My introduction to hockey came mid-way through the season of 1947 whilst apprenticed in a Yarraville iron foundry. Two junior apprentices Don Hoath and Roy Taylor, drove us mad on Mondays talking about their Under 18 hockey match on the Saturday. I accused them of playing a “girls game” and was challenged to come the next week and watch. I said “I won’t come and watch but I will come and play”. I did and then met the coach, George Sigley (Brother of Buck after home our bar is named) and father of Ernie who used to come and watch from time to time as a youngster. He took me onto the ground and asked the umpire and opposition to be nice to me as it was my first match. I was hooked.
Our home ground was the Lynch Bridge ground between the bridge and the Pioneer hotel in Ballarat road, Footscray and right opposite Angliss abattoir having moved from the Yarraville gardens. Later it was named Acton Reserve after Ben Acton’s grandfather who had been Mayor of Footscray.
The only shelter was a gum tree, our goals were collapsible wand together with the corner flags and ground marker were stored on the back veranda of the “pioneer”. The gun tree is still there bit the hotel is now part of a residential development and the abattoir dwellings. There was always a rush to be first to get the goals or put them away as you for the nearest end to the pub to do.
There were only two underage groups then, Under 16 and Under 18 and I completed the 1947 season and 1948 before moving up to Senior B grade for one season (then only a winter season, one match a week). Buck Sigley was captain of the side. With 2 years in the Club’s A grade side I was them bothered with an old Scouts footy knee injury so was appointed coach of the Under 18 team. Eric Thomas, now Life Member, was still coaching the under 16’s at this time and the U18 boys were from the two under 16 teams from the year before.
The first year of coaching saw us reach the grand final and despite being one short due to one player going to scout camp we managed to bear Ivanhoe for the flag. The second year, although undefeated all season we were beaten by Scotch College in the grand final with them having given us a walkover in the first round due to them being at a Head of the River boat race.
The next year seven of this team plus myself went into the top club team, joining Allen Herriot and Harry Browning who are both now life members. Ben Acton was also in this team which went onto win the 1955 A Reserve grand final gaining promotion to the top A Grade. Our win was celebrated at the Annual Presentation Dinner and dance that same night in the Progress Hall, Barkley St. West Footscray and the smiles never left our faces.
Annual General Meetings were held in the Manchester Unity hall, Byron St. Footscray and Committee meetings in an upstairs room of Spencer’s Timber Yard, Barkly St near the Royal Hotel.
In the 50’s a frequent onlooker from across the road was an eight year old John Traill, too young for under age in those day but is still playing with the club in Master’s hockey.
1956 was the year of the Melbourne Olympic Games and Footscray together with Essendon were invited to participate in practice matches against Great Britain and Afghanistan. We had practice matches with Essendon prior to this and unfortunately due to a bad tackle by an Essendon player I suffered a broken right thumb which reduced my role to that of ball boy. As Afghanistan failed to turn up we played out match against the U.S.A. With 20 minutes to play captain Ben Acton asked if I could hold a stick, I didn’t hesitate. We went down 2-1. Essendon went down 6-0.
A visitor from Fiji decided to stay on after the games, Harry Swan, who stayed on and after marrying, brought his wife Val to the club as well. Both went on to become Life Members. Harry up until last year has been still coming to watch matches.
When Henry Archibald (Buck) Sigley retired as General Secretary I took over the role for about 5 years. Ben Acton continued coaching and when he left Footscray his place was taken by John Cottier from Essendon, at the time Vicar at St Johns Anglican Church Paisley St Footscray. One Saturday he turned up in his 1930 tourer car, hung his long black vicar’s gown up in the gum tree, played the match, rang to the tree, pulled the gown over his playing gear, boots and all, taking off to conduct a wedding service for an Essendon hockey mate.
When Cliff Acton stopped publishing the club newsletter called “Onside”, Bobbie (my wife) continued it on. No computers in those days so it was typed up on a waxed stencil, each page being rolled on a frame. Next came the Fordigraph which was carbon typed as a negative and rolled out on a barrel roller converting it to a positive.
Our ground although having a good surface was sometimes invaded with cockchafer grubs which attacked the roots, killing the grass. Eventually when road widening was required we were offered a ground in the part between the lily pond and the river. A shed was offered as well to house out nets etc but the members had to dig out the embankment to allow for construction. Members responded with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows for a “working bee”. The building had a dirt floor and no seating. It depended on the weather which way the ground was marked, north south or east west with one section being mutual to both. If there was a lot of rain, the west end would flood making it unplayable, if the tide was high with rain the north end suffered, each situation ending up with the mutual 50 meters a muddy patch. Using the contours of the Footscray Park for training runs players became quite fit.
During this time it was decided to develop a ladies section. In the earlier days there was a Footscray ladies team with no attachment to the men’s club bit this was to be a joint venture. Most of those recruited were from the Footscray High School which was situated between out present east side ground and Wembley Avenue, now housing. Social life was difficult with no club rooms so it was pie nights, progressive diners, car quiz trials to picnic spots and of course the Presentation dinner dances to which almost all members attended.
With the playing surface deteriorating and the gardeners taking over our “club room aka shed” discussion with the Footscray Council let to the offer of 2 grounds at Johnston Reserve, Essex St West Footscray with a new pavilion to share with Roberts Tennis Club, Footscray Marching Girls and Footscray Women’s Athletics Club. Club policy was to appoint the Mayor of the City as Patron. Cr Alan Curtain was certainly of benefit to this venture.
Two poles with lights were sourced from the council work centre which extended training time and we soon established ourselves in our new club rooms. We recruited many new members. Names like Sheehan, McAlinden, Hopkins, LLoyd, Colasurdo, Virtuoso, Gale, Whinney are some that come to mind of those commencing at Johnson Reserve.
Ours was the first hockey club to invite umpires and the opposition in to join our team for refreshments after the match. Another first was to have girls playing in our underage boys teams because there was no underage girls competition then.
When rain stopped council workers cutting the grass through the week, it had to be hand mowed on Saturday morning and of course, the grounds marked with Limil. The pavilion was cleaned every Friday during the season. Social life improved as well during this time. This takes us up to the early Johnson Reserve days.