12. Horrie Gorringe

12. Horrie Gorringe - ICONICON – Player Inductee

Cananore, Rover/Forward, 1912-1930

20 games for Brighton Rovers, 1912-13
157 games for Cananore, 1914-15; 1919-30
Cananore TFL premierships 1921, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1927
Cananore State premierships 1921, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1927
Cananore ‘Best & Fairest’, 1928
TFL Leading Goalkicker, 1920 (23)
Eight games for Tasmania, 1924-27
Tasmanian National Carnival representative 1924 (Hobart), 1927 (Melbourne)
L. H. Bibby Trophy, 1924 (Best Tasmanian Carnival Player)
38 games for TFL/Southern Tasmania, 1915-28
Represented Tasmanian State Schools in Melbourne, 1908
Tasmanian Team of the Century, 2004 (Forward Pocket)
Australian Football Hall of Fame Inductee, 2011

Throughout the history of Australian football, Tasmania has been recognized as producing a disproportionate number of truly exceptional players. Many such as Darrel Baldock, Peter Hudson, Royce Hart, Ian Stewart and Matthew Richardson are revered around the country thanks to their distinguished VFL/AFL careers. However, there is one other who potentially could have surpassed them all, a player of such exquisite class and talent that many of his most celebrated contemporaries considered him to be the greatest footballer in his position in the country, perhaps ever. He was pursued by every VFL club, yet preferred to remain in Tasmania tending to his family farm.

Horace Charles Gorringe was born on the 4th of July, 1895 in Ralphs Bay, known today as Lauderdale. The third of four children, Gorringe grew up with his family on a farm at Tea Tree, a small township around 30 kms north of Hobart. From an early age Gorringe helped his father and brother Eric in the day-to-day operations of a farm, quickly becoming a strong and fit young lad. For his formal education, Gorringe attended Trinity Hill State School in Hobart, and it was here that his talent for sport, particularly football, first manifested itself. In 1908, Gorringe was selected in a Southern Tasmanian State Schoolboys team to play in Launceston, and then subsequently in an all-Tasmanian Schoolboys side that visited Melbourne. At only 13 years of age, Gorringe was considerably younger than the other members of the team, however his performances against Wesley College and a combined Victorian Schoolboys team drew the attention of many observers, particularly legendary Tasmanian coach Bruce Carter, who had remained behind in Victoria after the inaugural National Football Carnival to watch the state’s schoolboys in action. Carter made a point of keeping an eye on the young lad until he had completed his schooling, at which point he successfully persuaded Gorringe – who had been playing senior country football with Brighton Rovers since 1912 – to make the step up to TFL level and play under his tutelage at Cananore.

18-year old Horrie Gorringe made his debut for Cananore in the opening round of the 1914 season, against North Hobart at the TCA Ground. In a sign of things to come, he booted three of Cananore’s 12 goals in a 53-point victory, and was noted by a reporter at the ground as having “adopted city methods right away, and played one of the most resourceful and useful games on the ground.” Gorringe played 14 games in his first season, being named amongst his side’s best players on numerous occasions; he also gained his first taste of ‘interstate’ football, representing Cananore in games against Collingwood and Perth at a carnival in Brisbane organised to promote the game in Queensland. Gorringe’s development continued in earnest into 1915 when he earned his first representative honours, however his promising career was interrupted when the TFL competition was suspended in 1916 due to the First World War. Gorringe did not enlist during the conflict, instead continuing to live on and run the family farm; this meant that – to the joy of football lovers – he was not lost to the game. In 1917, he played a number of matches for League teams against various military sides, including booting six goals against an Army/Navy Cadet combination, while the following year he turned out for City in the ‘Wartime Association’ and twice played in North vs South fixtures. When TFL competition recommenced in 1919 Gorringe resumed with Cananore, now under the coaching of the great Jack Gardiner, who had also previously observed Gorringe during the 1908 State Schoolboys visit to Victoria. Gardiner had been greatly impressed at the time by Gorringe’s excellent ball-handling and kicking skills, and later acknowledged that Gorringe “didn’t really need much coaching.”

