OLD XAVS HISTORY - THE EARLY DAYS
While the birth of the Old Xaverians Football Club was still nearly a quarter of a century away, the first association with amateur football came in 1899, when Xavier College (as St Francis Xavier) entered a team in the Metropolitan Junior Football Association (later the MAFA, then VAFA).
It was a doomed connection, as the Xaverian reported in language that reflected the spirit of the times.
"It is a hard task to fill a football list with matches against teams of a sufficient degree of respectability. Teams at times have visited the College composed of men, who would be more in their element were they in a less gentlemanly atmosphere. It was to obviate this that we tried and succeeded in gaining admittance to the M.J.F. Association. We played one or two matches and some practice matches in this Association; but we were invariably beaten. We had no chance - boys played against men, the result was evident from the beginning. Repeated defeats caused our boys gradually to lose heart. The committee were consulted and thinking "discretion the better part of valour" we reluctantly resigned our place in the Association. But this time had not been wasted. These matches had shown our fellows their weak points, and in the practice many faults were corrected that had not else been noticed. Great improvement was noticeable in the the quick passing, and the increased absence of selfish play was soon evident."
After many years seeking admission to the Schools Association of Victoria, Xavier College was finally admitted in 1899. The Xaverian notes that "the arrangement for matches for the Association might have been better" with the season schedule drawn from a hat. A fairer arrangement was mooted for 1900, which saw the establishment of the Associated Public Schools.
The Xaverian makes special note of the game against Cumloden College: "In this match we had rather bad luck. The umpiring was, to say the least of it, not too fair. This, the Cumloden team, who are a right decent lot of fellows (in the words of one of ours) admitted."
Old Boy , speaking of this match said "Both teams were keen to win from start to finish, and though the umpiring of Mackay was hardly strict enough, the game itself, both in tone and eagerness, was a good example of what these matches should be."
“We have felt for some time that something more than the occasional festive gatherings was necessary to keep the Old Xaverians of Melbourne particularly in close touch with one another, and this year definite action towards that end was taken in the formation of the OXFC.”
So wrote Gerald Honan, the first club secretary in the 1923 edition of the Xaverian.
It was in that year that the Old Xaverians Football Club fielded their first team in what was then known as the Metropolitan Amateur Football Association. The club’s formation came through the efforts of four alumni of Xavier College, Kew.
Alan Keane (pictured left), Dan Webb and Harry Considine, who had played together in the APS premiership team of 1917, and Maurice Quin, who was their junior, showed the initiative, organisation and enthusiasm required to begin a club from scratch.
There was no shortage of problems in the lead up to the 1923 season. Many Old Xaverians had played with other clubs since leaving school and found it difficult to gain clearances. Older eligibles attempted comebacks until they realised their golden years might be behind them. Organised training also proved to be a major headache, with the consequence that success did not come early.
Despite these hurdles, the 1923 team achieved renown for its perseverance and spirit. Toward the season end, it defeated two of the competition leaders, and was unlucky not to topple eventual premier Old Scotch.
At season end, the club expressed thanks to the College for providing a fine oval and to Xavier’s groundsman Mr Rundle for preparing the boundary line and the centre circle.
Having won fewer games than required to avoid relegation, the club realised it would need to recruit.
“We appeal, finally to all Old Boys who can still play the game to enroll for 1924 with secretary at the College and to make Xavier amongst the Old Boys a name to be respected and feared, as she is amongst the present boys of the schools. There must be Glynns and Schneiders in the ranks of the Old Boys, let them come forward and put our football team in the position of Premiers-1924,” wrote Honan.
After one year as secretary, Honan gave way to J Howard, whose report in the Xaverian was more upbeat.
“The cost of running a football club in these days, even in an amateur organisation such as we play under, is very high. Umpires and trainers’ fees, material and sundry expenses were the means of us spending sixty pounds or so, and it is to the great credit of members that mainly through their efforts this amount has been cleared to within a few pounds.
“At times this very important question of finance caused the committee a great deal of trouble, but each time we set to work and by a series of entertainments in which all members gave a hand, we kept the wolf from the door.”
Indeed, it was noted that membership had doubled and that the bank balance was not as desired, but not desperate. Nevertheless, there was an appeal for a wider spread of membership among Xavier’s alumni at the rates of five shillings for non-playing members and seven shillings and sixpence for players.
On the field, thirty-two players represented the club in season 1924, and the Old Xaverians beat all teams in the competition at least once, with the exception of Old Trinity, the eventual premier.
