VFL: Business as Usual for Mighty Demons
Melbourne's dominance of the VFL seemed more consummate than ever in 1960. The side yet again topped the ladder after the home and away rounds, and for much of the second semi final encounter with Fitzroy it was a quintessential case of 'men against boys' as the Demons won virtually every position en route to a 14.18 (102) to 4.16 (40) triumph. The grand final brought a long awaited opportunity for revenge of sorts over Collingwood, and this was achieved in the most resounding way imaginable. Melbourne won 8.14 (62) to 2.2 (14), with the Magpies' tally the lowest in a grand final since the inception of the Page-McIntyre finals system in 1930. Indeed, the result could have been even more embarrassing for Collingwood, as both of its goals had a touch of luck about them: the first came after Melbourne full back 'Tassie' Johnson dropped a mark in the goal square, and Ray Gabelich was able to snatch up the ball and score easily from point blank range; the second was the result of a long shot from John Henderson which only just eluded the goal line pack. Best for Melbourne - and, needless to say, best afield - was centre half back John Lord, who was ably assisted by highly skilled but combative centreman Laurie Mithen, ruckmen Len Mann and “big Bob” Johnson, and dynamic, flame-haired wingman Brian Dixon.
Over the ensuing three decades Collingwood fans would become accustomed, but by no means wholly resigned, to grand final disappointment, but it is at least arguable that no other reversal would be as conclusive and humiliating as that of 1960. The Magpies actually did well to reach the grand final as they qualified for the finals in fourth place ahead of fifth team Hawthorn only on percentage. They then overcame Essendon in the first semi final by 9 points after trailing by 5 points at the last change. Scores were Collingwood 9.12 (66) defeated Essendon 7.15 (57). The preliminary final against Fitzroy a fortnight later was a similarly low scoring affair and once again the Magpies had to bridge a narrow three quarter time deficit - 8 points in this case - before edging home by 5 points, 9.11 (65) to 8.12 (60). The grand final was a different matter, however. Despite the wet conditions, which many felt would be to Collingwood’s benefit, Melbourne’s teamwork and skill came to the fore and they were simply too good for the Magpies.
After finishing second to Melbourne only on percentage Fitzroy failed to do themselves justice in the second semi final, succumbing somewhat meekly to the Demons by 62 points. The preliminary final clash with Collingwood was the most exciting final in years and Fitzroy did everything but win it. In the third quarter they were consummately superior in all respects except accuracy in front of goal, registering 1.4 to the Magpies solitary goal. The Lions led by 8 points at the last change, an advantage which was scarcely a true reflection of their dominance. During the final quarter Collingwood’s rucks, well held in check until then, took centre stage as the Magpies fought back. With only a couple of minutes to play Collingwood led by 7 points but Fitzroy refused to surrender and they surged forward in numbers. Graham Campbell (pictured above) was twice presented with opportunities to goal but he managed only minor scores to leave the Magpies winners by 5 points. It would be another twenty-six seasons before Fitzroy again finished as high on the ladder as third.
Essendon, runners-up to Melbourne in 1959, dropped two places in 1960. The Bombers were solid during the minor round, winning 13 matches and losing 5 to qualify for the finals in third spot. In the first semi final they had chances to win but their kicking for goal was poor - somewhat ironically, given that, in the shape of Ron Evans, they had the league’s top goalkicker. Evans, who had also been the VFL’s leading goalkicker in 1959, booted 67 goals in 1960.
Fifth placed Hawthorn had an encouraging season under the stern tutelage of coach John Kennedy. The Hawks won 13 home and away games to miss out on finals participation only on percentage. Good things were just around the corner for the brown and golds as they intimated with wins at Victoria Park against Collingwood and Melbourne on the MCG, to name but two. After losing their opening 5 matches the Hawks simply got better as the season progressed, a trend which was set to continue in 1961.
St Kilda won half their matches in 1960 to finish sixth. The Saints’ best performances came in round five when they downed Collingwood by 2 points and round seven when they overcame Fitzroy by 4 goals. Both matches took place at St Kilda’s home venue of the Junction Oval.
Seventh placed Carlton won 8 matches and drew one (with Richmond). The Blues almost invariably defeated the teams below them on the premiership ladder but all their matches with top four sides ended in defeat.
The highlight of South Melbourne’s season was their triumph in the VFL’s night series. Opposed in the grand final by the more highly favoured Hawthorn they eased to victory by 13 points, 13.12 (90) to 8.11 (59). It was the Swans’ third triumph in the competition, which had only been running since 1956. Perhaps they were helped by the fact that matches took place at their own home ground of the Lake Oval. In the day competition South won just 7 of their 18 minor round fixtures.
Geelong had a generally dismal season, although the Cats did manage a win at Junction Oval against Fitzroy, making them one of only two teams to win there all year. Overall, however, 6 wins and a draw was a disappointing return which indicated that fresh blood was sorely needed. Fortunately for the club’s fans this would not be long in arriving.
Tenth place for Footscray represented an improvement on their wooden spoon of 1959. All 6 of their wins were against fellow cellar dwellers. They did have one significant reason to cheer, however, as their ruckman, John Schultz, won the Brownlow Medal. Renowned as much for his fairness as for his brilliance, there can have been few more fitting recipients of the award than Footscrays 'gentle giant', John Schultz.
Recruited by the Bulldogs after he had played just 16 games with country side Boort, having played previously with Caulfield Grammarians in the VAFA, Schultz made his VFL debut in 1958 against Collingwood, and within 20 seconds of the opening bounce he was lying prostrate, unconscious, the victim of a Harry Sullivan back-hander. Despite this strenuous introduction to league ranks, however, Schultz himself was never known to resort to underhanded activities of any kind during an illustrious eleven season, 188 game VFL career that saw him widely recognised by his fellow ruckmen as the most challenging and difficult opponent in the game. During the early 1960s in particular Schultz stood head and shoulders, if not literally, then certainly in terms of impact and effectiveness, over every other ruckman in the VFL. His Brownlow Medal win in 1960 was universally acclaimed, as were his invariably superlative performances in a Big V jumper (24 of them in all), which at the 1961 Brisbane carnival earned him an All Australian blazer.
Much more than just an effective knock ruckman, "Schultz was acclaimed for good tackling, elegant marking and hard, fair bumping”. He was also supremely fit and durable, on one occasion playing a club record 169 consecutive games.
Voted the Bulldogs' best and fairest player on five occasions, Schultz was Footscray through and through.
North Melbourne again disappointed, winning just 5 home and away games to finish eleventh. Richmond, however, were even worse, managing just 2 wins and 2 draws to plunge to the first ever VFL wooden spoon in their history.
VFA: Devils Dominate
In 1960 Oakleigh’s home ground underwent resurfacing work and was unavailable. Oakleigh trained at Toorak Park and played its home matches at Camberwell. The club comfortably qualified for the finals, but both Toorak Park and Camberwell became unavailable, and the players were forced to train using second rate facilities. However, despite this handicap, which was mitigated still further by a second semi final loss to Sandringham, Oakleigh went on to secure a fifth flag. After downing Williamstown in the preliminary final the Devils maintained their momentum to play all over Sandringham in the grand final and record an emphatic 10 goal win. Oakleigh's first ruck of Graham Ash, Vic Naismith and Ray Allsopp together with skipper and second ruckman John Coughlan were the cornerstones of the triumph.
At the end of this season the VFA, concerned at the sometimes alarming discrepancy in standard between top and bottom, decided to split the competition into two divisions featuring promotion and relegation, from 1961.
WANFL: Classy Cardinals Coast to Victory
In what was an evenly contested season, West Perth topped the WANFL ladder after the minor round with 13 wins and 3 draws from 21 matches, 2 points clear of both East Perth and South Fremantle, with East Fremantle a further 4 points adrift in fourth place. East Perth were, in Cardinals ruckman Brian Foley's words, "the gun team of the late '50s and early ‘60s”, but in 1960 the Cardinals proved to have their measure. They defeated the Royals by 24 points in the second semi final, and then a fortnight later overcame a slow start to add 8.7 to 1.2 in a match-winning second quarter burst, eventually easing home by 32 points. Brian Foley, who booted 3 majors, added the Simpson Medal to his '59 Sandover, while full forward Ross Ayre bagged 7 goals, and half back flanker Ray Marinko, full back John Towner, and ruck-rover Ross Kelly were among many notable contributors to what was an even, all round team performance of the highest class. Warming the bench for the Cardinals that day was future champion and games record holder Mel Whinnen, while another West Perth legend in Bill Dempsey formed part of a guard of honour for the senior team as it ran onto Subiaco Oval, having just helped the reserves to victory in their grand final.
East Perth remained one of the league’s top clubs, and reached their fifth grand final in succession. West Perth had the Royals’ measure in the finals, however. East Perth ruckman Graham 'Polly' Farmer emphasised his status as one of the pre-eminent footballers in the competition by winning the Sandover Medal for the second time.
East Fremantle qualified for the finals in fourth place before overcoming local rivals South Fremantle in the first semi final by 17 points. A fortnight later in the preliminary final, however, they were outclassed by East Perth to the tune of 60 points.
South Fremantle reached the finals for the first time since 1956 but bowed out of the premiership race at the first hurdle. Full forward John Gerovich provided some cause for celebration by kicking 101 goals to top the WAFL goal kicking ladder for the second time.
Subiaco, who had contested the grand final in 1959, finished fifth and missed the finals by a win plus percentage. The Lion' scalps included East Fremantle (three times) and South Fremantle, but they proved incapable of toppling the top two.
Claremont had last contested the finals in 1952 and they won just 8 matches in 1960 to miss out once again. However, they did manage to defeat both East Perth and West Perth proving the old cliche that, on their day, they were as good as anyone.
Seventh place for Perth meant that they missed out on finals action for the first time since 1952, and only the third time since world war two. Swan Districts meanwhile finished last for the second time in a row after managing just a couple of wins for the year. Their situation appeared hopeless.
SANFL: Roosters Rise From the Ashes
In 1959 North Adelaide had finished second to last in the SANFL with just 4 wins for the year from 18 matches, one of the worst returns in the club's entire history up to that point. Clearly, some drastic remedial action was required.
The club administration responded by appointing an experienced outsider, Jack McCarthy, as senior coach for the 1960 season. McCarthy had previously coached Port Adelaide at senior, seconds and colts level, and he immediately imbued his charges with a fresh appetite for success. Despite having basically the same group of players as in 1959 North charged up the list in 1960 to record 13 wins out of 18 and qualify for the second semi final. Once there, McCarthy had the satisfaction of seeing his new side overcome his old by 10 points after a tense, low-scoring struggle.
A fortnight later, North's opponents in the grand final were Norwood, and a huge crowd of 54,162 were treated to one of the all time great finals matches. From the start, North performed brilliantly, but the Redlegs' resistance was dogged. North led at every change by 9, 7 and 4 points before just keeping their noses in front in a tumultuous final term to clinch the premiership by 5 points, 14.11 (95) to 13.12 (90). Rover Barry Potts with 7 goals was best afield, while Gilbourne, Hammond, Gambling, Montgomery and 1960 Magarey Medallist Barrie Barbary also performed well.
Norwood recovered from a poor start which yielded just 2 wins from 6 matches to quaify for the first semi final in which they were opposed by West Adelaide. The Redlegs had lost by 18 points to West in their final home and away game of the season but on first semi final day they produced an assured and at times inspired performance to romp home by 47 points, 18.12 (120) to 10.13 (73).
Nobody - other than the Norwood fraternity - gave the Redlegs any chance of overcoming the might of Port Adelaide in the preliminary final. The Magpies, who were chasing an incredible seventh consecutive premiership, had won both minor round clashes with the Redlegs, but on this occasion it was Norwood who held all the aces en route to an emphatic 8.11 (59) to 3.14 (32) triumph. The Redlegs’ good form continued in the grand final but it was not quite good enough to overcome North. Most people in the crowd at Adelaide Oval that day would doubtless have been surprised if told that Norwood would not contest another grand final until 1975.
For the first time since 1952 the SANFL grand final would feature neither West Adelaide nor Port Adelaide. The Magpies were the pre-eminent side during the minor round but fell apart in the finals. They were perhaps missing their old mentor, Fos Williams.
West Adelaide somewhat surprisingly failed to do themselves justice in the first semi final against Norwood and their season was over. They had comfortably accounted for the Redlegs in both minor round clashes but that counted for nothing when it mattered.
West Torrens at least managed to maintain their impressive record of never having finished lower than fifth since world war two. However, the Eagles should really have done better. Comfortably ensconced in the top four after a 17.8 (110) to 6.13 (49) defeat of South Adelaide in round fifteen they then proceeded to lose their last three minor round matches to catapult out of contention.
Sixth placed Sturt finished with an 8-10 record. Their best victories came in round six against Norwood (13.13 to 9.17) and round ten against North (15.10 to 12.14). On the negative side of the ledger, in round sixteen the Blues provided bottom team Glenelg with one of their only two wins for the year.
South Adelaide, wooden spooners in 1959, improved by one place in 1960 despite winning just 3 of their 18 home and away matches. This was one more than a hapless Glenelg side which slumped to last for the first time since 1954.
Big Breakthrough by Tassie
Some sports lend themselves readily to acts of 'giant killing'. Soccer, where superiority in skill does not translate automatically into superiority on the scoreboard, is perhaps the classic example. In Australian football, however, examples of ostensibly 'inferior' teams triumphing against the odds over significantly stronger opponents are comparatively rare. In part, this is because Australian football, by its very nature, precludes a 'playing for a draw' mentality. Whereas in soccer it is possible to claim even the sport's most illustrious prizes by deliberately setting out merely to contain rather than outscore the opposition, such containment policies would never work in Australian Rules where success depends on the effective deployment and expression of skill rather than on its attempted suppression. (That said, there are some who would claim that recent seasons have seen the game blighted as never before by the wide scale development of nullifying tactics.)
Tasmania's renowned 13.13 (91) to 12.12 (84) defeat of a VFL 'second best' selection at York Park, Launceston on 13th June 1960 must therefore be regarded as proving that, on that one occasion at least, the Tasmanian players were better exponents of the skills of Australian football than their much vaunted opponents.
Exhibiting great pace and combining with greater effectiveness than their opponents Tasmania jumped the 'big V' with 4 goals to 1 in the opening term, and thereafter the Vics were always playing 'catch-up' football. With former Melbourne rover Stuart Spencer prominent for the apple islanders Tasmania maintained its dominance during the second and third terms, but as the fourth quarter opened there were signs that the Victorians were at last starting to find form. With Essendon's Ken Fraser controlling the pivot, and club mate Hugh Mitchell marking everything which came his way, the Vics hit the front midway through the final term and from that point on might reasonably have been expected to run away with affairs (after all, this was what almost invariably happened where VFL interstate sides were concerned). However, with more than 15,000 Tasmanians baying for Victorian blood it was the home side which suddenly lifted a notch, and, in a desperation move, the VFL's captain-coach, “
'Bugsy' Comben, ordered his players to stack the back lines. This proved to be a costly mistake as Tasmania were able to exploit the spaces created elsewhere on the ground and surge to a 7 point victory. Perhaps the most ironic feature of the match was that arguably the two best players afield were Victorian Stuart Spencer, playing for his adopted state of Tasmania, and the VFL's Taswegian centre half back Verdun Howell.
The win was in some senses the culmination of a great career for Tasmania's coach, Jack Metherell, a West Australian who had earlier played in the VFL with Geelong, and coached North Hobart with great success. Metherell was a stickler for hard work and team discipline, attributes which his charges consistently exhibited to optimum effect on arguably the most auspicious afternoon in Tasmanian football history. Tasmania’s triumph was all the more laudable given that no fewer than seven high quality players, including the great Darrel Baldock, were unavailable for selection.
Bad weather restricted TANFL attendances at roster matches to just 164,369 but the finals, apart from the grand final, were well attended. The final four comprised Clarence, Hobart, North Hobart and New Norfolk. In the first semi final North accounted for New Norfolk by 45 points, 13.10 (88) to 5.13 (43). A week later a crowd of 11,235 watched a finals hardened Hobart side downing minor premiers Clarence 14.20 (104) to 13.15 (93). The ‘Roos’ major round inexperience showed both on this occasion and in the following Saturday’s preliminary final when, watched by 12,467 spectators, they succumbed to North Hobart by 4 points.
The grand final was played in appalling weather, as a result of which only 6,001 fans attended. With scoring at a premium because of the conditions Hobart just managed to hold off a stern challenge from North to win by 4 points, 6.7 (43) to 6.3 (39).
The state preliminary final, played at Devonport, saw NWFU premiers Burnie getting the better of Hobart by a solitary point, 9.9 (63) to 9.8 (62). Burnie then had to travel to Launceston for the state final in which City-South proved too strong. Scores were City-South 15.17 (107) defeated Burnie 12.17 (89).
Eastern Suburbs' Run Ends
Sydney Naval defeated Newtown in the NSWANFL grand final, thereby becoming the first side, other than Eastern Suburbs, to claim the premiership in eight years. St George finished third while Eastern Suburbs dropped to fourth. For the second successive season Liverpool ended up with the wooden spoon.
‘Roos Rule the Roost in Sunshine State
Coorparoo’s long awaited first QANFL premiership finally arrived in 1960, and a small measure of extra satisfaction was derived from the fact that it was achieved at the expense of Coorparoo's grand final nemesis of three years earlier, Sandgate. The 'Roos' revenge was emphatic as they won by 50 points, although the fact that they amassed a total of 40 scoring shots compared to 15 suggests that even this margin scarcely reflected their dominance.
The 1960s would prove to be easily the most successful decade in the history of the Eastlake Football Club, and they served notice of what was to come in 1960 with another undefeated CANFL premiership (following on from the one achieved in 1957). This time around the performance was, if anything, even more conclusive, culminating in a 20.15 (135) to 9.9 (63) grand final demolition of Ainslie.
More Plunder for Saints
St Mary's were a power in the NTFL almost from the start. Formed in 1952 in order to enable Tiwi Islanders employed by the Armed Services in Darwin to play regular organised football the side won a premiership in only its third season in the competition in 1954/55. Another premiership came the following year and further back to back flags were gained in 1958/59 and 1959/60, making St Mary's the most successful NTFL side of the 1950s. The 1959/60 premiership was claimed to the tune of 47 points at the expense of Buffaloes.
A section B carnival took place in Sydney in 1960 with the following results:
New South Wales 14.24 (108); Queensland 13.19 (97)
VFA 19.31 (133); Canberra 3.11 (29)
New South Wales 13.14 (92); Canberra 13.12 (90)
VFA 22.22 (154); Queensland 3.7 (25)
Canberra 16.16 (112); Queensland 13.10 (88)
VFA 23.24 (162); New South Wales 8.9 (57)
Unsurprisingly, the VFA proved comfortably superior to all three so called “minor states”. In a challenge match played in Canberra after the carnival they downed perennial section two interstate champions Australian Amateurs by 4 goals.
Tasmania’s match with a VFL second string combination is discussed above. The Tasmanians’ other interstate foray of 1960 took place in Adelaide where they succumbed to South Australia by 65 points after the South Australians had kicked 11 last quarter goals. This was a first choice South Australian combination, mind you.
South Australia took on the VFL both home and away, losing by 50 points in Melbourne but winning by an all time record margin of 69 points in Adelaide. The VFL met Western Australia in Perth and won by 34 points, 18.15 (123) to 12.17 (89).
Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 8.14 (62) d. Collingwood 2.2 (14); SANFL: North Adelaide 14.11 (95) d. Norwood 13.12 (90); WANFL: West Perth 17.13 (115) d. East Perth 12.11 (83); VFA: Oakleigh 18.14 (122) d. Sandringham 8.14 (62); TANFL: Hobart 6.7 (43) d. North Hobart 6.3 (39); NTFA: City-South 11.19 (85) d. North Launceston 12.8 (80); NSWANFL: Sydney Naval 9.12 (66) d. Newtown 9.9 (63); NTFL: St Mary's 12.9 (81) d. Buffaloes 5.4 (34); QANFL: Coorparoo 16.24 (120) d. Sandgate 11.4 (70); NWFU: Burnie 12.10 (82) d. Cooee 7.15 (57); CANFL: Eastlake 20.15 (135) d. Ainslie 9.9 (63); TSP: City-South 15.17 (107) d. Burnie 12.17 (89).
 Unleashed: A History of the Footscray Football Club by John Lack, Chris McConville, Michael Small, Damien Wright, page 207.
 From an interview recorded on the video "It's a Grand Old Flag”.
 Farmer had previously won the Medal in 1956. He would later be awarded a retrospective Medal for 1957 after originally losing out on a countback to East Fremantle’s Jack Clarke.
WA Upset the Odds (and Vics)
Western Australia's triumph at the Brisbane Carnival of 1961 ought logically to have given Australian football a much needed shot in the arm. Here, at last, was undeniable proof that Victorian footballing pre-eminence was not in the nature of an unchallengeable 'given'. A year earlier, in Adelaide, South Australia had provided a clear indication that the Victorian empire was far from indefatigable with an historic 69 point triumph. It was not so much the margin of victory which had heralded the decline as the Vics' abject inability to trouble the goal umpires; their total of 3.12 (30) was their lowest in interstate football up to that point.
Carnival football represented another step up in intensity from the ordinary interstate sphere, however, and the approach of VFL representative teams competing in Carnivals was correspondingly intensified. Arguably, only VFL finals football approached the intensity of an interstate Carnival, and for this reason the Big V was significantly better equipped than the other states to succeed. However, in 1961 the Western Australians and, to a lesser extent, both South Australia and Tasmania showed themselves perfectly capable of handling the pressure. Unlike at Melbourne three years earlier most matches were hotly contested and at least three of them - the games between SA and WA, SA and Tasmania and the decisive encounter between the VFL and WA - were bona fide classics.
VFL: A Football Revolution at Hawthorn
Under the gruelling commando-style regime based on circuit training which was introduced by Jack Hale during the 1950s, and which John Kennedy, who was appointed Hawthorn coach in 1960, elaborated on and augmented, the Hawks players reached a pinnacle of physical fitness that had probably never previously been achieved in the history of Australian football. There was no finesse about the Kennedy approach, but no one could deny it was effective. During his first season as coach the Hawks had their first ever win at Victoria Park over Collingwood - the club which, ironically, edged into fourth place at the end of the home and away season ahead of the Hawks on percentage. One season later, however, Hawthorn finished at the head of the premiership ladder with 14 wins from 18 matches, and went on to reach the grand final after a hard-fought second semi final win over reigning premiers, Melbourne.
In terms of pure footballing ability Hawthorn's team in 1961 could only really be described as ordinary, but in spite of this they achieved the ultimate when, on grand final day, they comprehensively outplayed Footscray to the tune of 43 points. With fitness fanatic Brendan Edwards in irrepressible form in the centre, and with strong supporting performances from rover Ian Law, ruckman John Winneke, wingman John Fisher, ruck-rover and captain Graham Arthur, and half forward Ian Mort, the Hawks gave new meaning to the phrase
'pressure football' (a term which, during the 1960s, came increasingly to be regarded as a synonym for 'quality football' - in Victoria, at any rate).
A statistical analysis of the 1961 grand final helps bear this out. The overwhelming majority of kicks (60.1%), by both teams, were wayward, in part because of slipshod execution - the drop kick, in particular, which was used 24.0% of the time, did not lend itself to pinpoint accuracy - but chiefly because the ball carrier was compelled to dispose of the ball hurriedly either in order to avoid being tackled, or because he was already being grabbed by an opponent. This also helps explain what might seem to some to be the surprisingly high incidence of handball in the match. Between them, the teams executed a total of 106 handpasses, but far from denoting any observable adherence to the principles of 'play on' football, this merely reinforced the fact that players were, typically and repeatedly, being harassed into getting rid of the ball as quickly and expeditiously as possible. On only 8 occasions during the entire match did players who had marked the ball decide not to walk slowly and purposefully back and take their kick, but instead play on by handballing to a team mate. Moreover, 5 of these instances occurred during the dying minutes of the final term, when the outcome of the match had already been determined.
Rather than being used proactively, as a means to open up or force the play, virtually all the handpasses made during the game were reactive, typically made as a desperate last resort, often blindly, by players either being, or about to be, tackled. As a result, some 33% of handballs ended up going straight to an opposition player. To modern eyes, therefore, much of the football produced in the 1961 grand final appears slipshod, errant and uncoordinated. Players did not so much impose their wills on the game as respond, instinctively, and often almost desperately, to its ebbs and flows. Constructive creativity quite simply never came into play. Only once during the entire game was there a sequence of as many as 3 consecutive handballs by players from the same team. A player's automatic response upon gaining possession of the ball in space was to kick it as far as he could in a goalwards direction. Short or medium distance kicks aimed at finding a specific team mate did occasionally occur, but so infrequently as to appear anomalous, and so inexpertly as to provoke a singularly unvarying pejorative reaction from the TV commentary team - "Oh no, they're messing around!" Such sentiments presumably encapsulated the contemporary viewpoint, which would appear to have been that any attempts on the part of players to impose order and coherence on the game were fruitless, and hence to be scorned. Thus, in the main, play in the 1961 grand final comprised a relentless sequence of long kicks forward interspersed with frenetic tussles for possession. Hardly any kicks could be categorised as 'passes', and many went either directly to an opposition player, or out of bounds.
None of this is meant to imply that the Hawthorn system was not revolutionary in its way. In particular, its side effects were quite significant. For one thing, as players endeavoured to diminish and counteract the destabilising effects of 'pressure football' they developed noticeably greater facility in their execution of the basic skills. Disposing of the ball speedily and accurately became paramount, which meant that handball - often the quickest method of disposal available to a player - became increasingly important. Meanwhile the drop kick, which had been a pillar of the game since its inception, began to be supplanted by the drop punt, which was both immeasurably more accurate, and quicker and easier to implement. In the 1961 grand final the drop punt was used only twice; by the time the Hawks next claimed a premiership, a decade later, it was the preferred kick of almost all members of the team.
Footscray finished the 1961 minor round in fine form to qualify for the finals in fourth spot. First semi final opponents St Kilda had comfortably won the round ten clash between the sides but finals football is always a different affair to the bread and butter routine of the home and away schedule. Accordingly, no one was particularly surprised when the Bulldogs triumphed by 9 points, a margin which actually flattered the Saints who never really looked like winning.
Preliminary final opponents Melbourne had also had the better of Footscray during the minor round, winning by 25 points at the Western Oval in round six, and by 40 points at the MCG in round seventeen. The Bulldogs, however, got the jump on the Demons in a first quarter which saw them rattle on 4 unanswered goals. Melbourne made a semblance of a comeback in the second term but Footscray still led by 17 points at the long break. The second half was all Footscray, and their eventual margin of victory of 27 points, compared to Hawthorn’s 7 point defeat of the same opponents a week earlier, prompted some to install the Bulldogs as flag favourites. However, it was not to be, as despite a solid first half performance on grand final day they ended up being overpowered.
Melbourne suffered a disappointing and uncharacteristic fade-out in 1961. Comfortably second after the home and away rounds the Demons found Hawthorn just a little too energetic and decisive in the second semi final and fell short by 7 points. A week later in the preliminary final Melbourne had no answer to Footscray’s tenacity and superlative (for the time) use of handball and went under by 27 points.
St Kilda qualified for the finals for the first time since 1939 but their involvement was fleeting as they succumbed by 9 points to Footscray in the first semi. The Saints made the mistake of fielding a half fit Verdun Howell at full back and despite the comparatively narrow losing margin they never really looked like winning.
Fitzroy continued their solid form of recent seasons to win 10 matches and draw 1 (of 18) and finish fifth. The draw, which occurred in round twelve against Melbourne effectively robbed the Lions of finals participation as they finished half a win behind third placed St Kilda and fourth placed Footscray but with a superior percentage to both of them.
Sixth placed Geelong had an identical win/loss record but a greatly inferior percentage to Fitzroy. Arguably the Cats’ best performance came in round seven at Kardinia Park when they comprehensively overcame eventual grand finalists Footscray. Scores were Geelong 13.13 (91) defeated Footscray 4.14 (38). Geelong also achieved the rare feat of downing Collingwood both home and away, although it has to be conceded that the Magpies were by no means a powerful team in 1961. The Cats enjoyed one particular moment in the sun in 1961 when they downed North Melbourne by 12 points in the grand final of the VFL night competition.
