Vics Back in the Box Seat
Following the significant financial loss incurred by the Western Australian National Football League over the staging of the 1979 carnival it was only after the procurement of a solid sponsorship deal that the 1980 championships went ahead. In the event, this proved to be a wise move as the 1980 carnival, which just as in 1979 took place at the end of the season, was poorly patronised, with an overall aggregate attendance of just 28,258 (337 spectators fewer than turned up for the SA-WA inter-league clash on 14th June).
On a more positive note, the quality of the football on display was arguably as high as had ever been witnessed in the history of the game. South Australia played brilliant, effervescent football to outclass Tasmania by 89 points in the opening game, while by contrast the Victorians' 35 point defeat of Western Australia was a quintessential example of tough, resolute, 'pressure cooker' style football.
Tasmania fought hard against Western Australia in the third place final, only to lose in the end by 35 points. In the championship final, Victoria and South Australia staged a thrilling, electrifying tussle in which the result was in doubt until the closing moments, the Vics eventually squeezing home by 17 points. The consensus of opinion after the game appeared to be that the South Australians were capable of matching their opponents in every facet of the game except fitness.
Despite the unarguable fact that the football being produced was of unequalled excellence, it was clear that the public's appetite for an end of season competition was limited. Accordingly, when the interstate championship series resurfaced in 1983 it was as a mid season, round robin affair between the three main states, with state of origin criteria applying only to matches involving Victoria.
VFL: Tigers Trounce Magpies
Richmond’s two seasons under Barry Richardson had been somewhat disappointing, yielding fourth and seventh place finishes, and when Tony Jewell, a defender in the club's 1967 grand final win over Geelong, took over the coaching reins in 1979 initial indications were not good, as the side plummeted to eighth, its lowest position since 1964. The following year, however, everything miraculously clicked, the side comfortably qualified for the finals in third spot with a 16-5-1 record, and in trademark Richmond fashion it peaked at just the right time, sweeping into the grand final on the back of impressive wins over Carlton (by 42 points) and minor premiers Geelong (by 24 points).
On the face of it, the Tigers' route to the 1980 VFL flag had been smoothed somewhat by virtue of the fact that their grand final opposition was being provided by a Collingwood side which had not only had to scramble its way through from the elimination final, but whose players were confronted by the immense psychological hurdle of the 'Colliwobbles syndrome', which centred on the discomfiting fact that the Magpies had lost their last six grand finals, most recently to Carlton the previous year. Nevertheless, while the majority of pundits favoured a Richmond victory, few if any of them could possibly have imagined the scale of the massacre that was to unfurl before them on one of the blackest days in the history of the Collingwood Football Club, Saturday 27th September 1980.
Right from the outset, Richmond had too much pace, class and vigour for the Magpies. At quarter time, the Tigers led by 23 points; by half time it was a match-winning 43 points. (True, Collingwood had let slip a 44 point advantage against Carlton in the 1970 grand final, but such a capitulation was unimaginable for the club infused with the spirits of such as 'Captain Blood', 'Mopsy' Fraser, Stan Judkins, Percy Bentley, Roy Wright, Bill Morris, Kevin Sheedy and Royce Hart.) In the end, Richmond's margin of victory was a record-breaking 81 points, with Norm Smith Medallist Kevin Bartlett (7 goals) and centre half forward David Cloke (6) alone responsible for more than Collingwood's entire score. With ruckman Mark Lee, rovers Robert Wiley and Dale Weightman, centreman Geoff Raines and wingman Stephen Mount among many other Tigers to shine, Richmond's 23.21 (159) to 9.24 (78) success represented yet another high spot in the club's already supremely proud, illustrious history. Surely, as in the words of the song, 'things could only get better'?
Michael Roach began his senior career with Longford in the NTFA where he played mainly as a wingman. However, it was as a full forward with Richmond in the VFL, where he moved in 1977, that he made his name. Supremely powerful overhead, he kicked both straight and long, and was a key figure in Richmond's pre-eminence during the early 1980s. His best year in front of the sticks was 1980, when his club record tally of 112 goals was good enough to top the league list. He was the league's top goalkicker again in 1981 with 86 goals, and he headed Richmond's list no fewer than seven times (once jointly). After representing Tasmania at the 1979 Perth state of origin carnival, Roach achieved All Australian selection. He retired in 1989 after precisely 200 VFL games and 607 goals.
In 1980 Collingwood became the first VFL club to reach a grand final after finishing the minor round in fifth position on the ladder. Indeed, they were also the first team to progress from the elimination final to the flag decider. Doing so required the Magpies to succeed in three cut-throat finals matches in as many weeks, and two of the three were tough, tortuous affairs. Only against Carlton in the first semi final was victory achieved with conviction, Collingwood ultimately winning by 50 points, 22.20 (152) to 15.12 (102). It was a high quality encounter affording a sharp contrast in styles, with Collingwood favouring a long kicking game, and the Blues relying on crisp, precise short passing and handball.
The Carlton match was sandwiched between two more closely fought affairs, an 8 point elimination final defeat of North Melbourne, and a 4 point triumph over a fast finishing Geelong in the preliminary final. On grand final day, however, the Magpies simply did not have the legs to compete with Richmond and the Tigers won with ease. Almost any other club would have been relatively pleased with a season that culminated in a grand final appearance but from the Collingwood perspective it was yet another in a long list of failures stretching back two entire decades. For Magpies coach Tom Hafey the loss was especially galling as he had been at the helm at Richmond in 1967, 1969, 1973 and 1974 when the Tigers had won premierships. By contrast, during his time with the Magpies he would oversee grand final losses in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1981.
Geelong, who had finished sixth in 1979, won 5 more minor round matches in 1980 to capture the minor premiership. The Cats had the best defensive record in the competition but ultimately their finals inexperience cost them dear. In the second semi final they matched Richmond until half time but thereafter were distinctly second best with the Tigers winning by 24 points, 14.11 (95) to 11.5 (71). The preliminary final clash with Collingwood saw the Cats finish strongly only too succumb in the end by 4 points. At no stage of the match did Geelong lead, with the loss through injury of Malarkey in the first term and Hawkins at three quarter time arguably being the difference between defeat and victory.
Carlton finished the minor round with an identical 17-5 record to Geelong which was good enough to procure second place on the premiership ladder. However, again like the Cats they underperformed in the finals, losing by 42 points to Richmond in the qualifying final, and, as mentioned above, by 50 points to Collingwood in the first semi final.
For only the second time since 1973 North Melbourne failed to qualify for the grand final. The ‘Roos finished fourth after the home and away rounds and battled hard against a wayward Collingwood in the elimination final only to go down by 8 points. North did achieve premiership success of a sort in 1980, however, as they scored a 3 point win over Collingwood in the VFL night series grand final played at VFL Park. Scores were North Melbourne 8.9 (57) defeated Collingwood 7.12 (54) with a record crowd for a night match of 50,478 in attendance. A record thirty-four teams from all over Australia entered the night competition this year.
The season’s main surprise packets were South Melbourne who won 13 matches - 7 more than in 1979 - to finish a creditable sixth. Among their victories was a 9 goal thumping of eventual premiers Richmond in round twenty-two. The Swans also achieved victories during the season against Geelong, Collingwood and North Melbourne, all of whom eventually contested the finals.
Seventh placed Essendon and eighth placed Hawthorn both managed 10 wins, a return that was especially disappointing in the case of the Hawks who had won the premiership just two years earlier. The Bombers’ best win for the season came in round two when they overcame Richmond on the MCG by 7 points. Hawthorn’s most noteworthy triumph came at the expense of Carlton at Princes Park in round seven. The Hawks won by 2 points, 16.17 (113) to the Blues’ 14.27 (111).
The VFL in 1980 was a very lop-sided competition with the bottom four clubs - Melbourne (5-17), Footscray (5-17), St Kilda (4-16-2) and Fitzroy (4-17-1) - all finishing ‘way off the pace. Only Footscray had any real cause for celebration; their prolific key position forward Kelvin Templeton was the club’s sixth winner of the Brownlow Medal. (The key points in Templeton’s career are summarised in the review of the 1978 season.)
SANFL: Port Go Back to Back
Port Adelaide’s 1980 premiership winning combination was, by common consent, one of the greatest in the club’s illustrious history. The Magpies won 19 and drew 1 of their 22 minor round matches and finished with an outstanding 65.31 percentage, the second highest in league history. Ten of the team’s wins were by margins of 90 points or greater and in round three against Woodville they posted a club record tally of 37.21 (243). The ‘Peckers managed 13.4 (82). The Magpies also became the first team in SANFL history to post in excess of 3,000 points during the minor round.
When the finals got underway Port’s dominance showed no signs of abating. In the second semi final they managed to shake off the challenge of Sturt by midway through the second quarter and went on to procure a seemingly effortless victory by 53 points, 24.10 (154) to 15.11 (101). This put the Magpies straight into the grand final where, somewhat surprisingly, they would be opposed by a Norwood side which had only qualified for the finals in fifth place but then scored fighting wins against West Torrens in the elimination final, Glenelg in the first semi, and Sturt in the preliminary final. In the grand final the Redlegs more than matched Port for three quarters before ultimately succumbing by 18 points. It was far from the Magpies’ best performance of the season, but that scarcely mattered as a win by any margin in a grand final provides exactly the same reward: a premiership.
The SANFL Annual Report eulogised about the Magpies:
It was not …… their number of wins but the manner in which they went about them which raised comparisons with the great teams of the past.
……. their grace, individual flair and imagination besides the precision of their movements enraptured the South Australian football public.
It is arguable that no other team but Norwood would have been capable of running the Magpies so close when it really mattered. The rivalry between the Redlegs and Port was one of the fiercest in Australian sport and dated back more than a century. During the late 1960s when Norwood were struggling they would almost invariably pull out all the stops when facing Port, belying their lowly ladder position. In 1980 they only qualified for the finals in fifth position but this was deceptive. During the first half of the season the Redlegs were beset by injuries to key players and as a consequence struggled. However, once the injured players returned to the fray there was a noticeable upswing in performance level resulting in 9 wins from the last 10 minor round matches. The Redlegs continued their improvement in the finals; one by one they overcame Torrens, Glenelg and Sturt to set up a grand final clash with the Magpies. Had the Redlegs been fresher they might conceivably have won, but a loss by just 3 goals was far from ignominious.
After failing to qualify for the finals in 1979 Sturt returned to the September fray and went very close to reaching what would have been their tenth grand final under the coaching of Jack Oatey. In their preliminary final clash with Norwood the Double Blues went into the last change against Norwood with a 3 point advantage but the Redlegs finished more strongly and ultimately got home by 16 points. Sturt were possibly the most inconsistent side in the competition, scoring at least 1 win against every opponent, but also losing to all bar Woodville.
Glenelg were magnificent during the 1980 minor round, winning 19 out of 22 matches, but they inexplicably fell apart in the finals. Against Sturt in the qualifying final the margin of defeat was only 29 points but this was deceptive as the Blues were comprehensively better almost everywhere. In the following week’s first semi final the Bays kept pace with Norwood until half time but thereafter were overrun. Thus, despite winning more matches than any other team in the competition bar Port Adelaide, Glenelg finished a somewhat inglorious fourth.
If, from the Bays’ perspective, fourth place was inglorious, fifth position represented a creditable achievement for West Torrens in that it was only the Eagles’ third finals appearance since 1969. Their elimination final loss at the hands of Norwood probably owed much to finals inexperience as the Eagles had comfortably won both minor round clashes between the two sides, by 46 points at Thebarton in round five, and by 32 points at Football Park in round fourteen. Torrens began the year in formidable form, winning their first 5 matches. They spent most of the season hanging on to third spot on the ladder only to slump to fourth after a final round which saw them go down to Glenelg and get leapfrogged on percentage by Sturt who annihilated West Adelaide by 123 points.
With seven rounds remaining Central District, who had an 8-7 record, looked to be likely finalists. However, the Bulldogs then suffered an inexplicable slump in form, losing all but one of their remaining fixtures to drop to sixth. Coach Darryl Hicks blamed this disappointment on a lack of key position players.
Seventh placed South Adelaide (8-14) and eighth placed North Adelaide (6-16) were both highly inconsistent. South managed to defeat both Norwood and Sturt during the minor round, but they also suffered quite a few ignominious defeats. The Roosters meanwhile managed to do likewise, but their worst was very poor indeed, as for example in their 122 point loss to Port in round nine, and their 52 point reversal against wooden spooners Woodville in round thirteen.
Ninth placed West Adelaide's best performance probably came in round four at Richmond Oval when they trounced Sturt to the tune of 96 points, 24.13 (157) to 7.19 (61). This was 1 of just 6 wins for the season, however, and the club responded by installing favourite son Neil Kerley as coach for 1981.
Woodville, who had qualified for their first ever finals series in 1979, slumped to a more accustomed last place finish a year later after managing just 4 wins, all at the expense of teams from the lower half of the premiership ladder. This was the 'Peckers' seventeenth season of league football and their fourth wooden spoon. They had also finished second from last seven times.
WAFL: Bulldogs Bounce Back
Although football in Western Australia in 1980 remained in a superficially healthy state, attracting considerable media attention and enormous crowds, the signs of an imminent decline were already visible. Each year, more and more prominent players elected to head east in order to participate in a competition which was beginning its transformation from a local, suburban concern to one with overtly national pretensions. That competition, of course, was the Victorian Football League, and its inimical effect on Western Australia's major football competition, which in 1980 dropped the word 'national' from its name to become simply the West Australian Football League, would end up being considerable. In 1980, however, there were still sufficient players of the very highest quality fronting up each Saturday afternoon on grounds like Fremantle Oval, Bassendean and Leederville to make the football on display the equal of that being played anywhere.
Proof of the quality of Western Australian football is easy to uncover: at the previous year's national state of origin carnival, for instance, the Western Australians, with a predominance of home based players, had conclusively defeated Victoria in the final to secure the championship. Further evidence came in 1980, when Claremont, which ultimately finished fourth in the WAFL, reached the semi finals of the VFL night series with wins over Geelong (by 5 points) and Hawthorn (by 32 points). The fact that Geelong went on to secure the VFL minor premiership in 1980 bears stark testimony to the quality of Claremont's football.
Equally impressively, in the same competition eventual WAFL premiers South Fremantle handed out a 23.19 (157) to 9.12 (66) hiding to reigning VFL premiers Carlton before bowing out by 39 points in the next round against Essendon in Melbourne. Had the game with the Bombers been played in the west, however, there is little doubt that a different result would have eventuated.
With teams of this calibre on their doorstep it is small wonder that Western Australian football fans turned out in record numbers to witness the opening round of the 1980 WAFL season. In a round which was split between Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, a total of 51,042 spectators paid to view some scintillating football, none more so than that provided by John Todd's Swan Districts, who laid down the gauntlet for the forthcoming season in style with a 111 point annihilation of 1979 premiers East Fremantle.
Swans it was who rapidly emerged as the team to beat in 1980, winning their first 13 games in succession before going under to virtually the only team which would prove to have their measure all year, South Fremantle. The Bulldogs, coached by former East Perth champion Mal Brown, finished the season just as impressively as Swan Districts had started it, winning their last 12 games in a row to qualify for the finals in second place, just 1 win behind the rampant Swans.
The second semi final between the two sides was tough and closely fought, with South Fremantle emerging winners by just 10 points. In the following week's preliminary final, Swan Districts emphasised the gap in class between the top two and the rest with a crushing 28.13 (181) to 15.15 (105) defeat of East Perth.
With both grand finalists favouring a skilful, free running style of football the scene was set for a classic encounter. Although flag favourites South Fremantle led 3-1 in head to head meetings between the sides during 1980, there was no doubt that Swans had both the necessary mental capacity, and the players, to overturn the odds. Among these players were: flamboyant full forward Simon Beasley, who had netted 82 goals during the qualifying rounds, and had already added a further 13 in his side's two finals to date; the classy Narkle brothers, Keith and Phil; tough, clever and tenacious on-baller Gerard Neesham; talented half forward Don Holmes; and smooth running defender Craig Holden.
South Fremantle, coached by a larger than life figure in the shape of 'Mad' Malcolm Brown, too possessed an abundance of talented individuals, most notably a scintillating quartet of aboriginals in the shape of 1980 Sandover Medallist Stephen Michael, live-wire wingman Benny Vigona, the dazzlingly skilful Maurice Rioli, and energetic and combative utility Basil Campbell. South's captain, Noel Carter, who had finished second to Michael in the 1980 Sandover count, gave the side considerable experience and know how, which was augmented by former Victorians in the shape of Derek Shaw (ex Collingwood) and Wayne Delmenico (ex Melbourne). In addition, the southerners' grand final team had been boosted by the return after a bout of glandular fever of an eighteen year old flame-haired prodigy called Brad Hardie, who would make a significant, if brief, contribution to the match, before going on to even greater things in future.
A crowd of 46,208 turned up for the grand final expecting a similarly close tussle to the second semi, but when the Bulldogs rattled up 8.7 to 1.5 in the second term the contest was effectively over. Live-wire South centreman Maurice Rioli won the Simpson Medal for best afield, while rover Noel Carter, centre half back Joe McKay, ruckman Stephen Michael, wingman Benny Vigona and centre half forward Wayne Delmenico were among the others to shine.
Somewhat surprisingly, the 1980 grand final represented the zenith of South Fremantle's achievements under Malcolm Brown who coached the side from 1978 to 1984. In 1981, the side again reached the grand final, but effectively kicked itself out of contention, registering 12.24 (96) to Claremont's 16.15 (111). Thereafter, however, with the exception of an unconsummated minor premiership in 1983, the Bulldogs returned to the fold.
Swan Districts, by contrast, would emerge as Western Australian football's dominant side of the early '80s, perfecting the pacy, tenacious run-on game which had been witnessed in embryonic form in the 1980 grand final, and winning three successive premierships between 1982 and 1984. The supreme irony from South Fremantle's point of view, of course, was that Swan Districts' mentor during this halcyon phase was former red and white legend John Todd.
As for Western Australian football itself, the decline brought about by player leakages to the VFL would rapidly accelerate, so that when the West Coast Eagles, containing a predominance of local players, entered the prototype national competition in 1987 it proved incapable of anything more than mid-table mediocrity. Had a composite Perth-based side been admitted to the VFL as early as 1980, however, it seems logical to assume, given the preponderance of local talent then available, that it would have challenged strongly for the premiership, a state of affairs which would not have gone down at all well with the VFL's parochially purblind authorities who, even at that point in time, were plotting an interstate expansion of their competition, one which would be undertaken in a spirit of unmitigated conquest and control rather than co-operation.
South Fremantle’s Stephen Michael had all the attributes of the complete footballer. His strength and prodigious springing ability meant that he could compete on more than equal terms with opposition ruckman, while his pace, poise and consummate ball skills enabled him to beat virtually any opponent at ground level. Added to these attributes was an astonishing consistency which saw him rarely fail to perform to standard.
Over the course of eleven seasons with South Stephen Michael played 243 games, and achieved virtually everything the game at the time had to offer. Sandover Medallist in 1980 and 1981 he also won a Tassie Medal and five club fairest and best awards. He was named in the 1983 All Australian team as captain, and was a prominent member of South Fremantle's 1980 premiership team.
Not surprisingly, Michael received a large number of offers to move to other clubs, with Geelong's approaches being especially persistent. In an era when the concept of loyalty was increasingly being undermined by the influx into the game, for the first time, of appreciable sums of money, Michael stayed faithful to the Bulldogs throughout his career.
An injury sustained in a shooting accident in October 1983 was to impede Michael over the remaining two seasons of his WAFL career, as well as his single season with Boulder City in 1986, and the odd game he played while coaching Collie side Mines Rovers during the early nineties. The best was over and, like another football great who resisted the overtures of VFL clubs, Barrie Robran, Michael's football career ended prematurely. For half a dozen seasons though, there were few who could match him.
