A Forgotten Footballer

   Matthew Blair

As time passes the memory of those who played football in New South Wales fade until they are forgotten.

Such is the case of a former school-teacher, Matthew Blair.

He was born at Marulan, near Goulburn in 1880.  The son of English migrants, he was one of five children.

The family moved around a bit but finally settled in Wallsend, west of Newcastle.  Matthew attended the Wallsend Superior School where he was an outstanding student.  Like his elder sister, Ann, Matthew took on teaching and passed the public teachers examination in 1896.  His first appointment as a student teacher was to Jesmond Public School in 1897.

This was a pretty good effort given that his mother died when he was aged 14 and his father, five months later.  There is that question as to who looked after the family upon the father’s death?  At the time the youngest son, William was five years of age.

It was at Wallsend that Matthew and his brothers learned Australian Football.

Matthew was eventually transferred to Sydney where he taught at the Petersham Superior School.  In 1904 he encouraged his students to play Australian Football.  Other schools in their competition included Double Bay, Balmain, Erskineville and Waverley (public) schools.  There was also a separate Catholic schools competition in operation.

Petersham School Team Part of the Play Part of the Play

As the season progressed more schools participated with a total of seven in the ‘A’ division and over forty schools playing in the ‘B’ division covering a number of zones.  Petersham won the outright schools competition and as a reward (unbelievably) played the curtain raiser match to the VFL Grand Final on the MCG on 17 September, against the Victorian champion school, Albert Park, winning 7-6 (42) to 1-0 (6).  There was mention of the size of the NSW boys but no-one had bothered to check the school age differences between the two state education systems.  The Petersham boys were older and of course more mature, physically.  On the right of the Petersham team photo in the top hat is Henry Harrison, one of the founders of Australian Football.

Matthew signed on with the Sydney club where he played a number of seasons, captaining the side in 1907 to a premiership over Newtown, the grand final being played at, of all places, at Kensington Racecourse (where the University is now located);  after the win he was chaired off the ground.  In the same year he had his brother, George also played with the club.  Amazingly enough, that year Matt travelled down from Wallsend where he was teaching at the local school, each weekend .

Blair’s early
Education Record

The Department of Education moved Matthew around after his stint at Wallsend.  He taught at Mungindi in 1911, Wardell in 1912 and Woodburn on the north coast in 1917 – although it appears he did not get to that final posting because on 22 June 1916 he enlisted in the AIF.  This was after his young brother, William or Bill, fell at Gallipoli on 26 April 1915.

On 11 May 1917 he was on the Shropshire en route to England and on 2 April the following year had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant and transferred to the 20th Battalion.  On the 11th April, Blair, along with some colleagues was killed at Hagan Wood, which part of the Somme Offensive.  His body was not found for some time.

We have been able to gather some witness statements regarding his death which are attached below:

The sad thing about deaths like these in our wars is the way they are then treated as just a number.

Jinny Blair, Matthew’s wife of fourteen years was living at 351 Miller Street, North Sydney at the time of his death along with their two sons aged thirteen and seven along together with daughter, Mary aged just twelve months.

Another sad part of this story is, like other deceased servicemen, how and what of Matthew’s belongings were wrapped up and returned to his widow.  Then there was the matter of a pension.

It would appear that Jinny, also a teacher did not receive a pension however the children, Kevin received eighteen and six pence per fortnight, Jack (John), one pound per fortnight and young Mary, ten shillings per fortnight – why the difference in pay?

Jinny or to give her correct name, Jane, passed away in 1949 at 66.  So at least we can give notice of a former footballer from this state who in all reality, has now not been forgotten.