The on-going, seemingly never-ending code war between Australian Rules Football and soccer played out right in the heart of Tigerland, 70 years ago today.
On June 11, 1951 (the then King’s Birthday holiday), at 2.15pm, ladder leader Richmond battled last-placed Melbourne at the MCG.
As the second quarter was about to start, over at the Punt Road Oval a touring England “B” soccer team began playing an Australian side.
There were just 225 metres separated the warring codes.
At the MCG, 51,061 spectators saw Richmond tough out a 14-point win, with key forward Ray Poulter kicking four goals and Don “Mopsy” Fraser playing his 100th game.
Meanwhile, at Punt Road Oval, an estimated 29,000-32,000 spectators crammed in to see England thrash Australia 6-1, with Portsmouth player Ike Clarke scoring three goals.
It was at that stage the second largest soccer crowd ever in Victoria, beaten only by the 35,000 who attended England v Victoria at the MCG two days earlier.
“The cheering when Australia scored was so loud and long that one would imagine Australia had taken the lead,” The Herald newspaper wrote about the Punt Road Oval crowd.
“Horns blurted, bells rang, bugles vibrated resounding notes, and supporters barracked with sedate enthusiasm,” was how The Argus newspaper saw it.
The England side played seven matches in total over two months, including fixtures at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Adelaide Oval, Brisbane Cricket Ground, and Newcastle Sports Ground.
So why was Punt Road chosen as a venue for this significant tour of Australia? Because the VFL refused the Soccer Association’s request for use of the MCG, as the Tigers v Demons match was already scheduled there.
“It is very disappointing not to get the (MCG) cricket ground. We still expect a record Victorian Soccer crowd of more than 12,000 on Monday,” soccer selector W. Orr was quoted in the press.
The official program, provided by soccer archivist Mark Boric
Orr’s disappointment would have been short-lived when he saw hundreds of spectators locked out of the Punt Road ground shortly before 3pm, with some attempting to climb over fences and break through barbed wire barricades just to see the match.
Richmond officials, themselves sceptical that the soccer fixture might impact the crowd and gate- takings of it match against Melbourne, negotiated with the Victorian Soccer Association to receive one-third of the gate from the Punt Road Oval soccer clash.
The match drew in around 3,500 pounds, with the Richmond Cricket Club and the Football Club pocketing a handy 580 pounds each.
The Soccer Association, subsequently feeling Richmond’s cut was too much, considered asking the Club to refund part of the money.
As expected, (even back then), the dual sporting events resulted in what The Age called “One of the worst traffic jams in Melbourne for years . . . thicker than after a Test match or football grand final”.
Four police worked the corner at Punt Road. Through traffic from the Flemington races banked up from the city and 5000 motorists were stuck. A bus leaving the exit near Punt Road Oval brought down a 30-foot bough of a tree.
As for the England and Australian players, they were entertained by the Richmond committee, with secretary Maurie Fleming telling the Argus that: “I never thought soccer would pack the Tigers ground. Now I want to sign up England’s captain Reg Flewin. He’s the best natural footballer I have ever seen. I’d give anything to make him a Tiger”.
The Club never did sign him. But it did present him with a memento for his Tigerland visit – a “handsome shaving kit”.