Retrospective: The VAFA in the 1950s at Alphington

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Geoffrey Reilley


I enjoyed the opportunity recently to chat with a delightful gentleman, Jack Murray, following the occasion of his 90th birthday celebrations. Jack played with Alphington in the 1950’s in A Section. Alphington were runners-up in B Section in 1951 and Jack joined them the following season. Jack was a hard working, dogged half back flanker, recruited by Alphington from Deepdene. He particularly remembers playing against the strong Uni Blacks, Uni Blues, Ormond and Old Melburnians teams who featured in A Section at that time. He regards Geoff Tunbridge as his hardest opponent and the best player he saw in the VAFA. He also remembers the ability of others to go on and play with Tunbridge in the great Melbourne, VFL premiership teams of the 1950’s – Laurie Mithen and Dick Fenton-Smith, both ex Ormond.

In addition to playing in the VAFA, Jack Murray was a regular in the tough Metropolitan Saturday morning competition. He played with Wirra Stars who represented the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and played against the Brewery and other industrial teams. Ray would play certain games with Wirra Stars to ensure he could qualify for their finals and always played with Alphington in the afternoons. Neither Wirra Stars nor Alphington knew he was playing elsewhere. Ray worked for many years as a foreman at Commonwealth Aircraft leading teams of workers who made component parts for jet engines. He also made his own ‘shin guards’ out of aluminium! Jack made a number of lifelong friends from his Alphington days – Grant Read, Dan Heffernan and Len Coogan among them. Jack did receive interest from Hawthorn in the 1950’s after playing a representative game for the VAFA at Glenferrie Oval but chose to stay with Alphington.

Jack also played with Camberwell in the VFA where he was coached by the legendary Collingwood player, Albert (Leeta) Collier. Collier was captain/coach of Camberwell after his distinguished League career. Jack also mentioned playing in the VAFA’s ‘Lightning Premiership’ Competition, a time restricted set of games at the Junction Oval on the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June 1954. He recalled how Alphington won through to the final and came up against Parkside, then a C Section team. Alphington were expected to win the final, however, Parkside had recruited a young Ray Gabelich for one season. Gabelich controlled the game with his huge frame and fine football ability, especially in the last minutes of the game as he kept hitting the ball out of bounds at continuous boundary throw-ins until the siren sounded with Parkside just in front. Most will know that Ray Gabelich went on to be a star with Collingwood in the following years.

Despite his time in other football competitions, Jack Murray had no hesitation in stating the ‘ammos’ to be by far the best competition. He said the standard of play was outstanding and although tough, it was usually fair, highly skilful and produced so many players who went on to star in the VFL. Jack is still keeping well in his 91st year and his power of recall was excellent. He is still living at home in Vermont and shared a number of other recollections with me of his time in the VAFA. Thanks Jack for making your time available, it was a privilege to share your memories.

5 Years Ago – 2010

The game of the round in D1 Section was between undefeated teams, Peninsula Old Boys and Monash Blues. The first quarter was full of exciting play with both forward lines kept open and the respective defences were under pressure. Monash made the most of this first quarter but only just and wasted their scoring shots with 4.9 to 4.3. Play tightened in the second quarter as the match developed into an arm wrestle before Peninsula maintained its unbeaten run with 9.17 to 7.16. Best – Rees, Murray, Coghlan, Southam (4), Nicholls, Barbour (Pen) and McKenzie, Young, Smyth, Osmond, Baring, Vincent (Monash).

In Division 2, St Mary’s ‘broke their duck’ with an upset victory over Prahran, 10.13 to 6.7 although Prahran held onto to their position in the top four, but only just. In the low scoring game, The Saints made the most of their opportunities in the first quarter with 5.3 to 1.2. Best – S Stevens, Gatehouse, Kelly, Ryan, West, Crane (StM) and Matherson, Adamson, Northway, Costin, Laverty, MacDonald (Prahran)

10 Years Ago – 2005

In A Section Old Haileybury were sitting comfortably on top of the ladder after disposing of St Kevins 26.10 to 13.9. SKOBS actually led at quarter time by a couple of goals but The Bloods’ 11 goal second quarter set up the victory. SKOBS only kicked 6 goals after quarter time while Barker (6), O’Farrell (4) and Langford-Jones, Mason, Jones and Siapantis all managed 3. Best – Barker, Ford, Kight, Lay, Seccull, Chisholm, Carson (OH) and Mahoney, McKee (7), Dowling, fields, Pope, Greenham (StK).

In B Section North Old Boys defeated the young St Bedes Mentone Tigers team 19.17 to 13.6. NOBS drew away after quarter time and never really looked like being headed. Best – Spurling, Minton-Connell (9), Sutherland, Maxton, T Sheehan, Curry(NOBS) and Connolly, Corder, McColl, M Wintle, Kane, Capsalis (StB MT).

20 Years Ago – 1995

There were now clear leaders in each of the three E Sections and all were undefeated after 6 rounds. St Leos led the way in E East with a percentage of 247. North Brunswick in E Central 216 and Beaumaris in E South 240. Coaches in E East were Brett Davidson (Aquinas), Andrew Hudson (Balwyn Combined), Peter Wigney (Canterbury North Balwyn), Mick Carusi (Chirnside Park), John Wise (Old Carey), Robert Osborn (Richmond Central), Mark Flack (St Leos Wattle Park), Peter Lowe (St Marys), David McCormack (Yarra Valley OB).

VAFA CEO, Phil Stevens went to great lengths in his Editorial to report on the reasons behind the geographical placement of the three E Sections. There had been quite a lot of criticism pre-season toward the Executive’s decision. Many clubs felt outraged that after years of ‘slogging it out’ to climb up the sections, that in one sweeping change a club by enjoying a very good season could ‘leapfrog’ other clubs into D Section. Phil provided the ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ and then reported that the feedback at that stage of the season from clubs was nothing but positive. The Clubs had reported increased attendances at matches when playing away and certainly increased numbers by visiting clubs. There were also positive comments from supporters and sponsors due to the closer geographical nature of each section. There followed three graphs showing with clear justification that the change had been successful.


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