Sydney 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,
“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.