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1951

The 1951 Football Season Under The Microscope

MVFL: Classy Cats Account for Bombers
At Geelong, the Reg Hickey Hickey “pace and space” formula, instigated two years earlier, finally clicked fully in 1951. With experienced and highly gifted individuals like future 'Team of the Century' members Bob Davis, Fred Flanagan and Bernie Smith now at their absolute peak as footballers, Geelong had a nucleus of talent unequalled anywhere. The supporting cast was not bad either, comprising as it did defenders of the calibre of Bruce Morrison, John Hyde, Russ Middlemiss and Norm Scott, a ruck division which included Tom Morrow, Russell Renfrey, Loy Stewart and Jim Norman, explosive wingmen in Syd Tate and Terry Fulton, polished and energetic rovers in Peter Pianto and Neil Trezise, and of course the unfailingly accurate George Goninon to finish things off.

Goninon it was who virtually proved the difference between the combatants on second semi final day, contributing half of Geelong's 22 goals in an 82 point annihilation of Collingwood. Eleven goals in a finals match equalled the all time VFL record established by Harry Vallence of Carlton in the Blues' 20.10 (130) to 5.12 (42) first semi final defeat of Collingwood in 1931[1].  According to future VFL chief commissioner Jack Hamilton, who was at full back for the Magpies when Goninon entered his name in the record books:

It was the worst day I have ever had. I had handled Goninon quite easily in two matches in which we had met earlier in the season [2] and was confident of being able to subdue him again. As it turned out, George couldn't do a thing wrong and I couldn't do a thing right. Geelong had the ball on their forward line for most of the match and I had no chance of stopping some of the passes that were delivered to him. His kicking was superb, he was credited with 11.1, but it should have been 12.0.  One of his shots went straight through the middle and the goal umpire signalled a behind!  It wasn't my place to argue.  [3]

Two factors combined to bolster the Cats' confidence in advance of their grand final showdown against reigning premiers Essendon, which had ended Collingwood's season with 2 point victory in the preliminary final. The first was that Bomber spearhead John Coleman, the biggest superstar in the competition, would miss the match after having been suspended by the VFL tribunal for striking Carlton's Harry Casper in the last minor round game of the year.  Coleman had averaged more than 4 goals a game in 1951, and it went without saying that, without him, the Bombers would be a significantly less troublesome opponent. The second boost to the players' confidence came from classy and irrepressible back pocket Bernie Smith being awarded the Brownlow Medal, the first Geelong player since “Carji" Greeves, in the Medal's inaugural year of 1924, to be so honoured.

The 1951 grand final started well for Geelong as George Goninon had a goal on the board within a minute of the opening bounce. Full of confidence, the Cats surged forward again and again, but their next half a dozen shots for goal all resulted in minor scores.  Meanwhile the Bombers, with virtually their only coherent forward foray of the term, goaled through Hutchison. Goals for Geelong late in the term through Norman and Goninon gave the Cats a 3.8 (26) to 1.0 (6) quarter time lead, but given the extent of their superiority they should have been much further in front.

Perhaps predictably, Essendon proceeded to punish Geelong's waywardness during the second term, adding 5.2 to 1.2 to lead at the main break by 4 points. With the match very much in the balance the Geelong players were forced to dig deep, which they duly did to run the Bombers off their feet in a decisive third quarter. At three quarter time the Cats led by 27 points and looked home, and so it ultimately proved, although not before the Bombers had received a late lift by the entry to the arena of their legendary champion “King Dick” Reynolds. Inspired by Reynolds, Essendon got within 5 points late in the final term, but Geelong was able to steady and pull away to secure an 11 point victory, 11.15 (81) to 10.10 (70). The victors were best served by their defensive trio of Hyde, Morrison and Smith, rovers Pianto and Trezise, centreman Leo Turner (another member of the club's 'Team of the Twentieth Century') and ruckman 'Bill' McMaster. George Goninon top scored with 4 goals. Whether the presence of John Coleman in the Essendon team would have made a difference to the eventual result is a tantalising question, the answer to which will presumably vary depending on your allegiance.  Nevertheless, what cannot be denied is that Geelong under Hickey had developed into a marvellous team. Indeed, with Bernie Smith having won the Brownlow, and George Goninon, with 86 goals, having been the league's top goal kicker, the Cats had secured a prestigious treble which only Collingwood, in 1927 and 1929, had previously accomplished.

Full forward George Goninon began his senior career with Essendon Stars before joining Burnie in the NWFU, where his 67 goals in 1947 was good enough to top the competition's goal kicking list.  Recruited by Essendon the following year he found it hard to establish himself because of the presence of John Coleman, and he managed just 9 senior VFL games (for 11 goals) in three seasons before crossing to Geelong. Given the responsibility of spearheading the Cats' attack, Goninon came into his own and, in four and a half seasons he accumulated 278 goals from 78 games. Favouring the then somewhat unfashionable drop punt when kicking for goal, he was renowned as one of the most accurate kicks in the league. 

A centreman during his career with West Adelaide as well as during the early part of his VFL stint with Geelong, Bernie Smith is better remembered as one of the greatest back pockets in the history of the game.  Moved to the back pocket by coach Reg Hickey in 1951, he went on to win both the club best and fairest award and the Brownlow Medal that same season, while for good measure he was among the Cats' best in their grand final defeat of Essendon. 

Smith was ideally suited to a back pocket because he was pacy, had good ground skills, marked well, was always cool under pressure, and had superb judgement.  Opposition coaches came to view him as Geelong's first line of attack, and in what was a virtually unprecedented move for the times he was often subjected to what would later be called tagging.

Bernie Smith played 55 games with West Adelaide between 1945 and 1947, winning a best and fairest award in his final season.  His last game for Westies was the winning grand final of 1947 against Norwood, in which he was widely acknowledged as the best player afield.  He won two best and fairest trophies during 183 games in eleven seasons with Geelong, played in two premiership sides, was named in the inaugural All Australian side after the 1953 Adelaide carnival, and was captain of the Cats for part of 1950 and the whole of 1954.  In 2001, as intimated earlier, he was selected in the back pocket in Geelong’s official Team of the Twentieth Century.

After the grand final Geelong visited Adelaide where it met SANFL premiers Port Adelaide in a challenge match. The Cats won a tough, high standard encounter by 8 points, 8.14 (62) to 6.18 (54).

Earlier, Essendon had finished with a 13-5 record to qualify for the finals in third place. The Bombers were particularly impressive at their home ground of Windy Hill, losing only once - to Carlton, by 15 points - all season. In the first semi final against Footscray they trailed by 17 points at quarter time, 15 points at the halfway stage, and 4 points at the final change before doing just enough in the fourth quarter to get over the line. Final scores were Essendon 8.13 (61) defeated Footscray 8.5 (53). The Bombers had sorely missed the suspended John Coleman, and their normally smooth teamwork was in disarray. It was a similar story in the preliminary final meeting with Collingwood: Essendon again trailed at every change before rattling on 5.3 to to 1.1 to sneak home by a couple of points. It was the narrowest winning margin in a preliminary final for twenty-six years.

The grand final was closely fought and Eseendon made a wholly valid bid for victory but had to concede that, on the day, they were second best.

After finishing the minor round second to Geelong on percentage, both teams netting 14 wins from 18 matches, Collingwood endured the agony of bowing out of the flag race “in straight sets”. It was almost a case of “colliwobbles” before the expression had been coined. After kicking 6 goals to 2 in the opening quarter of their first semi final clash with Geelong the Magpies fell apart and were overwhelmed. The fact that they had finished the home and away season as the “form” team of the competition, winning their last 7 matches in succession, made the defeat all the harder to explain and endure.

A week later in the preliminary final Collingwood outplayed Essendoln for three and a half quarters but then conceded the last 5 goals of the match to go down by 2 points. Some might say the Magpies were unlucky, but the Victoria Park fraternity would doubtless choose a stronger adjective.

Despite having an extremely inexperienced team Footscray won 12 matches to qualify for the finals in fourth place. Twelve of the men who fronted up against Essendon in the first semi final had never previously played finals football, but for three quarters the Bulldogs made light of this, keeping the Bombers firmly on the back foot. Ultimately, however, it was Essendon who progressed, and Footscray who were left licking their wounds. Nevertheless, it would prove to be an invaluable learning experience. On 23rd June at the MCG Footscray 23.14 (152) had downed Melbourne 5.19 (49); the 103 point margin was a club record for the VFL.

Fifth placed Fitzroy had a creditable season but drawn matches against South Melbourne and Carlton effectively scuppered their finals prospects. As late as round twelve they occupied second spot on the premiership ladder but they finished the season poorly. At their best, however, they could certainly compete with the top sides, as wins over Collingwood (at Victoria Park), Essendon and Geelong proved.

Richmond, who finished with a 10-8 record, had statistically the best attack in the competition. However, the Tigers were inconsistent, frequently losing to lower ranked opponents. A sequence of six consecutive defeats between rounds eight and thirteen put an end to their finals aspirations.

Aside from the fine win at Windy Hill against Essendon, mentioned earlier, Carlton tended to struggle against the leading sides, whilst almost invariably beating those ranked below them. The Blues’ cause was not helped by the decision of key player Jack “Chook” Howell to stand out of football for the season followin a dispute with the club.

South Melbourne finished with an identical win/loss record to Carlton (8 wins, 11 defeats and a draw), and like the Blues they consistently outperformed lower ranking opposition. However, their only victory over an eventual finalist came in round three at the Lake Oval when they accounted for Essendon by 13 points.

For North Melbourne, who had contested the 1950 grand final, the 1951 season was immensely disappointing. The Kangaroos managed just 7 wins, and although they were seldom thrashed - the 93 point capitulation to Collingwood in round one was a noteworthy exception - they never managed to beat any of the four finalists.

Tenth placed St Kilda, eleventh team Hawthorn and wooden spooners Melbourne were all to varying degrees out of their depth in 1951. The Demons, who had been premiers just three seasons earlier, managed just one win, against Carlton in the sixth series, while neither the Saints nor the Hawks managed to defeat any opponents of note.

SANFL: A New Era at Port
Port Adelaide coach Fos Williams, unlike his great rival Jack Oatey, was no purist.  Football, for him, was essentially a simple game, in which the most desirable qualities were energy, strength, leg power, stamina and courage - courage, indeed, most of all.  Without these qualities a player possessing the combined skill of “Polly” Farmer, Barrie Robran, Robbie Flower, Gary Abletts both and Darrel Baldock would, if let loose in league company, be left floundering like a fish out of water. Williams saw the truth of this matter graphically emphasised almost every time South Australia took the field against the VFL. The South Australians could kick, mark and handle the ball every bit as well as their opponents - until the pressure was applied, after which they tended to perform like fumbling schoolboys. As coach of both Port Adelaide and South Australia, Williams would make it a personal crusade to try to ensure that all of his players took to the field with a mindset which maximised rather than masked their capabilities; in this, he was only partially successful, especially in the interstate arena, but the successes which he did achieve had an enormous impact on raising expectations and standards, as well as on rendering the sport of Australian football in South Australia more overtly “professional".  

Williams' impact on a somewhat demoralised and under-achieving Port Adelaide side had been immediate and pronounced.  In his first season in charge, 1950, the Magpies reached the preliminary final, and the following year saw them impose themselves on the competition in redoubtable fashion. A 2 goal loss to West Torrens at Thebarton in round 9 proved to be the side's only reversal for the year. In the finals, North Adelaide was comfortably accounted for twice, and Port Adelaide had secured one of the most comprehensive premiership triumphs in league history. Half back flanker Alan Greer, renowned for his exhilarating downfield dashes, was best afield in the grand final, with centre half back Ted Whelan not far behind. Future Magarey Medallist Davey Boyd, just twenty-one years of age, gave a veteran's performance in the centre, while second year Victorian import John Abley gave a hint of what was to come with a miserly performance on the last line of defence.

After failing to qualify for the finals in 1950 North Adelaide managed this feat in 1951 with something to spare. The Roosters won 13 and lost 5 matches to finish second at the conclusion of the minor round. Sandwiched in between their second semi final and grand final losses to Port was a comfortable if somewhat slipshod preliminary final win against Glenelg. Final scores were North Adelaide 10.20 (80) defeated Glenelg 7.13 (55).

Glenelg, runners up to Norwood in 1950, dropped one rung on the premiership ladder in 1951. The Bays finished the minor round with 5 successive wins and maintained their solid form in the first semi final with a 14.9 (93) to 7.13 (55) defeat of West Torrens. North Adelaide in the preliminary final proved too accomplished, however. Glenelg full forward Colin Churchett booted precisely 100 goals to top the SANFL goal kicking list making him the first post-world war two footballer in the SANFL to register a century of goals in a season.  He went on to manage the feat twice, in 1950 and 1951, and all told kicked 555 goals in his 145 game league career (which includes one game played with South Melbourne in 1944, while on war service in Victoria).

With characteristic eloquence, Jeff Pash described Churchett as "a wizard when it came to the matter of directing the essentially irregular object that is a football through the goals”.[4]  He did this with almost equal facility in weak Glenelg teams as he did when the club was battling for the premiership.  Although not a particularly long kick, his unerring accuracy extended to both feet, a comparatively rare capability at the time.  He was equally effective from a snap shot or when kicking on the run, but formidable ground play was his acknowledged forté, with his ability to get boot tellingly to ball in awkward situations unparalleled among South Australian full forwards of his time.

Churchett topped Glenelg's goal kicking list six times in seven years and only Jack Owens and “Fred” Phillis have kicked more goals in the black and gold.

West Torrens had the satisfaction of inflicting Port Adelaide’s only defeat for the season. They achieved this by a margin of 12 points in round nine at Thebarton Oval. Scores were West Torrens 7.8 (50); Port Adelaiode 4.14 (38).

Reigning premiers Norwood suffered a significant and quite surprising decline in fortunes, winning just half of their fixtures to finish fifth. The Redlegs got off on the wrong foot, losing their first 3 games, and they never really recovered. For the most part they were capable of comfortably defeating the teams below them on the premiership ladder, but a narrow win against Glenelg at the Bay was their sole success against any of the eventual finalists. In spite of the club’s mediocre season ruckman John Marriott ended up winning the Magarey Medal. Marriott was a superb knock ruckman - or, more accurately, in his case, a tap ruckman - who played 176 league games for Norwood between 1947 and 1956, kicking 122 goals. He was also sufficiently mobile to produce some fine football at centre half back on occasion. According to Jeff Pash, the essence of his game was its paradoxical gentleness. Marriott was 

the gentle strong man. He loves his football and would not ill-treat it for worlds. The term "knock-out" applied to his dispatch of the ball from the rucks is crude and misleading, in fact and in the suggestion of violent pugilism it brings.  It is the benignest and exactest of touches; the ball is gently guided down. [5]

Moreover:

In his marking - the safest and most inevitable of its kind and probably his largest single contribution to the game in spite of the excellence of his rucking - we have seen the same essential gentleness.   No deft, insolent plucking of the ball out of its course (Allan Crabb); no high, triumphant capture of an enemy (Ian McKay); no exploitation of the ball as a kind of ring about which to turn wild somersaults (Don Lindner).  A simple, firm, affectionate grasp - which nothing can shift.  And at the end an almost embarrassed shuffle, the mark is pulled down quickly, out of sight, and the game proceeds. [6]

And finally:

In his kicking, the same refusal of violence. [7]

Highly regarded wherever football was played throughout Australia, Marriott was a popular winner of the 1951 Magarey Medal. A South Australian interstate representative on no fewer than 23 occasions, he earned an All Australian blazer after the 1953 Adelaide carnival. He won Norwood's premier individual award in 1949, 1951 and 1955, and both the Advertiser and News-Ampol Trophies in 1951, and spent his final four seasons as club captain.  In 1948, when the Redlegs overcame the challenge of West Torrens on grand final day, Marriott lined up at centre half back, while two years later in the defeat of Glenelg he was in his more accustomed position of first ruckman.  Had he not elected to retire prematurely in order to concentrate on his career as a dentist he might feasibly have been expected to have carved out a name for himself among the game's bona fide immortals.  As it is, the name John Marriott remains synonymous with highly adept and telling ruckwork of the highest order.  Hardly surprisingly, John Marriott was chosen to lead the first ruck in Norwood’s official Team of the Twentieth Century.

West Adelaide’s decline following their 1947 premiership victory continued as for the second season in succession they finished sixth. Westies managed to defeat both Glenelg and West Torrens during the season but overall were much too inconsistent to make a realistic bid for finals participation.

Sturt (2 wins) and South Adelaide (1 win) were both hopelessly off the pace in 1951. Sturt’s victories both came at the expense of South in rounds nine and eleven while South’s only win was against Sturt in round nine.

WANFL: Cardies Back on Top
After a poor start to the 1951 WANFL season, West Perth recovered well to clinch second spot with 64 points, ahead of Perth (56 points) and East Fremantle (40 points), going into the finals. They then lost the second semi final to minor premiers South Fremantle by 9 points, but won well the following week, 12.15 (87) to 6.11 (47), against Perth. In the grand final, despite being without the services of Stan “Pops” Heal, who had broken his ankle, West Perth, with half forward Don “Mary" Porter, full back Ray Schofield, wingman Vic Fisher, and back pocket player Wally Price especially prominent, held on to overcome a fast finishing South Fremantle by 3 points in the closest grand final since the 1938 drawn game between Claremont and East Fremantle. With just moments to go in the match, South Fremantle forced the ball forward into the goal square and a frenetic melee ensued before Price, showing great presence of mind despite the heavy traffic, managed to gain possession and clear the ball out of danger with a thumping kick. This proved to be South Fremantle’s last attacking thrust of the game. The grand final Simpson Medal went to Don Porter, topping off what had been a marvellous all round season for the club, with both the Sandover and the Simpson Medal for a state game against VFL being won by Fred Buttsworth. In addition, Ray Scott (number 8 in the photo at the head of this section) with 127 goals during the qualifying rounds and a further 14 in the finals was the season's top goal kicker.

After seeing older brother Wally embark on what would develop into an illustrious football career with West Perth and, later, Essendon, young Fred Buttsworth was determined to do the same. In 1942 he joined West Perth's war time under age side and helped the Cardinals to a premiership; two years later he won a club fairest and best award, but the following year he was old enough to enlist, and joined the navy.  As chance would have it, he was posted to Melbourne for a time and Essendon, fully aware of his talent, gave him the opportunity to play in the VFL alongside his brother.

Strongly built and hard to beat, especially in the air, Fred Buttsworth played much of his early football on the half forward lines, but when he resumed in the WANFL - which had by then reverted to a full scale senior competition - in 1946 it was as a centre half back, and it was in that position that he really made his name.

West Perth during the immediate post-war period boasted an immensely powerful side, with Fred Buttsworth's indefatigable performances on the half back line often a key to its success. When the Cardinals won flags in 1949 and 1951, Buttsworth's contributions were telling, as they were on numerous occasions for Western Australia, notably in the famous 1947 carnival win over the VFL, and in a 1951 meeting with the Vics when he earned a Simpson Medal.

That 1951 season was easily Buttsworth's most memorable. In addition to the Simpson Medal and a premiership, he won his second West Perth and best award, and finished a comfortable 7 votes clear of runner-up Frank Treasure in the Sandover Medal voting. Given this, it seems somewhat surprising that, just two years later, after 182 WANFL games, but still aged only twenty-five, and fighting fit, Fred Buttsworth retired.  Perhaps he felt he had nothing left to achieve, but his untimely departure left the football world in general, and West Perth in particular, the poorer.

No finer full forward has lined up in the red and blue of West Perth than Ray Scott, who topped the Cardinals' goal kicking list on eight consecutive occasions from 1948. A strong marking player of remarkable consistency and reliability, had his career not coincided to a considerable extent with that of South Fremantle’s legendary sharp shooter Bernie Naylor, his reputation would almost certainly have been even weightier.

Ray Scott booted a total of 901 goals for West Perth during a 198 game league career that saw him defy the challenge of Naylor to top the WAFL goal kicking list in 1951 with 141 goals. Four years later, after Naylor had departed the scene, he did so again with 83 goals. His best single season though was 1953 when he managed 143 goals, 24 shy of Naylor's all time record tally of 167.  Scott 'topped the ton' on four occasions, and invariably kicked at least twice as many goals as behinds. In one game against Perth in 1953 he booted a club record 15 goals.

After his retirement as a player, Ray Scott coached briefly in Wagga Wagga before embarking on an illustrious 141 game umpiring career which included three WANFL grand finals.

When the Falcons announced their official Team of the Century in October 2000, Ray Scott was, one presumes, an almost automatic inclusion, although not, somewhat surprisingly at full forward, that honour going to Ted Tyson.

South Fremantle were comfortably the best team in the minor round but lost the one match that matters. The team was badly affected by injuries; at one point, no fewer than ten first choice players were unavailable for selection. In the grand final clash with West Perth the red and whites trailed by 45 points early in the second quarter but fought back superbly. The closing minutes were strenuous, nail-biting stuff, but the Cardinals just managed to hold on.

After the season was over South engaged in a challenge match against VFL side Collingwood at Fremantle Oval, winning 22.9 (141) to 15.12 (102). Full forward Bernie Naylor booted 8 goals. Afterwards, Collingwood coach Phonse Kyne remarked: “We all know that South Fremantle would hold their own in Victorian football. They may lack two or three big men, but they have some mighty fine players and have nothing to learn about system, pace and kicking - the main requirements of a first-class side.”[8]

Fourth at the conclusion of the minor round Perth then achieved a fighting win over East Fremantle in the first semi final. Scores were Perth 9.12 (66) defeated East Fremantle 7.16 (58). West Perth in the preliminary final proved much too accomplished, however.

During the minor round East Fremantle comfortably downed Perth three times, but they fell short by 8 points when the sides confronted one another in the first semi final. Old Easts had the best attack in the competition, statistically at any rate, but there were defensive frailties.

East Perth had a topsy turvy season which featured wins against all four finalists as well as some unaccountable losses. After seventeen rounds the Royals looked likely finalists but they finished the season badly, losing 3 out of their last 4 matches to miss out by a couple of wins plus percentage.

Sixth placed Claremont won 9 games including triumphs at the expense of West Perth, Perth and East Fremantle (twice). Overall, however, the Tigers were blighted by inconsistency and never truly looked like reaching the finals.

Subiaco managed just 4 wins for the season, 3 at the expense of Swan Districts and 1 against East Perth. The Lions had a dreadful finish to the season which saw them lose their last 6 matches.

Bottom club Swan Districts’ only win for the year came in round fourteen when they downed Claremont by 20 points, 11.12 (78) to 8.10 (58).

Other Highlights
Prahran won the 1951 VFA premiership thanks to an 11.13 (79) to 10.10 (70) grand final defeat of Port Melbourne. The match, which took place at the Junction Oval, attracted 32,000 spectators. Reigning premiers Oakleigh dropped to third this year, with Sandringham completing the final four. This season saw Moorabbin and Box Hill admitted to the Association.

Watched by a crowd of 13,079 New Town convincingly defeated North Hobart in the TANFL grand final. Scores were New Town 19.9 (123); North Hobart 15.13 (103). New Town had earlier downed reigning premiers Hobart by 50 points in the second semi final while North Hobart had progressed to the grand final via wins over New Norfolk in the first semi final and Hobart in the preliminary final. The state premiership was not contested in 1951.

In Sydney, Western Suburbs and Eastern Suburbs contested the NSWANFL grand final, with victory going to the former by a margin of two straight kicks. The triumph gave Western Suburbs, which had entered the league in 1926, disbanded three years later, and then re-entered in 1947,. their first ever senior grade premiership. Newtown and Sydney were the two other finalists.

Windsor (QANFL) won their third consecutive premiership after downing Mayne in the grand final by a couple of goals, 11.18 (84) to 9.18 (72). 

Royal Military College (RMC) won their second CANFL premiership in 1951. Confronted in the grand final by reigning premiers Manuka, who were seeking their third consecutive flag, they eased home by 15 points, 14.14 (98) to 12.11 (83).

Buffaloes won their third NTFL flag in succession by accounting for Waratahs in the grand final by 18 points. Scores were Buffaloes 12.12 (84) defeated Waratahs 10.6 (66).

1951 was a busy year on the interstate front. The VFL engaged in four matches, two each versus both South Australia and Werstern Australia. Against South Australia in Melbourne the Vics triumphed by 8 points, 10.11 (71) to 9.9 (63). South Australia turned the tables in the return fixture in Adelaide, getting home by 6 points. Scores were South Australia 8.11 (59); VFL 8.5 (53). Both clashes with the Western Australians took place in Perth, the Vics winning by 42 points on the Saturday, and 60 points on the following Tuesday.

Following their unexpected loss to the VFA at the Brisbane carnival South Australia issued a challenge which resulted in a match between the two on the Adelaide Oval. South Australia duly obtained revenge of a sort, winning by 95 points, 28.19 (187) to 13.14 (92). 

The VFA also played both Australian Amateurs and Tasmania. The former match was to decide which of the two teams would play in the section one carnival at Adelaide in 1953. The VFA procured this right with an impressive 20.17 (137) to 12.12 (84) win. The match with Tasmania, played in Hobart, produced another emphatic VFA triumph with scores of 26.15 (171) to 12.11 (83).
Grand final results - VFL: Geelong 11.15 (81) d. Essendon 10.10 (70); SANFL: Port Adelaide 10.12 (72) d. North Adelaide 8.13 (61); WANFL: West Perth 13.10 (88) d. South Fremantle 12.13 (85); VFA: Prahran 11.13 (79) d. Port Melbourne 10.10 (70); TANFL: New Town 20.14 (134) d. North Hobart 9.9 (63); NTFA: Launceston 10.15 (75) d. City 9.9 (63); NSWANFL: Western Suburbs 11.15 (81) d. Eastern Suburbs 10.9 (69); NTFL: Buffaloes 12.12 (84) d. Waratahs 10.6 (66); QANFL: Windsor 11.18 (84) d. Mayne 9.18 (66); NWFU: Ulverstone 17.22 (124) d. Cooee 8.11 (59); CANFL: Royal Military College 14.14 (98) d. Manuka 12.11 (83).

FOOTNOTES

[1] Vallence equalled his own record a year later, as did Collingwood's Ron Todd in 1938 and 1939.  The closest anyone in the modern era has come to matching these feats was Garry Lyomn's 10 goals for Melbourne in the Demons 1994 first semi final trouncing of Footscray. 

[2] Collingwood had beaten Geelong 14.18 (102) to 7.8 (50) at Victoria Park in round three, with Goninon, who was playing his first match for the season, failing to kick a goal. In round fourteen at Kardinia Park the Magpies had won again, 4.7 (31) to 3.11 (29), with Goninon managing 2 of Geelong's 3 goals for the day. 

[3] The Road to Kardinia by Russell H.T. Stephens, pages 148-9. Hamilton’s comments were made in an interview in 1966.

[4] The Pash Papers by Jeff Pash, page 72.

[5] Ibid, page 161.  

[6] Ibid, page 161. 

[7] Ibid, page 161. 

