E.J. Whitten - part 1 - The early years 1951-53
|8:12:00 PM Thu 24 January, 2002|
Young Ted Whitten played his first game for Footscray in
Round One, 1951 aged 16. He was selected to play at centre half forward
against Richmond. Peter Box also made his debut in the same game.
On Tuesday, 9 July 1957 the football world was rocked when Charlie
Sutton was deposed as coach.
He had been the club's most successful coach, having taken them into the finals four times and winning the 1954 Premiership.
Young Ted Whitten was 23 years old when he was thrust into the role of captain-coach on the Thursday evening before Round 13 of 1957.
He was reluctant to accept, but the Board told him, that unless he did, an outsider would be appointed.
Already a champion player, Ted Whitten became the youngest coach in the league.
He stumbled his way through his first pre-match address at St Kilda when, in defiance of the committee, Charlie Sutton walked into the rooms.
"Good luck, son!" he said. "In future take your time when you talk to the players."
Coaching proved to be a difficult time. He met early resistence from some of the older players. Harvey Stevens and Wally Donald were obliged to step down as captain and vice-captain, and Whitten's rivalry with centreman Peter Box was aggravated.
Footscray lost their next four games in 1957, although they only missed the finals by a game and a half.
They did however, manage to win their first night match, against Fitzroy in the 1957 night football series.
The next three years were bleak, as gradually all of the stars of 1954 retired from the team. In 1959, Footscray tried fifteen new players as it slumped to its worst season in the League.
They finished last with only three wins.
At the end of the season, Ted Whitten launched a summer fitness campaign and introduced weighlifting the following May.
The on field results though were still poor. The team finished tenth with six wins.
The young Footscray side however, was able to turn the tide in 1961.
Footscray finished third last in 1960 with only six wins.
However, the following season captain-coach Ted Whitten was able to guide his young team to one of the most successful seasons in the club's history.
The Bulldogs won the opening four games, but then lost the next three, and won six of the last eight.
In the final round, a crowd of 42,015 packed into the Western Oval for the Bulldogs 21 point defeat of the Cats to clinch a berth in the final four.
The Bulldogs had confounded their critics.
A record crowd of 86,411 at the MCG watched the Bulldogs play a fast, open game in the first semi final aginst St Kilda to win a close game by nine points.
Footscray went on to defeat Melbourne in the preliminary final by 27 points to earn a place in the 1961 Grand Final against Hawthorn.
When Captain-coach Ted Whitten led his team onto the MCG that day, he became the only player in the club's history to have played in both of Footscray's Grand Finals.
He was the sole survivor of the triumphant 1954 side.
Unfortunately, Ted Whitten's young side could not match it with the rugged Hawthorn outfit and went down by 43 points.
Ted Whitten was Footscray's leading goalkicker with 3 goals, and was the team's best player.
The Footscray supporters gave him a thunderous ovation later that night at the Footscray Town Hall, when he announced "I'm sorry for you people that we did not win."
Footscray finished tenth at the end of the 1966 season. Ted Whitten had been coaching the team for ten seasons.
The team never progressed after the 1961 Grand Final, and had five seasons with very poor results.
They finshed 1966 with a 104 point defeat to Collingwood.
The poor results were beginning to take its toll, and the committee decided to replace Ted as coach.
They turned again to Charlie Sutton.
Ted was bitterly disappointed and was tempted by an offer to go and play with Richmond.
However, he decided to stay and set his sights on breaking Arthur Olliver's club record number of games.
Ted Whitten reached the club record of 272 games in 1967 against Carlton at home at the Western Oval.
The crowd gave him a rousing ovation as he ran a lap of the ground with John Schultz and Carlton captain Ron Barassi. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs went down by sixteen points.
The following year, 1968, saw the construction of the new E.J.Whitten Grandstand, and in 1969 Whitten was again appointed captain-coach with the resignation of Charlie Sutton.
Ted went on to celebrate his 300th game with a big win over Fitzroy in Round One 1969. The match also marked the debut of Barry Round.
Ted Whitten, "Mr Football", played his last game for Footscray on May 2, 1970 against Hawthorn at the Western Oval.
