Career : 1903
Debut and Only Game : Round 4, 1903 vs St Kilda, aged 20 years, 6 days
Carlton Player No. 151
Goals : 0
Height : 175 cm (5 ft. 9 in.)
Weight : 61 kg (9 stone, 6 lbs)
DOB : 17 May, 1883
In the decade prior to World War 1, William Richard ‘Billy’ Orr proved himself one of the great West Australian rovers of his era. In 187 games for three clubs (Perth, North Fremantle and Subiaco) between 1906 and 1914, he won three WAFL flags - the first with Perth in 1907, and two more with Subiaco in 1912-13. He represented WA three times in interstate matches, and when he retired from the field, became an influential and long-serving Secretary of the League.
But a little-known (or conveniently overlooked) fact about Billy Orr is that he actually began his League football career in Victoria with the Navy Blues of Carlton. After being recruited from Sale in south-eastern Victoria, Billy ran out onto Princes Park for the first and only time as a Blue on Saturday, May 25, 1903, when he lined up on a half-back flank for the round four clash against St Kilda. He surely enjoyed the experience too, because the Blues dominated the match from the first bounce, and demolished the Saints by 78 points - but for reasons lost in time, Billy never played for us again.
Three years later, having crossed the continent in search of work, Orr joined up with Perth Football Club, and soon established himself as one of the outstanding rovers of the competition. The Redlegs’ powerful ruck division provided Orr with almost limitless opportunities, and proved to be the key factor in Perth’s first-ever WAFL flag in 1907. In 1910 he crossed to North Fremantle for two seasons, then in 1912 was lured to Subiaco, where his impact was profound and immediate. The Maroons won their inaugural WAFL flag in Billy’s debut season with them, and followed up with their second in 1913.
Orr retired as a player in 1914, to take up the dual positions of schools’ coach and acting Secretary of the WAFL. In 1915 he briefly returned to the field as an umpire during a strike by the men in white, and later that same year was appointed to the post of full-time Secretary of the League. By this time World War 1 was raging in Europe, so in April 1916, Billy signed up to fight - after being given an assurance by the WAFL that his position would be waiting for him when he returned.
While serving with the 51st Battalion on the Western Front in April, 1918, Orr was gassed, then wounded by a shell splinter a month later. But he survived, and arrived back in Perth in March, 1919. Shortly afterward, he advised the WAFL that he was ready to resume his duties as Secretary, only to have the League decline his application in favour of the man who had taken over his position; Joe Webb.
The League’s action not only infuriated Orr, it brought about action by the newly-formed RSSILA (Returned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia) the forerunner of the RSL. Determined to see all former servicemen given their previous positions back as promised, the RSSILA made the situation a cause celebre – even threatening to disrupt WAFL games if Orr wasn’t reinstated. Eventually, he was given his position back when Webb himself bowed to the pressure and resolved the situation by tendering his resignation.
Despite that unpleasant episode, Billy Orr went on to give the WAFL another 16 years of effective and loyal service. On his retirement from the post, he was lauded as a man with a flair for organisation, great administrative skill and a deep love of the game. He passed away in June, 1963, at the age of 80.