Charles (Charlie) Perry played just 58 games for Norwood. However, his story is rich with character and achievement – not only for his feats as a Norwood ruckman and defender, but also for his great popularity across communities, and for the strength of his character and leadership.
Charlie was vice-captain and ruck follower of the First 18 football team in his final year at Prince Alfred College, winning the school’s football prize in 1909. He was still at school when he played his first game for the Norwood league team. He was tall and slight of build, and had red hair, looking out his depth among the bigger, mature bodies. The fans were unimpressed, one noting that “… he got two kicks during the afternoon – one before the match and another in the shins during a rough-up”. He did impress local experts who pointed out his ability to out-mark opponents, his calm temperament, and mobility and effort all over the ground.
He played his early games on the wing and so quickly attracted the nickname “Red Wing” after a favorite ballad of the time. During his first year (1909) he played several games with his brother Frank who later founded Perry Engineering and became an MP.
Between 1909 and 1911 he developed an imposing physique, and this, along with his natural talent produced eye-catching performances in a Norwood team that lacked both flair and capacity. The football public warmed to Charlie and in an era when violence on and off the field were the order of the day, he became very popular for his gentlemanly conduct, commitment, courage and resolute skills. He possessed a good high mark, an accurate kick and was able to score goals when the opportunity arose. In a Norwood side that was near the bottom of the table for most of his career, Charlie had plenty of work to do at centre half-back where he frequently single-handedly turned back opposition attacks. Such were his abilities that he represented South Australia against Victoria in 1912.
He finished studying to become a Minister in the Methodist Church and entered the ministry in 1911. He had earned respect and influence at Norwood and his religious views were embraced by the club; he was encouraged to deliver religious devotionals across all sports when he was available. Many of his Norwood team-mates attended and these services attracted 300 people or more.
He missed the 1914 season carrying out pastoral duties and returned in 1915 when he finished equal first in a three way tie for the Magarey Medal before placing second in a vote by umpires, according to the rules of the time. Charlie was posthumously awarded the 1915 Magarey Medal in 1998.
He served in Europe with distinction as a chaplain during World War 1 and captained the Combined Training Units team in the AIF exhibition match played in London in 1916. Another Norwood player, Ernest Beames was also a member of that team. It was an incident in 1918 that was possibly the most remarkable of Perry’s war service. He was attached to a Brigade positioned near the Somme River in France when the Red Baron’s distinctive red tri-plane was spotted overhead, under fire from the ground and from a chasing plane. The Red Baron’s famous career ended as he was shot in the chest, and his aircraft crash landed. Australian soldiers arrived at the crash scene and started souveniring anything they could from the wreckage. Charlie Perry intervened and calmly explained to the men that the Red Baron’s death should be treated with respect. However, most of the wreckage disappeared.
In 1919 he returned from Europe, working as a stoker on the ship home to regain his fitness, and resumed training with Norwood. He married in September 1920, delaying his honeymoon so that he could play in the grand final against North Adelaide. He played a typically dominating game at half-back and in the ruck but it wasn’t enough and Norwood lost by 48 points. He retired in 1920.
Perry continued to serve in the Methodist ministry as the Chaplain of Prince Alfred College, as vice-chairman (and life member) of the Norwood Football Club, on the Umpires' Board and as a deputy commissioner of the South Australian Football League.
R Crompton Aug 2013 revised Sept 2017