Fast on the lead, strong in the air, and an accurate kick, Simon Beasley was one of the most effective full forwards of the 1980s. He first caught the eye at Swan Districts, where he topped the club's goal kicking list with 97 goals in 1980 and 119 the following year. He crossed to Footscray in 1982, just as Swans were about to embark on a sequence of three successive premierships. The Bulldogs, by contrast, never looked like winning a flag, but Beasley's heroics at the goal front ensured that the club was often in the headlines. In 154 VFL games between 1982 and 1989 he booted a club record 575 goals, heading the league ladder with 105 goals in 1985, and topping Footscray's list every season except his last. On three occasions he booted 12 goals in a match, with his success being attributable more to persistence and determination than any innate natural ability. He played 4 interstate matches for Western Australia, booting 9 goals. In 2002, Simon Beasley was chosen, one presumes almost automatically, at full forward in Western Bulldogs’ Team of the Century.
South Fremantle and Swans were head and shoulders above every other WAFL team in 1980. Swans emphasised this when they amassed 28.13 (181) against East Perth in the preliminary final - and this despite taking their foot off the accelerator in the last term. The Royals had earlier downed Claremont by 32 points in the first semi final after scores had been deadlocked at three quarter time. The Royals won just 11 minor round matches for the season and scraped into fourth place on the ladder ahead of West Perth only on percentage.
Claremont won 13 minor round games to qualify for the finals in third place, but the Tigers then wilted when it mattered against East Perth in the first semi final. The club was most definitely on an upward trajectory, however, engendered by players like ruckman Graham Moss, who won his fourth straight club fairest and best award in 1980, young centreman Steve Malaxos, the explosive Krakauer brothers, Phil and Jim, and dogged and courageous utility Wayne Blackwell. Moreover, as alluded to above, they achieved unprecedented success in the VFL's night competition.
West Perth went into their round twenty-one clash with arch rivals East Perth needing a big win to leapfrog the Royals and claim fourth spot on the ladder and a place in the finals. The Cardies ultimately won the match, but their victory margin of 30 points was nowhere near big enough to provide them with the necessary percentage boost. The 1980s would prove to be a predominantly bleak decade for West Perth who would only contest the finals three times and not finish higher than third.
Sixth placed Perth managed just 7 wins to finish a long way off the pace. Their best performances came against East Perth in rounds five and twelve when they won by 24 and 37 points.
Reigning premiers East Fremantle plummeted to seventh spot after winning just 5 of their 21 minor round games. There is no doubt that the club was heavily hit by injuries but such an alarming slump suggests there may also have been a prevailing attitude of complacency.
Wooden spooners Subiaco were competition easy beats for much of the season and only managed to defeat East Fremantle in round seven and West Perth in round fifteen. Many of their losses were hefty, and they conceded in excess of 3,000 points for the season. Better fortunes would not be long in arriving, however.
VFA: Borough Do It At the Death
Coburg dominated play against Port Melbourne for almost three and a half quarters of a low scoring 1980 VFA first division grand final. The Lions led at every change by 15, 17 and 17 points before eking out a 20 point advantage ten minutes into the final term. Then, inexplicably, Port found another gear. Stymied all day across half forward and well beaten in the air the Boroughs, to a man, lifted and seized the initiative. During the run-in Port booted 6 goals to 2 to win by 11 points, 11.15 (81) to 10.10 (70).
The second division grand final between Brunswick and Yarraville was a closely fought affair for two quarters, at which stage the Magpies led by 8 points. Thereafter, however, they dominated, and but for some wayward kicking for goal might have won by considerably more than their eventual victory margin of 49 points. It was the Magpies’ fifth VFA flag and their second in second division.
Other Grand Finals
In the TANFL Hobart won their eighth senior grade premiership when they accounted for Glenorchy in the grand final. Both sides had 23 scoring shots but Hobart won by 35 points, 14.9 (93) to 7.16 (58). In the north of the state premiership success was achieved by North Launceston (NTFA) and Penguin (NWFU).
The NSWAFL grand final was an extraordinarily one-sided affair with East Sydney running up a record score of 30.24 (204) in downing reigning premiers North Shore by 121 points.
Kedron won their seventh QAFL flag with a resounding 20.19 (139) to 13.13 (91) grand final victory over Coorparoo. It would prove to be the Lions’ last ever such premiership triumph.
For the second successive year Ainslie won the ACTAFL premiership. Opposed in the grand final by Manuka, they eased home by 49 points, 21.10 (136) to 12.15 (87). The Tricolours were unbeaten all year.
In the NTFL grand final Darwin scored a comfortable 12.11 (83) to 6.10 (46) defeat of North Darwin.
It was a particularly busy season on the interstate football front. In addition to the state of origin carnival (covered above) another eight interstate fixtures took place with all states and territories except for the Northern Territory taking part. Seven of these fixtures were inter-league affairs with the Victoria-Western Australia match in Melbourne being conducted under state of origin rules. Victoria won this game by 21 points, 18.15 (123) to 15.12 (102).
One of the biggest interstate football shocks of all time took place in Canberra where the ACT overcame a star-studded VFL combination, captained by 1978 Brownlow Medallist Malcolm Blight, by 13 points. Scores were ACT 13.17 (95) defeated VFL 11.16 (82).
Earlier in the year the ACT had taken on New South Wales in an Escort Cup match at Wagga. New South Wales won by 41 points, 17.10 (112) to 10.11 (71).
South Australia engaged in three fixtures in 1980, all at Football Park. All three matches were won fairly comfortably, against Queensland (margin 198 points), Western Australia (81 points) and the VFA (30 points).
Perhaps surprisingly, Queensland fared rather better against the VFL than they did against South Australia losing by 'just' 80 points. The match was played at Brisbane, which may have helped the Queenslanders a little, but it was nevertheless a meritorious performance which showed just how much the game in Queensland was improving.
Grand final results - VFL: Richmond 23.21 (159) d. Collingwood 9.24 (78); SANFL: Port Adelaide 11.15 (81) d. Norwood 9.9 (63); WAFL: South Fremantle 23.18 (156) d. Swan Districts 15.8 (98); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 11.15 (81) d. Coburg 10.10 (70); Division Two - Brunswick 20.27 (147) d. Yarraville 14.14 (98); TANFL: Hobart 14.9 (93) d. Glenorchy 7.16 (58); NTFA: North Launceston 15.13 (103) d. City-South 11.13 (79); NSWAFL: East Sydney 30.24 (204) d. North Shore 12.11 (83); NTFL: Darwin 12.11 (83) d. North Darwin 6.10 (46); QAFL: Kedron 20.19 (139) d. Coorparoo 13.13 (91); NWFU: Penguin 12.11 (83) d. Wynyard 11.5 (71); ACTAFL: Ainslie 21.10 (136) d. Manuka 12.15 (87).
Adelaide State of Origin Carnival results - Semi Finals: South Australia 22.18 (150) d. Tasmania 8.13 (61); Victoria 14.20 (104) d. Western Australia 9.15 (69); 3rd Place Play Off: Western Australia 17.23 (125) d. Tasmania 12.18 (90); Final: Victoria 15.12 (102) d. South Australia 12.13 (85)
 South Australian National Football League Annual Report 1980, page 2.
 For comparison, the three minor round clashes between the two sides had resulted in wins to Port by margins of 108, 90 and 55 points.
 At the end of the 1980 season, East Perth submitted an application to field a team in the VFL. In typically arrogant fashion, the VFL peremptorily declined the application, and returned it to the Royals without comment, clearly implying that the promulgation of any formal response on their part would be conferring a credibility on the application which it did not warrant - in other words, it was beneath their (imagined) dignity.
VFL: Parkin’s Blues Pummel Pies
After Carlton endured a disappointing finals fade out in 1980 club coach Perce Jones was not reappointed. The Blues committee decided that they needed a coach of proven pedigree to bring out the best in what was undoubtedly a highly talented squad. The man chosen was David Parkin who had piloted Hawthorn to a flag in 1978 after representing the club with distinction in 211 senior games. Parkin was viewed as a 'cerebral coach' with strong motivational qualities and his impact on the Blues was immediate and pronounced. In the opening round of the 1981 season Carlton thrashed reigning premiers Richmond by 10 goals at VFL Park and thereafter never looked back. After securing the minor premiership Carlton comfortably accounted for Geelong in the second semi final to the tune of 40 points and then scored an exhilarating come from behind victory over Collingwood in the 'big one'. With almost half an hour of the third quarter having elapsed Collingwood led by 21 points but then the renowned 'Collywobbles' struck with full force: the Blues kicked 6.7 to 0.2 over the remainder of the match to win with comparative comfort by 20 points. Ever reliable defender Bruce Doull was a popular winner of the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground, with fellow backmen Ken Hunter and Des English, wingman Phil Maylin, and ruckman and skipper Mike Fitzpatrick also prominent.
Long suffering Collingwood fans were once again the laughing stock of the VFL. For the seventh time in just over two decades the ‘Pies had qualified for the grand final, only to lose. Four of those losses came after the side had led late on, only to stumble, while in 1977 they had actually tied the grand final, after throwing away a significant three quarter time advantage. The replay, needless to say, was lost.
Collingwood qualified for the 1981 finals in second place, behind minor premiers Carlton only on percentage. Had they won their last home and away match against Fitzroy at Victoria Park they would have finished first, but the Lions, needing a victory to secure a top five place, won easily. As a consequence, the Magpies ended up playing four extremely tough finals matches compared to just a couple for Carlton, and it is at least arguable that this was a significant contributory factor to the Blues finishing the grand final full of running while the Collingwood players seemingly slowed to a crawl.
The Magpies would not again contest a grand final until 1990, when they would return to the winners’ rostrum for the first time in thirty-eight years, in the process finally laying to rest the 'Colliwobbles' myth that had haunted them for much of that time.
For the second successive season Geelong got to within a game of the grand final. The Cats performed well during the home and away rounds before overcoming Collingwood in the qualifying final by 14 points. However, although they battled hard for three quarters of their second semi final clash with Carlton they were ultimately overrun, going down by a 40 point margin that might even be said to have flattered them. In the following week’s preliminary final Geelong met Collingwood once more, but this time ‘round the Magpies proved to have their measure, edging home by 7 points after the Cats had been 4 points up at the last change.
Under the astute and often inspired coaching of Robert Walls Fitzroy were a genuine force to be reckoned with in 1981. The Lions won 14 of their 22 home and away matches to qualify for the finals in fifth position. In the elimination final they led all day before downing Essendon by 15 points, 16.13 (109) to 13.16 (94). The first semi final pitted them against Collingwood, with the Magpies sprinting out of the blocks to lead by 21 points at quarter time and 38 points at the main interval. The Lions then roared back to add 13 second half goals to 8 and fall short by the barest of margins. If ever the cliche 'neither side deserved to lose' was applicable it was to this match.
For the second time in three seasons Essendon qualified for the finals only to bow out at the first hurdle. Their opponents on both occasions were Fitzroy, victors on this occasion by 15 points after the Bombers had got to within a goal at the last change. A minor highlight of the season for Essendon was their 24 point defeat of Carlton in the night series grand final.
Sixth placed Hawthorn and seventh placed Richmond both missed out on finals participation by a single win plus percentage. The Hawks were in the top five as late as round twenty but a round twenty-one mauling at the hands of Collingwood effectively derailed their major round aspirations. Meanwhile the Tigers endured something of a fade out during the second half of the season after beginning promisingly. The key point in their season came in round seventeen against Fitzroy at the MCG. Despite scoring 7 first term goals to none the Tigers ended up losing by a point, a result which effectively ensured that it would be the Lions and not the Tigers who graced the 1981 VFL finals.
North Melbourne (10 wins) and South Melbourne (8) endured similarly indifferent seasons. The Kangas’ best performances were a 27 point defeat of Geelong at Arden Street in round three and a 53 point demolition of Fitzroy in round six. South by comparison were somewhat more predictable, with a 3 goal victory over Collingwood in round seventeen their only success against a top five side.
St Kilda achieved the same points total in 1981 as in 1980 but this time around it derived from 5 wins compared to 4 wins and 2 draws a year later. Some of the Saints’ losses were by gargantuan margins while their most noteworthy win was achieved at the expense of Fitzroy, by a margin of 40 points, in round eleven.
Eleventh placed Footscray finished a long way off the pace after managing just a couple of wins, against Essendon in round six and wooden spooners Melbourne seven rounds later. The Demons’ solitary success came by the narrowest conceivable margin at Footscray’s expense in round three.
The 1981 Brownlow Medal voting ended in a two way tie between Fitzroy’s Bernie Quinlan and Barry Round of South Melbourne.
A superb kick and powerful mark, Bernie 'Superboot' Quinlan was one of the VFL's most exciting, if unpredictable, key position forwards of the 1970s and '80s. A prodigious kick of the football, he was also a powerful mark, and had impressive pace for a big man. Beginning with Footscray in 1969 he played 178 games and kicked 239 for the Bulldogs before crossing to Fitzroy in 1978. In nine seasons with the Lions, Quinlan produced the best and most consistent form of his career, playing another 189 VFL games as well as adding 565 goals, including centuries in both 1983 and 1984. The highlight of his illustrious career came in 1981 when, aged thirty, he tied for the Brownlow Medal with South Melbourne's Barry Round, who ironically happened to be a close personal friend of Quinlan's. Few people were surprised when, in 2002, Bernie Quinlan was handed the pivotal centre half forward position in Fitzroy's official 'Team of the Twentieth Century'.
With a heart to match his colossal 193cm, 99kg frame it would seem reasonable to suppose that Barry Round was always destined to carve out an illustrious career for himself in his chosen sport. Nevertheless, for many of his 135 VFL games with Footscray between 1969 and 1975 he played second fiddle to the likes of Gary Dempsey, and it was not until he crossed to South Melbourne in 1976 that he truly hit his straps. Over the course of his 193 game, ten season stint with the Swans Round proved himself without peer as a ruckman, while for good measure he could hold down centre half forward with as much aplomb as anyone. A joint Brownlow Medallist in 1981, Round was captain of South when the club relocated to Sydney in 1982, and he rapidly became the Harbor City's most renowned and popular Australian footballer. Round won the Swans best and fairest award on two occasions and was a 'shoe-in' as first ruckman in the club's official 'Team of the Twentieth Century'.
The final phase of Barry Round's career took place in the VFA with Williamstown, where he established himself as one of the Association's premier draw-cards, winning the 1987 Liston Trophy, and captain-coaching the Seagulls to the 1990 flag. Emulating his feat with the Swans, he was chosen to lead the rucks in Williamstown's official 'Team of the Century'.
For the second season in succession Richmond’s Michael Roach was the VFL’s top goalkicker. Roach booted 86 goals.
WAFL: Free Scoring Tigers Triumph
In 1981 Claremont went on a scoring spree, accumulating an Australian record 3,352 points during the minor round, and in the process producing some of the most spectacular football ever seen in Western Australia. No fewer than five Claremont players managed 50 or more goals for the season, and for once the dazzling skills and formidable scoring did not abate when September arrived. The Tigers needed to play just two finals to secure the flag, downing Swan Districts by 27 points in the second semi, and edging out South Fremantle by 15 points in a free-flowing roller coaster of a grand final which saw the southerners effectively kick themselves out of contention with a 6.12 second term. Claremont's Gary Shaw, a Queenslander, won the Simpson Medal for best afield, with Graham Moss, Phil Krakouer and Steve Malaxos also prominent. A big crowd of 50,517 watched the match.
Claremont full forward Warren Ralph booted 127 goals in 1981, including 3 in the grand final, to head the WAFL list. Recruited from Floreat Amateurs he made his senior league debut with the Tigers in 1980 when he proved an especially potent force when weather conditions were clement. In wet weather, however, he could disappear. Ralph booted 87 goals in 1980 to finish second behind Simon Beasley of Swans in the WAFL goal kicking charts. He then went on to top those charts in 1981, 1982 with 115 goals and 1983 with 128 goals. Between 1984 and 1986 he played in the VFL with Carlton but enjoyed only sporadic success scoring 72 goals in 21 matches. Returning home to Claremont in 1987 he contributed 75 goals for the season to the Tigers’ barn-storming premiership triumph. A season with Glenelg in 1988 was much less noteworthy and he went back to Claremont for one final season the following year. The last of his 123 WAFL games was that season’s grand final in which the Tigers thrashed South Fremantle by 67 points.
While not quite as prolific in terms of scoring as Claremont South Fremantle did manage to amass the season’s highest score: 40.18 (258) at home to West Perth in round twenty-one. The Cardinals registered 12.6 (78). Third at the end of the minor round, South Freo came from 13 points behind at half time of their first semi final clash with East Perth to win by 40 points. They then comfortably accounted for Swan Districts in the preliminary final after producing an even better second half performance than a fortnight earlier. Trailing 8.5 to 8.9 at the main break the Bulldogs rattled on 20 goals to 7 over the remaining two quarters of the match to win 'pulling away' by 73 points. As intimated above, they ought really to have done better in the following week’s grand final but wayward kicking for goal ultimately cost them dear.
Stephen Michael of South Fremantle won his second successive Sandover Medal in 1981. He is profiled in the review of the 1980 season.
After performing consistently well for most of the season Swan Districts nosedived late on, losing their round twenty-one clash with Claremont by 15 points after leading for most of the match, and then bowing out of flag contention in successive weeks at the hands of Claremont and South. Swans’ time in the sun would not be long in arriving though.
Eleven wins from 21 matches was good enough for East Perth to qualify for the finals in fourth place. The Royals’ most profitable phase came between rounds fourteen and seventeen when, in succession, they accounted for East Fremantle away, Perth at home, West Perth away and South Fremantle at home. They were no match for South Fremantle in the first semi final though, ultimately succumbing by 40 points after leading by 11 points at the main break.
Fifth place with a 9-12 record was Subiaco’s best finish since 1974 but the Lions never really looked liked finals contenders. Their best win of the season occurred in round one when they overcame eventual premiers Claremont by 30 points, 22.21 (153) to 18.15 (123). It was one of only two defeats sustained by the Tigers all season.
West Perth managed 8 wins but some of their defeats were somewhat inglorious. In addition to the 180 point mauling at the hands of South Fremantle alluded to earlier the Cardinals lost to Swan Districts in round one by 75 points, in round nine by 95 points, and in round fifteen by 102 points, East Fremantle in round three by 74 points, Claremont in round five by 93 points and round nineteen by 144 points, and Subiaco by 94 points in round eighteen. On the other side of the ledger though they did manage an emphatic 178 point demolition of East Fremantle in round ten.
Seventh placed East Fremantle endured a horror season with their 5 wins all coming against lowly opposition. Wooden spooners Perth fared even worse, procuring just 3 victories, although to their credit one of these was achieved at the expense of eventual runners-up South Fremantle.
SANFL: Three Flags on the Bounce for Port
By the standards of recent seasons Port Adelaide’s performance in the 1981 minor round was unexceptional, but the Magpies came good when it counted. In actual fact Port probably shifted into top gear with five rounds of the home and away series remaining as they scored slashing wins in successive weeks over North Adelaide (by 54 points), South Adelaide (44 points), Sturt (49 points), West Torrens (119 points) and Norwood (46 points). These results set up a qualifying final clash with South in which the Magpies were consummately superior for the first three quarters before easing to victory by 41 points, 18.22 (130) to 12.17 (89). They continued their excellent form in the following week’s second semi final against Glenelg, leading at every change by 23, 60, 57 before ultimately prevailing by 54 points. The ease with which Port won was somewhat surprising given that the Bays had been by some measure the competition’s dominant force, winning 19 of their 22 minor round matches to procure the minor premiership with some comfort.
Glenelg’s loss meant that they had to front up to Norwood in the preliminary final, which somewhat contentiously was played on a Sunday. This meant that the victor would have just five days to prepare for a grand final clash with Port who would have had almost two full weeks of rest. Glenelg proved their pedigree by comprehensively outpointing the Redlegs, despite being kept completely scoreless in the third term, and indeed only scoring 1.6 after half time. Final scores were Glenelg 12.14 (86) defeated Norwood 4.7 (31).
