T’othersiders vs Gropers

According to ‘Veteran’, who wrote about the genesis of Australian football in Geraldton for the Geraldton Guardian, local youths had a football that they kicked around on the Recreation Ground. They occasionally fielded sides and held competitions, but it was not until the influx of the t’othersiders (people from the eastern states) in the 1890s that they established teams.

Perhaps meaning well, ‘Veteran’s’ words indicate they may have been a t’othersider themselves. Their story of the teams leaves out other clubs formed in the 1880s. Nevertheless, they were correct with regards to the t’othersiders. As people poured into Western Australia hoping to strike it rich on the goldfields, they soon played the game they loved and looked to establish a team.

On 8 April 1895, a group of footballers met at William Jones’s Geraldton Hotel. They decided to form a club and named it the Geraldton Imperial Football Club. A committee was elected, and a secretary and treasurer were appointed. The start was promising with “a number of prominent footballers” expecting to join.

William Jones’s Geraldton Hotel circa 1893. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (2949B/2).

With a new team formed in Geraldton, the Western Australians (gropers) began organising theirs. William Hosken called for a meeting of the Rovers Football Club. A large group of footballers attended, with the Geraldton Murchison Telegraph reporting on their enthusiasm, describing them as “already panting for the field.

Well, you must know we have two football clubs, and in a town like Geraldton this means rivalry.”

Geraldton Advertiser (WA : 1893 – 1905); 11 September 1895; Page 3; A Football Letter to a Friend in Melbourne

Most of the players in the Imperials were from the eastern states, while most of the players in the Rovers were Geraldton born. It was, essentially, the t’othersiders versus the gropers. The t’othersiders wore a uniform of red and white, and the gropers wore yellow and black.

In the lead up to the first game in May, the teams held practice matches. The Government Resident, Maitland Brown, accepted the offer to be the patron of the Imperials. Needing funds, the Imperials also held a social at the Masonic Hall. They spared no effort with decorations. A miniature set of goal posts was set up on the stage adorned in the colours of red and white. Suspended between them, with the help of ribbons, was a football.

Football was “having a new birth in Geraldton,” and everyone was excited. As the date approached, a player from the Rovers wrote to the Geraldton Advertiser stressing the importance of practice. The clubs organised their uniforms, and Solomon Kensler donated a silver cup to present to the winning team. Everything was ready. Five matches were to be played, with the winner of the majority declared the premiers of the district.

The teams were selected and the players’ names were printed in the newspaper. On 25 May 1895, the first match was played on the Recreation Ground in front of a large crowd, including many ladies. Before it started, a photographer was on hand to take photos of the teams. The Imperials had a full team while the Rovers were missing three players. The game started with scrimmages and fouls that were deftly dealt with by the central umpire, Frederick Dickason.

Geraldton Rovers Football Club in 1895

By the end of the first quarter, no one had scored. The Imperials scored the first goal in the second quarter, and went on to kick two more in the third. In the last quarter, the Rovers finally kicked a goal. It was not enough. At the end of play, the winners were the Imperials. They scored four goals and two behinds to the Rovers’ one goal and one behind.

The next match took place on 15 June, where the Imperials dominated, scoring seven goals and six behinds to the Rovers’ one goal and three behinds. The Geraldton Murchison Telegraph reported that “The game was too one-sided to be described as a success.

The third game took place in wintery weather. A strong westerly blew across the ground, and rain fell heavily. Goal kicking proved difficult for both teams, but the Imperials still won with one goal and five behinds to the Rovers’ five behinds. With three wins out of five games, the Geraldton Imperial Football Club were the season premiers.

Around the same time, Mullewa fielded a team, so the games continued. The three clubs competed for the Dunlop Derby Shield, a “costly silver shield” donated by a representative of Derby Tobacco. The Geraldton teams visited Mullewa (and vice versa) and played on “a roughly cleared piece of ground” opposite the creek. After the match, they sat down to dinner where the “wine flowed like water.” The teams played under the Northern Districts Football Association and competed for points. At the end of the competition, the Rovers won the shield.

With the season over for 1895, ‘Ubique’ for the Geraldton Murchison Telegraph decided to end speculation about who the best footballer in Geraldton was. A coupon was printed in the newspaper for the public to complete and send in. They voted for the best player in each team as well as the best player in Geraldton. Indicating the increasing interest in the game, they received over 90 letters, with the Rovers’ Sidney Hymus the clear winner of the title ‘Best Footballer in Geraldton.’

In 1928, ‘Veteran’ reflected that as the years passed, the Geraldton football clubs of the 1890s underwent some changes. The Geraldton Rovers changed their name to the Ramblers for a few years, and the Geraldton Imperial Football Club disappeared. He looked back at the past with a nostalgic eye (as so many of us do). He was part of those early years of football; when “excitement ran high,” rivalry was fierce and an army of officials kept barrackers from encroaching on the ground. Come to think of it, perhaps the emotion for the “grand old winter game” hasn’t changed much at all.

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