Ted was bitterly disappointed when told by the Footscray committee that he would play just four games in season 1970, sufficient to enable him to break Dick Reynold's VFL record of 320 games.
Reynolds was in the rooms before the match to personally hand over his 320 games record to Ted.
Once on the ground, the crowd of 19,610 roared its emotion as Ted tossed the coin for the last time.
The game was a tough and desperate battle. Although Ted was not winning many kicks he inspired his side with his hard tackling.
At three quarter time, Footscray was two points up, and Ted Whitten made his last, impassioned and now famous address to his players:
"It's got to be a do-or-die effort. It's got to be a determined effort. You've got to show me all the guts and determination you've got in your body. You've got to inspire me with this last quarter finish. You've been in front all day and you've got to stay there."
Only five points were kicked in a slogging last quarter, three of them by Footscray to give a great three point victory to Ted and his team.
Gary Dempsey hoisted Ted onto his shoulders and carried him to the front of the John Gent Stand. He raised his hands in acknowledgement as he called his players over to join him.
He raised his hands in acknowledgement, while the siren sounded a few blasts.
Thousands stood in the rain to farewell "Lord Ted", singing "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow", and expressing their disapproval of the committee's decision to curtail his career.
Field umpire Maurie Marks gave Ted a mounted gold plated whistle - a humorous reference to Ted's reputation for being an on-field umpire.
Jack Collins and the Chief Commissioner of Police made speeches and a presentation.
Ted said that it was an honour to have played his last game at home on the Western Oval.
"I'm sad and sorry, but I'm happy with my boys. I thank all supporters, who have stuck by me over the years....you are fantastic....magnificent is the word... I love you all," said Mr. Football, with tears in his eyes.
"I hope you stick with us."
Ted Whitten's 321 games stood as a club record until 1993 when it was broken by another Footscray legend, Doug Hawkins.
Ted Whitten's passion for Footscray was only matched by his passion for the Big V. To pull on the Victorian jumper and represent his state gave Ted some of his prodest moments in football.
Ted first played for Victoria on 16 July, 1955 against South Australia at the Adelaide Oval, which Victoria won by 37 points.
In 1958, Ted tied with Allen Aylett for the Tassie Medal as the best and fairest player in the Interstate Football Carnival played in Melbourne. Aylett won the medal on a countback.
In 1995, much to his delight, Ted was awarded the Medal retrospectively.
Ted represented Victoria 29 times between 1955 and 1966.
During that time Victoria only lost two matches.
Ted was captain coach of Victoria in 1962 in matches against South Australia and Western Australia, and captained the team in 1996 against the VFA.
He represented Victoria in four carnivals, 1956, 58, 61 and 66, and won All Australian blazers in 1956, 58 and 61. He won the Simpson medal in 1957 against WA in Perth.
Ted continued his committment to interstate football when, in 1985 he became a Victorian selector, and then in 1987 he was appointed a Chairman of Selectors.
During this time Ted became the public face of interstate football, and his showmanship almost singlehandedly maintained public enthusiasm for interstate football.
The pinnacle was reached in 1989 when 92,000 flocked to the MCG to see Victoria "stick it up" the South Australians.
In all, Ted was on the selection panel for 28 Victorian matches between 1983 and 1994, for 14 wins and 14 losses.
In 1981, the tradition continued when Ted Whitten jnr was selected to play for Victoria against WA, a great moment for EJ.
It was Ted jnr who announced to the football world in at a Press Conference in 1994 that EJ would be resigning from his position as Victorian Chairman of Selectors to concentrate on his battle with cancer.
Ted was at his son's side, unable to speak due to his illness.
Thus began the final phase in the life of Mr Football.
The football public said farewell to Ted Whitten in an emotion charged day at the MCG on June 17, 1995, two months before his death.
Ted was blind and stricken with cancer, but summoned all of his trength to go on a lap of honour before the State of Origin game against South Australia, accompanied by his son, Ted jnr, and his grandchildren, Dean, Jarrod and Kate
The Victorian football public gave Ted a wonderful farewell.