It was widely expected that, notwithstanding possible leg weariness, Glenelg would give a much better account of themselves in the grand final than they had a fortnight earlier. However, it was not to be, with Port stamping their authority on the match right from the off and going into the quarter time huddle 35 points to the good. A fiercely contested second term saw the Magpies narrowly outscore the Bays to lead by 38 points at the main break before effectively sealing their triumph with a 4.4 to 0.1 third quarter. Glenelg scored a succession of late goals in the final term but it was very much a case of too little too late with the Magpies ultimately triumphing by 51 points, 14.11 (95) to 6.8 (44). Played at Football Park the match attracted a crowd of 52,659.
After qualifying for the finals in fourth place Norwood emerged from a high scoring elimination final clash with West Adelaide with a 33 points advantage. The Redlegs then ousted South from premiership contention with surprising ease, rattling on 7.8 to 0.1 in the opening term of the first semi final en route to a 19.19 (133) to 6.14 (50) triumph. After that, the Redlegs’ comparatively meek capitulation to Glenelg in the preliminary final came as just as much of a surprise. Norwood would come back stronger and wiser, however.
At his peak, Norwood's Michael Aish was among the finest South Australian footballers of his generation. His comparatively slight frame belied his extraordinary courage and a tremendous capacity for hard work, and he topped this off with a sublime range of skills that made him exhilarating to watch in full flight. A popular winner of the Magarey Medal as a twenty year old in 1981, he won Norwood's club champion award on four occasions, and was a member of Redlegs premiership teams in 1982 and 1984. During the course of his 307 game league career between 1979 and 1993 he resisted overtures from at least five different VFL clubs, content to eke out his trade in familiar surroundings. Captain of Norwood from 1987 to 1989, Aish also counted captaincy of his state, for which he played on 15 occasions, among his football achievements. A dual All Australian - the only Redlegs player to be so honoured - he was chosen as a ruck-rover in the club's official 'Team of the Twentieth Century'. He is the son of former Norwood captain Peter Aish.
West Adelaide qualified for the finals in fifth place, ahead of sixth team Sturt only on percentage. A resounding 20.14 (134) to 12.11 (83) defeat of high flying South Adelaide in round twenty-two clinched their place. The Bloods then suffered the unusual ignominy of registering 20 goals in a finals match and still losing. West led 12.6 to 11.6 at half time of their elimination final clash with Norwood but from that point onwards the Redlegs dominated, triumphing in the end by 33 points, 25.13 (163) to 20.10 (130). Despite their loss the Bloods had performed well in 1981 under the inspirational coaching of Neil Kerley, the man who had masterminded the club’s most recent premiership triumph twenty years earlier.
A superb come from behind win over Glenelg in round twenty-two was not enough to procure finals qualification for Sturt who ended up with an inferior percentage to West, with both sides boasting identical 11-10-1 records. The Double Blues trailed at every change by 7, 17 and 16 points before adding 9 last quarter goals to 4 to edge home by 13 points, 22.14 (146) to 20.13 (133). It was arguably Sturt’s best performance of an uneven season which started with a draw against Norwood, followed by victories over Port and South, before becoming riddled with inconsistency. Jack Oatey’s magnificent two decade tenure as Sturt’s coach was nearing its end and it might be fair to suggest that the club’s finest days were behind them, at least for the time being.
The same could certainly not be said of seventh placed Central District but Bulldogs supporters would still have to wait some time before their team embarked on a halcyon phase in their history. In 1981 they counted among their 11 wins dual defeats of both Norwood and West and one triumph over Port, while the converse side of the ledger included losses at the hands of Torrens, North and Woodville. So far, Bulldogs coach Daryl Hicks’ often quoted proclamation that the 1980s would prove to be 'The Decade of the Dogs' showed little sign of coming to fruition.
Eighth placed North Adelaide won 4 of their first 5 minor round matches but the Roosters managed only another 3 victories after that. For most of the season they, along with ninth team West Torrens (3 wins and a draw) and wooden spooners Woodville (3-19), were little more than chopping blocks for the league’s other teams.
VFA: Port Turn On The Style
Port Melbourne won their second successive VFA first division premiership in 1981 in the most resounding and spectacular way imaginable with a 32.19 (211) to 15.8 (98) grand final massacre of Preston. At half time the Boroughs only led by 5 points, 9.9 to 9.4, but they then produced an avalanche of goals to win with ridiculous ease. Apart from the second term, when they added 7 goals to Port’s 3, the Bullants, who made excessive and often frivolous use of handball, were overwhelmed.
The dominance of Port Melbourne in 1981 was emphasised by Vic Aanensen’s Liston Trophy win. An awesome amalgam of height (200cm), strength, aggression, mobility and skill, Aanensen should arguably have achieved even more than he did during the course of a twelve season, 169 game senior career with two clubs. He began that senior career with Port Melbourne in 1970, having progressed from the club's Thirds. In 1973 he crossed to South Melbourne where, over the course of the ensuing four seasons, he played 40 VFL games and kicked 30 goals, without ever really enhancing the reputation he had won in the VFA as a dominating ruckman of rare vitality and prowess. Returning to the Borough in 1977, Aanensen produced the best and most consistent football of his career, playing a key role in the club's 1977, 1980 and 1981 premiership wins. He also won club best and fairest awards on three occasions, and the Liston Trophy in 1979 and 1981. At the end of the 1982 season, however, while still capable of performing at his imperious best, he left Port Melbourne, and the VFA, for a life in the country at Sale. His comparative failure at VFL level means that he cannot be regarded as a bona fide champion, but he was undoubtedly one of Port Melbourne's favourite sons, a status confirmed in 2003 by his inclusion as second ruckman in the club's official 'Team of the Twentieth Century'.
In second division Camberwell won their second premiership in three seasons. Seemingly the side was out of its depth in first division but the creme de la creme of the lower tier. The Cobras were opposed in the grand final by Waverley who pushed them hard in the opening term before floundering. In the end Camberwell won by 32 points, 15.16 (106) to 11.8 (74).
Other States and Territories
The New South Wales Australian Football League was renamed the Sydney Football League with the premiership being won by East Sydney who comfortably overcame Newtown in the grand final. It was the Bulldogs’ second successive senior grade premiership. Another highlight was the feat of East Sydney full forward Peter Ruscuklic in kicking a competition record 213 goals for the season.
In the QAFL Windsor-Zillmere went top thanks to a comfortable grand final defeat of Kedron. It was the third time since the Windsor and Zillmere clubs had amalgamated in 1963 that the Eagles had won the premiership.
In Tasmania the premiers of the three major leagues were Clarence (TANFL), North Launceston (NTFA) and Devonport (NWFU).
The ACTAFL grand final saw Manuka, captain-coached by Brian Quade, score a hard fought victory over Ainslie. It was the club’s sixteenth and last senior grade premiership. The grand final was played at the league’s new headquarters of Philip Oval for the first time.
North Darwin Football Club first saw the light of day in 1971 and the club fronted up in the NTFL for the first time in the 1972/3 season. The club struggled for many years before breaking through for a first ever flag this year. In the grand final Wanderers were vanquished to the tune of a single straight kick after North had established a match-winning 52 point break by three quarter time. Less than a decade earlier the triumph would have been unimaginable.
Interstate Match Summaries
The only state of origin match of 1981 took place in Perth where Western Australia downed Victoria by 29 points, 16.23 (119) to 13.12 (90). Also in Perth, a WAFL combination trounced their South Australian counterparts by 87 points, 21.30 (156) to 10.9 (69).
VFL representative sides took on Tasmania in Hobart, winning by 98 points, and Queensland in Brisbane where their margin of victory was 115 points. Perhaps wary of being embarrassed once more, no match was scheduled with the ACT.
Two Escort Cup matches involving state representative sides were played, both of which were won by the ACT at the expense of New South Wales in Canberra and Tasmania in Hobart.
Grand final results - VFL: Carlton 12.20 (92) d. Collingwood 10.12 (72); SANFL: Port Adelaide 14.11 (95) d. Glenelg 6.8 (44); WAFL: Claremont 16.15 (111) d. South Fremantle 12.24 (96); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 32.19 (211) d. Preston 15.8 (98); Division Two - Camberwell 15.16 (106) d. Waverley 11.8 (74); TANFL: Clarence 15.23 (113) d. New Norfolk 13.10 (88); NTFA: North Launceston 14.21 (105) d. Launceston 12.8 (80); SFL: East Sydney 19.16 (130) d. Newtown 3.23 (41); NTFL: North Darwin 15.9 (99) d. Wanderers 14.9 (93); QAFL: Windsor-Zillmere 17.23 (125) d. Kedron 8.9 (57); NWFU: Devonport 13.9 (87) d. Penguin 10.12 (72); ACTAFL: Manuka 18.18 (126) d. Ainslie 15.14 (104).
VFL: Carlton Go Back to Back
The 1970s were a major period of transition for football, and in particular its most prestigious and elite platform for exposure, the Victorian Football League. Social and economic developments were having increasingly direct effects upon the on-field expression of the game. Clubs were, of necessity, becoming more professional, and this led to longer training hours for players, more meticulous planning on the part of coaches, and a corresponding improvement in the standard of the spectacle afforded by Australian football. Conversely, many clubs were over-stretching themselves in their attempts to compete as well as maintain and expand their profiles in an increasingly diverse and complex market.
The VFL management itself was acutely conscious of these developments and of the desirability of expanding so as to impact more on the national rather than just the state market. An interstate match between Victoria and South Australia was played for the SCG in 1974 in an attempt to raise the game's profile in New South Wales. Five years later a game for premiership points between the previous season's VFL grand finalists, Hawthorn and North Melbourne, drew 31,291 spectators to the same ground, while a succession of follow up games also proved popular.
Gradually, the school of thought was developing that, if the VFL was to continue to prove viable in an ever-expanding market, it had to establish a niche for itself in Australia's largest city, Sydney. Rumours of cash-strapped Fitzroy being offered financial incentives to re-locate to the Harbour City began to emerge.
In the end, however, it was South Melbourne and not the Lions who grasped, or who were more or less compelled to grasp, the nettle and, in 1981, after protracted and bitter internal wrangling involving officials, coaching staff, players and supporters, made an agreement with the VFL whereby, in 1982, they would play 11 matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The basic reason for the move was, predictably, economic, but its effects were much more widespread: many ardent followers of the sport of Australian football were lost to the code, while innumerable others were rendered bitter and cynical and lost all confidence in the league.
Initially, the move to Sydney was somewhat less than a full scale re-location. The players still lived and trained in Melbourne but travelled to Sydney every fortnight to play their 'home' matches. This may in part explain why the residents of the Harbour City appeared to have some difficulty identifying with 'their' new team, which for the 1982 season was labelled simply the Swans. Crowds were much lower than anticipated and sponsorship was proving unexpectedly difficult to procure. By the end of the year the club was more than $1.5 million in debt and, from a financial point of view, the move could justifiably be termed a disaster.
Shortly after Carlton’s 1981 premiership triumph club coach Parkin turned his thoughts to the problem which had beset Carlton sides for three quarters of a century: how to remain on top after getting there. "We can win another flag in 1982," he insisted, "but the application of everyone in Carlton, on and off the field, must surpass that of yesterday because the challenge of tomorrow will demand it".
The coach's words proved prophetic. In an evenly contested season the Blues finished the home and away rounds in third place before negotiating a tortuous route to the grand final which included a worryingly mediocre performance against Richmond in the second semi final. (Richmond won by 23 points.) A comfortable 13.16 (94) to 8.15 (63) preliminary final defeat of Hawthorn went some way toward restoring the players' confidence but Carlton still went into the grand final re-match with the Tigers as underdogs. Clearly thriving on the challenge, however, the Blues played inspirational football, and despite trailing briefly in both the second and third quarters managed to establish a 17 point break by the last change. Richmond then rallied to get within 5 points early in the final stanza and Carlton were forced to defend desperately for a period before Bosustow goaled to provide a bit of breathing space. Still Richmond would not give in, but the Blues' defence somehow managed to withstand everything that was hurled at it. When Alex Marcou kicked truly just before time-on the game was effectively won, while a further goal to McConville shortly afterwards made the final margin a trifle flattering. Norm Smith Medallist Maurice Rioli's last minute goal did nothing to alter the result but did at least make the final scoreline a truer reflection of the closeness of the game. Carlton won 14.19 (103) to 12.13 (85) with 107,537 people in attendance. Back pocket Val Perovic, half forward flanker Wayne Johnston - a perennially outstanding finals performer - ruckman Mike Fitzpatrick, rover Alex Marcou, wingman Wayne Harmes, and half back flanker Ken Hunter were among the Blues' best in an even team performance.
Richmond headed the premiership ladder at the conclusion of the minor round, but it is perhaps significant that 2 of their 4 losses came at the hands of Carlton. Nevertheless, when the two sides met in the second semi final it was Richmond all the way, and their ultimate advantage of 23 points scarcely reflected the scale of their dominance. This meant that the Tigers went into the grand final re-match between the clubs as odds-on favourites but, as described above, the Blues proved too strong. As so often proves to be the case the dominant team during the home and away rounds failed to come up with the goods when it mattered.
After three indifferent seasons Hawthorn, under the inspired coaching of Allan Jeans, were again flexing their muscles without really marking themselves out as a genuine premiership threat - yet. Second after the minor round, the Hawks began their finals campaign with a qualifying final clash with Carlton at the MCG before a somewhat disappointing crowd of 70,552. After an even first half the Blues pulled away to score an emphatic victory by 58 points, 25.13 (163) to 16.9 (105). The following week’s first semi final encounter with North Melbourne was also played at the MCG, and it too was poorly attended. Moreover, it proved to be a similar game to the qualifying final, albeit that it was Hawthorn who surged to victory after a closely fought first half. Final scores were Hawthorn 24.22 (166) defeated North 18.6 (114).
The preliminary final meeting of Hawthorn and Carlton at VFL Park proved to be the lowest scoring match of the finals but the Blues’ eventual triumph was no less emphatic for that. After another evenly contested first half Carlton rattled on 11 goals to 5 over the remaining two quarters to win by 31 points, 13.16 (94) to 8.15 (63). It had been a somewhat unkempt, staccato kind of game with both teams routinely conceding fifteen metre penalties in an attempt to disrupt the opposition’s flow but there could be no disputing Carlton’s right to progress to the grand final.
After finishing eighth in 1981 North Melbourne improved significantly to qualify for the finals in fifth place. Once there, they achieved a relatively comfortable elimination final victory over Essendon, leading all day en route to a 19.14 (128) to 16.19 (115) triumph. As mentioned above though Hawthorn in the first semi final proved much too strong and North’s finals foray was over.
The VFL’s top goal kicker in 1982 was North’s Malcolm Blight, who registered 103 goals. Blight’s career is summarised in the review of the 1978 football season.
For the third time in four seasons Essendon qualified for the finals only to stumble at the first hurdle. Elimination final opponents North Melbourne got the jump on Essendon with a 6 goals to 1 opening term but the Bombers refused to give in, and despite trailing at every change they fought back in the last quarter to level the scores at the half way mark. North, however, managed to shift up a gear, and they pulled away to prevail by 13 points. From an Essendon perspective, disappointing though the loss was, it provided a useful lesson in the demands of finals football to the likes of Tim Watson, Terry Daniher, Glen Hawker, Tony Buhagiar, Gary Foulds, Shane Heard, Paul Van der Haar, Roger Merrett and Simon Madden. It was a lesson that would be fully heeded in the imminent future.
Fitzroy made a genuine and audacious bid for finals involvement but ultimately fell a win and a draw short. Among their best performances came in their two clashes with Hawthorn. The Lions downed the Hawks by a couple of goals at Junction Oval in round seven and by 47 points in round seventeen at VFL Park.
Following their decision - one might call it an enforced decision - to play 11 home league matches at the SCG South Melbourne were renamed Swans. Under the new name the side proved hard to beat at home, and overall did rather better than in 1981 when they had managed just 8 wins and finished ninth. Swans ended up with a 12-10 record in 1982, good enough for seventh position, and 4 wins superior to eighth placed Melbourne. Crowds at the SCG averaged just 15,993, the lowest in the competition, and the club’s financial woes were by no means eradicated. Nevertheless there was some reason for celebration among Swans supporters as the team won the VFL’s night competition for the first time since 1960. In front of 20,028 spectators at VFL Park they accounted for North Melbourne in the competition final by 32 points, 13.12 (90) to 8.10 (58).
Melbourne managed 8 wins in 1982, a significant improvement over a 1981 season when a solitary victory consigned them to the wooden spoon. All of the Demons’ wins in 1982 came at the expense of non-finalists.
After failing to impress in 9 games over two seasons at Footscray Brian Wilson crossed to North Melbourne in 1980 and suddenly hit his straps. He played 39 games in two years with the 'Roos, but then was surprisingly off-loaded to Melbourne, where, playing in the centre, he promptly produced the best football of his career to win the Brownlow Medal. Thereafter, he never quite managed to recapture the same level of performance on a consistent basis, but he remained a serviceable footballer for the Demons in 154 VFL games over nine seasons. Later in his career he played a good deal of football as a specialist forward pocket, and his tally of 208 goals affords evidence that he was a success in the role. Wilson's last port of call was St Kilda for whom he played 7 games and kicked 16 goals in 1991.
One win adrift of Melbourne, in ninth place on the ladder, came an extraordinarily inconsistent Geelong. Moderately successful at home, the Cats were simply execrable on their travels. They opened the season with a slashing 88 point defeat of Collingwood at VFL Park but thereafter tended to blow cold far more often than hot. Nevertheless, in addition to their mauling of Collingwood the Cats did manage upset wins against North (twice) and Carlton.
After making the 1981 grand final Collingwood suffered a dramatic slump, plummeting down the list to tenth after winning just 4 games. In terms of matches won it was the Magpies’ worst season since world war two, worse even than 1976 when they had finished last.
Unlike Collingwood, eleventh placed St Kilda and twelfth placed Footscray were accustomed to performing dismally. The Saints, like the Magpies, won just 4 matches, and the Bulldogs 3. The last time Footscray had finished at the foot of the premiership ladder was in 1959.
WAFL: A Swans Surge
As reigning WAFL grand finalists Swan Districts qualified to participate in the VFL's night competition, the Escort Cup, in 1982, and they performed well to defeat Glenelg 21.14 (140) to 15.12 (102) and Collingwood 13.9 (87) to 11.11 (77) - away from home in both cases - to qualify for the quarter finals. However, when the competition's organisers, AFC Pty. Ltd., made an unscheduled change to the fixtures the Swans responded by sending a reserve team to Melbourne to contest the quarter final against Richmond. Not surprisingly, the Tigers advanced to the semi finals with some comfort, and from an objective standpoint the upshot of it all was that Swans ended up being debarred from entry to the competition until 1985. Subjectively, however, the upshot was rather more favourable: coach Todd used the incident to whip up a fervour and a resolve among his players that would not be satisfied by anything less than the 1982 WAFL premiership.
With 16 wins in the minor round Swans went into the finals second to Claremont on percentage but the fact that Claremont shared an emblem - the Tiger - with Richmond might just conceivably have made Todd's task of motivating his players that much easier. Swan Districts were seldom in any trouble against the Tigers in either the second semi final (won 14.26 to 12.10) or the grand final (won 18.19 to 11.12 in front of a crowd of 50,883) and duly recorded their fourth flag, and their first for almost two decades. Itinerant centreman Leon Baker vied with half back flanker Graham Melrose (Simpson Medal) for best afield honours, while full back Tom Mullooly, utility Alan Sidebottom, wingman Phil Narkle and rover Mike Richardson also shone.
Abundantly skilled, and with pace to burn, there have been few more exhilarating sights in football than that of Swan Districts' wingman Phil Narkle surging into the forward lines at full throttle. Sadly, he was prevented by injury from displaying the full scope of his virtuosity as frequently as he - and legions of football supporters, both in West Australia, and throughout the country - would have liked.
After winning the Medallists Medal for fairest and best in the WANFL colts competition in 1977, Narkle made his league debut with Swans the following year. His fleetness of foot, sure ball handling, and superb evasive ability immediately marked him out as a player with a big future, and over the next few years he became one of the bulwarks on which coach John Todd gradually constructed a champion side.
