Look back at the list of WAFL Premiers. Are there any that stick out to you?
Sure, there’ll be questions about the competition’s foundation years. Who are the Rovers, why were the Unions playing football and, wait a second, Fremantle have actually won more premierships than West Coast?
The answer to that last question is still, unfortunately for Fremantle fans, an unequivocal no, however if we go back to the initial question, are there any that stick out then the answer would likely also be no.
But if you scratch the surface a little there’s a fascinating story and an even bigger question lurking when you get to the 1907 Western Australian Football Association.
Did Perth really ‘win’ the 1907 premiership?
East Fremantle finished the 1907 season as minor premiers ahead of Perth on percentage with both sides recording 14 wins.
“Old Easts”, as they were then known, beat West Perth in a second semi final, while Perth scraped past South Fremantle by four points in the first semi final.
On Saturday September 28 at Claremont Showgrounds East Fremantle and Perth would face off in what The Evening Mail – a short lived, afternoon newspaper based in Fremantle – called ‘The Final Match’ and both The Sunday Times and The West Australian’s referred to as ‘The Premiership Final’.
The term Grand Final hadn’t become part of the Western Australian vernacular just yet.
According to match reports, conditions at the Claremont Showgrounds were near perfect for football and a record crowd had gathered with The Sunday Times reporting ‘the turnstiles showed that there were over 1500 people in the grandstand, and some 7000 odd in the outer enclosure.’.
Perth had the sway of the fans, with the Evening Mail reporting ‘Both teams had innumerable supporters, but taking it all round the balance of favor (sic) was with the Perth eighteen.’
The game itself was a tight tussle from go to woah. The West Australian referring to the match as ‘undoubtably the best that has been witnessed on the coast this season, and the issue was in doubt up to the ringing of the bell…’.
East Fremantle kicked with the breeze in the first quarter and led Perth by three points at the first break. Perth would gain the lead in the second quarter with goals to Edmondson and Orr.
Charles Doig Snr, whose son George Doig would go on to be one of the state’s greatest goalkickers, would kick a goal from a free kick on the stroke of half time but East Fremantle still trailed by six points.
East Fremantle took full advantage of the breeze in the third quarter and piled on three goals to Perth’s two behinds. Old East would lead by 14 points at the final change.
The fine weather turned in the final quarter and when East Fremantle’s Sharpe kicked an early goal to extend the lead to 20 points, The Sunday Times reported that ‘people began to leave the ground’.
The game wasn’t over as the Redlegs fought their way back into the game. The Sunday Times summed up the final minutes of the match: ‘amidst intense excitement Perth pressed the attack, and Orr and Wilson each had the opportunity of immortalising himself by kicking the winning goal, but each failed and the scoring board showed as the teams filed off: - East Fremantle 6.11 (47 points). Perth 6.6 (42 points). Majority for East Fremantle, five points.’
Majority for East Fremantle, five points.
To modernise that sentence: East Fremantle won the 1907 WAFA Final Match by five points.
What happened next was of such magnitude that it garnered reporting in The Sydney Morning Herald of all places.
Perth appealed the result.
Their appeal as it appeared in The Evening Mail was as follows:
“1. The goal kicked by C. Doig at half-time was wrongly recorded inasmuch as the “free” from which it was kicked was awarded after the ringing of the bell: 2. That a goal was wrongly awarded to East Fremantle in the third quarter.”
Let’s clear one thing up immediately and move on quickly. Perth dropped the second part of the protest, it was based entirely on hearsay and led to the goal umpire receiving an apology from Perth.
To clarify Perth’s protest, they were claiming that the central umpire Henry “Ivo” Crapp had paid a free kick to East Fremantle’s Doig after the bell was rung to signify half time.
While newspapers of the day didn’t report on when the East Fremantle team found out about the appeal, let’s just image that the team was celebrating their victory with a few cordials in the changerooms before someone burst in with the news.
The match report by The Evening Times published on Saturday afternoon failed to mention the protest but had a sub-section dedicated to Doig’s goal ‘East Score From Free’ and that the free kick was awarded ‘just as the bell rang’ and Doig kicked ‘amidst tumultuous cheers’.
Later, match reports from The Sunday Times proclaimed, “Perth Lodge a Protest” in a sub-heading, while Monday’s edition of The West Australian heralded East Fremantle as premiers with the sub-heading ‘A Protest Lodged’.