Essendon combined some big wins with a number of inexplicable losses to lower ranked teams. Perhaps their best victory came at the expense of Melbourne on the MCG in round fourteen. In front of a crowd of 31,155 Essendon won by 9 points, 13.9 (87) to 10.18 (78).
Despite their generally poor season eigth placed Carlton at least had the satisfaction of providing both the Brownlow Medallist and the competition’s leading goalkicker. The Brownlow Medal went to John James, who spent most of the 1961 season playing on a half back flank. However, prior to and after 1961 he was invariably the first man the coach called upon to fill in if the team was breaking down in a certain position. During his eleven season, 206 game career with the Blues he played, at some point, in virtually every position on the ground with the exception of knock ruckman.
Initially recruited from Ballarat as a forward, he ended his debut season of 1953 with the rankly inglorious tally of 8 goals and 43 behinds to his name, and the disbelieving groans of the Princes Park faithful still ringing in his ears.
When playing in the backlines, James was sometimes criticised for 'taking risks', but his superb judgement meant that he was actually a prototype of the more modern, re-bound style of half back or back pocket. For James, there was nothing calculatedly tactical about his style; he was simply playing his natural game, just as he had done from his time as a schoolboy at the renowned football nursery of St Patrick's College, Ballarat.
John James' importance to Carlton was emphasised with best and fairest wins in 1955, 1960 and 1961 making him, somewhat surprisingly, the first player to win the Blues' award on three occasions.
The VFL’s top goalkicker in 1961 was first season player Tom Carroll who booted 54 goals. Hailing from a turkey farm at Ganmain he, unsurprisingly, garnered the nickname 'Turkey Tom'. He returned home to Ganmain after three seasons with the Blues during each of which he had topped the club’s goal kicking list.
Collingwood failed to qualify for the finals in 1961 for the first time since 1957 and only the second time in ten seasons. The Magpies started their campaign with a hefty loss to Geelong and their form thereafter was fickle. Much of the season saw them occupying the second from last rung on the ladder before a late, albeit somewhat passionless, improvement in form saw them clamber to ninth, their worst finishing position since 1944.
Tenth placed Richmond improved marginally on their 1960 showing when they had finished a distant last. The Tigers’ 5 wins all came against teams in the bottom half of the table. In round sixteen at the Junction Oval they suffered a particularly ignominious defeat at the hands of St Kilda during which they registered just 0.8 for the match. The Saints scored 12.19 (91) to win by 83 points.
Between rounds nine and eighteen South Melbourne and North Melbourne, in that order, occupied the bottom two rungs the ladder. Both teams managed an occasional meritorious performance - South Melbourne even defeated Footscray - but overall they appeared out of their depth. In the only clash between the pair in round eleven at the Lake Oval South won by 18 points, 9.14 (68) to 7.8 (50).
Two Division Format Gets Thumbs Up
In 1961 the VFA implemented a two division system with promotion and relegation. The move was judged a success in that there were considerably more close matches and attendances were healthy. The inaugural first division grand final attracted approximately 20,000 spectators to St Kilda’s home ground of the Junction Oval, while roughly 8,000 attended the second division play-off at Toorak Park.
Premiers in first division were Yarraville, who comfortably accounted for Williamstown in the grand final. It was Yarraville’s first flag since 1935, and their margin of victory - 63 points - was the greatest by any victorious grand finalist since 1918. At half time there was little in the match as the Eagles led by just 14 points, 8.2 (50) to 5.6 (36). During the third quarter, however, Yarraville added 11.4 to 1.1 thereby effectively finishing the game as a contest. The roving trio of Ron Brown, Graham Crook and John Clegg constituted the main driving force behind the Eagles’ surge. Final scores were Yarraville 22.7 (139) defeated Williamstown 11.10 (76).
Northcote were far and away the best team in second division. After suffering just two reversals during the home and away fixtures they comfortably topped the ladder before twice accounting for Dandenong in the finals. In the second semi final their margin of victory was 24 points, and although the grand final was somewhat closer at the finish Northcote always seemed to have something in hand. Final scores were Northcote 12.15 (87) defeated Dandenong 9.18 (72).
SANFL: The “Turkish Bath” Grand Final
After West Adelaide slumped to fourth in 1960 Jack Oatey departed to be replaced as coach by Neil Kerley. Under Kerls the Blood 'n Tars proved irrepressible in 1961, taking out the minor premiership and then overwhelming arch rivals Port Adelaide in the second semi final by 17 points, 11.24 (90) to 9.19 (73). After Norwood surprisingly accounted for the Magpies in the following week's preliminary final West, having already outpointed the Redlegs in two of their three previous meetings for the season, entered the grand final as odds-on favourites. Moreover, there was the clear advantage of having had a week's rest during which time Norwood had had to slog their way to an energy-sapping 2 point victory over Port.
As it turned out, fitness and freshness were even more of the essence than usual, as the grand final took place in unprecedented heat which saw the thermometer rise to over 96 degrees Fahrenheit during the opening term. In retrospect, the match can be seen to have been won and lost during that initial phase, with West changing ends at quarter time only 9 points down despite Norwood having had the advantage of a 3 or 4 goal northerly breeze. Over the final three quarters the Blood 'n Tars held sway all over the ground as they surged to a comfortable 36 point victory, 16.13 (109) to 11.7 (73). Notable performances for the victors in a match quickly dubbed by the press 'the Turkish bath grand final' came from Kerley, Reu, Eustice, Benton, Ryan and De Broughe.
If there was a tinge of disappointment amidst the euphoria which inevitably attends a premiership victory it was to do with the fact that West's grand final victims had not been the detested Magpies.
Norwood qualified for the finals in fourth position, 1 win plus percentage ahead of reigning premiers North Adelaide. In the first semi final the Redlegs accounted for West Torrens by 21 points, 11.15 (81) to 7.18 (60). Two weeks later they overcame an inaccurate Port Adelaide by 2 points, 13.13 (91) to 11.23 (89). In the grand final they kept pace with Westies for the better part of two quarters but after half time they were distinctly second best.
The Magpies’ 25 point defeat of West Adelaide in the grand final of the SANFL’s night competition will presumably have provided absolutely nothing in the way of consolation.
For most of the 1961 season Port Adelaide gave no indication that their six year stint at the pinnacle of South Australian football was about to end. The Magpies finished the minor round at the head of the ladder after losing just 4 of their 19 matches: to West Adelaide in round one, South Adelaide in round three, Norwood in round eleven and West Torrens in round nineteen when the result was of little consequence. Then, inexplicably, against West Adelaide in the second semi final they produced probably their worst performance of the season in losing by 17 points, a margin of defeat which frankly flattered them. Against Norwood in the following Saturday’s preliminary final they ought really to have won but their kicking for goal was horrendous and despite managing 34 scoring shots to 26 they ended up losing by 2 points. One of South Australian football’s greatest ever football dynasties was over.
After narrowly missing the finals in 1960 West Torrens finished the minor round third before succumbing, somewhat meekly, to Norwood in the first semi. Since winning the 1953 premiership the Eagles’ record in finals had been poor - a trend that would not be reversed in the remaining three decades of the club’s solo existence. Key forward Geoff Kingston(pictured at the top of this section) booted 79 goals for the season to become the first West Torrens player since John Willis in 1952, and only the third Eagle of all time, to top the SANFL’s goal kicking list.
After winning the 1960 premiership North Adelaide might have been expected to kick on but they underperformed badly to finish with a 10-9 record which was only good enough for fifth place. The Roosters managed to overcome both Norwood (twice) and West Torrens but otherwise failed to impress against the top four.
A huge chasm in ability separated the league’s top five and bottom three in 1961. South Adelaide (5 wins), Glenelg (4) and Sturt (3) seldom challenged the leading sides. One noteworthy exception was South’s 13.7 (85) to 9.10 (64) defeat of Port in round three, a result which might be said to have clinched the Panthers’ procurement of sixth place on the premiership ladder. Another was Sturt’s 11 point victory over Norwood in round ten. Some of the bottom three’s defeats were by substantial margins.
Despite ending up with the wooden spoon Sturt did manage one noteworthy achievement in the shape of John Halbert’s popular Magarey Medal win. Halbert had made his league debut with Sturt in 1955 and proved an immediate success, so much so that he finished runner-up in the Magarey Medal to Lindsay Head of West Torrens. Unfortunately for Halbert, coming second was something he would have to get accustomed to; three years later, he was runner-up to Head once more, and in 1960 he was bested by North Adelaide wingman and occasional rover Barrie Barbary. Finally, following a stellar 1961 season that had also seen him procure selection in the All Australian team after the Brisbane carnival, Halbert broke through for a richly deserved and extremely popular Medal triumph. He finished with a total of 20 votes, two more than Haydn Linke of Glenelg, and five ahead of the pre-count favourite, West Adelaide's Neil Kerley.
WANFL: Swans’ Stunning Success
By 1961 the popularity of football in Western Australia was at an all time high with an average of more than 30,000 spectators attending each week's round of four matches. The unexpected success of the Western Australian state side in capturing the national title at the Brisbane carnival was one important factor in reinforcing the game's popularity. However, arguably of even greater importance was the equally unanticipated emergence of Swan Districts as a league power for the first time, providing the WANFL competition, which had consistently been dominated by the same few clubs since the end of world war two, with a long overdue breath of fresh air.
Swan Districts took a gamble in 1961 by appointing the young Haydn Bunton junior as senior coach. Bunton, whose father had won three Sandover Medals with Subiaco in the 1930s, had spent his early years in Perth but had played virtually all of his competitive football in South Australia. Bunton's courage and dedication were undeniable, but his coaching pedigree was limited. Many felt that what Swans most needed, after claiming the wooden spoon in 1960, was an experienced hand at the helm, but almost immediately Bunton set about showing that the committee had made an inspired choice:
Bunton extricated players from beer gardens around Perth and the city's resort beaches, provided them with a sense of belonging, and set each player a personal challenge. To a man, the players responded to their coach, a supreme leader and master tactician, and won .…
Among the newcomers to respond to the Bunton technique was rover Bill Walker, who would go on to become arguably the greatest player in the history of the club. Nevertheless, it was Bunton's "genius (that was) solely responsible for the club's dizzy climb from the bottom to the top of the premiership table in one winter”.
During the minor round Swan Districts won 12 out of 21 matches to finish second on the ladder to East Perth but most observers considered it of critical significance that the Royals had won all three head to head clashes during the year. The East Perth lobby grew even stronger after the second semi final which resulted in a thoroughly convincing 48 point triumph to the Royals, and when the black and whites had to struggle all the way to overcome Subiaco in the following week's preliminary final the only doubt in most people's minds was how much East Perth would end up winning by.
People had reckoned without Bunton, though, and the 1961 grand final became, above all else, a testimony to his tactical acumen. East Perth's key player was Graham Farmer, arguably the greatest ruckman - some would say the greatest player - in the history of the game, and Bunton reasoned that, without Farmer's influence to contend with, the Swans would be better than an even money chance. He was right. Thirty years later he recalled the simple but masterful ploy he devised to stymie Farmer's impact and, in effect, win the 1961 grand final for Swan Districts:
"Fred (Castledine) had to come in and get hold - get his (Farmer's) left arm out of the way. Once he had that arm, that was it. Keith Slater was coming in on his right, and Castledine was getting in the way of that arm before he could get it up ...... We had rehearsed this.” 
Swans ruckman Keith Slater played the game of his life to realise Bunton's ploy, and with the likes of Bunton himself and Bill Walker crumbing superbly East Perth remained distinctly second best all day. Final scores were Swan Districts 17.9 (111); East Perth 12.15 (87) after Swans had led at every change by 17, 13 and 31 points. Keith Slater later admitted that "I got away with a few illegal things in the grand final of '61. That's the luck of the draw.” Most of the 'illegal things' must have remained unobserved because Slater was a clear choice for the Simpson Medal as best afield, with full back Joe Lawson, rovers Bunton and Walker (5 goals), centre half back Ken Bagley and wingman Johnny Mack also impressive. The match remains one of the epochal moments in Western Australian football history.
In 1961 East Perth put in one of the finest home and away campaigns in the club's history, winning all but 2 of 21 games for the season. A 48 point win over 'Cinderella' club Swan Districts in the second semi final earned them odds-on favouritism for the grand final re-match a fortnight later, but, as noted above, the Royals were on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in Western Australian football history as the Swans won by 24 points to record their first ever WANFL premiership.
That 1961 grand final was 'Polly' Farmer's last ever game for East Perth, the star ruckman transferring to Geelong in the VFL where he went on to enhance his reputation still further.
Third after the minor round, Subiaco affirmed that status with a 20.17 (137) to 16.11 (107) first semi final defeat of East Fremantle. Against Swan Districts in the preliminary final they managed to keep in touch for much of the afternoon thanks to a mixture of dogged determination and accuracy in front of goal, but ultimately they had to accept that they were second best, just as had been the case in two out of three of the teams’ meetings in the home and away series.
In 1961, East Fremantle qualified for the finals for the ninth consecutive time. Only one of the eight previous appearances had resulted in a premiership, and 1961 was to provide yet another disappointment as they crashed out in the first semi final against Subiaco by a margin of 30 points.
Reigning premiers West Perth had an inexplicably poor season, finishing fifth with a 9-12 record. Still capable on their day of troubling or even downing a top side they were equally prone to succumbing to some of the league’s poorest combinations.
Perth managed just 8 wins and a draw in 1961 but they provided the Sandover Medallist in the person of Neville Beard. Whether as a defender or a ruck-rover changing in defence, Beard gave the Perth Football Club fine service in 126 WANFL games between 1956 and 1963. The highlight of his career came in 1961 when, as mentioned above, he was a surprise winner of the Sandover Medal. Beard polled 22 votes, the same as East Fremantle's Ray Sorrell, but won on a countback. (Sorrell was later awarded a retrospective Medal.) Selected in Western Australia's 1961 Brisbane carnival squad, Beard was forced to withdraw because of injury. His only interstate appearance for Western Australia came in the following year's match against South Australia in Perth. The main strengths of his game were his superb overhead marking and his penetrative left foot kicking.
Seventh placed Claremont endured another poor season which yielded just 7 wins. The Tigers had last contested the finals in 1952, when they finished third.
Despite finishing last and scoring fewer points than any other club South Fremantle had, in the shape of supreme aerialist John Gerovich, the WAFL’s leading goalkicker. Arguably the most distinctive feature of Australian football is the high mark. Virtually every other facet of the game is shared by other sports, but the sight of a player taking a fingertip 'screamer' while perched on the shoulders of an opponent is unique to footy, and players who perfect this art are among the code's most celebrated and well remembered.
John Gerovich, who played 221 league games for South Fremantle between 1955 and 1969, mastered the high flyer's art more comprehensively and eye-catchingly than most. The photograph of a skyscraping mark taken by Gerovich during the 1956 preliminary final against East Fremantle remains one of the most visually stunning and indeed iconic in football history. The unfortunate 'step-ladder' was Ray French. (The photo appears in the chapter about the 1956 season.)
John Gerovich was much more than just a spectacular aerialist, however, as he "had superb balance, a blistering turn of speed and the ability to kick goals from long distances with either foot”. Equally at home at either centre half forward or the goalfront, he topped South Fremantle's list of goal kickers on eight occasions and the league list in 1956 (74 goals), 1960 (101) and 1961 (74). He booted 721 WANFL goals altogether, and was a regular interstate representative (18 games, 56 goals). When West Australia won the Brisbane carnival, John Gerovich played at full forward in all 3 matches, kicking 8 goals.
Perhaps the most persuasive testimony as to Gerovich's brilliance came from Marty McDonnell, who coached South during the early '60s, and who had played at full back on the great Essendon full forward John Coleman. McDonnell's unequivocal assessment was that "Gerovich was the most sensational forward he had seen in Australia”.
Record Crowds in TANFL
A total of 173,255 spectators attended TANFL roster matches in 1961. This constituted a new record. Aggregate attendances at finals games amounted to 54,263, which was roughly 6,000 less than the 1958 high.
The TANFL first semi final was contested between Sandy Bay and Clarence, with victory ultimately going to the former by 19 points. A week later North Hobart accounted for Glenorchy by 10 points in a real thriller. Scores were North Hobart 11.10 (76) defeated Glenorchy 10.6 (66).
A big crowd of 10,265 turned up for the preliminary final in which Glenorchy pulled away to enjoy a comfortable 29 point triumph over Sandy Bay. Final scores were Glenorchy 13.13 (91); Sandy Bay 9.8 (62).
North Hobart reasserted their dominance over Glenorchy in the grand final which attracted 15,217 spectators. Victory was achieved by 36 points, 16.12 (108) to 11.6 (72), and North went on to secure the state premiership as well with wins over NTFA premier North Launceston by 26 points and Cooee from the NWFU by 28 points. It was the tenth time that the Robins had won the 'double' of state and local premierships.
In addition to their involvement in the Brisbane carnival Tasmania also played an interstate match against the VFA in Hobart, winning by 23 points, 17.12 (114) to 11.25 (91).
Other States and Territories
In the Sydney-based NSWANFL North Shore, which had finished ninth (of ten) a year earlier won the premiership with a convincing 11.15 (81) to 4.11 (35) grand final defeat of reigning premiers Sydney Naval. It was the Bombers’ first senior grade premiership since 1952. Newtown and Eastern Suburbs completed the final four. For the third season in succession Liverpool had to endure the indignity of the wooden spoon.
Mayne won their first QANFL premiership since 1958 thanks to a 13.18 (96) to 11.14 (80) grand final defeat of Coorparoo. It was either the Tigers’ ninth or tenth senior grade flag.
Watched by what was claimed to be a CANFL grand final record crowd of approximately 6,000 Ainslie scored a hard fought 8 point win over Queanbeyan. Final scores were Ainslie 9.12 (66) defeated Queanbeyan 9.4 (58). Eastlake and Manuka made up the final four.
The NTFL premiership was won by Works and Housing who overcame a wayward St Mary's in the grand final by 14 points. Final scores were Works and Housing 10.8 (68) to St Mary's 6.18 (54). It was the Tigers’ second senior grade flag.
Grand final results - VFL: Hawthorn 13.16 (94) d. Footscray 7.9 (51); SANFL: West Adelaide 16.13 (109) d. Norwood 11.7 (73); VFA: Division One - Yarraville 22.7 (139) d. Williamstown 11.10 (76); Division Two - Northcote 12.15 (87) d. Dandenong 9.18 (72); TANFL: North Hobart 16.12 (108) d. Glenorchy 11.6 (72); NTFA: North Launceston 8.11 (59) d. Longford 8.10 (58); NSWANFL: North Shore 11.15 (81) d. Sydney Naval 4.11 (35); NTFL: Works and Housing 10.8 (68) d. St Mary's 6.13 (49); QANFL: Mayne 13.18 (96) d. Coorparoo 11.14 (80); NWFU: Cooee 8.10 (58) d. Burnie 8.5 (53); CANFL: Ainslie 9.12 (66) d. Queanbeyan 9.4 (58); TSP: North Hobart 13.8 (86) d. Cooee 8.10 (58).
Brisbane Carnival results - VFL 20.30 (150) d. Tasmania 12.17 (89); South Australia 16.13 (109) d. Western Australia 15.17 (107); Western Australia 24.23 (167) d. Tasmania 10.6 (66); VFL 21.22 (148) d. South Australia 13.12 (90); South Australia 15.17 (107) d. Tasmania 14.16 (100); Western Australia 15.14 (104) d. VFL 14.11 (95).
 This is not meant to suggest that Victoria's footballing pre-eminence had never previously been subject to scrutiny or brought into question. By 1961, however, thanks to a burgeoning mass media and enhanced interstate communication such scrutiny could, potentially at any rate, be immediately and effectually engaged in by all members of the football fraternity. Unfortunately, few if any of the real power brokers in the game were watching. Moreover, the Melbourne press devoted fewer column inches to the Australian national football Carnival of 1961 than it did to events in local amateur football competitions.
 Bunton made his league debut for North Adelaide in 1954 at the age of seventeen and the following year was chosen to represent South Australia against Western Australia in Perth. He coached Norwood in 1957 (second) and 1958 (fourth) before accepting a contract to coach Launceston in the NTFA in 1959. While there he was involved in a car accident in which he sustained a serious knee injury but, aided by world-renowned athletics coach Percy Cerutty, he made a rapid and near miraculous recovery which enabled him to return to Norwood as a player in 1960. His ambition to coach was still overwhelming, however, and he took little persuading to take the coaching reins at Swan Districts the following season.
 Men of Norwood: Red and Blue Blooded by Mike Coward, page 210.
 Ibid, page 210.
 Polly Farmer by Stephen Hawke, page 140.
 Ibid, page 210.
 For example, the Cardinals beat Swan Districts in rounds five and nineteen and East Fremantle in rounds seven and fourteen, but they also sustained losses at least once at the hands of all three teams to finish below them on the ladder.
 WA's Fabulous 40 - The Best 40 Footballers Over 40 Years by Alan East (ed.), page 79.
 Football Greats of Western Australia volume one by Anthony James, page 32.
 Some records show that the 1930 premiership was shared between Windsor and Mayne after Mayne refused to allow Windsor to use the right of challenge which they had earned as minor premiers. Other records have Windsor as premiers.
 The club is nowadays known as Nightcliff.
WANFL: Bunton's Swans Remain Benchmark In West
In terms of attendances and public interest, the WANFL enjoyed a boom year in 1962. There were a number of reasons for this, not least of which was the stimulus to the game brought about by Western Australia’s stunning success at the 1961 Brisbane carnival. Other factors included the instilling of new life into the competition by Haydn Bunton junior’s ‘rags to riches’ Swan Districts combination, and the fact that the 1962 season saw “an incredibly fierce” race for the finals, which was not ultimately resolved until deep into time-on on the last Saturday of the minor round.
That minor round saw numerous attendance records broken, including the all time record aggregates for both a split round (47,512 in round three) and an ordinary round (38,348 in round sixteen). Overall, crowd figures broke the 800,000 barrier for the first time, while the 27,524 fans who turned up for the first semi final between West Perth and South Fremantle also constituted a record.
Reigning premiers Swan Districts did not have things all their own way in 1962 in what was an extraordinarily evenly contested season, with a mere 6 wins separating first from seventh, and even bottom side Claremont (4 wins and 17 losses) managing a stirring come from behind victory against eventual runners-up East Fremantle. Ultimately, however, 14 wins from their 21 minor round matches was good enough to see Swans top the ladder for the first time in their history; East Fremantle were half a win behind in second place, while South Fremantle and West Perth, both with 12 wins, made up the remainder of the ‘four’.
After seeming to have a mortgage on the double chance earlier in the season the southerners had suffered a mystifying loss of form which left them facing a ‘do or die’ round twenty-one tussle with East Perth at Fremantle Oval after which the winners would qualify for a knock-out semi final against West Perth, while for the losers it would be ‘mothballs’ for season 1962. In front of 13,188 spectators, its biggest home crowd of the season, South Fremantle struggled for most of the match, and midway through the final term looked down and out; however, during the last ten minutes of the match players who had hitherto been out of sorts suddenly found hidden reservoirs of strength while their Royals counterparts began to wilt. The upshot of it all was that the Bulldogs kicked the last three goals of the game to sneak a 7 point win, 18.16 (124) to 17.15 (117). Their glee was short-lived, however, as, after a closely fought first three quarters in the following week’s first semi final, West Perth, inspired by its formidable captain Brian Foley, added 3.7 to 0.3 in the final stanza to win ‘pulling away’.
The second semi final saw Swan Districts firm as premiership favourites with a 17.9 (111) to 11.10 (76) defeat of East Fremantle, but Old Easts’ stunning 22.14 (146) to 9.16 (70) preliminary final obliteration of the Cardinals caused many pundits to regard the grand final re-match as ‘line ball’.
Swan Districts, however, with Keith Slater controlling the rucks, and winners on every line such as full back Joe Lawson, centre half back Bagley, wingman Gray, half forward Watt and forward pocket-cum-rover Walker, exploded out of the blocks with 7 opening term goals to 1, and by ‘lemon time’ the grand final was effectively over. Old Easts at least managed 5 late goals to reduce the margin at the end to 18 points, and they did provide the Simpson Medallist in Ray Sorrell, but no-one at the ground was left in any doubt that Swans were by some considerable measure the superior team.
Swan Districts also provided arguably the two finest players of the season in captain-coach Haydn Bunton junior, who won both the Sandover Medal and two of the three main media awards, and shrewd and highly effective ruckman Keith Slater, who was successful in the other media prize. Bunton’s Sandover victory made him the first son of a former winner to claim the honour, his father Haydn Bunton senior having been a three time Medallist with Subiaco. The younger Bunton may have lacked his father’s elegance and poise, but no one could possibly question his determination, strength of will and toughness; as a child he had suffered for many years from a serious, crippling illness, while only three years earlier he had had to have his right knee cap removed following a car accident in Tasmania. As a player, his ability to win possession of the ball under duress was unequalled; in one match against South Fremantle during the 1962 season statisticians credited him with no fewer than 88 kicks, 55 of them in the first half. His handball statistics were not recorded, but given that Bunton was renowned at the time as one of the most prolific practitioners of that particular art, it is hard not to imagine his having exceeded 100 total possessions for the match, an incredible, and quite possibly unsurpassed, achievement.
Keith Slater probably deserves almost equal credit with Bunton for Swan Districts’ meteoric rise from cellar dwellers to perennial finalists. A supremely talented all round sportsman, he made no fewer than 21 interstate appearances for Western Australia, and was also a fine cricketer, representing his home state in the Sheffield Shield, and making one Test appearance for Australia.
Another son of a famous father, Austin Robertson junior of Subiaco, hit the headlines in 1962 by registering 89 goals during the home and away rounds to top the WANFL goal kicking list. Aged just nineteen, the former Scotch College pupil served notice of an outstanding career in prospect in what was his ‘big league’ debut season. Quick, agile and an unwaveringly accurate kick for goal, Robertson shared not only his father’s astuteness and skill, but also his memorably distinctive nickname of ‘Ocker’; much more would be heard of this formidable talent in years to come.
Victorians Re-establish Interstate Dominance
If 1962 was a memorable season domestically, however, in another, equally important sense it was an extremely disappointing year for Western Australian football. The state side travelled to Melbourne in June hopeful of not only repeating its heroic success against the ‘Big V’ of the previous year, but of winning at the MCG for the first time ever. An all time record interstate match crowd of 64,724 turned up anxious to see a restoration of Victorian supremacy, and in the end they went home highly satisfied; at quarter time, however, they could perhaps have been excused for thinking that the players were following the same script as for the previous season’s Brisbane carnival encounter. With Brian Foley, Les Mumme, Haydn Bunton and John Todd to the fore, the Western Australians matched the home side in every facet of the game, and ended the opening term 5 points to the good. Thereafter, however, it was a quintessential case of 'men against boys' as the navy and white machine lurched ominously into top gear, adding 22.7 to 4.8 over the remainder of the match to win with an ease that was as consummate as it was unexpected. Geelong’s Doug Wade booted 10.2 for the victors, who after the first quarter had winning rovers in Johnny Birt and Bob Skilton, the best ruckman on the ground in John Nicholls, and other fine players in Ted Whitten, Graeme Ion, Ron Barassi and Brian Dixon.
On the same afternoon in front of 15,310 spectators at North Hobart Oval Victoria’s ‘B’ team overcame a stern third quarter challenge from Tasmania, which got within 5 points at one stage, to pull away in the end to an emphatic 42 point victory, 11.19 (85) to 5.13 (43). Earlier in the season the Tasmanians had played host to the VFA at Devonport where, in front of a crowd of 10,255, they had fought back strongly from a 26 point three quarter time deficit to go under in the end by just one straight kick. Final scores were VFA 12.15 (87) to Tasmania 12.9 (81). It was the first time the two sides had played one another in Devonport.
On the Saturday after its game against Victoria on the MCG, Western Australia met South Australia on the Adelaide Oval with its squad seriously weakened by an influenza virus. Indeed, “at least eight of the players would have been declared unfit had they been named at home to play in a club match”. In the circumstances therefore it was no disgrace to lose by only 32 points after staying right in touch with the croweaters until half time. The Western Australian half back line, notably Ken Bagley and Denis Marshall, was in superbly resilient form throughout, while Keith Slater was the game’s dominant ruckman. Across centre, however, the home side, with centreman Don Hewett most observers’ choice as best afield, remained comprehensively on top all match, while ruck-rover Neil Kerley and rover Jeff Potter combined well to negate a certain amount of Slater’s good work in the ruck. The South Australian press was not pleased, however, with one reporter suggesting that the team would have to “improve ten goals” to beat the Vics on the Adelaide Oval in three weeks time.
