The Inglewood Football Club started in 1876 with a blaze of glory and a year later, the club was included as a foundation member of the Victorian Football Association (VFA), fielding teams against Melbourne and Carlton in the late 1880’s.
In ‘The Blues’ - Inglewood Football Club’s 125th anniversary publication, one player stands out from the rest, an Asian face peering out from the Anglo-Celtic players in the 1895 Premiership team photo.
His name was Thomas Chin Chee and he was the first Chinese-Australian to play in a club Premiership team.
Thomas Chin Chee’s father James Chin Chee, was born in Canton in 1831 and migrated to Australia, settling in Smythesdale close to Ballarat and marrying Grace Vincent, a South Australian of Cornish descent.
In 1875 they had a son Thomas Henry Wah Chin Chee, and moved to Inglewood for the gold rush where James set up as the herbalist/doctor for the Chinese camp
Thomas Henry Chee spent his youth in Inglewood, playing football at school, and at the age of 20, he was selected to make his debut for the Inglewood senior team.
The Inglewood Advertiser reports that he played his first game for the ‘Blues’ on August 3, 1895.
Several of the Inglewood regulars, “good and true men”, were injured and Thomas stepped up against arch-rivals Dunolly on a rainy day at Inglewood Park.
He performed well in front of a crowd of 600, making himself “conspicuous by good play”.
Thomas held his spot in the team for the rest of the season, forming part of the victorious ‘Duggan Trophy’ winning team.
After the Inglewood Chinese camp went into decline, Thomas moved to Korumburra in the Gippsland region where he worked in the coal mines and married Irish Austalian Harriet Matilda Kells, fathering eleven children.
When Thomas retired from coal mining, he and his family moved to Vere Street in Collingwood where he shortened his name to Thomas Chee and ran a market garden growing fruit, vegetables, and flowers.
From the black and white heartland he was able to indulge his lifelong passion – the Collingwood Magpies Football Club.
According to his granddaughter Faye Pollock, he was famous in the family as a ‘diehard Pies' fanatic who had a great understanding of football and would go out to as many games as possible.
Faye recalls that Thomas would often drop in and talk for hours to the owners of the Chinese ‘cook shop’ in Hoddle Street in Collingwood.
In advance of big Collingwood games on the tv or radio, according to Faye, Thomas and his wife Harriet would: ‘go down to the restaurant and return with saucepans full of dim sims and chow mein for a footy feed fit for a king.’
Thomas lived to the age of 91, passing away in a nursing home in Carlton in 1966.
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