Between 1921 and 1927 Cananore were the most powerful team in Tasmania: boasting stars such as Gorringe, Gardiner, Jack Charlesworth, Fred Pringle, Hec Smith and Fred ‘Cocky’ Ahearne, the club won five TFL premierships in seven seasons (1921, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1927), and also went on to claim the State title on all five occasions. Gorringe was one of the few players to feature in every triumph, and despite the quality of the teammates around him there’s no doubt that Gorringe was the ‘star of the show’. His genius contributed to much of the team’s success, and proved an enormous drawcard for the crowds who flocked to TFL contests week after week. It is unfortunate that Gorringe played in an era when official acknowledgements for individual brilliance – by league or club – were awarded rarely, if at all. In 1925 he tied with Eric ‘Leisha’ Smith (Lefroy) and Athol Paul (New Town) for the W. H. Gill Memorial Trophy (the first TFL Best & Fairest award), however a tiebreaking vote put to the umpires saw the award go to Smith. It also seems certain that had regular club Best and Fairest awards been presented Gorringe would have been a multiple and popular winner; as it happened, his only official acknowledgement came in the form of Cananore’s ‘Most Consistent’ award in 1928.

Gorringe’s career in representative football was equally as prolific as that for his club. Playing his first ‘North v South’ match in 1915, Gorringe turned out for TFL/Southern Tasmanian combinations on no less than 38 occasions. A consistent star in intrastate football, he appeared in many victories against NTFA and NWFU sides, where his brilliance often proved the difference. He also featured in multiple interstate trips with League teams, most notably as a member of the Southern Tasmanian team that famously defeated a strong SANFL combination at the Adelaide Oval in 1923. However, Gorringe arguably saved his greatest performances for Tasmania. He appeared at two National Carnivals – 1924 and 1927 – playing a total of eight matches. His performances at the 1924 Hobart Carnival earned him the L. H. Bibby Trophy as Tasmania’s stand-out player at the tournament and for the first time exposed him to Victorian football commentators, who were quick to lavish him with praise.

Gorringe’s success as a footballer can largely be attributed to his absurd natural talent – quite simply, he possessed every skill and trick in the game. Such attributes could never be better described than by those who saw him in the flesh – observations by two such individuals of note are here presented:

Gordon Coventry (Legendary Collingwood Full-Forward): “Although short, Gorringe was as strong as a lion. He was as fast as a streak of lightning and could kick beautifully with either foot when tearing along at his top. When bumped he simply rolled over and landed on his feet without losing a stride. He would fight back like a terrier, never admitting defeat, although he was crashed heavily many times in games in which I played. He would be going faster in the last quarter than most of his opponents were in the early stages of a match. In fact, he could be described as a super footballer. It always seemed a pity to me that the artistry of Gorringe was not seen by the multitude of Victorian football enthusiasts. To me his displays were so interesting that I was caught off my guard more than once as I stood watching him in action.”

Dan Minogue (Champion VFL player and coach): “Although I did not see him in his prime, I would not be prepared to contradict those who claim he was the best rover ever. Gorringe had a back move, a side steps and accurate disposal – all in the one perfectly synchronised movement – which I have never seen any rover or player execute with such perfection. Allan La Fontaine, former Melbourne captain did something approaching it, but without Gorringe’s superlative deftness and polish.”

Gorringe’s reputation as a complete footballer extended well beyond his remarkable skills. He was also exceptionally tough, playing through injuries that would have sidelined or ended the matches of lesser men. Such injuries were occasionally inflicted on him deliberately by unscrupulous opponents, with one particular incident against North Hobart in 1921 – resulting in a broken collarbone for Gorringe – proving especially controversial. This was partly because Gorringe was himself regarded as one of the cleanest and most gentlemanly players in the game anywhere, something which in addition to his brilliant play made him a tremendously popular figure amongst the public.

As would be expected, Gorringe was vigorously pursued by every VFL club – lucrative offers came from all of St. Kilda, Fitzroy, South Melbourne, Geelong and Carlton. However he rejected them all, something he would come to regret in later years: “I was on the farm with my father and we couldn’t sell. I am a bit sorry I didn’t go for one season, I’m sure I would’ve done alright – old Roy Cazaly said I would’ve been a sensation!” While some might see his devotion to his family farm as a hindrance to his career, it’s arguably thanks to the farm that he ever became the player he was. As a youngster he regularly engaged in fitness training with his brother Eric in the shed, including skipping, boxing and sprinting, something which helped him stand out when compared to other young players. In later years he employed some unorthodox training methods more specifically tailored for football, such as weaving in and out of stakes hammered into the ground, shooting for ‘goal’ – namely the open barn door – and kicking the ball as hard as he could into the wall of the barn to practice his marking. These measures were particularly important to Gorringe’s football, as Tea Tree’s distance from Hobart meant that he rarely came into the city to train with Cananore.