Far from improving, however, South Australia put in its worst interstate performance since 1959 when it allowed the formidably pumped up Victorians to seize control right from the start, and indeed the longer the match went on the less of a realistic challenge the croweaters offered. The VFL went on to more than double South Australia’s score, winning 13.17 (95) to 6.11 (47), with Richmond’s Ron Branton vying for best afield honours with team mate Verdun Howell of St Kilda. ‘Big V’ full forward Doug Wade again played well, adding 5.4 to the 10 goals kicked against Western Australia, while for South Australia centreman Don Hewett was once again, by some measure, the pick of an otherwise somewhat mediocre bunch.
SANFL: Season Of Controversy In SA
Football’s unpredictability was starkly demonstrated a fortnight later when the South Australians ventured to Subiaco Oval, a venue which, so often in the past, had proved a graveyard for their ambitions, and turned in “a superb display of football ability and courage”. South Australia was forced to omit Neil Kerley and Geof Motley from its starting line up after the pair failed fitness tests on the morning of the match, and worse was to follow after injuries to Potter, Hayes, Kernahan and Bills left the team with only sixteen fit men for the vital final term which started with Western Australia 9.14 to 8.8 ahead. In a performance that was as full of resolve and courage as the display against the VFL had been inept and wayward, South Australia added 3.4 to no score in a tempestuous last quarter to win both the match and the acclaim of the usually partisan Perth crowd, which reserved a special ovation for ruckman Harry Kernahan, the victim of a broken collar bone, who nevertheless elected to fight through the pain barrier and stay on the field, where he ended up making a more than modest contribution to his team's final term effort.
The 1962 SANFL season was largely the story of three coaches. In the first place, Jack Oatey, whose revolutionary ideas on the game had positively transformed the fortunes of Norwood (1945 to 1956) and West Adelaide (1957 to 1960) had, after a one year break from the game, been persuaded to take over the coaching reins at Sturt, a club which had had made only sporadic finals appearances since world war two. Oatey was initially reluctant to resume coaching, but had finally been talked around by Blues chairman Ray Kutcher. Ultimately, ‘the Oatey era’ would develop into far and away the most successful in Sturt’s history, but in 1962 “you couldn’t help feeling that Oatey and his players weren’t operating on the same wavelength”. The Blues managed just 4 wins from 19 matches and finished only one place off the bottom.
The second coach to make headlines in 1962 was Fos Williams who returned to the coaching helm at Port Adelaide having spent the 1960 season at South Adelaide, and after having enjoyed a sabbatical in 1961. The Williams method was immediately applied to great effect to restore the Magpies to pole position in South Australian football. That method had previously garnered six successive premierships, with its chief ingredients being well known:
Tremendous team work, understanding and confidence. Sometimes ability seems to be an afterthought. It is hard to imagine Port paying thousands of pounds to import interstate players and coaches.
This last remark was a reference to clubs like Norwood, which had endeavoured, without success, to ‘buy’ a premiership by appointing, at considerable expense, renowned firebrand orator Alan Killigrew as coach, and West Torrens, whose failed attempts to do the same had involved the appointment as coach of legendary former Essendon player and coach Dick Reynolds, along with experienced Bomber half back or centreman Bob Shearman, who had earned All Australian honours in his first season with the Eagles in 1961, and who would go on to captain the club in 1963 and 1964.
Perhaps the most dramatic story involving a coach in 1962 centred around Neil Kerley, who following his success in steering West Adelaide to a premiership in 1961 went within 3 points of doing the same this year. West’s performance was all the more meritorious in that it had been blown off Adelaide Oval to the tune of 61 points by grand final opponents Port Adelaide in the second semi final a fortnight earlier. A solid 29 point preliminary final win over Norwood bolstered confidence, but even so there were few who expected Kerley’s charges to get anywhere near the all powerful Magpies when it counted. As it was, West faced significant obstacles even before the opening bounce, with 1962 Magarey Medallist Ken Eustice and 1961 All Australian Don Roach both failing fitness assessments on the morning of the match. Then, in a match where the lead changed hands repeatedly and there were seldom more than a couple of kicks separating the teams, Westies’ three main goal kickers unaccountably decided to put in their worst collective display of the season, managing just 1.11 between them. Of course, some of the credit for this must go to the redoubtable Port backline, but one is hard pressed to find anything but praise for West Adelaide’s effort in going so close to a second successive premiership against virtually all the odds.
Praise, however, was the last thing on the minds of West’s club committee, who in a decision that seems even more extraordinary with the benefit of hindsight, elected not to reappoint Neil Kerley as coach for the 1963 season. Kerley’s contribution to the club in 1962 had been unsurpassed, for in addition to his coaching achievements he had won West’s best and fairest player award, the Trabilsie Trophy, for the fourth time in five years – and this in a season when, as mentioned above, team mate Ken Eustice had been voted the best and fairest player in South Australia. Allegedly, no reasons were ever given to Kerley for what, to all intents and purposes, constituted a dismissal, but given that relationships between key figures at football clubs often tend to be fairly combustible one feels constrained to speculate that the man who was popularly referred to as 'Knuckles' did not always enjoy the most harmonious of relationships with those holding the purse strings - and hence the real power - at Richmond Oval.
Robins On A Roll
In Tasmania, North Hobart’s dominance at both TANFL and state level continued. In the TANFL grand final, watched by a record crowd of 19,311, the Robins proved just that little bit steadier than a determined Clarence team, which was contesting that club’s first ever premiership decider at this level, and edged home by 15 points, 10.12 (72) to 7.15 (57). Shortly afterwards, North Hobart’s second successive state title was gained on home turf at the expense of NWFU premier Burnie, which had overcome NTFA premier City-South at Launceston in the preliminary final.
Plummeting Hawks And High-Flying Bombers
Among the major talking points of the 1962 VFL season were reigning premier Hawthorn’s failure to reach the finals – the Hawks won just 5 games and finished a dismal ninth – and the enthralling and controversial preliminary final marathon between Carlton and Geelong, which began with only the third tied finals match in VFL history. Carlton’s 1961 Brownlow Medallist John James, who had been controversially dropped to nineteenth man for this game, almost won it for the Blues at the death, but his long range snap shot ended up missing everything and sailing out of bounds. The final scoreboard read Geelong 13.7 (85) to Carlton 12.13 (85).
The following Saturday’s replay, in front of a record preliminary final crowd of 99,203, was just as exciting, and ended in a welter of controversy. With moments to go, and Carlton in the lead by 5 points, Geelong full forward Doug Wade, who already had 6.1 to his name, marked about thirty metres from goal directly in front, only for umpire Irving to take the ball off him and hand it to his opponent, Peter Barry. Irvine later said that Wade had been holding Barry by the shorts, but most media observers were scathing of the decision. Seconds later, before Barry could even take his free kick, the siren sounded to propel Carlton into a grand final showdown with minor premier Essendon, which had lost only twice all year.
The grand final actually attracted fewer spectators than the preliminary final replay, with a crowd of 98,385 turning up to see a lack lustre game that was as good as over by quarter time, the Dons having by that stage accumulated 6.5 to the Blues’ paltry 1.1. Thereafter both sides managed 7 goals, but Carlton never seriously threatened to overhaul the Bombers, for whom centreman Jack Clarke, rover John Birt and 'will-o-the-wisp'ruck rover Hugh Mitchell were superb. The Blues had been well served by Sergio Silvagni and John James, but overall they had been “run.......off their feet.”
Geelong players won the main individual plaudits in 1962, with Doug Wade kicking 68 goals to top the goal kicking list for the first time, and classy, elusive centreman Alistair Lord running away with the Brownlow Medal nine votes ahead of his nearest rivals, Richmond’s Ron Branton, Essendon’s Ken Fraser, and Kevin Murray of Fitzroy.
Geelong's 1962 Brownlow Medallist Alistair Lord was an effervescent, attacking centreman who was continually in the thick of the action. The Cats procured him from Cobden and he made his league debut in 1959, often alternating during the early phase of his career between a half forward flank and the pivot. During his Brownlow year he averaged 30 disposals a game and, as previously mentioned, finished 9 votes clear of his nearest rivals. Not surprisingly, he won Geelong's best and fairest award the same year. Lord was in the centre when the Cats beat Hawthorn in the 1963 grand final, but his form after that became patchy as he seemed to lose his motivation. He retired in 1966 after 122 VFL games. He also represented the VFL on 8 occasions.
Full forwards do not need to be eye-catchingly brilliant in order to be effective. Some, of course, such as Pratt, Coleman, Robertson, McKenna, Rait, Ablett . Lloyd and Franklin were, or are, but the fact that brilliance is by no means an index of effectiveness is emphatically demonstrated by the fact that many of the most prolific goalkickers in the history of the game, including the likes of Farmer, Coventry, Naylor, Hudson, Lockett, Dunstall and Evans, could scarcely be described as easy on the eye.
If Douglas Graeme Wade clearly belonged in this latter category, this is not to imply that his goal kicking exploits for Geelong and North Melbourne were not immensely crowd pleasing in their way. Capable if the need arose of flying high for big marks, he was much more in his element in the sort of one-on-one physical contests on which most league full backs thrived. Moreover, his trade mark screw punts could realise maximum reward from virtually any distance up to about 60 metres (on one occasion, Wade won the Craven Filter Champion Kick of Australia).
A statistical summary of Doug Wade's most noteworthy achievements makes impressive reading:
When Geelong's 'Team of the Century' was chosen in 2001, arguably the easiest decision of all must have been placing Doug Wade at the goalfront.
For the ninth season in succession Melbourne qualified for the finals but their involvement was fleeting as first semi final opponents Carlton edged home by a couple of points. The Demons looked well placed to procure victory as they entered the final change 14 points to the good but the Blues registered the only 2 goals of the closing quarter to secure a deserved win.
Fifth placed Footscray could be brilliant one Saturday and dismal the next. The highlight of their campaign was probably their defeat of eventual premiers Essendon in the penultimate home and away round of the season. The Bulldogs won with some comfort too, with scores of 15.11 (101) to 9.10 (64), but they lost too many matches against lower ranking sides to mount a serious bid for finals participation.
St Kilda and Collingwood both won half of their matches for the year to finish sixth and seventh respectively. Both sides suffered from inconsistency but the Magpies proved better at challenging higher ranking opponents as exemplified by wins over Geelong and Carlton in successive weeks early in the season. By contrast, although the Saints got close to causing upsets on a number of occasions they never quite succeeded.
The next group of teams comprised Richmond, Hawthorn and Fitzroy all of which managed just 5 wins from 18 matches. It was the Lions who caused the biggest shock, downing mighty Melbourne by 2 points in round eight. Richmond generated a modicum of enthusiasm amongst its supporters by winning their first ever night flag. In the final, played in front of 24,550 spectators at the Lake Oval, they withstood a spirited challenge from Hawthorn to squeeze home by 4 points.
Eleventh placed North Melbourne (4 wins) and wooden spooners South Melbourne (3) both endured uniformly disappointing seasons with little apparent likelihood of any imminent improvement.
Sandringham's Amazing Grand Final Comeback
The VFA’s two division system entered its second year and continued to prove popular with fans. The division one grand final at Junction Oval saw one of the greatest come from behind victories in the competition’s history as Sandringham, 44 points in arrears at the last change against Moorabbin, added 8.3 to a solitary goal in a rampaging final quarter to snatch victory by a point. In second division, Dandenong scored a comprehensive triumph over Prahran, 16.24 (120) to 8.12 (60). Both grand finals attracted crowds in the region of 11,000.
Minor States Round-Up
Victoria was also the venue for the eighth staging of the Australian Amateur Football Council interstate championships which saw the home state extend its unbeaten record in carnivals to 14 games. Tasmania, which beat both South Australia and Western Australia, finished as runner-up for the first ever time. Future Test cricketers Ian Redpath (Victoria) and Eric Freeman (South Australia) participated in the carnival.
One week after the conclusion of the championships, an All Australian amateur side, selected from players who had competed at the carnival, travelled to Manuka Oval where it scored a hard fought, 14 point win over a Canberra combined team, in what was the only representative match played by any of the minor states and territories in 1962.
The CANFL premiership went to Eastlake after one of the lowest scoring grand finals on record. In conditions that "would have been more suitable….for the America's Cup than a footsprawl match……(Eastlake) manager Jack Chandler blotted his copybook by forgetting to bring the snorkels". Notwithstanding Chandler's 'oversight', Eastlake overcame reigning premiers Ainslie quite comfortably, 4.9 (33) to 2.6 (18).
Grand final results - VFL: Essendon 13.12 (90) d. Carlton 8.10 (58); SANFL: Port Adelaide 8.10 (58) d. West Adelaide 7.13 (55); WANFL: Swan Districts 14.10 (94) d. East Fremantle 10.16 (76); VFA: Division One - Sandringham 14.10 (94) d. Moorabbin 13.15 (93); Division Two - Dandenong 16.24 (120) d. Prahran 8.12 (60); TANFL: North Hobart 10.12 (72) d. Clarence 7.15 (57); NTFA: City-South 11.10 (76) d. Longford 8.13 (61); NSWANFL: Sydney Naval 18.20 (128) d. Newtown 14.13 (97); NTFL: St Marys 10.12 (972) d. Buffaloes 8.8 (56); QANFL: Mayne 16.13 (109) d. Coorparoo 9.13 (67); NWFU: Burnie 12.20 (92) d. Devonport 13.4 (82); CANFL: Eastlake 4.9 (33) d. Ainslie 2.6 (18); TSP: North Hobart 11.10 (76) d. Burnie 9.10 (64).
 Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 4.
 Ibid., pages 86-87.
 Ibid., pages 88-89.
 Ibid., pages 90-91.
 Ibid., pages 93-94.
 Who’s Who In West Australian Football 1986, pages 53 and 56.
 Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 38. Graeme Atkinson’s and Michael Hanlon’s 3AW Book of Footy Records, page 54, suggests that some statisticians claimed Bunton had more than 100 kicks in this game.
 The official WAFL website at www.wafl.com.au, and The Footballers by Geoff Christian, page 74.
 Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 8, and Diehards 1946-2000: The Story Of The Subiaco Football Club by Ken Spillman, pages 90-91.
 Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, pages 54-55.
 A Century Of Tasmanian Football 1879-1979 by Ken Pinchin, page 107, and The Pioneers by Marc Fiddian, page 34, although the latter source incorrectly gives the venue of the Tasmania-VFA match as Hobart.
 Ibid., page 57.
 Ibid., pages 57-58, and South Australian National Football League 1963 Official Yearbook, pages 15 and 16.
 SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 15.
 Ibid., page 17.
 Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 74.
 SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 18.
 True Blue: The History of the Sturt Football Club by John Lysikatos, page 180.
 SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 77.
 Technically, Geof Motley was in charge for the sixth of these premierships in 1959, “but even he would admit that he just pulled the levers that operated the machine patented by F.N. Williams”. SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 51.
 Ibid., page 51.
 Knuckles: The Neil Kerley Story by Jim Rosevear, page 75.
 Ibid., page 76.
 Pinchin, op cit., page 106.
 The Encyclopedia Of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 212.
 The Complete Book Of VFL Finals From 1897 To The Present by Graeme Atkinson, page 203.
 Ibid., page 203. The Bombers’ losses were by 17 points against Hawthorn at Glenferrie in round 8, and by 37 points in round 17 against Footscray at the Western Oval. (Source: Every Game Ever Played: VFL/AFL Results 1897-1991 by Stephen Rodgers, pages 459 and 461.) Back
 Main and Holmesby, op cit., page 301.
 Atkinson, op cit., page 204.
 The Roar Of The Crowd: A History Of VFA Grand Finals by Marc Fiddian, page 78.
 Ibid., page 80.
 Ibid., page 158.
 A History Of The South Australian Amateur Football League 1911-1994 by Fred Bloch, pages 155-157, and For The Love Of The Game: A Centenary History Of the Victorian Amateur Football Association 1892-1992 by Joseph Johnson, page 123.
 Bloch, op cit., page 157, and The National Game in the National Capital by Barbara Marshall, page 115.
 Eastlake club notes, cited in Marshall, op cit., page 115.
VFL: Demons’ Last Hurrah
Since capturing the 1960 VFL flag - the club’s fifth in six seasons - Melbourne had continued to display excellent form every season during the minor round, but that form tended to desert them once the finals arrived. Between 1961 and 1963 the Demons engaged in five finals matches, losing all bar one. Would things be any different in 1964?
One difference was that, for the first time since that 1960 premiership year, Melbourne finished the home and away matches at the head of the ladder. Whether or not this instilled some kind of psychological advantage in the team is of course impossible to ascertain, but the fact is that the Demons played scintillating football in the second semi final to annihilate Collingwood by 89 points. The nature and scale of the triumph were reassuring, but nobody at Melbourne was 'counting any chickens'. The memories of 1958 were still sharp in the mind; that was the year the Demons thrashed the Magpies in the second semi only to lose to them a fortnight later when it mattered much more. Would history repeat itself?
Collingwood certainly hoped so, and they almost got their wish. The first three quarters of the grand final re-match were tight and tense, with Melbourne in front by a point at the first change, Collingwood by 2 points at half time, and the Demons by 11 points at the last interval. What followed was one of the most sensational finishes in VFL grand final history.
Melbourne attacked from the outset, but all they managed was a succession of 3 behinds. The first goal of the final term was kicked by Des Tuddenham for the ‘Pies, reducing the deficit to 8 points. The Demons then squandered a couple more goal scoring opportunities, managing only behinds, before Collingwood put themselves right back in the picture when burly ruckman Ray Gabelich grabbed the ball from a boundary throw-in and goaled.
Four points now separated the teams, in the Dees' favour. Then came the sequence of play for which the 1964 VFL grand final is best remembered. Tuddenham’s pass found Gabelich, unattended, at half forward left. Amazingly, there was nobody between the big ruckman and the goal, and he promptly galloped off, bouncing the ball at regular intervals, and indeed almost losing it more than once. Eventually, however, he reached the goal square and, to a cacophanous roar from the Collingwood contingent in the crowd, kicked truly. The clock showed that there were four minutes plus time-on remaining.
Melbourne attacked for the majority of the game’s closing minutes, abandoning team rules to flood their forward zone. The tactic paid off. Four minutes into time-on slimly built Demons back pocket player Neil Crompton gathered the ball off the hands of a pack of players near goal and split the centre with a low, spearing punt kick. It was his only goal, indeed his only score, of the season, and despite Collingwood’s best efforts to drive the ball forward from the resumption the siren sounded soon after to leave Melbourne victors by 4 points. It was the Demons’ twelfth league flag, just one fewer than record holders, Collingwood. More than half a century later, however, they are still waiting for premiership number thirteen.
The heartache experienced by Collingwood supporters that day was something they would have to endure five more times over more than two decades. Opposition fans delighted in attributing this persistent failure to what were termed 'Colliwobbles' and there are some who believe the label sank deep into the subconscious of several generations of Magpie players, creating what was in effect a self-fulfilling prophecy. Certainly, in both 1970 and 1981 against Carlton the ‘Pies somehow contrivred to surrender from positions of apparently consummate superiority.
In 1964, fans of 1963 premiers Geelong - and, one imagines, multitudinous others - were of the opinion that Collingwood ought not even to have been in the grand final. This opinion was based on the Cats’ waywardness in front of goal throughout but chiefly in the closing minutes of their preliminary final clash with the Magpies. With Collingwood ahead 7.6 (48) to 5.10 (40) Geelong, through the agencies of Farmer, Routley and Wade (twice), registered four consecutive behinds from comparatively easy shots. Had just one of these shots procured full points the Cats and not the Magpies would have faced Melbourne in 'the big one'.
There is little doubt that Geelong remained the league’s classiest side, although it is also worth pointing out that they had, statistically, the best defence in the competition. Missing the double chance (which they did only on percentage) was arguably critical.
Essendon showed occasional glimmers of their 1962 premiership form during the 1964 season, procuring wins over all four fellow finalists, together with a draw in their second meeting with Geelong. In the first semi final, however, despite a solid start, the Bombers succumbed by 17 points to a faster, fitter Cats side.
Hawthorn, runners-up in 1963, missed the 1964 finals by a couple of points plus percentage. The Hawks were still the same ruthless, immensely fit combination, but other sides had caught up. Nevertheless, had they managed to win their round seventeen encounter with Melbourne then they, and not the Demons, would have topped the ladder. Melbourne won thanks to a freakish late goal from the boundary by 'Hassa' Mann and the composition of the final four was effectively decided.
Sixth placed St Kilda had been expected to kick on after reaching the finals in 1963. However, the Saints were extremely inconsistent, particularly away from home. On the plus side, they finished the season with three consecutive wins, including a last round victory over Geelong which deprived the Cats of the minor premiership.
Footscray, who finished seventh, were another team with a good home record (7-2) who suffered (2-7) on their travels. Possibly the highlight of the Bulldogs’ season was their 11.12 (78) to 11.7 (73) defeat of St Kilda in the night series grand final at the Lake Oval. The match was watched by a record crowd for the night competition of 36,300. It was Footscray’s second successive night series premiership.
With just two exceptions all of North Melbourne’s wins in 1964 came against teams which finished below them on the ladder. Those exceptions came in successive weeks in rounds three and four and were at the expense of Essendon at Windy Hill by 14 points and Hawthorn at Arden Street by 31 points.
Richmond managed one more win - six compared to five - than in 1963 but it was still a hugely disappointing season. The Tigers appeared like a club going nowhere at this time and it would be a few seasons yet before this changed.
Carlton’s Gordon Collis only had a comparatively brief career at the top level, but it was certainly eventful. He made his VFL debut as a forward in 1961 after the Blues had won a race with Fitzroy to procure his signature. Most of his early football was played on the forward lines, and he was successful enough to be chosen at centre half forward in the VFL 'B' team in 1962. In 1963 his form fell away, and it later emerged that he had been having sight problems. Prior to the start of the 1964 season, he was fitted with contact lenses, and, lo and behold, his form underwent a remarkable improvement. After beginning the season at full back he was moved to centre half back during the round five clash with Collingwood at Victoria Park after Magpie full forward Terry Waters had threatened to cut loose. Collis took to centre half back as though born to the position: week after week he made the best player lists, he was selected to play there in the senior VFL interstate team, and he ended up running away with the Brownlow Medal, 8 votes clear of both Hawthorn's Phil Hay and Ken Fraser of Essendon. For good measure, he also won Carlton's best and fairest award.
Unfortunately, the remainder of Gordon Collis' 95 game VFL career was short-circuited by recurrent, niggling injuries, culminating in serious damage to a foot which prompted him to 'retire' at the end of the 1965 season. Still aged only twenty-seven, he decided after a year away from the game that he would give it one more try, and 1967 saw him back at Princes Park for what proved to be his final league season. On doctors' advice, he retired for good at the end of the year after being diagnosed with stomach ulcers.
Ironically, in 1968 the Blues broke through for their first flag since 1947, an achievement to which Gordon Collis would, no doubt, dearly have loved to contribute.
Gordon Collis’s Brownlow Medal win was very much the highlight for Carlton in what was otherwise a dismal season producing just 5 wins and a draw from 18 minor round matches.
South Melbourne fared even worse than the Blues, managing just a couple of wins all year. The only team which the Swans defeated was Fitzroy who finished in last place without a win.
VFA: Borough and Roosters Ease to Victory
Port Melbourne had suffered no fewer than seven grand final defeats during the 1950s, including three at the hands of Williamstown. In 1964 the Borough got revenge over the Seagulls, winning both the division one second semi final and grand final comfortably. In the opening term of the grand final Port produced a sustained display of purposeful brilliance leaving many Wiliamstown players floundering. At quarter time the margin was 41 points in Port’s favour, and although the remainder of the match was evenly contested the Seagulls simply had too much ground to make up. Final scores were Port Melbourne 14.17 (101) defeated Williamstown 10.5 (65).
In only their second season since crossing from the Ballarat Football League Geelong West produced a major surprise by defeating Sunshine 14.14 (98) to 11.11 (77) in the second division grand final. It was a hard fought victory as the Crows, trailing by 25 points at three quarter time but coming home with the breeze, fought back to lead midway through the final term. It was this point that Geelong West’s ruck division, led by veteran Max Croft, suddenly clicked into gear and produced a rapid succession of scoring opportunities. The Roosters added 4.4 in the closing stages to win with deceptive comfort.
SANFL: Kerley “Does a Bunton”
Can Neil Kerley “Do a Bunton” with South next year? Haydn Bunton went to Western Australia three years ago to coach bottom team, Swan Districts. In one year he lifted them to a premiership; repeated the dose last year, and Swans last Saturday turned on an amazing last quarter to down East Perth in the first semi final. If Kerley can lift South next year in the same way, attendances here will rocket just as they did in WA when Swans began moving up the ladder.
South Adelaide laid down the gauntlet to the other nine league clubs with an impressive start to the season. After 8 matches they had suffered only one reversal, by 29 points at the hands of Sturt in round four, and among the vanquished were both the previous season’s grand finalists, West Adelaide and Port Adelaide. Far from slacking off, the Panthers thereafter gathered momentum, losing only twice more prior to the finals, for which they qualified in second place on equal points with minor premier Port Adelaide, but a marginally inferior percentage.
South supporters were presumably having to pinch themselves prior to the second semi final in which 38,918 spectators were treated to a bona fide classic that saw Port, who had trailed by 32 points at the last change, snatching victory at the death by a single point. Coach Kerley had instructed his men to play defensively in the final term, and blamed this for the fact the Panthers lost. He resolved never again to resort to defensive tactics in order to hold onto a lead, a resolution to which he later claimed to have adhered for the remainder of his coaching career.
On the following Saturday, Sturt was comprehensively outplayed to the tune of 39 points in the preliminary final, thereby setting the scene for a titanic, 'gloves off', quintessential 'David vs. Goliath' premiership decider.
Of the South Adelaide team which took the field in front of 56,353 spectators on grand final day, only Neil Kerley, Lester Ross (ex Norwood) and Ian Day (ex West Adelaide) had played in a grand final before. Aware of this, 'the King' had kept everything low key in the build up to the big game, and right from the early moments of the opening term it was clear that the players were not about to let their coach down. As usual, Port's tackling was ferocious, but the Panthers gave as good as they got, and in half forward Alf Skuse (10 kicks in the first quarter), rovers Ian Day and Alan White, strong marking ruckman David Kantilla and elusive centreman Lindsay Backman they had the dominant players on view. The South rucks were on top early too, although later this would change. By quarter time, the Panthers had kicked the only 2 goals of the game and were 12 points to the good - still anybody's match, but a sound start.
The Magpies began the second term well but were prevented from capitalising on their superiority by a bustling, hyper aggressive South Adelaide defence. The Panthers, who had hardly managed to get the ball ahead of centre all term, led 2.6 to 0.8 as time-on approached before hitting Port with not one, not two, but three massive body blows in the shape of goals to White, Day and Dick Jackson to go into the main break with a handy looking 26 point advantage. At half time, astonishingly, the reigning premiers and flag favourites had yet to kick a goal.
South added to the Magpies' misery early in the third term thanks to another goal from White, and although Eric Freeman finally managed to register a major for Port at the seven minute mark, White's third goal moments later restored the Panthers' healthy lead. However, with Magpie coach Fos Williams ringing the changes, Port finished the quarter strongly, adding 3 goals to get within 16 points at the final change. The scene was set for a thrilling finale.
South did most of the attacking early in the final term but could only manage minor scores. Then, seven minutes in, Eric Freeman goaled for Port to bring the margin back to 13 points, and the crowd to fever pitch. A lesser team would have buckled at this point, but the Panthers had graduated from the Neil Kerley School of Applied Fortitude and Resolve, and buckling was the last thing on their minds. A brilliant mark to Skuse, followed by a goal, extended the difference to 19 points, and shortly afterwards wingman Brian Ploenges found Ian Day in the clear, and the future television commentator gleefully put the seal on a great win. South had taken everything the 'mighty Magpies' had thrown at them, and triumphed.