Always conspicuous owing to the helmet he wore after sustaining concussion five times in his debut season, Narkle caught the umpires' eyes repeatedly in 1982 to land the Sandover Medal. He was also among the best players afield in that year's grand final as Swans trounced Claremont.
After playing in a second successive premiership team the following year, Narkle headed east where he joined St Kilda. His first couple of seasons with the Saints saw his performances undermined by injury, but in his third and final season he played consistently well. The following year saw him back in the west with newly formed VFL club West Coast, for whom he would manage just 18 games in three injury impeded seasons. He did manage a memorable performance for West Australia, however, earning All Australian selection in 1987 after being close to best afield in a narrow home loss against the Victorians.
At his best, Phil Narkle was as scintillating to watch as any footballer of the past fifty years. Had recurrent injury problems not undermined his effectiveness just as he was approaching his peak, he might well be remembered today as one of the greatest wingmen of all time.
Claremont won 16 out of 21 home and away matches in 1982 to secure the minor premiership ahead of Swan Districts on percentage. The Tigers had won 2 out of 3 minor round clashes with Swans, but on second semi final day they were comprehensively outdone, with only some wayward kicking for goal by the victors preventing a massacre. Claremont bounced back a week later in the preliminary final when they accounted for West Perth by 38 points, 18.23 (131) to 15.13 (103), but in the grand final rematch with Swans the Tigers were again outgunned. In front of 50,883 spectators at Subiaco Oval Swan Districts led at every change by 20, 35 and 65 points before easing home by a 49 point margin.
Claremont full forward Warren Ralph booted 115 goals in 1982 to top the league’s goal kicking list for the second consecutive time. Ralph is profiled in the review of the 1981 season.
Third placed West Perth won 15 minor round games to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1978. The Cardinals then resoundingly accounted for arch rivals East Perth in the first semi final. Scores were West Perth 27.18 (180) defeated East Perth 16.16 (112), a margin of 68 points. However, in the preliminary final a fortnight later reigning premiers Claremont proved much too strong.
The Cardinals achieved some noteworthy wins in 1982 including a 10 point defeat of Claremont in round seven and a 62 point victory over Swans in round ten. They also amassed the season’s highest score of 30.15 (195) in disposing of South Fremantle by 113 points in round two.
East Perth clinched their place in the finals with a 25.15 (165) to 12.16 (88) round twenty-one defeat of Subiaco. This gave them 13 wins for the season, 1 more than achieved by South Fremantle who sustained defeat against Swan Districts on the same afternoon.
The WAFL was a somewhat lop-sided competition in 1982, with the top five sides substantially superior to the bottom three. That bottom three comprised East Fremantle (8 wins), Perth (3 wins) and Subiaco (1 win). The highlight of Old Easts’ season came in their opening fixture when they emerged triumphant from a titanic tussle with Swan Districts. In front of 9,338 spectators at Swans’ home ground of Bassendean Oval East Fremantle edged home by 7 points, 23.17 (155) to 20.28 (148). Other than a 2 goal defeat of West Perth in round five there were no further successes against sides from the top four.
Perth’s victories all came at the expense of Subiaco, in rounds two, nine and sixteen, while Subiaco’s solitary success was achieved in round seventeen against East Fremantle. A meagre crowd of 3,350 attended this fixture which was played at Subiaco Oval. Meanwhile, at Leederville, the match of the day between West Perth and Swans attracted 15,695 fans.
SANFL: Rise of the Redlegs
In 1982 the Norwood Football Club was incontrovertibly regarded as a member of what was widely perceived as South Australian football's 'Big Four’ along with Glenelg, Port Adelaide and Sturt. Between them these four clubs won every SANFL premiership between 1974 and 1982 and occupied 17 out of 18 grand final places, with the Redlegs' record during that period second only to Port Adelaide.
It had been Port Adelaide who stood in Norwood's way when the Redlegs, coached by former Richmond identity Neil Balme, had taken part in the 1980 grand final, and, despite a tenacious effort for three quarters by the men from the Parade, it was ultimately the Magpies who, on the strength of a dominant final term performance, prevailed.
It was to be a much different story in 1982. With Neil Balme still at the helm, and having qualified for the major round in third spot, Norwood enjoyed an uninterrupted procession to the flag with finals wins over Sturt (by 8 points), Port Adelaide (by 19 points) and, in an anti-climactic grand final, Glenelg (by 62 points). The encounter with the Tigers was closely fought for much of the first half but after the long break the Redlegs outscored their opponents 13.8 to 6.10. Garry McIntosh, a player who would develop into one of Norwood's greatest ever servants, was best afield in the grand final, with sterling support coming from Turbil, Jenkins, Neagle, Winter, Thiel and Stemper.
Glenelg’s defeat in the grand final might, in part, have been attributable to leg weariness. The Bays finished the minor round in fourth spot on the premiership ladder with 13 wins and a draw from their 22 home and away games and then embarked on a series of four gruelling finals over as many weeks. In the elimination final against Centrals they led at every change by 4, 35 and 45 points before easing to victory by 50 points, 19.21 (135) to 12.13 (85). The first semi final then pitted Glenelg against Sturt and once again the Bays led almost throughout en route to a 15.17 (107) to 9.18 (72) success. An even sterner challenge followed a week later in the preliminary final when the Bays faced minor premiers Port Adelaide who had won the recent round twenty-two clash between the sides by 7 goals. This time, however, Glenelg emerged triumphant, albeit that the Magpies’ accuracy when kicking for goal gave rise to a somewhat deceptively close finish - as close, in fact, as it is possible to get. Final scores were Glenelg 13.12 (90) defeated Port 14.5 (89). It was without doubt the highlight of the Bays’ season for, as mentioned above, when confronted by the exuberant pace and skill of a Norwood side who had peaked at exactly the right time, they competed reasonably well for the first quarter and a half and then wilted.
Glenelg did have one slight cause for celebration as they downed Port Adelaide by 13 points in the final of the SANFL’s night competition.
Dynamic, tireless, direct and pacy, Tony McGuinness was without doubt one of the finest rovers of the his day. If he had a weakness it was that he tended to be one-footed - the left - but what a foot it was, whether sending a daisy-cutter down a team mate's throat from a distance of twenty or thirty metres, or bisecting the uprights from a tight angle near the boundary on fifty.
McGuinness wasted no time in making his mark in top level football, winning a Magarey Medal with Glenelg in 1982 while still aged just eighteen. He won the Bays' best and fairest award the same year, and would later also reap the premier individual rewards at Footscray (1987) and Adelaide (1993).
The last of Tony McGuinness' 113 SANFL games with Glenelg was the 1985 grand final in which North Adelaide were despatched to the tune of 57 points. McGuinness' 2 goals in that match brought his career tally with the Tigers to precisely 200.
Between 1986 and 1990 he played a total of 109 V/AFL games for Footscray, amassing 108 goals. With the Crows from 1991 to 1996 he added a further 113 AFL games and 61 goals.
Tony McGuinness returned to Glenelg as non-playing coach from 1998 to 2000 but proved unable to resurrect the fortunes of the once proud member of the 'Big Four'..
Port Adelaide were aiming for a fourth successive flag in 1982 and they gave themselves the perfect platform to achieve it by heading the ladder going into the finals. However, what followed was as surprising as it was inexplicable: against Norwood in the second semi final the Magpies kicked themselves out of contention, managing 31 scoring shots to 25, but losing by 19 points. In the following week’s preliminary final the boot was, as it were, firmly on the other foot, with the ‘Pies getting within a point of Glenelg at the death despite having 8 fewer scoring shots.
For the third time in succession, and the fifth time in total, Port’s Tasmanian full forward Tim Evans topped the SANFL’s goal kicking list. He booted 125 goals.
In what was the last of Jack Oatey’s twenty-one season stint as coach of Sturt the Double Blues won 15 of their 22 minor round matches to qualify for the finals in third place. Against Norwood in the qualifying final they led by 13 points at the last change only to wilt when the pressure intensified in the final term and go down by 8 points. A week later in the first semi final against Glenelg the Double Blues were competitive until half time before being overrun, with the Bays adding 10 goals to 6 over the course of the final two quarters.
Central District qualified for the 1982 finals in fifth place and that was where, after going down to Glenelg in the elimination final by 50 points, they finished. This result represented a significant turnaround from when the two sides had met previously in round twenty at the Bay Oval. On that occasion Centrals had stormed home by 109 points, 30.18 (198) to 13.11 (89).
The Bulldogs in fact only just made the finals as they shared the same number of wins - 13 - as sixth placed West Adelaide. In round twenty-two Centrals put West Torrens conclusively to the sword, winning by 122 points, 32.13 (205) to 12.11 (83). Meanwhile West were on the wrong end of a hiding at the hands of Norwood and the combined effect of the two results was to enable the Bulldogs to leapfrog the Bloods on the strength of a marginal superiority in percentage. West supporters would not have long to wait before savouring success, however.
Eighth in 1981 North Adelaide rose one rung on the premiership ladder a year later and the Roosters of ’82 were a visibly improved force. Among their victims during the minor round were Sturt, Port Adelaide (by a whopping 79 points) and Glenelg, and they amassed a near club record tally of 32.24 (224) in trouncing West Torrens by 112 points in round twenty-one.
After contesting the finals, and finishing fourth, in 1981 South Adelaide dropped down the list to eighth. The Panthers’ best displays of the season arguably came in round two when the won a high scoring thriller against Glenelg by 4 points, round twelve when they defeated Norwood by 13 points, and round eighteen when they downed Sturt by 4 goals.
Ninth placed West Torrens won just 5 games in 1982 and the Eagles were on the wrong end of some enormous hidings. On no fewer than half a dozen occasions they conceded scores of 29 goals or more and things would not get better for the club any time soon.
For the third successive season Woodville ended up with the wooden spoon, and the team’s achievement of reaching the 1978 finals must have seemed like a distant memory to the newly christened Warriors' long suffering supporters.
VFA: Hat Trick of Flags for Borough
Port Melbourne claimed their third successive division one premiership when they accounted for Preston by 7 points in a pulsating, high scoring grand final. The Bullants went into the match as favourites having lost just twice all season, but the Borough played with conviction and purpose from the off and were well worth their win. The victors were best served by centreman Bill Swan, rover Brendan Kavanagh and centre half back Glen Robertson, while Preston’s best was their skipper Ray Shaw. The game, which was played at the Junction Oval, attracted a crowd of 20,732. Final scores were Port Melbourne 21.15 (141) defeated Preston 20.14 (134) after the Borough had led at every change by 9, 1 and 17 points.
In second division Northcote scored a thrilling come from behind grand final victory over Caulfield. Down by 5 goals at the main break, the Dragons left the oval seemingly dispirited and depressed only to return revitalised and add 7 third quarter goals to 2 to change ends for the last time a couple of points to the good. The final term was fiercely and evenly contested with Caulfield getting their noses in front at one stage only for Northcote to rally and edge home by 5 points, 12.15 (87) to 11.16 (82).
Runners-up in 1981 New Norfolk went one better this year when they accounted for Glenorchy in the TANFL grand final by 11 points. It was only the Eagles’ second senior grade premiership. Premiers of the NTFA were Scottsdale, who downed Launceston in the grand final by 41 points. Cooee went top in the NWFU thanks to a 10 point grand final defeat of Penguin.
In Sydney the premiership of the SFL was claimed by East Sydney who overcame Pennant Hills in a low scoring grand final by 3 goals straight. It was the Bulldogs’ third successive senior grade flag.
The QAFL title went to Mayne for the first time since 1973. It would prove to be their last ever QAFL senior grade flag. Opposed in the grand final by Morningside the Tigers won by 30 points.
Ainslie cruised to victory by 76 points against Eastlake in the ACTAFL grand final. It was the Tricolours’ third senior grade flag in four seasons and the twelfth in their history. They went through the entire 1982 season unbeaten to earn the rare title of 'champions'.
For the first time in twenty-four years the premiership of the NTFL was won by Wanderers who saw off the challenge of St Mary's in the grand final by the barest margin possible.
Interstate and Representative Football
A section two interstate carnival took place in 1982 involving Tasmania, the ACT, Queensland and New South Wales, who finished in that order. Somewhat contentiously the Tasmanians were given home advantage in all three of their matches which they duly won by margins of 37 points against the ACT, 45 points against New South Wales and 15 points against Queensland. Meanwhile the ACT downed Queensland in Canberra and New South Wales in Sydney, while Queensland thrashed New South Wales by 84 points in Brisbane.
Victoria engaged in two state of origin matches, overcoming South Australia by 12 points in Adelaide, and Western Australia by 23 points in Perth. South Australia and Western Australia faced one another twice at state league level with the home side winning on both occasions. In Adelaide, South Australia won by a record margin for matches against Western Australia of 116 points. Scores were South Australia 29.23 (197) defeated Western Australia 12.9 (81). A short while later, in Perth, Western Australia returned the compliment by winning almost as convincingly, 21.18 (144) to 8.5 (53), a margin of 91 points.
Grand final results - VFL: Carlton 14.19 (103) d. Richmond 12.13 (85); SANFL: Norwood 20.13 (133) d. Glenelg 9.17 (71); WAFL: Swan Districts 18.19 (127) d. Claremont 11.12 (78); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 21.15 (141) d. Preston 20.14 (134); Division Two - Northcote 12.15 (87) d. Caulfield 11.16 (82); TANFL: New Norfolk 13.9 (87) d. Glenorchy 11.10 (76); NTFA: Scottsdale 19.9 (123) d. Launceston 12.10 (82); SFL: East Sydney 8.8 (56) d. Pennant Hills 5.8 (38); NTFL: Wanderers 13.13 (91) d. St Marys 13.12 (90); QAFL: Mayne 18.17 (125) d. Morningside 14.11 (95); NWFU: Cooee 16.15 (111) d. Penguin 16.5 (101); ACTAFL: Ainslie 22.19 (151) d. Eastlake 11.9 (75).
 MCG attendances in the first week of the finals from 1979 to 1981 were: 1979 84,660; 1980 83,033; 1981 83,899.
 A total of 61,729 spectators attended the 1982 first semi final, significantly fewer than the 87,139, 94,451 and 85,133 who attended the equivalent match in each of the preceding three seasons. Whether or not anyone cared to admit it VFL football was losing its appeal. Some form of rebranding or reinvention was needed. South Melbourne’s relocation to Sydney was in some measure an attempt to begin to address this issue but, as noted above, it was not exactly a promising start.
Section two of the championships was also held, with Queensland triumphing. Full results were:
Grand Final results - VFL: Hawthorn 20.20 (140) d. Essendon 8.9 (57); SANFL: West Adelaide 21.16 (142) d. Sturt 16.12 (108); WAFL: Swan Districts 15.14 (104) d. Claremont 12.11 (83); VFA: Division One - Preston 14.10 (94) d. Geelong West 12.15 (87); Division Two - Springvale 17.9 (111) d. Brunswick 13.16 (94); TANFL: Glenorchy 28.19 (187) d. New Norfolk 14.11 (95); NTFA: North Launceston 14.14 (98) d. Longford 10.10 (70); SFL: East Sydney 18.23 (131) d. Balmain 15.3 (93); NTFL: Wanderers 14.8 (92) d. St Marys 12.9 (81); QAFL: Southport 13.12 (90) d. Morningside 12.7 (79); NWFU: Smithton 20.17 (137) d. Cooee 21.10 (136); ACTAFL: Ainslie 18.13 (121) d. Eastlake 13.11 (89).
 The Hard Way by Harry Gordon, page 190.
 Time and Space by James Coventry, page 246.
 Ibid, page 246.
 Quoted in True Blue: the History of the Sturt Football Club by John Lysikatos, page 255.
 Technically, following Don Lindner's retrospective elevation to the ranks of Magarey Medallists in 1998, Antrobus should now be regarded as the eleventh North Adelaide recipient of the award.
 North Adelaide's Greatest by the North Adelaide Football Club History Committee, page 14.
VFL: Revenge for Bombers
The anguish caused by their humiliating capitulation to Hawthorn in the 1983 grand final was still being acutely felt as preparations were made for a 1984 season in which amends were not merely sought but demanded. The only way to make such amends, needless to say, was to win a premiership, something which Essendon had now been unable to accomplish for the longest ever period in the club's senior history. A comprehensive victory over the Swans in the night grand final bolstered confidence, and this was further reinforced when, after winning 18 out of 22 home and away matches, the club secured pole position going into the finals. Confidence was damaged somewhat after an 8 point loss to Hawthorn in the second semi final, but the Dons had the minor consolation of having participated in a match which was widely regarded as a classic. As one football writer put it:
If the VFL wanted a game to get the adrenalin flowing and the crowds back then it was yesterday's memorable affair.
The adrenalin was certainly flowing in full measure a week later as Essendon proceeded to annihilate Collingwood by a VFL preliminary final record 133 points. Essendon's total of 28.6 (174) represented one of the most astonishing displays of accuracy in front of goal in senior Australian football history.
For three quarters the 1984 VFL grand final was a tight, torrid affair, with Essendon battling desperately to break the shackles of Hawthorn's vigorous, hard tackling, no-nonsense approach to the game. After Kevin Sheedy made a series of inspired positional changes at three quarter time, however, the floodgates opened, and the Bombers piled on 8.6 to 2.1 to win 'running away', 14.21 (105) to 12.9 (81). Bill Duckworth, who had been moved by Sheedy from full back to the forward lines during the last term, won the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground, while centreman Leon Baker, half forward Glenn Hawker, half back flanker Shane Heard, and back pocket and later centre half forward Paul Weston also shone.
Hawthorn did almost everything right during the 1984 season until the final quarter of the grand final. The Hawks beat Essendon in round two by a goal, in round twelve by 47 points, and in the second semi final by 8 points. They were then the better team against the Bombers for three quarters of the grand final, at the end of which they led 10.8 (68) to 5.15 (45). Then, inexplicably and uncharacteristically, they wilted under the pressure applied by Essendon all over the ground in the last term, conceding 9.6 whilst adding only 2.1 themselves. It was an ignominious end to what for so long looked like being another triumphant season.
Another team whose entire season was arguably summed up by a single match was Collingwood. Fourth after the minor round the Magpies then finished all over Fitzroy in the elimination final, winning by 46 points, 23.15 (153) to 15.17 (107). They then comfortably accounted for Carlton in the first semi final setting up a preliminary final clash with Essendon. The Bombers were favourites, thanks both to the facts that they had won 5 more minor round matches than Collingwood, and had already twice beaten the Magpies during the season. However, nobody could possibly have predicted the mauling that was in store for the Magpies who quite simply were overrun. By half time the Bombers already led by 14 goals, and they went on to claim a record breaking 133 point triumph, 28.6 (174) to 5.11 (41). The scars created by such an ignominious finals exit would take years to heal, and paradoxically it would be Essendon who would apply the healing salve.
Carlton produced consistently good football during the minor round but fell apart in the finals. The qualifying final pitted them against Hawthorn and they trailed all afternoon en route to a 5 goals loss. In the following week’s first semi final they managed to keep in touch with Collingwood until half time but the Magpies then produced a 4.4 to 0.2 third term to more or less wrap up proceedings. Carlton battled hard in the last quarter but still went down b y 25 points leaving their premiership aspirations in tatters.
After a slow start - losses in their first 3 matches - Fitzroy continued their solid form of recent seasons when they qualified for the finals in fifth place with an 11-11 record, ahead of both Geelong and Footscray on percentage. Their elimination final clash with Collingwood was a closely fought affair until the last change, at which stage the Lions trailed by 4 points. In the last term, however, the Magpies added 10.5 to 4.1 to win with deceptive comfort. Lions key position forward Bernie Quinlan topped the VFL goal kicking list for the second straight season. He booted 105 goals. Quinlan’s career is summarised in the entry for the 1981 season, the year he tied with Barry Round for the Brownlow Medal.
In contrast to Fitzroy Geelong started the season well and after three matches, all of which were won, they were perched on top of the ladder. Their form after that was patchy, however, and they succumbed to losses against several lower ranked teams such as North Melbourne, Sydney and Richmond. Nevertheless, had they managed to beat Hawthorn in their last home and away match of the year then they, rather than Fitzroy, would have qualified for the finals.