[8] Quoted in The South Fremantle Story Volume Two by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 51.


1952

Spotlight on the 1952 Football Season

VFL: Cats Go Back to Back In Style

An extra round was added to the VFL’s match programme this season. It was played at interstate and country venues, namely the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Brisbane Exhibition Ground, North Hobart Oval, Albury, Euroa and Yallourn.

With more or less the same group of players as in 1951 Geelong continued to dominate, and indeed to improve, the following year. Only 2 home and away matches were lost this time around, compared to 4 the previous season, and with the defence in particular displaying extraordinary impenetrability, many of the wins were achieved with redoubtable conviction. Only twice, against Carlton in round seven and Essendon at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground in round 8, did the Cats have tallies in excess of 100 points kicked against them. They tuned up for the finals with a 10.17 (77) to 3.14 (32) strangulation of Carlton in front of a Kardinia Park record crowd of 49,109, and thereafter 'did it on the bit' with 54 and 46 point finals wins over Collingwood. In the grand final, watched by a crowd of 82,890, "the Magpies pitted their courage and determination against Geelong's superior speed, skill and system, but it wasn't enough.  Geelong established an early lead, and the result was a foregone conclusion”.[1]

An incident which epitomised Geelong's superiority, as well as exemplifying the team's style of play under Hickey, occurred early in the third quarter after the Magpies had started to show signs of getting back into the game:

Highlight of the match was a third quarter dash of 100 yards around the outer wing by Davis (Geelong).  Starting on the half back flank, Davis raced around the wing, bouncing the ball as he went at top speed, and leaving Collingwood players far behind.

Tackled near the half forward flank, he handpassed to Worner, who passed back to Davis, and the ball eventually finished in the teeth of goal. [2]

Davis later gave his own version of the incident:

Ah, I remember it well! I had seven or eight bounces in that run and then let fly with a running drop kick - my favourite form of disposal.  As a boy I had always dreamed of playing in a grand final at the MCG and of launching myself on an extended run downfield.  The funny thing is that I recalled this dream as I was bouncing the ball and dodging my Collingwood opponents. [3]

Following this incident, Geelong went on to add 6 goals for the term to Collingwood's 2, effectively laying to rest any doubts as to where the 1952 VFL pennant was heading.  The last quarter was a cakewalk as the Cats kept Collingwood goalless whilst they careered to a 46 point win, 13.8 (86) to 5.10 (40). Geelong's fair headed half back flanker Geoff Williams was best afield, with rover Neil Trezise, change ruckman Norm Sharp, back pocket Bernie Smith, and 5 goal full forward George Goninon also prominent.

Writing in “The Argus”, Hugh Buggy summarised the reasons behind Geelong's supremacy thus:

Geelong, the team whose blistering pace has given football a new meaning in the last two years, romped away from Collingwood in the League grand final on Saturday to win its second successive pennant.

To achieve this new club record, Geelong had to wear down a tenacious and aggressive Magpie side that battled on, yard by yard, with the desperation of despair.

It was a triumph richly deserved by a sternly disciplined Geelong 'machine', which plays a clean exhilarating game, entirely free from dirt, spite, and the murky reprisal.

It was a fitting reward, too, for a team which has been a model of consistency, and one which stepped up the tempo of the game to a pitch no rival could either excel or equal.  [4]

Geelong, if the saying can be stomached, appeared to “have the wood” on the Magpies, having emerged victorious from each of the last five meetings between the sides. 

The most positive thing which could be said about the grand final from a Collingwood perspective was that the players would prove to have learnt a valuable lesson. All that was in the future, however, and the mood at Victoria Park following the match was predictably gloomy. The Magpies were believed by many to be the only side with sufficient pace to challenge Geelong but in both finals the Cats found an extra gear that made Collingwood appear turgid by comparison. In between their two clashes with Geelong the Magpies faced Fitzroy in the preliminary final and won with something to spare by 19 points. The victory was all the more meritorious in that they finished the match with just sixteen fit players. Fitzroy erred in putting the emphasis on physicality which had the effect of bottling up the play but the Magpies were past masters at coping with such situations. Had the Maroons opened up the play they would arguably have fared better given that Collingwood were effectively two men short.

Fitzroy won 13 and lost 6 matches during the minor round to qualify for the finals in third place. During the first quarter and a half of their first semi final encounter with Carlton they dominated largely on the strength of winning rucks, forging out a 6.2 to 0.8 lead. Then the Blues came alive and by three quarter time they had established a 4 point lead, which were it not for some atrocious kicking for goal would have been considerably greater.  The last quarter was a battle royale, with the Maroons’ ferocity and determination coming up against the Blues’ dash and skill, and neither side able to break clear. With just a minute left to play scores were deadlocked, and Fitzroy launched one last desperate forward foray which culminated in skipper Alan Ruthven snapping a behind. Moments after the resumption the siren sounded with the scoreboard showing Fitzroy 10.9 (69) to Carlton 8.20 (68).

A fortnight later in the preliminary final clash with Collingwood the Maroons, perhaps understandably, resorted to the same bustling, close checking approach that had seen them over the line against Carlton, but as noted above this effectively played into the Magpies’ hands. Collingwood ended up winning 11.15 (81) to 9.8 (62).

Carlton were left ruing their profligacy in front of goal in the first semi final. Had they achieved the win their territorial dominance probably warranted they would have had no fear whatsoever about facing either Collingwood or Geelong, both of whom they had downed during the home and away series.

In coming fifth, and only narrowly failing to qualify for the finals, South Melbourne had their best season since 1945, when they had contested the grand final. Their form raised hopes that they might be capable of mounting a viable premiership challenge within a season or two, but sadly this would not prove to be the case. As late as round seventeen in 1952 the Swans were in the four but they then proceeded to throw everything away in losing first to Fitzroy by 7 points, and then to lowly Footscray by 5 goals. A win in either of these fixtures would have secured finals participation.

Melbourne improved greatly on their 1951 wooden spoon to finish sixth. On their day, the Demons were a match for almost any team, but they also had a frustrating tendency to shoot themselves in the foot when opposed by lower ranking sides.

North Melbourne, who reached the grand final in 1950, suffered a dramatic slump in fortunes a year later when they finished ninth. In 1952 there was a modicum of improvement with a tally of 9 wins from 19 matches securing sixth spot on the premiership ladder. The highlight of the season arguably came in round nine when they defeated Collingwood at Victoria Park by 16 points. It would prove to be the Magpies’ only reversal on home turf for the year.

Despite Essendon’s frankly mediocre season full forward John Coleman headed the league goal kicking list for the third time. He booted 103 goals.

In a post-war world hungry for heroes, Essendon’s John Coleman fitted the bill impeccably.  Prolific full forwards had always attracted attention and a certain amount of adulation before but never in quite such a personal way as Coleman, whose film star good looks only served to enhance the superstar image.

In pure footballing terms he wasn't all that bad either.  Indeed, from the time he burst onto the VFL scene with 12 goals on debut against Hawthorn in 1949 it was obvious that the Dons had hit the jackpot.  Coleman combined freakish aerial ability with superb ground skills, and was a deadly accurate kick for goal, but his greatness was much more than the sum of these parts.  Truly great champions often possess an elusive magnetism deriving as much from bearing and overall approach as from actual achievements; such was very much the case with Coleman - very few footballers have possessed such an arresting and impressive on field presence.  Moreover, at a time when full forwards were traditionally greedy for goals, John Coleman broke the mould by being quintessentially team-orientated.  As Jack Dyer tautly observed, "As long as Essendon get the goals Coleman doesn't worry who kicks them”.[5]

Of course, no matter how team-orientated a full forward is, he will still tend to be judged primarily on the number of goals he kicks, and in this respect Coleman was the most prolific player in the VFL for a decade.  When a badly dislocated knee prematurely ended his career in June 1954 he had topped Essendon's goal kicking list every season since 1949 (and would again in 1954, despite missing the last half of the season); he had led the league list on four occasions too, which included three tallies of 100 or more goals.  A premiership player in 1949 and 1950, many people remain convinced that his controversial suspension for the 1951 grand final cost the Dons that year's flag.

Needless to say, Coleman was often on the receiving end of some pretty rugged treatment from opponents, and although fundamentally disposed to 'play the ball', he was not averse to retaliating if he felt the occasion demanded it.  Sadly, the fact that umpires then, as now, habitually interpreted the laws of the game differently when the ball was in scoring range meant that Coleman's direct opponents often got away with near murder, making retaliation frequently seem like the only, or at any rate the most immediately rewarding, option.  Every camel's back has its breaking point, and Coleman's suspension for 4 matches, which included the 1951 grand final, came after Carlton, courtesy of Harry Caspar, applied just one straw too many during the last home and away match of the season.

Eloquently summarising Coleman's unique appeal to football fans of virtually all persuasions, Herald journalist Hec De Lacy observed:

To me the greatest delight in the Coleman technique is to see him one split second as the polesitter, the disinterested spectator of the hustle and bustle; the next to rise with the crowd's excitement as he comes from nowhere, throws himself into the air and drags down the seemingly impossible mark.  

Coleman is football's personality player - the greatest player in the game's greatest era.  [6]

Coleman was later a highly successful coach, steering the Bombers to the 1962 and 1965 flags.  His premature death in 1973 aged just forty-four was a tragic loss for football. He is shown taking a towering mark in the photo at the beginning of this section.

Essendon rover Bill Hutchison finished second on a countback in the voting for the Brownlow. He would later be awarded a restrospective Medal.

 The highlight of the Bombers’ season was arguably their 23.17 (155) to 12.14 (86) defeat of eventual premiers Geelong in round eight at the Brisbane Exhibition  Ground.

After finishing sixth for three successive seasons Richmond dropped three places on the premiership ladder in 1952. Ruckman Roy Wright gave the club’s supporters something to enthuse about though when he won the Brownlow Medal. Despite managing just 21 senior games in his first four seasons with the Tigers, Wright ultimately developed into one of the all time greats of the game, with two Brownlow Medals, and numerous other awards and accolades, to his credit. He always used his formidable 102kg weight with consummate fairness, but with ever increasing effectiveness as well.  When Jack Dyer retired at the end of the 1949 season Wright shouldered his mantle as number one Tiger ruckman with considerable aplomb, winning club best and fairest awards in 1951 (jointly with Des Rowe), 1952, 1954 and 1957 in addition to his two Brownlows. Eighteen times selected to represent the VFL in interstate matches, he earned All Australian selection at the 1956 Perth carnival. He sustained numerous injuries during his 195 game VFL career, which began in 1946 and ended in 1959, including debilitating leg and lower back complaints. He also broke his nose on no fewer than nine separate occasions. It came as a surprise to few people when Roy Wright was selected as first ruckman in Richmond’s official Team of the Twentieth Century.

Footscray suffered a disappointing slump in 1952 dropping five places on the premiership ladder from their 1951 finishing position of fourth. The Bulldogs often appeared to be outclassed and few poeple could have seriously imagined that they were just a couple of seasons away from their inaugural VFL premiership.

Eleventh placed Hawthorn, like Footscray, managed just 5 wins for the season, and they too frequently seemed to be out of their depth, while bottom side St Kilda only managed to defeat Footscray at Yallourn and, somewhat more notably, Fitzroy at the Junction Oval.

VFA: Devils Strike Form at Right Time
Third after the home and away rounds Oakleigh produced their best football of the season in the finals en route to their second senior grade VFA premiership in three years, and the fourth in total. Grand final opponents Port Melbourne were widely favoured to win but the Devils produced a pacy and occasionally brilliant display to upset the odds. They won 11.18 (84) to 8.15 (63) in front of a huge crowd estimated to be just short of the 40,000 mark at the Junction Oval. Oakleigh led at every change and always seemed to be in control with full back Bill Vains, centre half back Norm Tindal, centreman Vic Hill and centre half forward Max Wenn the main driving forces behind their win.

WANFL: South Freo’s Greatest Era

The period 1952-4 ranks as the most illustrious in South Fremantle's history. Bernie Naylor broke George Doig's fifteen year old WANFL record of 144 goals in a season when he booted 147 for the year in 1952 as South bounced back after a losing second semi final against West Perth to win their sixth pennant. A 36 point preliminary final victory over Claremont set up the grand final re-match with the Cardinals which saw South Fremantle trail by 27, 30 and 16 points before getting up to win by 2 goals 9, 12.19 (91) to 10.10 (70). Follower Des Kelly got the Simpson Medal, with rover Steve Marsh (4 goals), wingman Tony Parentich, ruckman Norm Smith, full forward Bernie Naylor (4 goals) and utility Colin Boot also performing well. A crowd of 27,201 watched the game.

South Fremantle’s success came in spite of the loss of six key players from the 1951 side. The club blooded at least that many newcomers, and all proved to be highly effective performers. South’s strength in depth was emphasised when the seconds team thrashed East Fremantle in their grand final.

South were triumphant right across the board in 1952, with rover Steve Marsh claiming the Sandover Medal and, as alluded to previously, full forward Bernie Naylor kicking 147 goals to top the WANFL’s goal kicking list.

During the first decade after the Second World War South Fremantle boasted many exceptional players, but none better than Railways of Kalgoorlie recruit Steve Marsh, who many reputable judges at the time regarded as the finest rover the game had seen up to that point.  Marsh possessed all of the qualities traditionally associated with good rovers in that he was quick, most notably over that vital first two or three metres, elusive, extremely determined, courageous and highly skilled, with his impeccable drop kicking to position being especially noteworthy.  He was also an excellent motivator, capable of inspiring his team mates to give of their best.

Between 1947 and 1954 South Fremantle won no fewer than six grand finals, and Steve Marsh was one of only three men to play in all of them. He won the Walker Medal for South Fremantle's fairest and best player a then record four times (since equalled by Stephen Michael), was an All Australian in 1953, and won a Sandover on Medal in 1952 and a Simpson Medal after the following year's grand final. 

To call Marsh's decision to accept an offer to coach arch rivals East Fremantle in 1957 controversial would represent the grossest of understatements, but from Marsh's point of view it made eminent sense. He was nearing the end of his playing career, South Fremantle's fortunes were clearly on the wane, and the proffered salary of £300 - triple what was on offer anywhere else in the WANFL - must have seemed more than a tad enticing.

Not surprisingly, Marsh proved to be a successful coach. In his first season the blue and whites, with Marsh making telling contributions both on and off the field, broke through for their first flag for eleven years. As far as the East Fremantle committee was concerned, that £300 must have seemed like money well spent.

Steve Marsh's playing career ended in 1960 after a total of 265 games over sixteen seasons.

West Perth entered the 1952 WANFL grand final as marginal favourites on the strength of their 15.7 (97) to 12.10 (82) second semi final defeat of South. The Cardinals had also comfortably won the last home and away clash between the teams in round twenty. However, grand finals are a game apart, and although West Perth performed well, particularly in the first half, they could not withstand South’s withering finishing blast.

Third placed Claremont qualified for the finals for the first time since 1942 when the league was conducted on an under age basis because of the war. The Tigers actually finished the minor round in fourth place before grinding out a 13 point first semi final win over East Perth. South Fremantle in the preliminary final proved comfortably too strong, however, just as they had done in the teams’ two home and away meetings earlier in the year.

East Perth performed creditably during the minor round, winning 13 of their 20 matches, but they failed to cope with Claremont’s desperation in the first semi final. At their best the Royals were capable of matching the competition’s top sides, but they were also eminently capable of slumping to defeat in matches they ought to have won handsomely.

East Fremantle managed the same number of wins - 12 - as Claremont, but missed out on finals participation thanks to an inferior percentage. In round eighteen Old Easts lost the Fremantle Derby against South Fremantle by a massive 98 point margin and it was this result which effectively scuppered their chances of playing finals football. 

Perth dropped from third in 1951 to sixth and they suffered some hefty defeats. The Redlegs’ only win against an eventual finals participant came in round eight at the WACA when they downed East Perth by 36 points.

Subiaco (3 wins) and Swan Districts (2) both had eminently forgettable seasons. It was the sixth time in a row that these teams had occupied the league’s bottom two slots.

SANFL: Roosters Rule the Roost

North Adelaide's valiant effort in 1951, when they lost a stirring grand final to Port Adelaide, had a discernible effect off the field as club membership rose to a record 1,700 in 1952. On the field, too, there was progress, with the side winning 14 out of 17 matches to secure the minor premiership, followed by a stirring 3 point victory over Port Adelaide in the second semi final.

The grand final record crowd of 50,105 spectators who turned up expecting to see a closely fought tussle between North and Norwood were not disappointed in the first term as the red and whites edged their way to a 3.1 to 2.0 lead. However, thereafter the game developed into something of a rout, North adding 20.14 to 4.9 over the remaining three quarters to win by a SANFL grand final record margin of 108 points. A photo of Ian McKay perched on the shoulders of Norwood’s Pat Hall to take a soaring mark was published in several countries across the world.The mark was described by Harry Kneebone in “The Advertiser” thus:

McKay, while on the ball, provided the thrill of the match with the highest mark in the memory of most who saw it. A perfectly judged approach behind the Norwood ruckman Hall enabled the North captain to get the utmost height from his leap. At the top of his bound, with his knees in the region of Hall's shoulder blades, McKay obtained another jet-propelled upward surge and he clamped the ball above the head of the 6' 3" (191cm) opponent. To cap a brilliant effort McKay, from a long way out on the left half forward flank, sent a perfect screw punt through the goal.

Runners-up Norwood qualified for the finals in fourth spot, 4 wins ahead of fifth placed Glenelg. The Redlegs then produced some of their best football of the season in downing West Torrens in the first semi final and Port Adelaide in the preliminary final. Both matches were won by the same margin - 11 points. Then came that inexplicably one-sided grand final. Norwood were competitive during the opening quarter before completely falling apart making the afternoon of Saturday 4th October 1952 one of the bleakest and blackest in the club’s predominantly estimable history.

Reigning premiers Port Adelaide did little wrong during the minor round, winning 13 and losing 4 matches to qualify for the finals in second place. The Magpies conceded just 957 points during those 17 games to emerge with the best percentage in the competition. However, after dominating the first half of their second semi final encounter with North Adelaide the wheels mysteriously fell off the Magpie waggon and they ended up being overhauled, albeit only just. Most people expected them to recover against the Redlegs in the preliminary final but the results of Norwood-Port clashes are notoriously difficult to predict. The Magpies battled hard, but never wholly hit their straps, and it was the Redlegs who proceeded to the grand final. A promising season therefore lay in tatters.

West Torrens boasted arguably the best forward line in the competition. They scored more points than any other team and their full forward John Willis was top goal kicker for the season with 85 goals. Strong overhead, and an elegantly accurate kick, Willis was, for a brief time during the early 1950s, without peer as a full forward in South Australian football. He topped West Torrens goal kicking list on three consecutive occasions (once jointly), and was, as mentioned, the SANFL's leading goal kicker in 1952, when he bagged 85 goals. He commuted to and from Port Pirie for much of his 81 game, 266 goal league career, which makes his achievements all the more noteworthy. Willis was a South Australian representative on 4 occasions, kicking 9 goals.  His formidable all round performance at the goal front in a 1952 clash with the Big V in Adelaide was a crucial determining factor in the home state's win.

Glenelg finished fifth, but won just 6 matches and missed the finals by the proverbial country mile. Arguably the Bays’ best performance of the season came in round six when they accounted for eventual grand finalists Norwood by 17 points at Glenelg Oval.

West Adelaide, South Adelaide and Sturt who finished sixth, seventh and eighth respectively all tended to be chopping blocks for the teas placed higher than them on the premiership ladder. Sturt at least had one thing to crow about: formidable ex Collingwood utility Len Fitzgerald won the Magarey Medal. 

The Australian football landscape of half a century ago was considerably different to that of today. In particular, there was no equivalent of the Australian Football League. While the AFL has in recent years been systematically manufacturing a “history" for itself which derives from an imagined contiguity with the old suburban VFL, the truth is that, prior to the re-location of South Melbourne to Sydney in 1982, the VFL was a state competition pure and simple. Granted, it was by some measure the strongest state competition in Australia, and this strength had tended to magnify as more and more elite non-Victorian players entered the league. However, whereas nowadays it would be reasonable to suggest that nigh on 100% of the very best footballers in Australia ply their trade in the AFL, this was very far from being the case in the old, suburban VFL.

A classic case in point is Len Fitzgerald. His move from Victoria Park to Unley in 1951 after 96 games with Collingwood was indicative of the fact that, even to an elite player at what was then Australia's most illustrious sporting club, football was not the prime controlling influence in life. Football players did not depend for their livelihood on the game, and so when Sturt managed to secure more lucrative employment for Fitzgerald than the Magpies had been able to arrange for him in Melbourne, the result was that the balance of football power between South Australia and Victoria shifted ever so slightly in favour of the former.

If Len Fitzgerald had been a prominent player at Collingwood, he soon developed into a veritable champion with the Double Blues. After a relatively slow start to his SANFL career “Fitzie” - who took over the Sturt coaching reins midway through his debut season - gradually went from strength to strength. In 1952 he won every media award going, together with Sturt's club champion award and the first of his three Magarey Medals. The 1953 season brought interstate selection for South Australia at the Adelaide carnival, followed by inclusion in the inaugural All Australian team. The second Magarey Medal followed in 1954 but Fitzgerald declared himself more concerned by Sturt's late season loss to wooden spoon side Glenelg which cost the Double Blues a place in the finals. 

Matters were rectified somewhat in 1955 as Sturt reached the preliminary final but the club's failure to honour a verbal pledge to bestow a £50 bonus upon its coach induced Fitzgerald to start an immediate search for pastures new.

The next three seasons saw Fitzgerald starring for and coaching Benalla in the powerful Ovens and Murray Football League but he returned to Sturt purely as a player in 1959 and won another Magarey as the Double Blues reached the finals for the first time since his departure.

Nagging injuries blighted Fitzgerald's final couple of seasons in league football but nothing should mar the memory of a supremely adaptable footballer with lightning reflexes, excellent ball handling skills and, perhaps above all else, an awesome strength which was exhibited both in body on body clashes with opponents as well as when taking seemingly miraculous marks in pack situations. All told, he played a total of 125 SANFL matches for Sturt, booting 201 goals, and represented South Australia 17 times, kicking 5 goals.

As a league coach, Len Fitzgerald experienced significantly less success, steering Glenelg to fourth, sixth and last places in three seasons in charge during the 1960s.

He retained his passion for the game throughout his life, and news of his death in April 2007 saddened football followers from all over Australia and beyond.

Seagulls Soar in Apple Isle
In the TANFL Clarence, who had entered the competition in 1947, qualified for the finals for the first time. However, they were quickly bundled out of the flag race by Sandy Bay in the first semi final. The Seagulls won by 30 points, 13.11 (89) to 8.11 (59). The second semi final featured Hobart and New Town with victory going to the former by a margin of 35 points, 15.11 (101) to 9.12 (66). Sandy Bay surprised New Town in the preliminary final as they surged to victory by 44 points. Scores were Sandy Bay 13.6 (84) defeated New Town 5.10 (40).

The 1952 TANFL grand final attracted a bumper crowd of 11,086 to North Hobart Oval and they were witness to an excellent exhibition of fast, tough finals football. Maintaining the excellent form of their first two finals matches Sandy Bay eased to victory by 3 goals. Final scores were Sandy Bay 14.9 (93); Hobart 11.9 (75). Champion rover Terry Cashion was a key member of the victorious Seagulls’ side. A much travelled footballer, Cashion seems destined to remain the only Tasmanian ever to win interstate football's most noteworthy individual prize, the Tassie Medal. After preferring soccer as a youngster, Cashion saw the light as a thirteen year old when he began playing under age football with Buckingham. After four seasons there he exploded onto the big league scene with New Town in 1939 when he finished runner up in the TFL's best and fairest award, the George Watt Memorial Medal, a feat he duplicated the following year. During the war he spent some time stationed in Victoria with the army, and played a handful of VFL games with South Melbourne before being sidelined with a knee injury.  Cashion's next major port of call following his discharge from the army and recovery from his injured knee was Clarence, where he played for a couple of seasons, including the 'Roos' first ever TFL season in 1947.  That year also saw Cashion donning a Tasmanian jumper for the first time, and his performances during the Hobart carnival were sufficiently meritorious for him to be awarded the Stancombe Trophy as Tasmania's most noteworthy performer of the series.

Three years later at the Brisbane carnival the by this stage seasoned performer, now with Longford, played even better, securing not only a second Stancombe Trophy, but the coveted Tassie Medal itself as well.  In a series marred by atrocious weather conditions, the Tasmanians as a whole performed with a considerable amount of credit, comfortably beating the VFA, and giving a respectable account of themselves against all three of the major football states.  Much of the credit for this belonged to Cashion, who positively revelled in the conditions, matching or outplaying all of his supposedly more illustrious opponents in every game.

Cashion again represented Tasmania at the Adelaide carnival of 1953 in what proved to be his interstate swansong. Back in the TFL by this stage, with Sandy Bay, he retired from top level football at season's end with a total of 193 senior games under his belt. An excellent indication of his consistency is his achievement in winning a total of seven club champion awards in only ten full seasons of senior football.

The immensity of Terry Cashion's reputation in Tasmanian football circles was emphasised in June 2004 with his selection as first rover in the state's official 'Team of the Century'. Two years later he was inducted as a legend in the official Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame.

In 1952 the Tasmanian state club championship was not held. However, NTFA premiers City met and defeated TANFL top side Sandy Bay by 4 points.

Other Football
Premiers of the NSWANFL were North Shore who accounted for Western Suburbs by 9 points in the grand final. Scores were North Shore 11.9 (75) defeated Western Suburbs 9.12 (66). It was North Shore’s first senior grade flag since 1921. Newtown and Sydney were the other teams to qualify for the finals.

In Brisbane, Mayne won the QAFL grand final by a solitary point from Western Districts. Final scores were Mayne 12.9 (81); Western Districts 11.14 (80). It was the Tigers’ first premiership in a decade.

Ainslie cruised past all opposition in 1952 en route to an emphatic premiership. Their grand final defeat of the newly formed Queanbeyan-Acton combine saw them complete the season with a 100% winning record: played 17, won 17. Manuka and Eastlake were the other finalists.

The NTFL premiership went to Buffaloes for the fourth successive time. Opposed in the grand final by Wanderers they won quite comfortably in the end. Scores were Buffaloes 13.16 (94); Wanderers 12.8 (80).

