I came across a wonderful site called Maroon and Blue (not active at December 27, 2011) that’s dedicated to documenting and celebrating the history and culture of the Fitzroy Football Club.
I really liked the article, 1944 And All That, about the post-war era while Fitzroy still played at the Brunswick Street Oval.
I’ve heard stories about that era, but it’s great to see them written: the parochialism, the fights on the hill, the drunks, the police, attacks on the umpires, etc.
Here’s an extended extract:
Behind the goals and in the outer there was often more action than on the field. From 1858 newspaper reports of inner-suburban matches often took the larrikin element to task for its bias and violence. To policeman Bert Hope, who began duty in the uniformed branch at Fitzroy in 1930, Saturdays at the football was Fitzroy playing:
“If you wanted to take someone down from the country to see something, you’d take them there to the Fitzroy ground and you’d see it. They wouldn’t be disappointed. You could see anything – you’d see drunks, of course, you could see them any time, but you’d see some of the women, the prostitutes and their cousins – they were the ones who didn’t have any set houses – and then the decent women…The men’d be just about the same – the larrikin element, they’d be the mob who’d go to the football. What you’d call the buck larrikins’d go to the goal at Fitzroy’s end, and you’d get these certain type of girls that were like the buck larrikins, you know what I mean, only they’d be girls, they’d be with them behind the goals. Then of course, there were the decent men.
“Everybody would be there, except the real criminal – now, he wouldn’t bother about going to the football. He’d have other things to do – S.P-ing at a pub somewhere; the real criminal, they wouldn’t bother with the football.”If the criminal was off practising, everyone else was having the day out, having a few beers, maybe an argument and enjoying the company.
To Bert, it seemed that the policing of the buck larrikins and their women behind the goals was the Saturday equivalent of being on the beat.
“I knew them well…in the uniform branch you’d deal with the buck larrikins – tough animals, get around in their half dozen or so. Very seldom see one on his own, you’d see six…They’d go along Smith Street, Fitzroy, to the Cum Ming Café and they’d worry hell out of the poor old Chinaman. They’d not only refuse to pay for their meal, but they’d pinch a chook out of the window, they’d bash his window in and pinch it. See, the Chinese restaurants – the Cum Ming – used to have in the windows, oh beautiful, succulent cooked chooks, you know, and they’d knock a chook off. If there was a break-in, once a week on average in Smith Street, it could have been the Collingwood bucks, could have been the Fitzroy bucks, or could have been criminals.”
On the beat, no revolvers were issued and Bert Hope depended on his fists: ‘I could hold me own because I was very solid. I wasn’t awkward you know and you just had to use your tongue.’ The Brunswick Street Oval was another site for the working out of old antagonisms. But there, the police always felt at a disadvantage: ‘That’s one of the worst jobs you can get in the police force, in front of a crowd, football especially, you know, arresting one of their mob, like a good barracker for Fitzroy…’
Plenty of fights
Apart from the antagonism towards the police, behind the goals was a place where men were men. Even if you were not good with your fists, to get behind the goals was to assure yourself of a lively time. While Les Moulton was never in the fights – ‘Oh no, I was never in them’ – even on the periphery, there was action:
“There was plenty of fights. There was one fellow in Fitzroy called Ginger Allcock – Ginger Mick we used to call him – an old fighter, but he was knocked about that bad, the brain, you know…and I’m behind the goals one day and someone says something to him and he went bang to this bloke, and he missed the bloke and hit me. In them days there was a wooden fence at Brunswick Street with wire on the top so you couldn’t get in. He knocked me right down beneath it. He said, ‘Billy’ – he called me Billy – ‘Billy, Billy, I’m sorry. Billy, Billy…’”
Other fights were more willing, and Bert Hope, as the policeman on duty, would have to distinguish between the ordinary and the serious: ‘I’ve seen some fellows come down the hill covered in blood, you’d think they were badly injured, you know, but they wouldn’t be, just a gashed hand, or a black eye, a blood nose or something. Now, I’ve seen plenty of that…’
It was especially ‘rowdy whenever Fitzroy played Collingwood, whenever that was on or Richmond’, and then Bert Hope would be particularly busy:
“When a fight started they’d come down the hill. The ground was all right, but on the side it’d slope up, you know what I mean, so that those on the top could see, and when there was a fight the crowd would just completely disperse and whoever was fighting would come down to the pickets and when they got to the pickets, I’d take charge of them.”
At the time, Bert was in the middle of it: “You’d have your helmet on all the time…things’d always be that hot or you’d be fighting that much you wouldn’t feel anything hitting you.”
Bert chose not to take his baton – “it might be used on me” – and would have preferred that the fighters sort it out themselves: “To be quite candid, if you’d let it go on, they’d probably knock off after about ten minutes, but you couldn’t let it go on because among those people, there’d be some very decent people. Do you follow? And they’d think what the devil are the police doing allowing this to go on. So you’d hop in and do something.”
There Bert was, then, saving the goal umpire from being assaulted, seeing that the number of footballs getting pinched after they came through the goals was kept to a respectable three or four a match, and at the end when “the crowd would just erupt and stream on to the ground, there’d always be one or two among them that would like to dong the umpire – you know, from the losing team – so we had to make sure he wasn’t hit…there was a always a chance around there at Fitzroy that they’d be knocked, you know …”
- The site at maroonandblue.com.au was down when checked on December 27, 2011. The links will be reinstated if the site becomes active again.