“Not only is he agile as a cat and lithe as a panther, but in addition to being blessed with a solid frame, has also the heart of a lion,” is how the ‘Westralian Worker’ newspaper glowingly described Alexander ‘Sandy’ Marr, one of Western Australia’s finest ever goalkeepers.
There were very few ‘keepers who could match Alex for skill and ability during his 18 seasons on the local scene with Fremantle Caledonian, Northern Casuals and Thistle. His greatest impact came at Caledonian where he was instrumental in their establishment amongst the leading clubs of 1920s and 1930s.
In a career interrupted by World War 1, Alex won four Division One titles, two Challenge Cups and three Charity Cups. On the representative front, he was selected for Western Australia on seven occasions and Scotland in the local international series over a dozen times.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in June 1891, Alex first donned his playing gloves in the Aberdeen Juvenile League. His talents between the posts were quickly recognised and before long he was playing for Shamrock Football Club in the Aberdeen and District League.
Alex was 22 years of age when he boarded the SS Armadale in London bound for Fremantle, arriving on 4 January 1913. The Caledonian club was formed six weeks later and, thanks to a rather complimentary clipping from a Scottish newspaper, Alex was offered the role of ‘keeper for their debut season.
“Caledonians opened their career in fine style by defeating Wanderers,” proclaimed ‘the Fremantle Herald’ of the clubs’ first competitive outing in late April. “Marr’s goalkeeping for the Scotchmen was a feature of the match and report says that he is indeed a champion.”
Alex went on to figure prominently throughout the season in which the league newcomers finished fourth in the second tier Presentation Cup. The young ‘keeper was rewarded mid-year with selection in the Fremantle District side that drew with Perth District and defeated Goldfields.
Further representative honours followed in 1914. A Scotland call-up for the inaugural international series, which raised funds for Fremantle Hospital, had Alex facing England and Australia before gaining selection for Fremantle District in the June friendly with Perth District.
Caledonian were a club on the rise and their ‘keeper played a big part in that, helping them to second in the 1915 Presentation Cup. Alex again featured in both of Scotland’s international series fixtures. With the season over he joined the growing number of young men to join the war effort by enlisting in the Australian Imperial Forces.
During World War 1 Alex served as a Gunner with the 1st Australian Divisional Ammunition Column. He returned to Western Australia midway through 1919 and just three weeks later was back out on the football field, this time keeping goal for Division One outfit Northern Casuals.
The following year Alex switched his allegiance to Thistle. Although he missed the opening month of the competition with broken fingers, he was called up for the State teams’ July friendly with the Australian Naval Fleet. And three months later he contributed to Thistle’s 3-0 Charity Cup final win by denying Claremont’s B.Shellabear from the penalty spot.
Alex laid the foundations for Thistle to win the 1921 Division One title by taking four clean sheets from his teams’ opening five league games. A club ever-present, he represented Scotland in the mid-year international series and the Coastal XI in an end-of-season test match with the Collie Association.
The disappointment of finishing fourth the following season was tempered by Thistle collecting the Challenge Cup and the Charity Cup. Alex shut out Claremont and Claremont Glebe in the respective cup finals, represented Scotland twice and was between the posts when the Metropolitian XI they defeated a Combined Country side 4-1 in August.
Thistle brought consistency back to their league campaign in 1923 to finish second behind Claremont, who secured the title by one point. Alex featured twice for Scotland in the international series, then greeted 1924 by turning out for a West Australian British Football Association XI in an out-of-season friendly with the British Service Squadron.
Caledonian were always close to Alex’s heart and in early 1924 he headed back to where he belonged. Installed as team captain, he guided Caledonian to sixth in the league and, over the next decade, would play a leading role in their transformation into one of the leading clubs of the era.
Alex was between the posts for Western Australia’s 5-3 win over the England Cricket Team in March 1925, and six weeks later he was part of the Metropolitan XI that met the England Amateur XI in front of 3,000 spectators. He then helped Caledonian claim fourth in the league and qualify for the Challenge Cup decider, the clubs’ first cup final appearance.
A mid-season performance against Northern Casuals served only to enhance his reputation. “Marr proved equal afternoon to everything they fired at him. The writer has never seen him play better or in fact a better display this season. High, low and from angles the shots fairly rained upon his charge,” read the newspaper report in the ‘the West Australian’.
