He Slipped Under the Radar

Jack AshleySydney has produced some great footballers, quite a number of whom went on to play in the VFL and or AFL.

We have uncovered one who went to South Australia where he won the Magarey Medal, the SANFL’s best player.

His name is Jack Ashley or if we are correct, William John (Jack) Ashley.

He was probably born in South Australia in about 1890 and apparently moved to Sydney with his family early in the next decade.  They settled around Balmain and the young Ashley attended a local school and began playing with the club’s one junior team.

It wasn’t long before he caught the eye of the  selectors and by 1907, still under age, began playing senior football along with his older brother, Henry.

The next year Ashley began to show great form.  He was selected to represent Combined Sydney against visiting S.A. club, Norwood.  Then the next year he represented against South Melbourne, Geelong, Collingwood and Queensland.

When Balmain fell over in 1910 together with his brother, he transferred to the East Sydney Club where he again starred.

A classic piece of 1910 journalism exemplifies his ability “Last week I stated that Jack Ashley would win matches for East Sydney by his fine kicking. He did the trick against Newtown with a magnificent drop kick a few minutes before the final bell rang”

And another said “Up till three-quarter time he was not quite so prominent as he had been against Sydney, but brought all his guns into action in the concluding quarter. Of course, he was carefully watched all through  “particularly in the early stages,”  and was opposed by a stronger team. It was his resourcefulness that charmed the critical onlooker. Frequently an opponent grabbed him, he dropped tho ball at once, skilfully knocked it so that when he got loose he was able to gather it in and dart off like the wind.”

He was part of East Sydney’s grand final team of 1910 and their premiership side the following season.  That was the same year Ashley represented NSW in the National Carnival at Adelaide where he came under the eye of the astute Port Adelaide FC Officials who eventually recruited him.

Outstanding Sydney footballer of the period and captain of NSW in three National Carnivals, 1908, 1911 and 1914, Ralph Robertson said of Ashley: ” ‘We have had some fine players in Sydney during the past few years. Some of them have gained places in teams in the other States and acquitted themselves well. Jack Ashley, of course, comes readily to my mind. A natural footballer, and one of the fairest I have met.”

Before we leave Sydney, it is fair to again eulogize his talents as described in several Sydney newspapers:

“Against Y.M.C.A. Jack Ashley was again East Sydney’s best player. While roving he was hardly so effective as usual, but when placed on the half-back line his dash and marking were excellent, while his telling kicks always placed the ball out of danger to his side” and,1914 Port Adelaide FC small

“It is customary to voice an opinion as to the season’s champion player. There might have been differences in that respect in past seasons, but for the season 1911 Jack Ashley stands the Undisputed League Champion.”

He turned out with Port Adelaide FC in the 1912 season and despite an early injury was selected in the South Australian team which played Victoria in Melbourne in July.  The team was beaten but Ashley performed creditably.  The following year he was a member of Port Adelaide’s premiership team.

In 1914 he won the Magarey Medal playing for premiers, Port Adelaide (pictured) and was a member of their team which won the post season Championship of Australia title over VFL premiers, Carlton.

He continued with Port for 1915 but with the advent of WWI when the SANFL went into recess he decided to return to Sydney and play.

Initially he shocked the locals when he signed with the Balmain Rugby League Club where he played one or two early season first grade games but this was only while waiting for his clearance to come through.  Upon gaining permission to play he was appointed captain-coach of the Balmain Australian Football Club and led them to what appeared to be an effortless undefeated run through the home and away season.

Unfortunately their form in the finals didn’t stand the pressure and they went out in straight sets.

1917 saw him back in Adelaide playing for Port in a competition akin to the major league.

By 1919 the SANFL was back in full swing where he again represented South Australia against Victoria.  He played a few games in 1920 but a nagging knee injury which forced him out of the state side also stopped his selection in the club’s grand final team of that year and eventually, it led to his retirement.

South Australian’s hold their champions in very high esteem and in 1946 a contemporary wrote of him “Jack Ashley did something one day which I’ve never seen done before or since. He and I were racing to the ball, and Jack over shot it a little. I was just about to pick it up when he back-kicked it — for 30 yards. After the match he told me he had played rugby in New South Wales, and had learnt the back kick there. It was a new and surprising move to me.”

