Australian Rules Football in Murray Bridge prior to formation of the Rambler and Imperial Football Clubs
By Harold G McLaren
The Rambler and Imperial Football Clubs have been an integral part of the football scene in Murray Bridge for so long that it may surprise many to learn football was played in the town for much of the forty or so non war years prior to the formation of these clubs in 1931.
A Murray Bridge Football Club was formed on May 8 1885 with A L Benda as the inaugural captain.
Prior to 1919 football matches in Murray Bridge and surrounding areas were played on a rather ad hoc basis as no regular premiership competitions existed.
Although matches in some seasons are described in the press in great detail there is only sketchy, if any, printed information available on matches played in other seasons between 1885 and 1918. Over this period Murray Bridge occaisonally had more than one team e.g. Centrals, Souths, Town, Railways and St. Andrews.
Saturday May 11 1919 the Murray River Football Association three-club premiership competition was formed with the clubs being Murray Bridge (subsequent premiers), Pompoota and Mannum.
Murray Bridge Rovers Football Club was formed in 1920 and this made it a four-team competition. Murray Bridge won the 1920 premiership and Rovers the 1921 premiership.
In 1922 another change occurred with the formation of the Murray Bridge Football Association. The town's footballers were split into three clubs namely Rovers, Bridgeport and United who won the inaugural premiership.
Information relating to the 1923 season is sketchy with Tailem Bend joining the association in 1924. These four clubs competed again in 1925.
The Murray Bridge Football Club was reformed in March 1926 following an amalgamation of the United and Bridgeport teams. Together with Murray Bridge Rovers the new club joined the Hills Football Association. The other clubs in this competition were Mount Barker, Strathalbyn, Onkaparinga and Milang.
Murray Bridge Rovers defeated Onkaparinga in the 1926 grand final.
All six clubs competed again in the 1927 season.
In early 1928 both Murray Bridge and Onkaparinga clubs intimated they would again compete and were thus included in the original draw for the forth-coming season. Prior to the season starting however both clubs decided to withdraw leaving only four clubs in the competition. Rovers were defeated by Mount Barker in the grand final.
These four clubs, Murray Bridge Rovers, Mount Barker, Strathalbyn and Milang competed again in season 1929.
Rovers were minor premiers and defeated Mount Barker in the grand final.
When Mount Barker and Strathalbyn both withdrew from the competition at the start of the 1930 season a press report of the day said it killed interest in senior football in Murray Bridge.
Another press report (February 1931) stated only junior matches were played in Murray Bridge in season 1930 but this appears to be incorrect.
A four-club competition called the River Murray Football Association was in existence in 1930. The competing clubs were Mypolonga, Ponde, Port Mannum and Bridgeport. Players names published in match reports suggest, as the name Bridgeport clearly suggests, that the club was in fact a Murray Bridge one.
Moves to form a competition in early 1931 failed as several possible teams were already committed to another association.
However on Wednesday May 27 1931 a meeting was held in the Murray Bridge Institute when a decision was taken to reform a local association.
Key officials elected that night were A W Channon (chairman and arbitrator) and Sid Bradford secretary/treasurer. Joint patrons of the association were Messrs. C Forde and J R Noble.
Based on the reported recollections of Eric Pfitzner, a player in that era, it seems that the two most prominent Murray Bridge Rovers Football Club players, namely Kevin 'China ' Harford and Roy Pfitzner, divided the players of the recently reformed (probably in early May) Murray Bridge Football Club into two equal groups.
Thus the Murray Bridge Imperial and Rambler Football Clubs came into being. Harford was captain of Imperials and Pfitzner captain of Ramblers.
(Many years ago the writer spoke to Ray L Heinrich at his home at Findon in Adelaide. Mr Heinrich recalled being in attendance at a meeting in Short's Cafe when the Rambler and Imperial clubs were formed. Mr Heinrich was then a young printer working at the River Murray Advocate printing office situated in Sixth Street Murray Bridge.)
