The Melbourne Rules : An Esoteric History compiled by Brian Membrey

Ray McBean and Controversy

After leaving captaining the Preston Technical School premiership team in 1950, Ray McBean won the Preston and District Junior Football Association's Under-17 Best and Fairest trophy in 1951 while playing for Preston Presbyterians.  

In 1954, he was placed on both Collingwood's and Preston's senior training lists – the 'Pies had high hopes for him, but McBean opted to play with Preston as an amateur as he was hoping toi qualify for the Australian water polo team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic.

Preston were promoted to the A Grade level in November of that year and McBean starred in the team's win in the opening round win against Footscray at Richmond baths; he was included in a 22-man State training squad a fortnight later.

An early team photo in The Argus had McBean at 5.11 (180 cm) and 12 stone 11 (80kg), but a later report show him grow quickly, then 6.1 (185 cm) and 13 stone (83kg) and described him as "two-footed" - an fundamental requirement for a senior footballer, but we suspect that they meant a player who could kick with either foot, standard these days at the elite level, but rather less so back in the 1950's.

We're not sure which foot he used, but McBean received a six-week suspension for kicking in what appears to have been just his sixth game(after Yarraville's Stan Smith copped a two-match ban for giving false evidence), but still collected Preston's Best First Year Player Award after playing just nine matches.

It was to be the end of the following year when his name became highly prominent in football circles.

In the second semi-final against bitter rivals Port Melbourne, Port's controversial captain-coach Don "Mopsy" Fraser was reported by a goal umpire for striking McBean.

After the incident and before the hearing, The Sun News Pictorial ran an article suggesting that McBean had told a reporter that Fraser had also kicked him in the second quarter.

At the hearing, McBean, rather than toeing the traditional line of claiming nothing had happened, said he had been struck from behind with “a cowardly blow, enough to cause him to sink to his knees” after he had kicked the ball, but had not seen who struck him, although he suggested Fraser was the only player within 10 yards.

Fraser disputed this and claimed other players were in the vicinity, but the goal umpire who reported him was adamant that, even though he was a hundred yards away, only the two players “both carrying No. 1 jumpers” were involved.

The Head Commissioner, Mr. W. C. Rylah, concluded “We find the case proven. Fraser dealt McBean a cowardly blow and deserves a severe penalty”.

Fraser was suspended for four weeks which meant that (not for the first time)., he would miss a Grand Final; he made no secret of his belief McBean’s evidence had “dobbed” him in to the hearing.

He had previously announced his retirement as a player at the end of the season "after years as being victimised", but suggested that he  may re-consider his decision.  The Sun News Pictorial quoted Fraser :

“I don’t care with whom I play as long as I get the chance to play against Preston again.  I hope that Preston beats Williamstown on Saturday because every Port player will be sent out to play hard against Preston in the Grand Final.  If they don’t, I will call them off the field.  I want another go at Preston” (for that, read "McBean").

His wish did not immediately eventuate - Port won the semi-final, but Williamstown defeated Preston easily in the preliminary final, and with a suitable touch of irony went on to beat the Fraser-less Port for the third season in a row, on this occasion,  14.18 (102) d. 10.18 (78).

Port officials believed the Fraser’s suspension in 1955 cost them the premiership and McBean that had set Fraser up at the hearing.  

In reality, their grand final loss - their fourth in five years - had much more to do with a dispute over positional moves between acting captain Frank Johnson and Fraser on the day that saw Fraser threaten to leave the grand final at the Junction Oval at half time.

Fraser did in fact retire as a player, but continued with Port as coach in 1956.

Preston's home games fore the season were transferred to Coburg as a result of extensive works to expand the narrow playing surface on the eastern side (it was suggested that Preston's poor record of 13 finals for one win and won draw was attributable to their inability to cope with much larger grounds).

Given these days fixturing of games often appears to be a result of marketing and promotional opportunities than a random draw, it is perhaps a surprise that the highly anticipated re-match of the second semi-final wasn't scheduled until round 8 on 12 June at Coburg.

There was huge public interest in the return match at Coburg on June 2, so much so that the author's mum, born and raised in Port Melbourne jumped in the Austin A30 and travelled up Bell Street to attend what I remember her first and only footy match with Dad and I.

I remember entering the ground via a gate on the northern-western corner, roughly behind the scoreboard and before the match Mum recognized an old friend "Snowy" from Port, then a trainer with their club who, after a few recollections of their earlier days. suggested "You'll see some fun today, Grace, Mopsy's pinned a £5 note to the dressing room wall for the first Port player to knock McBean out".