The secretary noted the loss of reliable players Bown, Cooke, Joyce and Horan, and the arrival of likely types Cussen, O’Brien, Uren, O’Connor among the twenty odd who attended the first training sessions at Xavier.
After dropping the opener on 3 May, the Xavs strung together a club record of three victories in a row before sickness and business commitments weakened the XVIII. A late recovery saw the club finish in fifth position with a record of 9-7.
Alan Keane won plaudits for his play and the Cup for Best Player, while Tom Ryan kicked 87 goals, more than any Amateur that year. His biggest haul came in the last of his thirteen games for the year – 16 against Burwood.
Several schoolboys filled in where required, among them L Lachal, K Schneider, K Keane and Maurice Collins.
Part of that increased performance was no doubt due to esprit de corps generated in part by the social activities, which included various Smoke Nights and Picture Nights.
On 26 September, at St Patrick’s Hall in Bourke Street, players gathered for the final time that season, and enjoyed varied and high-class musical items.
Vice-president Herman Schrader was lauded for his efforts on behalf of the club and hailed as the team’s most enthusiastic supporter with his “stentorian tones urging them on when often in a bad position.”
Little that was recorded of season 1925 seems to have survived the passage of time. W Cotter captained the XVIII and G Crosbie took over the presidency from Mick Mornane. Alan Keane, the club’s foundation captain-coach apparently put away the clipboard. The identity of the best and fairest is unknown.
By 1926, the optimism of earlier years had disappeared. In the Xaverian, there was scant news of the club, save the following un-attributed lament.
“Considering the number of able footballers who carried the colours to victory in recent years in the School eighteens, the football club is not progressing as it should. Considering that the Association to which the OXAFC belong is probably the best in this State, as regards good, clean football, it is remarkable that the club has not had a greater following and lacks a good playing membership to choose teams from.”
Despite the pessimism of the previous year, the club attracted a record attendance at the AGM on 16 March at Scott’s Hotel. The club’s first life membership was awarded to Dr Alan Keane, founder and club captain for three years.
Father Frank O’Keefe SJ took over the coaching reins as training began at the end of March. The club rued the loss of W Cotter, the skipper, and G Cooke, his deputy, along with L O’Connor, J MacNamara, A Jones, M Quin and E Cooke, but recruited A Dingwall, J Madden, B O’Keefe, J O’Sullivan, D Kennedy, N Campbell, Austin Robertson (who crossed to South Melbourne later that year), R O’Halloran, J Tehan, E Hurren, G O’Malley and E Morgan. In addition, T Bown, Tom Ryan, T Minogue and J Goulding returned to the club. (Click on pic at left for larger view)
In all, 35 players wore the Red and Black that year. Tom Ryan led the goalkicking with 32 and Alec Rogers won the Best and Fairest.
New club secretary J F Moloney wrote in the Xaverian:
“From these and last year’s players, a fine side was assembled, and it opened the season by brilliantly winning the first match. However, the smile of fortune alighted elsewhere, and from the very beginning, sickness, injuries and business causes played havoc with the team. For one match, no fewer than ten players were incapacitated . . .
“By this series of misfortunes opened the door to our opportunity. That traditional spirit of Xavier to ‘do or die’ was awakened, and in the words of the School song ‘Each fellow knew he could not fail’.
Father O’Keefe’s coaching and emphasis on teamwork is credited with a turn-around during the season’s second half in which the Xavs won six of nine to land the club in sixth spot.
Secretary Moloney extolled the virtues of the Amateurs:
“There is not the slightest doubt that this is the competition in which old Public School footballers should play. It is here that the nearest approach to the standard and spirit of Public School football is to be found.”
In their sixth season, the Old Xaverians finally tasted finals action. The road to the playoffs was not easy.
As the Xaverian trumpeted, “ . . . on one or two occasions towards the end of the season it seemed that we were to be deprived from winning a place in the second round, still the fighting spirit – always prominent in Xavier boys when they are in a tight corner – came to the fore and we won through”
Fr O’Keefe had moved on to another Jesuit house, thereby vacating the sportsmaster’s job at Xavier and also the coaching job at the OXFC.
In his stead, due to the generosity of John Wren, the club secured the services of Jock McHale, who led training at Barkers Road each Wednesday. Commitments at Collingwood kept him away on Saturdays, but his hard work, enthusiasm and advice proved valuable for the team performance.
Throughout the year, several players shone. Bert Anderson was selected to represent Victoria and did so with distinction against South Australia in Adelaide. A Dingwall won the trophy for “best Club-man and most consistent player” and Frank O’Halloran won the most improved. Jim Williamson, A O’Connell, A Rogers, and J Madden were also fine performers.