Five interstate matches took place in 1952. In Adelaide, South Australia defeated Western Australia 16.6 (102) to 12.10 (82) and the VFL 12.8 (80) to 8.15 (63). Western Australia travelled to Melbourne to face the Big V and produced a fine performance to get within 9 points at the death. Final scores were VFL 13.13 (91) defeated Western Australia 13.4 (82). Finally, there were two matches between Western Australia and South Australia in Perth, with the home state triumphing in both, by margins of 60 and 2 points.
Grand final results - VFL: Geelong 13.8 (86) d. Collingwood 5.10 (40); SANFL: North Adelaide 23.15 (153) d. Norwood 6.9 (45); WANFL: South Fremantle 12.19 (91) d. West Perth 10.10 (70); VFA: Oakleigh 11.18 (84) d. Port Melbourne 8.15 (63); TANFL: Sandy Bay 14.9 (93) d. Hobart 11.9 (75); NTFA: City 12.11 (83) d. Scottsdale 9.9 (63); NSWANFL: North Shore 11.7 (73) d. Western Suburbs9.12 (66); NTFL: Buffaloes 13.16 (94) d. Wanderers 12.8 (80); QANFL: Mayne 12.9 (81) d. Western Districts 11.14 (80); NWFU: Wynyard 9.12 (66) d. Ulverstone 7.14 (56); CANFL: Ainslie 13.20 (98) d. Queanbeyan-Acton 13.12 (90).

FOOTNOTES

[1] The Clubs by John Ross and Garrie Hutchinson, page 193.

[2] “The Geelong Advertiser”, 27th September 1952. 

[3] Woofa by Bob Davis (with Jim Main), page 67.  

[4] Ibid, pages 66-7. 

[5] Cited in The Great John Coleman by Wayne Miller and Vikki Petraitis, with Victor Jeremiah, page 76.

[6] Ibid, page 52.


1953

Focus on the 1953 Football Season

Big V Reign Supreme in Adelaide
The 1953 Adelaide carnival brought together the five section A sides only.  Section B would be contested on an elimination basis the following year.  Despite - or perhaps in part because of - the reduced programme of matches, the championships attracted record crowds, including 52,632 for the decisive match between the host state and the VFL, which remains (and is likely ever to remain) a record for an interstate match in Adelaide.


Despite promising performances in 2 of their first 3 matches in the carnival the South Australians, who had defeated the Big V in Adelaide in both 1951 and 1952, wilted pathetically when confronted by genuine pressure in the championship decider. In truth, as was increasingly becoming the case in carnivals, the VFL side was much too accomplished and battle-wise for all the other teams, and was never at any stage of any of its matches remotely at risk of losing.

For the Western Australians, as for South Australia, the carnival was enormously disappointing, with the team never recovering from an opening day rout at the hands of the host state. Big Merv McIntosh's Tassie Medal was probably the only memorable feature of the championships for the sandgropers.

Aside from the VFL's dominance the revelation of the carnival was provided by the 'other' Victorian team, the VFA.  Only once, against South Australia, was it comfortably defeated, and even then it could not be said to have been outclassed. The inclusion of two Association players in the All Australian team was well merited.

Tasmania only put in one performance of note, going within a couple of straight kicks of downing the South Australians.  The Apple Islanders would be required to defend their elite status against the section B champions (which proved to be the Australian Amateurs) before the next carnival.

VFL: Magpies Have Geelong’s Measure

The 1953 flag was as memorable as any in Collingwood's illustrious history.  Reigning premier Geelong was thought by many to be unstoppable, but the Magpies not only beat them, they did so twice, coming back from 4 points down in the second semi final to win by 5 goals, and then overrunning the hapless Cats in the grand final a fortnight later to have the game effectively over by three quarter time. During the final term, Geelong managed to outscore Collingwood and got to within a couple of kicks at the end, but it was all "sound and fury, signifying nothing". The Magpies' 11.11 (77) to 8.17 (65) triumph precipitated scenes of irrepressible joy among the club's faithful followers, for many of whom the seventeen year gap between premierships undoubtedly seemed like an eternity. The untimely death of Jock McHale a few days later dampened the celebrations somewhat, but this would be as nothing compared to the anguish to come.

Football, like most sports, is evolutionary in nature.  That is to say, the criteria for success are continually being modified and redefined.  Geelong in the early 1950s had set new standards with a fast, open, run on style of football which certain other teams had swiftly endeavoured to copy, but without ever achieving the same degrees of fluency or success.  Sides like Collingwood and Footscray, however, adopted a totally different tack; instead of 'if you can't beat them, join them', they endeavoured to counteract, stymie and undermine.  Such an approach required considerably less pure football talent than the method favoured by Geelong, but it did at least possess the supreme virtues of being (a) easier to implement, and (b) much more in keeping with the traditional, hard-nosed, unspectacular Victorian ethos which held that “good football is pressure football”.

Despite having what Bob Davis regarded as a stronger all round team than in either of the previous two seasons,[1] Geelong in 1953 ultimately came unstuck at the hands of a Collingwood side which had been well schooled in the traditional “Victorian football values” of persistence, hard work, and channelled aggression. In the second semi final, the Cats, with their confidence still perhaps impaired by a tentative performance against South Melbourne a few weeks earlier,[2] were harassed and intimidated virtually to a stand still by a tenacious, vibrant Magpie outfit. Collingwood won 13.12 (90) to 8.12 (60), and although Geelong ultimately qualified for a third consecutive grand final with a 26 point preliminary final defeat of Footscray, they again found the Magpies too hot to handle. Admittedly, a determined last quarter effort brought the final margin back to just 12 points, but at the end of the day there could be little doubt that coach Reg Hickey’s formula had finally found its measure.

One highlight of the season for Geelong was their feat in winning the first 13 minor round matches of the season. This gave them a new VFL record of 23 wins in succession.

Reg Hickey would remain at the helm at Geelong for a further six seasons, but the club's halcyon era was well and truly over.

Footscray had a young side which showed considerable improvement in 1953. The Bulldogs qualified for the finals in third place and then scored a hard fought 8 point win over Essendon in the first semi final. It was a result and a performance which elicited fulsome praise:

Nothing finer was seen in the season than the collective courage with which the Bulldogs rose to the occasion in the last term to hold a side technically far better equipped than their own.[3]

Essendon might be said to have had their excuses, not least the fact that their champion full forward, John Coleman, was clearly labouring under an injury cloud. Coleman booted 97 goals in 1953 to top the VFL goal kicking list for the fourth and last time. His team mate Bill Hutchison was awarded the Brownlow Medal. Recruited by Essendon from local league side Essendon Stars, where he had played chiefly as a wingman, Hutchison developed into one of the greatest rovers the game has seen.  Initially though the Dons used him as a half forward flanker, which was where he lined up for most of his debut season of 1942, including that year's winning grand final against Richmond.  Hutchison had a quiet game that day, but next time he appeared in a grand final, in 1946, he put in the sort of tireless, elegant, pacy performance that was to become his trademark as the Dons crushed Melbourne by 63 points.

Hutchison won the first of seven Essendon best and fairest awards in 1946, by which time he was already a stalwart in VFL representative sides, for which he made a near record 30 appearances, earning All Australian selection in 1953 and 1956. Despite, or maybe partly because of, a propensity to “backchat” to umpires, he almost invariably polled well in the Brownlow, finally breaking through for a win in 1953 after missing out only on countback the previous year.  In 1989 the VFL retrospectively awarded him, as well as all other countback losers, a 1952 Medal as well, but sadly Bill Hutchison had by this time passed away.  His volubility notwithstanding, few players in history have so admirably and consistently conformed to both requirements for receiving Brownlow Medal votes, for Bill Hutchison was as impeccably fair as he was brilliant.

Always a dangerous player near goal, Hutchison averaged nearly 2 goals a game over the course of his sixteen season, 290 game VFL career, during which he took part in no fewer than nine grand finals for five flags.  Despite his small stature, he managed to remain remarkably injury free, a tribute both to his speed of movement and adroitness of mind.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment of Hutchison's career was that, after he replaced Dick Reynolds as Essendon's captain in 1951 he was unable to emulate his predecessor by leading the club to a premiership.  Nevertheless, few players, either at Essendon or elsewhere, have enjoyed such illustrious careers at football's highest level.

Carlton won 10 matches in 1953 to finish fifth, leaving them 3 wins adrift of both Essendon and Footscray. The Blues almost always managed to defeat the sides ranked below them on the premiership ladder but failed to win even one of their games against an eventual finalist.

Fitzroy, like Carlton, finished the minor round with 10 wins but a substantially inferior percentage. Their best result was probably their 1 point win over Collingwood at Victoria Park in round eleven, while their most ignominious was undoubtedly their 60 point loss to Footscray at the Western Oval in round five. The Maroons’ tally for the day was a solitary goal, kicked in the last quarter. Footscray totalled 10.6 (66).

North Melbourne, with 9 wins and a healthy percentage, finished seventh. The Kangaroos managed to defeat both Collingwood and Essendon during the season but they also lost a number of games to sides placed below them.

South Melbourne had a very similar season to North, winning 9 matches and boasting a decent percentage. As mentioned earlier, the Swans trounced Geelong in round seventeen, and they also won against Essendon in round two at home, and Footscray at the Western Oval in round nine.

Ninth placed St Kilda won 5 matches but, thanks largely to a woeful attack, finished the season with the worst percentage (68.2) in the entire competition.  The Saints were well off the pace in terms of finals qualification, and the same could be said of tenth placed Richmond, Melbourne (eleventh) and Hawthorn (last).

SANFL: High Flying Eagles
Of all the premierships won by West Torrens that of 1953 was arguably the most decisive and convincing, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be termed 'easy'. After proving the dominant team throughout the minor round the Eagles looked to be in trouble during the second quarter of their second semi final clash with Port Adelaide when they trailed badly, 0.0 (0) to 6.6 (42). Thereafter, however, everything mysteriously 'clicked', and they went on to add 15.6 to 1.2 over the remainder of the match to win with ease.

The Magpies comfortably accounted for Glenelg in the preliminary final and the 42,948 spectators who turned up for their re-match with Torrens were treated to one of the greatest grand finals in South Australian football history. In one of those games where neither side is able to acquire a decisive advantage Port led by 6 points at quarter time, Torrens by a point at the half, and the Magpies by 6 points again at the final change. As the match entered its closing moments the Eagles had edged their way back in front by the narrowest of margins and were hanging on defiantly. Port then made their last, desperate forward thrust and as they approached to within goalkicking range Neville Hayes attempted to handball to team mate Leaver. Torrens half back Frank Graham read the play, however, and ran in to intercept before launching a swift counter attack which culminated in Ray Hank kicking what proved to be the decisive goal.

Hefty Torrens back pocket Mick Clingly was a widespread choice as best afield in a 9.13 (67) to 8.12 (60) win which effectively ended the greatest ever era of one club (Torrens) whilst engendering that of another (Port Adelaide). As far as the Eagles were concerned there would be no further grand final appearances whatsoever, while in the thirty-seven seasons which remained until the club's demise in 1990 it would qualify to participate in the major round on only another ten occasions for just 1 finals win.

Port Adelaide finished the minor round at the top of the ladder, marginally ahead of West Torrens on percentage. Both teams won 15 matches and lost 3. In between their twin losses to Torrens in the finals the Magpies accounted for Glenelg by 68 points in the preliminary final. The disappointment endured this season would propel Port to the greatest sustained period of success in the SANFL since the competition began.

Glenelg, with 9 wins, qualified for the finals in fourth place before coming from 14 points behind at three quarter time to score a surprise 24 point win over Norwood in the first semi final. The Redlegs had accounted for the Bays in both minor round clashes between the teams but they were helpless in the face of Glenelg’s last term surge which yielded 6.3 to 0.1.

Glenelg’s season ended in disappointing fashion when they lost heavily to Port in the preliminary final. The Magpies were consummately superior and led at every change by 35, 50 and 36 points before winning 17.22 (124) to 9.12 (66).

Norwood’s exit from the flag race at the first hurdle was both surprising and disheartening. The Redlegs wilted in a very un-Norwoodlike way when Glenelg applied enhanced pressure in the final term. Had they managed to progress in the finals they would have felt justified in feeling confident given that they had defeated both Port Adelaide and West Torrens during the minor round.

A minor highlight for the Redlegs was Max Mayo’s feat in booting 78 goals to top the league list. Mayo was a talented key position forward who was strong overhead, and who could kick accurately from long distances. However, given his ability, his achievements in the game were somewhat limited. He commenced with Norwood in 1948, which proved to be a premiership year for the club, but was not selected to play in the grand final. After missing the entire 1949 season he resumed in 1950 and this time got to play in a premiership team as the Redlegs downed Glenelg in the grand final. Playing at centre half forward, Mayo booted 3 goals in a serviceable display.  He carried on playing until 1953, saving his best for last by topping that year's SANFL goal kicking list and winning his club's best and fairest trophy. He had previously won Norwood's top goal kicking award with 34 goals in 1951.  Max Mayo played a total of 61 league games and kicked 169 goals.

Reigning premiers North Adelaide won 8 games to miss out on finals participation by a win plus percentage. Perhaps the highlight of the Roosters’ season came in round nine when they defeated Norwood by 4 goals at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of an impressively large - and largely impressed - audience of 20,000 spectators.

West Adelaide, Sturt and South Adelaide, in that order, occupied the last three places on the premiership ladder, separated only on percentage after they all won 5 matches. Despite finishing last South probably had most cause for satisfaction in that they provided the 1953 Magarey Medallist in the shape of the mercurial Jim Deane. Arguably the most famous name in the post-war history of the South Adelaide Football Club, in addition to his 1953 Magarey he was runner-up on a countback in 1957,[4] claimed half a dozen club best and fairest awards, was an automatic selection in South Australian interstate teams (15 appearances, and 12 goals), and yet never played in a single major round match in a league career stretching twelve seasons, which included a two year stint at Richmond. His reputation transcended state boundaries, and in the early 1950s he was widely regarded as the best half forward flank specialist in Australia, a status which was endorsed by his consistent selection in that position in the prestigious “Sporting Life” Team of the Year

As a player, Deane possessed all the attributes necessary to succeed in the tough and frenetic world of the VFL: powerful and resilient, no matter how heavy the traffic he almost always seemed able to get his hands on the ball and off load it purposefully. Whereas contemporaries like Bob Hank or Lindsay Head were masters at dodging and pirouetting their way out of trouble, Jim Deane seemed almost to glory in confronting it head on.  He picked up numerous injuries as a result, but this eschewing of personal safety in the interests of the team arguably made him a more effective and valuable player.

After his league career came to an end in 1957, Deane continued as a player in country football for the better part of another decade.  He captain-coached Myrtleford in the powerful Ovens and Murray Football League from 1958-62, winning the Morris Medal for best and fairest in the competition twice.  He spent his final seasons as a player in Port Pirie.

In 1971, Jim Deane returned “home” to South Adelaide as non-playing coach, but in two seasons in charge he was unable to lift the side above second from bottom on the ladder.

WANFL: South Again Triumphant

When West Perth turned the tables on 1952 grand final opponents South Fremantle in the opening fixture of the 1953 season a number of so called “experts” were quick to write off the reigning premiers. The facts that the defeat had only been by 3 points and that early season form, in almost any sport, is notoriously unpredictable were conveniently overlooked. In round two South annihilated Subiaco 30.17 (197) to 5.6 (36) and then proceeded to rack up a further 16 consecutive wins before losing another tight one to East Perth by 7 points. Again, fickle observers were quick to suggest that the red and white bubble had burst, but the side went through the remainder of 1953 unbeaten and many of those same cynical observers were among the first to proclaim South Fremantle one of Western Australia's greatest ever teams at season's end.

In the second semi final South Fremantle nudged past West Perth by 11 points but when the teams next faced one another a fortnight later the southerners produced arguably the finest grand final performance in their history up to that point to win by nearly 10 goals, 18.12 (120) to 8.13 (61). Rover Steve Marsh produced his customary grand final effervescence to take out the Simpson Medal, while full forward Bernie Naylor netted 8 goals to take his tally for the season to a staggering 167 - easily a new record for the major football states. Others to shine for South Fremantle in a match variously described as being watched by 34,207 and 31,610 spectators included ruckman Norm Smith, wingman John Colgan, centreman Tony Parentich and back pocket Don Dixon.

Western Australian football has seen numerous talented spearheads, but few if any better than South Fremantle's Bernie Naylor who, in a ten season, 194 game league career booted 1,034 goals, adding a further 45 in 16 interstate matches.  According to Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, however, he achieved all this despite failing to receive any indulgence from the men in white: 

"Naylor (was) a scrupulously fair player who suffered from the umpires' delusion that full forwards were there to be buffeted and knocked down and around, and therefore were not entitled to free kicks.  In one of his prolific ten seasons he kicked his 100th goal of the year with his first free kick." [5]

Club champion in 1953, Naylor bagged 8 goals in that season's winning grand final against West Perth, adding another 7 the following year when arch rivals Old Easts were the victims.

"Naylor was not a spectacular high mark in the style of his talented successor, John Gerovich.  He was sure enough, but most of his marks were taken safely on his chest.....His long, spiral punts were a joy for.....supporters to behold, and everyone who loved football admired his skill and amazing ability."  [6]

One of the secrets of Naylor's success was his almost obsessive dedication to training.  On training nights, long after his team mates had left, he could be found at Fremantle Oval practising his trademark torpedo punt kicks for goal, from a variety of angles, but always from a distance of about forty metres, with the ball invariably held with the lace to the side “for extra stability in flight”.

Shortly after the grand final South Fremantle engaged in two exhibition matches against third ranked VFL side Footscray, winning by 46 points at Subiaco, and going down by 9 points in a much less intense encounter a few days later at Bunbury.

West Perth lost only 3 matches - 2 to South Fremantle and 1 against bottom side Subiaco - en route to the finals. Sandwiched in between their second semi final and grand final losses to South there was a resounding 18.12 (120) to 9.14 (68) trouncing of East Fremantle in the preliminary final. If nothing else this result emphasised the fact that, in 1953, West Perth and South Fremantle were streets ahead of the rest of the competition. No one could question that South were worthy premiers, but their winning margin might have been somewhat smaller had the Cardinals’ champion full back Ray Schofield been fit to play. In his absence, South full forward Bernie Naylor had a field day, bagging 8 goals. The Cardinals were coached this year by former Hawthorn skipper Peter O’Donahue, who replaced club legend Stan “Pops” Heal.

East Fremantle managed to qualify for the finals in fourth spot despite only winning 9 of their 21 minor round games. That was 5 fewer than third placed Perth who had accounted for Old Easts in 2 out of their 3 home and away meetings during the season. However, when Perth and East Freo locked horns in the first semi final victory went to the latter by a conclusive 61 point margin. Scores were East Fremantle 20.14 (134) defeated West Perth 10.14 (74). Old Easts were unable to get past an abundantly talented West Perth combination in the preliminary final, however.

Perth’s capitulation to East Fremantle in the first semi final was as surprising as it was conclusive. There was some cause for cheer though as Redlegs ruckman Merv McIntosh won his second Sandover Medal. 

East Perth finished a win plus percentage behind East Fremantle. In what was something of a topsy turvy season the Royals managed to beat South Fremantle but lost twice to Claremont and once to Swan Districts.

Swan Districts and Claremont both won 7 games, with Swans having marginally the better percentage. Last placed Subiaco’s only wins were against West Perth in round five and Swan Districts in round twenty-one. 

Other Highlights

Port Melbourne won the 1953 VFA premiership in emphatic style. The Boroughs lost only 2 matches in the minor round before downing Williamstown in the second semi final by 10 points. Yarraville then ousted the Seagulls from the premiership race in the following week’s preliminary final - much to Port Melbourne’s secret relief. After the first quarter the grand final was a wholly one-sided affair with the Boroughs ultimately winning by 60 points, 21.15 (141) to 12.9 (81).

For the second season in succession Hobart topped the ladder after the TANFL roster matches. However, their finals form was poor, and they dropped out of contention with "straight sets" losses to New Town and Sandy Bay. The grand final, watched by a crowd of 11,866, was an exciting spectacle, with New Town just doing enough to hold off a determined Seagulls side in a strenuous final term. Scores were New Town 16.18 (114); Sandy Bay 15.13 (103).

The state premiership was contested this year for the first time since 1951. New Town emerged as winners when they accounted for City of Launceston in the final.

In Sydney, Eastern Suburbs won their first NSWANFL premiership since 1941. Opposed in the grand final by Western Suburbs they emerged victorious by 46 points, 21.22 (148) to 15.12 (102). Newtown and St George finished third and fourth respectively.

Western Districts won the QAFL flag with a hard fought 7.14 (56) to 6.11 (47) grand final defeat of Windsor.

In Canberra, Queanbeyan-Acton reigned supreme thanks to a 5 point grand final win over Ainslie.

The NTFL premiers were Waratahs, with Buffaloes runners-up.

Aside from the section A interstate carnival in Adelaide four matches involving section B teams took place. In Brisbane, Queensland and New South Wales shared the spoils in a two match series. Queensland won the first match comfortably with scores of 25.9 (159) to 15.16 (106). However, New South Wales then turned the tables with a fighting 3 point success, 7.20 (62) to 8.11 (59).

The same two sides also met in Sydney, with victory going to the home state. Scores were New South Wales 15.14 (104) defeated Queensland 11.16 (82).

In Canberra, the home side effectively kicked itself out of the match in losing to Queensland by 14 points. Final scores Queensland 12.9 (81); Canberra 8.19 (67).
Grand final results - VFL: Collingwood 11.11 (77) d. Geelong 8.17 (65); SANFL: West Torrens 9.13 (67) d. Port Adelaide 8.12 (60); WANFL: South Fremantle 18.12 (120) d. West Perth 8.13 (61); VFA: Port Melbourne 21.15 (141) d. Yarraville 12.9 (81); TANFL: New Town 16.18 (114) d. Sandy Bay 15.13 (103); NTFA: City 10.12 (72) d. Longford 9.12 (66); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 21.22 (148) d. Western Suburbs 15.12 (102); NTFL: Waratahs 10.10 (70) d. Buffaloes 6.11 (47); QANFL: Western Districts 7.14 (56) d. Windsor 6.11 (47); NWFU: Ulverstone 8.14 (62) d. Wynyard 7.14 (56); CANFL: Queanbeyan-Acton 9.12 (66) d. Ainslie 8.13 (61).

Adelaide Carnival results - VFA 11.18 (84) d. Tasmania 5.11 (41); South Australia 19.24 (138) d. Western Australia 8.7 (55); Western Australia 12.8 (80) d. VFA 8.14 (62); VFL 22.20 (152) d. Tasmania 2.8 (20); VFL 16.13 (109) d. VFA 11.10 (76); South Australia 19.13 (127) d. Tasmania 17.15 (117); South Australia 16.8 (104) d. VFA 7.11 (53); VFL 13.15 (93) d. Western Australia 5.6 (36); Western Australia 12.19 (91) d. Tasmania 5.7 (37); VFL 19.16 (130) d. South Australia 4.7 (31).

FOOTNOTES

[1] The Road to Kardinia by Russell H.T. Stephens, page 162.

[2] In round seventeen at the Lake Oval eighth placed South Melbourne booted 7 last term goals to 1 to achieve a resounding victory. Final scores were South Melbourne 14.14 (98); Geelong 8.7 (55).

[3] VFL Premiers by Hugh Buggy, page 38.

[4] In 1998, the SANFL awarded all such runners-up retrospective Medals.

[5] The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 115.

[6] Ibid, pages 115 and 119.



1954

Highlights of the 1954 Football Season

Dog Eat Dog in the VFL
The 1954 VFL home and away season was extremely closely contested.  Footscray managed just 11 wins and a draw from 18 matches, and yet managed to qualify for the finals in second place, one and a half victories behind Geelong, and comfortably ahead of North Melbourne on percentage.  Footscray had lost narrowly to the Cats in the teams' only minor round meeting, but bounced back emphatically in the second semi final to record an 11.19 (85) to 8.14 (62) win after the teams had been all square at the last change. To call the result a shock would be a major understatement: the Cats were regarded as easily the most accomplished side of the era, and were widely expected to secure their third flag in four years. When the Cats bowed out of the finals race to Melbourne the following week, Footscray were automatically - one might almost say miraculously - installed as the new premiership favourites.

In blazing sunshine, before of a crowd of 80,897, some of whom sat inside the perimeter fencing, Footscray began the grand final tentatively, allowing Melbourne to register the opening goal of the game after eleven minutes.  As if this was the spark needed to get them going, the Bulldogs immediately upped the tempo, and a couple of quick goals from full forward Jack Collins saw them edge in front. With both sides going in hard there were a number of heavy body clashes, notably Footscray captain-coach Charlie Sutton's flooring of Demons hero Ron Barassi, and the longer the quarter went on the more the Bulldogs seemed to be in control. This superiority was rubber-stamped in the most emphatic fashion during the time-on period when goals to Kerr, Stevens and Collins extended Footscray's lead to 29 points at the first change.

The second term was Melbourne's best of the match as they attempted to undermine the Bulldogs' systematic teamwork with vigorous use of the body and, on occasion, outright intimidation. However, despite conceding 3 goals to 2 for the quarter, Footscray stood firm, and their "dressing room generated a tremendous air of confidence during the half time break”.[1]  A couple of early third quarter goals from Collins and Sutton pushed the margin out to 6 goals, a lead the Bulldogs maintained until the final change. The last quarter saw Footscray maintaining control to add 3.3 to 1.2 and win with beguiling ease, 15.12 (102) to 7.9 (51).  Full forward Jack Collins' 7 goals equalled the grand final record,[2] while rover John Kerr, ruckman-defender Dave Bryden, centreman Don Ross, and the irrepressible Ted Whitten were among Footscray's better players in what was an even team display.  According to Hugh Buggy, who estimated that 70,000 of the 80,000-plus spectators at the ground were rooting for the Bulldogs, the grand final victors "won in the rucks, they won in the air, and they outroved Melbourne”.[3]

With seventeen of its premiership twenty working in manual occupations, Footscray's image as a blue collar, working class club was confirmed, and if anything this only served to accentuate the widespread acclaim given to the side from virtually all quarters. Among the Bulldog faithful themselves, of course, the reaction to the team's achievement was predictable effusive:

......Footscray went mad with joy. Bands played, train whistles blew, cars honked and men, women and children cried with delight.

Bursting rockets in red, white and blue intermittently lit up the Footscray sky. Traffic jammed the Footscray streets and police were forced to cordon off the Town Hall area in Napier St. where about 6,000 ecstatic fans surged to pay homage to the victors. And, on the Footscray Oval, a group of revellers lit a fire and warmed their hands over the roasting effigy of a demon.

Charlie Sutton was the King of Footscray. The chant roared on through the evening..."We want Charlie; we want Charlie.”

After a team dinner at the Mayfair Hotel, Footscray Mayor, Fred Peart, introduced the players to the clamoring fans outside the Town Hall.

And so the night was in full swing. Indeed, for many, the celebrations raged on for days. Some still tell you of the most beautiful hangover they've ever had. [4]

Cream on the cake came in the form of full forward John Collins booting 84 goals for the season to top the VFL goal kicking list. After playing initially with Yarraville, where his father Jim had been captain-coach in 1918-19 before embarking on a VFL career with Essendon, Jack Collins had joined Footscray in 1950.  During his debut season he played a number of games at centre half back, but it was ultimately as a key position forward that he made his name. Powerful overhead, and a tremendously accurate kick over long distances, he topped the VFL's goal kicking list on two occasions, and the Bulldogs' on five.  His best season was Footscray’s premiership year of  1954, when he amassed a personal record tally of 84 goals, the last 7 of which, as noted above, helped his club to a 51 point grand final defeat of Melbourne.

