I’ve mentioned more than once over this whole Preston research journey, that this has become so much more than just attempting to match names with faces.
While that is what it started out as, and is obviously still the ultimate goal, the stories I’ve read and learnt along the way have become just as rewarding. And in some ways, perhaps, they’ve become even more so.
Interesting stories, sad stories, or simply just learning a little about how someone’s football career panned out, by following them as they moved between clubs, and leagues, all those years ago.
And then, interspersed among the names that I’m actually looking for, are the names that I knew and recognised as a kid, when football – well, mainly Collingwood, was probably the most important thing in my life.
Roy Cazaly – is there a bigger name? – who I’m not sure I even knew had actually played a season at Preston, even though Preston was as important to me as Collingwood was.
Ron Todd and Bob Pratt, even though they didn’t have songs written about them (I don’t think), were names that I recognised, from I assume, some of the very few books that I’ve read in my life.
Jack Dyer – again, there probably aren’t too many bigger names; along with of course, and probably more understandable being a Collingwood supporter, the likes of Lou Richards, the Coventry and Collier brothers, Alby Pannam, and even Phonse Kyne. Along with so many others.
Obviously I have no firsthand experience of how good they were, but judging by the fact that I somehow knew of them as a kid, and now, all these years later seeing their names written countless times in the newspapers of the day, they must have gone alright.
But, I digress, as is my tendency, because this is not about one of the household names of the 1930s, who won a Brownlow, or played 200 games, or merely had his fair share of mentions in the many daily newspapers back then.
It’s about a guy named Arthur Sleith, but by extension, it’s perhaps more a bit about his family. Far from being any type of complete history, it’s just a little about what I have discovered along the way. A discovery that happened more by chance, than anything I actually set out to achieve.
It’s also about putting out there what he did, or more to the point, what he and his family kept, and that is various photos, medallions, and even a scrap book. Because up until now, some of it has been unseen, and what is on ‘display’, lacks some information that would perhaps not only be helpful, but also important in recording what happened a very long time ago.
Life changing it’s unlikely to be, but he kept it, and then his family did the same, until at some point, they decided it needed a new home that could perhaps record it, or just keep it, for a wider audience.
And that new home was none other than the Australian Sports Museum at the MCG.
So, how did the whole chance discovery come about?
Yep, those countless hours spent trying to make identifications of old football team photos, by trawling the internet.
The Australian Sport Museum’s website is one of several that I have spent considerable time on over the journey, and I had certainly noticed many things; mainly the photos; linked to Arthur Sleith.
But there was something else that I began to notice whenever Arthur’s name was mentioned along side a photo or an object, and that was a caption stating that the item had been kindly donated by someone with the name of ‘Deanne Pierini’.
Early on I hadn’t thought too much about that, other than at times to think that I was very appreciative of the fact that she had decided to do what she did. But as time went on, and as my research dragged me into the 1920s; and to think way back early on I had questioned my need, and desire, to go back even so far as the 1937 Preston team photo…..; I started to take more notice of things that I’d given not much more than a fleeting glance to.
And that included this ‘1936’ Preston photo, which didn’t look like 1936 to me at all; it looked more like possibly being around 10 years earlier.
The ‘1936’ Preston Team Photo, courtesy of Australian Sports Museum
Again, it had been donated by Deanne Pierini, and while there was the usual reference to Arthur Sleith, there was also a mention of S. P. Sleith.
Brother perhaps? Father? Uncle? Who knew, but obviously some sort of connection.
I had since made contact with Mariko, who is the Collections Access Officer at the Australian Sports Museum, on a different, but also related matter, and after discussing my thoughts on the ‘1936’ photo, she sent me a link to a couple of other ‘Sleith’ photos –
The 1911 Murtoa Football Club Team Photo, courtesy of Australian Sports Museum
Unknown football team, but likely to be Murtoa Football Club, courtesy of Australian Sports Museum
The mention of Murtoa, as well as the year 1911, and the fact that they were football photos, was pretty much the extent of my knowledge on what I was looking at. The notation of both Samuel Sleith and P. Sleith, wasn’t really helping, nor was the two different jumpers. Although, with one being dated 1911, and knowing that Arthur was born in 1917, it made me feel that I was perhaps looking at his father.
But if that was correct, would I be able to work out which player was actually him?
Rather naively, I believed I could, so first I set about trying to find a little about the Sleith family. The reason being, I needed to know how ‘Samuel’ / ‘P’ Sleith fit in, as it is rather difficult to find someone, if you don’t even know their name.
And that part, somewhat surprisingly, wasn’t too difficult. Certainly not a quick process; searching Trove is never quick; but not overly difficult to find what I needed. And the fact that Arthur played a few games at Carlton also helped, as the Carlton Football Club takes its history very importantly, and as such, has mountains of information readily available.
So, the wash up, and a fairly abridged version of several hours trawling the internet?
Arthur was born on 22 December, 1917, in Murtoa. With the Murtoa part being a nice, and very pleasing, little snippet of information.
He and his family then moved to Melbourne, specifically West Preston, when he was three years old.
Again, the Preston connection is a good thing.
Deanne Pierini is his daughter, which adds another piece to the puzzle.
