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The Belcher brothers: a grand, tragic tale

Essendon's Allan Belcher and his brother, Vic, AKA 'The Human Aeroplane'
STEPHEN and Bradley Hill will this weekend become the first brothers to play against each other in a Grand Final in 101 years. If omens mean anything, Stephen Hill and his Dockers will win their first premiership.
 
In the only previous instance of siblings facing off in a Grand Final, the elder sibling's team came from third to knock off the minor premier. That's exactly what needs to happen if Freo is to succeed against Hawthorn.

Hill brothers to make history in Grand Final face-off
                     
So distant is the 1912 Grand Final that the Belcher brothers (Essendon's Allan and South Melbourne's Vic) were collectively shorter than the hot-heeled Hills but were actually bullocking ruckmen. Indeed, they were among the best ruckmen of their era.
 
Adding to the rarity, the Belchers were direct opponents for periods of that Grand Final. Both were strong contributors. Vic (180cms and 80kgs) won their duel as South's best player, but Allan (179cms and 86kgs) led his team to a 14-point victory.
 
It's some story, and one that takes a tragic twist.
 
Allan Mitchell Parker Belcher, the premiership captain, would be dead inside nine years. The details only magnify the tragedy.
 
On July 2, 1921 - just two years after his last VFL game - Belcher succumbed to general paralysis in the Kew Hospital for the Insane. His once-robust frame had wasted away to just 57kgs by the time of his passing. He was only 36.
 
It was a shocking, undignified end to a life that had thrilled so many Essendon fans in the early part of the 20th century.
 
The Belchers had been born at New Norfolk in Tasmania. The young family, which comprised at least seven boys (Allan was third-eldest) and a girl, then moved to the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick.
 
Both Allan and Vic made the VFL via their local VFA club.

Allan, who was four-and-half years older than Vic, played four games with Collingwood in 1904, alongside greats such as Jock McHale, Dick Condon and Charlie Pannam, before returning to Brunswick.
 
In 1906 the elder Belcher joined Essendon, where club and player would become inextricably linked.
 
In 1949 - 30 years after Belcher had retired - The Argus reporter "L.M.V." would recall: "Allan Belcher was Essendon", adding that he "did more to build the lasting foundations and traditions of the (club) … than any other Essendon players of the past or present".
 
Indeed, Essendon fans would revere him as 'King Belcher'.
 
His brother Vic also boasted a flattering nickname - 'The Human Aeroplane', a tribute to his spectacular leap.
 
The Belchers scored another distinction in the 1912 semi-final, also won by Essendon, when they were opposing captains. (Vic filled in for the injured Charlie Ricketts, who would return for the Grand Final.)
 
In his 2002 book Champions Of Essendon – which rated Allan Belcher the No.36 Bomber of all time – Simon Matthews wrote that at the coin toss the brothers "wished each other luck, and wryly noted that the game was sure to be 'all in'. They then made arrangements to catch up with each other, and their family of 14, after the game."
 
In the last quarter of the Grand Final, with Essendon 20 points clear, Allan Belcher ordered many of his teammates into defence to protect their lead, in what was an early version of flooding.
 
After the match, the proud skipper lauded the achievement of his team, which he said had earlier been deemed to be "completely out of the running" for the flag.
 
It must have also been satisfying for the fact he had played in a losing Grand Final side against Carlton four years earlier, and had missed the 1911 premiership with a knee injury.
 
The war cost Allan two seasons and Vic one, but they still managed to play more than 400 games between them.
 
Sensationally, in another Essendon-South game just two years later, an opposition fan ran onto the field and king-hit Allan Belcher from behind. Incensed, Belcher ran down his attacker and returned the favour. He was reported for "unseemly play", but got off. If only the unruly fan knew Belcher had been a promising boxer in his youth.
 
In 18 head-to-head clashes, including five as opposing skippers, Vic Belcher ultimately held sway 12-6, but must have rued defeat in the contest that counted most.
 
Both men also captain-coached their clubs, although not at the same time.
 
After Allan Belcher's untimely demise, his family placed a death notice in The Argus that signed off with: "The final bell has rung."
 
The next year his younger brother's coaching career at Fitzroy (assisted by Allan's former coach Jack Worrall) began with a premiership. It was yet another distinction for a man who, until 2012, was the only player to have been a member of two Swans flags (1909 and 1918).
 
In 1996, Vic Belcher was one of the original inductees into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Seven years later he was named in a back pocket in the South Melbourne/Sydney Swans Team of the Century.
 
He died in January 1977 at the age of 88.