A regular VFL interstate representative, Collins also won Footscray's club champion award twice.  His older brother Alan had earlier played with great success for both Yarraville and Footscray, as well as representing the “Big V”.

After his retirement as a player, Jack Collins continued his association with the Bulldogs by serving on the club committee, initially as secretary, and later as president.

Although Melbourne had been comfortably defeated in the grand final it was they and not Footscray who would have more reason to celebrate over the course of the rest of the decade. Demons players like John Beckwith, Laurie Mithen, Bob Johnson, Stuart Spencer and Ron Barassi would become household names as the club put together the greatest sustained period of success in its history. In 1954, however, Melbourne were not quite the finished article, and their achievement in reaching the premiership decider was largely unexpected.

In 1954 Geelong finished the home and away rounds at the top of the premiership ladder for the fourth consecutive time. Going into the finals the Cats were widely expected to capture their third flag in those seasons but, inexplicably, they fell short and, moreover, they did so even more meekly than in 1953 when they had at least made the grand final. In the second semi final against Footscray play was rendered unkempt by a strong breeze and the untidiness clearly favoured the Bulldogs who relied more on tenacity and relentless determination than pure footballing skill. In the second half Footscray simply ran away with the game.

It was a similar story in the following week’s preliminary final clash with Melbourne. Up until half time Geelong looked the better side but the Demons then rattled on 7 second half goals to 3 to win well. The Cats’ last chance of premiership glory for almost a decade had gone.

North Melbourne made a late charge for the finals which saw them unbeaten in their last 5 games (4 wins and a draw). They duly qualified for the September action but their good form deserted them in the first semi final which saw them go down by 6 goals to Melbourne. The ensuing decade for the Kangaroos would be predominantly bleak with the side managing to qualify for the finals just once in nineteen seasons.

Fifth placed Richmond were in the four as late as round fifteen but they then lost in consecutive weeks to Melbourne and Hawthorn which saw them nosedive to seventh. A last round win over Collingwood failed to rectify matters although the Tigers did rise two places on the ladder. A key driving force behind Richmond’s highly competitive form in 1954 was ruckman Roy Wright, who won the Brownlow Medal for the second time.

Essendon and Collingwood, like Richmond, finished the minor round on 10 wins. With 2 matches to play both teams were in the top four, the Bombers second and the Magpies third. However, they both then contrived to lose those final 2 games. Essendon’s best win of the season probably occurred in round nine when they downed Melbourne at the MCG by 22 points. Collingwood meanwhile managed to defeat the Demons both home and away and they also won against Footscray at Victoria Park.

The next two sides, Carlton and Hawthorn, both managed 8 wins. Ninth place for the Hawks represented an improvement on 1953 when they had finished with the wooden spoon. The Blues by contrast had suffered a slump in fortunes; the previous year had seen them finish fifth.

South Melbourne won 6 games and lost 12. During the year they scored impressive wins at Collingwood and Essendon but otherwise their form was almost uniformly dismal.

Fitzroy and St Kilda had identical 4-13-1 records, with the Saints ending up with the wooden spoon thanks to a percentage that was 0.5 worse than the Maroons’. Fitzroy would soon show considerable improvement, but St Kilda’s fans would have to wait somewhat longer for something to cheer about.

WANFL: Hat Trick of Flags for South
If South's 1953 premiership winning performance had been impressive the 1954 showing, in which East Fremantle provided the opposition, was positively awesome. Watched by either a new WANFL grand final record crowd of 36,098, or slightly less than the old record at 33,464 (depending on which media source you go on), the southerners actually appeared in trouble early on and trailed by 20 points at the first change. However, thereafter they methodically rattled up 18 goals to 3 to win with considerable comfort by 78 points, 21.14 (140) to 9.8 (62). Half forward flanker Charlie Tyson won the Simpson Medal with other strong displays coming from rover Steve Marsh - as ever - full forward Naylor (7 goals for a season's tally of 133), half back flankers Treasure and Crawford, and ruckman Smith.

A 14.9 (93) to 10.14 (74) end of season win over Carlton at Subiaco lent further substance - if it were needed - to the claim that South Fremantle were, at this particular point in time, the strongest club side in Australia. Reports of the match make it abundantly clear that neither team treated it as a low key exhibition affair; they played for keeps, and South Freo were worthy victors.

In the second half, the atmosphere was like that of a Victorian league grand final. Tempers were frayed and brawls started among the players.

Carlton had waited seven weeks for the fixture  and had been almost goaded by reports of SF’s prowess. Before the game, the players had been offered financial inducements if they could win. [4]

The consummate nature of their dominance during the finals belied the fact that South had only actually been placed third at the conclusion of the minor round. In addition to the grand final therefore their route to the flag also involved wins in the first semi final against Perth and the preliminary final over West Perth.

The WANFL minor premiers in 1954 were East Fremantle who finished the season with a 15-5 record, the same as second placed West Perth. The second semi final meeting of the pair was tense and tough, with scoring at a premium. Old Easts ultimately won by 12 points, 7.12 (54) to 6.6 (42). The result saw plenty of people talking up East Fremantle’s premiership chances but they were universally struck dumb by the relentless magnificence of South Fremantle’s display.

West Perth finished the minor round in good form, emerging victorious from their last 4 matches, including a 10.9 (69) to 8.9 (57) defeat of South Fremantle in round twenty. However, their finals form was disappointing. In the second semi final they lost to a better team on the day in East Fremantle, while their preliminary final performance against South Fremantle was blighted by inaccuracy when kicking for goal. The Cardinals tallied 9.23 (77) in losing by 24 points to South’s score of 15.11 (101).

Perth maintained their solid postwar record by qualifying for the finals in fourth place. South Fremantle quickly put paid to the Redlegs' premiership hopes, however, as they eased to victory by 47 points, 18.14 (122) to 12.9 (81). Merv McIntosh provided some cause for celebration by taking out his second consecutive Sandover Medal, and his third in total. Powerfully and athletically built, McIntosh combined strength and determination with a formidable football brain. However, he rarely made illegitimate use of his strength, regarding football as essentially a game rather than the all out war facsimile into which it was gradually evolving in Victoria.  Indeed, it was alleged that he could "short pass as daintily and turn as nimbly as any footballer of more reasonable proportions”.[5]  The fact that his impact and reputation transcended state boundaries was emphasised as early as 1947 when the “Sporting Globe” nominated him as Australia's leading footballer.

Perth was a powerful club, contesting the finals almost annually, throughout Merv McIntosh's 218 game league career, but a flag proved elusive. To the delight of a large proportion of the 41,659 spectators who turned up at Subiaco Oval for the 1955 grand final, the breakthrough finally arrived in the nick of time.

Subsequent Western Australian rucking greats like Jack Clarke, “Polly: Farmer and Graham Moss perhaps enjoy more auspicious reputations, but “Big Merv” was arguably the template on which all of them, to some extent, were based.

East Perth and Claremont finished fifth and sixth respectively, with both sides winning 8 and losing 12 matches. For the most part they struggled against the sides placed above them on the premiership ladder, although the Royals did seemingly have the wood on Perth whom they defeated in all 3 minor round encounters between the sides.

Swan Districts (6-14) and Subiaco (4-16) were significantly weaker than the other teams in the competition. Swans managed a 14 point win over South Fremantle in round three but hefty defeats were more commonly the order of the day.

SANFL: Magpies to the Fore Once More
Port Adelaide made amends for their grand final loss of the previous year by coming from behind to down West Adelaide in a spiteful 1954 premiership decider.

A melee of a kind not seen on a football ground in twenty-five years marked the end of the first half. It happened when Boyd (Port) and Faehse (West) crashed together while going for a mark. 

In a matter of seconds, all players rushed to Port’s half forward line, and punches were being thrown by players on both sides.

As Wests left the field at half time a spectator wearing a black and white blazer punched Faehse on the jaw. A West supporter immediately knocked down the attacker. [6]

West led 7.7 to 3.6 at the main break but in the third quarter they appeared to lose their focus and Port kicked 6 goals to 2 to go into the last quarter just a couple of points in arrears. With rough play and fisticuffs still in evidence the Magpies fought - often quite literally - their way into the lead, and with seconds to go the margin was 4 points in their favour. Then West rover Jim Wright was presented with an excellent last gasp opportunity to win the match, and the flag, for his side. However, his somewhat rushed snap registered only a minor score, and Port were home by 3 points, 11.13 (79) to 10.16 (76). The exhiliration of winning a grand final was something to which Port supporters would soon become accustomed.

After losing the second semi final to Port by 11 points West Adelaide tuned up for the grand final with an impressive 10.19 (79) to 5.10 (40) preliminary final defeat of West Torrens. West’s fast open style of play had troubled Port at times kin 1954, but they had always come up short in the end. During the first two quarters of the grand final they appeared to have unearthed a winning formula but in the wake of the Boyd-Faehse collision the Magpies comprehensively re-wrote the script. Just as Port supporters would soon become accustomed to grand final triumphs the West fraternity would become inured to heart-breaking, some would say unlucky, grand final losses.

In round thirteen at Thebarton Oval West Torrens scored a slashing 39 point win over Port Adelaide. So compelling was their performance that many observers tipped them to be the Magpies’ main rivals for the premiership. This did not transpire, however. At the conclusion of the minor round the Eagles, having won 10 and lost 8 of their matches, occupied third place on the premiership ladder. A tough, tight, intense first semi final encopunter with Norwood followed, with Torrens trailing at every change by 18, 11 and 18 points before surging to a well merited victory by the narrowest of margins.

A fortnight later, the Eagles faced West Adelaide in the preliminary final, and another close contest was anticipated. Instead, Westies blew Torrens out of the water, almost doubling their score in the process. The Eagles’ 1953 premiership must have seemed a distant memory to the club’s supporters.

Norwood did not so much qualify for the finals in style as stumble into them, almost despite themselves. The Redlegs were woefully inconsistent, capable of twice beating eventual premiers Port Adelaide whilst losing to the likes of seventh placed South Adelaide and wooden spooners Glenelg.

North Adelaide (fifth) and Sturt (sixth) both won 8 matches and lost 10. The Roosters provided the competition’s leading goal kicker in the shape of Bill McKenzie (pictured wearing the number 14 jumper in the photo at the head of this section), who booted 67 goals. McKenzie was a high leaping, strong marking forward who made his league debut in 1950 as an eighteen year old, but who found it hard to establish himself as a senior player for several years. In 1952, the year that North went top with a then record 108 point grand final demolition of Norwood, he played just 1 senior game for the season. In 1953, however, he was a virtual ever-present, and by 1954 he was arguably the pre-eminent key position forward in the SANFL, topping the league list as mentioned above with 67 goals. His tally of 60 the previous year had been good enough to earn him his club's leading goal kicker award, as would the same tally be in 1956. When he retired in 1957, McKenzie had played 102 league games and booted 266 goals. He also kicked 4 goals in 3 interstate appearances for South Australia.

Sturt’s Len Fitzgerald won the Magarey Medal, having previously won the award in 1952. His career is profiled in the review of that season.

Seventh placed South Adelaide (5-13) and last placed Glenelg (4-14) had seasons which were as dismal as their records imply. South’s highlights were a 9.22 (76) to 11.8 (64) defeat of Norwood at Norwood Oval in round three and a 13.5 (83) to 8.16 triumph over West Torrens at Adelaide Oval in the last minor round match of the season. Glenelg managed to beat Torrens by 19 points at Centenary Oval in Port Lincoln in round four and Norwood by 24 points at Adelaide Oval in round eight.

VFA: Seagulls Bounce Back Against Borough
Defeated by Port Melbourne in the second semi final Williamstown recovered to eliminate Northcote the following week before obtaining revenge over the Boroughs in conclusive fashion in the grand final. The Seagulls could almost be said to have won the game in the opening term when they scored 4.7 to Port’s solitary behind. In an effort to get back into the game Port Melbourne’s approach became indelicate in the extreme, but umpire Jack Irving was quick to punish all indescretions so that the tactic effectively played into Williamstown’s hands. The Seagulls ultimately triumphed by 32 points, 11.20 (86) to 7.12 (54). 

Tigers Triumph in Tassie
In a season which saw teams producing the highest all round standard of football since the war Hobart claimed their second TANFL premiership. In front of 11,461 spectators the Tigers accounted for reigning premiers New Town in the grand final by a margin of 10 points. Scores were Hobart 12.10 (82) defeated New Town 10.12 (72). Hobart had previously accounted for New Town in the second semi final, with New Town then going on to down North Hobart 12.12 (84) to 8.13 (61) in the preliminary final. The first semi final had seen the Robins triumph by 4 points against Sandy Bay.

Other Football of Note
In the interstate sphere the VFL achieved an unprecedented level of dominance with four slashing wins, two each against both South Australia and Western Australia. Against the South Australians the Vics won by 127 points in Melbourne and 54 points in Adelaide while they accounted for Western Australia twice in Perth by margins of 42 and 69 points.

Section B of the Australian championships saw New South Wales account for Canberra by 45 points in Sydney. Final scores were New South Wales 19.19 (133); Canberra 12.16 (88). Queensland then defeated New South Wales 15.17 (107) to 9.23 (77) in Brisbane. The final pitted Australian Amateurs against Queensland in Melbourne, with victory going to the former by 79 points, 17.17 (119) to 5.10 (40). Australian Amateurs then travelled to Hobart to take on Tasmania, with a berth in the 1956 section A  carnival in Perth awaiting the victors. Tasmania won with something to spare, 16.21 (117) to 11.10 (76).

In Sydney, Eastern Suburbs won their second successive NSWANFL premiership after accounting for Newtown in the grand final. North Shore were third and St George fourth.,

For the second time in a row the QANFL flag went to Western Districts who downed Sandgate in the grand final by 16 points.

Queanbeyan-Acton were another team to go back to back. They annihilated Eastlake in the CANFL grand final by 109 points.

NTFL side Waratahs also went top for a second consecutive time, downing Buffaloes by 3 straight kicks in a low scoring grand final.

Grand final results - VFL: Footscray 15.12 (102) d. Melbourne 7.9 (51); SANFL: Port Adelaide 11.13 (79) d. West Adelaide 10.16 (76); WANFL: South Fremantle 21.14 (140) d. East Fremantle 9.8 (62); VFA: Williamstown 11.20 (86) d. Port Melbourne 7.12 (54); TANFL: Hobart 12.10 (82) d. New Town 10.12 (72); NTFA: City 12.13 (85) d. Launceston 7.13 (55); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 13.20 (98) d. Newtown 11.8 (74); NTFL: Waratahs 6.9 (45) d. Buffaloes 3.9 (27); QANFL: Western Districts 12.11 (83) d. Sandgate 10.7 (67); NWFU: Burnie 9.13 (67) d. Wynyard 8.10 (58); CANFL: Queanbeyan-Acton 23.15 (153) d. Eastlake 6.8 (44); TSP: City 9.16 (70) d. Hobart 6.10 (46).

FOOTNOTES

[1] The Complete Book of VFL Finals by Graeme Atkinson, page 176. 

[2] Near the end of the match he gave away the chance of an eighth goal when, after marking within scoring range, he spotted team mate Brian Gilmore in space nearer to goal, and passed to him. Almost as soon as Gilmore had marked the ball the siren sounded to end the game; eschewing the opportunity to rub further salt into the Demons' wounds, he tossed the ball away and ran off to join his celebrating team mates.

[3] From an “Argus” match report by Hugh Buggy, reproduced in full in The Bulldog Book: Sons of the 'Scray 1883-1983 by Greg Hobbs, page 16. 

[4] The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 115. It has to be noted, of course, that Carlton had only finished eighth in the VFL in 1954 and therefore could scarcely be said to represent the very best of Victorian football.

[5] The Pash Papers by Jeff Pash, page 257.

[6] Football Flashback 1960 by Eric Gunton, page 81.


1955

A Review of the 1955 Football Season

VFL: A Game of Guts
Since world war two, the speed at which top level football was played had increased appreciably. Melbourne under “Checker” Hughes had played a part in this development, as had the Essendon “mosquito fleet” under Dick Reynolds, and Reg Hickey's early 1950s Geelong combination. Nor was the trend limited to Victoria, with teams like North Adelaide, coached by Ken Farmer, Jack Oatey's Norwood, Stan Heal's West Perth, and South Fremantle under first Ross Hutchinson, and later Clive Lewington, all adopting a similar predisposition toward energetic, non-stop, all-action football.

The game was also evolving tactically, with some coaches eschewing tradition in the form of standardised team placings, the unwritten “law” that handball should only be used as a last resort when a player was in trouble, and so forth. As football took on more and more of the characteristics of “a business, albeit one of comparatively modest size, so winning - at whatever cost - became more and more important.  This overriding imperative to succeed inevitably spawned greater professionalism in terms of the game's surrounding mechanics - team preparation, medical care, recruitment, and so on - and it also gave rise to more sophisticated ways of looking at and analysing the game, both statistically and strategically. Among VFL coaches, no one took these developments further than Norm Smith.

One of Smith's most famous utterances was "Football is seventy per cent guts; split the other thirty per cent any way you like”,[1] but his own approach to coaching belied the simplicity of this assessment.  His utlilisation of Ron Barassi as a ruck-rover, which, while probably not quite the innovation it has since come to be regarded as, was a case in point:

The role of ruck-rover was not known in football in the early 1950s.[2]  Some football historians suggest that Richmond's Jack Dyer was the model for this now common position. But the majority opinion seems to be that Norm Smith created the position specifically for Barassi. At the time, Melbourne had a tireless ruckman in Denis Cordner and superlative rovers in Stuart Spencer and, soon after him, Ian Ridley.  Barassi, at 176cm and, at his prime playing weight, 85kg, was betwixt and between...... too small for a knock ruckman or a key position player, too big for a rover. But he had pace for a man of his size and enormous strength with which to burst packs open. He could leap for marks and was above all so thoroughly determined to succeed that no physical accident of build was going to deter him.  [3]

The relationship between Barassi and his mentor Norm Smith was a close and highly convoluted one, detailed analysis of which would require more space than is available here. Suffice to say that, after Barassi's father, Ron Barassi senior, himself a former Melbourne footballer and team mate of Norm Smith's, died during world war two, Smith took it upon himself to provide a fatherly hand to the youngster.  When Barassi's mother re-married for the second time and relocated to Tasmania in 1953, Ron stayed behind and lodged with Norm and Marj Smith, where, although Barassi was later adamant that there were no "special favours,[4] it is hard not to imagine the 'fatherly hand' being exercised to significantly greater effect, an intimation that draws credence from the fact that Barassi achieved his first ever selection in the Melbourne senior team that very year.

Not the most naturally gifted of players, Barassi had few peers when it game to determination, courage and mental strength. He also provided a quintessential example to youngsters of how to use aggression both systematically and effectively without going overboard. In the view of some, the credit for Melbourne's decade of success under Norm Smith belongs as much to Barassi as it does to the coach himself.

The Demons arrival as a power was graphically demonstrated when they won the opening 10 games of the 1955 season before going on to clinch the minor premiership with a 15-3 record. Second semi final opponents Collingwood provided stern opposition in a dour, low scoring tussle, but Melbourne always seemed to have access to that extra gear when needed, and won through by 11 points. The grand final, against the same opposition, was similarly tense and low scoring, but the Demons appeared to utilise that additional gear more frequently, particularly after half time, and won comfortably, 8.16 (64) to 5.6 (36). This particular game has tended to be best remembered for a sickening collision moments before the final bell involving Melbourne's nineteenth man 'Bluey' Adams, who was just entering the fray, and Magpie wingman Des Healey, in which the latter suffered a fractured skull and had his nose broken in five places, and never played again. Adams meanwhile, whose involvement in the match had lasted an estimated fifteen seconds, was unconscious for approximately three quarters of an hour, but suffered no lasting injuries; he went on to represent the Demons with distinction for a further ten seasons.

Best for the victors were the Denis Cordner-Ron Barassi combination in the ruck, centreman Ken Melville, full back Peter “Trunk” Marquis, and half back flanker Noel McMahen.  

After the grand final Melbourne embarked on an official team trip to Adelaide, where the team engaged in a challenge match against SANFL premier Port Adelaide, under lights, at the Norwood Oval.  A crowd estimated at some 23,000 managed to gain admission and was treated to a rousing spectacle, "played at full pressure, with Melbourne eventually winning by one point after a splendid exhibition by both sides”.[5]

Collingwood won 14 of their 18 home and away matches to qualify for the finals in second place, 4 points behind ladder leaders Melbourne, and ahead of third placed Geelong on percentage. The Magpies’ second semi final clash with the Demons was an archetypal war of attrition, with the latter just holding on in a last quarter that produced only one goal and two behinds. A week later Colliongwood accounted for Geelong in the preliminary final by 12 points, having led all the way. Final scores were Collingwood 14.12 (96) to Geelong 13.6 (84). The grand final re-match with Melbourne was inordinately disappointing from a Collingwood perspective as for much of the match they looked eminently capable of winning before falling in a hole during a final term which saw the Demons add 4 goals to 1 to win “pulling away”.

Geelong’s golden era of the early 1950s was over but the Cats remained arguably the most eye catching team in the VFL, as well as, on their day, a force to be reckoned with. They proved this by accounting for Melbourne at Kardinia Park in round thirteen in what was the two clubs’ only clash of the season. The one team which repeatedly proved to have Geelong’s measure, however, was Collingwood, and perhaps predictably it was the Magpies who ended the Cats’ premiership challenge at the preliminary final stage. Two weeks earlier Geelong had held off a fast finishing Essendon side to win the first semi final by 8 points, 9.7 (61) to 7.11 (53). Full forward Noel Rayson was the league’s top goal kicker in 1955 with 80 goals. Recruited locally in 1950, Rayson found it hard at first to break into the powerful Cats line-up. He first became a regular in 1953 and went on to play a total of 95 VFL games, kicking 210 goals, before crossing to South Melbourne in 1958. He played 12 games and kicked 18 goals in just under two seasons with South. During his time with Geelong he twice topped the club’s goal kicking list and was also twice selected to represent the VFL.

The Bombers qualified for the finals in fourth place, ahead of Footscray on percentage. Both sides won 12 games. Essendon made some people sit up and take notice when they thrashed Collingwood by 73 points in the second to last minor round match of the season. Another big win, this time against Hawthorn, in round eighteen prompted some to nominate the Bombers as realistic premiership hopefuls. However, in the first semi final clash with Geelong they underperformed badly in the first three quarters leaving them with too much to do in the final stanza. Essendon were definitely a team on an upward trajectory though.

Reigning premiers Footscray on the other hand were in decline, although for the time being they remained competitive. In hindsight, the result which arguably cost the Bulldogs a berth in the finals was their round fifteen loss to Essendon, the team which ultimately edged them out of the four.

Richmond finished the minor round as the competition’s form team, winning their last 6 matches. However, their form earlier in the season had been execrable, and their overall tally of 9 wins was only good enough for sixth place on the premiership ladder. 

Carlton also won 9 matches to finish seventh. The Blues normally managed to win their matches against lower ranking teams but tended to look out of their depth when facing the top four.

Eighth placed Hawthorn had a mediocre season which yielded just 8 wins. The Hawks were fairly strong at their home ground of Glenferrie but managed only 2 wins on their travels. At their best they were a match for the top sides as they proved with victories during the season against Collingwood and Essendon. However, they also succumbed to some hefty defeats.

Fitzroy won half a dozen matches to finish ninth. They produced sporadic bursts of good football but lacked the strength in depth of the top sides.

The highlight of tenth placed South Melbourne’s season was full back Fred Goldsmith’s feat in winning the Brownlow Medal. After struggling to make the grade as a half forward flanker, Goldsmith, who hailed from Spotswood, found an unexpected niche at full back midway through his second VFL season (1952).  From that point on, he never looked back, and his status among the greats of the game was emphasised with that 1955 Brownlow. He was the first full back to win the award.  Spectacular overhead and difficult to beat on the ground, Goldsmith also boasted the trademark full back's penchant for prodigious, accurate kicking. Later in his VFL career, he returned to the forward lines to good effect.  After 119 VFL games and 107 goals for South from 1951 to 1959 Goldsmith joined Ovens and Murray Football League side Albury as captain-coach, remaining there for seven seasons.  He returned to the city with Port Melbourne in 1966 - the very season, ironically, that Albury managed to secure its first flag in a decade - but added just 9 VFA games to his overall tally. 

North Melbourne and St Kilda, who managed 3 and 1 wins respectively, were little more than cannon fodder for the other ten clubs in the league. The Saints were particularly woeful, scoring just 861 points for the season and finishing with the miserly percentage of 45.4.

WANFL: Redlegs End Long Premiership Drought
If you were to open up the average Perth supporter surgically you would almost certainly find the year '1955' inscribed indelibly on the heart. In what was champion ruckman Merv McIntosh's last league season the Redlegs treated a record grand final crowd to one of the most stirring comebacks in football history when they defeated East Fremantle by 2 points after trailing 2.2 (14) to 8.5 (53) at half time. Ruckman Tom Davis, who was resting in the forward pocket at the time, got the goal which gave Perth the lead with seven minutes left to play. Amazingly, this proved to be the last score of the game.  With Merv McIntosh continuing to dominate in the air, and all bar half a dozen of the Perth players “flooding defensive fifty” (to appropriate modern parlance), East Fremantle, despite monopolising possession, proved incapable of getting close to goal. During the final minute of the game the Redlegs played classic defensive football, with man of the moment McIntosh thumping the ball over the members' stand boundary line on no fewer than seven occasions. The siren sounded and, miraculously, Perth had outscored East Fremantle for the quarter by 4 points kicking against a breeze which, prior to the last term, had permitted only 2 goals to be kicked into it. More to the point, the archetypal “gentle giant” of Western Australian football had, at long last, been rewarded with the pinnacle of achievement for an Australian footballer, a premiership. Members of the crowd surged onto Subiaco Oval, but Merv McIntosh's distinctive grey head was clearly visible amidst the swaying sea of bodies. It is an image which will endure long in the minds of many of the spectators fortunate enough to have attended one of the most dramatic matches in Australian football history. 

East Fremantle finished the minor round in second place with 16 wins and 4 defeats, behind minor premiers South Fremantle on percentage. They then accounted for South in the second semi final by 19 points, 14.10 (94) to 11.9 (75). This put them in pole position to claim their first flag since 1946 but Big Merv’s Perth had other ideas.

After topping the ladder South Fremantle were many people’s favourites to take home the premiership. However, they underperformed badly in the finals and bowed out of contention in "straight sets". The second semi final loss to East Fremantle is alluded to above. South then went into the preliminary final clash with Perth in confident frame of mind given that they had thrashed the Redlegs by 7 goals in round nineteen. However, thanks largely to their dominance in the ruck Perth ran rings around South for the first three quarters by which time they had established a lead of 44 points. To their credit, South did not throw in the towel, and a rousing last quarter performance got them within a couple of goals at the end. 

