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A father lost to sons of the West

Date

Bob Murphy

Footscray captain Charlie Sutton leads his club out on Grand Final day in 1954. His Bulldogs were victorious, but the club has not won a premiership since.

Footscray captain Charlie Sutton leads his club out on Grand Final day in 1954. His Bulldogs were victorious, but the club has not won a premiership since.

''Only truthful hands write true poems. I cannot see any basic difference between a handshake and a poem.'' 

PAUL CELAN

So the legend goes, once a man had shaken the hand of Frank Sinatra, he became a part of an esteemed group. As if he were part of an unspoken code among men.

Western bulldogs hall of fame charlie sutton former coach and premiership captain. Click for more photos

Footscray Legend Dies

Footscray Legend Charlie Sutton, captain and coach of the Bulldogs only premiership in 1954 has died aged 88. He was Coach of the Bulldog's Team of the Century, an AFL Hall of Fame inductee and an inaugural Bulldogs Hall of Fame and Legend. Photo: Wayne Hawkins

Out in Footscray, we've been blessed to have something similar. We've had Charlie Sutton, a man whose handshake was like a poem.

One of the first things you would do as a brand new Footscray recruit was meet Charlie. I remember when it was my time, having just come off the training track, pale and nervous and still just 17.

And there was Charlie, back at his beloved Whitten Oval in the middle of summer, with no one around really, introducing himself to players old and new. I must've shaken Charlie Sutton's hand a few hundred times over the ensuing years, and every time it felt important. It felt special.

There are things as a Footscray footballer that are just there. E.J. Whitten is still there, and I say this as a player who never met the man, but you feel his presence nonetheless. Stand on the ground that bears his name, and you can hear his passionate address to his tired players, slumped on the muddy field.

Chris Grant is almost a mythical figure, whose humility and gentle touch breezed through this place as a player and still now as a board member. Tony Liberatore's grunt and undeniable spirit linger in the walls of our changerooms. Jack Collins is there for me every time I open my locker. Johnny Schultz, Dougie Hawkins, the list goes on.

All of these great figures were celebrated again last Saturday week, at our Hall of Fame night. But it was Charlie's presence that night, brief and ailing, that stayed with you. Just as it always did, as much as he didn't want the moment to be about him.

The thing with Charlie Sutton is that as a player we felt him there in the most primitive of ways. You felt the touch of his hand. A hand that had the weight of history in its grip.

Footscray is unique in lots of ways. We're outsiders in a city dominated by football. Outsiders geographically, outsiders in other ways too.

Our one and only premiership came way back in 1954, and the struggle for that elusive second one is our story stripped back to its bare bones. Our 1954 premiership players are our heroes, and it has to be said that Charlie was their hero.

I'm into the symbolism of things, of footy clubs. I think about it a lot. I think about our club theme song all the time and its opening line — "Sons of the West" — asks me a more profound question.

If we are its sons and daughters, then who is our father? I don't think it's going a step too far to say that figure is Charlie. Yesterday, a football club lost its father, and as sons of that club we are in mourning.

Our story stripped bare is one of glory and of tragedy, but it’s a story that continues. One premiership in over 100 years is a big cross to bear, but it also looms as the biggest carrot in the game.

When Charlie was inducted as the first Hall of Fame legend two years ago, he spoke as only he could about guts, determination, and that thing beneath your shirt called heart — that without it, you don’t win.

Sitting in a wheelchair, straight out of his hospital bed, he said he had always been thrilled to do anything he could for the Footscray Football Club.

All of us in his family should put our weight behind trying to fulfil a promise, to do whatever it takes. It may take time, but we should never forget that we shook the hand of Charlie Sutton.

10 comments

  • Another great story Bob
    Keep up the great work both on and off the field
    There have been some great stories coming out of the club recently
    Such as Barry Hall's appreciation of the club
    Chris Grant staying at the club after West Coast,s offer
    Sons of Libba and Wallis playing
    And now Ted and Charlie meet again

    Commenter
    Bean
    Location
    Dogland
    Date and time
    June 06, 2012, 9:04AM
    • A very well written piece....every footy club need legends like Charlie and the dogs sure have a few good ones to derive inspiration from.

