RIGHT from the very get-go the money paid to coaches of Aussie Rules clubs has caused controversy and comment right across the footy community.
Perhaps the biggest kerfuffle in my region centred around St Kilda’s 1925 Brownlow medallist Colin Watson when he was appointed Maryborough coach for the 1927 season at £10 a week.
Watson, who hailed from the South Warrnambool club, had his case heard by a special meeting of the Ballarat Football League, the league with which Maryborough was affiliated back in the mid to late Twenties.
The report of the meeting in the Melbourne Argus of February 16th 1927 reads: “An objection was raised to Watson’s application to play and coach with Maryborough on the grounds that in the Ballarat League’s rules a player must reside for 28 days within a radius of 30 miles of the place for which he wanted to play.
“Only then can he apply for a permit.”
As Watson’s application was made from Warrnambool the Ballarat league ruled the application was ‘out of order’.
Nonetheless Watson played with Maryborough that season and by late November the Ballarat league officials were scheduled to meet with senior VFL people to sort out the Watson matter.
Ballarat had eventually allowed Watson to play with Maryborough in 1927 and ultimately the VFL disqualified the Ballarat FL as a consequence.
Watson stayed in the country for seven years, first of all with Maryborough and then with his home club South Warrnambool, before returning to the VFL with St Kilda as a 33-year-old in 1933.
He captain-coached the Saints in 1934 to seventh place – their best finish in five years – but after just one match in the 1935 season he returned home for good.
Back in the 1920s there was a deal of editorialising about some of the sums being paid to country coaches.
Under the heading ‘Well Paid Coaches’ the writer in the Shepparton paper of 20 February 1927 lists some of the sums being paid and then tongue-in-cheek how fans – not to mention fellow players – should treat these stars.
This is how the article went: “Judging by the high fees being paid these days for football coaches it may replace racing as the ‘Sport of Kings’.
At Cootamundra (in country NSW) a coach named Kelly is to be paid £14 a week with free board and lodging.
“At Stawell Ted Power has been appointed at £8 a week also with free board and lodging while Colin Watson is to receive £10 weekly and similar concessions at Maryborough.
“He was offered £12 a week at Echuca.”
[We have to remember while Watson’s £10 equates to a 2015 equivalent of $20 just a few pence could buy you a meal or a round of drinks nearly nine decades ago. There were 240 pennies to a £1 note in pre-decimal currency.]
The 1927 Shepparton article went on: “A writer in the Dimboola Chronicle suggests the local committee should welcome a coach at the train station, present him with an address of welcome and see that he is comfortably ensconced in his bed.
“Next day the new coach should be taken around the town and arrangements made for a car, guns, fishing tackle, golf sticks and tennis racquets.
“Then he might be reminded when the team will practise and asked if he would be good enough to be at the ground by 5.30 pm.
“A car should be ready to run him straight home after training to eliminate the danger of a chill.
“On Saturdays when the team is playing do not arouse him until dinner time (we call it ‘lunch’ these days) then ask him to eat sparingly to avoid overweight.
“Barrackers should cheer when he gets a kick, two cheers when he gets a mark and if by chance he scores a goal three cheers would be in order.”
A bit tongue in cheek you might reasonably say, but Watson’s appointment caused a furore in footy circles around Victoria.
Maryborough ultimately won the 1927 flag under Watson’s direction.
Maybe he’d been attracted to the Magpies because they’d also taken out the six-club Ballarat premierships in 1924 and 1925.
Country footy historian Paul Daffey is convinced the Watson saga led to the formation of the VCFL.
By late 1927 the controlling body for Victorian rural and regional footy was formed.
The Victorian Country Football League came into existence with eight districts at its core: Ballarat, Bendigo, Gippsland, South Gippsland, Goulburn Valley, Ovens and Murray, Western and Wimmera.
Note, there was no Mallee body formally invited to sit in at the VCFL foundation arrangement.
Footy in the Mallee would have been very embryonic in the 1920s.
Of course down the years the Bendigo FL and the VCFL have had many spats culminating in a 1960s attempt by the BFL to break away from the VCFL and form a competing head country body.
Then there were the maelstrom events of the early 1980s when there was a march through Bendigo streets protesting about the mooted amalgamation of the Bendigo and the Golden City Football Leagues.
That tumultuous period in Bendigo history culminated with the meeting in the old Red Cross Hall at the top of View Street. Unhappy GCFL protesters who were not part of the minor league’s accredited representatives, and barred from entering the building and addressing the meeting, hurled rocks and bricks onto the roof.
Leo Merrett was another former VFL star who created controversy at Maryborough, albeit two-and-a-bit decades after the Watson saga.
Merrett hailed from Nhill in the Victorian Wimmera and had racked up 170 games with Richmond between 1940 and 1949.
Included in his resume was the 1943 premiership with the Tigers and the Richmond fairest and best club awards in 1942 and 1944.
But it was his prolonged negotiations with Maryborough which caused a stir back in late 1949 and extending into 1950.
He’d been appointed Maryborough playing coach for the 1950-51-52 seasons at £12 a week.
However Merrett, who was then 29, would only accept the appointment if Maryborough provided a house, flat or suitable boarding for himself, wife and young child.
By January 1950 with the footy season looming Merrett mentioned to the Magpies he’d received a rival £20 a week coaching offer, but woudn’t specify the club involved.
“Now he told them he’d only accept a place where he and his family were the sole occupants, thereby altering the contracted agreement,” a Maryborough history buff said.
“He went on to tell the club he was still committed to Maryborough provided the accommodation details could be sorted.”
Maryborough offered Merrett shared accommodation and offered to build him a suitable house in several months time, presumably while the 1950 footy season was in full swing.
This latter concession with Merrett was offered if the coach hadn’t been able to buy a business in the town with a residence attached.
He’d been very keen to sort out a business or work situation for himself as he was the family’s sole breadwinner.
But things didn’t pan out with Maryborough.
Merrett eventually scuppered the whole deal and accepted the captain-coaching position with Albury Football Club in the Ovens and Murray League.
That contract also ran for the 1950-51-52 seasons at £20 a week plus the Albury powerbrokers were able to secure Merrett not only a new house – built for him by the club – but also a day job at a local wool store.
Merrett eventually died at a young age in 1956, aged only 56.
So while we read about current day coaching appointments around central Victoria and elsewhere, sometimes with pay packets ranging up to $50,000 a season, Maryborough has had its share of controversies.
Let’s hope 2016 coach Shane Skontra (who was in charge of Ballarat’s inter-league sides in 2014-15) settles into his regime at Princes Park on a more even keel and the club avoids the controversies which plagued Maryborough in the mid-1920s and then again in the early 1950s.