Caledonians reached the pinnacle of the local game by being crowned Division One champions of 1926. Alex boasted the best record of any ‘keeper in the league with six clean sheets and 17 goals conceded across 16 games. He even got in the scoresheet, converting a penalty in a late season 13-0 thrashing of Subiaco.
The bar was raised twelve months later when Caledonian won every game of the season, a unique record which has never been matched since. With Alex in goal and pretty much the same ten outfield players each week, they claimed Division One with 14 straight league wins before adding the Challenge Cup and the Charity Cup.
When it came to selecting the State team Alex was the natural choice to take the gloves. In 1927 he featured twice against a powerful Czechoslavakia-Bohemia side that boasted six internationals and gained a further three outings when Western Australia faced China, whose number was made up of students from Hong Kong and Shanghai Universities.
Caledonian entered 1928 as favourites for a hat-trick of Division One titles, however, third is the best they could muster. Alex represented Scotland in the international series and, in mid-June, was one of eight Caledonian players selected for a ‘West of Perth’ team that played an exhibition game against ‘East of Perth’ at Cottesloe Oval.
Alex may have been approaching his 38th birthday when the following season rolled around but the veteran shot-stopper was still very much in peak form. “The best man on the field was undoubtedly Marr,” read ‘the West Australian’ newspaper report on the Challenge Cup Final replay won by Victoria Park, who also pipped Caledonian to the league by a single point.
He also made the news in June by falling foul of a new rule which required ‘keeper’s to remain on their line until the ball is struck at a penalty. “Muldownie converted at the third attempt, Marr advancing over his line and saving the first two efforts, contrary to the rules,” reported ‘the West Australian’ of his misdemeanor in the defeat of Thistle.
A pre-season outing with Scotland opened 1930 before scoring six straight wins at club level. But some mid-season jitters and a shock loss to lowly Claremont-North Cottesloe meant Caledonian were edged out of the league title by one point by Northern Casuals, who also claimed the Charity Cup despite Alex’s heroics in the final.
Caledonian lead the league for much of 1931 only to finish in an incredibly tight Division One in fourth spot, just two points behind champions Victoria Park. Alex made his final appearance for Scotland in April and in subsequent months represented the West Australian Soccer Football Association against Collie Association and a ‘Rest of the League’ XI.
Another strong start the following year was interrupted by losses to Victoria Park and Northern Casuals, who finished second and first respectively with Caledonian third. In June, Alex made no fewer than eight saves in a 2-2 Challenge Cup draw with Northern Casuals, “It is questionable if he ever served his club better,” reported ‘the West Australian’.
“There was nothing more remarkable in the game than Marr’s wonderful display of goalkeeping. He took every possible risk in diving at the feet of Donnelly and Miller when they were on the point of shooting. Gibson could be heard calling ‘Alex’ to him to put him on his guard, but Alex was ‘aye ready’.”
Alex carried that same form into his final season. The 42-year old asserted his influence as Caledonian went 10 games without loss, a run that ultimately resulted in their third Division One title. Praise was lavished on Alex, who conceded 15 goals in as many games and was presented a long service trophy by the association at the end of the 1933 season.
“With is retirement there will be widespread regret mingled with happy memories of many a hard-fought game in which this brilliant goalkeeper has defended his citadel against seemingly impossible odds,” read a lengthy tribute to the respected ‘keeper published in ‘the West Australia’ on 10 October 1933.
“Throughout his long association with the code Marr has proved himself a true sportsman. With characteristic tenacity and courage he has played the game for the sheer love of it, and not once during his lengthy football career has he come under the ban of a referee.”
Football would remain with Alex for the rest of his life. Within a year of retirement he was manager of Caledonian and he would serve the club in a variety of roles across the decades that followed. In addition, he was a State team selector, president of the West Australian Soccer Football Association and spent time on the controlling body’s Board of Control.
Alex passed away in September 1984 at the age of 93. In 1996 the Football Hall of Fame Western Australia honoured him as one of 29 inaugural inductees into the Hall of Champions. Eight years later he was named in the Century of Champions, which recognised the State’s 100 greatest players between 1896 and 1996.