      Commenter
      Paul
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 9:35AM
      • Well said Bob. We may have won only one flag, but just look at the calibre of people in our club. What is more important - the character of the family or a premiership? While we mourn the loss of Charlie I think we all know who will step into his boots and continue the same ethos of the club.
        Vale Charlie

        Commenter
        Doggie forever
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        June 06, 2012, 9:41AM
        • Beautiful, Bob.

          Commenter
          Shadowcat
          Location
          Yarraville
          Date and time
          June 06, 2012, 10:03AM
          • Well done Bob, all the people mentioned in your articale understood the value of people &club and were all clearly in the mould of our great Charlie..
            I think the current coach has very similar values, team, courage, skill, care,and team again.Im sure that if we stick to those great values, that 2nd elusive flag will be won.

            Commenter
            Brisbane Bulldog
            Date and time
            June 06, 2012, 10:13AM
            • Fine article Bob, but to be picky, it's one premiership in 87 years, not "over 100".

              Commenter
              cardinal dotdline
              Location
              Islamic Republic of Coburg
              Date and time
              June 06, 2012, 12:00PM
              • The sooner this club honours its tradition as outlined above and returns to the name Footscray instead of some corporate name that it hopes will attract people in the west the sooner it will become successful again. North Melbourne came to its senses, why not Sons of the 'Scray?

                Commenter
                Joel
                Date and time
                June 06, 2012, 3:30PM
                • Charlie Sutton’s Hands

                  Charlie Sutton’s hands are a vast expressive expanse
                  Of old knotted strong muscle, that did not just come by “happens chance”
                  Charlie’s hands join up - join up with Charlie’s all embracing arms
                  If you knew him those arms would wrap you in his all surrounding charms.

                  Charlie’s face says it all
                  Apparently just standing near him made others stand tall
                  Whether it be for club, community or family
                  Up back or down forward, Charlie “held it steady”.

                  Charlie Sutton’s hands are a vast expressive expanse
                  Of old knotted strong muscle, that did not just come by “happens chance”
                  Charlie’s hands join up - join up with Charlie’s all embracing arms
                  If you knew him those arms would wrap you in his all surrounding charms.

                  Charlie’s face says it all
                  Apparently just standing near him made others stand tall
                  Whether it be for club, community or family
                  Up back or down forward, Charlie “held it steady”.

                  In 1954, there was a Premiership for the taking
                  Happily it was bluebloods - Melbourne - that got the baking
                  Young Bob Murphy, knows those hands……….
                  A younger Teddy Whitten was in that’54 doggie band……………..

                  Charlie’s hallowed ground.
                  Was the Doggies windswept, muddy mound.
                  Always tricky spot for visitors of all types
                  Those constantly changing winds and angles;
                  those red and white fast moving stripes.

                  Nestled beside the old Footscray corrugated iron Drill Hall
                  That icon almost says it all
                  The lost position on the lost Dougie Hawkins wing
                  Still makes any old “Scragger’s” heart sing

                  At the end of the day
                  Strong and steady – up back or down forward
                  Charlie would have wanted it that way.
                  There’s not that much left to say
                  Deeds speak louder than any words
                  anyway…………

                  Commenter
                  Mark Grant
                  Date and time
                  June 08, 2012, 6:57AM
                  • Another brilliant article Bob, however, I feel the need to add to Cardinal's correction. If you take it as 100 years then the FFC has won 6 premierships (1913, 1919, 1920, 1923, 1924 in the VFA and 1954 in the VFL). If you count all their flags they've won 10. Go Doggies.

                    Commenter
                    Recent son of the west
                    Location
                    Independent Republic of Yarraville
                    Date and time
                    June 08, 2012, 10:59AM
                    • Best scribe in the business Murph .You bring out the passion of Footscray of 1989 guised under the Western Bulldogs NO other club in the AFL has this.... Collingwood -Boring.spoilt brats...
                      We, if I may say, do not hold the mantle for the most wooden- spoons unlike, St kilda or even the Stats of Hawthorn which may show the premierships they have but endured many many Wooden -Spoons Doggies are at a new beginning starting today an era with Charlie a martyr for the cause along with EJ our strength is gathering I say for the rest of the year BEWARE THE WOUNDED DOG

                      Commenter
                      Dogs supporter
                      Date and time
                      June 17, 2012, 10:20AM
                      Comments are now closed

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