After 12 seasons and numerous triumphs with Cananore, Gorringe was appointed the club’s playing coach for the 1929 season. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle at training only a week before the start of the season, and although not a particularly serious injury Gorringe sat out the entire season, appearing only in the final match of the year. He was not lost to football during the season however, returning to his footballing roots to coach Brighton to the premiership of the Brighton Association. He even pulled on the boots for their premiership match against Bothwell, snapping two typically brilliant goals and being carried shoulder-high from the field by jubilant Brighton supporters post-match. The 1930 season proved to be Gorringe’s swansong with Cananore: now aged 35, he again played only a single match for the season – the Semi Final loss to Lefroy – before bowing out of TFL football after 157 memorable games.

Late in his career with Cananore, Gorringe had relocated to the Huon region south of Hobart, settling near the town of Cygnet and tending at different times an orchard and a dairy farm. It was here that he achieved his final on-field success as a footballer when, in 1935, Gorringe turned out for two-late season matches for Cygnet in the Huon Football Association. His first appearance came in the last roster match against Kermandie: he booted three goals, was named in the best players and to the crowd’s delight even produced a couple of trademark dashes. He was less prolific in the Grand Final two weeks later against Huonville, however still managed to kick a goal as Cygnet won the premiership by 17 points. 10 years later, Gorringe would play a part in another Cygnet premiership, this time as coach. Called upon to coach the team upon the resumption of football after World War II, Gorringe guided the Magpies to the 1945 premiership; for his efforts, he was presented with a gift of a fountain pen. In addition to his efforts with the football club, Gorringe was committed to the pursuit of health and fitness in his community, he and his wife being noted as donating a sum of £10 towards the purchase of exercise equipment for the Cygnet Health Centre in 1945.

Outside of football, Gorringe was a very fine all-round sportsman. As a cricketer, he was an outstandingly athletic fieldsman and one of the most prolific country batsmen of his time, once scoring an incredible 365* – out of 830/7 – in a match for the Tea Tree Cricket Club against Campania. He also became a creditable golfer (particularly after his footballing days), even winning the Cygnet Golf Club Championship in 1941.

Gorringe continued to reside in the Huon Valley into later life, remaining active well into his 90s. He maintained an interest in football until the very end of his life, driving to watch Cygnet play until he was 95 and watching his grandson Sam play in two TFL Statewide League premierships for North Hobart in 1991 and 1992. Commenting on the state of the game shortly before his death he stated that he enjoyed modern football, observing that the game had become much faster than in his day, but bemoaning the fact that it had largely become a business rather than a pastime.

Horrie Gorringe passed away on the 17th of July, 1994 at the age of 99. His contribution to the game has been celebrated and acknowledged numerous times in the decades before and since his passing. In 1986, the main grandstand at North Hobart Oval was renamed the Horrie Gorringe Stand in his honour, while in 2001 the Horrie Gorringe Medal was first awarded to the man adjudged best afield in the SFL Premier League Grand Final.* In 2004, Gorringe was an automatic inclusion in the Tasmanian Team of the Century, named in a forward pocket. The following year, he was an inaugural inductee into the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame, one of three individuals – along with Darrel Baldock and Peter Hudson – to be enshrined as the first ‘Icons’ of Tasmanian football. However, arguably Gorringe’s greatest accolade came 17 years after his death: in 2011, after years of lobbying, Gorringe was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame; as of 2022, he remains the only inductee to have played his entire career solely in Tasmania. His induction was accepted on his behalf by his son Graeme, who recalled a man who simply loved the game, who would have been in his element in a room full of champion footballers, and who relished the opportunity to tell stories about his extraordinary career and the champions whom he was fortunate enough to meet.

Horrie Gorringe is without question one of the most naturally gifted footballers to have ever laced on a boot, and the fact that his name is still revered 90 years after he last took to the field in TFL football is a testament to the impact he left on the football landscape in this state. The final word on this little genius is left to the author of the ‘Sportsman’s Notebook’ column from the June 26th, 1941 edition of ‘The Mercury’: “There will always be good footballers whose names will be recalled for many years after they retire from the game, but there will, and can be, only one ‘Gorringe’.”

*The Tony Martyn Medal was the equivalent award in the SFL Regional League. When the SFL re-formed into a single competition in 2009, the two awards were also merged. Best afield in the SFL Grand Final since then has been awarded the Gorringe-Martyn Medal.