Forty Years In Football - East Fremantle FC

“Tommy” Wilson, a Founder of Old Easts

Turning Back The Pages of Time… By  “Kudex’ an article from the Daily News 1929….. and retyped by Steve Davies

Way back in 1889 a team of junior footballers indulged their bent on a reserve known as Royal Park, fronting the Flemmington-road, in North Melbourne. One of the youngsters quickly revealed a natural aptitude for the game; as each season rolled by, his ability became more pronounced. Soon he became recognised as a district champion. The gold rush brought him to Western Australia but fate stepped in and decided that he should remain in Fremantle. But for that the East Fremantle club might not be in existence today, for the youngster was Mr. T.C. (Tommy) Wilson, to whom the foundation of the famous club is largely to be credited.

Every team can proudly point to the stalwart pioneers who set it on its feet; sportsmen who stuck through thick and thin and, by their club allegiance, considered yeoman service in laying the foundations of the success which the great national game now enjoys. But has any of these veterans rendered the cause greater and more valuable service than the same “Tommy” Wilson? Of his club he was captain for nine seasons; he was five years it’s secretary; eight years its treasurer; 11 years its representative at the league table, and from the year of its inception, 1898, until this season (1929) he was a member of its committee. A magnificent record. Mr. Wilson ceased official relations with East Fremantle this year (1929). The Club owes an invaluable debt to one of the finest personalities and sportsmen the game in Western Australia has known.

To chat with Mr. Wilson of these halcyon days of football development, as I did the other evening, is to refresh one’s memory of the good old times of football. That age had its champions no less but more renowned than those of the past decade; there was more romance to it because the monetary element was a negligible quantity, and it survived the storms which threatened to engulf it because of the magnificent sportsmen who were attracted to it. Those early struggles, stirring times they made, the stories of its champions can be delightfully told by Mr. Wilson who shared so many of them. His own career is deeply interesting. The circumstances surrounding the formation of Old Easts is a romance in itself. The whole story is well worth telling. It is based wholly upon Mr. Wilson’s association with the game, and the many personalities with whom football brought him in contact. More interesting still will be the history of the East Fremantle Club, which he has been asked to compile for the club.


The team with which Mr. Wilson launched out as a player was known as Parkside, its players drawn from ambitious youngsters thrilled by the game which had long before commenced to fascinate the \Victorians. He joined Parkside in 1889, playing in the second grade. A year later Parkside, seeking a new designation, became known as North Melbourne Juniors. Mr. Wilson improved with experience and the season 1893 found him something in the nature of a football celebrity in North Melbourne, of which his father was one-time Mayor. That period of his association with game is recalled with pardonable pride because at that time the giants of Victorian football were the idols and Mr. Wilson competed against such cracks as the invincible Albert Thurgood, the late Dr. (Ned) Officer, Essendon’s brilliant goalkeeper, “Spot” Chadwick, and the famous “Tracker” Forbes, Minnie Palmer who still sticks to Old Easts, all of Essendon and “Dolly” Christy, who afterwards became Mr. Wilson’s inseparable pal, and who was then playing with Melbourne. There were also the great Peter Burns, Billy Windley, Ben Page and Harry Duggan  (both played with The Fremantle in 1896). All of whom belonged to the famous South Melbourne Cub and who were magnificent players. The list continues with such names as Con Hickey (now secretary of the Australian Football Council), Jim Grace, Tom Banks, Frank Musgrove (another member of The Fremantle in 1896 and Ted Melling, all of Fitzroy; Proudfoot, Pannam, Hailwood (who afterwards came to WA), Williams, E Dowham, J Coward (now in WA) and Fred McGinnis. Mr. Wilson played with the team for part of 1893, in 1894 (the year Thurgood came to WA), and 1895, In March of 1896 he headed for the Golden West in his possession two momentoes, which he retains to this day.


One of these is a letter written by Alf J. Woodham, then secretary of North Melbourne, reading “The bearer, Mr. T C. Wilson, has been connected with the above Club for some time, and last season (1895) acted in the capacity of captain. Besides being one of the very best players in the team, Mr. Wilson has earned for himself  the ? reputation  of being a fine sportsman in every possible respect. His ability as a player and a captain, in addition to his many other qualities has made him one of the most popular in the district, and the game will lose by his departure from amongst? them and who will be sadly missed in many ways. With best wishes for his future welfare and prosperity - - Yours etc”

The other was a solid gold locket presented to him by C. J. Mossop (better known as Chris Mossop president of the Victorian Junior Football Association in.