Some feedback from a son  of Les Sweet, Preston's champion centreman of the time suggested that while Preston were an extremely talented side in the mid-1950's, the team lacked a couple of big players capable of inserted a bit of "mongrel" into the game, and so it seems on this occasion.

(He also suggested that while Les's older brother Mick had a short career of 16 games, he was tough and used to tell blokes like "Mopsy" Fraser to stay away from his little brother, apparently Mopsy knew Mick could fight and obliged).

Reports suggest that a couple of Preston players were effectively assigned as McBean's bodyguards and kept him from harm until early in the final quarter when after taking a mark, he was dropped from behind with three other Port players racing in for the chance at the five quid.

“Ray McBean, Preston centre half back, was carried off the ground on Saturday on a stretcher. He was unconscious for 40 minutes. It was rated one of the most sensational and vicious brawls in the history of Association football”.

After the game, The Sun, after the V.F.A. Honorary Commissioners were forced to hear charges against Port Melbourne players, reported on the hearing, calling it “one of the biggest nights ever for the V.F.A. Tribunal”.

The Argus reported must the same, but suggested after the brawl, a Preston forward was felled behind the play and only police intervention prevented a resumption of hostilities … " Players swarmed after the ball in packs, as if afraid to go for it alone".  Preston, however, had the last match, winning 9-12 (66) to Port Melbourne's 6-6 (42). .

Three Port players, R. Atkinson, T. Allen, and T. Sykes were reported for striking McBean in the one incident. B. Oldfield of Port was also reported for unseemly conduct. When detailed, the charge against Oldfield was that he had swung several punches at a Preston player who was obscured from the reporting umpire by other Port Melbourne players, so there’s no prize for guessing who his target was.

The Preston Football Club banded together before the hearing like never before.

They requested and were granted police protection for McBean who was obviously the principal witness at the Tribunal - as a further precaution, eight Preston players attended the hearing as a body guard and the two uniformed policemen engaged by Preston had instructions to phone D24 immediately if there were any incidents.

Only witnesses and those vitally concerned with case were allowed onto the first floor where the hearing took place. A Port Melbourne official told a group of supporters that they were not to enter the building.

McBean said in evidence that in the last quarter, he had marked and his arms were grabbed “before punches came from all directions”.  He remembered two or three blows to the head, and that he knew little else of what had occurred until he regained consciousness when being attended by the doctor in the dressing room a considerable time later.

The field umpire Jack Irving said he had no doubt that McBean had been staggered by a heavy blow with a clenched fist by Atkinson, that Sykes had run past him and punched McBean two or three times, and Allen had also struck him as he sank to the ground.

Irving stated that he was no more than five or six yards from any of the incidents.

All players were found guilty in what was obviously a pre-orchestrated assault, but as  an indication of the unhealthy influence that Port Melbourne had over the V.F.A. at the time, the four charges resulting in a mere nine weeks suspension, one Port official being quoted ‘that the club was relieved as it believed the penalties would be rather more severe”.

Even more remarkably, the Commissioners then reprimanded McBean, stating that his evidence after he had been unconscious for 40 minutes  “was unsatisfactory”.

In so doing, they brought shame both on their own heads and the V.F.A. for their handling of was little more than a pre-meditated act of gang thuggery.

McBean's hopes of Olympic representation amounted to nothing, and perhaps disillusioned with the reputation he had acquired, he moved to Morwell at the end of the 1957 season, joining his former captain Les Sweet who had taken the position of the country club's captain-coach.

He appears to appear to have retired from the game around 1961, but almost inevitably, his death was somewhat dramatic, his demise coming as a result of a chain-saw accident on his property at Greensborough in 1970 when he was just 35 years of age.

Victorian registrations show him born in Preston, parents Edward and Rita Isobel, nee Stockdale, and marrying Diana Thelma Blyth in 1958.

Fraser was sacked from Port Melbourne at the end of 1956 after three seasons during which he played a total of 33 games; he took up as captain-coach of Prahran in 1957 but was rubbed out for more than half the season after being found guilty of abusing a boundary umpire after a match.

He then transferred to Tasmanian side East Launceston where he ended his career, but not before he had made a brief return to interstate football as a late emergency inclusion in Tasmania's 1958 Melbourne carnival team.  Later in the season he was charged with striking a field umpire and having used threatening and abusive language to a boundary umpire, the resultant suspension finally seeing the end of career of a talented, but obviously flawed footballer.


Ray McBean, 1955 PFC team photo

“HOW THE PUNCHES FLEW!”

“Preston's club doctor checks Ray McBean, unconscious for 40 minutes after being "K.O.'d" in one, of the worst football brawls ever”.

The Argus, 2 June, 1956

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