For those 'mighty Magpies' their first grand final defeat since 1953 was as welcome as vinegar on apple pie. Under Fos Williams, Port Adelaide played for one reason only: to win premierships. Consequently a season which would have been regarded as acceptable by most if not all the other nine league clubs was deemed a failure. If anyone at Alberton regarded club captain Geof Motley’s widely lauded Magarey Medal triumph as a form of consolation they wisely kept it to themselves.
Sturt showed enormous promise in 1964 to finish third. The Double Blues played a fast, highly skilful brand of football which enabled them to overcome every other team in the competition bar Port and West at least once. They had the wood on their first semi final opponents Glenelg all year, downing them in round one by 4 goals and 19 points in round thirteen. They scraped home by 5 points in their finals clash but were comprehensively outdone by South in the preliminary final.
Sturt’s promise would soon be emphatically fulfilled, but Glenelg, who finished fourth, would fail to build on their much improved 1964 showing. The highlight of the year for the Bays was probably their 17.12 (114) to 16.9 (105) defeat of eventual premiers South Adelaide in round nine.
Fifth placed West Torrens opened the season with four straight wins, including a 1 point triumph over Port, but thereafter they were inconsistent in the extreme. Usually capable of downing teams below them on the ladder with considerable comfort, that round two defeat of the Magpies remained their only success of the season against an eventual finalist, although they did manage a draw with Glenelg in round fifteen.
Wins against Port Adelaide in round one and Sturt two weeks later seemingly set Norwood up for a memorable season but it was not to be. The Redlegs proved to be perhaps the most inconsistent side in the competition, but even so with three matches remaining were still in with an outside chance of qualifying for the finals. That the Redlegs were not major round material in 1964 was then emphasised as they lost all three of those matches, to Torrens by 50 points, against Sturt by 62 points, and by 80 points to South.
After a dreadful start to the season West Adelaide recovered somewhat to finish seventh. Westies lost their first four matches and after nine rounds their only wins had been against the league’s two newcomers, Central District and Woodville. Two hefty wins over Sturt during the second half of the season highlighted their improvement.
North Adelaide, which had reached the 1963 grand final, was without doubt the most disappointing team of 1964. Four of the Roosters seven wins for the year came against SANFL new boys Centrals and Woodville.
Of those newcomers it was the Woodpeckers who performed better. They won three matches for the year, all against Centrals, and they also finished with a better percentage than the hapless Bulldogs.
The undoubted highlight of the 1964 football season in South Australia was Neil Kerley’s remarkable feat in 'doing a Bunton' and coaching perennial cellar dwellers South Adelaide to the premiership. The question now was whether, like Bunton, he would prove capable of repeating the dose.
WANFL: Tigers Triumphant
Quite incredibly, Neil Kerley was not the only coach of a major football club to 'do a Bunton' in 1964. In Western Australia former East Fremantle rover Jim Conway was appointed coach of Claremont, which in 1963 had finished bottom of the ladder after winning just 4 out of 21 minor round games. The move was far from universally popular, but Conway soon had his charges playing competitive, if hardly spectacular or even consistent, football. By the end of the minor round the Tigers had scraped into the finals in fourth place and it would have taken a very brave person indeed to wage money on their going on to lift the flag, or even progressing any further. In this context Claremont's hard fought 10.13 (73) to 8.13 (61) first semi final defeat of Subiaco was probably perceived as little more than an unexpected, if gratifying, bonus by most of the club's supporters. However, when the club followed this up a fortnight later with a 9 point win over Perth in the preliminary final expectations among the Tiger faithful soared.
The 1964 grand final presented the West Australian public, which traditionally identifies with and affirms the underdog, with a classic 'David and Goliath' scenario. Claremont, which had not participated in a senior grand final since 1940, was given little serious chance of upsetting minor premier and perennial finalist East Fremantle, which was aiming to secure the twenty-second senior grade flag in its history. Old East had contemptuously brushed aside Perth's challenge in the second semi final to the tune of 43 points, having earlier vanquished Claremont by a similar margin on the teams' last meeting in the minor round. A near record crowd of 45,120 turned up at Subiaco Oval on grand final day and many would have derived enormous satisfaction from witnessing the underdogs, whose skipper Kevin Clune had won the toss and elected to kick with the aid of an appreciable breeze, dominate early proceedings. Indeed, had the Tigers players managed to kick straighter the match might have been virtually over by quarter time. As it was, Claremont led by 25 points, 4.9 to 1.2, but by half time East Fremantle had edged into a 2 point lead and things were beginning to look ominous. The third term - so often the decisive phase of a match - did not on this occasion prove conclusive, and at three quarter time there were only 5 points in it as Claremont led 10.13 (73) to 10.8 (68).
The final quarter saw the two sides matching one another stride for stride and score for score. Twenty-three years on George Grljusich recalled the closing moments of a game with one of the most dramatic climaxes in history:
I'll never forget that game. I was covering the game for ABC television and (former Claremont and Geelong champion) George Moloney was my expert comments man. It was well into the time-on period and Claremont were down by 8 points. They needed 2 goals to win and at that point Moloney conceded defeat. But (East Fremantle's) Norm Rogers who had been a tower of strength at centre half back suddenly cramped up and Claremont centre half forward Ian Brewer broke loose to kick 2 angled goals which gave Claremont victory. Claremont had fought back gallantly ......... When Moloney had conceded defeat I, too, was sure that it was going to be East Fremantle's victory. 
Claremont won 14.18 (102) to 15.8 (98) with the only marginally sour point being that it was East Fremantle's Norm Rogers who claimed the Simpson Medal for best afield.
Not that anyone at East Fremantle would have been remotely gratified by this. Old Easts were a premiership winning machine, and grand final losses stung. The fact that East Fremantle had comfortably accounted for Claremont in all three meetings between the teams during the minor round if anything only served to twist the knife.
Perth finished third for the second season in a row in 1964. The Demons achieved at least one minor round win against all three of their fellow finalists, while on the reverse side of the ledger they succumbed to defeat against wooden spooners East Perth in round nineteen. A 43 point loss to East Fremantle in the second semi final followed and although Perth pushed Claremont all the way in the next week’s preliminary final they ultimately fell short by 9 points. With a nucleus of extremely promising youngsters in their ranks Perth could confidently be expected to improve. One of those youngsters, Barry Cable, won the 1964 Sandover Medal, and would go on to become one of the all time greats of the game.
Despite qualifying for the finals Subiaco never really suggested that they were premiership material. Perhaps the Lions’ most noteworthy achievement was downing eventual premiers Claremont three times during the home and away rounds. Young full forward Austin Robertson junior gave a hint of great things in the offing by kicking 96 goals to top the goal kicking ladder.
As mentioned previously, West Perth could be adjudged somewhat unfortunate not to make the major round. With three minor round games to go the Cardinals were looking confortable but they then somehow conspired to lose to Swan Districts, Perth and Claremont in successive weeks to just miss out. The 'mini-final' clash  with Claremont at Leederville attracted a crowd of 21,446 which was easily the biggest minor round of the season, and more than attended the following week’s first semi final between Claremont and Subiaco.
Reigning premiers Swan Districts slumped to sixth place in 1964. They began the season in excellent form, standing 6-1 after 7 matches and 7-2 after 9, but thereafter their fortunes nosedived and they managed just 2 more wins all season. Premiership coach Haydn Bunton junior headed back to South Australia after the season to take up the role of playing coach of Norwood.
South Fremantle fans endured another dismal season as their team again finished seventh. Perhaps the only bright spots of the year were the derby victories over East Fremantle in rounds one and fifteen.
East Perth’s wooden spoon was the club’s first since 1929. The Royals did not manage a win until round eleven, and thereafter only won a couple more games. Improvement would soon arrive.
Victoria Reasserts Its Interstate Dominance
The VFL comprehensively reasserted its dominance in the interstate arena in 1964. Against Western Australia in Melbourne the Vics did more or less as they pleased in strolling to a 112 points victory, 24.21 (165) to 7.11 (53). South Australia in Adelaide proved a somewhat tougher nut to crack and indeed the croweaters led until early in the last term. However, during the run-in the VFL added 7.6 to 1.3 to emerge in the end as comfortable victors, 13.22 (100) to 10.8 (68).
South Australia and Western Australia proved to be relatively evenly matched. In Adelaide on 27th June the two states conspired to poroduce 'perhaps the dullest interstate game at Adelaide since World War Two', with South Australia ultimately edging home by 13 points, 18.11 (119) to 16.10 (106). By contrast, the return match in Perth was furiously contested and only settled in the home state’s favour in the final moments. Scores were Western Australia 8.8 (56) defeated South Australia 6.15 (51).
Western Australia also visited Hobart in 1964 and convincingly overcame Tasmania 24.15 (159) to 5.7 (37). Tasmania also played a match against a VFA representative team in Launceston with the visitors triumphing by 27 points.
Sydney was the venue for the two other interstate matches contested in 1964. In both, the home state New South Wales was vanquished, by 50 points at the hands of Queensland, and by 31 points against Canberra.
Record Crowds in Tassie
The Tasmanian Football League saw a number of attendance records broken. Total crowds for the roster matches were 207,174, a new high, while the aggregate attendance of 57,764 for the finals included a grand final record of 20,775. Overall, if intrastate, interstate and state premiership attendances are included, the total for the season was 297,687, which was 30,150 more than the previous record.
New Norfolk headed the ladder after the roster matches and then convincingly overcame Sandy Bay in the second semi to proceed straight to the grand final. The Seagulls also ended up reaching the grand final after defeating Hobart 12.11 (83) to 8.14 (62) in the following week’s preliminary final.
The record grand final crowd was treated to a thrilling contest in which Sandy Bay turned the tables on their second semi final conquerers to capture their third TFL flag, and their first for twelve years. The Seagulls were no match for NTFA premiers Scottsdale in the state preliminary final, however, and went down by 9 points. In the state premiership decider NWFU premiers Cooee triumphed over the Magpies by 8 points, 15.16 (106) to 14.14 (98). It was the Bulldogs’ first state flag.
Other States and Territories
St George thrashed Western Suburbs by 10 goals in the NSWANFL grand final giving them their first premiership for twenty-one years.
In Queensland, Coorparoo won back to back QANFL premierships thanks to an 18.18 (126) to 12.21 (93) grand final defeat of Mayne.
Eastlake won a third successive flag in Canberra. The Demons overcame Manuka in the grand final by 26 points, 14.11 (95) to 10.9 (69).
In Darwin, the team bearing the city’s name claimed a second consecutive NTFL premiership by means of an 8.9 (57) to 4.10 (34) grand final triumph over arch rivals St Mary's.
Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 8.16 (64) d. Collingwood 8.12 (60) (Norm Smith's 6th VFL flag as coach of the Demons); SANFL: South Adelaide 9.15 (69) d. Port Adelaide 5.12 (42); WANFL: Claremont 14.18 (102) d. East Fremantle 15.8 (98); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 14.17 (101) d. Williamstown 10.5 (65); Division Two - Geelong West 14.14 (98) d. Sunshine 11.11 (77); TANFL: Sandy Bay 11.11 (77) d. New Norfolk 9.11 (65); NTFA: Scottsdale 8.15 (63) d. City-South 6.7 (43); NSWANFL: St George 14.18 (102) d. Western Suburbs 4.18 (42); NTFL: Darwin 8.9 (57) d. St Mary's 4.10 (34); QAFL: Coorparoo 18.18 (126) d. Mayne 12.21 (93); NWFU: Cooee 17.12 (114) d. Ulverstone 5.14 (44); CANFL: Eastlake 14.11 (95) d. Manuka 10.9 (69); TSP: Cooee 15.16 (106) d. Scottsdale 14.14 (98).
 “SA Football Budget”, 21/9/63, page 15. Swans duly went on to claim a third successive flag in 1963.
 The distance between finals qualification and September mothballs was, arguably, as narrow as the goalpost against which West Perth's John Vuckman sent his shot from point blank range in the dying moments of a game against Perth in the penultimate round of the home and away season. Had Vuckman kicked truly then the Cardinals, and not Claremont, would have participated in the 1964 major round.
 Quoted in “The 1987 WAFL Grand Final Football Budget”, 19/9/87, page 11.
 It could be called a mini final because the loser would be ousted from the September fray, while the winner would proceed to the first semi final.
 South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1965 page 27.
VFL: Saints Impress, but Bombers Achieve Success
At the end of the home and away rounds St Kilda occupied top spot with 14 wins with Collingwood also obtaining the double chance after managing one win fewer. Also on 13 wins, but with an inferior percentage, was Geelong, while Essendon with 12 wins was fourth. The opening week of the finals brought a shock as Essendon not only overcame pre-match favourites Geelong they did so emphatically, more than doubling the Cats’ score.
The second semi final saw St Kilda scrape past Collingwood 13.24 (102) to 14.17 (101) thereby procuring for the Saints a place in the season’s premiership decider, the first time this had occurred since 1913, and indeed only the second time ever.
St Kilda’s grand final opponents turned out to be the Bombers who cruised past Collingwood in the preliminary final with even greater ease than had been the case against the Cats a fortnight earlier.
A crowd of 104,846 showed up for the grand final with a close game anticipated, and for two and a bit quarters, by which stage Essendon held a 2 point advantage, this was what they witnessed. However, over the remainder of the third term the Bombers turned on the style to rattle on 5 unanswered goals and effectively clinch the match. The last term was evenly contested and in the end Essendon triumphed by 35 points, 14.21 (105) to 9.16 (70). Ted Fordham with 7 goals from full forward for the Bombers was perhaps the best player on view, whilst Ken Fraser at centre half forward, ruckman Brian Sampson, rover Johnny Birt, and ruck-rover Hugh Mitchell were others to attract plaudits. St Kilda was best served by the Tasmanian duo of centreman Ian Stewart and centre half forward Darrel Baldock, with Rodger Head in a back pocket and rover Ian Rowland also playing well.
For Essendon, the rise to greatness was perhaps unexpected after a somewhat disjointed season which had seen them flit repeatedly between fourth and fifth spots on the ladder (although a fleeting highpoint saw them occupy second place on percentage in rounds thirteen and fourteen). The Bombers’ pre-finals form was not particularly outstanding although, perhaps significantly, it did include a 5 point victory over St Kilda in round sixteen. In the last home and away match of the season Essendon were atrocious for three quarters against Carlton before fighting back to get within within 9 points at the end. There was no real indication that they were about to produce one of the most exhilarating bursts of September form in VFL history, but the records speak for themselves.
Second placed St Kilda claimed the minor premiership and were many observers’ favourites for the flag. After stepping on Melbourne’s coat tails for nine matches the Saints seized their opportunity as the Demons’ season started to go haywire. In round ten they trounced Hawthorn at Moorabbin 24.12 (156) to 11.9 (75) to claim top spot on percentage, and they remained in first place for the rest of the season. A titanic tussle with Collingwood in the second semi final followed, with St Kilda ultimately procuring a morale boosting 1 point triumph. However, on grand final day, the Saints failed to ignite. In the view of Saints rover Ian Rowland, who played a superb tagging role on Essendon’s Jack Clarke to be one of his team’s best, “the club just got caught up in the euphoria of the occasion and didn’t handle it very well."
“Nobody had been through the Grand Final experience. A lot of time was spent on peripheral things like organising tickets and coping with backslapping fans. We just took our eye off the ball.”
St Kilda’s exquisitely gifted centreman Ian Stewart won the 1965 Brownlow Medal on a countback from North Melbourne’s Noel Teasdale.
Collingwood’s disappointing finals fade-out, which comprised losses to St Kilda by a point and Essendon by 55 points, was rendered all the more disquieting by 'the Somerville Incident'. Ten minutes into the preliminary final Essendon’s John Somerville was poleaxed in a behind the play incident. He had to leave the field of play, and would miss the grand final, while his direct opponent, Duncan Wright, was raucously booed for the remainder of the match. The public response to the incident was so acrimonious and widespread that the police launched an investigation, but when only four people came forward as eye witnesses, all with important variations to their stories, this was dropped. However, the repercussions were not over as Duncan Wright had, it turned out, played the last of his 23 VFL games. Somerville resumed with the Bombers in 1966 and went on to play a total of 106 VFL games before retiring in 1967.
The Magpies endured a slow start to the 1965 season, winning just 2 of their first 6 minor round games. A 3 goal win over Footscray in round seven was then a prelude to an eleven game winning streak which only came to an end with a narrow last round loss to South Melbourne. Unfortunately for the ‘Pies that was where their good form for the year faded out, although it has to be admitted that their 1 point second semi final defeat at the hands of the Saints could all too easily have gone the other way.
Geelong finished the 1965 season in fine form thanks to convincing victories in consecutive weeks over Melbourne, Fitzroy and Hawthorn. Few teams could match the skill of the Cats, but in the first semi final the Bombers handed them a football lesson. It was around this time that some observers began to question Geelong’s ability to produce their best, eye catching brand of football when subjected to intense finals pressure. The Cats would seemingly go some way toward addressing this perceived weakness in 1967, but after that the same kind of criticism would repeatedly be levelled at them until they at long last broke through - in decidedly emphatic fashion, it has to be said - for their next premiership in 2007.
A free scoring, fast improving Richmond was the first of three teams to finish two wins adrift of the final four. The fact that the Tigers were close to being a credible major round team was shown on several occasions in 1965, most notably perhaps in their brace of wins over Essendon, by 4 goals at Windy Hill in round four, and a 58 point trouncing in round fifteen at the Tigers’ new home ground of the MCG. Richmond’s relocation to the league’s pre-eminent venue would prove, in time, to have been an inspired move, both from an economic and an on-field perspective.
Carlton, under fledgling coach Ron Barassi, improved by four ladder places and four and a half wins on their 1964 showing. At their best, the Blues were a match for most teams, as they proved with wins both home and away against Essendon and versus Geelong at Kardinia Park. In what from the point of view of the press but probably not the respective teams was the season’s quintessential 'needle match' Melbourne overcame Carlton 13.17 (95) to 6.22 (58) at Princes Park in round eight, which was the only meeting of the two sides for the year. The Blues made the night series grand final in 1965 for the first time in seven years, but lost heavily to North Melbourne.
As was mentioned earlier, the Demons started the season in premiership form but the bewildering dismissal and reinstatement of coach Norm Smith effectively derailed their hopes. During the first half of the season they downed eventual top four teams Geelong and Collingwood, while in stark contrast the final nine rounds of the year included defeats at the hands of the three teams which finished immediately below them on the ladder.
By South Melbourne’s recent standards 1965 was almost a successful season The Swans had not finished as high as eighth since 1960, and not won as many games as 9 for over a decade. Their home form was particularly impressive, giving rise to 7 wins and just 2 losses. Among their victims were Essendon by 8 points in round six, Geelong by 14 points in round nine, and Collingwood in round eighteen by 16 points.
North Melbourne, which played its home matches at Coburg this season, finished well off the pace in 1965 with just 5 wins from 18 minor round fixtures. The Kangaroos did, however, win the VFL night series thanks to a 14.13 (97) to 9.3 (57) grand final defeat of Carlton at the Lake Oval. The match was watched by a new record crowd for the competition of 37,750. Another highlight of the year, although it was not realised at the time, was ruckman Noel Teasdale’s joint victory in the Brownlow Medal. Originally, Teasdale came second on a countback, but the VFL in its wisdom later decreed that all Brownlow runners-up who had finished second despite polling the same number of votes as as the winners would be awarded a retrospective Medal (unless they had incurred a suspension during the season).
Tenth placed Footscray, eleventh placed Fitzroy and wooden spooners Hawthorn only managed 4 wins apiece in uniformly dismal seasons. Hawthorn’s fall from grace was particularly surprising as the Hawks had been a force for most of the decade. A meagre highlight for the men from Glenferrie was the feat of John Peck in topping the VFL goal kicking list with 56 goals. It was the third time in succession that Peck had been the league’s leading goal kicker.
VFA: Panthers and Preston Pounce
In 1964, Waverley escaped relegation from division one to division two of the VFA by winning their final match of the season. Just over twelve months later the Panthers again triumphed in their last game of the year but on this occasion the fixture in question was the grand final. Opposed by Port Melbourne, on Port’s own home ground, Waverley were at times seemingly outplayed, but the Borough’s kicking for goal was simply dire. Moreover, after getting their noses in front in the third term, the Panthers absolutely refused - apart from one very brief spell - to be dislodged, and in the end they even managed to chisel out some breathing space for themselves. Final scores were Waverley 14.13 (97) defeated Port Melbourne 10.25 (85).
In the second division grand final, played at Toorak Park, Preston comfortably overcame Mordialloc, after the Bloodhounds had dominated the early exchanges. The Bullants ultimately won by 38 points, 15.12 (102) to 9.10 (64), having posted 9 second half goals compared to Mordialloc's 4.
Big V Humbled
Victoria’s dominance of interstate football, reinforced so emphatically in 1964, was called into question a year later following a disastrous and humiliating loss at the hands of South Australia in Adelaide. The croweaters restricted the Big V to just 3.1 (19) for the match, their lowest ever interstate score. South Australia amassed 12.11 (83) and therefore won by 64 points. As always, the Vics were swift to table excuses: the players were tired after two recent hard matches in Perth against Western Australia; the inclement weather nullified their natural advantages in pace and skill; the umpiring was questionable. In truth, the cold, wet conditions were much more familiar to Victoria than the home state, but it was South Australia who handled the ball better, used it with greater conviction, and altogether played more fluently and purposefully.
Just over a month earlier in Melbourne the boot had been firmly on the other foot as the VFL trounced South Australia by 59 points, 19.17 (131) to 9.18 (72). Early in the second quarter South Australia led narrowly only for the Vics to unleash a spectacular burst of power football which yielded 6 goals in ten minutes. After that, the match was as good as over.
The following Wednesday in Devonport South Australia downed Tasmania by 68 points, 16.26 (122) to 7.12 (54). However, when the two sides again confronted one another three days later in Hobart the home state put on a spirited and skilful display highlighted by star full forward Peter Hudson’s tally of 8.1. In the end, the visitors edged home by a single straight kick, 14.24 (108) to 16.6 (102).
All three of Western Australia’s interstate fixtures in 1965 took place in Perth. The sandgropers edged home against a VFA representative side, 12.17 (89) to 12.8 (80) before playing two matches against the VFL. In the first, Western Australia scored a hard fought and highly meritorious victory by 9 points, while in the second the Big V obtained revenge to the tune of 19 points.
In Melbourne, the VFA and Tasmania played out a close and entertaining tussle, with the home side ultimately prevailing by 7 points, 12.11 (83) to 11.10 (76).
Section Two of the Australian interstate championships took place in Sydney and Brisbane. In the former city Australian Amateurs comfortably overcame New South Wales while in Brisbane the Queenslanders won a high scoring game against Canberra by 21 points. In the championship final, also played in Brisbane, Australian Amateurs defeated the home state by 16 points, 11.14 (80) to 8.16 (64).
Two other interstate matches were played in 1965. In Sydney, Queensland defeated New South Wales 19.14 (128) to 16.10 (106), whilst Queensland were also victorious in Canberra against Canberra, winning 13.10 (88) to 11.19 (85).
A Changing of the Guard Looms
For the first ever time SANFL matches attracted aggregate crowds in excess of a million people including a single match record of 62,543 for the grand final between Port Adelaide and Sturt. The emergence of Sturt as a team with premiership-winning potential was a major reason for the rise in attendances with the Double Blues attracting a league high total of 352,246 spectators to their 23 fixtures. Meanwhile, Port Adelaide’s 22 fixtures were watched by 325,477 people.
Another reason for the increased attendances was the vast improvement shown over the second half of the season by Central District. The Bulldogs, bolstered by the acquisition of former South Fremantle star Tom Grlusich, won 7 of their last 10 matches to finish seventh.
The premiership again went to Port Adelaide but the Magpies were pushed all the way in both their finals matches. Against South Adelaide in the second semi final they trailed until seconds from the end, with a last gasp goal by Peter Mead ultimately giving them victory by 5 points. In the grand final clash with Sturt the Magpies led by 35 points early in the last quarter only for Sturt to get within 3 points at the finish. Although the vast crowd was unaware of it that last quarter was a sign of an imminent changing of the guard in South Australian football.
Sturt coach Jack Oatey had put together a classy team which flashed the ball around with pinpoint accuracy. In 1965 they added a considerable amount of grit to their play and with a bit more luck a premiership flag could have been unfurled at Unley prior to the start of the 1966 season.
For reigning premiers South Adelaide 1965 was an immensely disappointing year. In the second semi final against Port the Panthers were a point in front with the ball deep in their attacking zone and just ten seconds left on the clock. Somehow, the Magpies got the ball forward to Peter Mead who goaled with the last kick of the game. South’s preliminary final clash with Sturt was every bit as unsatisfactory as the second semi. In a tightly contested match South led by 16 points at the final change but proved incapable of holding off a desperate, fast finishing Double Blues side who got home by 7 points, 14.10 (94) to 12.15 (87).
Norwood returned to finals action in 1965 for the first time since 1962. The main impetus behind the Redlegs improvement was the consistently superb form of their ruck division, particularly ruckman Bill Wedding and rovers Haydn Bunton and Bob Oatey. Ian Brewer’s fine performance at full forward - he kicked 96 goals to top the league list - was also telling. When these players all failed to fire in the first semi final against Sturt Norwood’s season was effectively over. The Blues ultimately won easily by 45 points 15.12 (102) to 6.21 (57), after the Redlegs managed just 2.1 in the second half.
North Adelaide won 13 matches, which normally would be enough to qualify for a part of the finals action. South Adelaide, Sturt and Port Adelaide were among their victims, but the Roosters lost a 'must win' last round game against South to topple out of the four. Injuries to Bob Hammond and Dudley Hill, both key players, probably damaged North’s prospects, but the team was expected to be there or thereabouts in 1966.
Glenelg had a weak goal to goal line and it was largely this that was blamed for the team’s mediocre showing. The Bays won 10 and lost 10 to finish sixth. In 1965 best and fairest Brian McGowan and Colin Rice they had a roving duo second to none. Both were former VFL players, and their class repeatedly showed in an otherwise unmemorable season for the Bays.
Central District’s unexpected rise to seventh has already been mentioned. A particularly gratifying side effect of this improvement was Gary Window’s feat in becoming the first Bulldogs player to win the Magarey Medal. Two years earlier Window had won the seconds Magarey Medal and he was the first ever such player also to claim the senior award.
West Torrens, which managed just 4 wins, had their worst season since the war. Prior to 1965 the Eagles had not finished lower than fifth since pre-war days. Torrens had the worst attack, statistically at any rate, in the competition, and they sorely missed star centreman Bob Shearman who stood out for the season whilst awaiting a clearance to Sturt.
Ninth placed West Adelaide were another side to under-perform quite woefully. Their centreman Robert Day was one of the leading players in the competition but he had few noteworthy team mates in 1965.
Last placed Woodville matched their 1964 showing by winning 3 games. Despite this ostensibly poor showing there were a number of positives, not least the fact that they were substantially harder to beat than in their debut season. The ‘Peckers managed to down both Norwood and West Torrens for the first time in 1965, and came close to toppling Glenelg in round fourteen.
WANFL: Old Easts’ Astonishing Fight Back
For much of their existence Swan Districts had been the Cinderella club of Western Australian football but that all changed in 1961 when Haydn Bunton was appointed captain-coach. Almost overnight, Swans stamped themselves as a power club, claiming premierships in 1961, 1962 and 1963. The last two of those flags were won at the expense of East Fremantle, who also went on to lose the 1964 grand final at the expense of Claremont. In 1965 Swan Districts and East Fremantle again met on grand final day and Swans were widely tipped to prevail. They had comfortably overcome reigning premiers Claremont in the second semi final whilst East Fremantle had had to battle their way through two tortuous finals matches before reaching the ultimate fixture of the year.
For three quarters, the 1965 grand final panned out as anticipated, with Swans apparently in the box seat. Kicking into the breeze in the first quarter Swan Districts kicked 5.1 to Old Easts’ 2.6. At half time the margin was five goals in favour of Swans, and at the last change the scoreboard showed Swan Districts on 14.5 (89) leading East Fremantle 9.14 (68). Given that Swans would be kicking with the aid of a strong wind in the final quarter most observers could have been forgiven for expecting them to extend their lead and win easily. In fact, the opposite happened, as Old Easts seized control all over the ground and added 9.4 to 2.1 in one of the most concertedly determined and vibrant displays ever produced in a grand final. Their triumph gave them their twenty-second senior grade premiership making them by some measure Western Australian football’s most successful club. East Fremantle’s success also meant that for three seasons in succession the premiership had gone to the team placed fourth at the end of the minor round.