Not long after he had set foot on Western Australian soil, Mr. Wilson had joined up with The Fremantle. John Clark who remains to this day one of Old Easts finest supporters was the link which attached him to that club, they having been associated in North Melbourne Juniors. Another member being Tommy Warne, the famed interstate and international cricketer of Carlton, whose son incidentally was here recently with the Victorian Colts. From the time Mr. Wilson first played football he was a half-back and that he remained to the end. That year, 1896, The Fremantle were premiers. (The team appears in a photograph on this page). Amongst its players were (William) “Pos” Watson, who had been one of the greatest Essendon ever turned out and who still keeps in touch with East Fremantle. Tommy Wilson, vice-captain Frank Musgrove, Tommy O’Day, Wally Watts of test cricket fame, Jack Sicily and Clark, Harry Duggan, ‘Spot’ Chadwick (His full name John Atkinson Chadwick), who captained East Fremantle in later years; the great Thurgood, Bob Byers and Dolly Christy.


At the end of that season Tommy Wilson, Christy, O’Day and Sicily transferred from The Fremantle to Imperials, another Port combination which had been going some years as a junior team, and was the latest addition to the association, in which The Fremantle, West Perth and Rovers were active. Besides a number who had made their names in other States it contained names such as Jim Mullaney, a great all-rounder; “Toby” Letheridge, whose son now plays with Easts and who later went to the Fields. Bob Budd, whose son is now with West Perth, Alec McKenzie, renowned for his kicking; “Bubs” Munyard, “Sambo” Manton and Les Morrison. Also of that team was Vince Covacovich, one of the stars of the period who afterwards went to the goldfields.

One suspects that Imperials were a somewhat lackadaisical body, even for that period, for Mr. Wilson tells a good story of the circumstances surrounding their disbandment. With worthy enterprise the players were provided with new uniforms, but when the season was about over, there was a tragic discovery; they had not paid for, and about 30 pounds was owing. The seller of the goods was adamant; threats of a summons and the like made the air electrical. That upshot was that certain of the leading members who were in no way responsible had to “fork out” or accept a somewhat drastic alternative. After much scraping and scratching, and the passing around of the hat, Imperials erased the blot from its escutcheon, but in the same year the club had an unlamented demise.


Tommy Wilson and “Dolly” Christy firmly resolved that they would cut free of football for good and all. The approach of season 1898 found their attitude unchanged. The game no longer had any attraction for them. In this mood Sammy Thomson who in later years attained to the dignity of the Mayoralty of East Fremantle, encountered them. His inquiry as to whether they were going to play again met with an emphatic negative. They were finished; why play football and have writs issued against them without any cause whatever?

No, it could not, and would not, be done. One must credit Mr Thomson with uncommonly good persuasive powers, because during that same chat they agreed to his suggestion to join him in the formation of a new team. But it had to be run on strictly amateur lines. Mr. Wilson insisted, and in a more methodical manner than the defunct Imperials, a policy which had been strictly carried out during the life of the club.

No sooner the thought than action. A meeting was called, the trio inserting an advertisement above their names. That historic meeting took place on the site now occupied by the Commercial Hotel, the building then being of the same name. If Mr. Wilson remembers rightly, the first item at the gathering was to receive a cheque for £5 5s from J.J. Holmes, now a member of the Legislative Council and who was the clubs first patron. He retained the post until 1912 when the late H.J. Lynn who was patron for 17 years until his death succeeded him. That £5 5s donation might be said to have started the East Fremantle Club. The first officers elected were Messrs J.J. Holmes (patron), J. H. Rogers (president and delegate), Lou Stapledon (treasurer), now with G. Wood, Son and Co., and Frank Herbert (secretary). Sam Thomson was also a delegate and that great friend of the club in later years, Jack Capp, was a committeeman. The following year he became secretary and retained the post till 1904. The first trainers were “Sonny” Hales and Alec Rodgers. Mr. Wilson captained the team in its first year and winning only one match it finished last. “Dolly” Christy was vice-captain and the side included “Scotty” Doig, the first of the family, which looms large in the club’s list of great players and sterling supporters. His son Ron is now a leading South Fremantle player. Others in the first team were Jim Thomas, the great follower, Charlie Atkins, who had left the Rovers and Fred Chittleborough, another who came across from Perth, the rover Dick Sweetman, Dick Pierce a son of whom now plays with the team, Freddie Cooper, Norman Ferguson and others all of whose names will be familiar to the older generation….


