1919 - COW PAT LOTTO
To be clear right from the very start, football grounds, as we now know them, were non-existent out in ‘the sticks’. Local teams such as Carrum and Chelsea played on paddocks. Carrum’s home ground was known as Rigby’s paddock and was located in the middle of farmland. It was grazed during the week and played on at weekends. As a result the ground would often be strewn with animal dung come match day.
It is doubtful as to whether there were any arrangements made to clear the site before the commencement of play, but one would imagine that those with the greatest interest in doing so, the players, would have been left with the job. Inevitably they would have, at times experienced a form of “cow pat lotto’ where the winner would definitely not finish up smelling like roses.
Change rooms you ask, they were non-existent. Chelsea never had the use of rooms until 1923, so one would imagine that the players either came ready to play or else changed their clothes behind a nearby tree, not that there would be many prying eyes from neighbouring houses, because there just weren’t any residences within cooee – just open space and farm animals.
With no fences around the playing area in those early days, there are recorded instances of kids riding their bikes and the like across the ground while the game was in progress. And the boundary line was often unclear, creating a bone of contention among participants, leaving the umpire to make a judgement as to whether the play had exceeded the limits of an accepted playing area.
Since there were no fences, there was nothing structural separating the players and spectators and both parties would, at times, invade the other’s territory, either by accident or deliberate intention. Either way, when this occurred it was sometimes intimate eyeball to eyeball contact that could and did, on occasions, lead to violence.
But it wasn’t always the case, as often the exchange would involve some good natured banter or even words of encouragement and advice that were whispered into the player’s ear as they tried to free themselves from the embrace of the crowd after having pursued the ball into their midst.