East Fremantle’s captain and co-founder of the club Thomas Wilson must have met the news with genuine shock.
Wilson told a crowd – that included a reporter from The Evening Mail – at a club meeting on the Wednesday following the final match that he was met by Perth captain Jack Leckie in the moments after the final bell rang and congratulated him without mentioning an appeal.
“The secretary of the Perth team, Mr. Kennedy, shook me by the hand,” Wilson was quoted as saying. “Mr Cherry congratulated me, as did others, and they said nothing of a protest. Yet they assist later in the contemptible, low, mean notion which robbed us of the premiership which was run-on the field-fairly and squarely as they had admitted.”
Some of the quotes by Wilson during the course of Perth’s appeal are so dramatic that they would make American screenwriter Aaron Sorkin would blush. The father of East Fremantle football told The Daily News on the Monday following the game “if the protest be upheld, I shall never play football again.”.
The Appeal Board would meet at 8pm on Tuesday, October 1 at the United Services Hotel on St. George’s Terrace (it’s long since been replaced by a skyscraper) to decide whether to uphold or dismiss Perth’s protest.
The Appeal Board was, in modern terms, The Tribunal. The group of men decided on suspensions and at the time was chaired by one Captain Richard Adolphus Sholl J.P., who was once a Postmaster-General in Western Australia.
Sholl lived on Aberdeen Street in the suburb now known as Northbridge, which at the time was home to some of the city’s most affluent citizens.
R.A. Sholl was joined on the appeal board by Frederick Gill who was between stints as a Labor MLA for Balcatta and subsequently Leederville, and a J.A. Bolt (It’s hard to pinpoint who exactly who Bolt is, as the third member is also referred to as J.R. and R.H. in other articles).
The trio weren’t blessed with the modern wonders of video replay that could clearly and without bias show the moment in question, and as a result had to rely on evidence provided by witnesses.
Bias makes up a large part of this intriguing story, as you will soon see, and even The Appeals Board members’ objectivity itself was questioned in an opinion piece that ran in The Empire newspaper on Saturday, October 5, 1907:
“Here we have an Appeal Board constituted by gentlemen who live and have their businesses in Perth, and they certainly have no feelings of sympathy towards East Fremantle, most of whom work hard for their livings on the wharf. Rather would they be disposed (were their justice of so blind a nature) to favour (sic) the Perth club, as being the direct representative of city life.”
There is some evidence to potentially back this claim of a bias within The Appeal Board.
In Perth’s win over South Fremantle in the first semi-final, South Fremantle lodged a protest against Perth claiming that a goal had been scored by one of their players, but it had been called touched by the central umpire. Had the goal been counted they would have won by a point and faced East Fremantle in a derby Grand Final.
South Fremantle intended to call a number of witnesses from the crowd, but The Appeal Board refused the request stating that they couldn’t hear any outside witnesses.
South Fremantle’s protest was dismissed on Friday, September 20.
11 days later Perth would be allowed to present 47 witnesses including a number of their members and fans who were on the outer.
East Fremantle called just four witnesses; goalkicker Charles Doig, the officiating boundary umpire Ernest Cooper, the official scorer a ‘Mr Jefferies’ and Charles ‘Dick’ Sweetman who was ‘standing 40 yards from the posts’.
East Fremantle’s representative at the hearing Fred Gray, who was also one of the competition’s vice-presidents and at the time of the hearing the competition’s acting president (the WAFA committee at the time consisted of club delegates), appeared surprised that the Appeal Board allowed outside witnesses and was later quoted by The Evening Mail as saying “Had we thought the board would have listened to outside witnesses we could have taken along a train load of them.”.
Central umpire Ivo Crapp was the first to give evidence. Highly regarded Crapp was umpiring royalty in Australia. Following a distinguished career in the VFL that saw him umpire seven grand finals Crapp had moved to Western Australia and would umpire every final from 1906 to 1914.
In The Daily News’ in-depth report of the hearing, Crapp said the contest was at the western end of Claremont’s Showgrounds when Perth’s Richard St. John Kennedy took East Fremantle’s Doig high and blew his whistle to give the free kick as the bell went.
