Long-time supporters of the Shepparton Football Club, often talked about the player they termed as the best small man that had ever played for their club. He was Eric James a sensational rover who won two Morrison Medals.
Eric – the youngest of 7 brothers and 2 sisters was called “bub” by his family and the name stuck. He grew up in the Wyuna area and then Kyabram where he was a watchmaker with F.C.Johns.
Although small in stature, he played football with a number of his brothers for Kyabram. His brother Billy played one game for Richmond in a grand final where he kicked the winning goal.
Eric commenced with the bombers at 16 years of age and was a member of the 1928 Kyabram premiership team when they beat Shepparton.
He commenced the 1929 season with the Bombers but during the season was transferred to work in F.C.Johns Shepparton store and exploded onto the scene at the Shepparton Football Club. He showed great class as he raced around the ground picking up kicks. He was a force in Shepparton’s premiership team against his former club, Kyabram. He was also a top cricketer, playing in a premiership for the Shepparton Wednesday team and was a great performer with the Shepparton Fire Brigade running team. He ran in professional races and won 2 Gift events including the Tallygaroopna gift.
In 1932 Eric was appointed Vice Captain of Shepparton under Coach Pat O’Connell, when they drew the grand final, but lost the replay to Rushworth.
In 1933 Shepparton lost the grand final to Rushworth again but in 1934 with Eric James brilliance around the packs the Maroons were premiers and champions and a cousin of Eric’s – Kyabram’s Wilf Cox won the first Morrison medal ever awarded.
Shepparton were then runners up in 1935 but the umpire’s best and fairest player votes for the year saw Eric James winning the Morrison Medal. Interestingly he beat Wilf Cox by half a vote.
Former Shepparton Mayor and former coach of Shepparton, Murray Slee described Eric James as the best rover he ever rucked to.
Murray said “Eric was a wonderful player, he was a beautiful kick and master of the stab pass. He was and great clearer of the ball. Eric was fiery on the field but a quiet man who was very popular. He didn’t own a car and rode his bicycle everywhere. He was so small” said Murray” that at grounds where the players had to jump the boundary fence on to the arena Eric would always duck under the railing”.
In the 1937 season Eric continued to star and won his second Morrison Medal. The Richmond club was keen to sign him but were unable to find him a job as a watchmaker.
In 1939 and 1940 fate stepped in, robbing Eric of the chance to win his third Morrison Medal when Shepparton withdrew from the League due to a dispute over playing on Saturdays instead of Wednesdays. Eric transferred to play for district league club Lemnos. In 1940 He played in a Lemnos premiership team.
Football was then abandoned due to the Second World War. Eric served in the Australian Army in the Middle East at Al Alamein and then New Guinea and Borneo during the war.
At the conclusion of the war in 1946, Eric returned to play for the re- formed Shepparton club in the newly named district League, the Central Goulburn Valley League. He duly won the Shepparton Advertiser Award for the fairest and best player in the competition.
He also became a married man and started his own jewellery business in High Street
Not only was Eric James the first duel Morrison medallist, he could easily have been the first triple medallist if Shepparton had stayed in the GVL.
Eric played out his football career with Shepparton and then concentrated on his jewellery business.
Unfortunately he died of war related injuries at 42 years of age.
Eric James is now recognised for his brilliance as a player and an all – round champion sportsman and is elevated to membership of the GVL Hall of Fame.