The fighting spirit of Xavier was not enough to overcome their semi-final opponent State Savings Bank, however, and the club’s first finals outing ended with a 13 point loss.
The club coffers were boosted by the receipts from the Annual Dance that totaled £19, which was then handed over to the Chapel Fund. The Treasurer reported with some glee that £29 remained in the bank.
Secretary T K Simpson, who had replaced Jack Moloney, reported:
“The prospects for 1929 look brighter than ever and we are confidently looking forward to going a step further by winning our first premiership and once more playing in A Grade.”
But there was a caveat to that optimism.
“This result, however, can only be obtained by getting the support of all the Old Boys – both young and old – the former as players, the latter as spectators. The class of football seen in the amateur competition is very high, and anyone who sees our matches always goes away feeling that they have seen a first-rate exhibition of good, clean football, where the game is played solely for the “games sake” and not, as is so often seen these days, for the gate.”
Wall Street was not the only crash in 1929, with the sunshine of ’28 turning to dark clouds for the Old Xavs, who plummeted to second last on the ladder, despite winning four of their first seven games.
Jock McHale again coached the team, but many found it difficult to attend training on Wednesdays. Jim Williamson was chosen for Victoria and won the trophy for “best all-rounder” A O’Connell was adjudged most consistent, Len Cass won “most improved” and T Minogue was rewarded for being “most consistent at practice”.
Again, the club had money in the bank – a healthy £14 – and again T K Simpson implored all Old Boys to get behind their club and assist in its resurgence, which would have to begin in C Section.
With Jock McHale unable to continue his coaching association with the club, the Old Xavs looked around for a replacement that could commit to attending games as well as hitting the track on practice nights.
Bert Laxton, who had played at Collingwood and had guided the Xavier XVIII was anointed to lead the Xavs’ campaign in C Section. Under his guidance, the team won 11 of 18 games, finished in 3rd position after the home and home season and was drawn to play 2nd placed Brighton Technical School Old Boys in the knockout semi-final.
Despite failing to win the premiership, Secretary Simpson reported that the objects of the club, “to promote a closer intercourse between the old boys” had been carried out.
That success was due in no small part to the most successful dance held at The Palms at Henley Lawns and the two pie nights held in the pavilion at Xavier after practice.
J Madden won the trophy for “general excellence”, S J Casey was “most consistent”, T Ahern was dubbed “most improved” and T Howard won the goalkicking award.
The OXFC was rocked mid-season with the sudden passing of the Xavier Rector and club Patron, Fr Frost. Since arriving at Xavier in 1924, Fr Frost had displayed outstanding loyalty to the club, attending almost every match and openly promoting the benefits of the club among his pupils at the College.
That year too saw the untimely death of club stalwart Len Cass.
On a brighter note, new club secretary J Madden reported:
“. . . one of the greatest factors in the growth of Amateur football is the sporting and enthusiastic spirit in which the game is played. Club spirit and “love of the game” are the ideals of the thirty clubs making up the MAFA – hence the success of this large body. In no club is this spirit more manifest than in that of the Old Xaverians’ Football Club. Visiting amateur teams look forward to their match at Kew. The beautiful surroundings and college playing fields give the fixture the appearance of a picnic match,”
“Players in this club have no hesitation in saying they would rather lose a dozen games than win a disputed or spitefully played one . . . since he inception of the club in 1923, no player has appeared before the Independent Tribunal for striking, retaliating or unfair play. It is significant that on no occasion has an opposing player been reported against them.”
Perhaps this Newboltian dedication to fair play matched the zeitgeist or perhaps it was an attempt to distract the faithful from the fact that the club won only 10 of 18 games and missed the four.
Mitigating circumstances were the injuries to Jim Williamson, Jim Wall, Jack Drake, Geoff O’Malley and Jim O’Connor, which kept them from the playing ranks for some weeks.
The social activities came thick and fast. Smoke Socials and Pie Nights met the need between the Annual Dance, held at the Dell, and the Bridge Party, held at the home of Mr and Mrs Quin of Malvern.
The Quins’ hospitality allowed the club to carry over the season with money in the bank, even if the return from the on-field events had been slightly disappointing.
The incoming Committee insisted that the club’s tenth anniversary be memorable and boldly stated their vision. The minimum return from the season’s efforts would be 12 victories, which would equal their best season.
