HAYDN BUNTON'S FOOTBALL STORY
A black eye and hardly a kick in his Vic. debut
HAYDN Bunton, acknowledged one of the greatest footballers Australia has known, today continues the story of his football career with some previously unpublished facts about the trafficking stir in which he was involved in Victoria.
He also tells of his debut in Melbourne football in 1931, when he hardly got a kick and collected a lovely black eye.
ON the eve of the official opening of the Victorian league football round in 1930, there was one of the usual umpires and permit committee meetings to consider players' clearances. My clearance from Albury to Fitzroy was to come up, but it would be only a for- mality, Fitzroy officials assured me. It was far from formality. The meeting that night lasted from 8 o'clock until 1.30 a.m. next day. I was in and out of the room full of delegates half a dozen times, and after nearly five and a half hours' delibera- tion, the committee told me I was to be stood down for a year for "trafficking." This is the story behind that decision. The Victorian League, con- cerned at the increasing amounts of money being offered to attract players by nearly all clubs, had accepted, in prin- ciple, a set of new rules, framed by Mr. George Coulter, which said, mainly, that a player must not receive more than £3 a week from his club. THE Coulter Law was not actually in force at the time of my alleged 'trafficking' breaches, but all clubs had agreed to do nothing contrary to the spirit of the law until it became accepted fact. It was in this 'unwritten law' period that so many of the clubs baited me with offers. Fitzroy's secretary -Tom Coles)had offered me a lump sum of £50 to play football with them, my wages to be made up to £5 a week in addition, and the ordinary £3 a week payment for football, plus £50 from Fitz- roy Cricket Club to play cricket with them, and a bonus at the end of the year. Later, Carlton's secretary (Paddy Cain) approached me. He had offered me £§0 earlier, plus the usual other payments, but when I told him of Fitz- roy's offer, he stepped Carlton's up to £76. He then remarked be could not go to the £100. Anyway, I liked Carlton, so I said I'd go with them contin- gent on them arranging my transfer from the Albury branch of the NZ Mercantile and Loan Agency to the city. On the Australia Day holiday at the end of January, 1930, I came to Melbourne to be mea-
sured for a pair of running shoes to wear at Stawell. Carlton officials met me at the station, and their presi- dent (Dave Crone) took me to a shoemaker who did all the work for Carlton. While the shoemaker was measuring me for the running shoes. Crone remarked: 'Mea- sure this boy for football boots, too, in case he comes to Carl ton." Afterwards, Crone refused to let me pay for the running spikes. He said: 'That's merely a gift. It's the way we treat all footballers who come to Carlton." I WENT back to Albury. Crone had told Mr. McDonald, manager of the Albury branch of my firm, that he had a friend who was a per- sonal friend of the Melbourne manager of the NZM and LA. When a telegram came from Crone to Mr. McDonald saying: 'Everything OK. Suggest you forward letter. Kind regards, Crone.' my family and I took it that the transfer had been arranged. Off I went. No transfer had. in fact, been arranged. That's when I rang Tom Coles, Fitz- roy- secretary, after arriving at Spencer street without Carlton being there to meet me, as promised. That was the background to the permit committee meeting. When I went along to the meeting, Fitzroy officials said everything was all right. They'd done some lobbying, and things were sewn up for my clearance. I can see secretary Tom Coles now, sitting back in his chair, with his feet placed wide on the edge of the polished table, winking and smiling at me confidently every time I was called into the room to answer questions put by dele- gates of other clubs. IT wasn't long be fore I awoke to the fact that there would be no clearance. Why all the delay if thing had been sewn up? Hour after hour it dragged on. I found afterwards only one club had voted to favor of my clearance— South Mel- bourne. They, too, had made me an offer earlier but bore no particular ill-will about it. I was stood down for a year. Later, the Owens and Murray Football League applied for a special permit for me to play
HAYDN BUNTON as an umpire in Adelaide league games.