The chief inspiration behind Old Easts’ success was their on-field general, captain coach Bob Johnson, a former Melbourne footballer who asked nothing of his charges that he was unprepared to do himself. In both the preliminary final defeat of Claremont and the grand final Johnson booted 8 goals. Others to make vital contributions included ruckman David Imrie who won the Simpson Medal for best afield, ruck-rover Bert Thornley in the ruck, centre half back Norm Rogers, and tough tackling centreman Harry Neesham, whose weekend release from his national service posting in the eastern states had been specially arranged by the club.
After the grand final East Fremantle embarked on an eastern states tour which included wins against a Spencer Gulf combined team by 35 points, Broken Hill by 21 points, and a Queensland combination by 22 points.
For Swan Districts it had been an excellent season for the most part with the team comfortably topping the ladder after the minor round. However, a single poor quarter of football ruined everything. Ironically, Swans had won all three minor round clashes with East Fremantle. They also defeated every other team in the competition at least once, and in the second semi final overcame Claremont by 20 points, 9.14 (68) to 6.12 (48). Then came the heart-rending disappointment of the grand final. Bill Walker’s Sandover Medal win afforded meagre consolation. To the surprise of many, after the 1965 grand final Swans’ fortunes would dip alarmingly and it would be a decade and a half before they again challenged for Western Australian football’s top honour.
Claremont did almost everything right in the home and away rounds and were widely favoured to repeat their 1964 achievement and capture the flag. However, they ended up bowing out of contention rather meekly after losses to Swan Districts by 20 points in the second semi final and East Fremantle in the preliminary final by 13 points. Claremont supporters, like those of Swan Districts, would not have much to cheer about in the ensuing decade and a half.
In the final home and away round of the season West Perth achieved a hard fought and confidence boosting 12 point win over the team they would confront in the following week’s first semi final, East Fremantle. When it mattered more, however, the Cardinals found Old Easts too hot to handle, losing 13.14 (92) to 16.15 (111).
Fifth placed Perth were a team on the verge of the greatest era in their history, but in 1965 they were blighted by inconsistency. Hefty wins over the likes of Claremont were mixed with losses against lower ranking opponents. Demons supporters would not have long to wait for a dramatic upturn in fortunes, however.
Similarly, better times were just around the corner for East Perth, who in 1965 at least managed to improve by two places on their 1964 wooden spoon. At their best the Royals were capable of giving the top sides a run for their money as minor round victories over Claremont, Swan Districts, East Fremantle and West Perth proved.
Subiaco produced little to enthuse about for their long suffering supporters in 1965. The Lions won just 7 matches for the year, but on a positive note they did manage to defeat all four finalists. Subiaco also provided the league’s top goalkicker for 1965 in the shape of Austin Robertson junior (pictured at the start of this section) who booted 116 goals. It was the third time Robertson had headed the WANFL’s goal kicking list.
For South Fremantle 1965 was yet another dismal season and the halcyon days of the 1940s and 1950s must have seemed a distant memory to the club’s supporters. The red and whites won only 5 and drew 1 of their 21 minor round games, but among their victims were top four sides Swan Districts and West Perth, while the draw was achieved against Claremont.
Interest Continues to Soar in the Apple Isle
For the second season in succession crowds in Hobart reached new highs, with 235,370 patrons attending roster matches, 57,801 the finals, and a grand total of 331,448 turning up for all games during the year. In the grand final, Glenorchy, which had topped the ladder after the roster matches, and convincingly downed New Norfolk in the second semi final, overcame the challenge of North Hobart, surprise winners by a point in the previous week's preliminary final against the Eagles. Showing greater pace and fitness the Magpies pulled away from the Robins in the final term to win a low scoring game convincingly by 31 points, 10.15 (75) to 6.8 (44). They went on to secure the state premiership, downing NTFA premier Scottsdale 11.16 (82) to 9.8 (62) in the final in Hobart. Scottsdale had earlier won the NTFA premiership with a 19.21 (135) to 11.13 (79) grand final defeat of North Launceston. Premiers of the NWFU, for the second season in a row, were Cooee, who overcame Ulverstone 12.14 (86) to 7.9 (51) in the grand final.
Something to which hindsight accords considerable significance was New Norfolk full forward Peter Hudson's feat in kicking 101 goals to top the TFL goal kicking list. Hudson would go on to become one of the greatest and most feted full forwards in football history. In 1965 he was the first player since Lefroy's Tom Heathorn in 1934 to 'top the ton' in the TFL.
Other States and Territories
Sydney’s wealthiest club, Western Suburbs defeated their 1964 conquerors St George in the NSWANFL grand final. Scores were Western Suburbs 17.15 (117) to St George 12.9 (81). The win gave the Magpies their third premiership.
Morningside won their first ever senior grade QAFL flag with a 20.15 (135) to 9.8 (62) defeat of Mayne.
Eastlake won the Canberra premiership for the fourth consecutive time. A youthful Alex Jesaulenko was a member of their victorious grand final team. Eastlake won convincingly 20.16 (136) to 8.14 (62). A highlight of the season was the visit of WANFL club East Perth who defeated a combined CANFL side by 23 points, 14.11 (95) to 9.18 (72).
In Darwin, Nightcliff - formerly known as Works and Housing - defeated Darwin in the grand final by 39 points. It was the club’s third senior grade premiership win.
Grand final results - VFL: Essendon 14.21 (105) d. St Kilda 9.16 (70); SANFL Port Adelaide 12.8 (80) d. Sturt 12.5 (77); WANFL: East Fremantle 18.18 (126) d. Swan Districts 16.6 (102); VFA: Division One - Waverley 14.13 (97) d. Port Melbourne 10.25 (85); Division Two - Preston 15.12 (102) d. Mordialloc 9.10 (64); TANFL: Glenorchy 10.15 (75) d. North Hobart 6.8 (44); NTFA: Scottsdale 19.21 (135) d. North Launceston 11.13 (79); NSWANFL: Western Suburbs 17.15 (117) d. St George 12.9 (81); NTFL: Nightcliff (formerly Works and Housing) 11.13 (79) d. Darwin 5.10 (40); QAFL: Morningside 20.15 (135) d. Mayne 9.8 (62); NWFU: Cooee12.14 (86) d. Ulverstone 7.9 (51); CANFL: Eastlake 20.16 (136) d. Manuka 8.14 (62); TSP: Glenorchy 11.16 (84) d. Scottsdale 9.8 (62).
 Footy in the 1960s by Michael Roberts and Michael Winkler, page 67.
 https://kbhill7.wordpress.com/tag/ian-rowland/, retrieved 8/1/16.
 East Fremantle also won the 1943 wartime premiership which was contested by under age teams and to which the WAFL accords the same status as senior grade flags.
Sixteenth Interstate Carnival Won by Vics
The 1966 Hobart Carnival was one of the most successful on record with large crowds witnessing some excellent football. With both South Australia and Western Australia having provided a stern challenge to the VFL on numerous occasions since the 1961 carnival it was widely believed that a Victorian triumph was by no means guaranteed. In the event, the VFL did emerge as carnival champions, but in their game against the sandgropers in particular they did not get everything their own way. Ironically, the Western Australians were captain-coached by one of Victorian football's all time greats in the shape of former Fitzroy champion Kevin Murray, who at the time was on a two year sojourn with East Perth. Murray's performances in the gold and black of his adopted state in 1966 would earn him a second All Australian jumper, while team mate Barry Cable gave further notice of what was to develop into a stellar career by securing the Tassie Medal. Arguably the most impressive performances of the carnival, however, came from a player wearing the rose, primrose and green of the host state. Peter Hudson's 20 goals represented a post world war two carnival record and went a long way towards securing his big time future with Hawthorn in the VFL.
In addition to the Carnival decider between the VFL and Western Australia, in which the Vics overcame a 16 point half time deficit to win by 15 points, there were a number of outstanding matches. South Australia looked 'home and hosed' against Western Australia before a desperate last quarter rally by the sandgropers secured the victory. Tasmania's game with the Western Australians also went right to the wire, with the home state just falling short after leading by 14 points at the long break. Even the VFA, despite its failure to win a match, made a contribution, particularly in the game against their fellow Vics whom they pushed all the way with a resilient and highly tenacious performance.
VFL: Saints Finally Claim Top Prize
When Darrel Baldock held the Victorian Football League premiership cup aloft at the Melbourne Cricket Ground late on the afternoon of September 1966 it represented the culmination of almost a century's worth of effort, dedication, determination and despair - mostly despair. For if the history of the St Kilda Football Club is illustrative of anything it is the fact that triumphant achievement in sport represents only a part - and as often as not a very small part - of the whole story. St Kilda's dramatic one point win over Collingwood on that 'one day' in 1966 stands out like a beacon over a predominantly dour and gloomy terrain, and yet during the 1960s St Kilda was beyond question one of Australian football’s most glamorous and well supported clubs.
St Kilda qualified for the finals in second place on the ladder with 14 wins from 18 matches and a superior percentage to both Geelong and Essendon, who also had 14 wins apiece. Crucial to the Saints’ success was their impeccable home form: 9 matches played, and 9 matches won, many by percentage boosting margins. In the second semi final they were opposed by Collingwood who had topped the ladder with a 15-3 record. The Magpies had trounced the Saints in their only minor round clash and at quarter time of this encounter it seemed another thrashing might be on the cards with Collingwood 31 points to the good. St Kilda fought back, however, and over the remainder of the match they were perhaps the better side. The Magpies held on though and ultimately sneaked home by 10 points leaving Saints fans inordinately grateful for the double chance.
In hindsight, it is possible to aver that the extra finals match was beneficial to St Kilda. Moreover, it provided the team with the opportunity for revenge over the side which had bested them in the previous season’s grand final, Essendon. On this occasion the Saints proved consummately superior, adapting much better than the Bombers to the wet conditions, and winning in the end by a margin of 42 points, 15.4 (94) to 7.10 (52). This ought to have primed them adequately for the grand final re-match with Collingwood, but in fact the Saints went into the game with some concerns, not least a niggling knee injury to their champion skipper Darrel Baldock which was worsened during Thursday night training. Moreover, the Saints already knew that they would be starting the grand final without a couple of key players in the shape of ruckman Carl Ditterich (suspended) and wingman Ross Oakley (injured during the second semi).
The big match was no classic, but such fixtures seldom are. It was, however, tough, close and exciting. Watched by a crowd of 102,055 St Kilda started much better than in the second semi final, and at quarter time they held a tentative 5 point advantage. Collingwood fought back, and the main interval saw them a point in front, but the Saints then seized the initiative to lead 8.9 (57) to 7.11 (53) at the last change.
The final term was a roller coaster ride for fans of both teams. At first, St Kilda seemed to be in command, and at one stage they led by 13 points. However, playing with great energy and determination Collingwood rallied, and with time-on looming a behind to Des Tuddenham brought them level. Two minutes into time-on came the moment with which every St Kilda fan is acutely familiar: half forward flanker Barry Breen gathered the ball and sent the last of his 17 kicks for the match wobbling towards the empty goal mouth, whereupon it veered slightly and went through for a behind.
Collingwood just had time to mount one last attack, but this was stalled by Saints full back Bob Murray and St Kilda had won by the narrowest of margins. More than five decades on it remains the club’s only senior grade premiership triumph.
But spare a thought for Collingwood. Since 1955 the Magpies had played in six grand finals and only won one. In 1966 they were the best team during the home and away rounds and deservedly qualified for the grand final with a good win over St Kilda. That grand final could scarcely have been more evenly contested and it might reasonably be argued that the way in which it was decided was the football equivalent of the tossing of a coin. Collingwood had now suffered two consecutive last gasp grand final losses, and it would not be long before the 'Colliwobbles' myth was invented, and used indiscriminately by fans of other clubs to rub salt into the hated Magpies’ wounds.
Essendon, like St Kilda, owed their finals qualification in some measure to a 100% home record. The Bombers were fourth on percentage after the minor round, just as they had been twelve months earlier. In 1965 they swept all opposition aside en route to a spectacular and decisive premiership victory. This time round they got off on the right footing by downing Geelong, 15.6 (96) to 12.14 (86), in the first semi final. For three quarters Essendon was comfortably superior to the Cats but the last term had them grimly hanging on. Nevertheless, they had triumphed.
A fortnight later against St Kilda it was another matter entirely as the straight kicking Saints simply outclassed the Bombers, with the consensus of opinion being that they - the Bombers - were a little past their best, and would need to rebuild.
Fourth placed Geelong entered the finals race in the best form of any top four side after winning their last ten home and away matches. Included in that run were victories over Essendon by 10 goals and St Kilda by 23 points , both at Kardinia Park. However, the Cats could not reproduce their minor round form in the finals, and bowed out somewhat meekly against the Bombers.
Richmond were comfortably installed in the top four for much of the season but the Tigers were left ruing a round eight draw with North Melbourne which ultimately saw them miss the finals. Had they won that match they would have qualified for the finals in fourth place as their percentage was comfortably superior to that of Essendon. Richmond’s best win of the season came in round five against Geelong at Kardinia Park, the Tigers winning 15.8 (98) to 12.8 (80). The team’s time in the sun would shortly be upon them.
Sixth place went to a Carlton side that won 10 and lost 8 matches, exactly as they had done a year previously. The Blues were at their best when weather conditions were inimical to good football. For example, they overcame Collingwood 7.11 (53) to 6.6 (42) in round eleven and St Kilda 7.15 (57) to 5.11 (41) a fortnight later. Both matches took place at Princes Park, which was in dreadful condition. Statistically Carlton had an excellent defensive record, bettered only by Collingwood, but their attack was the third worst in the competition.
North Melbourne had another disappointing season which produced just 7 wins and a draw from 18 matches. The Kangaroos had better fortune in the VFL night competition which they won for the second straight time. In the grand final they trounced Hawthorn by 53 points, 20.12 (132) to 12.7 (79).
South Melbourne finished eighth with a 7-11 record. They were capable of kicking a good score, but equally prone to defensive fragility.
Ninth place for Hawthorn represented an improvement over their 1965 showing when they finished dead set last. However, in terms of wins - 5 in 1966 compared to 4 the previous year - the improvement was modest. The Hawks badly needed someone to take the bull by the horns and get the most out of an undoubtedly talented group of players and just such a person was, as it happened, waiting in the wings.
Footscray (4 wins), Melbourne (3 wins) and Fitzroy (1 win) all seemed out of their depth in the VFL this year. Melbourne fans were particularly distraught: their team had been the competition pace setters for over a decade until midway through the 1965 season, and the last time they had finished as far down the list as this season was 1953.
VFA: Revenge for Borough
Port Melbourne gained revenge over their 1965 nemesis Waverley with an impressive and comfortable defeat of the Panthers in the 1966 VFA grand final. The Borough overcame a sluggish start to win 13.12 (90) to 6.11 (47) with future South Melbourne Brownlow Medallist Peter Bedford, playing in the centre, the best player afield.
The division two grand final proved even more one-sided although eventual victors Prahran, like Port Melbourne, had to recover from a slow first term. Eventually, however, the Two Blues played all over Geelong West to win by 69 points, 17.12 (114) to 5.15 (45).
Frankston became the latest team to be admitted to the VFA this year.
WANFL: Perth Power to Top
At the end of the 1965 season Perth great Ern Renfry had decided to call it a day as the club’s coach. In looking for a replacement, the Perth committee decided straight away that they wanted an on-field leader. Given that four of the previous five WANFL premierships had been won by teams with playing coaches this seemed an eminently logical decision. The committee may also have felt that, given the side's unfortunate penchant for inconsistency, an inspirational on-field presence, along the lines of Austin Robertson or Ern Henfry during their previous spells at the club, would be more likely to bring out the best in the players than would an apparently remote figure in the dug-out. During the early part of the close season, names like Bob Skilton, Verdun Howell and Noel Teasdale were bandied about as potential replacements for Henfry, with Teasdale reputed to have been offered an unprecedented £4,000 a year. In the end, however, the man appointed came as a complete surprise to almost everyone, and his arrival at Lathlain did not exactly meet with universal approval among the club's fans, most of whom would have preferred either a big name interstate coach, or someone with a definite Perth connection. Malcolm Atwell, "a tough and uncompromising defender” from East Perth, was neither. Perhaps wisely, Atwell opted to maintain a very low profile in the run up to the start of the season, although he did publicly declare that Perth would be the fittest team in the competition, a pledge with which few observers would be able to find fault once the season commenced.
Another key development at Perth at this time was the election of motor vehicle magnate Cliff Houghton as president. Over the next four years Houghton's vision and drive would admirably complement the inspirational on-field leadership style which came to be Mal Atwell's trademark.
Although Atwell had never previously coached, the Perth committee clearly felt extremely confident that he was the right man for the job as they agreed to pay his former club a total of $3,500 over two years to secure his clearance. Such a sum, while not unprecedented, nevertheless represented a substantial outlay for a club like Perth. In hindsight, however, the transaction was tantamount to daylight robbery, as Atwell went on to become one of the most successful and influential coaches in football history.
The new coach's impact was immediate. In the opening round of the 1966 season, Perth trounced South Fremantle by 143 points, and thereafter, although occasional matches were dropped, it proved itself by some measure the most consistent combination in the league. Whether it was also the best would not be determined until the finals, but in the meantime hefty wins over the teams predicted to be its closest rivals, namely East Perth (by 46 points in round four), West Perth (68 points, round five) and East Fremantle (68 points, round ten), made it clear that Perth would take an awful lot of beating in the race for the 1966 flag. Needless to say, Atwell's achievement in eliciting new levels of consistency and excellence from his charges had the effect of converting most of the club's hitherto disgruntled fans. Just prior to leaving for Hobart with the Western Australian carnival squad, Atwell's stock with Perth's supporters rose higher still when he publicly predicted that the team would win the 1966 premiership. It was a bold and in some senses canny prediction, but one cannot help but wonder how the club's fans would have reacted had it not come to fruition.
The 1966 Hobart Carnival proved to be an excellent one for players from the Perth Football Club, and the confidence and experience gleaned presumably helped those individuals rise to the occasion later in the year when faced, for the first time as far as most of them were concerned, with the pressure, tension and intensity of a league grand final. Perth had four players in Western Australia's carnival squad, with rover Barry Cable earning selection in the All Australian team as well as winning the Tassie Medal for the carnival's best player. He was Perth's second Tassie Medallist, emulating former club great Merv McIntosh, who had won the award at Adelaide in 1953.
With 16 wins from 21 minor round games Perth topped the ladder heading into what proved to be a highly memorable finals series in which attendance records were set at each of the four games. In the second semi final a crowd of 30,077 saw Perth narrowly overcome a stern challenge from Mal Atwell's former team mates at East Perth, who were now being coached by Victorian champion Kevin Murray. The Demons won 13.21 (99) to 13.16 (94) and were no doubt totally unsurprised to find themselves lining up against the same opposition a fortnight later in the grand final.
With 46,763 spectators crammed into Subiaco Oval, Perth opened brilliantly after Atwell had won the toss and elected to kick with the aid of a stiff breeze. At quarter time, Perth led 6.7 (43) to 2.1 (13), with rover Barry Cable, who had booted 3 early goals, and wingman Peter Krepp especially prominent. During the second term, however, the Royals fought back fiercely, and at half time the game was all square, 8.10 (58) apiece.
As Perth fans watched in horror, their team squandered opportunity after opportunity during the third term, and instead of building a match-winning lead they headed for the three quarter time huddle just 17 points to the good, after kicking 1.12 to 0.1 for the quarter. In the final term, however, Perth showed beyond any doubt that it was a team of true premiership class, defending tenaciously and, when occasion allowed, pouring into attack in numbers to snatch vital scores. East Perth tried everything, but to no avail, as Perth ran out winners by 16 points, 11.25 (91) to 10.15 (75). A lesser team would certainly have let its third quarter waywardness de-rail it, but Perth under Atwell was already on the verge of greatness. Six goal Barry Cable won the Simpson Medal, while Astone, Krepp, Lawrence, Jenzen and Pyke were among many other fine players for the victors.
East Perth deservedly made the grand final in 1966 but there could be no denying that Perth 'had the wood' on them. In the minor round the Demons won 2 out of 3 encounters and followed this up with a 5 point success in the second semi final. Having noted that, the Royals actually entered the finals in the best form of any of the four participants as they had won their previous 9 games. As has often been remarked, however, finals football is a completely different matter to the mundane, bread and butter affair of home and away fixtures.
East Perth’s arch rivals West Perth also approached the finals in excellent form, having won 8 of their last 9 games. In front of 32,036 spectators they improved that record to 9 wins out of 10 with a comfortable demolition job on East Fremantle in the first semi final. The Cardinals won by 6 straight kicks, 13.17 (95) to 7.17 (59) and would undoubtedly have approached their preliminary final clash with East Perth in confident frame of mind. However, they produced easily their worst performance since the first half of the season and went down by 7 goals, 12.11 (83) to 19.11 (125).
Reigning premiers East Fremantle never really looked like being good enough to repeat their 1965 success. 'Big Bob' Johnson’s feat in topping the league’s goal kicking list was a minor highlight. He booted 92 goals.
Fifth placed Claremont finished well off the pace in 1966, managing just 8 wins from 21 minor round matches. It would prove to be a long time between drinks for the Tigers.
In 1965 Swan Districts made the grand final. A year later they plummeted to sixth place after only managing 7 wins, plus a draw with Subiaco. There was some consolation to be derived from rover Bill Walker’s second successive Sandover Medal win, however.
Subiaco and South Fremantle proved to be the league’s chopping blocks in 1966. The Lions’ best result was probably a 15.10 (100) to 12.21 (93) home victory over Perth in round six while the pick of South’s performances also came in round six when they trounced West Perth by 69 points at Fremantle Oval.
SANFL: Resurgent Double Blues Claim Flag
In his sixth season as Sturt coach Jack Oatey steered the Double Blues to their first premiership since 1940. After losing the 1965 grand final to Port Adelaide by just 3 points Sturt went all out to make amends and ultimately did so in emphatic and impeccable style. Their only losses in the minor round came against Port Adelaide in rounds two and nine. The Magpies again got the better of the Blues in the second semi final, by a solitary point, but in hindsight this may have worked in Sturt’s favour, serving as a kind of wake up call. In the following week’s preliminary final against North Adelaide the Double Blues produced one of the most devastating exhibitions of finals football seen in South Australia since the war. With winners in almost every position Sturt won by 85 points, 22.14 (146) to 9.7 (61). Port in the grand final proved a somewhat trickier proposition, for the first two and a half quarters at any rate, but once the Double Blues clicked into gear the only question became how much they were going to win by. In the end they precisely doubled the Magpies’ score, winning 16.16 (112) to 8.8 (56). A week later they comprehensively defeated Collingwood, which had finished second in the VFL, thereby proving beyond any reasonable doubt that they were one of the leading teams in Australia.
Port Adelaide was more inconsistent than Sturt in 1965, losing 6 minor round matches, including both encounters with seventh placed Norwood and third placed North Adelaide. The team was widely lauded for the strength of its defence, but coach Fos Williams claimed that this was merely the result of a trade-off whereby Jeff Potter played more or less as an extra man in the backlines, thus, in effect, 'robbing Peter to pay Paul'.
Prior to the grand final, Port appeared to 'have the wood' on Sturt, winning the clubs’ round two clash by 2 points, their round nine fixture by 19 points, and an absorbing second semi final tussle by the narrowest of margins. Only in round thirteen were the Double Blues successful, a goal after the siren giving them victory by a couple of points, 9.18 (72) to 11.4 (70). However, it was perhaps significant that the venue for this match was Port’s home ground, Alberton Oval. After winning there, any sense of inferiority which the Blues might have been experiencing - and there was much talk in the media at the time of Port being 'a monkey on Sturt’s back' - must have been well and truly obliterated. On grand final day, the Magpies were conclusively put to the sword in a way which affirmed that the monkey, dislodged earlier in the year at Alberton, had now been well and truly laid to rest.
After narrowly missing the finals in 1965 North Adelaide returned to major round action in 1966 after finishing the minor round in fourth place with 13 wins and 7 losses. First semi final opponents South Adelaide were slight pre-match favourites, thanks in part to their marginally superior (14-6) home and ]away record, but perhaps mainly because of their slashing 20.14 (134) to 11.6 (72) victory over the Roosters in the teams’ previous meeting. Every game of football is different, however, and North won the first semi final with some comfort, 15.14 (104) to 11.13 (79). Sturt in the preliminary final were an entirely different matter though. Playing fast, precise, incisive football they tore the Roosters to pieces leaving the brains trust at Prospect to go back to the drawing board.
Of immeasurably greater long term significance, however, the club's Annual Report for 1966 noted:
High hopes are held that Barrie Robran ...... will continue to show the form of this season's Second Eighteen Finals. Barrie could be an important acquisition to our senior side.
Prophetic words indeed!
For fourth placed South Adelaide the 1966 season was one of unfulfilled promise. The Panthers opened the minor round in fine style with a 17.6 (108) to 12.15 (87) defeat of Port Adelaide. In hindsight the win was notable as it was the only occasion all season, apart from the grand final, that Port conceded in excess of 100 points.
South’s end to the minor round was perhaps even more impressive as they won seven of their last eight matches to enter the finals in a confident frame of mind. However, as noted above, a more fluent and dynamic North Adelaide side promptly put an end to the Panthers’ premiership hopes. Even worse was to follow as it was announced that 1964 premiership coach Neil Kerley would be leaving the club in 1967 to join Glenelg.
Fifth placed West Torrens improved greatly on their 1965 showing but the general feeling was that the season was still somewhat unsatisfactory. After thirteen minor round matches the Eagles were sitting pretty in second place but they then lost the ensuing half a dozen games to plummet out of finals considerations. Injuries to key men played a part, but there was also a feeling, evidenced in matches such as a 77 point loss to Port and a 52 point defeat to Sturt, that the team had a soft underbelly. Ironically, in the final home and away match of the season, when finals qualification was no longer possible, Torrens produced probably their best display of the season in handing out a 10 goal belting to North Adelaide.
West Adelaide’s new coach Don Roach took steps to ensure that, whatever the team’s limitations in terms of talent, they would not be outdone when it came to fitness. It was arguably this more than any other factor that enabled Westies to rise three places on the premiership ladder as well as win 10 matches in 1966 compared to 4 a year earlier. Twenty-two year old centreman Robert Day was once again the Blood ’n Tars’ most effective and eye catching performer and the club were relieved when he rejected overtures from no fewer than four VFL clubs: Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon and North Melbourne.
Norwood had a disappointing year, winning just 9 matches (compared to 13 in 1965) to finish seventh. The Redlegs were probably the competition’s most inconsistent team, capable, for instance, of downing Port Adelaide one week and getting thrashed by Woodville the next. The undoubted highlight of the season for Norwood supporters was Ron Kneebone’s achievement in winning the Magarey Medal. Kneebone’s success was all the more remarkable in that he played most of the season at full back, a position all too often seemingly ignored by umpires when allocating votes.
Woodville improved by two spots on the ladder in 1966, finishing eighth. The side was as physically tough as any, but they tended to rely too much on just a handful of players. When centreman Bob Simunson played poorly, for example, so almost invariably did Woodville.
Centrals’ fall from comparative grace (8 wins, and seventh place) in 1965 to anonymity a year later (4 wins, ninth) was perhaps predictable but was nevertheless taken hard out at Elizabeth. A 12.7 (79) to 10.10 (70) opening round defeat of North Adelaide inevitably raised hopes, but as previously intimated the Bulldogs managed just another 3 wins for the year. On a brighter note, West Australian import Tom Grlusich had a superb season, representing the state, and winning South Australian football’s richest individual prize, a car from the ADS7 World of Sport programme.
Optimists would probably describe 1966 as a transitional season for Glenelg, and to be sure the club blooded a large number of new young players. However, all too frequently it was left to a small nucleus of experienced hands - Colin Richens, Bob Anesbury, Doug Long and Brian McGowan - to shoulder the load. The appointment of Neil Kerley as club coach for 1967 had fans drooling with anticipation, however.