By 1933 Jack had moved to Melbourne where he operated his own business.

We believe he died without fanfare or recognition in Sydney in 1968.

Ashley is certainly one player Balmain should have in their Team of the Century.

The team image is of the 1914 Port Adelaide FC.  Ashley is one of those shown.

1909

1909In August 1909 three VFL teams, Collingwood, Geelong and South Melbourne visited Sydney to play a series of matches which included games against NSW.

They each brought their best teams with each of the games played at (the old) Erskineville Oval over a period of about two weeks.

That year, South Melbourne would go on to win the premiership, and remarkably enough, their game against NSW was very competitive.

Jack Incoll
Jack Incoll

Unlike the other two games (against Geelong & Collingwood), the South Melbourne encounter was played on a Saturday.  This very much impacted on the crowd and with one shilling entry (10c) plus an extra six pence (5c) to the stand, the game raised a gate of one hundred and twenty pounds ($240), certainly was not a bad take for the day.

NSW fielded about the best team available.  All players chosen were from Sydney.  One was Jack Incoll, a 30 year old Newtown player who had turned out for both  South Melbourne and Collingwood during the seasons prior to coming to Sydney.  Another, was team mate Con McCormack, a former Collingwood player who, at 31 had not lost his touch.

Con McCormack
Con McCormack

Balmain player Jack Ashley was selected in the forward pocket for NSW.  He was a big man who would go on to win the Magarey Medal playing for Port Adelaide a few years later.  So the NSW team was peppered with quite a number of talented players.

Of course Ralph Robertson, the mercurial East Sydney then North Shore player was almost a permanent fixture in the state team from 1903-14.  He had played for St Kilda as a youngster and was another who was in constant form.  Already there is a contemporary push to have him included in the AFL’s Hall of Fame.

NSW were two points down at quarter time, one point at the long break but let their opponents draw five goals ahead at three quarter time.  The Blues however rallied and were a chance to take the game but the bounce of the ball favoured South during the final term who went on to win 10-19 to 7-10.

The following Wednesday, NSW with six changes from their team of the previous weekend, put up a great performance.  Geelong had taken out the wooden spoon in 1908 and in 1909 finished second last.

The Blues led the Pivitonians at all of the breaks except the one that counted and were eventually defeated 15-12 (102) to 12-17 (89) before a mid week crowd which was described as ‘fair’.

The game against Collingwood was played on the following Wednesday, 18 September.  On this occasion NSW really had to squeeze to get their numbers. Eight of their regular representatives were not in the eighteen. In those days, people worked six days a week and even then, more hours than eight a day and yet it was this game that drew the biggest crowd.  The exact number is not enumerated but reports tell us that the attendance “was larger than that against South Melbourne, but the gate was about the same”.

All of the VFL teams made no claim on the gate which left the NSW League in the black at the end of the season.  They started the year with a debt of well over one hundred pounds ($200) which provided the opportunity for the League to further investigate, with now some justification, the purchase of a ground which would be their own.  But that is another, and a very, very interesting story.

The weakened NSW team had no chance against Collingwood where they could only manage three goals.  They were beaten 12-12 (84) to 3-10 (28).

It is interesting to read what the South Melbourne team got up to during their 1909 stay in Sydney:NSS Sobraon small

The South Melbourne team are having a splendid time, having enjoyed a *drag drive to Coogee on Wednesday, a launch trip to Middle Head on Thursday, launch trip to Parramatta, lunch a Correy’s Gardens on the return trip and an afternoon on board the **N.S.S. Sobraon yesterday, with a theatre party each evening since their arrival here.  At 10 o’clock this morning they leave the Hotel Grand Central for a drive round the Domain and Centennial Park.  There will be a theatre party after the match.”

*A drag was vehicular carriage normally pulled by four or six horses.  It had seats along the centre of its length facing outwards on each side.
**Sobraon was a ‘training ship’ for wayward boys.