The concluding instalment of Mr. T.C. Wilson’s memoirs takes up the story of the development of the East Fremantle Club, following its foundation in 1898, and of the many fine players and personalities with whom he was brought in contact during his long association with the game. Mr. Wilson’s memoirs are not in any sense a history of  “Old Easts”. He has been asked to compile such a history by his club, which should be a particularly interesting document.

The team made tremendous strides in its second year, coming from last place to almost first. Mr. Wilson – he captained Old Easts in the first three seasons and again from 1904 to 1909 inclusive – again led the team in 1899 when it was runner-up, losing the final by four points to West Perth. Some of the officials still actively associated with the club joined it in 1899 when Jack Capp was secretary and C. H. Pierce its president, “Hooky” Doig also made his debut that season and with his brother and T.C.W. They formed a half back line which stood the test for many years. Charlie Wakely, the “Bonnie” Campbell of the period joined up about that time as well as Dolph Heinrichs, one of the outstanding Western Australian players of all time and “Punch” Hammond who had played with The Fremantle in 1897. Another memorable association was formed that year, for in 1899 Tommy Lewis became a trainer of the club and the years have left that combination intact, as Tommy is now head trainer and looks equal to doubling his period of service. Mr. Wilson thinks it was in 1899 that the late R.J. Lynn joined the club. He was a great man for the club and often said, Mr. Wilson recalled, that his association with East Fremantle was a big factor in the success he afterwards attained in life.


The season 1900 has a prominent place in the records because it marked Old East’s initial premiership success – a fitting reward for the enterprising few who had made the club a power in such a short period. Jno Clark came into the team that year, along with Wally Watts, the cricket veteran Freddie Roberts, a back man, now of Bunbury, and George Munro, from  prominent foot-running family. Dolph forward, and Charles Wakely. The names of Wilson, Christy, the Doigs, Sweetman and Chittlebrough had not lost their lustre and Mr. Wilson is certain that it was the fact that it retained for so many years the champions who had brought it success in the first place which enabled East Fremantle to make its reputation. For many years afterwards “Dolly” Christy, the Doigs, Sweetman and others stuck to the club and gave it magnificent service on and off the field. To that list, of course, must Mr. Wilson’s own name be added. In 1900 also there came into the club as officials Archie Harper and Joe Breen who helped it greatly.


Entering the bonds of matrimony in 1900, Mr. Wilson resolved again to retire. A handsome clock on his mantelpiece  today was the club’s recognition of his entry to the ranks of the bendicts. He also became the first life member. The club alos hoped to finish up the following season (1901) as premiers, but it was doomed to disappointment, as West Perth asserted their old superiority and Easts had to be content with second. The final was played at Fremantle Oval, but East Fremantle could not keep “Bundy” McNamara and Herb Loel – two of the finest players on the coast – quiet. It was Bundy’s first season here from South Australia and he was a treat being a great grafter and magnificent kick.

Again Mr. Wilson’s resolve to retire was forgotten in his eagerness to take up the game, but 1901, as he put it himself, was an “in and out year” for him. ‘Spot’ Chadwick assumed the cares of captaincy for the first time in 1901, and was reappointed in the following two years, with Sweetman his “vice” in the first, and Jno. Clark in the other. Another link with that period is the present city engineer, W.D. Atwell, who joined in 1901, as also did Joe Cooper, and Charlie Tyson, George Paulin, the chairman of the association, is in a photograph of the East Fremantle team of 1901. The following three years the club was not beaten for the premiership. One event of 1901 that must be chronicled in the birth of North Fremantle, the old Magpies, to whom East Fremantle lost Jim Thomas, Dick Pierce, Wakely and Munro. The two clubs became bitter rivals, Norths building up into a solid team.