Tigers Triumph in Tassie
New Norfolk topped the TANFL ladder after the roster matches with a 15-3 record. However, despite having arguably the best full forward in Australia in the shape of Peter Hudson the Eagles bowed out of premiership contention in straight sets. In the second semi final they were edged out by Hobart by a margin of 11 points and they lost their preliminary final clash with Glenorchy by an identical margin.
Glenorchy and Clarence both won 10 roster matches to qualify for the finals in third and fourth places respectively. In the first semi final the Magpies overcame the Kangaroos by 20 points, 13.10 (88) to 9.12 (66).
The grand final between Hobart and Glenorchy was a rugged affair with the Tigers, coached by John Watts, triumphing by the narrowest of margins. Final scores were Hobart 10.14 (74) defeated Glenorchy 11.7 (73). Hobart went on to down NWFU premiers Burnie by 14 points in the state preliminary final but lost a tempestuous final clash with NTFA premiers City-South in Launceston.
The interstate carnival held in Hobart was a highlight of the season with the Tasmanian team performing well and crowds totalling 91,347 attending the matches.
Tigers 'Also' Triumph in Queensland
Mayne overcame the setback of a second semi final loss to Western Districts to capture their third QAFL flag of the 1960s. The Bulldogs won the second semi by 15 points, 14.21 (105) to 13.12 (90), before the Tigers overcame an inaccurate Wilston Grange 12.15 (87) to 4.22 (46) in the following week’s preliminary final.
Wilston Grange had earlier comprehensively ousted Coorparoo from premiership contention with a 16.20 (116) to 7.12 (54) first semi final win.
The grand final was another tight, tense affair with Mayne ultimately turning the tables on the Bulldogs and edging home by 8 points, 16.18 (114) to 16.10 (106).
Other States and Territories
In Sydney, the NSWANFL grand final was a repeat of the previous season’s with Western Suburbs convincingly downing St George. Final scores were Western Suburbs 15.22 (112) to St George 10.10 (70). Newtown and Eastern Suburbs were the other finalists.
In Canberra, Eastlake won their fifth consecutive premiership, and their sixth in seven years. Opposed by Ainslie in the grand final the Demons won by 29 points, 13.16 (94) to 8.17 (65). Manuka and ANU made up the final four.
St Mary’s won the NTFL flag with a 17.11 (113) to 11.10 (76) grand final defeat of Nightcliff. Darwin came third, Waratahs fourth, and Wanderers fifth and last.
Grand final results - VFL St Kilda 10.14 (74) d. Collingwood 10.13 (73); SANFL: Sturt 16.16 (112) d. Port Adelaide 8.8 (56); WANFL: Perth 11.25 (91) d. East Perth 10.15 (75); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 13.12 (90) d. Waverley 6.11 (47); Division Two - Prahran 17.12 (114) d. Geelong West 5.15 (45); TANFL: Hobart 10.14 (74) d. Glenorchy 11.7 (73); NTFA: City-South 9.13 (67) d. Scottsdale 7.7 (49); NSWANFL: Western Suburbs 15.22 (112) d. St George 10.10 (70); NTFL: St Mary's 17.11 (113) d. Nightcliff 11.10 (76); QAFL: Mayne 16.18 (114) d. Western Districts 16.10 (106); NWFU: Burnie 7.7 (49) d. Latrobe 5.11 (41); CANFL - Eastlake 13.16 (94) d. Ainslie 8.17 (65); TSP: City-South 10.15 (75) d. Hobart 9.13 (67).
Hobart Carnival Results - Western Australia 26.18 (174) d. VFA 5.11 (41); VFL 26.24 (180) d. Tasmania 11.13 (79); Tasmania 19.27 (141) d. VFA 7.11 (53); VFL 16.23 (119) d. South Australia 7.9 (51); VFL 14.17 (101) d. VFA 9.7 (61); Western Australia 13.11 (89) d. South Australia 10.14 (74); Western Australia 17.13 (115) d. Tasmania 6.10 (46); South Australia 21.20 (146) d. VFA 9.11 (65); South Australia 14.7 (91) d. Tasmania 9.13 (67); VFL 15.10 (100) d. Western Australia 13.7 (85).
 Fearful of opposition spies, Saints coach Allan Jeans called an immediate halt to the training session, and the fact that Baldock had suffered a recurrence of his injury was not widely known until after the grand final.
 Football Greats of Western Australia Volume One by Anthony James, page 6.
 “North Adelaide Football Club 1966 Annual Report”, page 24.
 Day eventually joined Hawthorn for whom he played 30 senior grade matches including the winning grand final of 1971 against St Kilda.
 To be more specific, Norwood defeated Port 10.9 (69) to 9.5 (59) in round four, and lost 6.17 (53) to 14.12 (96) to the 'Peckers the following week. It should be noted that, whatever their respective positions on the premiership ladder, the Redlegs have almost invariably been capable of producing something special when confronted by the Magpies.
A Watershed for the Game
The term ‘watershed’ is carefully chosen, but no doubt needs a measure of justification. Literally, of course, the word means ‘a key period, or factor, that acts as a dividing line’, but in this case one would be hard pressed to be anything like so literal. Certainly, there was no significant single event, such as the meeting which led to the initial formulation of the game’s rules in 1858, or that between the rebel VFA clubs in 1896 which spawned the VFL, to benchmark the sort of changes which occurred - or more accurately, which I am claiming came to some kind of perceptible fruition - in 1967. However, in terms of important trends in the development of key patterns and styles of play, as well as in the move towards what might be termed the 'professionalisation' of the code (including the concomitant evolution of a pseudo-national competition), 1967 deserves to be recalled as a year of considerable significance.
To consider the points in order, if one desires proof that football in 1967 had reached a new level of sophistication in terms of the implementation of what might be called ‘the play-on ideal’, in which quick, incisive movement of the ball, at all costs, by both hand and foot supplanted the ‘prop and kick’ style of yore, then one need only watch, back to back, video tapes of the 1966 and 1967 VFL grand finals. Carlton’s second half performance against Collingwood in the 1970 VFL grand final, when they were famously enjoined by coach Ron Barassi to ‘handball, handball, handball’ is often regarded, only half seriously one hopes, as signalling ‘the birth of modern football’. In truth, of course, no single match could ever be said to constitute the ‘birth’ of a completely novel or different style of play – and, in any case, the unthinking assumption that the VFL was automatically and invariably the birthplace of every important development in football belies the clearly observable fact that, as has been intimated on several occasions elsewhere in this website, the trends which led to the evolution of modern, play-on football were occurring just as visibly and obviously in Perth and Adelaide, for example, as in Melbourne. However, video footage of VFL matches is clearly much more readily accessible than that of other state competitions, hence my use of the 1967 and 1966 VFL grand finals as my examples. If, having viewed Richmond’s and Geelong’s efforts during the last quarter of the 1967 match, you are still inclined to accord any credence to the popular view that ‘modern football’ was born at the MCG on the afternoon of Saturday 26th September 1970 I shall be very surprised. (I shall, needless to say, be discussing the extraordinary Geelong-Richmond match in some detail later.)
Although football had been 'professional' for many years in terms of being an essentially profit-making affair – a ‘business’, in point of fact, although the term was not yet widely used with specific reference to the sport – as well as in directly supplying a select group of individuals with a livelihood, when compared to major sports elsewhere in the world it remained (and indeed remains) very much a small time concern. In particular, its chief protagonists – the players – although granted remuneration in return for their efforts, were not in a position to make a living from the sport, and were thus not, in the strict sense of the word, ‘professional’. That said, there was a sense in which, especially in the VFL, but also to varying extents in all the other major state competitions, players were increasingly being required to aspire to what might be called ‘professional’ standards of behaviour when undertaking football-related activities. In other words, the trappings of professionalism were already, to some degree, in place, and concerns over football’s perceived vulnerability – to other sports mainly, but also to other, non-sporting leisure pursuits – was prompting the game’s leading administrators to aspire to professionalism in other ways.
In South Australia, for example, the SANFL implemented a series of measures aimed at streamlining its administration, as well as rendering its operations more efficient, accountable and business-orientated. Chief among these measures was the replacement of its tried but no longer trusted finance, ovals, emergency and TV and broadcasting sub-committees with a single, five member management committee. The league also appointed both a General Manager (Colin Thorpe) and a Liaison Officer (Don Roach) for the first time. In addition, conscious of a need to compete more aggressively with other entertainment outlets by endeavouring to maximise spectator comfort, the SANFL commenced negotiations with the SACA over ways in which the two bodies might cooperate to improve the facilities at the Adelaide Oval. The Oval, which was Crown land leased to the Cricket Association by the Adelaide City Council, was regarded in 1967 as having an ‘official’ capacity of 55,000, which included a total of 9,600 seats under cover, and a further 10,250 in the open. At a press conference on 10th July the league announced that it would like to see the ground transformed into an all seater venue with under cover accommodation for 60,000 spectators. If this proved impossible, Central District’s home ground at Elizabeth was being tentatively mooted as an alternative site for the league’s future headquarters.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne the VFL was confronted by similar concerns, but was somewhat further along the road toward their resolution. Construction work at the league’s new ‘dream venue’ at Waverley was proceeding apace, with perimeter fences erected, terracing laid in front of what would be the main grandstand, player dugouts and underground races installed, and the first grass seeds, watered by a fully automatic watering system drawing from the VFL’s own 13,000,0000 gallon capacity dam, sown on the playing arena. Already, the league had received 8,000 applications, at $5 a head, for VFL Park membership.
These developments came in the wake of a five per cent drop in VFL attendances during the 1967 season, which some attributed to increased competition with rival attractions, and “a decline in interest in league football”. League president Sir Kenneth Luke, however, was quick to scotch such suggestions, citing the lop-sidedness of a competition in which only five of the twelve clubs appeared to have realistic prospects of contesting the finals for much of the season, and the uncharacteristic wetness of the winter, as more realistic reasons for the decline.
The VFA was also flexing its financial muscles, concerned that it was being systematically undermined by the unfettered recruitment by league clubs, both in Victoria and interstate, of many of its better young players. Prior to the start of the 1967 season, the Association passed a motion requiring all of its clubs to levy a minimum transfer fee of $3,000 for any players who transferred interstate, thereby at least ensuring that clubs would have the economic wherewithal to attempt to redress any deficiencies brought about by this process.
In terms of the movement of the game towards a national competition a number of developments in 1967 stand out. The SANFL remained extremely keen on the idea of a national championship for premier clubs, and at the end of the season it arranged a series of challenge matches between three of its own finalists and three of their counterparts from the VFL. On Tuesday 3rd October, under lights at Norwood Oval, a crowd of 11,987 watched VFL runner-up Geelong emerge victorious by 3 points against North Adelaide (third in the SANFL), despite atrocious kicking for goal. Geelong won 9.26 (80) to the Roosters’ 11.11 (77). Two days later, also under floodlights at Norwood, SANFL runner-up Port Adelaide made light of a break of only five days since the grand final when it overcame Collingwood (fourth in the VFL) 13.15 (3) to 12.9 (81) in front of another respectable attendance of 10,400. The pick of the encounters, however, took place at Adelaide Oval on Saturday 7 October when a crowd of 21,741 was treated to all the skills of the game as SANFL premier Sturt 19.8 (122) defeated Carlton (third in the VFL) 11.15 (81). Even Ron Barassi was impressed, declaring “I am now convinced that Sturt are one of the most talented and certainly one of the top teams in Australia ”.
In Victoria, too, the concept of a national competition was increasingly being mooted, although most proponents of the idea were careful to stress that it should be evolutionary, featuring the twelve current VFL clubs at its centre, rather than an entirely new competition. Prominent Essendon footballer Jack Clarke, for example, summarised the feelings of many when he outlined his ‘blueprint for the survival of the game’ in an article in the "Melbourne Sun". Faced with increasing competition from sports with an international profile, such as soccer, the VFL, he declared, had to aspire to become a fully professional, nation-wide concern. This could not happen overnight, he admitted, but could easily be achieved if undertaken in carefully planned stages. As part of the initial stage, Clarke recommended that Fitzroy should agree to shift operations to Albury, while Clarke’s own club, Essendon, should relocate to Ballarat. (This latter suggestion was perhaps a tongue in cheek riposte at the club for dropping him from its senior side earlier in the season.) Once this set-up had been consolidated, the league should look to expand its horizons still further, with “at least one team in Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide”. In terms of its organisation, the VFL should emulate the American system of private ownership in which “the profit motive rules supreme” and the “administrators ..... think big”.
Television was also helping prepare the public for a football competition which transcended state boundaries as well as, to an increasing extent, state loyalties. VFL highlights were now being televised each weekend in Perth and Adelaide, thereby de-mystifying what had previously seemed a very distant, almost ‘foreign’ competition. From this period on, many a South Australian or Western Australian youngster would openly and proudly declare allegiance, not just to one of the teams in the local competition, but to one of the twelve VFL clubs as well. This state of affairs would have been unthinkable prior to the burgeoning of VFL telecasts, and it undoubtedly played a part in encouraging more and more of the top Western Australian and South Australian footballers to see Melbourne as the ‘Mecca’ of Australian football, and to aspire to head there at some stage in their careers in order to ‘prove’ themselves.
During 1967, Channel 7 joined forces with a tobacco company to launch and promote a competition to find the 'champion kick in Australian football'. Beginning with a series of qualifying heats in each of the four major football states a competition was conducted, and televised each Sunday on ‘World of Sport’, which culminated in a finals series in Melbourne featuring the four state champions. Terry Phillips of Central District won this inaugural event, which would continue to run for another five years, contributing in no small measure over the course of that time to the process of ‘de-mystification’ which can be viewed, in hindsight, as having proved so essential to the acceptance by the non-Victorian public of the expanded VFL competition when it ultimately emerged.
In 1967, of course, that development still lay many years in the future, but there can be little doubt that, as a result of greater and more widespread media exposure, events in the VFL competition were starting to acquire more and more importance to football supporters throughout Australia.
VFL: Hafey's Tigers Break 24 Year Premiership Drought
Perhaps bearing out Sir Kenneth Luke’s point about the desirability of an intense, even competition, once the 1967 VFL finals started, the Melbourne public came out in force to support the four combatants: Richmond, which under second year coach Tom Hafey was contesting its first finals series in twenty years; Ron Barassi’s rapidly emerging Carlton side; Geelong in ‘Polly’ Farmer’s VFL swansong year; and perennial finalist and 1966 runner-up Collingwood. Hafey’s Tigers, who had finished the home and away season with six highly impressive victories in succession, were favoured by most pundits to clinch their first flag since 1943, with their main challenge expected to come from the Blues. However, in the end it was Peter Pianto’s ‘classy Cats’ who struck their best form of the season at the right time before going on to provide the Tigers with what proved to be a formidable, if ultimately fruitless, grand final challenge.
Regarded as “beyond all shadow of doubt ..... the most skilful teams in the league”, Richmond and Geelong were both prime exponents of ‘play-on’ football. However, whereas the Tigers’ style was characterised by long kicks to position interspersed with prodigious marking and quick, consolidating handballs, the Cats favoured a less direct, ‘patchwork quilt’ type approach in which handball played a much more central role. This lead to a potentially pleasing contrast in styles which, on grand final day, produced one of those all too rare games that genuinely befit the epithet ‘classic’. To use an analogy, if football in the VFL at the time typically resembled freestyle jazz, being largely characterised by impromptu, haphazard, staccato bursts which only occasionally, almost accidentally, approximated to genius, then the 1967 grand final was more akin to a full scale classical symphony, with its shyly probing opening stanza, the apparent conclusiveness of the second, the eloquent counterpoints and ripostes of the third, and the vast, soaring, elegant sweep of its climax, which saw players of both teams achieve a sustained pinnacle of virtuosity seldom, if ever, previously attained in the game. This was dream football, the game as it was ostensibly designed in blueprint, but so seldom made manifest.
Despite Geelong’s heroics in overcoming Collingwood by 5 goals in the first semi final, and Carlton by 29 points, after trailing by 39 points at half time, in the preliminary final, Richmond’s pre-finals favouritism was undiminished in most pundits’ eyes on the eve of the grand final. In fact, the Tigers were probably the “hottest favourites since Melbourne in 1958”, with that status if anything reaffirmed by the decision of prominent media identity Lou Richards, renowned for his ‘kiss of death’ predictions, to publicly and confidently back the Cats. At quarter time, it seemed that Richards may in fact have been preternaturally astute, as Geelong, despite kicking into the breeze, was only 6 points in arrears, having played well. However, in the second term Richmond, with centreman Bill Barrot in impeccable touch, assumed almost complete control to jump out to a 16 point advantage, which only waywardness in front of goal prevented from being much greater. Realising they had been let off the hook perhaps, the Cats raced out of the blocks after half time to snatch three quick goals, and the lead, by the seven minute mark of the third quarter. The scene was set for a rip roaring finale, with the last thirty minutes of the game being widely regarded as “one of the best quarters of brilliant football seen in a grand final”. Richmond began the last term 2 points to the good and quickly extended that margin to 8 points courtesy of a brilliantly snapped goal from Kevin Bartlett. Geelong, with Farmer and Goggin repeatedly combining to ensure first use of the ball, refused to concede, however, and a goal to Ryan followed by a succession of behinds put them in front by a point. Shortly afterwards, Richmond drew level, and thereafter, on no fewer than four occasions during the quarter, the scores were deadlocked.
There was an element of controversy, too. Midway through the quarter, with Geelong trailing by a point, Cats half forward John Sharrock chased a bouncing ball into the Geelong goal square and soccered it through the goals, only for the goal umpire to rule that the ball had already crossed the line when Sharrock’s boot connected with it. A slow motion review of this incident on video casts considerable doubt on the goal umpire’s decision, to say the least.
During the closing ten minutes of the match, Richmond played with greater cohesion and purpose, and goals to Ronaldson and Bartlett sealed a 9 point win. Richmond had been “unforgettable in winning and Geelong magnificent in losing”, while overall the game itself had been “a portent of 1970s-style football”.
On the individual front the year belonged to St Kilda rover Ross Smith, who “consistently turned in tireless roving displays” to run away with the Brownlow Medal. Smith, who had finally blossomed in 1967 after an inconsistent first six seasons in league football, polled 24 votes, 7 more than the runner-up, North Melbourne ’s Laurie Dwyer. Doug Wade of Geelong topped the goal kicking list, falling short of the magic ton by just 4 goals.
VFA Enjoys A Boom Year
The VFA enjoyed a remarkable year in 1967, with aggregate attendances of 472,000, and one of the most memorably dramatic, not to mention controversial, grand finals in history. On the face of it, the burgeoning crowds were something of a surprise, given that 1967 was the year that Channel 0 began its ‘live’ televising of VFA football. However, the fact that the majority of the Association’s first division games now took place on Sundays, when the VFL had no counter attractions on offer, almost certainly outweighed any negative impact of TV. Moreover, it is at least moderately feasible to suggest that a number of new patrons were enticed to try the ‘live’ product for themselves after first witnessing it on the small screen.
Both Association grand finals were played at new venues in 1967. The second division game at Coburg between Oakleigh and Geelong West, watched by 3,500 spectators, looked to be going the Roosters' way when they trailed by just 5 points at the last change, with use of the wind to come in the final quarter. However, the more experienced purple and golds, who had seemed to have an edge in pace all day, upped the ante in a frantic finish to the game to add 3.4 to 2.2 and win their first ever division two flag by 13 points.
It was in first division, however, in the grand final between Dandenong and Port Melbourne at Punt Road, that the real drama occurred. Watched by 17,000 spectators inside the ground, and numerous others on television, ultimately it was the fitter, more purposeful Dandenong side which prevailed, but not before Port Melbourne skipper Brian Buckley had threatened to lead his team-mates from the field during a tension-packed second term. Buckley was furious over what he perceived as the umpire's blatant favouritism toward the Redlegs, who up to that point in the match had been awarded no fewer than 26 free kicks compared to Port Melbourne's 11; moreover, he felt strongly that Borough ruckman John Peck had been so persistently and consistently victimised by the umpire - including being reported for foul and abusive language - that he ended up being effectively "umpired......out of the game".
Port Melbourne officials were eventually successful in persuading their team to resume play but a strong undercurrent of tension remained. Port Melbourne played strongly in the third quarter to be right back in the game at 'lemon time', but Dandenong then reassumed control to run out comfortable victors by 25 points. Ruckman Alan Morrow, rover David Keenan and half forwards Brian Hill and Ron Townsend were prime factors in the Redlegs' victory.
SANFL: Double Blues Go Back To Back
In the SANFL, the season produced a record aggregate attendance of 1,088,424, and numerous highlights, culminating in Sturt’s second consecutive premiership. The Double Blues were the dominant team for most of the season, winning 15 of their first 17 minor round matches before experiencing a perplexing slump in form. In round 18, they handed Woodville one of only three premiership points annexed by that club all year after scraping out a scratchy and unconvincing draw at Oval Avenue, and they followed this up with losses to fellow finalists Glenelg and North Adelaide (a photo from the North-Sturt match is shown above). The loss to North allowed the Roosters to claim the minor premiership, but Sturt’s emphatic 18.13 (121) to 10.17 (77) second semi final victory quickly made a nonsense of this ostensible classification. The Roosters’ disappointment was completed the following week when they lost a dour, low scoring preliminary final to Port Adelaide by 8 points.
For the third year in a row therefore the grand final pitted Fos Williams’ rugged, hard tackling, hyper-resilient Magpies against the well oiled, clockwork-like precision of Jack Oatey’s Blues. Sturt had won all three minor round encounters between the sides in 1967, and by relatively comfortable margins, but over the month or so prior to the grand final it had been Port Adelaide which, despite numerous injuries to key players, had arguably displayed the superior form, and for much of the grand final itself this pattern continued. With captain John Cahill in superb touch at centre, and winning rovers in Jeff Potter and Ross Haslam, the Magpies dominated the second and third quarters, only for poor kicking for goal to prevent their establishing a match-winning break. Port led 9.14 to 9.6 at the final change, but a series of positional moves made by Sturt coach Jack Oatey late in the third term was to have a decisive impact on the final outcome. Chief among these was the shifting of 1966 All Australian Rick Schoff, a burly, combative performer, onto Cahill. During the final quarter, Schoff became the dominant player on the ground, repeatedly driving the Double Blues forward, and although the Magpies stretched their lead to 16 points early in the term, once Schoff had got fully into his stride there was only ever going to be one winner. Over the final twenty minutes of the game, Sturt added 4.4, whilst keeping Port goalless, and for Magpies’ fans the season was epitomised by the sight of their cramp-ridden ‘captain courageous’ repeatedly being treated by trainers as the final siren approached.
Port Adelaide’s major consolation for its grand final loss came in the form of Trevor Obst’s unexpected but highly popular Magarey Medal win. The stolidly built but deceptively adroit and speedy Obst was the first permanent back pocket player to win South Australian football’s premier individual award. Tying with the Magpie defender on 18 votes, but being placed second on a countback, was North Adelaide's veteran high flyer Don Lindner, who also collected virtually all the major media awards for the season. Nicknamed ‘leaping Lindy’, the Rooster stalwart, who had achieved All Australian selection six years previously, was especially renowned for his prodigious, gravity-defying spring, but he also possessed a formidable football brain and was one of the best kicks in the North team. Thirty-one years later the SANFL decided to award retrospective Magarey Medals to all the players who had originally lost either on countback or on the casting vote of the league chairman, and so Lindner was belatedly accorded the honour many South Australian football fans of all persuasions felt he deserved.
One vote adrift of both Obst and Lindner came a first year player who would go on to carve out an even more auspicious reputation for himself. North Adelaide’s Barrie Robran gave notice that he possessed football ability of the highest order – some would call it genius – right from the opening minutes of his SANFL debut at Unley Oval against Sturt in round one 1967. Robran beat first Bob Shearman and later Paul Bagshaw that day in a best afield performance which had the watching media contingent groping for superlatives. At season’s end, there was unanimity in declaring Robran a champion in the making, with his “speed.....big spring and ‘magnetic’ hands” the central features of his play. Moreover, despite his 188 centimetre height and seemingly somewhat ungainly gait, he possessed “an uncanny ability to baulk, weave, side-step or back-turn his way out of trouble”  - attributes which, along with impeccable disposal skills on both sides of the body, and that rare champions’ ability of always seeming to have a surfeit of time available to accomplish exactly what he wanted, combined to make him, without doubt, one of South Australian football’s, and indeed the code’s, greatest ever exponents.
WANFL Attendance Records Broken
1967 was also a memorable and record breaking season across the Nullarbor, with an all time record aggregate of 960,169 spectators attending WANFL matches during the year, and Mal Atwell’s great Perth team, after a less than thoroughly convincing home and away series, emulating Sturt by clinching a second consecutive flag. Included in the season’s record aggregate attendance was an all time Perth home ground record of 19,541 who turned up at Lathlain Park for the meeting with East Perth on 13th May.
After being caught on the back foot somewhat by Perth’s dramatic emergence as a power in 1966, rival clubs ‘wised up’ to considerable effect during the minor round in 1967, with the Demons managing only 13 wins for the year, just 2 more than fifth placed Claremont. This total of wins was still good enough for second position on the ladder, however, as with the exception of minor premiers East Perth (won 17, lost 4) and wooden spooners Subiaco (3-18), all the clubs in the competition appeared fairly evenly matched. Once the finals started, of course, it was an entirely new ball game, with the Royals’ 16 extra premiership points counting for nothing whatsoever on second semi final day. Nevertheless, it was a tough, tightly contested match, with the result in doubt right until the end, and arguably only the Demons’ marginally greater steadiness under pressure, coupled with the urgently dynamic last quarter performance of their 1966 Tassie Medal winning rover Barry Cable, enabling them to squeeze over the line by 5 points. For the grand final a fortnight later against the same opponent Perth’s captain-coach Mal Atwell , normally a tenaciously combative full back, took the extraordinary step of placing himself at full forward, where he produced a stunning 6 goal performance that was probably the chief difference between the sides, and made him many pundits’ choice as best afield. (The Simpson Medal though went to Cable.) The Demons emerged victorious by 3 straight kicks after a much more free flowing match in which they again had to come from behind in the last quarter to win.
Just as in South Australia, voting in the premier individual award in Western Australian football, the Sandover Medal, finished with two players sharing pole position. However, unlike in the case of Obst and Lindner, Swan Districts rover Bill Walker and his Claremont counterpart John Parkinson could not be separated by means of a countback, and so both players received a Medal. In the case of the Walker, of course, this made it three in a row, an unprecedented achievement probably never to be repeated. If Barrie Robran’s genius has rightly been acknowledged by the AFL in recent years with his elevation to the status of ‘AFL Legend’, surely there are grounds for similar recognition in the case of arguably one of the two or three greatest rovers to have played the game since world war trwo. Exquisitely poised and skilled, Bill Walker was sufficiently solid of build not to be easily deflected from his target, be it ball or man, and his pace off the mark, as well as when running freely in the open, was formidable. In 1967, despite the fact that he was somewhat surprisingly beaten for his club’s fairest and best award by Peter Manning, he played arguably the finest football of his career, with his performance for Western Australia in the interstate clash with South Australia (reviewed below) regarded by many as ‘the game of his life’.
Burnie's West Park Hosts Football's Most Infamous 'No Game'
If you include the crowds for the TANFL-NTFA intrastate fixture, and the Tasmania-VFL interstate match, then aggregate attendances in the TANFL in 1967 exceeded the 300,000 mark for the third consecutive season. All told, 318,496 spectators attended TANFL matches, with the figure for league games (276,495) slightly up on the previous year.
The trend for clubs to appoint experienced coaches from interstate continued, with former Geelong vice-captain John Devine in charge at North Hobart, his erstwhile Geelong team mate John Watts, originally from East Perth, taking over the reins at Hobart, and Sandy Bay appointing former West Torrens player Ray Giblett. In addition, Clarence’s new coach John Bingley, who had commenced his league career with East Devonport, was back home in Tasmania after playing the last of just 8 VFL games with St Kilda in that club’s 1966 grand final victory over Collingwood.
John Devine’s North Hobart created history in 1967 by not only catapulting from bottom place on the ladder the previous season to a premiership, but by becoming the first club ever to win a grand final after qualifying for the finals in fourth spot. TANFL fans were treated to some memorably exciting finals matches in 1967, with North Hobart’s grinding 14 point grand final defeat of Glenorchy, astonishingly, the most one-sided. However, for real excitement the state premiership play off between North Hobart and NWFU premier Wynyard at Burnie's West Park would be difficult to surpass.