Seventh placed Footscray were strong at home (8-3) but susceptible on the road (3-8). At their best they could trouble the top sides as indeed they proved with wins during the season against Essendon at Windy Hill, and Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton all at the Western Oval. However, they were equally capable of floundering against ostensibly weaker opposition, as evidenced by losses to wooden spooners St Kilda as well as Melbourne, Sydney and Richmond.
For Richmond fans the memory of the club’s resounding 1980 premiership victory must have seemed extremely distant in 1984 as the Tigers were simply pale shadows of their former selves. There were some good performances - a 46 point win over Fitzroy and a 39 point defeat of Hawthorn, both at VFL Park, for instance - but these were interspersed with some ignominious reversals, not least the 115 point thrashing by arch rivals Carlton at Princes Park.
Melbourne blew both hot and cold in almost equal measure in 1984. The Demons scored slashing wins against Sydney, by 97 points, Footscray (78 points) and Geelong (63 points) all of which contributed to their procuring a positive percentage of 104.3. However, they were equally prone to losing against lower ranking sides. The undoubted highlight of the 1984 season from a Melbourne perspective was ruckman Peter Moore’s Brownlow Medal win, his second. Moore’s career is detailed in the review of the 1979 season during which, whilst at Collingwood, he had won his first Brownlow.
Sydney, like Melbourne, finished the season with a 9-13 record. Their best wins came at the expense of Collingwood at Victoria Park in round four, by 3 points, Fitzroy at the SCG in round five (15 points), North Melbourne in round eight at Arden Street (7 points), Fitzroy again, this time by 28 points at the Junction Oval in round fifteen and Essendon by 56 points at the SCG in round twenty-one.
North Melbourne in winning just 5 matches endured their worst season since 1972, while hapless St Kilda, who also managed just 5 wins, ended up with their fourth wooden spoon in eight seasons.
WAFL: Super Swans Do It Again
The big question in WAFL circles prior to the start of the 1984 season was whether John Todd could emulate Haydn Bunton junior and bring a hat trick of premierships to Bassendean. The loss of Phil Narkle, Leon Baker, Peter Kenny and Mike Smith to the VFL and veterans Stan Nowotny, Graham Melrose and Alan Cransberg to retirement prior to the start of the season obviously did not help, but Todd was a past master at inspiring players to new heights. In 1984 the Swans won 2 fewer games than in each of the preceding two seasons but this was still good enough to secure the minor premiership. Surprisingly, however, the team then suffered an unaccustomed finals loss - the first in 8 major round games - by 26 points to East Fremantle in the second semi, and although they recovered to beat Claremont in the preliminary final the following week neither the margin (21 points) nor the standard of the performance did much to convince that they would be capable of turning the tables on the Sharks in the 'big one'.
The Swans players had the scent of history in their nostrils, however, and when the quarter time siren went in the 1984 WAFL grand final the scoreboard showed East Fremantle an astonishing 64 points in arrears. Thereafter, the game was a good deal more even, but the damage had been done: Swan Districts won 20.18 (138) to 15.12 (102) to give birth to a new footballing 'tradition' - whenever Swan Districts won a premiership, they automatically went on to win the next two as well!
Rover Barry Kimberley was the recipient of the Simpson Medal for best afield, while ruckman Mick Johns, half forward flanker Don Holmes, half back flanker Don Langsford, and on ballers Brad Shine and Gerard Neesham (who actually started the game on the bench) also produced noteworthy displays.
East Fremantle were a team on the rise in 1984. Between 1980 and 1982 Old Easts as they were known at the time failed to qualify for the finals; a nickname change to the Sharks in 1983 then saw them rise up the ladder to fourth, and in 1984 they occupied second position on the premiership ladder at the conclusion of the minor round. Opposed in the second semi final by reigning premiers Swan Districts the Sharks scored a surprise win largely on the strength of an excellent second quarter when they rattled on 8 goals to 2. This gave them a lead of 37 points at the main interval and although Swans made a semblance of a fight back in the third term they never managed to get within striking distance and ended up losing by 26 points.
The grand final re-match between the two sides was similar in one respect: East Fremantle kicked the same tally of 15.12 (102). The differences, however, were what counted, not least the fact that it was Swan Districts who held sway, ultimately triumphing by 36 points.
Claremont, grand finalists in each of the three previous seasons, dropped to third in 1984. Statistically, the Tigers had the second best defence in the competition but they failed to score as freely as of late, and indeed ended the minor round with an unusually low percentage for a third placed team of 98.26. In the first semi final Claremont eased to victory over East Perth by 22 points after leading by just 3 points at the half time interval. In the preliminary final they got the jump on opponents Swan Districts with a 6 goals to 2 opening term but thereafter Swans dominated and ended up winning by 21 points, a margin that would have been considerably bigger had their kicking for goal not been somewhat wayward.
Claremont’s Steve Malaxos and Michael Mitchell were two of three players who tied for the 1984 Sandover Medal.
As gutsy and tenacious as he was talented, Steve Malaxos achieved virtually everything the game had to offer, but the V/AFL portion of his career ended in extreme disappointment. Originally from Dalkeith/Nedlands he was recruited by Claremont and made his league debut in 1979, rapidly developing into one of the best centremen in Western Australia. He made his interstate debut in 1982 and was a regular West Australian representative for the next six years, often as captain. After winning Claremont's 1983 fairest and best award he enjoyed an even better 1984 season securing not only a second such award but a Sandover Medal (jointly with team-mate Michael Mitchell and Peter Spencer of East Perth) as well. In 1985 he joined Hawthorn, but failed to settle and, after just 9 VFL games, returned home to Claremont. Clearly now with something to prove, Malaxos put in a fine season in 1986, with the highlight being his selection as All Australian captain after Western Australia's interstate championship win. The following season saw him engage in a second attempt to make his mark in the VFL when he joined fledgling Western Australian side West Coast where, in 66 games over the better part of four years, he enjoyed considerable success. Voted his club's best and fairest player in his debut season, and selected in another All Australian team two years later, by 1990 his status as a key member of the squad had been emphasised by his selection as captain. However, things turned sour when he suddenly fell out of favour during that year's finals series, and he never played for the Eagles again.
In 1991 Steve Malaxos embarked on a new phase of his career when, after returning briefly to Claremont, where he took his final games tally with the club to 151, he crossed to East Fremantle. Far from finished as a footballer, he played some of his best and most consistent ever football in adding 138 WAFL games over the next eight seasons, winning club fairest and best trophies in 1991, 1994 and 1995, and skippering the 1992 and 1994 premiership teams. At his best, Malaxos was one of the most damaging and creative players in the game, and it would be wholly inappropriate if his disappointing experiences at Hawthorn and, ultimately, West Coast were accorded undue significance when assessing his career.
Although diminutive in stature at just 173cm and 66kg, Michael Mitchell (shown above) was probably renowned above all else for his spectacular aerial ability, a by-product of his prodigious leap and great timing. He also had blistering pace, particularly over the vital first five metres, and kicked many fine goals on the run. Originally from Carnarvon, he made his WAFL debut with Claremont in 1982, and two years later shared the Sandover Medal with team mate Steve Malaxos and East Perth's Peter Spencer. He made the first of an eventual 8 interstate appearances for Western Australia in 1983, and was named an All Australian in 1985 and 1986. In 1987, after 88 WAFL games, he crossed to Richmond where, over the next five seasons, he played 81 games and booted 103 goals, earning a reputation in the process as one of the most exhilarating players to watch in the VFL. A serious head injury sustained in a practice match in 1990 undermined his subsequent effectiveness and after struggling on for another couple of seasons he announced his retirement.
The third recipient of a Sandover Medal in 1984 was East Perth’s Peter Spencer who had previously won the award in 1976. His career is outlined in the review of that year.
East Perth qualified for the 1984 WAFL finals in fourth place, 2 points ahead of fifth placed South Fremantle but with a greatly inferior percentage. The Royals clinched their finals berth in the last minor round game of the year when they downed East Fremantle comparatively comfortably. South Fremantle meanwhile suffered a surprise loss at home to second from bottom Subiaco having also somewhat surprisingly lost the previous week to West Perth.
East Perth’s involvement in the finals was fleeting as they succumbed by 22 points to Claremont in a match which produced no fewer than 42 goals.
After fifteen matches South Fremantle were comfortably ensconced in the top four having won 9 matches and drawn 1. Thereafter, however, they managed only 1 further win to miss out on finals football altogether. It was a precursor of some dismal times ahead for the southerners.
West Perth managed to defeat three of the top four clubs in the league at least once but they also lost games they would have been expected to win. Much the same could be said of Subiaco who were just beginning to flex their muscles again after a prolonged period of under-achievement.
Perth, who won just 5 matches, finished well adrift of the league’s other seven teams. It was the Demons’ second successive wooden spoon and their third in four seasons.
SANFL: Redlegs Make History
The 1984 season brought yet another chapter in the tale of one of football's longest-running and most intense rivalries when minor premiers and warm pre-match favourites Port Adelaide fronted up against rank outsiders Norwood, who had qualified for the finals in fifth place, in the SANFL grand final before 50,271 diehard fans at Football Park. South Australian football has undoubtedly produced better and more exciting matches, but few as bruising or intense. Norwood outplayed Port in the opening term to rattle on 4 goals to 1 but after that it became an evenly matched contest and by the final change it was the Magpies who narrowly held sway (by 3 points) and who looked to be playing marginally the better football. However, if Norwood in 1984 possessed one quality above all others it was a never-say-die spirit. On one occasion during the minor round they had trailed West Torrens by 41 points at three quarter time and got up to win, while in both the first semi final (against Central District) and the preliminary final (against Glenelg) they had recovered from decidedly uncomfortable positions to edge home to victory. It would be no different in the grand final as Norwood raised the last quarter pressure to a level of intensity with which the Magpies could not cope, adding 4.2 to 2.2 to claim the flag by 9 points. Keith Thomas was best afield, with Neville Roberts (6 goals, taking his season's tally to 106), Craig Balme, Michael Aish and Bruce Winter also prominent. In taking out the premiership from fifth position in a competition with a 'final five' system of playing finals Norwood established a record which which would stand for more than three decades. After the grand final, coach Neil Balme, when making his traditional post-match visit to the opposition dressing room, told the Magpie players that "playing Port was the reason Norwood won".
The reaction of the Port players to this assertion is not recorded but easy to imagine. No-one associated with the black and white fraternity was in any doubt that the premiership had been theirs for the taking but the team had inexplicably faltered at the last hurdle. Earlier, the Magpies had won their opening 7 home and away matches en route to a 17-5 win/loss record and the minor premiership. A 12.7 (79) to 5.10 (40) second semi final defeat of Glenelg followed but on grand final day Norwood ultimately had all the answers.
Port Adelaide full forward Tim Evans booted 127 goals to top the league goal kicking list for the sixth and last time. A brief overview of his career appears in the review of the 1977 season.
With 17 wins Glenelg finished level on points with minor premiers Port but their percentage was marginally inferior. This meant that they were required to play Central District in the qualifying final and after an even opening term they assumed control to coast to victory by 48 points, 19.17 (131) to 12.11 (83). In the following week’s second semi final clash with Port Adelaide the Bays were still a chance at half time but thereafter managed only 1 more goal to slump to a 39 point loss. Execrable kicking for goal contributed in no small part to Glenelg’s preliminary final loss to Norwood. The Tigers had 34 scoring shots to 27 but still lost by 18 points; scores were Norwood 16.11 (1097) defeated Glenelg 11.23 (89).
Central District’s record of not having won a finals match since 1972 continued as they crashed out of the flag race in 'straight sets' at the hands of Glenelg and Norwood. The Bulldogs did have some cause for cheer, however, with their energetic rover John Platten winning the Magarey Medal.
John Patrick Platten was the first player born in Elizabeth to play for its home city footy club, Central District. During a two decade, 365 game career with both Centrals (107 games) and Hawthorn (258), 'the Rat' proved himself one of the greatest rovers in the history of the game. He was also one of football's most decorated and consistently successful players, winning both the Magarey and Brownlow Medals, four club best and fairest awards (two at each club), four premiership medallions (all with the Hawks), membership of three VFL/AFL night/pre-season premiership teams, All Australian selection on four occasions, AFL All Australian selection three times, and an all time record (shared with Craig Bradley) 15 state of origin appearances for South Australia.
The keys to his success were pace, ebullience, sure ball handling, effective disposal skills with both hand and foot, and an irrepressible, terrier-like ability to gain possession of the ball amidst, if the cliché can be excused, 'the heaviest of traffic'. Platten's exuberant style made him a firm favourite among fans in both his home and adopted states and his popularity among football supporters even extended to Ireland when he toured there with Australia's successful International Rules side in 1984.
Platten returned to South Australia in 1998 in the hope of fulfilling a childhood dream of participating in a Central District premiership. However, his career was cruelly cut short by injury and he had to content himself with cheering from the sidelines and joining in the post-match celebrations when the Bulldogs finally broke through for a first ever senior grade flag two years later.
John Platten was included in both Central District's official Best All Time Team 1964 to 2003, and the official Hawthorn 'Team of the Century'.
Fourth after the minor round with 13 wins and 9 losses were South Adelaide. The Panthers then met Norwood in the elimination final and stayed in touch until three quarter time, at which stage the Redlegs enjoyed a 5 point lead. However, in the final term Norwood swiftly seized the initiative, adding 8 goals to 1 to cruise to a 21.11 (137) to 12.18 (90) success.
Reigning premiers West Adelaide slumped to sixth position in 1984 after managing just 10 wins. The Bloods could still sometimes match it with the top sides as they proved with wins over Norwood twice, South twice and Centrals, but they were just as frequently prone to underperforming against the league’s bottom clubs.
Sturt, grand finalists a year earlier, suffered a similar decline in fortune to West as they won just 8 games to finish seventh. The pick of their victories both came against Norwood: 23.7 (145) to 18.12 (120) in the opening round at Football Park, and 14.11 (95) to 13.9 (87) in round nineteen at Unley.
Despite winning just 6 games eighth placed North Adelaide had a percentage of 50.07. Wins of 103 points against Woodville in round six, 90 points against South in round sixteen, 76 points against Port in round seventeen and 76 points against West in round nineteen perhaps go some way towards explaining this unusual state of affairs.
Ninth placed West Torrens also won 6 games but their percentage was substantially inferior to North’s. None of their wins came against any of the league’s eventual finalists.
Wooden spooners Woodville won just 4 games but 1 of these was an upset 5 point triumph against Centrals at Elizabeth.
VFA: Bullants Go Back to Back
Preston claimed their second successive VFA division one premiership when they comfortably accounted for Frankston in the grand final. The Dolphins began well, booting 5 goals straight before the Bullants had so much as troubled the scorers. Thereafter, however, Preston were consummately superior, and after leading at the first change by 13 points they pulled further away in each successive quarter en route to a 21.11 (135) to 12.9 (81) win. Preston’s first year ruckman Neil Jordan was the best player afield with strong support coming from centreman and captain-coach Ray Shaw, vice captain and ruck rover David Brine, and 5 goal forward pocket John Bourke.
In second division Box Hill scored a slashing grand final victory over Oakleigh to claim their first ever VFA flag. The Mustangs led by 25 points at the first change, 58 points at half time, and 73 points at three quarter time. They eventually won by a record margin for a VFA grand final of 113 points while their tally of 32.23 (215) was also a VFA grand final record. The Devils scored 11.14 (80).
Clarence obtained their fourth TANFL premiership thanks to a 13.13 (91) to 9.11 (65) grand final defeat of Glenorchy. Elsewhere in Tasmania Scottsdale claimed their sixteenth NTFA flag with a 4 point grand final defeat of Launceston while the NWFU premiership went to Cooee who overcame Smithton in the grand final by 9 points.
Coorparoo won their first QAFL flag since 1968 and their fifth in total when they trounced Morningside in the grand final by 86 points.
The SFL grand final was also a one-sided affair with East Sydney comprehensively downing North Shore.
In the ACTAFL it was yet another flag for Ainslie, their fourteenth, after they comfortably accounted for Eastlake in the grand final.
In Darwin St Mary’s went top thanks to a 2 goal grand final defeat of Darwin.
Interstate Match Round-up
Western Australia won the Australian championship for the second consecutive year, downing Victoria by 4 points in Perth and South Australia by a solitary point in Adelaide. Victoria finished second after they scored a 4 point win over South Australia at Football Park in Adelaide.
A section two championship series also took place with the honours going to Queensland on percentage from Tasmania and the ACT. All three teams won 2 matches and lost 1. Last place went to New South Wales who lost all 3 matches played.
Grand final results - VFL: Essendon 14.21 (105) d. Hawthorn 12.9 (81); SANFL: Norwood 15.10 (100) d. Port Adelaide 13.13 (91); WAFL - Swan Districts 20.18 (138) d. East Fremantle 15.12 (102); VFA: Division One - Preston 19.21 (135) d. Frankston 12.9 (81); Division Two - Box Hill 32.23 (215) d. Oakleigh 11.14 (80); TANFL: Clarence 13.13 (91) d. Glenorchy 9.11 (65); NTFA: Scottsdale 13.11 (89) d. Launceston 13.7 (85); SFL: East Sydney 20.13 (133) d. North Shore 5.4 (34); NTFL: St Marys 13.11 (89) d. Darwin 11.11 (77); QAFL: Coorparoo 18.22 (130) d. Morningside 5.14 (44); NWFU: Cooee 18.16 (124) d. Smithton 17.13 (115); ACTAFL: Ainslie 20.14 (134) d. Eastlake 12.13 (85).
1. After 6 games of the 1984 season Norwood languished in eighth spot with just 1 win. Thereafter it made a creditable recovery, winning 12 of its final 16 minor round games, but few of its performances bore the premiership patent.
VFL: Triumph And Controversy For Sheedy
Essendon’s pre-eminence under Kevin Sheedy was even more pronounced in 1985 than had been the case a year earlier. The Dons took the proven Hawthorn formula of dynamically aggressive, unremittingly desperate football, epitomised by hard, focused running and impeccable teamwork, and elevated it to a new level. Kevin Sheedy’s Bombers were, quite simply, and by almost universal consent, the most awesomely prepossessing football unit yet to take the field, with almost every player combining height (most were over 180 centimetres) and supreme mobility with consummate mastery of all the fundamental skills of the game. Over and above this, Sheedy’s ever growing tactical acumen and motivational prowess helped ensure that each one of those players was primed to perform at maximum effectiveness week in, week out.
Essendon suffered only three home and away losses in 1985, and rounded off the season in style with emphatic wins in each of the last five minor round matches, followed by a 14.18 (102) to 9.8 (62) second semi final routing of what, by popular appraisal, was the side’s only realistic challenger for the premiership, arch-nemesis Hawthorn. On grand final day, the Bombers were once more opposed by the Hawks and, after taking the better part of three quarters to shake off their dogged but visibly outgunned opponents, produced a last quarter effort every bit as devastating and, from a Hawthorn perspective, demoralising as twelve months previously, adding 11.3 to 3.3 to win by the cruelly emphatic margin of 78 points. It “was a demonstration of sheer excellence at the highest level of Australian football; Hawthorn were, for most of the time, reduced to spectators’ level”. Essendon ruckman Simon Madden won the Norm Smith Medal as best afield, while Paul Salmon (6 goals), Leon Baker (28 disposals) and Darren 'Daisy' Williams were among numerous other Bombers to shine. For the losers, Dermott Brereton played virtually a lone hand ahead of centre, booting 8 goals, while Rod Lester-Smith and John Kennedy junior never stopped trying, but the image that will probably live longest in the minds of most of the Hawthorn fans who witnessed the game was that of the forlorn figure of all time great Leigh Matthews, on whose glittering 340 match VFL career the curtain had just come down, being chaired from the arena after the final siren by his equally disconsolate comrades.