Few players have exploded onto the football scene as sensationally as did John Todd in 1955 when, as a seventeen year old, he not only represented the state and won South Fremantle's fairest and best award, he became the youngest ever winner of the Sandover Medal. South Australian legend Bob Quinn, after witnessing Todd's debut at interstate level against South Australia, ventured the opinion that the youngster "was the most complete footballer for his age that he had seen”.[6]

Todd sustained a serious knee injury against East Perth in round seven 1956.  The road to recovery was long and hard, but after several aborted comeback attempts he finally returned to something approaching his best late in the 1958 season, a year which saw him again receive the red and whites' premier individual award.  The following year, aged just twenty-one, he took over as South Fremantle coach, but stood down after just one year.  He would later eke out a reputation for himself as one of West Australian football's finest ever coaches.

Injuries continued to beset Todd for most of the remaining half a dozen seasons of his career (he stood out of football completely in 1965).  In 1961, however, he enjoyed a comparatively injury free run, and 3 of his 13 interstate appearances for WA were at that year's Brisbane carnival, from which the sandgropers emerged victorious. Todd's excellent form during the carnival, in which he played mostly on the wing, was rewarded with All Australian selection. He rounded the season off in gratifying fashion by winning his third South Fremantle fairest and best award.  

But for injury, John Todd would surely have achieved much more as a player, and indeed might even have managed to fulfill his childhood ambition of becoming "the greatest footballer ever". Nevertheless, he accomplished more in 132 league games than many players do in twice that number, and his accomplishments did not end when he retired as a player.  As a coach he enjoyed premiership success with East Fremantle in 1974 as well as with a superb Swan Districts combination every year between 1982 and 1984.  A regular and highly successful West Australian interstate and state of origin coach, he also coached Australian international rules sides in the mid-1980s.  In 1988, fittingly for someone so publicly proud of his Western Australian heritage, he became the first West Coast coach to get the Eagles into the VFL finals.

When John Todd finally retired as a coach in 2002 he had overseen a West Australian league record 721 games, and masterminded half a dozen premierships, besides becoming a veritable legend of the game at two clubs.  He also held the unique distinction of having been both the youngest (twenty-one) and oldest (sixty-two) senior coach in WAFL history.

The WAFL competition in 1955 was extremely lop-sided. Fourth placed West Perth won 13 and lost 7 matches, while fifth placed East Perth won half a dozen games fewer. The Cardinals were no match for Perth in the first semi final, losing by 22 points. Full forward Ray Scott booted 83 goals to top the league list for the second time, the first having been in 1951. He is profiled in the review of that year.

East Perth were on the cusp of their greatest era since the 1920s but you would be hard pressed to infer this from their form in 1955. The Royals lost the opening 5 games of the season before breaking through in round six with a win over Subiaco. Their best performance of the season came in round ten when they defeated Perth at the WACA by 18 points. 

Sixth placed Swan Districts and seventh placed Claremont both won 5 games. Swans managed to beat West Perth in round six as well as win all 3 clashes for the season against East Perth. However, both sides also suffered a proliferation of heavy defeats.

The same could be said of wooden spooners Subiaco, who won just 4 matches. The Maroons endured a particularly hard time when faced by South Fremantle who won by 83 points in round five and 95 points in round twelve.

SANFL: Magpies Show Their Might
With the exception of South Adelaide, who managed just 2 wins for the season to finish a distant last, the 1955 SANFL competition was fairly evenly contested. Port Adelaide, with a 13-4 record, headed the ladder going into the finals, but they were not always particularly convincing. The second semi final reinforced the notion that the Magpies could be vulnerable as they were overrun in the final term by Norwood who transformed a 4 point three quarter time deficit into victory by 4 goals. In the preliminary final Port faced Sturt and managed to do just enough to win without appearing at all impressive. Scores were Port Adelaide 12.10 (82); Sturt 9.8 (62).

Watched by a grand final crowd of 44,826 the Magpies turned on the style in the final term to overwhelm the Redlegs. At three quarter time the margin in Port’s favour was just 17 points but they made light of the soggy ground conditions to add 8 last quarter goals to 1 to win convincingly. Final scores were Port 15.11 (101) to Norwood 5.8 (38), a margin of 63 points. Magpie captain coach Fos Williams was best afield.

Norwood had entered the grand final as favourites but they wilted under the intensity of the pressure applied by Port. The Redlegs had qualified for the finals with 11 wins and a draw from their 17 minor round matches. They were particularly impressive during the middle of the season and at one stage put together a sequence of 6 successive victories. They tuned up for the finals with wins over Glenelg and Sturt and continued their good form in the second semi final. It is premierships that people remember, however, and on grand final day the Redlegs simply failed to do themselves justice.

Sturt qualified for the finals in fourth place, having edged out North Adelaide on percentage. They then accounted for favourites West Torrens in the second semi final, winning in the end by 19 points after scores were tied at the last change. In the preliminary final against Port they battled hard but trailed at every change en route to an eventual 20 point loss. Sturt’s revival this year might be argued to have been good for the SANFL as the Double Blues, when doing well, always attracted large crowds to their matches. Sturt full forward Paul Caust booted 57 goals for the year to top the SANFL’s goal kicking list.

West Torrens had a typically solid season before falling by the wayside in the first week of the finals. Centreman Lindsay Head was a shining light for the Eagles, winning the Magarey Medal with 20 votes, 1 more than Sturt’s John Halbert. Head was arguably one of the Australian code's most skilful and intelligent players.  Not that he lacked either courage or competitiveness - players simply do not rack up the number of decisive, clean possessions Head did without such qualities; it was just that he seemed to  perform almost every action on the football field with such smooth panache and effortless artistry that at times it was as though he was on a different plane from everyone else. That said, he could never truly be called a two-sided player, preferring to resort to a variation of the check side or banana kick when caught on the wrong foot; however, such was Head's artistry and dedication to practice that he was able to perform this kick with exquisite accuracy time and time again.

An ardent traditionalist, Head refused numerous offers to move to Victoria to play.  His loyalty to West Torrens is all the more remarkable when you consider that, after playing in a premiership side in only his second ever season, Head never again even went remotely close to a flag. On the personal front, however, he did win the club best and fairest award on a remarkable eight occasions, kicked more than 500 career goals, and represented South Australia no fewer than 37 times. He also won the Advertiser Trophy on three occasions, the News-Ampol Trophy twice, and was voted ADS7 Footballer of the Year in 1962.

North Adelaide were a trifle unfortunate to miss out on finals participation. Going into their final minor round match they needed to defeat West Torrens by a hefty margin whilst hoping that their rivals for fourth place, Sturt, lost to Norwood. In the event the Redlegs obliged by downing the Double Blues but the Roosters’ 3 point victory margin over Torrens was insufficient for them to overtake Sturt on percentage.

Glenelg and West Adelaide both won 7 games to finish sixth and seventh repectively. The Bays included victories over Port Adelaide and Sturt among their successes while West defeated Norwood twice, Sturt and Port.

For cellar dwellers South Adelaide it was another bleak season with their only wins coming at the expense of North Adelaide in round eight and Glenelg in round nine.

Other Highlights

The VFL continued to dominate the interstate scene thanks to wins over Western Australia in Perth (6.18 to 3.7) and South Australia in Adelaide (15.11 to 9.10). 

The South Australians had marginally the better of things in their three encounters with Western Australia, winning by 9 points in Adelaide, losing the first of two matches in Perth by 10 points, and emerging victorious by 3 points from the second Perth encounter.

Tasmania travelled to both Canberra and Sydney in 1955. They downed Canberra by 78 points and New South Wales by 90 points, emphatically reaffirming their status as a section A state.

The only other interstate match in 1955 was played in Brisbane between Queensland and New South Wales. It was a high scoring affair, with victory eventually going to the visitors by 13 points, 21.15 (141) to 19.14 (128).

The TANFL provided an absorbing tussle for the premiership which attracted near record crowds. In the grand final New Town overcame Hobart by 35 points, 15.11 (101) to 8.18 (66). Sandy Bay finished third and North Hobart fourth. The state premiership went to Ulverstone who overcame both Sandy Bay and Longford to become the first NWFU team to claim the title.

In the VFA grand final Williamstown scored a highly impressive come from behind win over Port Melbourne. At quarter time the Seagulls trailed by 36 points and shortly after the resumption the Borough increased the margin to 43 points. Port still held a 25 point advantage at the last change but Williamstown came surging back in the final term, adding 6.6 to 1.2 to emerge victorious by 9 points. The grand final attracted a crowd estimated to be in the region of 30,000 to the Junction Oval. Preston were the beaten preliminary finalists while Moorabbin finished fourth for the second consecutive season.

In the NSWANFL Eastern Suburbs won their third successive premiership with a 38 point grand final defeat of North Shore. Newtown and Western Suburbs were the other finalists.

Wilston Grange claimed the QANFL flag thanks to a 28 point grand final defeat of Kedron.

Premiers in the CANFL were Manuka who downed Queanbeyan-Acton in the grand final. The combine were endeavouring to win their third straight flag. Third place went to Eastlake with RMC fourth.

In Darwin, St Marys won the NTFL premiership in only their third season in the competition. Opposed by Buffaloes in the grand final they won convincingly by 5 goals straight. Waratahs were third and Works and Housing fourth.

Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 8.16 (64) d. Collingwood 5.6 (36); SANFL: Port Adelaide 15.11 (101) d. Norwood 5.8 (38); WANFL: Perth 11.11 (77) d. East Fremantle 11.9 (75); VFA: Williamstown 13.19 (97) d. Port Melbourne 13.10 (88); TANFL: New Town 15.11 (101) d. Hobart 8.18 (66); NTFA: Longford 13.7 (85) d. City 10.13 (73); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 13.12 (90) d. North Shore 7.10 (52); NTFL: St Marys 10.12 (72) d. Buffaloes 5.12 (42); QANFL: Wilston Grange 15.10 (100) d. Kedron 10.12 (72); NWFU: Ulverstone 11.14 (80) d. Burnie 10.15 (75); CANFL: Manuka 12.11 (83) d. Queanbeyan-Acton 8.6 (54).

FOOTNOTES

[1] Quoted in, among other sources, Up Where Cazaly? The Great Australian Game by Leonie Sandercock and Ian Turner, pages 222-3.

[2] This is at best an over-simplification, but more likely than not it is simply untrue.  At Port Adelaide, for example, Alan "Bull" Reval played essentially the same role as Barassi some twenty years earlier.  See, for example, 100 Years With The Magpies: The History Of The Port Adelaide Football Club 1870-1970 by Bob McLean, pages 25-6.  The automatic assumption made by many football historians that major innovations in playing style could only feasibly be expected to occur in the VFL is tantamount to revisionism, and is to their, and the game's, enormous discredit.

[3] Barassi: The Life Behind The Legend by Ron Barassi and Peter McFarline, page 32.

[4] Ibid, page 27.

[5] 100 Years Of Football: The Story Of The Melbourne Football Club 1858-1958  by E.C.H.Taylor, page 87.

[6] Football Greats of Western Australia Volume One by Anthony James, page 62.


1956

The 1956 Football Season Under Review

Vics Continue to Reign Supreme
“Big V” pre-eminence continued at the 1956 Perth carnival but Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia proved to be quite evenly matched.  Only the VFA seemed out of its depth, losing all 4 matches by an average margin of 109 points.  Tasmania's 13 point triumph over South Australia was its first defeat of a 'big 3' state in a carnival since 1911, when it had downed Western Australia by 5 points in Adelaide.  The Tasmanians' third place finish equalled its highest ever carnival placing (also attained at Adelaide in 1911), while its tally of 27.22 (184) compiled in the annihilation of the VFA had only twice been exceeded in carnival football.

Just as at Adelaide in 1953 home state supporters were forced to witness the ignominy of their local heroes being significantly outgunned by the might of the VFL in the carnival's decisive match.  However, at least they had the consolation of seeing emerging superstar Graham “Polly” Farmer of East Perth being accorded Australian football's highest individual honour, the Eric Tassie Medal.

VFL: Dees Dominate
In the VFL Melbourne made an even more brilliant start to the season than they had a year earlier, winning their first 13 games in superb fashion en route to another minor premiership, this time with only 2 defeats, before again qualifying for the grand final at Collingwood's expense. With the MCG having undergone expansion in preparation for the Olympic Games later in the year, and with the Demons' scintillating football popularly considered to have taken the game to a new level, the grand final re-match attracted a record crowd of 115,802.  For just over a quarter, the vast assemblage was entertained by a typically tense, tight Demons-Magpies encounter, but from early in the second term Melbourne, which was on top in the ruck, and had a winning centreline, began to take control. After trailing by 5 points at the first change, the Demons, despite having kicked atrociously for goal at times, were 20 points to the good at half time. By the final change, that margin had been doubled, and during the last term it was exhibition time as the Melbourne players effectively did as they liked, adding 7.3 to 1.6 to win 'running away' by 73 points. The first ruck of Cordner, Barassi and Spencer (5 goals) was indefatigable, as were Brian Dixon, 'Bluey' Adams and Ken Melville across centre. A post-season tour of Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia only served to emphasise the Demons' supremacy at this time, as the side thrashed a North West Football Union combined team 21.21 (147) to 8.13 (61), before procuring harder fought wins over SANFL premier Port Adelaide (by 10 points) and WANFL premier East Perth (by 11 points).[1]

Collingwood won 13 out of 18 matches to qualify for the double chance ahead of Geelong on percentage. The Magpies were no match for Melbourne in 1956, however, losing both minor round encounters as well as the second semi final and the grand final. In between the two finals defeats they overcame Footscray in the preliminary final, coming from a point down at half time to win by 39 points, 15.6 (96) to 7.15 (57).

Footscray, premiers just two seasons earlier, proved they were still a force to be reckoned with by reaching the preliminary final after just scraping into the four. They did this by defeating their rivals for fourth position, Carlton, at Princes Park in the last home and away match of the season. In front of 44,878 spectators they always seemed in control and led at every change en route to an 8.14 (62) to 6.9 (45) triumph. 

The Bulldogs’ first semi final clash with Geelong was a tightly contested, low scoring affair, with the two sides between them only managing a single goal after half time. Crucially, that goal was kicked by Footscray, enabling them to edge home by a 2 point margin, 5.13 (43) to 6.5 (41).

Another highlight of the 1956 season for the Bulldogs was Peter Box’s feat in winning the Brownlow Medal. Originally from Federal League club Cheltenham, Box had to overcome the horrendous setback of being involved in a serious road accident early in his VFL career before developing into one of the finest centremen of his era. In 1954, his third league season, he helped Footscray to defeat Melbourne in the grand final to secure its first ever VFL flag. Two years later he became the club's second Brownlow Medallist (or the third if you include Alan Hopkins' retrospective 1930 Medal), making him the only Bulldogs player to date to procure the “double” of Brownlow and premiership win. Perhaps a touch surprisingly, Box did not win Footscray's club champion award in his Medal-winning year - that honour went to Don Ross - but he had managed to lift the award a year earlier. All told, Box played 107 VFL games for Footscray in seven seasons.

In 1958, aged twenty-six, Box transferred to Camberwell where, in what proved to be his final season, he continued to display fine form, winning the club's best and fairest award, and representing the VFA at the Melbourne centenary carnival.

Geelong had the satisfaction of inflicting one of only two defeats sustained by Melbourne during the season. In round sixteen, before a crowd of 29,687 at Kardinia Park, they withheld a strong finish from the Demons to carry the day by a couple of points. Final scores were Geelong 8.10 (58) defeated Melbourne 8.8 (56).

After comfortably qualifying for the finals the Cats seemingly had reason to be confident about their premiership prospects but Footscray in the first semi final had other ideas. Even so, Geelong had an excellent chance in the dying moments to steal the match, but Noel Rayson’s seemingly goal bound snap bounced awry and through for a minor score.

Carlton went into their last home and away match against Footscray knowing that a win would guarantee them a finals berth. However, as noted above they failed to cope with the finals-like pressure and went down by 17 points. It is at least arguable though that they threw - or, rather, kicked - away their prospects of finals football in the previous week’s match against lowly Richmond. Despite dominating general play the Blues finished with a wayward 7.24 (66), 5 points shy of the Tigers’ tally of 10.11 (71). Had Carlton won this match their final round clash with the Bulldogs would have been a dead rubber.

Sixth placed Essendon tended to be comfortably superior to the teams ranked below them on the premiership ladder but they only once managed to down a top four side. That was in round eighteen against Geelong, a match that was more or less meaningless given that the Cats had already qualified for the finals while the Bombers were destined to miss out.

Hawthorn won 7 and drew 1 of their 18 minor round games to finish seventh, an improvement of one place on their 1955 position. Their best result was a 3 point win over Footscray in round six.

Fitzroy ended up half a win behind the Hawks in eighth place. The ‘Roys were no match for the competition’s top sides.

The highlight of ninth placed South Melbourne’s season was their triumph in the VFL’s first ever night competition, which took place after the minor round and involved the eight clubs which had failed to qualify for the finals. All matches took place at South Melbourne’s home ground of the Lake Oval. Opposed in the grand final by Carlton, and watched by a crowd of 32,450, the Swans won by a single straight kick, 13.16 (94) to 13.10 (88).

Tenth placed Richmond had another mostly forgettable season, although a 6 goal win over Collingwood at Punt Road in round three fleetingly raised hopes.

Second from bottom St Kilda nevertheless managed to provide the competition’s leading goal kicker in the shape of Bill Young. Despite not commencing his VFL career until he was almost twenty-four years of age Young was a success from the start. Weighing in at a mere 73kg he was still able to hold down full forward with great aplomb. Besides topping the league's goal kicking ladder with 56 goals in his debut season, he headed the St Kilda list in five out of his six years at the club. Between 1956 and 1961 Young played a total of 94 games and kicked 274 goals. He was a VFL representative in 1959. Some observers made the ludicrous claim that Young was the first player to use the reverse or checkside punt kick when shooting for goal.

North Melbourne finished last for the first time since 1940 after winning just 3 games, all of them at home.

WANFL: A Right Royal Revival
The 1956 season was, in numerous respects, a seminal one for the East Perth Football Club. In the first place, it was precisely fifty years since the club had joined the WANFL (or the WAFA as it was then known), and to commemorate this the club opened a new all brick grandstand at Perth Oval. In order to enhance spectators' views from this new edifice the oval was re-aligned to run from north to south, and at the risk of sounding crass it would perhaps be fair to observe that this was symbolic of an impending change of course, not only for East Perth but also for the sport as a whole.

Australian football in the early twenty-first century is big business, but the process leading to this state of affairs has been prolonged and complex. In Western Australia one of the key stages in this process occurred in 1956 when, thanks chiefly to the largesse of committeeman Roy Hull, East Perth became the first WAFL club to introduce an official system of payment to players. Prior to that, there is no doubt that methods of conferring financial rewards on players had existed, but these had been essentially covert in nature, and it was only with the implementation of the East Perth scheme that the whole matter was rendered “above board”.[2]

Developments off the field are all very well, but it is achievements on it which are a football club's raison d'être. Often it is only by abandoning old methods and implementing totally new ideas that such achievements are realised, and this is precisely what the East Perth committee did in December 1955 when it appointed Jack Sheedy as playing coach for the 1956 season. Sheedy was a 210 game veteran from arch rivals East Fremantle, and this fact on its own was enough to fuel a certain amount of controversy among Royals supporters.[3] However, the battle-scarred veteran did not waste any time in showing that he meant business. After putting the players through a tougher pre-season than any of them could remember he was soon involved in an incident which, in retrospect, can be seen as having played a large part in breaking the ice, and, moreover, in according him what amounted to hero status at Perth Oval. During the opening round of the season he was reported by field umpire Ray Montgomery for allegedly using abusive language toward him. At the tribunal hearing Sheedy produced a bible on which he solemnly swore that he had not been the player responsible, Montgomery having mistaken him for an (unnamed) team mate. In the upshot, the tribunal's guilty verdict was almost irrelevant when compared to the legend of “Bible Jack” to which Sheedy's colourful defence gave rise.

More tangibly, Jack Sheedy's vibrant personality and intense, almost fanatical determination to succeed had a direct and discernible impact on the team. East Perth won 14 out of 19 home and away matches in 1956, twice as many as from one game more a year earlier, to head the ladder going into the finals. Once there they proved their superiority with two hard fought wins against South Fremantle by 7 and 13 points to cap off what had been in every sense a complete year. In addition to the premiership, the club had provided in the person of Graham Farmer both the Sandover Medallist as the fairest and best player in the WANFL, and the Eric Tassie Medallist for the outstanding player at the Perth carnival.

Farmer was in every respect the epitome of the champion player. Possessed of supreme all round ability, he also boasted a rare and special talent that few others have shared. Put simply, he was an innovator, who by means of great imagination and what amounted to a kind of intuitive genius took the game of Australian football along avenues no one had hitherto been aware existed. If any single individual can be said to have played the major role in transforming Australian football from what was basically a stop-start, prop and kick affair into the fluid, play on style which is now the norm, that player was Farmer. East Perth team mate John Watts described Farmer's uniqueness thus:

"He would evaluate the best player......to give it to. He never got rid of the ball to get himself out of trouble...... He always managed to get the ball away to an advantage to the team...... He played the game correctly...... Even when he fell to the ground he was still thinking, he'd still have possession of it, and (be) thinking where he was going to place it." [4]

South Fremantle had been one of the strongest teams in Australia a few years earlier and they were still a force to be reckoned with in 1956. They had to accept that East Perth were superior to them, however, as they lost both minor round clashes with the Royals as well as the second semi final and grand final. South’s mercurial full forward John Gerovich was the league’s top goal kicker in 1956 with 74 goals.

East Fremantle clinched third place on the ladder going into the finals by thrashing Perth, the team that was vying with them for that position, in their final minor round match. They then repeated the dose in the following week’s first semi final, triumphing by 33 points, 14.13 (97) to the Redlegs’ 9.10 (64). Preliminary final opponents and local rivals South Fremantle proved too strong, however, although Old Easts did not help their cause by kicking somewhat erratically for goal. Final scores were South Fremantle 12.10 (82) defeated East Fremantle 8.16 (64).

Reigning premiers Perth could still match it with the league’s top sides but they lacked consistency. In round ten, for example, they downed East Perth by 51 points at Perth Oval, but the following week they lost to Claremont. Arguably the Redlegs' most noteworthy performance of the season came at the WACA in round seventeen when, watched by 10,190 spectators, they again accounted for eventual premiers East Perth by 57 points. Scores were Perth 23.16 (154); East Perth 14.13 (97). They also thrashed the Royals by 62 points in round three.[5]

West Perth were also inconsistent, winning against the likes of East Perth, Perth (twice), East Fremantle (twice) and South Fremantle, but lowering their colours to Claremont (twice), Swan Districts (twice) and Subiaco.

Claremont, like West Perth, managed 8 wins from their 19 minor round games. Their best wins came at the expense of South Fremantle (twice) and Perth.

Subiaco and Swan Districts both had disappointing seasons which yielded just 6 and 4 wins respectively. It was Swans’ fourth wooden spoon since the war. Only Subiaco with five had fared worse.

SANFL: Port Power On
Port Adelaide’s only defeat during the 18 match minor round came against South Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval in round fourteen. The Panthers led all day en route to a 12 point success, 13.5 (83) to 10.11 (71). More typical of the Magpies’ season were triumphs by 95 points against Sturt, 75 points against Glenelg, 109 points against Norwood, and 100 points against South Adelaide. They carried their exemplary form into the finals, downing West Adelaide in the second semi by 36 points, 12.22 (94) to 8.10 (58). The grand final clash with the same opponents was somewhat closer fought but Port always appeared to have something in hand and deservedly won by 16 points, 12.9 (81) to 9.11 (65).

The Magpies enjoyed further success in 1956 with Rex Johns topping the goal kicking list and Dave Boyd winning the Magarey Medal. Not only a deadly goal kicker, but a highly accomplished all round footballer as well, Rexie Johns somewhat surprisingly played only 134 league games for Port Adelaide in a ten season career between 1954 and 1963.  Those 134 games, however, netted him 451 goals at a per game average of 3.37, which, considering the era in which he played - the 1950s, decade of dour defence, lonely full forwards, and low scores - was highly respectable.  Johns topped Port Adelaide's goal kicking list on six occasions, and the SANFL's on four, but at Alberton one sometimes got the impression - at least according to Jeff Pash - that his contribution was not always unequivocally appreciated.  His 5 interstate games for South Australia netted him 17 goals. A member of Port Adelaide premiership teams in 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1962, Johns was a superb and stylish kick who boasted the sort of effortless elegance and poise that only ever seems to characterise left footers. 

Local product and lifelong Port Adelaide supporter Davey Boyd (he was almost never referred to as “David” or “Dave”) made his league debut with the Magpies in 1948, after topping the club's seconds goal kicking list with 80 goals from full forward the previous year. He did not play at full forward in the seniors, however; after spending most of his debut season as a half forward flanker, in 1949 he replaced retiring champion Lew Roberts in the centre and never looked back.

Tireless, beautifully balanced, and a superb stab pass, Boyd went on to play 222 SANFL games for Port in thirteen seasons and was never once dropped.  He was also a near automatic choice for South Australia for much of his career, playing at the 1950 Brisbane, 1953 Adelaide and 1956 Perth carnivals. One of his greatest displays came against the VFL in Perth when he lowered the colours of champion Footscray centreman Peter Box; later that year, Boyd and Box would win their respective competition best and fairest awards.

A member of seven Magpie premiership teams, Boyd was often cited as a primary reason for the team's dominance, and yet somewhat surprisingly never won a club best and fairest award. Part of the reason for this may have been his tendency to reserve his finest performances for big games - he was almost invariably among the best players afield in grand finals, for instance - but his Magarey Medal win in 1956 suggests that he was also perfectly capable of playing well consistently.

In 2000, Davey Boyd was selected on a half forward flank in Port Adelaide's official Greatest Team 1870-2000. His sons Greg and Russell later maintained the family tradition by playing premiership football for the Magpies.

West Adelaide showed considerable improvement on their 1955 season, rising five rungs on the premiership ladder and winning 5 more games plus a draw. They were no match for Port Adelaide, however, but this season marked the onset of an intense rivalry between the two clubs. In between their second semi final and grand final losses West downed North Adelaide by 20 points in the preliminary final. The margin should probably have been much greater but West’s kicking for goal was poor. Final scores were West Adelaide 9.17 (71) to North Adelaide 7.9 (51).

North Adelaide were impressive in overcoming Norwood by 39 points in the first semi final but wilted badly in the second half of their preliminary final clash with West. Nevertheless third place was encouraging following three seasons without finals football.

Norwood won just 1 olf their first 5 matches but improved to grab fourth place on the ladder heading into the finals. Having defeated first semi final opponents North Adelaide in both minor round encounters the Redlegs were justifiably confident. However, they were comprehensively outgunned, and the 39 point deficit probably flattered them.

West Torrens finished fifth but their finals hopes had evaporated by mid-season and they won just 6 matches and drew 1, compared to 10 wins for both the third and fourth placed teams. They beat Norwood twice and drew with West but they also lowered their colurs on several occasions to lower ranking sides.