According to all but one article covering the hearing Crapp was adamant that he blew the whistle either just before or simultaneously with the bell but not after.
Crapp also testified that had he heard the bell before blowing his whistle he would not have given the free and that if he had any doubt he would have conferred with the timekeepers before he awarded the free kick.
The free kick was never in question. Kennedy, who would later be killed in action in Marloncourt, France during world war one, admitted he gave Doig “a friendly pull” (The Western Mail reported on Saturday, October 5 that Kennedy had pulled Doig down by the neck).
Boundary umpire Ernest Cooper who was 25 yards from the contest corroborated Crapp’s story saying he heard Crapp’s whistle ‘about two seconds before the bell’.
The two officials – including one of the most highly respected umpires in the land – had clearly stated the free kick was given before the timekeepers rang the bell.
The timekeepers. This is where the story gets truly odd.
Perth’s timekeeper Frank Kennedy (Unlikely to be a relative of the aforementioned player given St. John Kennedy had moved to Perth from Victoria) was adamant that he had rung the bell and heard the whistle two seconds afterwards.
Kennedy testified that both he and his fellow timekeeper had left their positions in the grandstand.
The other timekeeper R.G.C. Salter – some reports claim he was formerly associated with East Fremantle while The Daily News labled him ‘timekeeper for East Fremantle’ – attested to hearing the whistle about five seconds before the bell rang.
Salter further said he would be surprised if umpire Crapp said the bell and the whistle went almost simultaneously.
Perth’s representative at the hearing a Mr. R.H. McLeod then directed a pertinent question to Salter: “Have you received the wagers you had on this match?”.
While Gray objected to the question Salter revealed that he had engaged in a small bet with his friend Reginald Harrison.
Salter, a ‘poultry fancier’ who lived in South Fremantle, had placed a 10 shilling, at the time the cost of a new hat, bet on East Fremantle winning.
That friendly wager for what would amount to roughly one dollar in 2020 wasn’t against the rules in 1907, in fact, in 1906 a motion at a league meeting to stop team delegates from betting was voted down.
Perth’s cavalcade of witnesses then followed with an avalanche of evidence that pointed to the bell having rung before Crapp’s whistle blew.
Witnesses stated that the time between the bell being rung and the whistle being blown were anywhere from two to 15 seconds and one of the Perth players Louis Cherry told the hearing that he run from the ground in enough time to watch Doig’s kick sail through the air from the comfort of Perth’s changing room.
Perth’s witnesses also included members of the South Fremantle Football Club and delegates from West Perth who all attested in Perth’s favour.
Two of the most crucial witnesses came towards the end of Perth’s evidence; Charles Augustus Saw J.P. and Clifton Penny.
Saw was amongst Western Australia’s elite. At the time of the hearing he would have been one of the state’s richest men having made his name as a banker before becoming a stockbroker.
A Justice of the Peace (like The Appeal Board chair R.A. Sholl) Saw’s father was a merchant in Perth and at one stage owned a plot of land in the centre of Perth that stretched from the around the Savoy Hotel on Hay Street west to near William Street. That’s almost the entire length on what is now the Hay Street Mall.
Cliff Penny was a giant of a man, standing at six foot six with an athletic frame forged from years of rowing.
Like Saw, Penny was part of Perth’s elite being one of the State’s most well-known and respected solicitors. Penny was involved in some of the highest profile cases before he moved to Sydney. While he continued to practice law Penny also dabbled in acting and featured in the film Unto Us Another Child is Born and had his portrait entered into the 1929 Archibald Prize.
These two men were the crowning jewel in Perth’s case. The Perthonalities were in some reports considered the most telling witnesses in the hearing.
Penny stated that he heard the bell and not Crapp’s whistle “As soon as we heard the bell, we rushed for the bar.”.
His statement drew laughter from the crowd, and it appears his drinking partner at the final game was Saw J.P. as he corroborated Penny’s evidence.
Watchmaker and goalkicker Charles Doig followed as the first of East Fremantle’s final witnesses staked their case. Boundary umpire Cooper and official scorer Jefferies both stated that the free kick was given before the bell sounded.
With the meeting having started at 8pm and over 50 witnesses giving their version of events The Appeal Board’s decision must have been made late in the night.
