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1924 AND ALL THAT - PART TWO by Whispering Jack


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Melbourne’s turn for the bye came early in 1924 with the club sitting out of proceedings in Round 2 before its next assignation against Collingwood. 

The fierce rivalry between these two clubs of later times had yet to emerge, but the result of the game - a one point loss - hurt the club deeply in its quest to rise from the place at the foot of the ladder it had occupied at the end of 1923. 

All was not lost however, as the Redlegs uncovered a future star and premiership player in Gippslander Stan "Bunny" Wittman who played 109 games and kicked 132 goals for the club between 1924 and 1931. Known as "Bunny" for his pace and elusive turn and Wittman’s recruitment, long before the days of the draft, was certainly unusual by today’s standards. 

By a stroke of good fortune, Melbourne Football Club secretary, Andrew Manzie, embarked one day on a tram from the Hawthorn Bridge to the City when he received a tipoff from the cable tram’s gripman who recognised him and told him about a 22 years old footballer from Rosedale who was tearing apart the competition in Gippsland. A few weeks later, Manzie was making the same trip into town and the same gripman caught his ear again. 

This time, the trammie was so persuasive that Manzie decided to take a closer look and, as it turned out, the glowing reports on Wittman were accurate. As a result, he was invited to the club for a training run. Wittman was an immediate hit at centre half forward, but he wanted to return home happy in the knowledge that he could match it with the best in the business. 

The club persisted and managed to persuade him to return and he kicked off his VFL career on the MCG in front of 18,000 people in Round 3 against Collingwood. Wittman made a favourable impression from the start. Early in the game, he soared high over the pack to take a fingertip mark before effortlessly threading the ball through the big sticks with a 45-metre drop kick. He went on to earn best afield honours in a debut described as "one of the most sensational ever registered by a country recruit". And he never looked back.

Wittman played mainly either in the key half forward or right flank for the Fuchsias but he broke an ankle after playing eight games in a row. He returned for the last three matches of the season and by 1925, he was established and played 19 games for the improving team, helping them make it to the finals.

In his third season at Melbourne, Wittman was a member of Melbourne's 1926 premiership, its first in more than a quarter of a century, playing 16 games and scoring 20 goals. In the 1926 Challenge Final against Collingwood, the half forward flanker was one of his team’s most noteworthy contributors with three goals in a masterful 57-point victory. 

Wittman’s output diminished in 1927 when he played only 12 games, due mainly to a wrist injury, which also kept him out of the interstate carnival. However, in the following year, he  kicked a career best season tally of 34 goals, helped by a six-goal haul against North Melbourne at the MCG. He played 19 games for the season.

He missed out on the interstate carnival for a second time after being selected in 1930, but was unable to take time off work to travel to Adelaide for the carnival. By this time, his career was starting to wind down and he played only six games for a single goal in his final season, 1931. Wittman did manage to don the 'Big V' jumper twice in his VFL career.

Stan "Bunny" Wittman was renowned for his “seemingly almost telepathic partnership with effervescently talented wingman Dick Taylor”.  He was made a life member of the Melbourne Football Club in 1992 and passed away in May 1994 as the last surviving member of the 1926 premiership team.

Round 3 Melbourne vs Collingwood 
Saturday 10 May 
Venue: MCG 
Attendance: 18,211

MELBOURNE 5.3.33 6.5.41 7.9.51 8.13.61

COLLINGWOOD 2.4.16 3.8.26 5.11.41 8.14.62

Goals Dave Elliman Stan Wittman 2 Johnny Egan George Haines Derek Mollison Richard Taylor 

Melbourne made a hot start with a five goal to two opening term. The Pies were wasteful early and continued to miss chances earlier in the second and their inaccuracy in front of goal saw them manage to cut the Redlegs’ lead by only a further two points by mid-game off their lead at half time.

After the break, the tide turned and, despite the fact that Collingwood were weakened by injury and illness, they clawed back some of the deficit in the third quarter before storming home in the last to record a thrilling victory. 

A late goal to debutant Wittman was not enough to stave off defeat by the narrowest of margins. There was controversy late in the game when an obvious holding the ball decision was not awarded to a Melbourne player in front of goal. The umpire, who had previously played for Collingwood, left the ground to the sound of hooting from the members' pavilion. Melbourne players were Wittman, Richard Taylor, Alf Wilson and Albert Chadwick.

After two losses by under a goal and a week with the bye Melbourne had sunk to the bottom of the ladder.

Seconds

Collingwood 17.9.111 d. Melbourne 9.9.63

To be continued …IMG_3237.jpeg

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