There was not a dry eye amongst the 60,000 Victorian fans, and former players, colleagues and family members who had all gathered that day.
Ted of course went into the rooms before ther match and spoke to every player before they took their place on the field.
The Victorians won the game, which was the last State of Origin match in Ted's lifetime.
The E.J. Whitten medal for the best Victorian player that day was won by Tony Lockett.
Ted died two months later on August 17, 1995. The Western Oval became a shrine to the great man as news of his death spread throughout Melbourne.
A huge painting of Ted became the focus for people as they brought flowers and other tributes to the Western Oval.
Ted was accorded a State Funeral at St Patrick's Cathederal on August 22, 1995.
Two thousand fans packed into the Social Club at the Western Oval to watch a live broadcast of the funeral and pay their last repects to their champion.
Thousands packed the streets and cheered as the funeral cortege wound through Footscray, past the Western Oval to the crematorium at Altona North.
The Eulogy at the Funeral was deivered by one of Ted Whitten's best mate Bob Skilton.
"This country needs heroes like Ted Whitten and "Weary" Dunlop, inspirations to us all.
"It is not often that you say goodbye to a man of such calibre. Truly a momentous occasion. Mr. Football - no name could evre have been more apt.
"For those who did not see him play, he was the greatest. As a player, a complete package. A fine athlete, wonderful skills, tough as nails, a fierce competitor, thriving on the thrill of the contest. The better the opposition, the more he loved it. He revelled in responsibility.
"Ted was unique in that, while all this was going on,he could still inject fun and humour into the game. A laugh, a joke, even in the heat of the moment.
"And, seeing the opposition relax - whack! Somebody's nose was pointing in a different direction. But the same EJ would then offer to take him to hospital and for a drink afterwards.
"Ted was fiercely proud. Proud of his upbringing, proud of Braybrook, proud of Footscray, proud of Victoria. He was, and always will be, a symbol for the western suburbs.
"The legend has certainly been enhanced by his tenure as Chairman of Selectors for the Big V. A born leader, on and off the field, EJ and his adversities - Neil Kerley and Mal Brown - kept State of Origin Football alive. Sure, a lot of it was theatrics, but Ted's driving force was his immense love for football. He trule wanted to see the game live up to his high expectations. He wanted to see others share some of his loves and joys at wearing the Big V.
"As great a footballer as he was, he was upstaged by EJ the person. Those not fortunate to know him personally may well find it hard to believe that the seemingly brash, arrogant maniac hamming it up before a State of Origin match could within seconds become the most warm, caring, compassionate, generous person one could know.
"Mere words could never do justice to EJ the man. Ted was a hero. He gave so much to us all. Ted was a people person. He had a feeling for people. He could make the common man feel like a king.
A wink or a nod from the great man would work wonders. Mind you, he could just as quickly reverse those roles if he felt the situation warranted it.
"Ted had a wonderful empathy for those in need. If anyone, particularly a mate, was ill or needed help in any way, EJ was first there....he never looked for thanks, just got on with things, hoping that he had left others to cope.
"A Braybrook boy who never forgot his background, he never lost that common touch that made him relate to all. Ted loved life; he lived it to the fullest. Some would say he grabbed it by the throat and shook the hell out of it.
"His great love was his family, Val and young Ted, who together nursed him through the final trying times. Ted's pride in his son could not have been greater than in those last few months. The bond between the two never more obvious and beautiful than State of Origin day, when the Melbourne public gave Ted a wonderful tribute and send-off. Ted's last public show of spirit and courage ensured the Vics were never going to lose that one. As exhausted as he was, being the catlyst for a Big V victory would have delighted him.
"EJ Whitten left his mark on us all. From the infamous handshake, that mischievous smile, one would never forget the man's charisma, strength of character, obsession for not letting anyone down.
"It was a privelege to know Ted. It was an honour to be his mate. He epitomised just what life is all about. He epitomised what sport is all about.
"All of us are richer for having known him. His passing has left us the loser. Certainly there will never be another EJ. Nobody could possibly replace him.
"To borrow a phrase from Tina Turner and rugby league - Edward James Whitten, simply the best."