In appointing a coach to replace Laxton, the committee made its feelings clear:
“The Committee of the club has always been of the opinion that the best coach for the team is an experienced Old Xaverian. One who has played with the team, is sufficiently advanced in years to exercise the necessary discipline on the younger players and who has that understanding of the Club’s spirit, traditions and the atmosphere of Xavier generally.”
Happily for the Old Xavs, club stalwart George Cooke had recently returned to Melbourne after some years in Sydney, and took up the position, throwing himself in to the fray regardless of the inconvenience it caused him.
Cooke proved to be a success – the club won 14 of 18, and went to the finals in second position. However, the premiership dream ended with a 6 point loss to Dandenong in the knockout semi-final. Maurice Collins, who had led the goalkicking that year with 53, suffered a dislocated elbow before half-time – his first serious injury in nine seasons.
The locker room after the game was a depressing scene, but spirits were lifted at the Annual Dinner that evening with the cheerful singing of the school songs of Xavier and boisterous applauding of the enthusiastic speeches about chances in 1933.
Ed Hurren won the trophy for “general excellence”, Frank O’Halloran “most consistent”, Neville Lardner “best place man”, Neil Campbell the “most improved”, and “best club man” by Desmond Kennedy.
Again, social functions dotted the calendar, with the Annual Dance at St Leonard's Ballroom in St Kilda, a Smoke Night, and a Dinner for 70 at the Queen’s Bridge Hotel, donated by Mrs Cass.
Thus the club’s tenth year lived out the expectation that it would be a memorable one and closed out its first decade with the promise of greater riches ahead.
The player list submitted to the Amateur Footballer comprised the following information (the metric conversion is ours):
Old Xaverians won their first ever premiership, defeating University Blues to take the C Section flag. Final scores were OX 13.10 (88) d Uni Blues 11.13 (79)
World War II
It was only a matter of time before the expansionism of Nazi Germany and Japan hit home. The 1940 season began in uncertainty and ended after Round 1. Amateur football would not return until 1946. When it did, only 25 of the 40 clubs that had competed in 1939 made their return.
Many Old Xaverians players served in the military during the war, and some never returned from foreign fields. Many did come back to play again or for the first time.
VAFA records of the time indicate the participation and sacrifice of those who had represented the Old Xavs' prior to the war.
Killed: Murray Charles Davies, John Drake, Herman Patrick Hoppe, William McCormack, Richard Pirrie, Eric Schrader, William Sheahan.
Service: W Ashby, J C Bray, A D Buxton, A Carlin, J W Casey, J K Farey, H Fennell, F Higginbotham, T Kelly, J McCaffrey, H A McFadgen, H K McCarthy, K McDavitt, M O'Connell, E Ryan, J Rawson, F Scognamillo, T J Russell, A R Sheahan, W Stutt DFC, R Walker, N Younes.
The Old Xaverians won their first post-war premiership in 1948, defeating Brunswick in a heart-stopper. Their return to A Grade was celebrated with a heart-starter or two at a smoke social.
Ruckman Peter Peppard, 25, stood 6' 3" and weighed in at a svelte 13 stone 3 lbs (84kg). He recalled:
"We won B Section after winning all three finals by less than 10 points. I carried a knee injury into the finals and that "buggered" the rest of my career.
Some who played in that team: Peter Murphy(captain), Esmond Downey, John Tiernan, J. Pirrie , B. Gaynor , B & G Laird, L. Clareborough.
"In the prelim, Xavs beat Balwyn and best were Brendan Dooley and Jim Ralph," said the Amateur Footballer, ". . . played his usual wide and dashing game, creating havoc amongst the opposition."
The team arranged for a photographer to take a picture before the Grand Final but some players showed up late, and they just ran out on to the field instead.
Rumour has it that Peter Murphy's Dad took a video of it all, but no one ever saw it!
R18: Fifth placed Xavs drop the game to league leaders Coburg 11.19 to 7.10. Best for the Red 'n' Blacks were O'Brien, Greenaway, the Seabrook brothers, Corby and Donovan.
Peter Rhoden recalled in 1976: "In 1957, the club played in a Grand Final at Elsternwick Park against Alphington on a very windy day. We lost by 29 points but went up to A Grade. Two things remain in my mind, the first was Dick Day kicking the first three goals of the match with the wind. They were also our last goals, as we finished with 3.12. The second was how we crowded the forward line in desperation trying to kick goals. In that side, I was a player and after the game I talked with Brian Collopy about the errors we had made."
R7: Trailing until the final quarter, the Xavs stormed home with an eight goal burst to knock off Ormond. John Sanders kicked five to spearhead the victory.