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One game, one VFL flag — and one amazing story we can finally set straight

by
April 20, 2018

A newspaper clipping showing William James and his wife Lil which references his famous Richmond game.

A newspaper clipping from The Age detailing what happened to William James in 1925.

Kyabram Football Club’s winning premiership side in 1921. William ‘Billy’ James is pictured on the far right in the front row.

EVEN some members of his family were convinced it happened then.

For 93 years the fascinating story of former Kyabram footballer William ‘Billy’ James playing his one and only — and supposedly his last — game in Richmond Football Club’s 1920 VFL (now AFL) premiership-winning side has been accepted as gospel.

The story and rumours over the years had it that in the summer of 1920–21, James’ brilliant football career came to an abrupt and painful end when part of his foot was blown away while on a shooting trip with a 27-year-old Kyabram chemist, a Despard Llewellyn Nuttall.

People wanted to believe it because it was something that just would not happen in modern times and it had become a romantic part of Aussie Rules football folklore.

Yes, James did play in Richmond’s 1920 premiership side, which was the club’s first VFL/AFL premiership. But no — part of his foot was not blown away in a hunting accident the following summer on a property on Kyabram’s outskirts.

Research has uncovered this mishap did in fact happen, but it was four years later in January of 1925 on a Kyabram-Cooma Rd property owned by prominent Kyabram citizen Robert Breen.

This date has been confirmed by articles appearing simultaneously in the Kyabram Free Press and also the daily newspaper The Argus on January 16, 1925.

The articles revealed Mr Nuttall had placed a shotgun he was using over a fence and while getting through the fence he stepped on the trigger.

It discharged and the pellets cannoned into the upper portion of the right foot of James who was standing about two metres away.

Mr Nuttall was able to stem the bleeding by adding strips of his shirt he was wearing as ligatures. He then carried James on his back about 700 metres or so to the Breen homestead where he administered first aid until the arrival of Dr Fargie from Kyabram.

Dr Fargie ordered the patient be moved to the Lynwood Private Hospital in Allan St near the Haslem St intersection.

James remained overnight there until transferred by road to the Mooroopna Hospital the following day where he spent three months recovering from the ordeal. It has also been reported down the years that James’ one and only game with Richmond in that 1920 grand final was his last due to the shooting mishap.

Wrong.

He went on to play until at least 1924 with Kyabram Football Club.

The 1920 premiership with Richmond was the second of four successive flag-winning sides of which the small flanker goal sneak was a member — he also played in Kyabram’s GVL premiership-winning sides in 1919, 1921 and 1922.

Obviously James did not hold any grudges against Mr Nuttall because records show he served a stint as secretary of Kyabram Football Club when Mr Nuttall was president of the club in the late 1920s.

At the time of the accident, Mr Nuttall was a Kyabram Football Club committee man and secretary of the Kyabram Coursing Club.

He later became a multiple winner of the Kyabram Bowls Club championship and president of Kyabram Football Club, and was one of Kyabram’s most respected businessmen and citizens.

Even more remarkable about James’ one-game-one-premiership record with Richmond was he was not the only player from Kyabram who was a member of that history-making 1920 Tigers team.

Kyabram Football Club historian Trevor Stone has discovered another Kyabram player, George Parkinson, was one of James’ teammates in that flag-winning side.

Parkinson had been a member of both Kyabram’s premiership side in the Goulburn Valley League and also Richmond’s runner-up side in the 1919 season.

He played 12 games for Richmond between 1919 and 1921.

Another fallacy regarding James over the years, which has also been disproved, was that he played in Kyabram’s 1920 premiership side in the week he got the call-up from Richmond.

Records reveal Kyabram did not even make the grand final that year and had been eliminated from the premiership race in an earlier final.

Despite the slightly distorted stories about Billy James and his fabulous footballing feats and off-field dramas, there is one thing that can never be taken away from him — he is the only player in VFL/ AFL history to play one game at the highest standard and be a member of a premiership side in that game.

It may have all happened nearly 100 years ago but it’s a safe bet it will never happen again.

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