The match was tense and closely fought all afternoon, but the main drama was reserved for the dying moments. With just seconds left on the clock, Wynyard led by a single point when John Devine was awarded a free kick on the forward line. He promptly passed to full forward David Collins who marked 20 metres from goal, with the final siren sounding a split second later. He never got the chance to take his kick, however, as "in wild scenes of mob rule ..... the crowd swooped onto (the ground) ..... and the goal posts were removed from the North Hobart goal end."
Despite the best efforts of the police to restore order the last (and in all probability decisive) kick of the game was never taken leading to the TFL declaring the match void; Collins still has the ball. Wynyard coach John Coughlan laid down the gauntlet saying that his side would be prepared to take on North Hobart anywhere - "on the beach if we have to" - but the Robins refused, feeling that the crowd invasion had effectively prevented them from clinching a hard fought and justly earned victory.
VFL Teams Visit Canberra And Darwin
There was something of a Tasmanian flavour to the main event in the 1967 football season in Canberra, too, with Eastlake’s sequence of success stretching back to 1962 finally being brought to an end by a Manuka side captain-coached by former New Town (later, of course, re-named Glenorchy) and Devonport star Neil Conlan. Manuka defeated Eastlake in the grand final with surprising ease, winning by 32 points, 11.15 (81) to 6.13 (49).
Another highlight was the staging of an exhibition match between Fitzroy and North Melbourne during a VFL split round in July. The match, which was won by Fitzroy by 25 points, took place at Manuka Oval and attracted a new record Australian football crowd for the nation’s capital of 7,500.
As usual, the first major grand final of the year took place in Darwin where, for the second season in a row, St Mary's overcame the disappointment of a second semi final loss, this time against Darwin, to secure a comfortable win in the grand final a fortnight later. St Marys’ seventh senior flag was won by 22 points, 15.9 (99) to 11.11 (77).
October saw Gardens Oval playing host to two special promotional matches in which a Northern Territory combined side took on, first, VFL club Collingwood (losing by 19 points after leading by 15 points at half time), and then, three weeks later, a VFL ‘All Stars’ combination (losing by 69 points). The All Stars side, which was en route to Ireland where it would semi-miraculously reinvent itself as 'the Galahs', contained some of the biggest names in football at the time, including recent Richmond premiership players Royce Hart, who booted 7 goals, Roger Dean, and Paddy Guinane, together with Melbourne’s Hassa Mann, Carlton’s John Nicholls, and the South Melbourne pair of Bob Skilton and Stuart Magee. Small wonder the margin of victory was so great!
Topsy-Turvy Season On The Interstate Front
On the interstate front, the VFL reaffirmed the supremacy it had shown at the 1966 Hobart carnival by triumphing in all three of its encounters in 1967, although the game against South Australia in Adelaide was not won without a scare.
Failure to agree terms over broadcasting rights meant that there was no TV or radio coverage of Tasmania’s confrontation with what was effectively a second string VFL combination at North Hobart Oval on 17 June, and this may in part explain why a record crowd of 20,142 paid an average of 70 cents a head to watch the game at first hand. If the ultimate result was unsurprising, it was nevertheless an enthralling match. After a closely fought first half Victorian coach Norm Smith made what proved to be a match-winning move by shifting centre half forward Peter McKenna to the goal front, where he promptly exploded into life and was the main factor in the Vics adding 7.5 to 2.1 for the quarter to lead by 40 points at the last change. Although the home side fought back courageously in the final term, adding 4.8 to 0.3, there was never any real danger of the Victorians faltering. McKenna finished with 5 goals, while Essendon’s Barry Davis was the popular selection as best afield.
Meanwhile, on the same afternoon, the VFL’s first choice XVIII jumped out of the blocks against the hapless Western Australians at the MCG with an 8.5 to 3.2 opening term burst. Apart from the second quarter, when they more or less matched the Vics, the sandgropers were torn apart. Richmond’s Royce Hart, in his interstate debut, booted 7 goals for the victors, while former Melbourne player Bob Johnson, a somewhat controversial selection at full forward for Western Australia ahead of Phil Tierney and Austin Robertson, clearly relished the return to his old stamping ground by helping himself to 5 of his side’s 11 majors for the match. The VFL ultimately won by 53 points, 20.15 (135) to 11.16 (82), with centreman Bill Barrot giving spectators a preview of his grand final heroics with a stirring, best on ground performance.
A fortnight later the Vics travelled to Adelaide determined to avenge the 64 point loss sustained on their last visit there in 1965. In a fiercely contested game, South Australia, with Darryl Hicks in outstanding form on a wing, full back Ron Elleway keeping the dangerous Royce Hart quiet, and a winning centreman in Paul Bagshaw, led narrowly at every change by 5, 3 and 3 points, but in the closing stages the Victorians showed their class and experience by edging into the lead and staying there. Hawthorn's Des Meagher (who conclusively beat state debutant Barrie Robran), eventual Brownlow Medallist Ross Smith , and Western Australian import Denis Marshall were best in what was a fairly even all round display by the visitors. Finals scores were: VFL 11.19 (85); South Australia 11.13 (79).
The boot was on the other foot for the Western Australians when they followed their inept display at the MCG with an 80 point mauling of South Australia in front of a record crowd for a WA-SA match at Subiaco Oval of 36,129. As mentioned earlier, Bill Walker was at his irrepressible best for the home side, caring little whether the hit-outs were being won by the South Australian ruckman, as they were early on, or by his own team mates, as was increasingly the case the longer the match continued. Moreover, with full forward Austin Robertson being reasonably well contained by Ron Elleway, Walker very helpfully stepped into the breach by contributing a full forward’s tally of 6.3 himself. With numerous other players such as centreman Syd Jackson and Walker’s fellow rover Barry Cable also in blistering form the sandgropers “cut SA to ribbons with fast, accurate handball and stab passes” en route to a 20.19 (139) to 10.5 (65) triumph.
Among the minor states and territories the ACT took pride of place in 1967 courtesy of wins over New South Wales by 39 points in Canberra, and Queensland by 10 points in rain-soaked Brisbane. In the only other fixture, New South Wales overcame Queensland in Sydney by 15 points, in spite of some atrocious kicking for goal.
The 1967 season saw the tenth staging of the AAFC’s interstate carnival series, featuring the four major football states of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. Held at York Park in Launceston, the title was ultimately retained by Victoria, but only after a titanic tussle against the host state in the decisive match. At half time, Tasmania led 6.7 to 2.9, and at the final change still clung onto a 1 point advantage. The last term was evenly and vigorously contested, but whereas the Vics managed to snatch the odd major score, the Apple Islanders registered only behinds, leaving Victoria 21 points ahead at the final siren.
Beitzel Gives Birth To Galahs
Arguably the most significant representative football of 1967, however, took place on the other side of the globe – with a round ball. At season’s end Harry Beitzel, a former VFL umpire turned media personality and entrepreneur, embarked on an audacious, privately funded tour of North America and Ireland with a select group of VFL players whom he insisted the media refer to as ‘the Galahs’. The ostensible purpose of the tour was to achieve more widespread international exposure for Australian football, but the way Beitzel proposed to do this was bizarre to say the least, and arguably made the ‘Galahs’ tag all the more appropriate. Beitzel’s idea was for his team of ruggedly hardened VFL champions to take on the finest North American and Irish exponents of Gaelic football at their own game, a venture they handled with perhaps surprising, some indeed would say astonishing, success. Nevertheless, it is doubtful if the tour did anything at all to afford more widespread recognition to Australian football, and neither was it a resounding success financially. More than thirty years on, however, the regular ‘Combined Rules’ test matches between Ireland and Australia, which might logically be regarded as the bastard offspring of Beitzel’s original venture, have supplanted interstate football as the only significant representative outlet available to players at the game’s highest level. Of all the developments in 1967 which helped produce the impression that this was a seminal, watershed year, it is perhaps ironic that the one with arguably the most explicit direct impact on the modern game occurred not at the MCG, or Princes Park, or Subiaco Oval, but in front of 30,000 Guinness-stoked Irishmen at Croke Park, Dublin.
Grand final results - VFL: Richmond 16.18 (114) d. Geelong 15.15 (105); SANFL: Sturt 13.10 (88) d. Port Adelaide 10.17 (77); WANFL: Perth 18.12 (120) d. East Perth 15.12 (102); VFA: Division One - Dandenong 16.13 (109) d. Port Melbourne 12.12 (84); Division Two - Oakleigh 12.14 (86) d. Geelong West 11.7 (73); TANFL: North Hobart 11.12 (78) d. Glenorchy 8.16 (64); NTFA: East Launceston 9.12 (66) d. North Launceston 8.16 (64); NSWANFL: Newtown 9.16 (70) d. Western Suburbs 8.12 (60); NTFL: St Marys 15.9 (99) d. Darwin 11.11 (77); QAFL: Mayne 9.22 (76) d. Western Districts5.10 (40); NWFU: Wynyard 13.7 (85) d. Cooee 7.7 (49); CANFL: Manuka 11.15 (81) d. Eastlake 6.13 (49).
 South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 43.
 Notwithstanding which every grand final between 1964 and 1969 attracted attendances in excess of this figure.
 ‘Footy World’, 19/7/67, pages 1 and 7.
 ‘VFL Football Record’, 23/9/67, page 12.
 Ibid., page 1.
 Ibid, page 1. According to Luke, over the course of the 1967 season “rain fell on ten of the twenty playing days available by comparison with an average of three wet days per season over the past five years.” Moreover, “few of the remaining ten days could be considered ideal; overcast, windy and cold conditions attracted only the more spartan patrons”. On the question of the unevenness of playing standards, Luke alluded to “plans at present being prepared by the league to control the recruitment of players” which would “assist in levelling the standard” and “provide a more intense competition”.
 The Pioneers by Marc Fiddian, page 38.
 Champions Of Australia by Max Sayer, page 54.
 True Blue: The History Of The Sturt Football Club by John Lysikatos, page 202.
 From an article which originally appeared in the ‘Melbourne Sun’, and which was reprinted in part in ‘Footy World’, 21/6/67.
 Players were required to execute a range of kicks, and were assessed in terms of their accuracy, style and (with the exception of the stab pass) distance. The South Australian and Victorian representatives occupied the first two places in the competition every year, with the winners from 1968 to 1971 being: 1968 Bob Shearman (Sturt); 1969 Doug Wade (Geelong); 1970 Colin Tully (Collingwood); 1971 Bob Shearman (Sturt). The victorious player received the princely sum, for the time, of $1,000. Source: South Australian Football Record Yearbooks 1967-68-68-70-71.
 Not all South Australians and Western Australians were impressed by the VFL, many feeling that its sycophantically churlish infatuation with ‘pressure’ football often produced a spectacle which, in comparison to local manifestations of the game, was almost risibly unkempt. No doubt they would have agreed with Haydn Bunton senior’s assessment, ventured many years earlier, that “the play in other (non-Victorian) states is much more attractive to watch”, whereas in Victoria expediency overrode spectacle every time. (Source: The Sporting Globe Football Book 1946 pages 23-25.)
 Ibid., page 8.
 The Complete Book Of VFL Finals From 1897 To The Present by Graeme Atkinson, page 220.
 Fabulous Grand Finals of the Sixties (video).
 ‘VFL Football Record’, 24/9/77, page 11.
 Fabulous Grand Finals of the Sixties (video) and Atkinson, op cit., page 220.
 ‘The Melbourne Sun’, 25/9/67.
 The Winter Game: The Complete History Of Australian Football by Robert Pascoe, page 164.
 The Encyclopedia of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 413.
 Fiddian, op cit., page 42.
 Ibid., page 38.
 The Roar Of The Crowd: A History Of VFA Grand Finals by Marc Fiddian, page 95.
 Ibid., page 92.
 Ibid., pages 91-92.
 South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 43.
 Ibid., pages 29 and 31.
 Barrie Robran: the Man and His Football (video).
 South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 40.
 The Footballers by Geoff Christian, page 91.
 1989 West Australian Football Register, page 61.
 Ibid., page 90.
 A Century Of Tasmanian Football 1879-1979 by Ken Pinchin, page 111.
 Ibid., page 111, and Main and Holmesby, op cit., page 28.
 From 'The Examiner', and quoted in Never Say Die: The North Hobart Football Club - A History, page 75.
 Ibid., page 75.
 The National Game in the National Capital by Barbara Marshall, page 132.
 NTFL: A History of Australian Football in Darwin and the Northern Territory from 1916 to 1995 by David Lee and Michael Barfoot, page 54.
 Ibid., pages 134-5.
 ‘VFL Football Record’, 23/9/67, page 8.
 Ibid., page 8.
 'Footy World', 5/7/67, pages 1, 2, 3 and 6; 'VFL Football Record', 23/9/67, page 8; and South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 15.
 ‘Footy World’, 26/7/67, page 1.
 Marshall, op cit., page 132, and ‘New South Wales Australian Football League 1993 Annual Report and Balance Sheet’, page 73.
 ‘Queensland Australian Football League 27th Annual Report 1990’, page 33, and Marshall, op cit., page 132.
 ‘NSWAFL 1993 Annual Report and Balance Sheet’, page 73, and ‘QAFL 27th Annual Report 1990’, page 33.
VFL: Barassi’s Blues Come Good When it Matters
After all the hype and high expectation, Carlton's improvement under Ron Barassi was only very gradual. In both 1965 and 1966 the side won 10 matches and lost 8, finishing sixth on each occasion, with champion ruckman John Nicholls later reflecting that "he (Barassi) was still serving his coaching apprenticeship. He was very volatile, fiery and impatient and did not know how to handle men. But it all started to click in 1967.”
Carlton qualified for the finals in second place that year but lacked the big match know-how needed to capitalise. Richmond in the second semi final (by 40 points) and preliminary final opponents Geelong (by 29 points) gave Ron Barassi plenty to think about during the summer months but, as the 1968 season was to show, he was nothing if not a quick learner.
The longer the 1968 season wore on the clearer it became that the main obstacle in the way of Barassi's achieving his aim was Essendon. During the minor round the Bombers defeated Carlton in both meetings and went on to top the ladder a game and a half clear of the Blues, and firm favourites to take out their third flag of the decade.
Throughout his coaching career Barassi loved occupying the role of underdog and in the 1968 second semi final he and his players did so to perfection to overwhelm the favourites by 6 goals. For the re-match a fortnight later, played in a tricky cross wind in front of a grand final record attendance of 116,828, the Blues expected Essendon to provide a much tougher challenge, and so it proved. With both sides fumbling badly and kicking haphazardly in the difficult conditions goals were at a premium and the difference in scores seldom extended beyond a couple of kicks. Overall, however, Carlton always seemed to be just about in control, as a total of 21 scoring shots to 13 seemingly confirms. The Blues got considerable drive all day from wingmen Gary Crane and Ian Robertson, won the ruck contests through John Nicholls, and received positive contributions from half forward flanker Alex Jesaulenko, rover Adrian Gallagher, and 4 goal full forward Brian Kekovich, at only twenty-two playing what was to prove the last of just 34 VFL games before a serious back injury forced his retirement. Carlton eventually won the match by just 3 points, 7.14 (56) to 8.5 (53), in what remains the only occasion to date of a V/AFL grand final being won by a side scoring fewer goals than the runners-up.
A week later Carlton scored an easy 13.15 (93) to 6.20 (56) win over Sturt in Adelaide in a match confusingly billed as being for the 'Unofficial Championship of Australia'.
As has been intimated, for much of the 1968 season Essendon were the VFL’s dominant club. The Bombers topped the ladder after the minor round with 16 wins and a draw from their 22 matches. They were the only club in the competition to remain unbeaten all season at home, although in round nineteen St Kilda were a trifle unfortunate not to do better than draw. The second semi final loss to Carlton was a jolt back to reality, but Essendon recovered well by comfortably downing Geelong in the following week’s preliminary final. Many epected the Bombers to bounce back against Carlton in the grand final but it was not to be, Barassi’s Blues proving the better side on the day. Nevertheless, some Essendon players felt that the 1968 team, at its best, was stronger than both the 1962 and 1965 combinations.
In 1968, Geelong qualified for the finals for the sixth consecutive time, and in the first semi final the Cats produced an excellent display in overcoming St Kilda by 44 points, 19.13 (127) to 11.17 (83). They then played well for two quarters of their preliminary final clash with Essendon but managed just 1.7 to 4.15 after half time. Given that they were arguably the most consistent VFL team of the 1960s the Cats ought perhaps to have won more than just a solitary premiership.
St Kilda’s first semi final loss to Geelong was both disappointing and something of a surprise. When the two sides had met at Moorabbin the previous Saturday the Saints, needing a win to ensure finals participation, had triumphed comfortably, 16.14 (110) to 8.11 (59). Just as in politics, it seems, a week in football is a long time.
Despite having statistically the best attack in the league reigning premiers Richmond missed the finals by 2 points plus percentage. The Tigers won their last six home and away matches of the year but fourth placed St Kilda always just managed to stay ahead of them on the ladder.
For Hawthorn, sixth place represented an improvement on their showings in the previous three seasons which had produced a total of just 14 wins. Under 1961 premiership coach John Kennedy who had rejoined the club in 1967 the Hawks played a dynamic, muscular brand of football but they lacked the talent to trouble the top sides. Hawthorn managed 9 wins and a draw from their 20 matches but only one of their victories was against a side that finished above them on the premiership ladder. Arguably the highlight of Hawthorn’s season was their defeat of North Melbourne in the grand final of the VFL night competition. The Hawks won by 51 points, 16.15 (111) to 6.14 (50). Another noteworthy achievement was that of full forward Peter Hudson in kicking 125 goals to top the VFL goal kicking list.
For the first time since 1962 Collingwood failed to qualify for the finals. The Magpies won 9 matches, including victories over two finalists, Essendon at Victoria Park in round six and St Kilda at Moorabbin in fourteen. Otherwise, however, they lacked consistency.
Melbourne dropped from seventh in 1967 to eighth after winning just 8 matches. The Demons proved totally unable to trouble the top sides all season.
Much the same could be said of South Melbourne who managed just 6 wins and a draw to finish ninth. Rover Bob Skilton’s Brownlow Medal win - the third of his illustrious career - was all the more noteworthy given South’s generally dismal form. Few players have personified old fashioned 'G and D' to the same extent as Skilton. In 238 games with the Swans he never gave less than the optimum in terms of effort. It was the same story when he donned the VFL state jumper, as well as towards the end of his career when he fulfilled a boyhood dream in representing his beloved Port Melbourne.
One legacy of this attitude was the exceptional number of injuries - often several in the same game - sustained by Skilton during the course of his career. A more measurable legacy came in the shape of his three Brownlows and an incredible nine South Melbourne best and fairest awards. Skilton was a highly skilled, pre-eminently two-sided footballer in an era when ambidextrous players were still very much the exception to the rule. Roving to losing South Melbourne rucks for much of his career he turned this to his advantage by developing an unparalleled ability to anticipate the direction of the opposing ruckman's taps. By contrast, roving to the likes of John Schultz, 'Polly' Farmer and John Nicholls in interstate matches must have seemed the height of luxury.
Despite being a competition makeweight for the most part tenth placed Footscray could still raise their game on occasion as they proved with emphatic wins over eventual top four sides Geelong (by a massive 83 points) in round thirteen and Carlton (by 32 points) three weeks later. Both matches took placve at the Western Oval.
Eleventh placed Fitzroy were almost uniformly poor, although they did manage to down Collingwood by 29 points in round two at Princes Park, and only fell short by 7 points when the two sides met again in round thirteen. During the period between 1963 and 1968 the Lions were by some measure the league’s poorest performed team, finishing either bottom or second from bottom every season.
North Melbourne slumped to the wooden spoon in 1968 after managing to defeat only Footscray in round one, Fitzroy in round three and South Melbourne (away) in round eighteen.
The VFL competition in 1968 was extremely lopsided with 4 wins separating fifth placed Richmond from sixth placed Hawthorn.
The VFL representative side engaged in two interstate matches in 1968, defeating South Australia in Melbourne by 53 points, 14.9 (93) to 5.10 (40), and Western Australia in Perth by 9 points, 13.21 (99) to 13.12 (90).
VFA: Premierships for Bullants and Roosters
Preston won the VFA division one premiership for the firdt ever time by overcoming a spirited grand final challenge from Prahran. Scores were Preston 15.8 (98) defeated Prahran 12.12 (84).
In division two Geelong West took out the premiership by defeating Williamstown by 2 goals in a high scoring and high quality grand final. Final scores were Geelong West 20.15 (135); Williamstown 18.15 (123). It was the Roosters’ second division two flag.
The VFA took part in two interstate matches in 1968 and won both of them. They comfortably downed Canberra in Canberra, winning 21.16 (142) to 6.15 (51). Tasmania in Launceston proved a tougher proposition but the VFA side ultimately prevailed in a high scoring, crowd pleasing affair. Scores were VFA 19.15 (129) defeated Tasmania 18.8 (116).
SANFL: Hat Trick of Flags for Sturt
With only 2 losses (both to Port Adelaide) in the minor round and an emphatic victory in the grand final Sturt proved beyond any doubt that they were the best team in South Australia in 1968. The Double Blues comfortably topped the ladder before downing Port Adelaide by 13 points in the second semi final. A fortnight later they again faced Port on grand final day and after an even opening term won convincingly, 12.18 (90) to 9.9 (63). The victory gave the Double Blues their third consecutive premiership and their eighth in total.
Sturt centreman Bob Shearman won the Craven Filter National Champion kick award ahead of Greg Brown (VFL), Paul Vinar (Tasmania) and Reg Hampson (Western Australia).
Port Adelaide performed above expectations for most of the 1968 season but were comprehensively undone by Sturt in the grand final. It was widely maintained that the Magpies were weak in the ruck and across half forward and that the team in general was on the small side. However, they still managed to win 15 out of 20 minor round matches to finish second on the premiership ladder. Although beaten by Sturt in the second semi final the Magpies were by no means outclassed and in the following weeek’s preliminary final against North Adelaide they fought back from 19 points down at half time to win 13.15 (93) to 10.14 (74). By rights this ought to have infused the players with confidence ahead of the grand final re-match with the Double Blues but if so it had all but evaporated by half time with Sturt comfortably in the box seat.
For the third season in a row North Adelaide finished in third place. The Roosters began the season with 3 straight losses but then recovered to display some eye catching form in winning 8 of the next 9 and 13 of the next 15. There was no doubt that North had some highly accomplished players, most notably in the shape of 1968 Magarey Medallist Barrie Robran, but the team also had a soft underbelly which was cruelly exposed on a number of occasions during the year. The Roosters boasted too much experience and skill for West Adelaide in the first semi final which they won by 34 points, 11.19 (85) to 7.9 (51). As already mentioned, however, they buckled under Magpie pressure after half time of the preliminary final and went down by 19 points.
Under new coach Murray Weideman West Adelaide enjoyed a promising season which saw them finish the minor round with a 12-8 record after both starting and finishing the season well. It was the first time since 1963 that the Blood ’n Tars had qualified for the finals and if their lack of big match experience told against them in the first semi there nevertheless seemed good reason to look forward to 1969 with confidence.
After 15 home and away matches Glenelg looked to have a good chance of finishing in second place. However, that was when the wheels fell off. The Bays went on to lose their next 4 games at the hands of Centrals, North, South and West. Consequently, far from claiming the double chance the loss to West effectively cost Glenelg a place in the four as the two teams swapped places.
Sixth placed South endured an inconsistent season. At their best they could beat the likes of Port and West but conversely they were also on the end of some hidings, including one at the hands of lowly Central District.
West Torrens had another mediocre year. When on form the Eagles were good enough to beat final four teams West and North but generally speaking their form was indifferent. New coach Johnny Birt was probably their most damaging player and he duly won the Torrens best and fairest award twelve months after he had won Essendon’s.
The most noteworthy aspect of Central District’s otherwise disappointing season was club best and fairest award winner Robin Mulholland’s emergence as a player of real quality. Born in Belfast, Mulholland had only been playing Australian football since 1963. He would go on to represent South Australia as well as winning another Centrals best and fairest award.
Woodville showed marginal improvement by moving from last place in 1967 to ninth in 1968. The ‘Peckers won 4 matches, 2 each against Centrals and Norwood.
For the Redlegs the 1968 season was nothing short of calamitous as they slumped to their first wooden spoon since 1919. The departures of Haydn Bunton junior to Subiaco and Ron Kneebone to Whyalla proved difficult to cover, and worse was in store for 1969 as champion ruckman Bill Wedding announced his retirement.
WANFL: Demons Again Triumphant
The 1968 season saw Perth emphatically reassert their status as Western Australian football’s pre-eminent club. The Demons’ only defeats during the minor round came at the hands of East Perth in round eight and West Perth in round eleven. Opposed by West Perth in the second semi final Perth scored an impressive 27 point win. Grand final opposition was provided by East Perth for the third season running and once again the Demons proved too strong, winning 16.14 (110) to 13.8 (86). Champion rover Barry Cable won both the Sandover Medal (for the second time) and the Simpson Medal for best afield in the grand final.
East Perth won 13 of their 21 home and away matches to qualify for the finals in third place. The Royals then squeezed home by 3 points against Subiaco in the first semi final before downing West Perth by the same margin a fortnight later to move into the grand final. In what was the third straight premiership deciding match involving Perth and East Perth the Demons again proved too strong, winning in fact with rather more comfort than in either 1966 or 1967. That the Royals were a talented side can not be doubted, but the unfortunate truth - from an East Perth perspective - is that Perth were even more talented.
Losing grand finals was hard enough to bear, but Royals fans had also to cope with the disappointment of seeing one of the club’s greatest ever products, Graham 'Polly' Farmer, opting to join arch rivals West Perth when he returned to the west after a six year sojourn in the VFL. Farmer wanted to coach, and the Cardinals provided him with an opportunity to do so. Throughout the minor round it was all plain sailing, West Perth qualifying for the finals with an 18-3 win/loss record. Once there, however, all Farmer’s aspirations dissolved, and the Cardinals bowed out of premiership contention in 'straight sets'. Disagreeable though this undoubtedly was, it engendered a hunger in the West Perth camp that would soon bear fruit of the most desirable and satisfying kind.
Subiaco also had a new coach for 1968 in the shape of Haydn Bunton junior, who had been captain-coach of Norwood for the previous three seasons. Bunton was, of course, well known in Western Australia as he had steered Swan Districts to a hat trick of flags between 1961 and 1963. The magic touch had not deserted the Little Master either as he helped propel Subiaco, wooden spooners in 1967, to a finals berth, and ultimately to fourth place, in 1968. Indeed, with a little more luck and steadiness the Lions might have fared even better, but in the first semi final they succumbed to a vastly more experienced East Perth side by just 3 points. Lions full forward Austin Robertson junior kicked no fewer than 162 goals for the season, just 5 adrift of Bernie Naylor’s league record, to top the WANFL goal kicking list for the fourth time.
After the promise displayed in 1967 South Fremantle suffered a disappointing decline a year later and ended up in fifth spot, two wins and percentage behind fourth placed Subiaco. On a more pleasing note, the Bulldogs won all three Fremantle derbies (against East Fremantle) in 1968, and they achieved two wins out of three against grand finalists East Perth.
Sixth placed Claremont finished a long way off the pace in 1968 after managing just 7 wins. The pick of these was probably a 10 point triumph over East Perth at the Royals’ home ground of Perth Oval in round thirteen.
East Fremantle endured one of the worst seasons in the history of the club. They managed just 4 wins, the most noteworthy of which came in round five against East Perth at Perth Oval.
Swan Districts came in last for the first time since 1960, the year before the club’s semi-miraculous resuscitation under Haydn Bunton junior. The Swans only managed a solitary win, against East Fremantle by a single point, all season.
Other States and Territories
New Norfolk defeated North Hobart in the TANFL grand final. Scores were New Norfolk 14.13 (97); North Hobart 9.14 (68). The Eagles went on to claim their first - and ultimately only - state flag thanks a 13 point win against NTFA premiers Scottsdale.
In the NSWANFL Newtown went back to back with a resounding 22.11 (143) to 10.18 (78) grand final defeat of Western Suburbs. Eastern Suburbs and Southern Districts made up the final four.