A few days after the grand final, perhaps a trifle surprisingly, victorious Bomber coach Sheedy suggested that, in order to ‘increase interest’, in future the premiership should be decided on a ‘best of three games’ format. Less surprisingly perhaps, the idea has not, so far, achieved fruition.
The 1985 season was equally memorable for Sheedy, but for less noteworthy reasons, on the interstate front. Appointed Victorian state coach for the first time, Sheedy masterminded two superb victories over South Australia, by 57 points, and Western Australia, by 65 points, to re-claim for his team the reputation, if not the title, as Australia’s champion football state. The reason for the failure to procure the title was that during the South Australia clash, on the instructions of the VFL, Sheedy used an extra interchange player, incurring the wrath, and later the sanction, of the National Football League, under whose auspices the interstate championship series was conducted. The ultimate upshot was that Victoria was stripped of the points gained from the win over South Australia, allowing the croweaters to go on and claim their first championship title since 1911 courtesy of an emphatic 30.18 (198) to 16.15 (111) victory over Western Australia in Perth.
The Victorian reaction to this debacle was a predictable combination of acrimony and disdain, with the VFL’s assistant general manager Alan Schwab even declaring that the NFL “did not have the power”  to impose a penalty of this nature. Nevertheless, the sanction stood, although the NFL’s days as football’s ostensible national controlling body were now numbered.
In South Australia, there was felt to be no cause for celebration, although the consensus appeared to be that justice had been done. State coach Neil Balme summarised the ambiguous nature of most South Australians’ reaction to the affair by observing that, on the one hand, “They (the Victorians) won the game, so it doesn’t matter”, but at the same time “the NFL did the right thing because Victoria had no reason to do what it did. It really was just a silly thing to do. They had no respect for anyone else or the rules and did it for no purpose.” 
This perception of the VFL as arrogant was widely shared. In June, WAFL chief executive John Walker, himself a Victorian, expressed indignation over the VFL’s apparent intention to ignore the best interests of the game, as well as the wishes of football administrators and supporters outside Victoria, and proceed with plans to expand its own competition into some kind of pseudo-national affair. Rather than benefiting the code of Australian football as a whole, such a process would, at best, serve merely to bolster the ailing finances of the VFL’s own clubs, some of which had been brought to the verge of bankruptcy by greed, misplaced ambition and poor management. The best, long term interests of Australian football would be served by the establishment of an entirely new and genuinely autonomous national competition, under the auspices of an impartial board of control, such as the NFL, and with each of the major state competitions having a proportionate input.
Moreover, after South Australia’s rampant display in Perth, Western Australian coach John Todd, who blamed his side’s defeat on “the Victorians’ plunder of WA”, went on to claim, with what proved to be discomfiting accuracy, that the eyes of VFL recruiting personnel would now be firmly re-directed toward Adelaide, with the eventual result that the gulf in standard between the VFL and the other major state leagues would become wider still.
One of the highlights of the domestic VFL season was Footscray’s effort in getting as far as the preliminary final, making it their best campaign since they finished runners-up to Hawthorn in 1961. Twenty-four years on and it was again the Hawks who threw the decisive spanner in the works although not before the Bulldogs gave them the fright of their lives. Final scores were Hawthorn 16.13 (109) defeated Footscray 15.9 (99) after the Hawks had led by a solitary point at the final change.
Fourth placed North Melbourne included eventual premiers Essendon among their minor round victims. In fact, they were one of only three teams to down the Bombers all year, and they did so quite emphatically with scores of 22.20 (152) to 14.9 (93).
North’s finals campaign commenced with an elimination final clash with a Carlton side which had occupied fourth spot on the ladder at the conclusion of the home and away series. In front of 49,126 spectators at VFL Park the Blues looked to have things well in control for three quarters, at the end of which they enjoyed a 17 point advantage. The ‘Roos, however, were irrepressible in the final term, adding 8.1 to 2.1 to emerge triumphant by 19 points with scores of 20.6 (126) to 16.11 (107). North’s next opponents were Footscray but after more than holding their own until the main interval the ‘Roos fell in a heap and were comprehensively outgunned, going down in the end by 30 points. Brad Hardie’s Brownlow Medal triumph will presumably have provided a modicum of consolation.
Brad Hardie is perhaps best remembered for being one of the most highly decorated footballers of all time. A member of South Fremantle's 1980 premiership team, for whom he booted 3 goals from a forward pocket after starting on the interchange bench, Hardie also won South's best and fairest award in 1982. He won both the Tassie Medal and a Simpson Medal (for Western Australia against Victoria) in 1984 and joined Footscray the following year, causing a sensation by winning the Brownlow Medal after a series of eye-catching, tear away performances from the back pocket. His fine form continued in 1986 when he created history by becoming the first, and to date only, player ever to win two Tassie Medals. For good measure, he also won a second Simpson Medal after another best afield performance against the Vics. However, a highly publicised contretemps with Footscray coach Michael Malthouse precipitated Hardie's departure from the Western Oval and the 1987 season saw him taking the field at Carrara with the fledgling Brisbane Bears.
Playing in a variety of roles with the Bears Hardie's performances never quite recaptured the verve and panache which had characterised his time with the Western Australian and Victorian Bulldogs. Nevertheless, he twice topped the Brisbane goal kicking list, and was the first player at the club to reach 100 games.
Hardie moved to Collingwood in 1991 but, with his best years clearly behind him, he failed to ignite, and after two erratic seasons decided to call it a day. Overall, and perhaps ironically, given the fact that he was the recipient of so many awards, the consensus of opinion on Hardie's career would possibly be that he under-achieved. Nevertheless, during his peak years of the mid-1980s, with his trademark long-sleeved jumper (worn to hide from view the scars which covered his arms, legacy of burns sustained as a child), flame red hair, and effervescent dashes out of the Footscray or Western Australian backlines, he was one of Australia's most instantly recognisable, and highly talented, footballers.
The Dogs also provided the season’s leading goalkicker in the shape of former Swan Districts full forward Simon Beasley, who bagged 93 goals.
Carlton were solid all season until the finals when, as previously noted, they found a fast-finishing North Melbourne combination too hot to handle. Like North Melbourne, they managed a win against eventual top team Essendon, treating their home supporters at Princes Park to an 18.12 (120) to 10.8 (68) triumph in round seventeen.
Sixth placed Geelong finished a win and a draw adrift of finals qualification, although it is worth noting that they had a superior percentage to fifth placed North Melbourne. Atypically the Cats were better on the road than at home, winning 7 matches on their travels as against 5 at Kardinia Park.
Half way through the season Collingwood looked to be realistic finals prospects but during the run-in their form evaporated and they finished well off the pace in seventh position. Much the same could be said of eighth place Richmond whose sequence of five successive losses effectively scuppered what had at one point looked like fairly viable finals prospects.
Fitzroy disappointed in 1985, managing just 7 wins to end up in ninth place. A 12.15 (87) to 11.7 (73) defeat of Footscray at the Western Oval was perhaps the pick of their performances for the year.
Tenth placed Sydney and eleventh team Melbourne both won 6 games. The highlight for the Swans was probably the 25.11 (161) to 11.17 (83) mauling of Footscray at the MCG in round six while for the Dees there was a highly meritorious 29 point home defeat of Carlton in round five.
For the third season in a row St Kilda ended up with the wooden spoon. The Saints’ 3 wins were attained at the expense of Fitzroy in rounds five and sixteen and, most notably, Footscray in round twenty-two.
SANFL: Mini-Boom For The Game In SA
Despite the heavy interstate loss to Victoria, football in South Australia underwent something of a mini-renaissance in 1985, with a vigorously contested competition attracting the highest aggregate crowds since 1981. Mick Nunan’s North Adelaide side surprised most observers by bursting out of the blocks and easing its way into pole position with 11 consecutive wins, but during the second half of the season Norwood, Glenelg, West Adelaide and Sturt all offered stern competition. An absorbing finals series saw these five clubs in opposition, with North Adelaide and a Graham Cornes coached Glenelg ultimately fighting their way through to the grand final. After trailing by 11 points at the first change, and 29 points midway through the second term, the Tigers gradually assumed control and, with 7 goal Jack Oatey Medallist Stephen Kernahan – “the best footballer in SA” in the view of Jeff Sarau, among others – putting on a virtuoso display in his Glenelg swansong, they went on to win with unexpected ease by 57 points. Among the happiest of the victorious Bay players was veteran ruckman Peter Carey, who was the only survivor from the club’s previous premiership triumph in 1973, and thus the first ever Glenelg footballer to be a part of two premiership-winning combinations.
Second at the end of the 22 match minor round were Norwood who won 14 times and drew once. Their finals form was inordinately disappointing as they bowed out of the flag race with ‘straight sets’ losses to Glenelg and Weest Adelaide.
Westies showed considerable promise in 1985, qualifying for the finals in fourth place and ultimately finishing third after downing Sturt in the elimination final and Norwood in the first semi final before going down fighting by 11 points against North Adelaide in the preliminary final.
West’s Grant Fielke was a popular winner of the Magarey Medal. With 364 SANFL games from 1979 to 1986 and between 1988 and 1997 Fielke is West Adelaide's games played record holder. The highlight of his career with Westies came in 1985, when he won the Magarey Medal. Two years earlier, he had been a member of the club's victorious grand final team against Sturt. Never the most naturally gifted of footballers, Fielke worked hard on his game and it paid off. In his Magarey Medal year he led the league in disposals, and throughout his career his ability to find and use the ball irrespective of the intensity of the opposition was highly noteworthy. He spent the 1987 season with Collingwood in the VFL, playing 16 games, mainly on a wing, and impressing everyone with his energy and determination. A country boy at heart, however, he returned to West in 1988 and, but for a fleeting, 24 game interlude with Adelaide in 1991-2, that was where he remained.
Sturt tuned up for the finals with emphatic wins over South Adelaide and Glenelg in their last two minor round matches but then failed to do themselves justice in their elimination final clash with West Adelaide. The Bloods led at every change by 15, 5 34 points before easing to victory by 13 points, 17.21 (123) to 16.14 (110).
Central District had an inconsistent year in which wins against the likes of Glenelg, Norwood and North Adelaide combined with losses to West Torrens and South Adelaide to leave them 3 points adrift of finals qualification.
For Port Adelaide, the 1985 season was little short of disastrous as they managed just 8 wins, their worst return since 1949. Some of their losses were embarrassingly hefty.
Eighth placed South Adelaide also recorded 8 wins but their percentage was marginally inferior to Port’s. Their best result was probably their 19.8 (122) to 14.8 (92) defeat of eventual premiers Glenelg in round eight at the Adelaide Oval. The Panthers also achieved wins against North Adelaide, Norwood and Sturt, proving that they had the ability to compete with the leading sides, but this ability was only intermittently displayed.
West Torrens had another disappointing season with triumphs over West Adelaide (twice) and Glenelg the pick of their results. On the converse side of the ledger they went down to some gargantuan defeats including by 117 points against wooden spooners Woodville, 129 points to Sturt and 110 points to Port Adelaide.
Woodville were once again a chopping block for most other teams although their tally of half a dozen wins was quite respectable for wooden spooners. Captain-coach Malcolm Blight provided some cause for celebration as his tally of 126 goals for the season was good enough for him to top the league list.
WANFL: Sharks Hold Off Determined Lions
Although Western Australian football was not without its problems in 1985 - which happened to be the WAFL's official centenary year - it did at least manage to provide the most exciting of all the major state league grand finals. Subiaco, which had been improving steadily since the appointment of Haydn Bunton junior as coach a year earlier, made it through to the premiership decider for the first time since 1973, and was a warm sentimental favourite against Ron Alexander’s East Fremantle . In what was the first premiership play-off between the two sides in 52 years, the Lions started superbly with a 7 goals to 3 opening term, only for the Sharks to steady, hit back, and, on at least a couple of occasions, give every indication of being capable of running away with the game. Each time East Fremantle threatened to get out of reach, however, the Subi players somehow managed to find an extra gear - none more so than eventual Simpson Medallist Brian Taylor - and when the siren sounded only 5 points separated the teams, with the momentum very much in Subiaco’s favour. Final scores were East Fremantle 15.12 (102) to Subiaco 14.13 (97). Thankfully for Lions fans, their time of triumph would not be long in coming.
Murray Wrensted of East Fremantle was the 1985 Sandover Medal winner. In the first season of the 5-4-3-2-1 voting system (replacing 3-2-1) he not surprisingly polled a record number of votes (46). Originally from Geraldton, he commenced with East Fremantle in 1985 and was a member in 1987 of West Coast’s inaugural playing list. Stockily built, he played mainly in the centre where he was dependable and hard working rather than spectacular. After two seasons and 29 games for the Eagles Wrensted crossed to Collingwood where he had a final 10 games in 1989.
West Perth won 12 and lost 9 home and away matches to qualify for the finals in fourth place, behind third placed Swan Districts on percentage. They were no match for Swans in the first semi final, however, trailing all day en route to a 32 points loss.
In spite of their first semi final triumph over West Perth Swan Districts were indefatigably a team on the wane. This fact was emphasised in their preliminary final clash with Subiaco in which the Lions rattled on 9 last quarter goals to 1 to win with considerable comfort by 51 points.
The top four clubs were significantly stronger than the bottom four in 1985. Fifth placed Claremont only managed 9 wins, 3 fewer than Swans and West Perth. The Tigers were still able to compete with the top sides as they proved with wins over Swan Districts (all three meetings), Subiaco (twice) and West Perth but they were just as likely to incur defeat at the hands of ostensibly inferior opponents.
Sixth placed South Fremantle lost their first four matches of the season and never really recovered. Their best result was probably their 129 point annihilation of East Perth in round seven. South’s tally of 34.18 (222) was the season’s highest by any team.
Perth (6 wins) and East Perth (5) were considerably weaker than the other six teams in the competition. Perth’s only win against an eventual finalist came in round twenty-one when they accounted for Swan Districts by 16 points, 17.9 (111) to 13.17 (95). In Mick Rea the Demons boasted the season’s leading goalkicker. He booted precisely 100 goals. Rea commenced his top level football career in 1978 with Melbourne for whom he played 3 games. He spent the majority of his career (121 games and 468 goals) with Perth where in played mainly at full forward. He topped the Demons’ goal kicking list every season between 1982 and 1988 and was the league’s leading goalkicker twice, in 1985 and 1986.
Meanwhile last placed East Perth’s best result was a 17 point defeat of arch rivals West Perth at Leederville Oval in round twelve.
VFA Grand Final Is 'One For The Purists'
VFA football was enjoying something of an Indian summer at this time, and the grand final between Sandringham and Williamstown, watched by a crowd of 22,341 at the Junction Oval, “was a purist’s delight with old fashioned, tough football but played in a marvellous spirit”. The Zebras eventually got home by a single straight kick against a dogged Williamstown side that made headlines by electing to hand a senior debut to fourteen year old All Australian schoolboy Ronnie James, who was later to die tragically in a water skiing accident after transferring to VFL club Footscray.
Top End Footy Goes From Strength To Strength
The game was also undergoing a boom in Darwin. The 1984/85 season witnessed the inauguration of what would become a traditional Australia Day representative match, in which a combined NTFL side took on – and, at least initially, would very often beat - a prominent club from one of the major southern state leagues. The first such club to brave the northern heat and humidity was eventual 1985 SANFL premier Glenelg, which kept pace with the league combination for a couple of quarters, but ended up being overrun. Final scores saw the NTFL on 18.18 (126) defeating Glenelg 14.7 (91), with North Darwin’s Warren McCoy being awarded the inaugural Australia Day Medal as best afield.
The NTFL in 1984/85 was dominated by St Mary's which became the first club since the inception of the six team, twenty round competition in 1972/73 to go through an entire season unbeaten. The grand final though was hard fought, with Wanderers outscoring the Saints 5.2 to 1.9 in the last quarter before falling short by 13 points.
Flags For Sharks, Magpies, Tigers And Bears
Queensland's interstate supremacy continued in 1985 as comfortable defeats of New South Wales and Tasmania, and a hard fought win over the ACT, produced a third successive Escort Shield triumph. In the QAFL, Southport procured a second flag in three years after the closest grand final since 1957, the Sharks overcoming Mayne by 3 points, 11.8 (74) to 10.11 (71).
With the immediate future of Tasmanian football still unclear as various alternative forms of statewide competition came under scrutiny, Glenorchy contested its fourth TFL grand final in as many years, emerging as premiers for the second time. The grand final against Clarence was a torrid affair, but the Magpies were just that bit steadier when it mattered, and won by 4 points.
The ACTAFL grand final saw Queanbeyan re-emerge as a power after well nigh three decades in the comparative doldrums. The Tigers proved much too accomplished for reigning premier and regular finalist Ainslie, which was seeking a fourth consecutive flag, with the final scores being Queanbeyan 23.18 (156) to the Tricolours' 14.13 (97).
The biggest grand final shock in the major state competitions came in Sydney, where 'unbackable' minor premier Campbelltown somehow contrived to lose its only match of the season when it counted most. Grand final opponents North Shore, with former Hawthorn player John Hendrie starring with 7 goals, trailed by 5 points at the long break before surging home with 12 second half goals to 6 to win by 31 points. The victorious Bears were coached by ex-St Kilda champion Barry Breen.
Grand final results - VFL: Essendon 26.14 (170) d. Hawthorn 14.8 (92); SANFL:Glenelg 21.15 (141) d. North Adelaide 12.12 (84); WAFL: East Fremantle 15.12 (102) d. Subiaco 14.13 (97); VFA: Division One - Sandringham 14.16 (100) d. Williamstown 13.16 (94); Division Two - Brunswick 25.18 (168) d. Oakleigh 22.12 (144); TANFL: Glenorchy 10.15 (75) d. Clarence 10.11 (71); NTFA: Launceston 19.22 (136) d. North Launceston 12.11 (83); SFL: North Shore 18.19 (127) d. Campbelltown 14.12 (96); NTFL: St Marys 13.20 (98) d. Wanderers 13.7 (85); QAFL: Southport 11.8 (74) d. Mayne 10.11 (71); NWFU: Penguin 21.9 (135) d. Smithton 13.9 (87); ACTAFL: Queanbeyan 23.18 (156) d. Ainslie 14.13 (97).
 Every Game Ever Played: VFL/AFL Results 1897-1991 by Stephen Rodgers, page 679.
 ‘Inside Football’, 3/10/85, page 3.
 ‘Inside Football’, 20/6/85, page 1.
 Ibid., page 17.
 A report published by the VFL Commissioners in 1985, in recommending that the VFL competition be expanded in 1987 by the inclusion of new teams based in Adelaide and Perth, made no secret of why it thought such a move would be beneficial: “The (VFL) competition will benefit from expansion to Adelaide/Perth through the additional revenues from live television coverage of games and from revenues in Adelaide and Perth.” (Reported in Football Times Yearbook 1986, page 8.)
 "Inside Football", 13/6/85 , page 15.
 "Inside Football", 20/6/85 , page 15.
 Ibid., page 15. South Australia’s five best players in the defeat of Western Australia were most commonly listed as John Platten, Craig Bradley, Malcolm Blight, Stephen Kernahan and Peter Motley. All but Blight, who was thirtyu-five years of age at this point, and who had already enjoyed an illustrious VFL career, would be lining up with Melbourne-based clubs in 1986.
 The aggregate minor round attendance of 815,396 in 1985 was 12.9% up on the 1984 figure of 722,690, which itself had been the lowest aggregate since the inception of the 10 team competition in 1964. (Source: Football Times Yearbook 1986, page 36.)
 "Football Times", 10/8/85 , page 10.
 "Inside Football", 26/9/85 , page 23.
 The Encyclopedia of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 212.
 NTFL: a History of Australian Football in Darwin and the Northern Territory from 1916 to 1995 by David Lee and Michael Barfoot, page 137.
 Ibid, page 60.
 "Inside Football", 26/9/85 , page 16.
Some commentators argue that the VFL, with its superior financial resources and business acumen, should run the whole of Australian football. The VFL is certainly convinced that it alone has the expertise to run football at the national level, and it has a compelling financial incentive to press its claim. Whether the VFL razzmatazz is what the game really needs is another question.
