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Wednesday WAFL: the approaching 10,000 milestone

By John Townsend

A minute change – literally – could help either West Perth or South Fremantle achieve the rarest slice of WAFL history on WA Day.

The WAFL’s 10,000th match will be played on Monday when the Bulldogs host East Fremantle in the Fremantle derby while the Falcons will take on East Perth in their own city version of the league’s greatest rivalry.

But which match will achieve the milestone?

Both are due to start at 2.10pm which means that the club that can delay the first siren the longest will get the honour of hosting the league’s decamillennial milestone.

Neither club appears particularly fussed about the landmark, perhaps reasoning that their energies should be spent on winning a vital match in one of the most even seasons in living memory, but the weight of achievement is only truly measured against history.

The WAFL has survived numerous challenges – world wars, depressions and the tectonic shift in the WA landscape through the growth of the national league – before getting to the eve of this momentous achievement.

Football historian Ric Gauci has used his website WAFLFootyFacts, a remarkable free asset for the league which he runs on the smell of an oily rag, to collate the details of every game played since Rovers scored the only goal against Victorians in the inaugural WAFL match on June 6, 1885 - exactly 137 years before Monday’s fixtures.

WAFLFootyFacts lists 10,012 games before the forthcoming weekend – meaning the second match on Monday will be the 10,017th for premiership points – but 17 of those fixtures were forfeits and did not actually get underway.

Most were one-off forfeits when clubs could not find enough players but they include the last five games credited to North Fremantle in their final season in 1915.

Many of the North Fremantle players had enlisted to fight in World War I by that stage, meaning the club could not field a team but was still considered to be a member of the competition for the purposes of the premiership ladder.

And in one of the most bloody-minded decisions ever made in Australian sport, Unions/Fremantle cost themselves the chance to win 10 consecutive WAFL premierships by forfeiting three consecutive games in 1891 in protest at the appointed umpire.

Unions won three flags in a row from 1887, thereby receiving the Dixson Challenge Cup that is now the official WAFL premiership trophy, won another after changing their name to Fremantle, denied themselves the chance for a fifth after being on top of the ladder with three games to play in 1891 and then won the next five.

That tumultuous part of WA football history is of particular interest to me because my great-grandfather Frank Townsend, the chief clerk at Fremantle Prison for many years at the turn of the 20th century, was a Unions/Fremantle office-bearer – and later helped establish South Fremantle when the original club folded.

Frank had a profound involvement in the dramas in that extraordinary 1891 season, firstly helping controversial umpire William Croft escape a rioting crowd after a contentious match and then arguing against Fremantle’s eagerness to forfeit if Croft was appointed to any more of their matches.

Not surprisingly, the WA Football Association kept appointing Croft and Fremantle kept forfeiting matches. Who would have thought that an umpiring controversy could dominate football?

The WAFL’s history is as grand and storied as those of the other football leagues around the country.

It might be at a low ebb at present as it attempts to find a new identity and purpose away from the AFL’s shadow but 10,000 games provide a strong foundation for whatever lies ahead.

Wednesday hero: East Fremantle dynamo Milan Murdock played several games early last season while reporting constant pain in his leg. No surprise. The problem was eventually diagnosed as a break and he missed the rest of the season.

Murdock is making up for lost time this season and is one of the reasons the Sharks are on top of the ladder and well-positioned to end their 12-game losing streak against South Fremantle on Monday. The little goer has produced 27, 31, 27, 26, 32 and 27 disposals and is third with 37 on the league tackle count.

IMAGE: The West Australian.


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