Coorparoo won their fourth QAFL premiership, and the fourth of the 1960s. Opposed in the grand final by Mayne the Kangaroos won with some comfort, 18.17 (125) to 12.14 (86).
The CANFL grand final again featured Manuka and Eastlake, with Manuka repeating their 1967 success, albeit by the much narrower margin of a solitary point. Final scores were Manuka 9.16 (70) defeated Eastlake 10.9 (69). ANU finished third and Ainslie fourth.
In the NTFL Darwin achieved a slashing 7.10 (52) to 1.2 (8) grand final win over St Mary's. It was the Buffaloes’ fifteenth senior grade flag. Nightcliff came in third, Waratahs fourth and, for the sixth consecutive season, Wanderers finished fifth.
Australian Amateurs Again Too Strong in Section Two
Australian Amateurs again won the section two interstate carnival which took place this year in Canberra. In the semi finals they downed Queensland 20.18 (138) to 9.12 (66) while Canberra overcame New South Wales 15.16 (106) to 15.12 (102). Queensland then easily defeated New South Wales in the play off for third place. Scores were Queensland 20.13 (133); New South Wales 11.15 (81). In the final Australian Amateurs annihilated Canberra by 99 points, 19.19 (133) to 5.4 (34), proving that, in terms of football ability, the so called 'minor' football states and territories still lagged far behind Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Queensland also played a standalone interstate match in 1968 against New South Wales in Brisbane. Queensland won 20.25 (145) to 16.16 (112).
Grand final results - VFL: Richmond 16.18 (114) d. Geelong 15.15 (105); SANFL: Sturt 13.10 (88) d. Port Adelaide 10.17 (77); WANFL: Perth 18.12 (120) d. East Perth 15.12 (102); VFA: Division One - Dandenong 16.13 (109) d. Port Melbourne 12.12 (84); Division Two - Oakleigh 12.14 (86) d. Geelong West 11.7 (73); TANFL: North Hobart 11.12 (78) d. Glenorchy 8.16 (64); NTFA: East Launceston 9.12 (66) d. North Launceston 8.16 (64); NSWANFL: Newtown 9.16 (70) d. Western Suburbs 8.12 (60); NTFL: St Marys 15.9 (99) d. Darwin 11.11 (77); QAFL: Mayne 9.22 (76) d. Western Districts 5.10 (40); NWFU: Wynyard 13.7 (85) d. Cooee 7.7 (49); CANFL: Manuka 11.15 (81) d. Eastlake 6.13 (49).
 Big Nick by John Nicholls (with Ian Macdonald), page 34.
Big V’s Inexorable Triumph
The VFL again performed at a different and higher quality level than all the other teams at the 1969 Adelaide carnival. Only South Australia in the first half of the competition’s decisive match provided more than token opposition, but when the Big V lifted the intensity level after half time the croweaters wilted. The best game of the competition came on the first day when the host state met Western Australia and were pushed all the way before securing victory by a couple of straight kicks. The Tassie Medal for player of the series was jointly won by Western Australia’s Peter Eakins and South Australia’s Graham Molloy.
VFL: Tommy's Triumphant Tigers
The failure of teams to maintain standards the season after winning a flag - the so-called 'premiership hangover' - is so frequent an occurrence that it most definitely cannot merely be down to chance. Moreover, the fact that it is a well known tendency implies that the mere application of will power is not sufficient to counteract it. In any case, the fact is that, despite coach Tom Hafey's best efforts to ensure that his players remained fit, focused and hungry, in 1968 the Tigers missed the finals, while for much of the 1969 season it appeared probable that they would do the same. In the end, the battle for the fourth spot in the finals developed into a two way affair involving Hawthorn and Richmond, with the Tigers having improved immeasurably over the course of the second half of the season. When the two sides met at Hawthorn's home ground of Glenferrie in round eighteen it was a virtual elimination final, with the intensity and vigour of much of the play, not to mention the closeness of the scores, endorsing this. For much of the game it seemed likely that the Hawks, who appeared to be handling the big occasion nerves better, would prevail; they led at every change by 8, 13 and 2 points, but during the last term Richmond lifted the intensity level still further and ultimately got home by 9 points. Failure in either of the last two minor round matches of the season could still have caused the Tigers to miss the finals, but the players were in no mood to choke, and wins over Carlton by 29 points in a Princes Park 'shoot-out', and over Footscray by 90 points at the 'G', ultimately consolidated fourth place.
What followed in the first semi final meeting with Geelong was one of the most complete football performances imaginable. In front of a record crowd of 101,233 Richmond blitzed the Cats right from the opening bounce, accumulating a record semi final score of 25.17 (167), and winning by a record margin of 118 points. Had Geelong not had full forward Doug Wade in its line-up the result could have been even more embarrassing as Wade was responsible for 5 of the Cats' 7 goals for the match.
If ever a team chose precisely the right time to peak, it was Richmond in 1969. After a closely fought first half against Collingwood in the preliminary final, the Tigers duplicated their first semi final form in the third term when they added 5 goals to 1 to put the result beyond doubt. Ruckman Michael Green, who had been nineteenth man in Richmond's 1967 flag-winning side, played the best football of his career during the 1969 finals series, and was popularly listed as best afield in both the first semi final and preliminary final.
The Tigers' grand final opponents were Carlton, but fans hoping for a repeat of the spectacular goal feast of a month earlier were to be disappointed. Despite near perfect conditions, it proved to be a game in which defences - particularly the Richmond half back line of Strang, Burgin and Owen, and Carlton's key defensive duo of Lofts and Goold - held sway. After playing the better football up to half time to lead 6.5 (41) to 2.7 (19), the Tigers added a quick goal in the third term courtesy of John Northey and were beginning to look ominous. However, from that point until three quarter time, Carlton took control, adding 6 goals to 1 to head into the last quarter 4 points to the good. It was the nearest Richmond had come to playing poorly all September, but whatever Tom Hafey said during the three quarter time interval had an instantaneous and pronounced effect. The moment play was resumed:
the Tigers went furiously into the attack. The players were suddenly running, talking, calling to each other. They lifted across the ground. Bill Barrot took a remarkable mark and kicked an even more remarkable goal.
Richmond attacked the Carlton players with tremendous ferocity and Carlton wilted.
The Tigers' added 4.7 to the Blues' 2 behinds in the final term to win with a comfort that had looked beyond them at three quarter time. Ruckman Michael Green was again most people's choice as best for Richmond, with ruck-rover Michael Bowden, rover Kevin Bartlett, and the aforementioned half back trio of Geoff Strang, Graham Burgin and Ian Owen also prominent.
A fortnight later, Richmond claimed the title of 'unofficial' Australian champions after comprehensively thumping SANFL premier Sturt by 53 points on the Adelaide Oval. Royce Hart, who a week earlier had played 'on lease' for Glenelg in its loss to Sturt in the SANFL grand final, enjoyed emphatic vengeance as one of Richmond's best players.
Carlton were probably the most consistent side in the VFL in 1969 but succumbed on grand final day to a Richmond combination which peaked at just the right time. The Blues qualified for the finals in second place, behind Collingwood on percentage, with both teams winning 15 of their 20 home and away matches. In the second semi final Carlton comfortably overcame the Magpies in the end after a closely fought first half. Scores were Carlton 16.11 (107) defeated Collingwood 10.11 (71). A fortnight later, however, the Blues succumbed to the biggest disappointment it is possible to experience in football.
After finishing seventh in 1968 Collingwood climbed to third in 1969, but the Magpies’ straight sets exit from the finals was soul destroying. In both the second semi final against Carlton and the preliminary final clash with Richmond the ‘Pies kept in touch until half time only to be overwhelmed thereafter.
Geelong could still serve up a vibrant, highly skilful brand of football, and it would be grossly unfair to judge them solely on their performance in the first semi final. In the minor round the Cats achieved wins against eventual premiers Richmond and runners-up Carlton (twice). Full forward Doug Wade booted 127 goals to top the VFL goal kicking list for the third time.
Fifth placed Hawthorn won 13 out of 20 minor round games, the same number as Richmond. However, the Hawks’ percentage was much worse than the Tigers’, who displaced them in the four in round nineteen and stayed there. In the final wash-up the round eighteen clash between the two sides at Glenferrie was crucial, Richmond winning 13.21 (99) to 13.12 (90). Under their 1961 premiership coach John Kennedy the Hawks played an aggressive, all-action brand of footy which would soon bear fruit when it mattered most. In 1969 the Hawks won their second successive VFL night premiership thanks to a 10.17 (77) to 9.18 (72) defeat of Melbourne in the final.
Essendon dropped from second place in 1968 to sixth after winning just 10 games and drawing one. At their best the Bombers were a match for the competition’s top sides as they proved with wins over Richmond in round twelve and Geelong, at Kardinia Park, the following week. However, the side was inconsistent, and late season losses to eighth placed North Melbourne and eleventh placed Footscray effectively ended any hopes they might have had of competing in the major round.
St Kilda came seventh, their lowest finishing position since 1959. Darrel Baldock, who had returned home to Tasmania, was sorely missed. Like Essendon, the Saints were inconsistent, capable, for example, of losing at home to Fitzroy one week and winning away against Geelong the next.
Wooden spooners in 1968, North Melbourne rose four places on the premiership ladder in 1969. The ‘Roos were still a long way from being final four prospects, however, and many of their losses were by substantial amounts. Their most memorable victories both came away from home: in round three at the MCG they kicked straighter than Richmond and won by 5 points, 16.15 (111) to 13.28 (106); and in round seven they won by 8 points at Kardinia Park against Geelong.
South Melbourne won 7 matches to finish ninth for the third successive time. The Swans looked out of their depth against the top four but otherwise were capable of holding their own.
Tenth placed Fitzroy also managed 7 wins. It was the Lions’ highest finishing position since 1962. The undoubted highlight of the year for Fitzroy was the feat of veteran defender Kevin Murray in winning the Brownlow Medal. Never the most elegant or poised of footballers Kevin Murray did not let such trifling matters stand in the way of his effectiveness. With pace, good judgement, and a tremendous leap Murray was equally effective both in the backlines and on the ball. He was also an inspirational leader who skippered Fitzroy for eight seasons, captain-coached them in 1963 and 1964, and captain-coached East Perth in 1965 and 1966. Twice an All Australian (once with the VFL, once with Western Australia), Murray was a veritable stalwart of the interstate scene donning the Big V jumper 24 times and representing Western Australia on 6 occasions. He won his Brownlow at the age of thirty-one having previously finished second twice and third once and was no stranger to club awards either winning best and fairests at Fitzroy on an unprecedented nine occasions, plus once with the Royals.
Footscray, tenth in 1968, dropped one place on the premiership ladder in 1969. The Bulldogs’ best victory was achieved in round nine against Richmond at the Western Oval. A miserly crowd of 8,529 saw Footscray come from behind in the last quarter to win by 11 points, 8.13 (61) to 7.8 (50). Bulldogs captain-coach Ted Whitten played his 300th league game on Monday 7th April at Princes Park. The Bulldogs took on Fitzroy and celebrated Whitten’s milestone with a slashing win, 23.21 (159) to 15.13 (103). Scores were close until three quarter time but the Bulldogs came home with a wet sail kicking 8 last term goals to 2. Whitten now had former Essendon great Dick Reynolds’ all time record of 320 VFL games kin his sights.
Melbourne succumbed to the ultimate indignity of the wooden spoon in 1969, the club’s first for eighteen years. The Demons only managed three wins for the year, against Fitzroy in round eight, Footscray in round ten and, most noteworthy of all, Carlton by 7 points in round eighteen.
VFA: Bullants Go Back to Back
Preston won the VFA division one premiership for the second time in succession. Mind you, grand final opponents Dandenong provided the Bullants with a stern test, and the margin in the end was a mere 12 points. The match was played in wet conditions making clean use of the ball problematical but Preston managed this marginally better than Dandenong. Final scores were Preston 12.11 (83) defeated Dandenong 10.11 (71). Future Hawthorn premiership coach Alan Joyce played at full forward for the victors and kicked 2 vital last quarter goals.
Second division premiers were Williamstown who came from 9 points down at the last change to defeat Sunshine by 20 points, 15.14 (104) to 12.12 (84).
WANFL: Classy Cardinals Claim Top Prize
West Perth’s first season - 1968 - under the coaching of Graham 'Polly' Farmer had ended in disappointment after promising so much for so long. Nevertheless, in hindsight it is possible to surmise that the Cardinals were laying the foundations for a more concerted assault on the premiership in 1969. Under Farmer, West Perth developed a fast, open, play-on brand of football similar in style to that produced by Geelong in the VFL, or Sturt in South Australia. The club's training regime maximised physical fitness, endeavoured to habituate players to the sorts of psychological pressure and physical duress they could anticipate during matches, and inculcated in them the importance of making the best possible decision, from a range of alternatives, whenever they gained possession of the ball. As Farmer himself remarked, "My basis of football was to develop a natural habit, where people automatically responded in the correct manner. The first commitment is always to get the ball; it’s what you do with the ball after that that will decide how far you take it down the field. If there were five or six variables to make a play, they had to pick the right one ....... The basis of my training was always to give it to a footballer who was moving down the field. We were giving them the ball as they were moving down the field." 
Unlike in 1968, West Perth’s timing twelve months later could not have been bettered. Steady rather than spectacular during a minor round which produced 14 wins 5 losses and 2 draws, the Cardinals moved imposingly into top gear come September. West Perth put in a ruthless performance against flag favourites East Perth in front of a record second semi final crowd of 35,740. Cardinals captain-coach 'Polly' Farmer showed he harboured no sentimental feelings towards his old club as he comprehensively flattened Royals All Australian rover Keith Doncon, while John Wynne swiftly followed suit by dishing out similar treatment to Hans Verstegen. West Perth raced to a substantial early lead before coasting to victory by 26 points, 12.11 (83) to 7.15 (57).
For the grand final re-match between the sides, a record crowd of 51,385 crammed into Subiaco Oval, keenly anticipating further fireworks, only to be treated instead to a performance of untouchable virtuosity by the Cardinals, who did virtually as they pleased in racking up a 21.21 (147) to 10.14 (74) win. West Perth's final goal of the match exemplified both their superiority, and their Farmer-inspired style of play. Picking up the ball just ahead of left centre wing, Cardinals half forward flanker Stephen Smeath raced off towards goal. Despite looking as though he had only just learnt how to bounce the ball, he managed to do so successfully three times before cutting sharply in-field and snapping truly across his body from twenty metres out directly in front. It was reminiscent of Ray Gabelich's famous solo run and goal for Collingwood in the 1964 VFL grand final against Melbourne, except that it was executed at roughly three times the speed.
Bill Dempsey, whose parents had travelled down from Darwin to watch the match, fittingly won the Simpson Medal after marking virtually everything that came his way, while centreman Mel Whinnen, 7 goal full forward Laurie Richards, ruckman Norm Knell, wingman Alan Watling, and the captain-coach himself were among many other Cardinals players to shine.
In fairness to the Royals - and, it has to be said, to Perth - they were also capable of producing some eye-catching, decisive football. Unfortunately, however, the inspiration died out at precisely the wrong time - just as it had in 1966, 1967 and 1968. After losing the second semi final to West Perth the Royals seemed to be back on course when they comprehensively outplayed Perth by 46 points in the following week’s preliminary final. However, confronted in the grand final by a Cardinals team which played football decades ahead of its time East Perth had no answer. Consolation of a sort came in the form of a Sandover Medal win by sometimes controversial and always fiery captain-coach in waiting, Malcolm Brown.
Unusually, at least in the modern era, the 1969 grand final did not mark the end of the season for East Perth, as the club was involved in an historic trip to Delhi in India where it engaged in two exhibition matches against Subiaco, the first ever official Australian football matches to be played on the sub-continent. A total of approximately 8,000 spectators watched the two games.
Perth failed to qualify for the double chance only on percentage, and it is tempting to suggest that this might have robbed the side of a realistic chance of obtaining a fourth consecutive flag. It was an unexpected loss to Claremont in the last minor round fixture of the year which effectively scuppered the Demons’ chances. A hard fought 8 point win over Subiaco in the first semi final raised hopes, but a fired up East Perth in the preliminary final proved too formidable.
For the second season in succession Subiaco comfortably qualified for the finals but proved unable to progress. The side was good enough to defeat both West Perth and Perth (twice) during the minor round but failed narrowly to come up to scratch in the finals. Austin Robertson junior booted 114 goals to again top the WAFL goalkicking list.
East Fremantle improved two places on their 1968 showing to come fifth. However, with just 8 wins to their credit they finished a long way (4 wins) adrift of fourth placed Subiaco. Wins against top four sides in the shape of West Perth, Perth and Subiaco were counterbalanced by defeats at the hands of seventh placed Claremont, Swan Districts (sixth - twice) and South Fremantle (eighth).
After their profligate success during the first half of the decade Swan Districts again disappointed, managing just 6 wins from 21 fixtures. The Swans managed to defeat fourth placed Subiaco twice, but other than that proved unable to overcome a finalist.
Claremont’s decline continued as they slumped from sixth in 1968 to seventh this year. Only 5 wins and a draw were achieved with the best victory coming in the final round of the season when reigning premiers Perth were overcome by 40 points.
South Fremantle had a dismal season which produced just 5 wins. Bulldogs fans could have been forgiven for imagining it would be a long time before the team was capable of matching it with the cream of the competition. Such pessimism, however, would turn out to have been unwarranted.
SANFL: Record Breaking Sturt Come Good When it Matters
Sturt finished the 1969 minor round on 15 wins from 20 matches, 2 fewer than minor premier Glenelg. However, once again, when the finals got underway, the Blues proved capable of elevating their football to another plane. In the second semi final they outclassed the Bays to the tune of 38 points, 18.16 (124) to 11.20 (86), and a fortnight later they were even more convincing against the same opponents, winning by nearly 11 goals and accumulating a grand final record score in the process. Final scores were Sturt 24.15 (159) to Glenelg 13.16 (94), with half forward flanker John Tilbrook (4 goals), ruck rover Paul Bagshaw, full forward Malcolm Greenslade (who bagged a grand final record-equalling 9 goals), wingman Daryl Hicks, and back pocket Brenton Adcock best for the victorious Blues.
The only blot on a record-breaking season came with a 57 point loss against Richmond in the so-called 'Championship of Australia' clash the following week.
During the first half of the season Glenelg were without doubt the best team in the SANFL. The Bays won their first 11 matches, and only once - against Port Adelaide in round eight, when they edged home by 7 points - were they seriously challenged. Losses in 3 of their next 4 matches, however, showed that they were far from invincible. Nevertheless, Glenelg finished the season with 5 consecutive wins, including annihilations of South Adelaide, Central District and Norwood in their final 3 games. This meant that for the very first time in their history the Bays had clinched the minor premiership.
Unfortunately, as noted above, in the second semi final Glenelg proved incapable of maintaining a finals intensity level for the full two hours, and eventually went under by 38 points to a resurgent Sturt which had seemingly come good just at the right time. In the following week's preliminary final, however, the Bays tapped into a vein of form reminiscent of that which they had displayed during the first half of the year, and swept West Adelaide aside with ease by 53 points.
Pundits previewing the 1969 grand final were therefore confronted by a quandary: which was the 'real Glenelg'? Equally to the point, what impact would Royce Hart, who had been leased by the South Australian Tigers from their Victorian counterparts, have on the game? Perhaps predictably, the forecasters were divided, although on balance there were probably slightly more who sided with the preview writer in the grand final issue of the “SA Football Budget” in regarding the Double Blues' extra finals experience as the most likely decisive factor. Bill Sutherland, however, writing in "Footy World", was not entirely alone in predicting an upset:
I expect Glenelg to have reaped enough benefit from last Saturday's victory against West Adelaide to enable them to take their second League premiership.
I think that the Glenelg side is at least five goals better than recent Port Adelaide final sides. Bearing in mind that Sturt took three and a half quarters to get away from the Magpies last year ....... I think Glenelg will take this year's pennant.
To the immense disappointment of its hordes of success-starved supporters, Glenelg capitulated to both tension and the opposition, in more or less equal measure, in the 1969 grand final. Sturt won with almost embarrassing ease by 65 points, racking up a record grand final score in the process. Possibly the only minor bright spot to emerge for the Bays was the effort of 'Fred' Phillis in edging past Ken Farmer's thirty-three year old record for the most goals kicked by an individual in a season. Back in 1936, Farmer had booted 134 goals; Phillis' 5 in this match took his total for the year to 137. This achievement by Phillis apart, however, Marker, Hart, Terry Crabb, Chris Hunt and Kernahan were almost alone among the Glenelg players in putting in performances commensurate with their ability. 'King Kerley', who retired as a player after the game, clearly had his work cut out to transform Glenelg from also-rans into the genuine article.
A lack of strength in depth prevented West Adelaide from finishing higher than third, which nevertheless was an improvement of one place from the previous season. Most pundits expected the Blood ’n Tars to stumble at the first hurdle in the finals against an in-form West Torrens, but after surviving a torrid initial encounter, which ended in a draw, they won the replay comfortably. They could not cope with Glenelg’s dynamism, pace and power in the preliminary final, however.
After winning their last ten home and away games to clinch a major round berth, West Torrens were actually favoured in many quarters for the flag, but after throwing away a seemingly match-winning position against West Adelaide in the first semi final to allow the Blood 'n Tars to get up and draw the players seemed suddenly drained of self-belief. The old problem of vulnerability under pressure had resurfaced. Reviewing the match in the following Saturday's first semi final replay edition the “Budget” writer observed that:
West proved themselves real narks. Not only did they get up to draw, but they exposed a brittleness in Torrens which has not shown up since early in the season. When West applied the pressure in the third quarter, with weight and fire, Torrens did not like it. If they did, they did not show it on the scoreboard. Torrens kicked 8.3 in the first half, in a couple of bursts rather than from any sustained effort. But once the heat was on in the second half they kicked only 3.7, and acted as if they would have preferred (West captain-coach) Murray Weidemann (sic) to have gone home to Collingwood.
The replay saw West assume almost complete control after half time to win by 21 points. It is arguable that the West Torrens Football Club never properly recovered from this morale-sapping loss. Certainly, the club never again seriously challenged for South Australian football's top prize.
Fifth placed North Adelaide won the same number of minor round games - 13 - as in 1968, but this year it was not good enough to procure finals qualification. A last round loss to Sturt effectively deprived the Roosters of fourth spot which went to a West Torrens side which had been in sparkling form during the second half of the season. As had arguably been the case for most of the 1960s North lacked 'devil', something new coach Mike Patterson, formerly of Richmond in the VFL, would endeavour to instill.
Sixth place for Port Adelaide represented something of a disaster. Not since 1949 had the Magpies failed to contest the finals. The side relied too much on a nucleus of nine or so experienced players and it was also blighted by injuries.
Woodville won a club record 8 matches to finish seventh, which was also a record. The highlight of the season came in round nineteen with a thoroughly warranted 19 point victory over Sturt.
Just as in 1968 Central District won 4 games to finish eighth. The Bulldogs lacked strength in ruck and across half back, and too often failed to maintain pressure and urgency for a full game. Ric Vidovich, who had topped the SANFL goal kicking list in 1968, was sorely missed in 1969.
Norwood lacked experience, particularly in defence, with the result that they conceded more points than any other team. The club recognised that it was in a rebuilding phase and improvement was likely to be gradual rather than swift.
Peter Darley’s third and final season as captain-coach of South Adelaide saw the Panthers slump to their first wooden spoon since 1963. Internal friction at the club certainly did not help matters, and after wins in round two versus Norwood and round four against Centrals South failed to record another victory.
Tight Tussle in Tassie
The top four TANFL clubs were very evenly matched in 1969. North Hobart ultimately claimed the minor premiership after winning 15 of their 19 roster games. Second place went to Clarence. In the second semi final North Hobart thrashed the ‘Roos by 81 points, 24.10 (154) to 10.13 (73). A week earlier New Norfolk had won an absorbing tussle with Sandy Bay by the narrowest conceivable margin. Scores were New Norfolk 13.15 (93); Sandy Bay 13.14 (92). In the preliminary final Clarence bounced back with an emphatic 17.23 (125) to 11.7 (73) defeat of New Norfolk and they went into the grand final re-match with North Hobart with confidence significantly restored.
The grand final was held to be one of the best matches on record in the TANFL. Clarence lifted their game appreciably, and North Hobart had to be at their best to hold them off in a tense and fiercely fought final term. Ultimately, North prevailed by a couple of straight kicks, 19.15 (129) to 17.15 (117), giving coach John Devine his second flag in three seasons with the club.
North Hobart went on to win the state title in convincing fashion. In the preliminary final they overcame Darrel Baldock’s Latrobe by 25 points before annihilating Launceston 26.20 (176) to 6.13 (49) in the final. Their 127 point margin of victory was the second biggest in the history of the competition.
For the third season in a row Manuka downed Eastlake in the CANFL grand final. Scores were Manuka 11.13 (79) defeated Eastlake 9.5 (59). Ainslie and ANU made up the final four. Queanbeyan and Turner, which had spent the previous three seasons as a merged entity, separated once more and occupied last and second last places respectively.
Western Suburbs, runners up to Newtown in both 1967 and 1969, turned the tables on the Bloodstained Angels in the 1969 NSWANFL grand final with a 7 point triumph, 13.17 (95) to 12.16 (88). North Shore and Balmain finished third and fourth respectively.
Wilston Grange won their first QAFL premiership since 1955 and only their second ever. They accounted for Coorparoo in the grand final by 24 points, 12.10 (82) to 7.16 (58).
In the NTFL grand final Darwin defeated St Mary's, just as they had done a year earlier. Final scores were Darwin 16.13 (109) defeated St Mary's 9.13 (67). Nightcliff and Waratahs finished third and fourth respectively which left Wanderers in fifth and last place for the sixth consecutive time.
Grand final results - CoA: Richmond 15.27 (117) d. Sturt 9.10 (64); VFL: Richmond 12.13 (85) d. Carlton 8.12 (60); SANFL: Sturt 24.15 (159) d. Glenelg 13.16 (94); WANFL: West Perth 21.21 (147) d. East Perth 10.14 (74); VFA: Division One - Preston 12.11 (83) d. Dandenong10.11 (71); Division Two - Williamstown 15.14 (104) d. Sunshine 12.12 (84); TANFL: North Hobart 19.15 (129) d. Clarence 17.15 (117); NTFA: Launceston23.11 (149) d. East Launceston 16.9 (105); NSWANFL: Western Suburbs 13.17 (95) d. Newtown 12.16 (88); NTFL: Darwin 16.13 (109) d. St Marys 9.13 (67); QAFL: Wilston Grange 12.10 (72) d. Coorparoo 7.16 (58); NWFU: Latrobe 9.10 (64) d. Ulverstone 4.5 (29); CANFL: Manuka 11.13 (79) d. Eastlake9.5 (59); TSP: North Hobart 26.20 (176) d. Launceston 6.13 (49).
Adelaide Carnival results - VFL 23.21 (159) d. Tasmania 10.26 (86); South Australia 15.17 (107) d. Western Australia 14.11 (95); South Australia 21.22 (148) d. Tasmania 12.18 (90); VFL 21.18 (144) d. Western Australia 14.13 (97); Western Australia 28.24 (192) d. Tasmania 12.7 (79); VFL 15.11 (101) d. South Australia 8.9 (57)
 Tigerland by Brian Hansen, page 140.
 Polly Farmer: a Biography by Steve Hawke, page 270.
 Richmond centre half forward Hart, who was a National Serviceman, had been stationed in Adelaide during the 1969 season, and had been training with Glenelg under Kerley during the week. However, at weekends he would be flown across to Melbourne by Richmond in order to play in the VFL. A drawn game in the SANFL finals meant that the SA grand final would be played a week later than that in the VFL, and a somewhat controversial leasing arrangement was entered into whereby Hart, who had been a member of Richmond's grand final winning team the week before, could play alongside his season long training companions in a bid to make it two flags in two weeks.
 “South Australian Football Budget”, 4/10/69, page 6.
 “Footy World”, volume 3, number 27, 30/9/69, page 1.
 “SA Football Budget”, 13/9/69, page 2.
 The record margin was just 1 point more, established in 1922 by Cananore who defeated City of Launceston 28.22 (190) to 9.8 (62).