Leonie Sandercock and Ian Turner
VFL: Hawks Bounce Back in Style
After the crushing disappointment of their grand final humiliation at the hands of Essendon in 1985 Hawthorn could scarcely have been more focused and determined as they commenced their 1986 campaign. A 17.11 (113) to 11.11 (77) opening round defeat of Carlton at Waverley set out their stall nicely and the Hawks were never out of the top four thereafter. In round eight, following a 45 point demolition of Collingwood at Waverley, Hawthorn moved to the top of the ladder and that was where they stayed, earning warm premiership favouritism ahead of the finals as a consequence.
Having earned pole position going into the major round the Hawks enjoyed a week’s break before confronting Carlton in the second semi final at Waverley. The rest did not appear to have done them any favours, however, as they produced their poorest performance since losing by 87 points to Essendon in round eighteen. This was all the more surprising in that the Blues were missing two key players in Hunter and Blackwell while in the three previous meetings of the teams in 1986 Hawthorn had emerged triumphant. Not this time, however. With the Carlton backline blanketing the normally potent Hawthorn attack (Brereton managed just a solitary major while Dunstall was kept goalless by Doull) and the likes of Johnston, Rhys-Jones, Murphy, Evans and Motley seemingly running unfettered it was only accuracy in front of the sticks which enabled the Hawks to remain in touch for much of the match. In the end though the Blues pulled away to record a 28 point triumph, 16.16 (112) to 13.6 (84).
The following week’s preliminary final saw Hawthorn opposed by sentimental favourites Fitzroy, conquerors of reigning premiers Essendon and Sydney in the first two weeks of the finals. The Lions had actually won both minor round meetings with Hawthorn with something to spare, a fact which encouraged quite a few people to jump on their bandwagon. However, after an evenly fought opening term the Hawks produced a performance which, in almost every respect, was the opposite of their previous week’s display against the Blues. Fast leading full forward Jason Dunstall (shown left) booted 5 goals, rovers Platten and Loveridge picked up swathes of possessions, and the entire Hawthorn backline stuck to their opponents like glue. The Hawks ultimately won b y 56 points after restricting their opponents to just 3 goals after quarter time.
Like so many recent VFL grand finals that of 1986 was anti-climactic. Following their dismal showing a fortnight earlier Hawthorn had clearly done their homework.
The final line-up showed just how well the Hawthorn camp had ensured that the right man was selected for the opponent, and not necessarily for the position. Most notable instances of this were Ayres on the wing to cover Rhys-Jones, Eade tagging Bradley, Langford to centre half back, and Wallace, although nominally in the centre, playing two and a half quarters at half back when his opponent, Blackwell, was moved to the forward flank.
In complete contrast to the second semi Dunstall led Doull a merry dance and finished with 6 goals to his name while players like Platten, Tuck, Eade and Russo, anonymous against the Blues, were all at their irrepressible best.
A week after the grand final the Hawks travelled west where they faced WAFL premiers Subiaco at Subiaco Oval. Demonstrating that there was still an abundance of talent outside the VFL the sandgropers took the game right up to their vaunted opponents only to fall short at the death by a couple of points. The next time Hawthorn played at Subiaco Oval it would be against league newcomers West Coast in round eighteen 1987.
Hawthorn wingman Robert Dipierdomenico was a surprise joint winner of the 1986 Brownlow Medal. One of the most colourful football personalities of the late seventies and eighties, Dipierdomenico’s often outrageously larger than life demeanour sometimes obscured the fact that he was also a fine footballer. Heftily built at 185cm and 88kg, ‘Dipper’ played most of his career as a wingman, utilising his naturally aggressive instincts to excellent effect. He made his Hawthorn debut in 1975, but then spent a couple of years in the reserves before coming good in 1978. In that year’s winning grand final against North Melbourne, playing a classic rebound role across half back, he was many observers’ choice as best afield. He went on to play key roles in further premiership victories in 1983, 1986, 1988 and 1989. His 1986 Brownlow Medal win was his proudest moment in football until the 1989 grand final, in which he contributed enormously to the Hawks’ win over Geelong despite suffering from a punctured lung.
In 2003, Robert Dipierdomenico was chosen on a wing in Hawthorn’s official ‘Team of the Twentieth Century’.
Prior to the start of the 1986 season Carlton spread the recruiting net far and wide bringing in players of the calibre of Stephen Kernahan from Glenelg, Jon Dorotich from South Fremantle, Port Adelaide’s Craig Bradley and Sturt’s Peter Motley. This injection of fresh blood seemed to be just what the Blues needed and, after finishing the minor round in third position, the team careered into the grand final in ‘straight sets’ with convincing wins over the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn. The scenario leading up to grand final day was thus the opposite of four years earlier, with the Blues this time entering the game heavily favoured to win. Disastrously, however, they were given a lesson in controlled aggression by the Hawks and, as a contest, the match was a travesty, with Hawthorn winning comfortably by 7 goals. Only Motley of the four big name recruits did himself any justice, but tragically this was to be his last ever game in a Carlton jumper as his career was prematurely brought to an end the following year after a serious road accident. Veteran Blues defender Bruce Doull retired after the 1986 grand final having played a club record 359 senior games.
Fitzroy had begun to show signs during the early 1980s of emerging from a prolonged period in the doldrums. In 1981, 1983, 1984 and 1986 the Lions, playing an exhilarating brand of football under, first, Robert Walls (1981-85) and then David Parkin (1986-88), contested the finals, and did so with credit. Under Walls the team played a free-wheeling, attacking style of football which sometimes fell down when pressure was applied, but in Parkin’s first season efforts were made to tighten things up, and as a result the club went as close as at any stage in the final half century of its existence to reaching a grand final. After finishing fourth after the home and away rounds Fitzroy faced reigning premiers Essendon in the elimination final. The Bombers were warm favourites, but two things conspired to swing things Fitzroy’s way. The first, paradoxically, was the unavailability through injury of two of the Lions’ genuine stars in the shape of Rendell and Quinlan; the second was the heavy, persistent rain which fell on the day of the match, and which would probably have limited the impact of the two absent stars, but which, more to the point, significantly undermined a key Essendon strength, which centred in the aerial prowess of players like Madden, Salmon, Van Der Haar and Daniher. With Fitzroy’s running brigade very much to the fore the game was a tight, tense, grinding affair with no side able to gain a decisive break; in the end, Lions half forward Micky Conlan, who had been held virtually kickless all afternoon, scored what proved to be the winning goal forty-five seconds before the final siren. Fitzroy won by the barest of margins, 8.10 (58) to 8.9 (57), and the club’s dwindling band of supporters rejoiced.
The 1986 first semi final was a classic confrontation of cultures, with the arch traditionalists in the shape of Fitzroy pitted against the privately owned Sydney Swans, the so called ‘club of the future’. To the rejoicing of many, it was the traditionalists who, much against expectations, won out, with Fitzroy edging home by 5 points, 13.16 (94) to 13.11 (89). It was, in many respects, the Lions’ last hurrah; the club never again qualified for the finals, and the following week, after only six days of rest compared to their opponents’ seven, they lost the preliminary final heavily to Hawthorn after tiring badly in the second half.
In 1985 the Sydney Swans became Australian football’s first privately owned club and a ‘money no object’ recruiting policy saw the arrival, prior to the start of the 1986 season, of four times Richmond premiership coach Tom Hafey, plus players of the calibre of Gerard Healy (from Melbourne), and Greg Williams (shown right) and Bernard Toohey (ex Geelong).
For a brief time the Sydney experiment caught fire. In 1986 and ‘87 the Swans made the finals, attracting sizeable crowds to the SCG where they enjoyed some spectacular successes. In one purple patch in 1987 the side kicked successive totals of 30.21 (201) against West Coast, 36.20 (236) against Essendon, and 31.12 (198) against Richmond. Never before had a VFL team managed two successive 30 goal hauls let alone three.
Once finals time arrived, however, the Swans fell in a heap, losing all four major round matches contested in 1986-87. Had the league’s subsequently introduced policy of holding finals matches outside Melbourne been in place at the time, however, things could well have been different. Certainly the Swans deserved a better reward for their achievement in 1986 of winning 16 of 22 home and away matches to claim second spot on the ladder than being forced to travel to Melbourne to take on inferior-ranked Carlton in front of over 50,000 fanatical Blues supporters.
In retrospect, the 1986-7 period can be seen as something of a false dawn for the Sydney experiment, with the ensuing seven seasons proving as bleak as almost any in the club’s long and often tortured past.
The private ownership experiment was also a failure. In the end, the club owners overstretched themselves and the club ended up in a much worse position financially than it had been before the move to Sydney.
The Swans did have one significant cause for celebration in 1986 as their star on-baller Greg Williams was a joint winner of the Brownlow Medal (along, as previously mentioned, with Hawthorn’s Robert Dipierdomenico). Like Laurie Nash before him, Williams was never shy when it came to boasting of his own ability. He also shared another Nash propensity - for honesty.
Often criticised for being slow, Williams showed that a player did not have to be endowed with phenomenal pace in order to wreak havoc among opposing backlines. Given that a football, when either handballed or kicked, tends to move appreciably faster than even the sprightliest players are able to run, Williams’ unequalled disposal skills with both hand and foot made him, when playing at his peak, almost uncontainable. Of course, he had to get the football first, before he could use it, and this he was pre-eminently and repeatedly able to do owing to that marvellous, untutored sense of anticipation which all champion players possess, and which Williams himself boasted in unparalleled abundance.
The Greg Williams career fits neatly into three stages. Between 1984 and 1985 he played for Geelong, winning the Cats’ best and fairest award in the latter year whilst simultaneously displaying a nascent ability to catch the umpire’s eye with 15 Brownlow votes.
In six seasons in the Harbour City with the Swans he truly came of age. The compact Sydney Cricket Ground suited his style and he quickly established a reputation as the game’s most prolific and effective exponent of handball, and indeed arguably its most renowned (in the sense of being ‘identified’ with the skill) practitioner since ‘Polly’ Farmer.
The final phase of Williams’ career saw him at Carlton where he won a second Brownlow in 1994. Then, in 1995, he achieved his last major remaining ambition of playing in a premiership side. His selection as Norm Smith Medallist after the Blues’ demolition of his original club Geelong was the quintessential ‘icing on the cake’ of a stellar career.
Reigning premiers Essendon fell from grace emphatically in 1986 and ultimately only squeezed into the finals on percentage ahead of both Collingwood and North Melbourne. Earlier, the Bombers had commenced their campaign in fine fashion, winning their first 4 games and spending the equivalent period atop the ladder. Thereafter, however, their form was inconsistent, and they won only 8 of their ensuing 18 matches. Opposed in the first semi final by a Fitzroy side which had twice conclusively bested them during the home and away rounds they ought really to have made more of their chances late on but their failure to do so saw them 1 point in arrears at the death.
Collingwood, like Essendon, were inconsistent. They finished the season well, scoring resounding wins over Richmond and St Kilda in the last two rounds, but it was a case of too little too late in that the fifth placed Bombers finished on the same number of victories but with a substantially superior percentage.
Collingwood full forward Brian Taylor was the VFL’s top goal kicker in 1986. Originally from Mandurah in Western Australia, full forward Brian Taylor was recruited by Richmond without ever having played league football in his home state. Usually referred to either as ‘Barge’, owing to his formidable 191cm, 91kg frame, or ‘BT’, he was highly unfortunate in that the Tigers already had a top quality full forward in Michael Roach who remained ahead of him in the pecking order throughout his five season stint at Punt Road. Between 1980 and 1984 Taylor played just 43 senior games, kicking 156 goals. He was not selected in either of Richmond’s grand final teams (in 1980 and 1982) during that period. He did, however, manage to top the Tigers’ goal kicking list with 61 goals in his last season with the club.
In 1985, Taylor crossed to Collingwood, where for a time he became something of a cult hero. He played 97 games in six seasons with the Magpies, heading their goal kicking list every year but the last. His tally of precisely 100 goals in 1986 made him the VFL’s top goal kicker that year, and overall he kicked 371 goals for Collingwood. In 1986 West Australian football fans at Subiaco Oval were presented with the farcical sight of Taylor lining up for Victoria against his home state in a so-called state of origin match. He performed well, too, but his tally of 4.2 for the match was not enough to get the Victorians over the line as the home state won by 3 points.
A combination of knee problems and coach Leigh Matthews’ desire to operate with a more mobile forward line limited Taylor’s senior appearances in 1990, a season which ultimately saw the Magpies win the premiership. Taylor left the club at the end of that season - somewhat acrimoniously, it must be said - and took up the role of playing coach at Prahran in the VFA. In 1992 he led the side to a third place finish, its best result for many years. He also continued to perform well as a player, kicking 16 goals - a personal record - in one match against Oakleigh.
North Melbourne started the season slowly before mounting a serious bid for finals participation. The last home and away round of the season saw them meeting their main rival for fifth spot on the ladder in the shape of Essendon. The ‘Roos needed a massive win in order to overhaul the Bombers and at quarter time they looked well on the way to achieving this as they led 8.5 (53) to a solitary behind. However, Essendon fought back strongly to outscore North over the remainder of the match, and although the ‘Roos still ended up winning the margin was nowhere near hefty enough to cancel out the Bombers’ percentage advantage.
Footscray were in the top five as late as round twenty but substantial losses to Carlton and Hawthorn in their last two matches saw them tumble down the list to eighth. At their best the Bulldogs were capable of downing the likes of Hawthorn and Essendon but they were equally capable of lowering their colours against teams ranked below them on the premiership ladder.
For the fifth successive season Geelong failed to qualify for the finals. The Cats managed just 7 wins from 22 matches to end up in ninth place ahead of Richmond and Melbourne on percentage. The low point of their campaign came in round twenty-one when they slumped to a 135 point defeat against Hawthorn, who amassed a season high tally of 35.15 (225).
Richmond (7 wins), Melbourne (7 wins) and St Kilda (2 wins) all finished well off the pace in 1986. In the Saints’ case this meant that they succumbed to their fourth straight wooden spoon.
SANFL: Bays Go Back to Back
In some ways, Glenelg’s premiership year of 1985 represented a watershed in the development of football in South Australia. After the grand final young champions Stephen Kernahan (136 games in five seasons) and Tony McGuinness (112 games, also in five seasons, plus the 1982 Magarey Medal) announced that they would be heading east to the VFL in 1986. They would be joined by other high profile South Australians in the shape of Craig Bradley (Port Adelaide), Peter Motley (Sturt) and John Platten (Central District). Although the defection of star players to Victoria was not in itself a new occurrence, the departure of this particular quintet was arguably significant in that all five had made substantial contributions, indicative of genuine commitment and loyalty, to their SANFL clubs before leaving. In Kernahan’s case, the departure had been quite deliberately delayed until he had helped the Tigers win a flag, while Platten would, after leaving, make frequent reference to his long term ambition of eventually returning home to help the Bulldogs do the same. In subsequent seasons, the flood of defecting South Australian players accelerated, and it is at least arguable that few if any regarded their SANFL clubs with quite the same degrees of affection and esteem as had Kernahan, Bradley, Platten, Motley and McGuinness. Certainly by the end of the 1990s the perception of the overwhelming majority of SANFL players was that they were competing in a league which had as its primary raison d’être the nurturing and development of future AFL talent.
As far as the Glenelg Football was concerned, this process effectively undermined and stymied all the progress which had been made over the preceding quarter of a century or so. However, in 1986 it was still in its early stages, and Glenelg under Cornes was still playing taut, powerful, effective football, which culminated in another grand final demolition of North Adelaide. This time the Bays were on top right from the opening bounce, leading at every change by 24, 33 and 42 points, before coasting to a 21.9 (135) to 12.15 (87) victory. Hawthorn-bound Tony Hall emulated Stephen Kernahan’s 1985 grand final showing with a best afield performance from centre half forward, while evergreen ruckman Peter Carey, wingman David Kernahan, on-ballers Peter Maynard and Chris McDermott, and centre half back Max Kruse all put in sterling efforts. Needless to say, coach Cornes was elated:
“It’s a terrific feeling. There were a few doubting Thomases last year who thought we couldn’t do it without a couple of key players in Stephen Kernahan and Tony McGuinness and they were good players for us, but this year the boys have really had to work for it and today was just a fruition for all their efforts.
“I thought the start of the 2nd quarter performance was just phenomenal. I’ve never seen them play better.”
In retrospect, the 1986 grand final saw the Glenelg Football Club at its zenith, for although four grand finals have been contested since, all have been lost. The formation of the Adelaide Crows at the end of a 1990 season which had seen the Bays go under in an acrimonious grand final against Port Adelaide arguably damaged Glenelg more than any other club. Of the Crows’ initial list of fifty-two players, no fewer than ten - easily the biggest single club contribution - were from Glenelg. Indeed, if you include returning son Tony McGuinness, there were actually eleven players, or more than half a team, tied to the Tigers. Of even greater significance, however, was the loss of Graham Cornes, who was enticed away to become Adelaide’s inaugural coach, despite having earlier expressed misgivings over the VFL’s real, underlying motives in pursuing a pseudo-national format for its competition.
Glenelg’s comparative fall from grace has been mirrored at many clubs Australia-wide in recent years, heralding a trend which only seems set to continue. Nevertheless, the club has made a contribution to the history of the game which far transcends its ostensibly modest record of four league premierships. Whatever tangible success (or otherwise) the future brings, the impact on the game of players like Sallis, Handby, Owens, Johnston, Boyall, Brock, Davies, the Phillis brothers, Marker, Cornes, Kernahan, McGuinness and McDermott will, hopefully, never be ignored or forgotten.
North Adelaide again qualified for the grand final in 1986 and this time round they were favoured to defeat their conquerors of the previous year, Glenelg. The main ground for this assessment was that the Roosters had won the second semi final clash between the teams by 24 points. Grand final day saw a vastly different story unfold, however, and if anything Glenelg’s eventual 48 point triumph was even more of a humiliation than the 1985 result, especially given the Roosters’ improved pedigree. Thankfully for North, the chance to make amends would quickly arrive, and this time the result would be favourable.
In 1986, with Malcolm Blight now coaching from the sidelines, Woodville enjoyed the single most successful season in their entire history. In hindsight it is possible to suggest that Blight expected such success. Prior to the start of the season he observed:
“I’m comfortable, but there are a lot of reasons for that. Off the ground things have certainly sharpened up at Woodville. I’ve always believed and hammered home at Woodville that you have got to get your act in order off the ground first - that means from administration down to players ........ In the past three years I’ve been hoping like hell that things would go well. There’s been a lot more planning and preparation this year so I’m not hoping as much this time because I know things are going to be better.”
Such confidence appeared grossly misplaced early on as the side won only 2 out of 5 Escort Cup pre-season games. Then, after commencing the season proper promisingly with a hard fought 5 point win over West Torrens at Football Park, old habits promptly resurfaced and 7 of the next 9 matches were lost.
The turning point came in round eleven against Centrals, again at Football Park. Since entering the league together the two clubs had enjoyed an intense and unique rivalry; it hardly seemed to matter what the respective positions of the sides on the ladder were, their confrontations over a season almost invariably tended to be closely fought. Not so this time. The Warriors simply overwhelmed their opposition to win with consummate ease, 27.20 (182) to 11.15 (81). The following week saw Woodville do the unimaginable: down ladder leaders and firm flag favourites North Adelaide by 3 points at Woodville Oval. South Adelaide were the next side to succumb to the new-found wrath of the Warriors, going down by 37 points at Football Park, only for Glenelg to throw a temporary spanner into the works in round fourteen with a 39 point triumph at the Bay.
This setback only served to spark the Warriors into renewed resolve. The next seven minor round matches represented one of the pinnacles of Woodville’s twenty-seven season involvement in the SANFL at senior level, with victories over Sturt (31 points), Norwood (21 points), West Adelaide (23 points), Port Adelaide (6 points), West Torrens (45 points), Central District (22 points) and North Adelaide (18 points).