Glenelg had an identical 6-11-1 record to Torrens and the Bays were similarly inconsistent. They won 2 out of 3 clashes with Norwood but otherwise failed to provide the top sides with more than a token challenge.

The highlight of South Adelaide’s season was their stunning 12 point success against Port Adelaide in round fourteen. As already mentioned this was the only reversal suffered by the Magpies all year. South’s season was more adequately summed up by the result of their other minor round meeting with Port, however. In round eight at Alberton the Magpies won by precisely 100 points, 21.21 (147) to 7.5 (47).

After qualifying for the finals and ultimately finishing third in 1955 Sturt slumped to an unexpected wooden spoon. The Double Blues won just 3 matches and drew 1 compared to their tally of 9 wins the previous year. Several of their losses were by substantial margins.

A post season night competition involving the four non-finalists and played at Norwood Oval was won by Norwood who defeated South Adelaide by 50 points in the final.

VFA: Hat Trick of Flags for Seagulls
Williamstown came home with a flourish in their grand final clash with Port Melbourne to clinch a third successive VFA premiership. The first three quarters of the grand final were closely contested, with the Boroughs if anything having the edge. At three quarter time the score was 9.14 (68) to 8.10 (58) in favour of Port. During the final term, however, the Seagulls raised the tempo and began to cut loose. With twenty minutes of the match remaining they captured the lead for the first time and went on to record a deceptively comfortable win. Final scores were Williamstown 14.18 (102) to Port Melbourne 10.18 (78). Just as in 1955 Port had won the second semi final only to capitulate when it mattered most.

Bumper Year in Tassie
Fans flocked to TANFL matches in record numbers in 1956. A total of 128,821 spectators attended roster matches, including a single round record of 17,487 for the opening series. Another 39,047 patronised the finals and they were rewarded with some compelling encounters. In the first semi final New Town accounted for New Norfolk by 11 points, the biggest margin of victory of the finals series. North Hobart downed Sandy Bay by 6 points in the second semi final, while in the preliminary final New Town scored a surprise 9 point win over the Seagulls. The grand final between New Town and North was nip and tuck all the way, with the Magpies ultimately prevailing by just 3 points. Final scores were New Town 8.7 (55); North Hobarft 7.10 (52).

New Town went on to capture the state title with wins against City (NTFA) and Ulverstone (NWFU).

Other States and Territories
In the NSWANFL Eastern Suburbs defeated Western Suburbs in the grand final to claim a fourth successive premiership. The margin was a solitary point. Third place went to St George with Newtown fourth.

Sandgate downed Windsor by 10 points in the QANFL grand final. It was the Hawks’ first ever senior grade premiership.

Queanbeyan-Acton won the CANFL flag for the third and last time. They comfortably overcame Manuka in the grand final. RMC finished third and Eastlake fourth.

St Marys went back to back in the NTFL. The Saints accounted for Waratahs in the decisive match by 5 points. Buffaloes and Works and Housing made up the final four.

With the major states focusing on the Perth carnival the so called minor states engaged in a total of seven matches between themselves. Queensland overcame Canberra twice in Brisbane, by margins 58 and 8 points. The Queenslanders also confronted New South Wales on three occasions, winning by 18 points in Brisbane, losing by 22 points at the same venue, and losing by 44 points in Sydney. Canberra achieved victory against both New South Wales in Sydney and Queensland in Canberra with the margins being 25 and 26 points respectively.

Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 17.19 (121) d. Collingwood 6.12 (48); SANFL: Port Adelaide 12.9 (81) d. West Adelaide 9.11 (65); WANFL: East Perth 10.17 (77) d. South Fremantle 9.10 (64); VFA: Williamstown 14.18 (102) d. Port Melbourne 10.18 (78); TANFL: New Town 8.7 (55) d. North Hobart 7.10 (52); NTFA: City 10.6 (66) d. North Launceston 9.4 (58); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 10.12 (72) d. Western Suburbs 9.17 (71); NTFL: St Marys 8.8 (56) d. Waratahs 7.9 (51); QANFL: Sandgate 12.15 (87) d. Windsor 11.11 (77); NWFU: Ulverstone 13.15 (93) d. Cooee 7.14 (56); CANFL: Queanbeyan-Acton 12.20 (92) d. Manuka 5.11 (41); TSP: New Town 14.15 (99) d. Ulverstone 10.11 (71).

Perth Carnival results - South Australia 16.14 (110) d. VFA 11.10 (76); Western Australia 14.19 (103) d. Tasmania 11.14 (80); VFL 21.17 (143) d. VFA 3.5 (23); Western Australia 11.9 (75) d. Soutth Australia 9.10 (64); Tasmania 27.22 (184) d. VFA 12.12 (84); VFL 14.27 (111) d. South Australia 9.7 (61); Western Australia 22.20 (152) d. VFA 9.15 (69); VFL 22.19 (151) d. Tasmania 14.6 (90); Tasmania 10.20 (80) d. South Australia 8.19 (67); VFL 20.17 (137) d. Western Australia 9.19 (73).

FOOTNOTES

[1] See Champions Of Australia by Max Sayer, page 24. 

[2] Just by way of comparison it is interesting to note that payments to players became officially sanctioned in the VFL in 1911.

[3] Not that the appointment of an outsider was unprecedented. As was noted above, former Old East player Jerry Dolan had coached East Perth to the 1936 premiership.

[4] From Polly Farmer: a Biography by Steve Hawke, page 20.

[5] The Redlegs restricted East Perth to just 1.4 which must rank as one of the lowest scores ever kicked by an eventual premiership winning team.


1957

The 1957 Football Season Under Scutiny

VFL: Dees Make it Three in a Row
Unlike in 1955 and 1956 Melbourne did not have things all their own way this season. After an extraordinarily evenly contested home and away series, Melbourne duly secured a third successive minor premiership, but it did so with just 12 wins and a draw from 18 matches, the poorest record by a minor premier since 1943. Then, in the second semi final against Essendon, the unthinkable happened, as the Bombers, after kicking 10 first half goals to 2, won by 16 points to progress straight into the grand final.  

The preliminary final saw Melbourne opposed by first time finalist, and sentimental favourite, Hawthorn, which had caused something of a shock by overcoming Carlton in the first semi final. The Demons, however, were in no mood to play vanquished villain, and bounced back to form with a resounding 22.12 (144) to 11.10 (76) win.

If ever a team was determined to make amends it was Melbourne against the Dons in the 1957 grand final.  Within thirteen seconds of the opening bounce, Ron Barassi had a goal on the board, and thereafter it was virtually all one way traffic as Melbourne won by 61 points, 17.14 (116) to 7.13 (55).  Barassi, Bob Johnson, Richard Fenton-Smith, Don Williams and John Lord junior were best for the victors in what was a consummate all round team display.  However, over and above the quality of its football, a single incident during the final term, described by E.C.H. Taylor in his centenary history of the club, perhaps epitomised what the Melbourne Football Club, in contrast with many of its opponents, was about during this, and indeed many other, eras:

....... Burgess, the Essendon wingman, was forced to leave the field in the last quarter.  His opposite number, Brian Dixon, who had had a great tussle with him all day, walked over and warmly shook him by the hand. [1]

Such a gesture perfectly reflected the attitude of coach Norm Smith who, according to 'Bluey' Adams, "wanted us to be modest winners, gracious losers”.[2]

Essendon replaced Collingwood as Melbourne’s chief rival in 1957. The Bombers qualified for the finals in second place having won 11 and lost 7 games. They had failed to beat the Demons during the minor round but swept them aside with some ease in the second semi final. In the wake of such a performance their grand final capitulation was inordinately disappointing but the Bombers boasted a predominantly youthful playing list and had reason to be optimistic about the future.

Hawthorn made the finals for the first time since joining the VFL in 1925. The Hawks finished the minor round in third place with 11 wins, the same as second placed Essendon and fourth placed Carlton. Had they won their final home and away mnatch against Footscray they would have earned the double chance, but they somehow contrived to lose by 2 points after leading 7.14 to 3.7 at the last change. There was no such frailty in the following week’s first semi final clash with Carlton, however. At half time the Hawks enjoyed a 31 point lead and although the Blues battled hard they were only marginally able to reduce the deficit. Final scores were Hawthorn 10.11 (71); Carlton 6.12 (48). The Hawks were no match for Melbourne in the preliminary final but overall it had been a season brimming with promise, not to mention the single most noteworthy season in the club’s history up to that point.

Fourth placed Carlton were only the second team in VFL history to qualify for the finals with a percentage of less than 100. They ended up on 99.5% - the same as North Melbourne in 1954. Only four teams managed a percentage in excess of 100 in 1957, further highlighting the almost unprecedented evenness of the competition.

Hawthorn got the jump on the Blues in the first semi final, just as they had in the teams’ round twelve clash at Glenferrie. On that occasion Carlton had fought back to score a noteworthy 9 point win but the Hawks were in no mood to relinquish their advantage this time around.

Collingwood, with 9 wins and a draw, finished fifth, an extremely disappointing results after they had reached the previous two grand finals. The draw came in round thirteen against Melbourne proving that the ‘Pies could still match it with the best. Overall, however, they lacked consistency.

Sixth placed Footscray were similarly inconsistent, losing to the likes of North Melbourne (twice) and St Kilda whilst overcoming Carlton (twice) and Collingwood as well as being held to a draw by wooden spooners Geelong. One highlight of the season for the Bulldogs was full forward Jack Collins’ achievement in topping the league’s goal kicking list for the second time. He booted 74 goals.

Richmond, with a 9-9 record, finished seventh. The Tigers accounted for Melbourne, Carlton, Essendon, and Hawthorn during the season but failed to build on these performances.

Eighth placed North Melbourne were another side equally capable both of troubling the leading teams and failing against the likes of Geelong (both at home and away) and South Melbourne.

St Kilda’s predominantly dull year was illuminated by Brian Gleeson’s Brownlow Medal triumph. Gleeson's football career took him from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair within the space of a few short months. In 1957, his fourth season in the VFL, he produced displays of consistent all round brilliance throughout the year to end up as an emphatic winner of both the Brownlow Medal and the St Kilda club champion award. He also played 4 outstanding games for the VFL that year.

In 1958, St Kilda appointed the twenty-three year old Gleeson club as captain, but in a pre-season practice match he injured a knee and never played VFL football again.  Had he been able to continue, it is at least arguable that he would have developed into one of the football's all time greats as he was one of those rare players who appeared to have all the skills of the game at his disposal.  A superb aerialist, he began his career as a strong marking centre half forward before developing into a first rate ruckman whose ability to direct his hit-outs to his rovers was second to none.  Where he outshone most opposition ruckmen, however, was in his extraordinary, rover-like ability on the ground; small wonder the umpires latched onto him with such unanimity in his Brownlow year.

After moving to Queensland on business, Gleeson attempted a comeback with Coorparoo in 1962.  However, after just twelve minutes of his opening game he injured his other knee bringing the curtain down on his football career once and for all.

South Melbourne won 7 matches, which was 1 more than in 1956, but they dropped one place on the premiership ladder to finish tenth. Their best football of the year was produced during the post season night competition which took place at South’s home ground, the Lake Oval. Just as they had in the competition’s inaugural year of 1956 South claimed the premiership, overcoming Geelong 15.13 (103) to 8.4 (52) in the decisive match. It was a much more noteworthy triumph than a year earlier as in 1957 the tournament involved not just the eight non-finalists but all twelve VFL clubs.

Fitzroy with 6 wins, and Geelong with 5 wins plus a draw, respectively filled the eleventh and twelfth rungs on the ladder. The Maroons actually defeated the Cats in the final match of the season to consign them to the wooden spoon.

WANFL: Old Easts Hold Sway
There is no doubt that East Fremantle’s loss to Perth in the 1955 WANFL grand final hurt deeply, and although they gained a small measure of revenge against the Demons the following year by winning comfortably in the first semi final (en route to an eventual third place finish) it was not to be until 1957 that the memory was more irrevocably consigned to oblivion. In that season's preliminary final the Demons looked to be comfortably on course for a sizeable win as they led 16.17 to 9.6 at three quarter time, only for East Fremantle to unleash a miraculous brand of football in the final term to add 10.4 to 1.1 and sneak over the line by 4 points. Buoyed  by this achievement the players carried on the momentum into the following week's grand final when warm pre-match favourites East Perth were overcome by 16 points after a dour, low scoring war of attrition. Old Easts were captain-coached in 1957 by ex South Fremantle star Steve Marsh who thereby became arguably the most popular Bulldog ever to don the blue and white of their arch rivals.

Nicknamed “Stork”, East Fremantle's Jack Clarke (pictured at the head of this section) belied his somewhat ungainly appearance with supreme agility and formidable ball skills.  Moreover, in an era boasting a multiplicity of high quality knock ruckmen Clarke had few peers in the role.

Jack Clarke's many playing achievements, which included a Sandover Medal in 1957 and selection in no fewer than four All Australian teams, appear all the more remarkable in light of the fact that he played his entire ten season, 206 game career as an amateur.  He was hotly pursued by a number of VFL clubs but later maintained "I was never interested in going to Victoria.  I was West Australian.  Loyalty was most important in that era.  No one shifted clubs or went to Victoria.  The thing that induces players to change clubs is money - there wasn't any about when I played." [3]

Always quintessentially a team-orientated player, the highlights of Clarke's career were the five East Fremantle grand finals in which he participated (sadly, for only one flag), and the 1961 Brisbane carnival in which Western Australia reigned supreme.  

East Perth finished with a 17-4 win/loss record to comfortably claim the minor premiership. They then annihilated Perth in the second semi final by 86 points to enter the grand final as almost unbackable favourites. However, just as they had done in 2 out of 3 minor round clashes with the Royals, Old Easts proved too strong when it mattered. East Perth would lick their wounds, learn from the defeat, and bounce back with renewed energy and purpose in 1958. Decades later they would have retrospective cause for celebration when Graham “Polly” Farmer was awarded a Sandover Medal; the champion ruckman had originally been placed second on a countback.

After a promising minor round campaign which yielded 15 wins - good enough for second spot on the ladder, ahead of third placed East Fremantle on percentage - Perth failed to do themselves justice when it counted. As indicated above they underperformed badly in the second semi final, losing to East Perth by more than fourteen goals. Then in the following week’s preliminary final against East Fremantle they squandered numerous scoring opportunities in going down by 4 points. Scores were East Fremantle 19.10 (124) to Perth 17.18 (120).

West Perth won 4 of their last 5 minor round games and drew the other to secure finals qualification with some comfort. However, their good form evaporated in the first semi final and they succumbed to East Fremantle by 3 goals. Final scores were East Fremantle 13.14 (92) defeated West Perth 10.14 (74).

The 1957 WANFL competition was somewhat lop-sided, with fifth placed South Fremantle achieving 3 wins fewer than fourth placed West Perth. It was the first time since world war two that South had failed to qualify for the finals and they would not manage to do so again for another decade.

Subiaco finished a long way off the pace in 1957, winning just 7 matches to finish sixth. Perhaps surprisingly though this was the first time since 1945 that they had finished outside the bottom two. All of Subi’s wins were against fellow non-finalists. Their full forward Don Glass topped the WANFL goal kicking list in 1957. He booted 83 goals. Glass commenced his senior grade WANFL career with South Fremantle's supremely powerful early 1950s combination, but he found it extremely hard to break into the side, and after just 14 games he crossed to amateur club Northam. In 1956, Subiaco invited him to have a second stab at league football, and he hit his straps immediately, proving himself over the next seven seasons and 136 games to be one of the competition's most versatile performers. Capable not only of filling, but of thriving in, virtually any position on the field, he was arguably Subiaco's most important and effective player of the late 1950s. Many of his best games were played at full forward, and he topped his club's goal kicking ladder on three occasions, while as mentioned above his tally of 83 in 1957 was also good enough to head the league list. Voted Subiaco's fairest and best player in 1957 when he played mostly at the goal front, he repeated the achievement two years later as an archetypal “spare parts” player, sometimes filling three or four different roles in the same match.  Somewhat surprisingly for a footballer once described in 'The WANFL Football Budget' as "phenomenal", Don Glass was never selected to represent his state.

Seventh placed Claremont and eighth placed Swan Districts both managed just 4 wins. Swans did not win a match until round eleven. The highlight of Claremont’s season came in round fourteen at Claremont Showgrounds when they annihilated eventual premiers East Fremantle by 88 points, 19.14 (128) to 5.10 (40). 

SANFL: A Hat Trick of Flags for Port
For the first time in their history Port Adelaide won three consecutive premierships. Once again the Magpies were comfortably superior to every other team during the minor round. They won 15 and drew 1 of their 18 matches; next best were West (12-6). The second semi final clash between the pair made gruesome watching - unless you happened to be a Port supporter. West were restricted to just 3.5 (23), and lost by 49 points.

In the grand final a fortnight later the Magpies faced arch rivals Norwood and a closely fought, highly gripping affair ensued. The Redlegs led at every change by 12, 7 and 6 points, but in the last quarter Port kicked 5 goals to 2 to edge home by 11 points. Geof Motley, who booted 4 of Port’s last quarter goals, was arguably the difference between the teams. Having been badly beaten in the centre by Koerner, Motley was shifted to a half forward flank where he cut loose to telling effect.

After only qualifying for the finals in fourth place, albeit admittedly with some comfort, Norwood raised their game when it mattered to come very close indeed to capturing a surprise premiership. The Redlegs inched past West Torrens in the first semi final, winning 11.17 (83) to 10.16 (76). The preliminary final saw them striking top form as they comfortably eclipsed West Adelaide. Scores were Norwood 16.8 (104) to West Adelaide 11.13 (79). The grand final was a classic case of “so near and yet so far” and Redlegs supporters volubly speculated on what might have happened had not Butler and Dickson been forced from the fray early in the second term.

West Adelaide’s finals fade-out was as uncharacteristic as it was pronounced. For much of the season West had looked the most likely challengers to Port for the premiership but come finals time they wilted. The side’s good form during the minor round saw them provide both the Magarey Medallist in the shape of Ron Benton and the league’s top goal kicker in Peter Phipps.

Fast, elusive and courageous, West Adelaide's Ron Benton was, in the words of Jeff Pash, "a heroic little figure" for whom "every game seems to be another survival”.[4]  Over the course of his 178 game 172 goal league career between 1955 and 1959 and from 1961 to 1965 he achieved virtually everything the game had to offer: a Magarey Medal and club best and fairest award in 1957, interstate football (albeit only 1 game), a near best afield performance in the winning grand final of 1961 against Norwood, and West Adelaide's leading goal kicker award (with 29 goals) in 1963.  He was, without doubt, one of the most illustrious players in the history of a club that, over the years, has been blessed with a disproportionately high number of top quality footballers.

Tall, rangy and versatile, Peter Phipps made a highly commendable all round contribution to the West Adelaide cause in 86 SANFL games between 1954 and 1958 and then in 1961 and 1962. Many of his best performances came at full forward, and he topped both West's and the league's goal kicking lists in 1957 with 90 goals. All told, he kicked a total of 186 goals during his SANFL career, plus 13 in 4 interstate matches for South Australia. His best goal tally in a match was 10, which he managed twice in consecutive weeks in 1957, against Sturt at Adelaide, and Glenelg at Kensington. In a one season break in his career with West in 1959 Peter Phipps coached NTFA side East Launceston.

Werst Torrens’ consistently good post-war form continued with the side qualifying for the finals for the tenth time in thirteen seasons. Norwood, however, quickly scuttled them out of the premiership race at the first hurdle. The Eagles’ best performance of the season arguably came in round seven at Thebarton when they drew with the almost invincible Port Adelaide.

Fifth placed Sturt won 8 and lost 18 games to finish 3 wins plus percentage behind fourth team Norwood. Having reached the preliminary final a year earlier this was a disappointing result for the Blues, who were still capable on their day of matching it with the league’s best. They proved this during the minor round with wins against Norwood (twice) and Torrens.

North Adelaide, who finished sixth, and seventh placed Glenelg both won 6 matches. The pick of these for North was the round three success against West Adelaide at Adelaide Oval. The Roosters led all afternoon en route to a 17 point triumph, 12.6 (78) to 8.13 (61). The Bays' most noteworthy result also came at Adelaide Oval; in round thirteen, in atrocious weather conditions, they beat West Torrens by 11 points in one of the lowest scoring SANFL mnatches ever. Final scores were Glenelg 4.8 (32); West Torrens 2.9 (21).

South Adelaide were yet again little better than competition makeweights. The Panthers had to wait until their round ten clash with Glenelg to achieve their first victory. Their only other success came a couple of weeks later when they squeezed home by 2 points against North.

Boom Times in Tasmania
Tasmanian football continued to enjoy a renaissance, both in terms of the standard of play and the number of spectators attending matches. The TANFL premiership went to North Hobart who downed Glenorchy by 2 goals in the grand final. A bumper crowd of 16,363 witnessed the match.

The battle for the state title commenced with NTFA premiers Longford overcoming their NWFU counterparts in the preliminary final by 38 points. Then, in the final, watched by a state competition record crowd of 12,546 at York Park, Launceston the Tigers accounted for TANFL premiers North Hobart by a margin of 21 points. Final scores were Longford 14.16 (100); North Hobart 12.7 (79).

The William Leitch Medal for the best and fairest player in the TANFL this year went to Trevor Leo. One of the best of the many superb rovers to have graced Tasmanian football since world war two, Trevor Leo gave distinguished service to three clubs as well as representing Tasmania in the interstate arena 18 times, including games at the 1956, 1958 and 1961 carnivals. He began his career with Cooee in 1953, where he gave immediate evidence of his prowess by winning the club's best and fairest award. The following season saw him at Hobart, where he was a member of premiership teams in 1954, 1959 and 1960, won the 1957 William Leitch Medal, and was a dual winner of the club's best and fairest award. After 124 games for the Tigers he crossed to New Norfolk as captain-coach where, five years later, he made history by steering the side to its first ever TANFL premiership courtesy of a 14.13 (97) to 9.14 (68) grand final defeat of North Hobart.  The Eagles later downed Scottsdale to win their first and only Tasmanian state premiership, after which Leo retired as a player. He continued as non-playing coach of New Norfolk for one further season, and also coached the Tasmanian team at the 1969 Adelaide carnival. His last involvement in league football came as non-playing coach of his original club, Hobart, in 1974, but it proved to be an unsavoury finale as the Tigers, who were reigning premiers, missed the finals.

Trevor Leo, who away from football established a reputation as one of Tasmania's leading mathematicians, earned inclusion in both Hobart's official Greatest Team 1947 to 2002 and New Norfolk's equivalent combination for the period from 1947 to 2001.

Moorabbin Break the Ice in Style
The 1957 VFA grand final featured Moorabbin and Port Melbourne. Since Moorabbin had entered the competition in 1951 the two sides had confronted one another ten times with Port enjoying one hundred per cent success. This, coupled with the Boroughs’ magnificent form in both the first semi final and preliminary final, meant that Port Melbourne were warmly favoured to win. The Kangas, however, had other ideas, and right from the outset it was clear that they were a team on a mission. Thanks in part to Port Melbourne’s wayward kicking for goal they led at every change before cruising to victory with a 5 goals to 2 last quarter. Scores were Moorabbin 15.20 (110); Port Melbourne 7.20 (62).

The other VFA finalists in 1957 were Williamstown, who finished third, and Preston.

Interstate Matches
The Big V’s irrepressible form in interstate football continued with triumphs against South Australia in both Adelaide and Melbourne, Western Australia twice in Perth, and Tasmania in Hobart. Far and away the toughest match was the encounter with Tasmania. Fielding what was technically a B team the Vics nevertheless boasted experience and quality aplenty but were forced to fight all the way before securing victory by just 15 points. In their other matches they downed South Australia by 22 points in Adelaide and 36 points in Melbourne, and Western Australia by margins of 67 and 49 points.

South Australia played the VFA in Melbourne, winning by 34 points, and in Adelaide where the margin was 81 points in the home state’s favour. They also travelled to Hobart to play Tasmania with their defeat to that state in the previous year’s Perth carnival still fresh in their minds. Once again they were hard pressed, but on this occasion they did just enough to sneak home by 15 points in a high scoring, hugely entertaining game.

Other Grand Finals
Eastern Suburbs won their fifth consecutive NSWANFL grand final. They overcame Sydney Naval, who were playing in their first premiership decider since 1950, by 20 points. Western Suburbs and Newtown finished third and fourth respectively.

The QANFL grand final between Sandgate and Coorparoo was fiercely fought, with less than a kick in it at the death. Victory ultimately went to Sandgate, for the second year in a row. Their winning margin was just 2 points.

Eastlake won the CANFL premiership with a 16.10 (106) to 12.13 (85) grand final defeat of Manuka. Queanbeyan-Acton, in the final season of their partnership, came third, and  Ainslie fourth.

Works and Housing won the NTFL flag for the first time thanks to a grand final victory over Buffaloes. St Marys and Waratahs finished third and fourth respectively.

Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 17.14 (116) d. Essendon 7.13 (55); SANFL: Port Adelaide 15.15 (105) d. Norwood 13.16 (94); WANFL: East Fremantle 10.18 (78) d. East Perth 9.8 (62); VFA: Moorabbin 15.12 (102) d. Port Melbourne 7.20 (62); TANFL: North Hobart 11.15 (81) d. Glenorchy (formerly New Town) 9.15 (69); NTFA: Longford 11.11 (77) d. Launceston 6.7 (43); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 12.18 (90) d. Sydney Naval 9.16 (70); NTFL: Works and Housing 15.11 (101) d. Buffaloes 12.2 (74); QANFL: Sandgate 12.16 (88) d. Coorparoo 13.8 (86); NWFU: Ulverstone 29.17 (191) d. Latrobe 9.11 (65); CANFL: Eastlake 15.10 (100) d. Manuka 12.13 (85); TSP: Longford 14.16 (100) d. North Hobart 12.7 (79).

FOOTNOTES

[1] See Champions Of Australia by Max Sayer, page 91.

[2] Barassi: The Life Behind The Legend by Ron Barassi and Peter McFarline, page 50.

[3] Quoted in Football Greats of Western Australia: Volume One by Anthony James, page 21.

[4] The Pash Papers by Jeff Pash, page 79.


1958

The 1958 Football Season Under The Spotlight

High Farce in the “Home” of Football
The Melbourne Carnival of 1958, which was specially arranged to celebrate the imagined centenary of Australian football, ended up being less a celebration and more a palpable indictment, emphasising as it did just how little real progress in promoting and developing the sport had been made over the preceding hundred years. With the pre-eminence of the Victorian Football League arguably at an all time zenith,[1] and most Victorian football supporters having been brainwashed into the deluded notion that the sport of Australian football did not meaningfully exist beyond the boundaries of their home state, the Carnival proved to be a disaster from both a financial and sporting perspective. With all of the VFL's results a foregone conclusion the only glimmers of excitement - as in 1956 at Perth - came in matches involving Tasmania, which combined sensational triumphs over both Western Australia and South Australia with a heart-halting loss to the VFA. Just as two years earlier in Perth, the Tasmanians finished a highly creditable third.