HAYDN BUNTON as an umpire in Adelaide league games.
with Albury again, and it was granted. Thereafter, in 1930, I took the long train trip to and from Albury each week-end to play with West Albury. The Coulter Law was well conceived, but it was just as much a farce then as It is now. The very men who so assidu- ously officially upheld it in principle were some of the first to break it secretly by making tempting offers to players again—then and now. I admit that during my years with fitzroy I was paid more than the Coulter Law pre- scribed. And I can name off- hand a dozen other players of my time who were paid more, too. After all the fuss, my career could easily have come to an end before it had started. It nearly did. too, became in the last game of the season at Albury, against East Albury, I slipped a cartilage in my left knee.
I told Fitzroy. They asked me to have the cartilage re- moved, I had the operation. Before I left hospital, Fitz- roy officials came to see me one day, and slipped £40 in notes under my pillow to pay the fees. It was strictly under the lap. If their generous action had become known, there would have been another rumpus. As it happened, some years later, when there was strife in the club, 'that lump sum pay- ment was disclosed. IN the 1930-1 cricket season I played cricket with Fitz- roy, and managed 104 against Prahran one day. That was my best in district cricket. As a batsman, I had few strokes, but could stonewall a bit. If ever there was a sticky wicket round, in would go Bunton with orders to prop the bat in front of the stumps and stick round. Fitzroy did the right thing by me throughout. While I was standing down from football, Preston, Yarraville, Oakleigh, Northcote, and Williamstown all asked me to play with them in the association. Williams- town, I think it was, offered me a brand-new car— a very tempting offer for a lad. Then came my4 second ap- pearance before the VFL per- mit committee just before the opening of the 1931 season. It was all over in a few minutes. I was cleared. The great day came for my debut in Melbourne football. The newspapers had written so much about me, and the traf- ficking case, that the crowd for the Fitzroy-Melbourne game was swollen by thousands of curious people who just came along to see what I looked like. ON the Saturday morning everyone wanted to by my friend, I had 'friends' by the score. Two chaps asked me to go to the St. Kilda Maison that night, after the match. I hired a dinner suit and stiff shirt for my big night out. In the match I hardly got a kick. I got a beautiful black eye. though, after Ivor Warne- Smith, Melbourne ruckman. and I got tangled in a pack. After the game, there were none of the scores of "friends" to meet me. The backpatters and handshakers of a few hours before had gone with use wind All I had for my flrst Victorian League game was a classic "shiner" I put on some dark glasses
and the hired dinner suit and went to meet my friends to go to the dance. They didn't turn up, either. I went to the Maison, had a miserable time, and walking to catch a late bus, met another chap on his own who'd been to the dance. We were having a bottle of milk each in a milk bar when the bus came. In my haste, I slopped the milk down the hired dinner suit. That wasn't all. When the other young chap and myself sat in the bus his first remark was, 'Did you see how that country mug, Bunton, went against Melbourne today?' He pulled out a Melbourne evening paper from his pocket with the flaring headlines 'Country Champion Disap- points.' That was the finish. I jumped off the bus at the next stop in case he recognised me. As I walked the rest of the way home, I did some bitter thinking over the fickleness of football, its officials, and the fans. FITZROY stuck to me, though. They might not have done so after all the trouble, if I hadn't played reasonably well in their earlier trial games. I did a little better the next week, against Carlton. and earned a third vote for the Brownlow Medal. For the next half a dozen games I was on the verge of being dropped. But then I started to get going. On June 20, about half-way through the season, I polled a second vote for the medal against Hawthorn, was round the place in the next couple of games, and then form came to me. In the last seven games of the season I received six first preferences and a second, and scraped home for the Brown low Medal by one vote from Alan Hopkins, of Footscray. I'll always take my hat off to Fitzroy for sticking to me as they did when I was in the doldrums. The Victorian selectors had evidently been inclined to agree with Fltzroy's judgment, too, because they picked me in the Victorian team In my first season. Of course, as soon as I hit my top form, the back -clappers end good fellows were round again But I was not no easily deceived by then. But I still wasn't out of the wood. Next season I was again nearly put out by the permit committee. It was touch and go, but the move did not come off.