Keyword: Leather Football  

In the AFL Grand Final, every year we get to see a unique Australian event steeped in tradition. Come what may, every year, two things about the country’s biggest sporting day remain unchanged: the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and the Sherrin football used over its prestigious pitch. Three years ago, James Vyver traced back the journey of the modern football, along with the mystery contribution of a character known as Clutterbuck.  

Indeed, at the heart of AFL has always been the arena that is the MCG, but, tantalisingly, the currently used Sherrin ball hadn’t always been kicked around the stadium. There involved different market players back then in the football making competition.  

Back in the 1930s, during the peak of the Great Depression, TW Sherrin was undoubtedly a market force to reckon with.   

Back then, handmade footballs graced the AFL fixtures; they were manufactured in a Collingwood area factory along with several other sporting goods made of leather. The economic austerity of the time meant that the leather for footballs was stained by the left-over dye from cricket balls. It ushered in what we call today the iconic red footy.  

Irrespective of the manufacturing brand, the then footies were certainly plagued by one exasperating flaw: the water would percolate into the leather football’s interior especially during the winters, making the ball sodden, game tougher, and players and fans frustrated.  

It was at this point Edward James Clutterbuck, a farmer and Gallipoli veteran from Victoria, jumped into the fray and changed things for the better.  

Clutterbuck was a sports teacher in many schools, including Aussie Rules. He came up with an idea that had the potential to fix the problem of the soaked leather football forever.  

‘The story goes that my grandfather found the tire of a Model T Ford, pulled out the inner tube and stitched it around the football. It bounced quite well and it didn’t absorb water,’ says Nigel, Clutterbuck’s grandson. 

Edward was certainly cooking some novel ideas inside his mind to perfect the science of leather football manufacturing. Maybe it was a coating of the rubber over the leather footy that was going to fix the problem of wet weather ball?  

Slowly but successfully, the maverick man continued to develop his idea which was rooted in humble agricultural roots until it morphed into a sophisticated product. Unsurprisingly, he was applying for a patent as early as 1934.  

Edward started manufacturing the newly conceived ball with the Kenny Charlesworth Rubber Company. 

They branded their product as ‘The Rubbertex Football.’ Soon afterward, the footy was being purchased by clubs in the Albury Wodonga area for wet games. Expectedly, the post-match reports gave testimony to the efficacy of the ball.  

By 1935, prototypes of the Rubbertex Football had arrived at the headquarters of the VFL (then the peak Australian Rules Football organization in the country).  

Clubs gave the ball an unofficial trial during the preseason games of that year and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The sports journalists of the time too captured the voice of the new product quite attentively.  

Edward Clutterbuck had foreseen the promising future of the ball. To be sure, there were huge sums of money to be piled up, but more than anything, he wanted to really ameliorate the condition of the erstwhile neglected game.  

I was during the off-season of 1935 that Clutterbuck met with the TW Sherrin football store; a business agreement was struck between the two parties. 

Records are uncertain, but, in retrospect, it seems Sherrin was contemplating manufacturing the ball under license. It remains unknown whether they did this.  

Nevertheless, all clubs were to use the footy in wet weather conditions and report back with a verdict: yes or no.  

Unfortunately, only half the teams voted in favor of the ball. And it meant the dream was over for Edward.  

AFL records do not recall the complete picture of what happened that fateful day. Apart from the way the votes plunged, very little is known. Why, to be exact, some teams were in favor while others weren’t will remain shrouded in the haze of mystery.   

Indubitably, Edward had nearly kissed the feet of his tall dream. Poignantly enough, the evolution of the modern football continues without him, for the reasons still unknown.  

 

 

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