NORWOOD’S STIRRING DAYS
Chat with “Topsy” Waldron.
GIANTS PAST AND PRESENT.
Reprinted from from ‘The Mail’, Saturday July 16, 1921
If you should speak of Alfred Edward Waldron the man would be little known, but give him the prefix “Topsy” and all South Australia knows him. Nicknames have a habit of sticking, and they are revered when applied to popular and famous footballers.
In the person “Topsy” Waldron is probably little known to the present generation of football followers but, young or old, who has not heard of his fame in the days when he was the shining star in the Norwood constellation? Many old supporters of the grand Australian game will tell you that those were the days when real, sterling football was played.
Mr. Waldron was famed in his day both as a footballer and a cricketer, but it is as the former that he is best remembered. He is now 64 years old, but never a season has his interest let up in the game, although he has been so long out of it. Show him the colours red and blue and they tingle every nerve in his being, just as they did in those times when he had the vigour of youth strong in his athletic muscles and the love for his old Norwood team hot in his veins. No longer can the pioneer skipper lead his men to victory, for even the strongest must pay homage to Time, but round the pickets you will find him urging on to victory the lads of to-day who wear the honoured colours.
After three months in the Adelaide Hospital Mr. Waldron has just come out minus a toe and with the lingering effects of a poisoned foot. But he has lost none of his radiant cheerfulness, and once get him talking Norwood he seems to forget about even that severed toe – until he starts to walk!
Mr. Waldron was born in Victoria. Moving to the capital as a boy he soon pitched into football, for which he had a natural bent. When about 16 years of age he gravitated to the Carlton Imperials’ second twenty, then with the Carlton Imperials’ first team, and next with the Carlton seniors. With this noted team he played remarkable football for three years in the half-back line, and earned the reputation of “Carlton’s last hope.”
The Champion Redlegs.
In 1879 Mr. Waldron arrived in Adelaide, and that year joined the original Norwoods, who had gone top the previous years in the first season they had played. He continued to play half-back until his appointment as captain of the redlegs in 1881, after which he was seen in almost every position, but notably as a rover. But it was as a leader that he so greatly excelled, his skill as a skipper accounting in large measure for the large measure of successes that Norwood then enjoyed.
During the 12 years that Mr.Waldron led Norwood he brought them to victory in eight seasons, five of them in succession. Those were the days when Norwood, of all Adelaide teams, were first to down the redoubtable Essendons from Melbourne, and when they set their seal on their fame by beating in each of three contest the supposedly invincible South Melbournes in 1888 for the championship of Australia.
“Those were stirring times,” remarked the “Mail” man.
“Yes,” said the veteran, “they will always live in my memory.”
“You used to have great struggles with Port.”
“When it came to a pitched battle we beat Port, but now and then they got in on us and got even.”
“Can you recall some of the great players of that day?”
“There were many of them,” replied Mr. Waldron, “but let me give them as they come to mind. Jack Woods was one of the best individual players we ever had. He played centre, or anywhere. Charley Woods, a brother, also played with the team. He had to be ‘fed’, but he was a champion place-kick.
“Then there was the late ‘Bunny’ Daly, in my judgment the champion of footballers. In fact, he was the poetry of football. He was as brilliant as a rover as an all-round player. I never saw any other like him. ‘Boss’ Daly works at Islington, where I am. He came in two or three years after his brother, and was the best forward we ever had. He kicked 23 goals in one match, and in a single season more than 80.
“Other distinguished footballers of my time were Norman Richards, Alf Grayson, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, W.R. Wilson, ‘Paddy’ Rochock, Os. and R.M. Bertram, ‘Guinea’ Dixon, H. Le Haldane, ‘Guff’ Rawson, George Combe, ‘Paddy’ McGrath, ‘Slogger’ Guster, A.J. (‘Jimmy’) Roberts, George McKee, Joe Travers, Jim Shaw (known as ‘Lady,’ because he used to part his hair nicely), C.F. Rieschbieth, A.G. Clift, J. McGaffin – each a giant in his day and place.”
“How does the electorate system compare with the old club days?”
“I don’t think it has produced so many individual champions, though perhaps it has given more balance to the game.”
A Poorer Standard
“Has the standard of the game improved?”
“Now you are asking me a delicate question,” Mr. Waldron remarked. “You see, I’m an old-timer, and I daresay biassed towards my day. The game is played now with boundary umpires, and is certainly faster than it used to be. But I don’t think it is as spectacular or as genuine as it was. We used to play football. Now there is so much handball, pretty enough in itself, but not very effective or arresting. And where is the long kicking as we used to see it? I have seen our boys pass the ball with three kicks from one end of the field to the other.
“There is also too much of the umpire’s whistle. It should be remembered that the game is not made for the umpires, who are constantly pulling it up for either real or imaginary breaches, and are often inconsistent with their decisions. I think the champion of all umpires was the late Jack Trait, the umpire who umpired here on special occasions, among others twice when Norwood played off premiership matches with Port. The umpires used to let the game go more than they do to-day, though they were firmer and more consistent.”
“Don’t you think there is now a deplorable lack of good place-kicking?”
“Unfortunately, yes. It is now nearly all lucky shooting for goal. In our time you could almost make it a certainty that men like Charley Woods and ‘Boss’ Daly (Norwood) and Alec and Jack McKenzie (Port) would get goals with their place-kicks if they got within 50 or 60 yards of the posts. It was grand to watch them take a fine mark, then place the leather, and see a beautiful straight kick sailing through the goal.
“In more recent years Hansen (Port) was a deadly place-shot, too. Unless he was forced to have a rushed shot he would always place the ball and almost as often get goals. Some spectators used to argue that Hansen had to be constantly ‘fed,’ but it must not be forgotten that that was what he was there for, and he had to get the ball before he could get his goals.
“Golding (Sturt) mixes his but in his day he has been a wonderful place-kick. Even now he mostly gets the distance, but he is uncertain. I must not omit Alec Conlon, West’s one-time half-forward, who was also a straight and powerful place-kick. Now is nearly all snapshooting from the crushes or punting.”
“Who in your opinion has been South Australia’s most outstanding player in recent years?”
“Tom Leahy has been the most prominent. He is the best ruckman – I do not [say] footballer – I have ever seen.”
[(Garbled) How might present day football be improved?]
“I must be careful not to say too much or be too critical,” Mr. Waldron answered with a smile. “As I have told you, I’m an old-timer, and they will say I am prejudiced. But as a lover of the popular Australian pastime I should like to say that I think the present standard could be improved upon if more place-kicking and long drop-kicking were encouraged. Then I should like to see less wing play and more of the game directed down the centre. There is a big tendency for the men to get out of their places generally, but especially for the centre men to wander all over the ground. If players would stick strictly to their positions there would be less disorganisation and greatly improved combined play.
“Then may I add that the game should be started earlier than it is at a quarter time to avoid the fading light at the finish.
“It is grand to look back on the good old days, and I know that the electorate system has fostered a more general interest in the game and has helped to attract the immense crowds which are seen at the matches to-day. I do not say there is greater enthusiasm but there is certainly a wider interest in the grand old game.”