And Samuel Sleith / P. Sleith, is in fact Samuel Peter Sleith, who seems to have been known as Peter Sleith. And yes, he is Arthur’s father.
Now being reasonably confident of Peter Sleith being in the, what I believed to be, two Murtoa photos, which pretty much started this hunt, that naivety kicked in again to try and find him.
It didn’t take too long to realise that I was likely to be hugely unsuccessful.
Country town stuff, country football competition, and 110 years ago. Yeah, I have trouble finding what I’m looking for 80 years ago, from a ‘big city’ with its many ‘big city’ newspapers they had back then. Yep, was never going to happen….
In desperation, I resorted to merely studying the two photos to see if I could make a match of two people who looked the same, but that proved more futile than what I had been trying earlier.
I gave up, a little annoyed, but probably more disappointed.
It wasn’t a complete waste, however, as I felt that I now had a better understanding of what Arthur, and his family, had done and achieved over the years. Although that knowledge did give me some uneasiness, as I felt that I had been ‘stalking’ them.
I sat down to write an email to Mariko to let her know what I had found, as well as what I hadn’t.
Going through the notes I’d made, and newspaper links, more to set a bit of a timeline, I arrived at what I’d found with the photos.
Which really wasn’t much, apart from believing I had found why the two teams were wearing different jumpers.
It was this Murtoa football guernsey, again on the Australian Sports Museum site, that has made me believe that Murtoa’s jumper changed sometime after 1911.
Not sure I can prove it, and in the end, not sure I need to, after what I found next.
Back to finishing the email, one final look at the ‘Collingwood’ style photo, and I noticed something that I hadn’t before.
‘X’ marks the spot, on the Murtoa Team Photo
There, up towards the back, in the middle, is a guy standing there with his football jumper on. But it’s what’s actually on his jumper, that caught my eye. A small cross seemingly done with a pen, appears to have been drawn on one of the white vertical stripes.
Could that be Peter Sleith? Has Arthur, or someone else, marked it so people would know where Peter was in the photo?
Of course, there was no real way of knowing.
But it did make me wonder if the other photo had been ‘marked’.
Another closer look at that one, and it didn’t take too long to find what I believed I was looking for.
Not quite as prominent, but once again a ‘mark’ on the 1911 Murtoa Team Photo
Again, up the back, and second player in from the left, what looks like a pen mark on the white part of that particular guy’s jumper.
Stunned, is a word you could use to describe how I felt at the time.
And appearance wise, when you compare facial features, hair, etc, I’m pretty happy with making a match.
It then got me thinking about the, what I suspect to be ‘incorrectly labeled’ 1936 Preston photo, which I suspect is actually from the mid 1920s. I doubted that Peter would have still been playing at that stage, and obviously Arthur was still too young, but why did Deanne Pierini have this photo in her collection?
With quite a few committee men in the photo with the players, could it be that Peter Sleith had something to do with the running of the Preston Football Club? And if so, might he be in it as well?
Ten to fifteen years between photos didn’t fill me with much confidence in making an identification match, but then the thought crossed my mind that if someone had marked him on the other photos, then perhaps they had done the same thing on this one.
Excitement, anticipation, along with a little apprehension built, as I studied the photo. The photo is rather dark, and while there’s a fair share of white shirts in it, there’s not a lot of room to ‘mark’ it.
Squinting, eye straining, I persevered. And then I found what I was hoping I would find; a feint pen mark circle around the head of the guy in the centre of the second back row.
The ‘1936’ Preston Team Photo. Bit easier to see once you know where, and if you look carefully, an arrow is also visible.
Stunned, amazed, blown away; I couldn’t believe it. And still have trouble doing so. It’s right up there with any identification I’ve made over the journey, and it’s these little moments that make it just so rewarding.
Even better than that though, is the fact that I feel like I’ve been able to bring a few pieces of the Sleith family’s mementos together, that Deanne thankfully donated, to give them a bit more meaning.
Which is good, but it’s now given me another desire. And that is to try and give life, and recognition, to something else that is catalogued on the Australian Sports Museum website. It’s the scrapbook, which Arthur kept, that contains photos and newspaper clippings.
It’s probably something that can’t really be displayed in a satisfactory way, but seeing as he, or perhaps someone else, went to the trouble of putting it all together, and then keeping it for all these years, it would be nice to be able to at least see it in some form, or other.
I mentioned earlier that Peter Sleith might have been involved with the running of Preston Football Club, from sometime during the 1920s. The ‘1936’ photo probably suggests that he did, but it was some of the mentions I found in the newspapers from back then that proved that he most certainly did.
The earliest mention I could find using Trove was when he was seeking election to the Preston committee in 1926 –
Several articles were then found over the following years stating he was actually on the committee, like this one from 1929 –
And then in 1930, it’s mentioned that he is also vice president of the Preston Seconds team –
In 1931 he is then elected as a Preston delegate to the Association –
Several articles were then found throughout the 1930s indicating that he was still very much involved with the Club. But it was this article announcing his passing in 1944, that really gives an indication of what he contributed, not just at Preston, but also with the Association.
They were just some of the mentions I found, and I’m sure there are many more out there, but these alone are probably enough to show the sort of contribution he made, and that he was likely to have been held in pretty high regard.