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John Worrall (1861–1937)

by John Ritchie

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John Worrall (1861-1937), footballer, cricketer and journalist, was born on 21 June 1861 at Chinamans Flat, Maryborough, Victoria, seventh child of Joseph Worrall, miner, and his wife Ann, née Gaynor, both Irish born. Having attended the local state school, John went to Ballarat where he impressed the secretary of the Fitzroy club in the Victorian Football Association who induced him to move to Melbourne and to join the 'Maroons' in 1884. In his nine seasons until 1892 Worrall captained Fitzroy for seven years, represented Victoria in intercolonial matches and was named 'champion of the colony' in 1887 and 1890. A nuggetty and determined rover, he could soar for marks and kick accurately with either foot. Idolized by his supporters, he was commonly regarded as one of the three best Australian Rules footballers in the country.

Throughout summer he played cricket. In a career that totalled 140 first-class matches between 1883 and 1902, he scored 4660 runs (including seven centuries) at an average of 20.99, took 105 wickets at 23.10 (best figures 5 for 20) and held 101 catches. In 1896 for Carlton he hit an Australian record of 417 not out. He represented Victoria on 65 occasions, having 121 innings for 2407 runs at 20.93 (highest score 109), capturing 74 wickets at 22.09 and captaining the colony/State in sixteen games. He played eleven Test matches against England (1885-99), touring twice (1888 and 1899), for figures of 478 runs at 25.15, one wicket for 127 runs, and 13 catches. A right-handed opening bat whose belligerent drives could tear apart an attack, Worrall had tenacity on sticky wickets: in the 1899 Test at Headingley he made 76 of Australia's first innings total of 172. While on tour in July 1902 the Australian skipper, Joe Darling, contacted the Victorian Cricketers' Association, complaining that Worrall had informed an English umpire that two Australian Test bowlers—J. V. Saunders and M. A. Noble—were 'chuckers' who should be 'no-balled out of every game'. The V.C.A. delegates summarily banned Worrall from playing first-class cricket. He accepted the decision without demur and in 1909 was sufficiently reinstated to be appointed coach of the State's Colts.

Having assisted in founding the Victorian Football League in 1896, Worrall had joined Carlton as secretary/manager in 1902 and taken over the coaching of a club which in the previous five years had finished no higher than second last on the V.F.L. ladder. He began to rebuild the side by moulding young recruits—fast moving, high marking, big men—into a team that would develop a direct, long kicking game. As coach, he donned togs at training sessions, organized strict schedules, demanded unflinching courage and imposed stern discipline: 'Boys, booze and football don't mix'. Under Worrall, Carlton rose to dominance, reaching the finals in 1903-05 and winning triple premierships in 1906-08. With the triumphs came strife. In 1904 he survived a move to unseat him as secretary on allegations of mishandled gate-takings. In July 1909, after the players demanded to be paid more than 30 shillings a week and expressed resentment at his spartan constraints, Worrall resigned as coach. The feuding continued into 1910. He was accused of ballot-rigging and dumped as secretary when a 'reform' group swept to power on 20 March. Wounded by such treatment, he went to Essendon and coached the 'Same Old' to successive flags in 1911-12. When the Australian Football Council was formed in November 1905, Worrall was one of its two elected V.F.L. delegates. He was later made a life member of the A.F.C., as well as of the V.F.L. and the Fitzroy Football Club, but never of Carlton.

Already writing for the Sydney Referee, in 1916 Worrall joined the weekly Australasian. His knowledge, experience and judgement of football and cricket made him a respected authority on both codes. For over twenty years his columns were characterized by poised sentences and rich vocabulary; for all its partisanship, his direct prose was spiced with comparison, reminiscence and prediction, and conveyed a sense of drama. As early as 19 November 1932 Worrall saw menace in the English fast bowlers; by the 26th he wrote of their 'body attack', by 3 December of their intimidatory deliveries. He probably discussed the tourists' tactics with R. W. E. Wilmot and E. H. Buggy; whichever of them coined the term 'bodyline', Worrall published it on 10 December thereby establishing the word in sporting idiom.

Short and stocky, broad shouldered and clean-shaven, Worrall had jowls in later life, but his intense eyes retained their twinkle. Tough and stubborn, passionately fond of sport without the sideshows, he did not make friends easily. With little time for backslappers, Jack counselled young players and did what he could to assist aspiring sports writers. He proved an inimitable raconteur about Dr W. G. Grace and the demon Spofforth; while respecting (Sir) Donald Bradman, he remained convinced that Victor Trumper was Australia's greatest batsman. Worrall died at Fairfield on 17 November 1937. His wife Agnes Mary, née McCallum, whom he had married at Fitzroy with Victorian Free Church forms on 22 August 1893, survived him; there were no children. Champions turned out to his funeral at Heidelberg cemetery and flags at the Melbourne Cricket Ground flew at half-mast.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Buggy and H. Bell, The Carlton Story (Melb, 1958)
  • H. Larwood and K. Perkins, The Larwood Story (Lond, 1965)
  • B. Frindall (compiler), The Wisden Book of Test Cricket 1876-77 to 1977-78 (Lond, 1979)
  • M. Sutherland et al, The First One Hundred Seasons (Melb, 1983)
  • E. W. Swanton, Gubby Allen (Lond, 1985)
  • J. Pollard, The Turbulent Years of Australian Cricket, 1893-1917 (Syd, 1987)
  • C. Martin-Jenkins, The Complete Who's Who of Test Cricketers (Melb, 1987)
  • W. S. Ramson (ed), Australian National Dictionary (Melb, 1988)
  • Australasian, 19, 26 Nov, 3, 10, 17 Dec 1932, 7, 21 Jan, 27 May 1933, 27 Nov 1937.

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Citation details

John Ritchie, 'Worrall, John (1861–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 June, 1861
Maryborough, Victoria, Australia


17 November, 1937 (aged 76)
Fairfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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