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... and here’s to you, Mr. Robinson

The 1915 Carlton Premiership side. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
The 1915 Carlton Premiership side. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

One hundred years ago last Monday, Maldon’s Billy Robinson won the Stawell Gift.

Seventeen months later, as Carlton’s mainstay at centre half-back, he’d be part of the Blues’ fourth Grand Final victory in League competition, against Collingwood on the MCG.

That rare sporting double would put Robinson in the exalted company of Norman “Hackenschmidt” Clark – the Gift winner of 1899 and a member of Jack Worrall’s fabled Carlton Premiership teams of 1906, ’07 and ’08 - who also happened to coach Billy and the boys to the ’15 triumph.

How remarkable that the old dark Navy Blues and the Western Bulldogs should meet on Sunday on the eve of the 2014 final at Stawell, as it was Robinson who crossed to Carlton from Footscray, then a member of the Victorian Football Association.

Standing 178cm tall and tipping the scales at 73kg, Robinson took out the nation’s most famous footrace of 12 yards in a time of 11.8 seconds. The time compared favourably with Carlton’s other Gift Winner, the Kyneton-born Claud Henry (“Harry”) Rigby, who in 1909 made similar time from 11 and a half yards.

The Argus newspaper reported Robinson’s win in “splendid weather, and before a record attendance”.

“The winner is 23 years of age, and the only important events in which he was previously placed were second in the Echuca Handicap 1912, and he won the half-mile at Shepparton in 1913,” the report stated.

Robinson would represent the old dark Navy Blues in 30 games through the war years of 1915-’18. As fate would have it, he’d turn out against Collingwood for both his first and last games, and in the feature amongst Carlton’s best in the Grand Final triumph – the first of five over the black and whites through the next 75 years.

By then, Robinson’s reputation as a footrunner had preceded him, as a reporter for The Cootamundra Herald of November 6, 1915 wrote;

“A runner who promises to develop into a champion has been unearthed in Melbourne by the name of W. Robinson, the crack wing player of the Carlton Football Club. A challenge has been issued on his behalf to run any man in the world, any distance from 100 to 880 yards, for a substantial stake.

He put up a great performance in an 85 yards open handicap on Saturday last night, when his run was the equivalent of three-quarters of a yard worse than A.B. Postle’s world record for 80 yards.

Now then, ‘ye peds, who fancies himself?”

Billy Robinson, Carlton Premiership player and sprinter par excellence who once wore the No.24 on the back of his dark Navy Blue guernsey, died on March 14, 1969 at the age of 78.

Maybe Sunday you’ll see Billy’s ghost burning up the wing at Etihad Stadium . . . but don’t blink or you’ll miss him.