The most important item of the 1902 season was the joining up of the famous follower, Jim “(Carbine”) Gullan, a man well worthy to rank with the great players the club then had.. Little was it thought then that this great player’s association with the club was fated to end so soon and in such tragic circumstances. He met his death accidentally in the early part of 1904. “It was a great blow, “ Mr. Wilson remarked, “as he was such a splendid specimen of manhood. To friend and foe he was one of the kindest and friendliest of men and though a powerful player was always fair”. “Minnie” Palmer, a grand player for and staunch friend, of the club to this day, also played this season – as were these players whose deeds have already been mentioned, such as Chadwick, Jno. Clark, Dick Sweetman, the Doigs, Bobby Byers and Tommy Wilson

Other brilliant exponents of the game became attached to Old Easts in 1903, when the famed Kelly trio of brothers was enrolled – Harvey “Duff”, Ernie and Otto, all of whom had migrated from Victoria, as well as Ernie Bromley. The club was also fortunate in getting the services of Harry Sharpe. He was a brilliant youngster and the remarkable point about his play was that he played in sandshoes. The same old stalwarts gave service for the club they idolised. If Mr. Wilson’s memory is correct, this was the first season of Charlie Doig, a great player and official of the veterans and now their active and enthusiastic president. This was a band of champions in the real sense, with “Carbine” Gullan, Tommy Wilson, “Dolly” Christy, the Doigs, Dick Sweetman and others of equal rank. It was wonderful how they stuck to the club. The season the club made its first goldfields tour, the credit of which was due to the late Jack Capp, who was a big factor in the reputation the club enjoyed and who was extremely popular with all.


With these players East Fremantle was a formidable force in 1904. They became possessors of the Farley cup, presented by the late James Farley, secretary of the W.A Cricket Association, who was a fine supporter of football. The club won the trophy outright after three successive premierships. At the end of that season, however, there was a little friction and the Kellys and Bromley went over to South Fremantle. It was thought East’s reign had closed. But that was not the case because the club again got the services of Dolph Heinrichs who had been to the goldfields. His brother Albert who proved one of the finest followers the State has seen and memories of whom stand out with many old-timers came to the club, as well as Jim Thomas who had come back to the old team from North Fremantle.

The season 1905 had a remarkable climax that is vivid in Mr. Wilson’s memory. The finalists were Old Easts and West Perth. The game was played at Fremantle Oval. After a gruelling struggle East Fremantle, everyone had reason to think, had secured a sensational one point win. There were unexpected complications, however, for while one goal umpire credited East Fremantle with a win by a solitary point, the other made it a draw. Pandemonium reigned amongst those who knew the position. It was ruled to be re-played but no provision was then in existence to determine how the proceeds of the match should be distributed. The game was played over again and West Perth won by a few points. The competing teams thought the ‘gate’ was theirs; the league thought differently, contending it should be split up amongst all the clubs. There were heated arguments and wrangling did not lead to a solution. The clubs showed their determination by securing legal advice and followed it up by taking out an injunction that compelled the league to hand over the money. That dispute brought about the insertion in the rule book of match proceeds in relation to challenge matches.

Naturally East Fremantle considered they had won the 1905 premiership and lost it. They were the victims of another successful protest in 1907, but some of the old-timers in their zeal still count these as wins, because of the circumstances in which the matches were decided. Jimmy Baxter went down from Perth that year; the team secured the services of the rugged and big-hearted Archie Strang, who is still closely allied with them, and, there were also Norman Doig, another of the celebrated football family. Charlie Hardisty, Jack Williamson and Jim Thomas and still Christy,  Sweetman and the Doigs who were on deck to help them along, together with Tommy Wilson still captain. They were great battlers.


The 1907 season was also memorable and memories of it still bring heart burnings to the club’s old followers. Perth entertain entirely different feelings on the subject, but East Fremantle lost the final that year on a protest which they considered unjust and unwarranted. Mr. Wilson well remembers the storm of indignation that enveloped the closing stages of football that year. The blue and whites, chagrined at the turn of events, believed they had been done an injustice. Feeling was so strong that serious threats to disband were made and there were times when it seemed they might be carried into effect. However, moderate counsels prevailed and gradually the protest was swallowed up in the mists of time. Syd Parsons and James “Burley” Hesketh appeared on the scene that year and were followed in 1908 by such champions as Arthur Harry “Cock” Wrightson, “Wow” Sutherland, Billy McIntyre and the freakish aerialist Arthur Robinson and none other than George F. ‘Chitter” Brown. In 1909 the club had its first interstate tour and it was that year it really lost the valuable services as player and captain of this subject of these memoirs, as Mr. Wilson played only a couple of games in 1910. Charles “Dick” Sweetman remained with the side for some seasons later, as did “Dolly” Christy, a wonderful player and the Doigs. But even as the old hands steadily disappeared there were celebrities to take their place. Among them Billy Craig, “Nicky’ Gilbert and Jim and Allan Spence.