In a pathetic attempt to affirm the “Australian-ness'"of Australian football the 1958 Melbourne carnival also played host to section B of the championships, with New South Wales, Queensland, Australian Amateurs and Canberra waging their own private series of meaningless mini wars in front of deserted terraces and stands. As usual, the southern states amateur combination proved comfortably superior to all three of the minor football states and territories.

Allen Aylett of the VFL, who polled 7 votes, was declared the sole winner of the 1958 Tassie Medal; however, in keeping with the spirit of revisionism which began to infest Australian football from the 1980s onwards Ted Whitten, who also claimed 7 votes, was later declared a joint winner. Originally, under the countback system in operation at the time, first preference votes were accorded the greatest weighting, and Aylett received more first preference votes than Whitten.

VFL: Collingwood’s Finest Hour
On 20th September 1958, in a scenario that no Hollywood script writer could have wished to surpass, the only team standing between Melbourne and the immortality of four successive VFL flags was - Collingwood, the only team to have so far achieved that feat. Regarded by most as an ordinary team fuelled more by old-fashioned 'G and D' than by a profusion of innate football talent, embarrassingly thrashed by Melbourne in the second semi final, missing both their skipper Frank Tuck and arguably their most talented player in Bill Twomey, the Magpies entered the 1958 grand final as the longest odds outsiders for years. The Demons, thought the experts, would be too quick, too skilled and much too cohesive for Collingwood, whose only potential trump card lay in the almost fanatical determination of its players, who ‘Phonse Kyne had ensured were imbued to the brim with awareness of and heartfelt devotion to the club's unique tradition, as well as an understanding of the damage to that tradition which would result from Melbourne emulating - and hence, inevitably, de-valuing - one of its chief cornerstones, the winning of an unprecedented four VFL flags in succession.

Grand final day was cool and very wet, but this did not prevent a large crowd of 97,956[2] turning up to see Melbourne explode out of the blocks in typical, vibrant, assured fashion. With 'big guns' Barassi, Mithen, Beckwith and Johnson firing, the Demons totally dominated the opening term, and when they entered the first change with a 5.1 to 2.2 lead the only question on most observers' minds - Collingwood supporters excepted - was “how much Melbourne?”

During the second term, however, a change came over the game.  As the ground got heavier, so the pace slowed, and the normally elusive Melbourne players were at the wrong end of some fierce body clashes. Moreover, they reacted in such a way that Collingwood's 'enforcers', Murray Weideman and Barry “Hooker” Harrison, sensing a weakness, "systematically roughed up the potential Melbourne match-winners, notably Barassi and Mithen, who seemed to be involved in almost every flare-up”.[3]  Slowly but surely, as Melbourne players concentrated on avoiding danger, or on 'evening up' with Harrison and Weideman, the Magpies began to make inroads into the deficit, adding 5.4 to 2.3 for the quarter to end up 2 points to the good at the long break.

The third quarter brought more fiery incidents, but in between it was the Magpies who were playing nearly all the football, rattling on 5.3 to the Demons' 2 solitary behinds to more or less seal the game.  Although Melbourne attacked relentlessly for most of the final term, the Collingwood backline, notably full back Harry Sullivan and back pocket Ron Reeves, reigned supreme, and when the final siren sounded the scoreboard confirmed what was arguably the biggest grand final boil-over in the VFL since Melbourne's triumph over Essendon precisely a decade earlier: Collingwood 12.10 (82); Melbourne 9.10 (64).

The Magpies' victory had been achieved by means of a quintessential team performance in which every player carried his weight.  Even so, some individuals inevitably stood out, notably diminutive rover Thorold Merrett, who was credited with 25 kicks, ruckmen Graeme Fellowes and Ray Gabelich, half forward Bill Serong, wingman Ken Turner (21 kicks and 11 marks) - plus, of course, the aforementioned “strong man” duo of Weideman and Harrison and, particularly in the final term, the last line defenders Reeves and Sullivan.

Despite the intensely physical nature of the contest, the umpires made only two reports: Melbourne's Ron Barassi was charged with striking Murray Weideman, and Barry Harrison was alleged to have charged Barassi.  Both players were exonerated at the tribunal.

After what was arguably the Collingwood Football Club's finest hour, few could have imagined that it would be thirty-two long years before the club again achieved premiership success, but such would indeed prove to be the case.

Collingwood provided the leading goal kicker for 1958 in the shape of Ian Brewer. Key position forward  Brewer had the rare distinction of enjoying top level success in all three main football states.  At Collingwood he impressed as a full forward, kicking 164 goals in 84 VFL games between 1956 and 1961, topping the league list with 73 goals in 1958.  He topped the Magpies' goal kicking ladder twice, and was at full forward in the 1958 grand final when the Woods upset firm flag favourites Melbourne by 3 goals.  Earlier that season, on the Queen's Birthday holiday, he had produced arguably his most memorable performance for Collingwood in booting 6 of the side's 10 goals in an 11 point loss to Melbourne in front of an all time record VFL home and away crowd of 99,346.

In 1962 he crossed to St Kilda, but proved unable to break into the senior side. As a result, he seems to have decided that a change of scenery might suit him, and travelled to Western Australia.  He spent the next couple of seasons with Claremont where, playing mainly as a centre half forward, he booted 55 goals to top the club's list in 1963, and was a member of its sensational “rags to riches” premiership team the following year.

The next stop was the SANFL where Brewer lined up with Norwood. In 1965 he was the competition's outstanding forward, missing the elusive ton by just 4 goals.  He also topped Norwood's list with 76 goals the following year.  After three years spent captain-coaching Wangaratta Rovers in the Ovens and Murray Football League he made a somewhat faltering return with the Redlegs in 1970, when his 3 appearances for the season gave him a career total of 171 league games comprised of 84 with Collingwood, 43 with Claremont, and 44 for Norwood.

Melbourne's desire to retain its title in 1958 could scarcely have been more intense.  Not only would such an achievement match Collingwood's all time record of four consecutive VFL pennants between 1927 and 1930, it would, if anything, be amplified almost beyond measure by virtue of coinciding with the centenaries of both the Melbourne Football Club and - by popular consent, at any rate - the code of Australian football itself. Alas, although the Demons did everything that could possibly be expected of them right up until the day of the grand final itself, winning the minor premiership yet again, and thrashing Collingwood by 45 points in a low scoring second semi final, ultimately it was not to be. In the grand final, as described above, Collingwood comprehensively outplayed Melbourne in the second and third quarters to win a torrid, feisty encounter by 18 points. Sometimes, when the stakes are perceived as being particularly high, it is possible to try just that bit too hard, and perhaps that was the Demons' problem in 1958.

Despite boasting a percentage of just 92.7 North Melbourne won 11 of their 18 minor round matches to qualify for the finals in fourth spot. Opposed in the first semi final by a Fitzroy team which had convincingly won both home and away encounters between the teams North showed great resilience in snatching victory by 4 points. The winning goal was scored by Noel Teasdale with the very last kick of the match.

The Kangaroos had beaten preliminary final opponents Collingwood at Victoria Park in the final home and away match of the season. However, on this occasion the Magpies proved too dynamic and resourceful, with the Kangas not aiding their own cause by some slipshod kicking for goal, particularly in the second term. Collingwood ultimately won by 20 points, 14.12 (96) to 10.16 (76).

Fitzroy qualified for the finals in third place with a 12-6 record which included wins in all 9 of their home fixtures, behind Collingwood only on percentage, and some observers rated them a realistic premiership prospect. However, on only the second wet Saturday of the entire 1958 season they were well contained by North Melbourne, who deservedly won 10.10 (70) to 9.12 (66). Unfazed, the ‘Roys would regroup and continue among the league’s leading sides for another few seasons.

The round seventeen clash between Essendon and North Melbourne at Windy Hill can in retrospect be said to have decided which of the teams progressed to the finals. North won by 3 goals leaving the Bombers in fifth place with 10 wins, 1 win shy of the Kangas but with a vastly superior percentage. Having reached the 1957 grand final Essendon had reason to be disappointed. At their best they could compete with anyone, as they proved with a 3 point dfeat of Melbourne in round sixteen. The Bombers also achieved wins against Collingwood (twice) and Fitzroy, but on the reverse side of the ledger they somehow contrived to lower their colours to each of the league’s bottom three sides, clear evidence that they lacked consistency.

After qualifying for the VFL finals for the first ever time in 1957 Hawthorn suffered a disappointing decline a year later, winning precisely half of their matches to finish sixth. Their most noteworthy wins occurred against North Melbourne in rounds five and sixteen, and in round eighteen against Fitzroy.

Seventh placed Carlton had an immensely disappointing year by the club’s high standards. The Blues won just 8 matches and never once looked capable of challenging the competition’s leading sides.

Despite their poor league form - 7 wins and 11 losses - eighth placed St Kilda had a couple of causes for celebration. Statuesque defender Neil Roberts won the 1958 Brownlow Medal, while the Saints were successful in the VFL night competition, overcoming Carlton in the final by 8 points.

St Kilda recruited Roberts from Melbourne High School Old Boys and he made his VFL debut in 1952.  After failing to impress as a forward during his first two and a half seasons in league company he was moved to centre half back with stunning success. Tall and boasting an athletic physique, he was excellent overhead, and a superb rebound player. He won St Kilda's best and fairest award in 1955, and again three years later, when he also landed the Brownlow.  A regular Big V representative (11 appearances), he was an inspirational player who led from the front.  In 1958 he became the first ever St Kilda player to achieve All Australian selection. Appointed St Kilda captain in 1959 he retained the position until he retired, after 169 VFL games and 40 goals, in 1962.

In 2002, Neil Roberts was chosen at centre half back in St Kilda’s official Team of the Century.

Ninth placed South Melbourne and tenth placed Richmond, like St Kilda, won just 7 games. South managed to defeat Fitzroy in round thirteen; other than that, results tended to go to form.

Footscray ended up eleventh, their worst finish since 1939. The club’s first halcyon era, highlighted by the 1954 premiership, was well and truly over.

Last placed Geelong managed just 4 wins. It was the Cats’ second successive wooden spoon.

WANFL: Royals Bounce Back
After their surprise loss to East Fremantle in the 1957 grand final East Perth bounced back in heart stopping fashion against the same opposition a year later. The Royals finished the minor round in second place with their tally of 16 wins from 21 games being 1 fewer than minor premiers East Fremantle. There were some who felt that Old Easts had the wood on East Perth. After defeating the Royals in the 1957 grand final they had proceeded to win all 3 1958 minor round clashes between the teams. They then crystallised the notion that they had East Perth’s measure by winning the second semi final by 16 points. The Royals bounced back from this disappointment by grinding out a hard fought 6.13 (49) to 4.9 (33) preliminary final win over Perth but some observers were quick to suggest that they would enter the grand final physically denuded as a consequence.

In front of a crowd of 36,668 at Subiaco Oval the two grand finalists produced a stirring, sea-sawing spectacle. It was typical finals football, not pretty, but highly engaging. The Royals, aided by the breeze, were out of the blocks quickly and had they kicked straighter the match could have been as good as over by quarter time. As it was, they led by 21 points, 3.7 (25) to 0.4. The second term brought a revival from East Fremantle who added 5 goals to 2 to go into the half time interval leading by the narrowest of margins. East Perth, in turn, dominated the third term to seize the iniative with a 17 point lead at the last change. This ultimately proved to be just enough, because although Old Easts fought back tenaciously in the final term the Royals were always able to keep their noses in front - just. Scores in the end were East Perth 8.17 (65) to East Fremantle 8.15 (63).

Icing on the cake for East Perth in 1958 came in the shape of Ted Kilmurray’s Sandover Medal win and Bill Mose’s feat in topping the league’s goal kicking list. Dazzlingly skilful and inventive, Kilmurray was a key member of East Perth teams during arguably that club's greatest post-war era. Between 1956 and 1960 the club contested every grand final, and was successful on three occasions. On a personal front, Kilmurray's best year was 1958, when he won both the Sandover Medal and the East Perth fairest and best award, and was on a half forward flank as the Royals beat East Fremantle by 2 points in the thrilling grand final described above. It is therefore perhaps a little surprising to note that he was not included in the Western Australian party for that season’s Melbourne carnival.

A superb exponent of the flick pass, Kilmurray was one of the main reasons the laws of the game regarding handball were changed to insist on a clenched fist being used to strike the ball. He was also a tremendous one grab mark, characteristically stretching his arms well out in front of himself to prohibit spoiling from behind.  Another trait was his penchant for snatching the ball off the hands of a pack while running away from goals, and then screwing the ball back over his right shoulder with his left foot, often for full points.  One goal kicked in this way sealed a memorable win over South Fremantle in 1956 on the day the new grandstand at Perth Oval was officially opened.

Kilmurray grew up with Graham Farmer at various orphanages administered by an Anglican nun known as Sister Kate, and after demonstrating great prowess in country football the pair eventually went to East Perth together, with Kilmurray, initially at least, attracting more attention because of the eye-catching flamboyance of his game. All told, he played a total of 257 games for the Royals between 1953 and 1966, and was four times selected for Western Australia.  Memorably nicknamed 'Square', owing to his ability to slip unnoticed, often to devastating effect, into the goal square, he was equally at home on a half forward flank or as a ruck-rover, and despite being only 117.5cm in height and weighing just 73kg he could also hold down a key forward position when required. In June 2006 he claimed a berth on a half forward flank in East Perth’s official Team of the Century 1945 to 2005.

Bill Mose is best remembered for his performances this season during which his 115 goals from full forward made a significant contribution to  East Perth's eventual premiership win. Mose had also played at full forward in the premiership team of 1956. Between 1952 and 1959 he played 123 senior games for the Royals, kicking 205 goals. He also represented Western Australia 4 times, including a couple of games at the 1958 Melbourne carnival.

As far as East Fremantle were concerned the 1958 season could scarcely have been improved on - until that heart-rending loss in the grand final. During the year no fewer than five Old Easts players went to Melbourne with Western Australia’s carnival team. These were Jack Clarke (captain), Alan Preen, Norm Rogers, Ray Sorrell and Percy Johnson, with the first four all gaining selection in the All Australian team chosen at the conclusion of the carnival. No club before or since has ever provided four members of the same All Australian team (discounting the AFL's version of the All Australian team, of course).

East Fremantle’s form during the minor round and indeed in their second semi final clash with East Perth was consistently superb. Their only losses in 21 outings were at the hands of South Fremantle in round seven, West Perth in round nine, Swan Districts in round twelve and Perth in round fifteen. Some of the team’s wins were by exorbitant margins: 83 points against Swan Districts in round five and 121 points versus Claremont in round eleven, for instance. The side could also tough it out though, with almost half their victories coming in matches which could be defined as close (3 goal margin at most).

Sadly for East Fremantle, however, premierships are won on grand final day, and in 1958 the grand final was won, perhaps somewhat luckily, and certainly very narrowly, by East Perth.

Perth were again a force in the competition, contesting their fifth straight finals series and their tenth since the war. The Redlegs came good after a sluggish start against West Perth in the first semi final, ultimately emerging victorious by a couple of straight kicks, 14.16 (100) to 13.10 (88). In the preliminary final against East Perth they did well for three quarters, and went into the last interval a point to the good. However, the Royals added 3.5 to 1.0 in the final term to win relatively comfortably.

West Perth won 3 more minor round games than Perth but only managed to win 1 out of 3 against the Redlegs. Perth’s victory in the first semi final could therefore not really be termed a surprise. The Cardinals had some handy players but were still some way - a couple of seasons, as it would emerge - short of being the finished article.

For the first time since 1946 Subiaco finished outside the bottom three. Indeed, they might even be adjudged unfortunate not to qualify for the finals as they finished just a win and a minuscule amount of percentage adrift of fourth spot. The Maroons were definitely a team with promise, some of which would be fulfilled in 1959.

By 1958 South Fremantle’s time in the sun was well and truly over. Between 1945 and 1957 the team contested every finals series and reached a total of nine grand finals, winning six. In 1957 they slumped to fifth, and the decline continued in 1958 with their tally of 8 wins consigning them to a distant sixth position. There would be no real improvement in the immediate future either.

Swan Districts won 6 games to finish seventh while Claremont ended up in bottom place with just 2 wins. The last time either side reached the finals was 1952 when Claremont had finished third.

Tassie Football On the Crest of a Wave
As the Tasmanian state side proved in Melbourne the standard of football being played in the Apple Isle was arguably at an all time high. Recognising this, spectators continued to flock to matches in near record numbers in all three of the state’s principal competitions, the TANFL, the NTFA and the NWFU. The TANFL finals series was particularly well attended with a total of 49,681 fans going to the four matches.

The first of these games, the first semi final, featured Sandy Bay and North Hobart and attracted a crowd of 9,043. Victory went to the former by just 2 points, 15.9 (99) to 14.13 (97). A record second semi final crowd of 13,176 watched Glenorchy (prior to this year known as New Town) overpower New Norfolk with scores of 13.17 (95) to 10.11 (71). In the preliminary final, watched by 11,818, Sandy Bay easily downed New Norfolk to qualify for their first grand final since 1953. Scores were Sandy Bay 13.18 (96) defeated New Norfolk 8.12 (60). The grand final attracted 15,643 spectators who were treated to an excellent display of pace and teamwork from Glenorchy who comfortably accounted for Sandy Bay to claim a record seventh post-war premiership. Final scores were Glenorchy 15.15 (105) to Sandy Bay 11.11 (77). The Magpies went on to add the state title with wins over NTFA premiers Longford in Hobart and NWFU premiers Burnie in Devonport.

Rex Garwood was this year’s Leitch Medallist for best and fairest player in the TANFL. It was his third such win. Garwood began his senior football career with New Town as a twenty year old in 1950.  Playing as either a half forward or in the ruck, his talent was evident right from the start, and in 1951 he not only won the first of his Leitch Medals but also landed 'The Mercury' newspaper's Player of the Year Award, played representative football for the first time both the TFL and Tasmania, tied for the Wander Medal for the best player in intrastate matches, was New Town's leading goal kicker with 37 goals, and was close to best afield in his club's 71 point grand final annihilation of North Hobart.  So much for second season blues!  

Two seasons later, the Magpies appointed Garwood as captain and he promptly led them to their second premiership in three seasons, with Garwood himself best afield in the grand final.  Earlier in the year he had represented Tasmania at the 1953 Adelaide carnival.

The 1954 season saw Garwood transfer to New Norfolk, who appointed him as captain-coach.  The following year he captained Tasmania on its victorious tour of New South Wales and Canberra, while back at home he secured a second Leitch Medal.  In 1956 he was again appointed captain of his state, this time for the interstate carnival in Perth.

Garwood's tenure as New Norfolk coach ended in 1957, but he continued to give excellent service as a player, and as noted above won his third and final Leitch Medal in 1958.  Somewhat surprisingly, he never won a club best and fairest award.  He was, however, selected in both the Glenorchy/New Town, New Norfolk and official Tasmanian Teams of the Century.

Another Tasmanian footballer to make the headlines in 1958 was Arthur Hodgson. Born in Sydney,  Hodgson moved to the mining settlement of Queenstown in west Tasmania at the age of nine and quickly acquired prowess at the ‘foreign’ sport of Australian football. A best on ground performance for the Queenstown Football Association representative side against a TFL second eighteen in 1947 earned him a crack at the ‘big time’ as part of the NTFA combination which took on, and lost narrowly to, the TFL in Hobart. His stellar performance at centre half back in that game was rewarded with inclusion in Tasmania’s 1947 carnival team, making him the first QFA player since 1904 to be so honoured.

Hodgson’s meteoric rise continued when his displays in the carnival attracted the attention of recruiting officers from the mainland. In 1948 he began a five season, 76 game association with Carlton which included an appearance in that club’s losing 1949 grand final side, a club best and fairest award in 1950, and VFL representation in the Brisbane carnival of that same year. Returning home in 1953 Hodgson took over as coach of Ulverstone whom he steered to four NWFU premierships in seven seasons in charge, as well as the 1955 state flag (Ulverstone’s first). His prowess as a player had not diminished either as he won a Wander Medal in 1955 and represented Tasmania in 11 more interstate matches, including involvement in the 1953, 1956 and 1958 carnivals. Hodgson’s record of five interstate carnival appearances is matched only by another Sydney-born player in William ‘Nipper’ Truscott of Western Australia, plus South Australia's Fos Williams. Throughout his career Hodgson’s speed, safe ball handling, and exquisite disposal skills made him one of Australia’s finest centreline players.

In June 2004, Arthur Hodgson was selected as a wingman in the official Tasmanian Team of the Century, and two years later he was inducted as a legend into Tasmanian Football's official Hall of Fame.

SANFL: So Close but So Far for West
In 1958, West Adelaide played their first league match at their new home ground of Richmond Oval. The result was a 10 point win over West Torrens, and West went on to record victories in all but one of their home fixtures for the season. They were almost as impressive away from Richmond, winning 15 out of 18 home and away matches all told to secure the minor premiership for only the second ever time. A comfortable 26 point defeat of North Adelaide in the second semi final followed, but the grand final was to produce yet another agonising twist in the ongoing West Adelaide-Port Adelaide saga.

A near record crowd of 54,282 witnessed the 1958 grand final in which West seemed in control for long periods only for the Magpies to repeatedly fight back and keep themselves within striking distance. With nine minutes to go Port hit the front and, despite being under pressure for most of the remainder of the game, managed to hold onto their lead until the end. As if to rub salt into the wound, with ninety seconds remaining a shot from West ruckman Jack Richardson hit the goal post, leaving the Blood 'n Tars just 2 points in arrears. Even then West had another chance to recapture the lead, a set shot from Colin Brown failing to make the distance from just forty metres out in the last few seconds. The final scoreboard read Port Adelaide 14.10 (94) to West Adelaide 14.8 (92), with the victors best served by Neville Hayes, Lloyd Zucker, Geof Motley and Fos Williams, and the losers by Jeff Bray, Ken McGregor, Jim Wright, Ken Eglinton and Bert Johnson.

A piece of football folklore was created in the aftermath of the 1958 grand final as a group of West Adelaide players and supporters returned to Adelaide Oval late the same night and made off with the “infamous” goal post which had got in the way of Jack Richardson's late shot.

It was the Magpies’ fifth consecutive premiership, and by some measure the hardest fought of them all. For a start, Port only finished the minor round in third place, and had therefore to begin their finals campaign from the first semi final. Opposed by Norwood, the Magpies proved consummately superior, leading at every change by 10, 32 and 22 points on route to a 16.25 (121) to 10.16 (76) triumph. Next up were minor premiers North Adelaide in the preliminary final, and this proved a much sterner test. At half time the Roosters led by 22 points, a margin that would have been much greater had their kicking for goal been straighter. After half time the Magpies dug deep and managed to produce arguably their best quarter of football of the season. Whilst holding North scoreless they added 7.9 and this effectively finished the match as a contest. Final scores were Port 12.15 (87) to North 7.18 (60).

Then came that tense, absorbing and memorable grand final.

Port’s Rex Johns topped the SANFL’s goal kicking list in 1958. He booted 55 goals. A profile of Johns can be read in the review of the 1956 season.

West Adelaide won 15 and lost 3 minor round matches to qualify for the finals in second place, behind minor premiers North Adelaide on percentage. West’s only defeats came at the hands of North in round four, Glenelg in round five and Norwood in round eleven. They accounted for Port Adelaide on all three occasions that the teams met during the home and away series with their only reversal against the Magpies coming when it mattered most. 

North Adelaide claimed the minor premiership in 1958 but disappointed during the finals. This was particularly the case in their preliminary final clash with Port when they led 5.15 (45) to 3.5 (23) at the main break only to wilt when the Magpies raised the intensity of the contest in the third term.

Norwood fell into, rather than qualified for, the 1958 finals. The Redlegs finished with a 7-10-1 record and a percentage that was marginally superior to that of fifth placed West Torrens who had an identical win/loss record. An unexpected round seventeen loss to South Adelaide effectively derailed the Eagles’ finals prospects. In the last minor round series they narrowly beat Sturt but Norwood outclassed Glenelg to secure the percentage boost necessary to overhaul the Tigers.

West Torrens centreman Lindsay Head was the 1958 Magarey Medallist. The sublimely skilled Head had also claimed the award in 1955 and he is profiled in the review for that season.

Sixth placed South Adelaide won 6 and drew 1 of their 18 minor round games. Arguably their most noteworthy success came at the expense of Norwood at the Parade in round thirteen. The Panthers won convincingly by 64 points, 16.17 (113) to 7.7 (49).

Glenelg, who finished seventh, managed just 5 wins but one of these was quite noteworthy. In round thirteen at Glenelg Oval the Bays scored a fighting, come from behind triumph over Port Adelaide, ultimately scraping home by a single point, 8.9 (57) to 8.8 (56).

Last placed Sturt only managed to defeat Glenelg in round ten and South Addelaide in round eleven. The Double Blues also tied with Norwood in round nine. They had last obtained the wooden spoon two seasons before, and it was the fourth time since the war that they had had to endure the indignity. Only South (bottom eight times) had a worse record.

VFA: Seagulls Soar Once More
Williamstown won their fourth premiership in five seasons but they needed a grand final replay to shake off a plucky and determined Moorabbin. In the first match, Moorabbin got the jump on the Seagulls with a 4.5 to 0.1 opening term but thereafter Williamstown looked the better side. However, thanks to a mixture of slipshod kicking for goal and stern defence by the Panthers they failed to get their noses in front. Final scores were Moorabbin 7.9 (51) tied with Williamstown 6.15 (51).

The Seagulls dominated from the start almost to the finish of the grand final replay. Only when the match was won did they relax somewhat and allow the Panthers to make the scoreline a little more respectable. Best afield in Williamstown’s eventual 13.18 (96) to 8.16 (64) win was centreman John Martin who had won the Liston Trophy two years earlier.

Other Highlights
For the sixth time in a row the premiers of the NSWANFL were Eastern Suburbs who accounted for Western Suburbs in the grand final by 7 goals. Newtown came third and St George fourth.

Mayne won their first QANFL premiership since 1952 with a 33 point grand final defeat of Kedron.

Premiers in Canberra were Ainslie who trounced Eastlake in the grand final by 71 points. Their triumph was noteworthy in that most players in the team were young locals.

Wanderers won the NTFL flag for the first time in thirty-four years. They beat reigning premiers Works and Housing in the grand final by 9 points.

