Doug Fraser and the Bribery Scandal of 1910By: Craig Mackie on: Mon 28 of June, 2010 04:34 AEST (20868 Reads)
Part 1 published: March 2009; Part 2 published: July 2010
Part 3: Banished
Doug Fraser, a journeyman footballer playing in his first season for the Carlton Football Club in 1910, was apparently caught red-handed taking money to underperform in the 1910 semi final against South Melbourne.
His much more famous team mates and childhood friends Alex “Bongo” Lang and Doug Gillespie were also implicated.
All players were suspended by the Club shortly after the game. The players were also directed to appear before an enquiry conducted by the Victorian Football League.
The result was a foregone conclusion. The League conducted their investigation in a manner that would not be tolerated today.
The proceedings were closed to members of the public and media. The accused men were not entitled to legal representation or advice. There was no right of appeal. Evidence was given by Carlton committeemen, the accused men and other Carlton players. The hurried jottings of the proceedings made by the League secretary remain, but what the witnesses said was not publicly reported and no record made at the time appears now to exist.
On the 30th September 1910 the VFL chairman released the League’s findings:
“That W.A.Lang ( player of the Carlton Football Club ) has been found guilty of conduct not conducive to the best interests of football. Decided that W.A.Lang be disqualified until December 31, 1915.”
“That Douglas Fraser ( player of the Carlton Football Club ) has been found guilty of conduct not conducive to the best interests of football. Decided that Douglas Fraser be disqualified until December 31, 1915.”
“That Douglas Gillespie ( player) and Edward McInerney ( trainer ) be exonerated from all blame."
The League’s reasons for these decisions were never publicly released.
The disqualifications on Fraser and Lang remain the longest ever imposed on a senior VFL/AFL player.
If the penalty imposed on these players was the League’s attempt to uphold the amateur status of the game, it didn’t work.
The disqualifications very quickly became the catalyst for the game to openly embrace what was obvious to all who followed it – that players were routinely being paid by their clubs, that transfer fees were being paid by administrators for players, and indeed that the game was acknowledged as being professional everywhere except in the boardroom of the Victorian Football League. The game had long stopped being simply a Saturday pastime for school children and cricketers wanting to remain fit over winter. It had become big business – and not paying players appropriately simply invited corruption and bribery.
And so it was that as the weeks unfolded after the infamous game, the initial shock subsided and public mood began to side with the players.
This call for change wasn’t just from the ordinary man in the street. Powerful business figures and politicians demanded that players be openly paid. Even the Premier of Victoria chided the League to accept reality, as this newspaper report published immediately before the players were disqualified demonstrates:
The Premier’s Hope
The Premier ( Mr Murray ), who takes a keen interest in all aspects of sport, on Saturday expressed the hope that the football league’s enquiry into the recent football scandals would lead to the game being played on a much more satisfactory footing from the public’s point of view than had been the case in the past.
"It is very desirable” added Mr Murray “ that these troubles shall be cleared up. There should be no doubt as to the fairness of the game. If professionalism is to come it should be acknowledged openly. The public will, I believe, think no less of a footballer if he is professional so long as everything is above board. I am informed that these men have to give a good deal of their time and attention to training, and that in some cases this interferes with their business occupations.”
(The Argus 26th September 1910.)
The pressure on the League proved too much.
The game officially turned professional only months later, and players were openly being paid by their clubs in the 1911 season for the very first time.
...And so in this era where Australian Rules Footballers demand and receive exorbitant playing contracts, it can be rightly said that lumbering ruckman and impoverished brick layer Doug Fraser, the man who only played 11 senior AFL/VFL games before being banished from the field, is one of the most influential players ever to pull on a boot.
After he was thrown out of the game, Fraser continued to live in Yarraville.
He never played Australian Rules Football competitively ever again, but in truth he didn't check stride. He seems to have simply returned to being the knockabout bricklayer and sometime wharfie labourer he had always been. He continued to live what was probably a hard-working boozy bachelor existence in a series of boarding houses in Yarraville with other young men, no doubt many of them also labourers like him.
When war broke out in 1914 he didn't enlist as a soldier, but it was the war that indirectly killed him.
Returning soldiers brought home with them a deadly strain of influenza that had swept the world and would go on to claim many thousands of Australian lives in 1919 and 1920.
In mid February 1919, Fraser started getting crook, coughing and sneezing in his room at the boarding house in Ballarat Street Yarraville. He quickly became very ill. The nearby Sunshine Industrial School, like many other similar institutions, had been turned into a makeshift hospital in order to cope with the victims of the epidemic. Fraser was taken there after being diagnosed as suffering from the dreaded influenza. Already weakened by a workplace accident, Fraser’s condition quickly deteriorated.
Douglas Fraser died on the 24th February 1919. He was only 34 years old. He had never married and apparently had no children.
His family, all still living in Western Australia, were not present when he passed away. It was left to friends to arrange his funeral. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Footscray cemetery on the 25th February 1919. Deliberately or otherwise, they also managed to ensure that his nickname “Dug” was recorded forever as his Christian name on the death certificate.
These same mates, still stunned by his sudden death, went together a few days later to the small offices of the Footscray Advertiser, where they regaled the editor with stories of Fraser's short but colourful life. A piece about Fraser appeared in the paper on the 1st March 1919.
...And let us all wish for an obituary which is as warm, succinct, and as judicious as that which was written for Douglas Stewart Fraser:
Mr “Dug” Fraser
Amongst those who succumbed to the prevailing epidemic during the week is Mr Douglas Fraser, of Yarraville, familiarly known in his football days as “Dug” Fraser. Deceased, a strapping and comparatively young man, fell a victim to the scourge after suffering from a heavy cold, last week, and his demise on Monday supports the view that the disease now ravaging the State has more than one form, and that in its severer form it is well described as highly dangerous. This, however, may be discounted by the fact that deceased was recently caught between the buffers of two trucks and crushed. Deceased, who on one occasion with a mate, established a bricklaying record, was at one time a playing member of the Footscray football Club, and who was formerly a Carlton player, was very well liked by his associates at Yarraville and considerable regret was expressed when it was learnt that he had so suddenly passed to the Great Beyond.
- Note: The funeral notice stated Fraser played for Footscray. This is believed to be a mistake, for Yarraville was the only Victorian team Fraser played for prior to joining Carlton.
Blueseum Footnote: This article is the third of three pieces that have appeared in Blueseum about the life of Doug Fraser. The author Craig Mackie is writing a book about the 1910 Bribery Scandal, and would be most pleased to hear from anyone with any information about the scandal, or its principal players - Alex "Bongo" Lang and Doug "Dug" Fraser. Craig can be contacted on
LinksBlueseum: Fraser's Blueseum Biography | Lang's Blueseum Biography | Season 1910 | Fraser's Blueseum Image Gallery
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