Bumper Farrell accused of biting off a bloke’s ear

It was 1945 and Newtown Rugby League captain, Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell was accused of biting off a portion of an opponent’s ear in a Rugby League match on July 28. In its day, this was a big news story which generated plenty of opinion amongst Rugby League fans. Almost 60 years later, the incident still has the ability to raise debate between League historians.

A New South Wales Police officer, Farrell maintained his innocence when replying to a signed affidavit from St George prop forward, Bill McRitchie which accused Farrell of chomping and severing part of his ear.

The incident was never properly resolved. Despite a determined effort to bring about prosecution, Farrell was never charged and he was eventually cleared of any wrong doing.

A tough prop, Frank Farrell was a stoic club man for the Bluebags. ‘Bumper’ represented NSW no less than 13 times between 1939 and 1950. He played four Tests for Australia in 1946 and 1948. He captained Newtown to premiership glory in 1943. A popular policeman, Farrell played a then record of 250 grade games before retiring in 1951.

Bill McRitchie’s career was less illustrious. From 1942-1945, he played just 40 games for St George before being forced into retirement. The brother of Test star, Doug McRitchie, Bill’s career was undoubtedly cut short by the biting incident which saw him spend 22 weeks in hospital.

In his sworn affidavit, read in open League committee, McRitchie stated that during the game Farrell bit his right ear and that he (McRitchie) cried, “For Gods sake, let go,” and that he tried to free himself and even clawed at Farrell to force a release.

After getting to his feet, McRitchie reported the incident to referee George Bishop and yelled, “Look what he’s done to me!” The referee replied that he knew what was going on and if he caught the player responsible he would, “send him out for life.” Both players were cautioned.

Bleeding profusely, McRitchie left the field and took no further part in the match. He was treated by an ambulance officer and then by doctors at Marrickville hospital who told him that there no hope of stitching his ear back together.

Dr Finn reported to the committee that part of McRitchie’s ear was missing and “cartilage was sticking out.”

In his defence, Farrell expressed concern for McRitchie and stated, “Bill McRitchie has our sincere sympathy in his unfortunate accident and it is my own personal wish and the desire of my team mates is that he has a successful and speedy recovery from his injuries.

“I definitely state that I have been unjustly accused when it is stated that I bit the ear of W. McRitchie.”

Needless to say, the Newtown club backed their captain. Club secretary, Dave Jolley went to the media and launched a scathing attack against Farrell’s accusers. “We feel that our player has been unjustly accused and that we are the victims of a state of affairs that should not exist in Rugby League,” said Jolley. “We cannot reconcile such maladministration that has entered into such a case.”

Jolley also added the following statement regarding the public perception of the day: “The public point-of-view would seem to be that a member of my club committed an outrageous misdemeanor. Not one word of substantiated evidence has been given.”

The final defence for Farrell came when he informed the committee that he could not have bitten McRitchie’s ear because he left his dentures in a jar in the dressing room. Presented with the extraordinary notion that Farrell would have had to ‘gum’ McRitchie’s ear, the committee exonerated the Newtown skipper thus saving him from a possible life ban.

‘Bumper’ Farrell went on to play for Australia and to this day, holds pride of place as being the only player to have surpassed 200 first grade games for the Bluebags.

McRitchie on the other hand never wavered from his position that Frank Farrell had bitten off part of his ear. The public debate continued as well as both sides argued over the possibility that Farrell was still able to rip at the fleshy part of a man’s ear... teeth or no teeth.

St George officials tried to re-open the inquiry a month later, however the League disagreed, voting 21-2 against further investigation.

*Quote Ref: Daily Mirror (Sydney), August 1945.*
*Player Ref: Encylopedia of Rugby League Players.

- Steven Williams.
Posted at 'The Forums Sevens' Competition, (The Front Row Forums), 01 July 2003


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