Grand final results - ​VFL: Collingwood 12.10 (82) d. Melbourne 9.10 (64); SANFL: Port Adelaide 14.10 (94) d. West Adelaide 14.8 (92); WANFL: East Perth 8.17 (65) d. East Fremantle 8.15 (63); VFA: Moorabbin 7.9 (51) drew with Williamstown 6.15 (51); Replay: Williamstown 13.18 (96) d. Moorabbin 8.16 (64); TANFL: Glenorchy 15.15 105) d. Sandy Bay 11.11 (77); NTFA: Longford 14.12 (96) d. North Launceston 12.18 (90); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 15.11 (101) d. Western Suburbs 8.11 (59); NTFL: Wanderers 17.9 (111) d. Works and Housing 14.18 (102); QANFL: Mayne 13.9 (87) d. Kedron 7.12 (54); NWFU: Burnie 19.15 (129) d. East Devonport 13.13 (91); CANFL: Ainslie 20.12 (132) d. Eastlake 9.7 (61); TSP: Glenorchy 7.11 (53) d. Burnie 6.11 (47).

Melbourne Carnival results - SECTION ONE: VFA 15.12 (102) d. Tasmania 13.16 (94); Western Australia 11.12 (78) d. South Australia 7.18 (60); VFL 25.17 (167) d. South Australia 7.7 (49); Tasmania 13.16 (94) d. Western Australia 11.12 (78); VFL 13.23 (101) d. VFA 7.10 (52); Tasmania 11.18 (84) d. South Australia 11.16 (82); Western Australia 21.16 (142) d. VFA 11.8; VFL 25.14 (164) d. Tasmania 8.14 (62); South Australia 16.15 (111) d. VFA 5.13 (43); VFL 15.13 (103) d. Western Australia 11.12 (78)    SECTION TWO: Queensland 11.18 (84) d. New South Wales 11.13 (79); Australian Amateurs 18.15 (123) d. Canberra 9.15 (69); Canberra 12.10 (82) d. New South Wales 9.13 (67); Australian Amateurs 22.11 (143) d. Queensland 8.8 (56); Australian Amateurs 10.16 (76) d. New South Wales 9.12 (66); Canberra 18.15 (123) d. Queensland 4.5 (29).

FOOTNOTES
[1] Between 1945 and 1952 VFL representative sides were arguably less dominant than at any time in their history with an overall success rate of just 66% against their two main rivals, South Australia and Western Australia. Starting at the Adelaide carnival of 1953, however, the Big white V embarked on an era of unsurpassed supremacy: in 9 meetings with the croweaters between 1953 and 1959 the VFL was successful every time with an average winning margin of 70 points; against the sandgropers it was a similar story - 9 successive wins at an average margin of 57 points. Throw in an average margin of 77 points over 5 meetings with arguably the strongest Tasmanian combinations in that state's football history and the pre-eminence of the Victorians is indisputable. All told, in the seven seasons between 1953 and 1959 the VFL was successful in all 25 representative fixtures contested, with an average winning margin of almost 70 points. Only the immediate pre-state of origin sides (1966 to 1976) approached this level of dominance.

[2] Large as the crowd was, it was not the biggest for the season. In round ten an all time record home and away crowd of 99,346 had attended the Queen's Birthday clash between the same two clubs, in which Melbourne had triumphed by 11 points. 

[3] The Complete Book of VFL Finals by Graeme Atkinson, page 190.


1959

A Review of the 1959 Football Season

Normal Service Resumes in VFL
After the Collingwood engendered hiatus of 1958 the 1959 season brought a restoration of normality, with Melbourne comprehensively reassuming their mantle as the arguably the greatest combination seen in football up to that point. Another minor premiership - the club's fifth in succession - was followed by an emphatic 11.15 (81) to 4.13 (37) second semi final demolition of Carlton. The grand final, against Essendon, was considerably harder fought, at least for the first three quarters, but after leading by only a goal at the final change the Demons assumed complete control in the ruck to add 6.3 to 1.2 in the last term and win with deceptive ease. Ron Barassi partially erased the memory of what, by his standards, had been a poor performance against Collingwood in the previous year's grand final with a best on ground display, while Bob Johnson, Brian Dixon, Ian McLean and Dennis Jones were among others to shine.

Essendon qualified for the finals in fourth place with 11 wins. Fifth placed Fitzroy had 10 wins and a draw and a superior percentage. In the first semi final the Bombers produced an excellent second half to oust Collingwood from premiership contention. Scores were Essendon 14.16 (100) to Collingwood 8.14 (62), after the Bombers’ lead at half time had been a single point. 

The preliminary final between Essendon and Carlton was played on an exceedingly wet day and scores were low. Midway through the second quarter the Bombers led 4.5 to 0.3 only for the Blues, inspired by great work in the ruck by John Nicholls, to fight back strongly. Early in the third term it was Carlton by 3 points but cleverly snapped goals from Peucker and Birt regained the initiative for Essendon. In the last quarter both sides added a couple of goals leaving the Bombers victors by 7 points.

In the grand final Essendon kept pace with Melbourne for three quarters only to wilt in the fourth. Final scores were Melbourne 17.13 (115) defeated Essendon 11.12 (78).

Essendon full forward Ron Evans topped the VFL goal kicking list in 1959 with 78 goals. Evans only had a comparatively brief senior league career, but he achieved a fair amount of notoriety during it. He began with Essendon in 1958 when still a few months short of his nineteenth birthday having captured attention by breaking the Essendon District League goal kicking record the previous year with Essendon Baptists. Hardly surprisingly, the Dons elected to use him at full forward, where after taking a while to find his feet he developed, for a brief time, into arguably the best player in that position in the league.  Certainly, the VFL state selectors appeared to think so, because Evans was a regular in the Big V jumper in both 1959 and 1960, the same two seasons which saw him head the league's goal kicking list with 78 and 67 goals respectively.

Quite tall at 188cm, but wiry at only 78kg, Evans relied for his success on fine judgement, excellent marking - made easier by his uncannily long arms - and accurate kicking. In 1961, however, he appeared to lose his way somewhat, and the following year he was replaced at full forward by Charlie Payne. The 1963 season found him at West Perth, where he quickly succeeded in resurrecting his career, booting 97 goals in his debut season to top the WANFL list, and following that with tallies of 84 and 90 goals in 1964 and 1965 respectively, both of which were good enough to head the Cardinals' list.

Ron Evans departed the league football scene at the end of the 1965 season having played 64 VFL games and booted 209 goals with Essendon, and amassed 60 WANFL games for 271 goals with West Perth. He later enjoyed a successful career as a football administrator. 

Carlton, who had finished seventh in 1958, were the VFL’s big improvers a year later, but after an excellent minor round the Blues disappointed in the finals. 

Collingwood were the form team going into the finals, having won their last 10 minor round matches in succession. (They had earlier lost their opening 5 fixtures.) However, after slugging it out quite stolidly with Essendon in the first half of their first semi final clash they were left chasing shadows as the Bombers produced a dynamic, purposeful second half.

Fitzroy’s draw with Melbourne at the MCG in round fourteen was one of the factors which scuppered their finals aspirations. Had they defeated the Demons they would have displaced Essendon in the four on percentage. Then, in round seventeen Fitzroy and Essendon played one another in what to all intents and purposes was a “winner takes all” affair. The Bombers seized the initiative from the outset with a 5 goals to nil opening term and although the ‘Roys made a semblance of a comeback after half time there was only ever really one team in it.

Fitzroy won the 1959 VFL night flag with a 10.10 (70) to 4.16 (40) defeat of Hawthorn in the final.

As late as round sixteen North Melbourne occupied a place in the top four but the Kangas were then unaccountably thrashed by South Melbourne and dropped down the list to fifth. They still had a mathematical chance of finals participation but only if they overcame Carlton in their final match. However, they were well beaten.

Hawthorn finished with the same win/loss record as in 1958 (9 wins, 9 defeats) but this was only good enough for seventh place on the ladder, one place lower than the previous year. The Hawks generally found the top four sides to be too strong for them, but they did manage a 5 point win over Essendon at Glenferrie in round ten.

St Kilda also won 9 matches but their percentage was substantially inferior to that of Hawthorn. Arguably the Saints’ best win came in round four at the Junction Oval when they accounted for Collingwood by 27 points. They also scored a 14 point triumph over Essendon in round thirteen. 

It should perhaps be mentioned that in the Brownlow Medal voting St Kilda full back Verdun Howell received the same number of votes as the winner, Bob Skilton. However, he was placed second on a countback. The league later awarded him - and all such runners-up - a retrospective Medal. A half forward during the bulk of the Tasmanian phase of his career with City-South, Howell was transformed by St Kilda into a prototype of the modern attacking full back. He played 159 games for the Saints between 1958 and 1968 and, as mentioned, was second on a countback for the Brownlow in only his second season. 

Despite his venturesome spirit, which manifested itself in a tendency to leave his direct opponent in order to embark on dashing runs upfield, Howell seldom conceded many goals for the simple reason that whenever he pursued the ball he normally got it. In short, he transformed the backing of one's judgement into an art form.

As Howell's VFL career progressed he made a gradual journey back to the forward lines. He was on a half back flank when St Kilda won its only senior flag in 1966 and, as vice captain, combined with skipper Darrel Baldock to provide the Saints with a unique, all-Tasmanian on field leadership team.

As his career drew to a close Howell frequently played on the forward lines and was highly effective; in one game against Hawthorn he booted 9 goals. However, it was as a defender that he rose to his greatest heights, winning St Kilda's best and fairest award in 1959, representing the Big V on 9 occasions, and, to all intents and purposes, re-writing the chapter in the manual of footy entitled "How to Play Full Back”.

After his retirement as a player, Howell coached Claremont from 1972 to 1974, steering the Tigers to a losing grand final against East Perth in his first season only to see them plummet to a wooden spoon the following year.  When the 1974 season brought scant improvement he was replaced as coach by Mal Brown.

In 2004, AFL Tasmania announced its Tasmanian Team of the Century, which included Verdun Howell in a back pocket.

Ninth placed South Melbourne were in fourth place after round twelve but only managed 1 more win all season. They did have the satisfaction of providing the (ultimately joint) Brownlow Medallist in the shape of Bob Skilton, however. Skilton’s career is spotlighted elsewhere on the site, in the review of the 1968 football season.

Geelong managed just 5 wins and these were mostly at the expense of teams in the lower half of the premiership table. 

After showing a modicum of promise in 1958 Richmond plummeted to second from last after recording just 4 victories all of which, as was the case with Geelong, were against lower ranking teams. Wooden spooners Footscray, however, achieved probably the upset of the season. In round fifteen at the Western Oval they overcame eventual premiers Melbourne by 9 points, 12.8 (80) to 10.11 (71).

WANFL: Royals Romp Home
Under Jack Sheedy, East Perth played a style of football which in many ways was fifteen or twenty years ahead of its time. For one thing, handball was used as an offensive weapon, rather than merely as a last resort when a player got into trouble.[1] Other sides had difficulty coping with this style and in Sheedy's first six years as coach the Royals were easily the outstanding side in the competition. Out of a total of 138 matches played between 1956 and 1961 East Perth won 106, drew 2, and lost just 30. In addition, the team headed the ladder after the home and away rounds in four out of those six seasons, reaching the grand final every time for wins in 1956, 1958 and 1959.

The 1959 premiership was arguably the most convincing. The Royals spent the entire home and away season at the head of the ladder, ultimately finishing on 18 wins and just 3 defeats, fully 5 wins clear of second placed East Fremantle. East Perth were comfortably superior to Old Easts in the second semi final as well, winning by 23 points without really needing to shift into top gear. It was a similar story a fortnight later against surprise grand finalists Subiaco, with the Royals leading at every change en route to a 12.19 (91) to 9.14 (68) triumph. The attendance at the grand final - 45,245 - was a new record.

East Perth’s Neil Hawke booted 114 goals in 1959 to be the league’s top goial kicker. Had he elected to concentrate on football rather than cricket, Hawke might well be remembered today as a champion key position forward.  Immensely powerful overhead, and surprisingly quick at ground level for someone of such hefty build, he typically rounded things off with an almost unfailingly accurate drop punt.

Hawke burst onto the scene with Port Adelaide in 1957, but after just 5 games, which yielded 27 goals (15 of them in one match against South Adelaide), he was unceremoniously dropped following a poor performance against West Adelaide and never played for the club's senior side again.  During Port's end of season trip to Perth to play East Fremantle the team stayed at the Savoy Hotel which was managed by East Perth coach Jack Sheedy, who persuaded Hawke to have a chat about his football future with officials from his club.  The Royals ended up signing Hawke, who in two seasons in the west provided ample evidence of just how fine a footballer he was, booting 157 goals in 42 games, and helping the side to successive grand final wins over East Fremantle and Subiaco.  After playing mainly on the half forward line during his debut season he was moved to the goalfront the following year and his tally of 114 goals was, as previously mentioned, good enough to top the WANFL list.  Mind you, there were some concerns over his kicking, particularly early on during his time in the west.  In June 1958, for example, Alan Ferguson, writing in “The Football Budget”, observed:

Neil Hawke as a centre half forward commands an aerial supremacy.  However, to secure the best from Hawke (only 18) East Perth must improve his kicking. Drop punts are useless on fine days.

How times - and perceptions - change!

Hawke spent the whole of 1960 concentrating on cricket but in 1961 he returned to South Australia and resumed his football career with West Torrens.  In 1962 and 1963 and then in 1966 he added a final 33 league games to his tally, kicking 97 goals.  Quite a number of his games for the Eagles were played at centre half back, a position to which he adapted well.  Over the course of his career, Hawke played a total of 4 games of interstate football, 2 each for Western Australia and his home state.  He spent the 1961 football season playing for Brighton in the SAAFL, winning the Hone Medal as best and fairest player in A1 section.  He also helped South Australia to a win over Victoria in an amateur interstate match on the Adelaide Oval.

Subiaco, which had not participated in a finals match since 1946, somewhat surprisingly re-emerged as a force in 1959.  After winning 12 out of 21 minor round matches to qualify for the finals in fourth place, the side then annihilated Perth by 129 points in a boilover first semi final. The preliminary final two weeks later saw East Fremantle conclusively put to the sword, and so convincing had the Maroons been that many scribes gave them a realistic chance of overturning reigning premiers East Perth for the '59 flag. This ultimately proved beyond them but there seemed little doubt that Subiaco was a club with a glittering future. Indeed, in some ways it was, but it would glitter later rather than sooner.

Perennial finalists East Fremantle suffered the indignity of bowing out of premiership contention in straight sets. The preliminary final defeat to Subiaco was particularly disappointing as the Maroons dominated affairs from start to finish. For a club of Old Easts’ pedigree and pride it was an anti-climactic and uncharacteristic capitulation.

Perth consistently good form since world war two continued as the Redlegs qualified for the finals for the twelfth time in thirteen seasons. However, any gratification at the achievement was promptly erased when Subiaco scored a resounding and in some ways unexpected first semi final victory. Scores were Subiaco 26.23 (179) to 7.8 (50) with the Maroons kicking 20 of their goals in the second half. 

West Perth, who finished fifth, won 10 and lost 11 matches leaving them a couple of wins shy of finals qualification. There was some cause for celebration, however, as redoubtable ruckman Brian Foley (pictured at the head of this section) won the Sandover Medal.  After a somewhat stuttering start to his league career, West Perth's Foley developed into one of Australia's finest ruckmen.  Making up for in dogged persistence what he may have lacked in raw talent, Foley gave as good as he got against the likes of Farmer, Clarke, McIntosh and Slater at home, and Nicholls, Schultz, Wedding and Wright interstate.  The fact that Foley made no fewer than 22 interstate appearances for Western Australia in an era when the state was blessed with considerable ruck strength is perhaps the most persuasive testimony as to his prowess, as well as to the esteem in which he was held.

From an individual perspective, the highlight of Brian Foley's illustrious 202 game league career came in 1959 when he was a runaway winner of the Sandover Medal.  Foley also won his second Cardinals fairest and best trophy that year, having previously won the award in 1957.  In 1960, he was one of the most conspicuous performers on the ground as West Perth overcame arch rivals East Perth by 32 points in the grand final.

Given that he was playing at a time when VFL clubs were beginning to make significant inroads into Western Australia's vast pool of playing talent it was inevitable that Foley should become a prime recruiting target.  North Melbourne came closer than anyone to procuring him - Foley even signed a form four - but the Cardinals steadfastly refused to agree to a clearance.  This, of course, was in the days when the Australian National Football Council was in ostensible control of interstate clearances.

Captain of West Perth from 1960 to 1964, Foley decided to play one last season in 1965 after Bob Spargo took over as captain-coach.  He finished on a “high”, performing consistently well all year, as well as leading the ruck in typically resolute fashion when Western Australia came from behind to defeat the VFL in a mid-season interstate clash at Subiaco Oval.

For the third season in a row South Fremantle failed to qualify for the finals, managing just 8 wins from 21 matches to finish sixth. The team was still capable of producing good football, as exemplified, for instance, in wins over East Fremantle in both the first and eighth rounds. However, there were also a number of execrable performances against lower ranking sides.

Perennial strugglers Claremont and Swan Districts occupied seventh and eighth positions respectively on the premiership ladder. The Tigers managed wins against Subiaco in rounds eight and fifteen, East Fremantle in round nine, and Perth in round twenty-one, but they also succumbed to some hefty defeats. Swans' best victory probably came at the expense of West Perth in round twelve.

Tigers Splash Their Way to Victory
The TANFL grand final between Hobart and New Norfolk was played in extremely wet conditions which obviously dissuaded large numbers of potential spectators from attending. The match attendance of 10,103 was more than 5,000 down on the figure for the 1958 grand final. New Norfolk, playing in their first grand final, seemed stuck in the mire as they totally failed to trouble the scorers in the opening term. The Tigers meanwhile registered 4.6. By half time Hobart led by 36 points, which given the weather conditions was effectively a match-winning advantage. Final scores were Hobart 9.14 (68) to New Norfolk 2.9 (21).

The state title also went the way of Hobart who downed NWFU premiers Burnie by 27 points in the final. Earlier, Burnie had ousted NTFA premiers City-South from contention in the preliminary final.

There was further reason for celebration among Hobart’s supporters when ruck-rover Malcolm Pascoe won the William Leitch Medal. Still a few weeks short of his sixteenth birthday, Pascoe had joined Essendon from Essendon Bombers in 1949, and spent the next four seasons working his way through the club's junior ranks. In 1952 he starred in the Dons' 7.14 (56) to 4.5 (29) seconds grand final win over Collingwood. Strong overhead, and a prodigious drop kick, he played a total of 94 VFL games between 1953 and 1958, including the losing grand final of 1957 against Melbourne when he shared the ruck-roving duties with Hugh Mitchell. In 1959 he accepted the post of captain-coach of Hobart, where he enjoyed a dream debut season that saw him represent the state, win the William Leitch Medal for best and fairest in the competition, top the league's goal kicking list with 75 goals, an, as previously mentioned, steer his side to a 9.14 (68) to 2.9 (27) grand final defeat of New Norfolk. Shortly after the grand final he steered Hobart to its first and only state championship title courtesy of a 14.11 (95) to 9.14 (68) victory over Burnie.  He led the Tigers to a second successive TANFL flag in 1960, and also topped the league's goal kicking list again, this time with 57 majors. A third local premiership followed three years later, and Pascoe stayed at the helm until the end of the 1965 season, making him Hobart's longest serving senior coach up to that point.  He continued as a player under his successor John Watts, and his final tally of 177 TANFL games included a starring role in the Tigers' heart-stopping 10.14 (74) to 11.7 (73) grand final defeat of Glenorchy in 1966. In 1978 he returned to Hobart as non-playing coach and was in charge for two seasons. The importance of Mal Pascoe's contribution to Hobart was later recognised with his inclusion, as first ruckman, in the club’s official Greatest Team 1947 to 2002.

SANFL: Motley’s Magpies Fly High
Having steered Port Adelaide to half a dozen league premierships, including the last five in succession, Fos Williams was replaced by as coach in 1959 by Geof Motley, who also assumed the captaincy as Williams had retired as a player. Apart from these changes it was business as usual for Port who won yet another minor premiership, with their only loss for the entire minor round coming in the opening fixture of the year against West Adelaide. In the second semi final West inflicted the Magpies’ second defeat of the season and did so with such conviction that they promptly earned themselves premiership favouritism. Port were not to be outdone though. In the preliminary final they outclassed Glenelg to the tune of 59 points and in the grand final re-match with West they unearthed a steely determination that had been absent a fortnight earlier.  West’s trademark short game which had proved so effective in the second semi was derailed by the ferocity of the Magpies’ tackling and the closeness of their checking. By half time Port had procured a lead of 6 goals and although West fought back to a degree after half time there was only ever going to be one winner. Final scores were Port Adelaide 13.9 (87) to West Adelaide 11.11 )77).

Port Adelaide’s Wally Dittmar was "a highly accomplished footballer; technically ........ at least as well equipped as the best”[2] - which immediately begs the question, why was he so often little better than a fringe player at Port Adelaide during his league career which spanned twelve seasons, and yet saw him play just 79 senior games (plus half a dozen for the state).  When given a concerted run in the senior side, as he was in 1959-60, he proved himself to be arguably the most effective full forward in the SANFL; at any rate, with tallies of 74 and 69 goals, he topped the league's goal kicking list in both seasons.  For the most part, however, he was given only sporadic opportunities at the top level, for reasons which will probably always remain a mystery, although perhaps Jeff Pash's wry observation that he had "not the flashing eyes and floating hair, and in fact the gritted teeth so beloved of those who see football as a battle”[3] hints as closely as we are ever likely to get at the truth of the matter.  Sometimes, at least as far as clubs like Port Adelaide, which pride the team ethic above all else, are concerned, it is perhaps possible to be too audaciously gifted for one's own good.

West won 12 minor round games to finish a comfortable second on the ladder heading into the finals. Their performance in downing Port Adelaide 13.14 (92) to 10.7 (67) in the second semi final was so outstanding that they entered the grand final re-match a fortnight later riding high on a wave lof confidence. Port, however, opened with a 5 goals to 1 first quarter and after that Westies were forced to chase the game. They managed this with some degree of success after half time, on one occasion getting within 9 points, but the Magpies deservedly held on.

Despite having a percentage of only 49.58 Glenelg qualified for the finals in fourth place. They then managed something they had failed to achieve in 3 minor round encounters during the season and downed Sturt in the first semi. The margin was a bare point, with the Bays 15.17 (107) defeating Sturt 14.22 (104). Port Adelaide in the preliminary final was a totally different matter, however, and Glenelg slumped to a heavy defeat.

In 1959 Len Fitzgerald returned to Sturt from Ovens and Murray Football League team Benalla and he promptly won his third Magarey Medal as well as helping Sturt to their first finals series since his departure four years earlier. Their involvement was brief as they bowed out - somewhat unluckily, it has to be said - at the hands of Glenelg in the first semi final.

A win in their final minor round match would have earned West Torrens a finals berth. Unfortunately for them, that match was against Port Adelaide at Alberton Oval, where the Magpies had not lost all season. The Eagles made a good fist of it for three quarters, at the conclusion of which they trailed by just 3 points. Port, however, ran rampant in the final term, rattling on 6 goals to 1 to win convincingly by 37 points.

Norwood appointed a Victorian, Alan Killigrew - nicknamed “Killer” - as coach in 1959. Noted for his fiery, impassioned oratory he was  not an immediate success. Indeed, the Redlegs did not manage to win a match until round six when they came from behind to account for South by 27 points. There was a measure of improvement after that, but their final tally of 7 wins was nowhere near good enough to secure finals participation.

North Adelaide had a dismal season, managing just 4 victories and giving absolutely no signs that they were on the verge of a memorable premiership triumph.

South Adelaide fared even worse. The Panthers only wins came at the expense of West Torrens in round one (by 7 points), North Adelaide in round seven (39 points) and Sturt in round nine (27 points). Meanwhile, some of their losses were acutely embarrassing in scale.[4]

Seagulls Reign Supreme
Williamstown made it five VFA flags in six seasons with a pulsating come from behind grand final win over Coburg. During the first half the Seagulls were the better side, but poor kicking for goal allowed the Lions to remain in touch on the scoreboard. Then in the third quarter Coburg took control, adding 4.3 to 0.1 to lead by 13 points at the last change. Hopes of an upset win to the Lions were quickly eroded in the final term, however, as the Seagulls rapidly upped the ante and, playing with a dynamism and purpose that had been missing earlier, soon made up the deficit. Williamstown added 9 goals to 2 for the quarter to score a deceptively convincing 35 point win.

Interstate Fixtures
VFL representative sides engaged in three matches in 1959 and won every one of them with something to spare. In Melbourne, Western Australia were subjected to a hiding of unprecedented proportions with the Vics amassing 31.21 (207) to the Sandgropers’ 3.11 (29). South Australia in Adelaide were conclusively put to the sword to the tune of 68 points, 21.15 (141) to 11.7 (73). Meanwhile what was officially a second string combination completely outclassed Tasmania in Hobart, winning 17.17 (119) to 9.10 (64).

If Western Australia had been almost unbelievably poor against the Victorians they were still beyond question the second most powerful state team in Australia. They emphasised this in 1959 with wins over South Australia (twice) in Perth, and Tasmania in Hobart. They also suffered a reversal against South Australia in Adelaide, but the margin was only a couple of points, and the Western Australians were rated the better side by many observers.

Other Competitions
Eastern Suburbs claimed an all time record seventh successive NSWANFL premiership with a 7 goal grand final defeat of Newtown. Western Suburbs and Sydney Naval completed the final four.

Kedron downed Wilston Grange by 4 points in the QANFL grand final to secure their sixth senior grade flag.

Ainslie won their second successive CANFL premiership, and their seventh in total, thanks to an 11.12 (78) to 8.8 (56) grand final victory over Eastlake.

In the NTFL grand final St Marys thrashed Buffaloes by 80 points. Their tally of 17.20 (122) constituted a new record for a grand final.

Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 17.13 (115) d. Essendon 11.12 (78); SANFL: Port Adelaide 13.9 (87) d. Werst Adelaide 11.11 (77); WAFL: East Perth 12.19 (91) d. Subiaco 9.14 (68); VFA: Williamstown 15.21 (111) d. Coburg 11.10 (76); TANFL: Hobart 9.14 (68) d. New Norfolk 2.9 (21); NTFA: City-South 13.10 (88) d. Longford 9.13 (67); NTFL: St Marys 17.20 (122) d. Buffaloes 6.6 (42); QANFL: Kedron 11.9 (75) d. Wilston Grange 10.11 (71); NWFU: Burnie 16.10 (106) d. East Devonport 11.10 (76); CANFL: Ainslie 11.12 (78) d. Eastlake 8.8 (56); TSP: Hobart 14.11 (95) d. Burnie 9.14 (68).

FOOTNOTES

[1] Perhaps East Perth concentrated on handball too much, to the detriment of other skills - like kicking for goal! In one match against Swan Districts in 1957 the Royals had 33 scoring shots to 16 but, in one of the most atrocious bouts of inaccuracy in senior Australian football history, scraped home by just 7 points, 3.30 (48) to 5.11 (41).

[2] The Pash Papers by Jeff Pash, page 96.

[3] Ibid, page 96.

[4] For example, the Panthers lost to Port in round five by 83 points, West in round ten by 65 points, Glenelg in round eleven by 90 points, Norwood in round twelve by 86 points, and West in the final minor round match of the year by a whopping 175 points.