After what was described as a ‘lengthy discussion’ the three members of The Appeal Board returned, and Chair R.A. Sholl delivered their decision:
“We have carefully considered the; case, and recognise the great, responsibility that has devolved -upon us in having to decide this important' dispute. We have unanimously decided that the weight of evidence bears out the contention, of the protesting club:
that the time-keeper had rung the bell before the central umpire's whistle was sounded; and therefore the ball was dead when, the free kick was given from -which the dispute was made. We therefore uphold the protest”.
Doig’s goal was no more, erased from the record books.
And with that Perth became premiers of 1907 with the score now reading East Fremantle 5.11 (41 points) to Perth 6.6 (42 points).
The story doesn’t end there.
Perth immediately offered for the game to be replayed not wanting to be named premiers based on protest. Their captain Jack Leckie told The Evening Mail the following morning “The Perth team have been awarded the premiership by The Appeal Board, but there is not a single man in the team who would not rather have been without it than accept it under such conditions.”.
East Fremantle refused the rematch a delegate Mr Fanning was quoted in The West Australian on Thursday, October 3: “I do not think we will again have the pleasure of meeting Perth this season.”.
While Easts in some ways accepted the decision, they were ropeable about how The Appeals Board had gone about their business. On Thursday October 3 the club held a meeting at The Newcastle Club Hotel.
The meeting was full of rousing speeches and rapturous cheers.
One exchange was captured in detail by The Evening Mail:
Mr Gray “No one more deeply regrets that East Fremantle has been deprived of a premiership than I. Perth may claim the honor (sic) –
Captain Wilson: “a tin-pot honour in the circumstances”
Mr Gray: They claim the honour, but East Fremantle really won it, and that is the chief honour. I myself say you are premiers, and you all know you are. I hope there will be no talk of disbanding. Don’t leave a sinking ship. East is not done yet. Let the club next year show them all that the premiership can again be brought here, and not merely by five points, either.”
The club was angry about The Appeal Board allowing outside witnesses to be heard and a ‘flabbergasted’ captain Tommy Wilson told the evening mail the morning after the hearin: ““In this case every Tom, Dick or Harry who liked to open his house on behalf of Perth, was listened to with avidity by the board.”.
East Fremantle’s supporters were also furious that delegates from other clubs – especially those from South Fremantle – were allowed to give evidence against them.
A meeting of the WAFA on Wednesday, October 2 at Alcock’s Sports Depot saw North Fremantle’s delegate Mr Cookson criticise the competition’s acting-secretary Mr Udy for rushing the protest to The Appeal Board before the matter was presented to the League.
Cookson’s monition that Udy’s actions were “illegal” wasn’t seconded as the Chairman of the meeting Frank Grey explained that Udy’s decision came because R.A. Sholl the Appeal Board chairman was about to leave the city.
East Fremantle continued to seethe at the decision and at a meeting of the WAFA on Wednesday October, 30 it was revealed that the club’s secretary Jack Capp had written to the competition asking for the case to be heard at the Australasian Football Council.
The Australasian Football Council was the national governing body for Australian Rules Football from 1906 until 1995 when it was dissolved to make way for the AFL Commission.
The motion of putting the case to the Australasian Football Council was put to a vote and lost. In response East Fremantle’s President Mr. W. Lalor suggested that his club was still unsatisfied, and they would consider perusing the matter in the Supreme Court.
It appears that this was as far as East Fremantle’s fight went.
There was talk, as alluded to by Gray earlier in this piece, that East Fremantle would leave the competition or disband entirely.
While East Fremantle’s Tommy Wilson threatened to retire from the game as news of the appeal broke, he issued a call to arms on Thursday, October 3 at that fateful club meeting at the Newcastle Club Hotel.
“I have been wild enough several times to think of chucking up the game, but I say now let us stick to the business. If we retire our opponents will be glad, because it will be their only chance of winning the premiership on their own. They want us out of the road. Our duty is to stick together and show them that although they took our premiership we can still come up sailing. I think I can last another couple of seasons, and anyway I will try. Let us drop the trouble now and grin and bear it. We have won enough premierships, and have been robbed of enough to make us callous to a little robbery. Next year we will put in a team that will wipe the floor with the lot of them.”.
East Fremantle would win the next four premierships with Wilson leading them to Grand Final wins over Perth in 1908 and 1909.