tribunal as an official appeal against the result of the match, but it was dismissed. Umpire Halfpenny claimed also that his honesty had been questioned by the Moorabbin club’s case, causing the tribunal to make a statement in his support. J. Alan Anderson, the chairman, called for reason, saying that many emotions always run wild in the excitement of a finish like that in the Grand Final. Anderson was a prominent Mentone resident, a fact that was probably not lost on the Moorabbin contingent. The News reported that Moorabbin had received 37 free kicks to Mentone’s 26 during the game, though Mentone did get 7 to Moorabbin’s 4 in the final term.
The premiership, won in such difficult circumstances, was celebrated for weeks. Mentone footballers had a special dinner at the Mentone Hotel, a presentation dance in the Recreation Hall and, finally, a trip away to Warragul, where the locals entertained them for several days. Mentone Football Club at that point was on top of the world.
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