Acting on the committee in 1910 when Harry Flindall was secretary, Mr. Wilson became secretary in 1911 at the request of the club. He remained in the post for five years until “Doody” Ulrich replaced him, to be followed in turn by Jack McCabe who now has the reigns (in 1929).

Seasons 1910 and 1911 found most of the “backbone” intact while Erne Riley, who became a noted rival of Phil Matson in aerial feats, Percy Trotter, Maurice Corkhill and Roy “Nugget” Wrightson filled the gaps that existed. Cleave Doig – how many Doigs did not play the game? – who was afterwards with South Fremantle also entered blue and white company, along with Harry Binns and Ned Geggie, an old Essendonite, but that season witnessed the closing of the peerless career of Charles “Dick” Sweetman who died not long afterwards. The club also had a brilliant side that year.

On the eve of, and even during, the war, the club continued to unearth champions, who replaced the old race of stalwarts who one by one had drifted out of the game. Mr. Wilson recalls the first appearance of W.J. “Nipper” Truscott with the side in 1913, a man who was destined to make football history. Mr. Wilson considers the 1914 team one of the most brilliant that ever carried the famous colors. Arthur “Archie” Rawlinson, Jack Scobie, Vic Carlson, Chas and James “Scotty” Doig, Antonio “Ning’ Riconi (his first season) Roy Brown, “Nipper’ Truscott, Billy Craig, Arthur Dix, Billy Burns, Percy Trotter, Allan Spence, Archibald Strang, James “Burley” Hesketh and Ernie Riley were among its champions.

The names of East Fremantle’s great players could be made to go on ad infinitum but the period since the war is still fresh within the memory of the vast majority who follow the game to-day. They were players who have worthily upheld the traditions just as members of the present team are doing.


Asked to compare the game as it is played today and as it was played in older times, Mr. Wilson expressed interesting views. “ The 1914 team playing then, and the 1929 team are very different.” He declared. “In those days they were solid men taking all bumps and knocks. They were good high marks and long kicks and there were not so many free kicks as there are today. If a man nowadays does not get half a dozen free kicks in a game, he’s not playing.

In the very early days there were just as good players as there are today. The 1904 East Fremantle side was composed of a very good class of player but as a whole the game has changed. It is very hard to describe it, but it is more finicky now than then and there is more scrambling. I do not think it has changed for the better and in my opinion the game 20 years ago (1909) was better to watch than it is today. The only improvement I see is that it is faster but there is a lot of scrimmaging and more mulling the ball. Free kicks are too easily obtained. Long kicking is a lost art especially the place kick and except in a few isolated cases one can count on the fingers of one hand. There are too many attempts at stab-kicking and there were better high marks in the palmy days of the late Phil Matson than now.”


 An inquiry for his opinion as to the greatest player elicited a ready answer. Unhesitantly, Mr,. Wilson considers the distinction on the late Albert Thurgood as “the greatest footballer I’ve ever seen, all round.” He remarked. “I have seen no one who equalled him as a kick. He was a brilliant mark. He could play back, centre, forward and on the ball if necessary. He was in a class apart. There have been other players brilliant in different positions, but as an all-rounder, there has been no one to rank with Thurgood in my view. In our own State I have seen some of the fondest players who were ever in the game, and better than whom one could wish for – Phil Matson and “Nipper” Truscott. Dolph Heinrichs, “Carbine’ Gullan, Barney Grecian, Dick Sweetman, the greatest rover the club ever had and “Dolly” Christy were other wonderful players. These men could win matches. There are no players today who could go out and win a match. Those I have mentioned could. If a game was in danger of being lost, turn it in favour of their side by their individual effort alone.”

Just the same – Mr. Wilson has a great respect and admiration for the club’s present day players and he considers that the standard of the player of today is more even than it was in his playing days. During his connection with the national game he has met many fine personalities and has derived very great pleasure both as a player and administrator from his association with the sport and hopes he will be spared to enjoy it for a good many seasons to come.

Mr. Wilson possesses a wonderful collection of photographs and a wife who has all his zest for the game. He is a member of the staff of W.D. Moore and Co. Fremantle, being one of its oldest officers.