Murray Bridge teams Ramblers and Imperials, together with Mypolonga, formed the three club River Murray Association (now the RMFL). Mannum and Ponde were unable to accept a late invitation to join the association.
A trial match between Imperials and Ramblers was played Saturday June 6 1932 and it ended in a draw.
Murray Bridge Imperials won the inaugural RMFA minor round match played on June 8 defeating Murray Bridge Ramblers 11-10 (76) to 10-13 (73) on Monday June 8 1931.
Imperials, exercising their right as minor premiers, defeated Ramblers 4-14 (38) to 4-6 (30) in the challenge grand final to win the first RMFA premiership.
Murray Bridge Ramblers inaugural 1931 season
Following formation of the River Murray Football Association in 1931 with three clubs, Murray Bridge Ramblers, Murray Bridge Imperials and Mypolonga, a program of nine minor round matches plus finals was adopted at a meeting held May 27.
Ramblers six minor round matches were against Imperials Monday June 8, Mypolonga June 20, Imperials July 4, Mypolonga July 18, Imperials August 1 and Mypolonga August 15. Matches were also played against other teams on bye Saturdays.
Ramblers lost their opening two matches of the season. Imperials defeated Ramblers 11-10 (76) to 10-13 (73) and Mypolonga defeated Ramblers 14-8 (92) to 10-15 (75).
Ramblers broke through for their first ever win by defeating Imperials by a large margin on July 4. Scores were Ramblers 16-16 (112) to Imperials 5-11 (41). Ramblers then followed this initial win with a 17 point win over Mypolonga scores being 14-8 (92) to 11-9 (75).
In their next game Ramblers held a six-point lead over Imperials at half time but lost the match by the same margin. The final score was Imperials 13-14 (92) to 12-14 (86).
In the final minor round game against Mypolonga, Ramblers after being behind at each change kicked four goals in the last quarter to draw the game. The final scores were 12-8 (80) each.
Imperials finished minor premiers with four wins. Mypolonga was second by virtue of having a superior percentage to that of Ramblers. Each team had two wins and a draw.
In the first semi-final Imperials played Ramblers and were defeated 9-7 (61) to 7-12 (54).
In the next final Ramblers convincingly defeated second place Mypolonga 15-15 (93) to 6-10 (46).
However as Imperials were minor premiers they had the right of challenge. In a hard fought rough grand final Imperials led at every change to win the premiership 4-14 (38) to 4-6 (30).
Ramblers wound up their first season with a social in the Druids Hall Wednesday October 7. More than 100 players and supporters were present.
Ramblers president JG Bridgeman presented Mrs L S Schulz, on behalf of all those present, with a silver cake dish for her sporting generosity and keen interest in the Rambler players. Presentations were also made to the W H Green coach, C E Gardner secretary and W Derricks assistant trainer.
Club captain Eric Pfitzner told the gathering that although the premiership was not won the season was a very happy and successful one.
Rambler officials in 1931 were patron Dr N Munday, president J G Bridgman, chairman A R Cameron, secretary C E Gardner, coach F W H Green, delegates J G Bridgman and Murray Pike.
Players who represented Ramblers during the 1931 season were Eric Pfitzner, Roy Pfitzner, Cyril Drogemueller, Baden Powell, Horrie Powell, Glen Sladden, Alwyn Sladden, Tommy Annandale, Jim Hay, Stan Watson, Colin Moss, Jack Illingworth, Les Phillips, Harry Barnes, Wally Thacker, Laurie Cremer, Cliff Kennett, Jeff Pilmore, Bill Schultz, Barrie Acott and Murray Pike.
Ramblers in 1931 played in navy guernseys, white shorts and red socks changing to red and white guernseys in 1937. (The B grade team still played in the former guernseys that year). Ramblers were referred to as the 'Redlegs' until the 1950s.
Revised December 2010
Harold G McLaren