There was a marked difference between Josh Ward’s selection by Hawthorn at Pick 7 of Wednesday night's opening round of the national draft and the journey which saw his great-grandfather Alex Lee make his debut in the brown and gold at the age of 25 in the 1930s.
Alex Lee was an outstanding schoolboy rower and cricketer at Wesley College, his rowing prowess being such that he later represented Victoria in the King’s Cup. He then studied agricultural science at Melbourne University, and it was there that he also began starring at football.
Lee was best on ground in University Blacks’ 62-point thrashing of Old Melburnians in the 1928 Metropolitan Amateur Football Association Grand Final, in which coincidentally his future Hawthorn teammate, Jack Green, kicked six goals. He was again in the best the following season when Blacks 9.10 defeated an inaccurate Old Melburnians 5.26 in the Grand Final.
After completing university, Lee was stationed in the Wimmera by the Agriculture Department, where he also played centre half-back for Horsham in the Wimmera District Football League. The 5ft 10½ in (178cm) Lee was captain of the team when Horsham defeated Ararat in dramatic fashion in the 1932 Grand Final at Central Park, Stawell.
Having come through from the First Semi, Horsham’s hopes of winning its first flag since 1924 seemed remote when it trailed by 25 points early in the last quarter, but it stormed home to win 15.15 to 13.9. The local paper reported that Lee ‘played a vigorous game throughout’ and afterwards coach, Artie Wood, ‘congratulated the youthful skipper on his leadership’.
The next year Lee was transferred to Melbourne by the Agriculture Department. The Argus reported that he had been ‘sought by about six league clubs’ but had chosen Hawthorn. He was selected in the back pocket to make his Hawthorn debut against St Kilda in the opening round of 1933. Amazingly, by Round 5 1933, his opposing captain from the previous season’s Wimmera League Grand Final, Bill Twomey, had taken over as captain-coach of Hawthorn. Lee actually missed out on playing in Twomey’s first game in charge as he was working in the country that week.
Lee wore number 14 in his first two seasons but changed to 28 in 1935. It was in that final season that he scored the only goal of his career, in Round 6 against Geelong at Glenferrie. These were tough years for the Mayblooms, with Lee playing in just six wins in his 31-game career.
Josh’s grandfather, Andrew Lee (who was with Josh when he was drafted last night) relates the story that when chosen for the Seconds, his father Alex would head to Glenferrie first, just to check that he was not required for the Seniors. Once assured that he was not, Lee would catch a taxi to the away ground where the Seconds were to play, a fact remembered by his future wife who shared the taxi with him, as it meant changing from black to white shorts in the back seat of the cab!
Another difference with modern football was that Alex Lee played as an amateur, a fact that occasionally concerned his teammates who felt that his presence in the team may deny another player earning a match payment in the difficult days of the Depression. Post-football, he continued working in agriculture, before retiring to what had been the family holiday home in Dromana. He died in 1996 at the age, of 88.
Lee undoubtedly would have been immensely proud that 86 years after he played his last Hawthorn game, his great-grandson would be chosen to continue the Hawthorn tradition.
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