All Woodville needed to do now in order to clinch the double chance in the finals was defeat wooden spoon contender South Adelaide in the final minor round match of the season. Inexplicably, however - or should that be predictably? - the players effectively ‘froze’, putting in a woeful performance to lose by 15 points and slump to fourth, consigning them to an elimination final meeting with finals-hardened Norwood.
‘Woodville’s Acid Test’ ran the headline to Mike Rucci’s story in the pre-finals issue of South Australia’s weekly football newspaper “Football Times”. Rucci then proceeded to sit fairly and squarely on the fence when analysing Woodville’s prospects:
Woodville, which has qualified for the finals for the second time since it was re-admitted (sic.) to the league series in 1964, enters the finals series far better prepared than its previous major round appearance in 1979 - ironically against Norwood in an elimination final. But one thing hasn’t changed - Woodville still lack finals experience. And there lies the tragedy of the ‘form’ side of the competition missing the double chance. Had the young Woodville players been given the chance to play in a final - just to get the feel of playing in the big time - they would be a better proposition for the grand final. That is Woodville’s penalty for starting the season so poorly ......... Woodville - and the tactics of Blight and assistant coach John Reid - can beat Norwood. Whether it does win is in the hands of the 20 men Blight chooses to determine his destiny.
Given the nature of their brief, the five official tipsters in ‘Football Times’ had no choice but to be less non-committal: all predicted a narrow win to the Redlegs.
They had reckoned without the Warriors’ intense desperation and desire, coupled with the pace of players like Colin McDonald, Ron Fuller (shown on previous page) and Kevin Harris, and the aerial ability of Michael Templeton and Andrew Taylor. All these factors were to the fore as Woodville led at every change in compiling a resounding 43 point win. Full forward Stephen Nichols booted 5 goals, with Templeton and Taylor bagging 3 apiece, while Kevin Harris, with 21 possessions, was best on ground.
The “Football Times” tipsters had changed their tune prior to Woodville’s first semi final meeting with Port Adelaide, with four of the five favouring the Warriors. At quarter time their confidence appeared to be seriously misplaced. Watched by a crowd of 39,086, the biggest to witness a first semi final since 1967, and indeed the largest crowd that Woodville was ever to appear in front of, Port opened with all guns blazing to register 9 opening term goals to 3 and seemingly have one foot firmly in the preliminary final. Blight’s charges refused to lie down, however, and by half time, incredibly, they had closed to within just 5 points. The third term had the huge crowd at fever pitch as the two sides went goal for goal with the Magpies hanging on to a 6 point advantage at the final change. The fourth quarter was just as thrilling, but gradually it was the Warriors who appeared to be getting on top. In the end, only inaccuracy in front of goal prevented Woodville from winning with comparative comfort, but margins mean little in finals; there are only winners and losers. On this occasion, the scoreboard clearly showed the green and golds as winners. Final scores were 18.20 (128) to 18.13 (121), with Ron Fuller the best player on view.
“When assessing Woodville it is difficult to know where you might be able to exploit a weakness in its game,” suggested Sturt coach Merv’ Keane in his post match analysis. “At the moment, it hasn’t got an obvious one for any length of time. For example, if Stephen Nichols is getting beaten at full forward for a quarter, Ralph Sewer or Michael Templeton will bob up with a goal or two. Or if Ron Fuller is down, Colin McDonald or John Martin will rise to the occasion and tear through the centre to open up the forward line again.”
Woodville’s preliminary final opponents Glenelg, by contrast, were looking distinctly out of sorts, having lost badly to North Adelaide in the second semi final. In the event, after a hard fought first half, the Bays proved to be just a little too accomplished for Blight’s men and won by 21 points in front of another big finals crowd of 30,744, bringing what had been a highly promising season to an anti-climactic end. Sadly, over the last four years of their solo existence the Warriors proved unable to build on this promise.
Woodville’s Stephen Nichols was the SANFL’s leading goal kicker in 1986 with 103 goals to his name. Originally from Sandy Bay, he was recruited by Geelong but struggled to break into the senior side. He managed just 7 games in 1982-3 whilst also appearing in the Cats’ 1982 reserve grade premiership team. After the 1983 season he crossed to Woodville and proved himself a decided acquisition. Playing mainly as a full forward he was highly skilled and a superb kick, although some critics suggested that he lacked pace. In addition to topping the SANFL’s goal kicking list in 1986 he was second to North Adelaide’s John Roberts the following year, when he kicked a career high tally of 108 goals, while in 1988 he booted 103 to top the charts again. Nichols played for his home state of Tasmania at the 1988 Adelaide Bicentennial carnival and acquitted himself well, including bagging 6 goals in a loss to the Northern Territory. All told he played 109 games for Woodville between 1984 and 1988, bagging 334 goals.
After missing the finals in 1985 Port Adelaide returned to the September fray this year after winning 13 of their 22 minor round matches, good enough for third place on the ladder. However, they then suffered the disappointment of a ‘straight sets’ exit at the hands of Glenelg and Woodville.
Flamboyant Port Adelaide on-baller Greg Anderson (shown above) was the recipient of the 1986 Magarey Medal for the fairest and most brilliant player in the SANFL. The Magpies recruited Greg Anderson from St Michael’s, and he made his league debut as a seventeen year old in 1983. The following year he was among the Magpies’ best players in a 9 point grand final loss to Norwood. Tall, quick, and a sure ball handler, Anderson was a superb kick, especially with his favoured left foot, and his aerial skills were first rate. He played the majority of his football as a wingman, but at 188cm and 92kg he was physically well suited to hold down a key position, which he did to good effect on a number of occasions. The highlight of his initial time with Port came in 1986 when, as mentioned, he was a popular winner of the Magarey Medal. He was also chosen as an All Australian after representing South Australia in 1987.
In 1988, after 121 games for the Magpies, he crossed to Essendon, where he quickly established himself as one of the foremost wingers in the VFL. In 1990 he won a number of media awards to which he was warmly favoured to add the Brownlow Medal, but he polled just 13 votes, 5 adrift of the winner, Footscray’s Tony Liberatore. He experienced further disappointment in that year’s grand final which the Bombers lost resoundingly to Collingwood.
In 1993, after 103 games and 60 goals for Essendon, Anderson returned home to South Australia, and joined Adelaide. After an outstanding first season, however, during which he earned AFL All Australian selection, his form began to deteriorate, and he managed just 59 games (and 19 goals) in four seasons. In both 1995 and 1996 he spent a fair amount of time back at Port Adelaide, and was a member of that club’s grand final victories over Central District in both years.
The 2000 season saw Anderson appointed non-playing coach of South Adelaide, but his four season stint at the helm was unsuccessful.
Like Port, Norwood endured a disappointing end to their 1986 campaign when they nosedived out of the finals at the first hurdle against Woodville. The Warriors were comfortably superior, leading at every change by 23, 31 and 9 points before pulling away to record a 43 point triumph. The Redlegs would be perennial finalists for the foreseeable future but it would be over a decade before they added to their impressive premiership haul.
Had Central District won just one of their last 3 minor round fixtures they would have contested the finals. As it is they lost in successive weeks to Woodville, Port Adelaide and North Adelaide to finish a point plus percentage adrift of fifth placed Norwood.
West Adelaide managed some impressive wins but overall never really looked like finals material. The Bloods’ best result probably came in round nine when they accounted for eventual premiers Glenelg at Richmond Oval by 62 points, 20.15 (135) to 10.13 (73).
Eighth placed Sturt, like Westies, won 9 of their 22 matches with their best display arguably coming against Glenelg at the Bay Oval in round four. The Double Blues won a high scoring, high standard encounter by 21 points, 24.12 (156) to 20.15 (135).
Both South Adelaide and West Torrens had eminently forgettable seasons and finished well off the pace. The Eagles did manage an impressive 33 point win against North Adelaide in round two but that was as good as it got. South meanwhile downed Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval in round five and, as previously mentioned, Woodville in round twenty-two, also at Adelaide, but hefty defeats were more the order of the day.
WAFL: Subi Soar
Towards the end of the 1986 football season Subiaco coach Haydn Bunton junior was one of several men rumoured to be in the running for the role of inaugural coach of the West Coast Eagles. However, Bunton, who had always regarded Subiaco as ‘home’, was quick to dismiss the speculation, stating that it was his ambition to restore the Lions to their former greatness. Such a viewpoint seems either perverse or outlandish from an early twenty-first century perspective, but at the time there was nothing perceptibly naive or irrational about it; Bunton was merely giving voice to aspirations of a sort with which most or all of his contemporary WAFL club coaches would have been able to identify. Few if any observers at the time could possibly have envisaged the structural rigor mortis which would all too rapidly emerge as a side effect of the VFL’s self-propelled transformation from the strongest of all the state leagues to a pseudo-national concern with responsibility for virtually every aspect of the game’s development and well-being. In this new context, the kind of ‘greatness’ to which Bunton referred would be rendered inaccessible to all but the ‘chosen few’, and even among these it would be, at best, a greatness artificially tempered and constrained.
In 1986 the much travelled Bunton was in the third year of his second spell in charge of the club which he perhaps loved above all others. During his previous coaching stint between 1968 and 1972 he had laid the foundations for Subiaco’s 1973 premiership, a success which brought to an end a forty-nine year drought. However, since 1973 the Lions’ fortunes had again declined, with the team contesting the finals only once from 1974 until Bunton’s arrival ten years later, and winning just 55 out of 232 matches in that time for a miserly success rate of just 23.7%, easily the worst in the WA(N)FL during the period. Against this backdrop of perennial failure, the announcement in Subiaco’s 1983 annual report that Haydn Bunton junior had accepted a five year contract to coach the club gave Lions fans a rare reason to rejoice. The arrival of Bunton, if not quite tantamount to the ‘return of the messiah’, nevertheless seemed to provide genuine grounds for optimism. As a player, Bunton had more than compensated for any inherent deficiencies in pure footballing ability by bringing a superabundance of vigour, determination and intelligence to bear on his game, and it was these same qualities which he continued to exhibit, and to demand of his players, as a coach. (Bunton is pictured above during the 1986 football season.)
Bunton’s arrival coincided with the return from Victoria of Peter Featherby, who had played for three seasons under Bunton during his previous stint in charge, and was by this stage one of the most proficient on-ballers and prolific kick gatherers in Australia. The recruitment of half a dozen other league standard footballers provided the Lions with sufficient impetus to enable them to win more games in 1984 than they had managed in both of the previous two seasons combined. Admittedly, 9 wins from 21 matches was only good enough to elevate the team one place up the ladder, from eighth to seventh, but 1984 was an especially competitive season in Western Australia and overall it was clear that definite, discernible progress had been made. The battle lines had now been drawn; further improvement in 1985 was both demanded and expected. The fact that the Subiaco reserves team had won the 1984 flag - the club’s first at any level for ten seasons - was seen as providing further grounds for optimism.
Dual Sandover Medallist Peter Spencer from East Perth was one of several recruits to further bolster Subiaco’s playing ranks in 1985. With an accomplished and highly versatile pool of players now at his disposal Bunton was able to steer the Lions to their best season since 1973, only to see the ultimate prize of a premiership fall just outside their grasp as East Fremantle won a thrilling grand final by 5 points. Defeats of this sort are never easy to countenance, but it seems evident from history that, for many teams, they do prove instructive, indeed almost in a perverse way inspiring. This certainly proved to be so in Subiaco’s case. After warming up for the 1986 season with a 25.25 (175) to 17.11 (113) mauling of VFL club St Kilda the Lions went from strength to strength, ultimately qualifying to contest the finals as minor premiers for only the sixth time in the club’s history.
An uncharacteristically lackadaisical second semi performance against East Fremantle reminded everyone that much work remained to be done, however, and for the following week’s preliminary final Bunton had the whole team primed to perfection, eliciting a 12 goal annihilation of Perth.
In the grand final, Sharks skipper Brian Peake won the toss but little else as Subi thereafter produced a performance of consummate fire, determination and skill to turn the tables and overturn the odds in quite emphatic fashion, winning in the end with apparent ease by 69 points. After rattling on 6 opening term goals to East Fremantle’s 1 the Lions players already had a hand apiece on the premiership cup, and by half time, with Subiaco leading 13.4 to 3.7, the match was as good as over. Lions centre half back Mark Zanotti picked up the Simpson Medal as best afield, while back pocket Dwayne Lamb, ruckman Phil Scott, wingman Greg Carpenter, and on-baller Andrew MacNish were among many other Subi stars to shine.
The following week brought a challenge match at Subiaco Oval against VFL premiers Hawthorn. Fort much of the game the Lions appeared superior, leading as they did at every change by 10, 23 and 2 points, only for the Hawks’ superior fitness to enable them to get up at the death and snatch a scarcely deserved 18.11 (119) to 17.15 (117) victory. Dwayne Lamb, Mick Lee, Mark Zanotti and Brian Taylor were perhaps the most significant contributors to a Subiaco performance which suggested that, given different circumstances, Haydn Bunton’s aspirations of greatness for the club he loved might realistically have been fulfilled on a national stage. As it was, the 1987 season saw Subiaco having to front up without close to half of its premiership twenty, a situation rendered all the more galling by virtue of the fact that no fewer than half a dozen of the departing contingent still regularly plied their trade on Subiaco Oval, albeit in the ‘foreign’ colours of royal blue and gold. With the entrance into the VFL of a Perth-based club, West Coast, the Western Australian football landscape had changed dramatically, and for ever.
Reigning premiers East Fremantle seemed well placed to go ‘back to back’ in 1986 when they scored an eminently comfortable 20.13 (133) to 12.11 (83) second semi final triumph over Subiaco. However, as already described the Lions bounced back in style when the same two teams met a fortnight later in the decisive match of the year. Final scores were Subiaco 19.16 (130) defeated East Fremantle 8.13 (61), a margin of 69 points.
Perth, second from last in 1985, improved greatly this year to qualify for the finals in third place. The Demons then scored a convincing 24.18 (162) to 13.11 (89) first semi final victory over Claremont, but Subiaco a fortnight later in the preliminary final proved a bridge too far. Perth full forward Mick Rea booted 90 goals to top the WAFL list for the second consecutive time.
Claremont were a team with a bright future and they produced some fine performances in 1986 including wins over all three of their fellow finalists, Perth, East Fremantle and Subiaco. The Tigers also posted the season’s highest score of 33.18 (216) when they trounced South Fremantle by 147 points at Claremont Oval in round one.
Fifth placed West Perth finished 2 points plus a sizeable amount of percentage adrift of finals qualification. The Falcons managed to defeat Claremont (twice) and Perth during the course of the season but they also lost to South Fremantle (twice) and East Perth.
East Perth endured a mediocre campaign which produced just 7 wins from 21 outings plus numerous hidings at the hands of the league’s power clubs.
South Fremantle may have finished a distant seventh on the premiership ladder but they had the satisfaction of providing the 1986 Sandover Medallist in the shape of Mark Bairstow (pictured left). Recruited from Lake Grace, Bairstow commenced his league career at South Fremantle where he won the best first year player award in 1985 and both the club fairest and best and Sandover Medal the following year. A smooth running, prolific ball-winning on-baller, he crossed to Geelong in 1987 and was an immediate success, achieving All Australian selection in his debut season, and earning a reputation as one of the premier midfielders in the game. Always a country boy at heart, however, he caused something of a stir immediately after playing in the losing grand final of 1989 against Hawthorn by returning to his home town of Lake Grace where he spent the entire 1990 season. In 1991, the Cats coaxed him back into the fold, and he made up for lost time by producing some of the best football of his career, earning AFL All Australian selection in both 1991 and 1992. By the time of his retirement in 1994, Bairstow had played 146 V/AFL games and kicked 172 goals. He captained the Cats in his last three seasons in league football. The South Fremantle phase of his career saw him don the famous white and red jumper 40 times.
Premiers just a couple of seasons earlier Swan Districts slumped to the wooden spoon, the fourteenth in their history. The only top four side Swans managed to defeat during the season was Claremont, in round sixteen.
VFA: Seagulls Upset the Odds to Claim Thirteenth Flag
Williamstown were crowned VFA first division premiers in 1986 after overcoming warm pre-match favourites Coburg by 13 points in the grand final. The Lions had been the dominant force in the competition all season but they inexplicably faltered at the last hurdle. The final margin actually flattered Coburg who never had a realistic chance of winning after trailing by 45 points at three quarter time.
In the second division grand final Box Hill accounted for Sunshine by 3 goals. The defeated Crows battled hard, and when they trailed by just a couple of straight kicks at the last change they almost looked to be in the box seat as they would be coming home with the aid of a strong breeze. Early in the final term Sunshine in fact got to within 4 points but Box Hill steadied to take the spoils.
TFL: Statewide Competition Gets Underway
The six team Hobart-based TFL competition was supplemented this year by the inclusion of two northern teams, North Launceston and South Launceston. However, it was the southern teams who dominated to the extent of occupying the top six places on the premiership ladder. Sandy Bay looked imposing during the roster matches, after which they topped the ladder with a 15-3 record. They duly emphasised their premiership favouritism with a 17.16 (118) to 14.7 (91) second semi final defeat of a Glenorchy team which had won 4 fewer matches during the regular season. However, when the same two teams met once again a fortnight later in the flag decider the Magpies turned the tables in impressive, emphatic style. Watched by 17,094 spectators at North Hobart Oval they restricted the Seagulls to just 4 behinds in the opening term whilst rattling on 4.3 themselves. The second term was evenly fought but this still left Glenorchy with a 4 goal advantage at the main break and after half time the Magpies raised both tempo and intensity in pulling away to record a 32 point triumph, 14.20 (104) to 9.18 (72).
Other States and Territories
Having crept ever closer to a breakthrough premiership in recent seasons Campbelltown finally went all the way in 1986. Opposed on grand final day by North Shore they ended up comfortable victors by 23 points. It was the start of what was to prove an excellent decade for the Panthers, spawning half a dozen senior grade flags.
In what was one of the greatest form reversals in QAFL history Coorparoo claimed their second flag in three years thanks to a 10 point grand final defeat of Southport. A fortnight earlier in the second semi final it had been the Sharks who had prevailed by an immense 98 point margin.
The ACTAFL finals saw Tuggeranong involved for the first ever time and they capitalised to the full by claiming their inaugural premiership. Grand final opponents and reigning premiers Queanbeyan were expected to be too accomplished for the Cowboys but when the final siren sounded it showed Tuggeranong, coached by former St Kilda identity Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale, holding the barest possible advantage with scores of 8.11 to 8.10.
In the NTFL St Mary’s claimed their third flag in succession thanks to a record breaking 32.19 (211) to 4.9 (33) grand final defeat of Nightcliff. It was the thirteenth time the Saints had been premiers and this number was certainly not unlucky as the club remains at the forefront of the game in Darwin to this day.
Western Australia beat both Victoria and South Australia to earn the title of Australian champions. The ACT won the section two championships after accounting for New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland.
Custodians to Consumers
At the close of the 1986 football season the curtain came down on the game as it had been known and loved for well over a century. Indeed, it is at least arguable that football would cease in a sense actually to be a game, becoming more a product or a brand - not so much ‘the game of the people for the people’ as just one among many entertainment commodities available in the marketplace. Instead of being custodians of the game, those who watched and appreciated it would be relegated to the role of ‘consumers’ encouraged - or enticed - to ‘buy into’ the AFL brand. To be fair, the first steps in this transformational process had probably been taken decades earlier, but the innovations to be wrought in 1987 would be more akin to giant leaps than small steps. Most significantly of all, the days of the VFL as a fundamentally small scale suburban concern would be irrevocably over, as two new, interstate teams would be added to the mix. The VFL’s preferred option was for teams based in Adelaide and Perth but the SANFL’s refusal to play ball left the door open for a team from the rugby hotbed of Brisbane.
Accordingly, Queensland’s entry to the ‘big league’, when it came, was effectively through the back door, with the enormous strides made since the 1950s by the state’s football administrators and players having little or no direct bearing on the matter. By 1986, at least half of the VFL’s constituent clubs were in parlous condition financially, and interstate expansion of the competition was viewed as the most practicable means of ensuring their survival. Not only would such expansion elicit extra revenue in terms of increased marketing possibilities, enhanced sale of TV rights, and so on, it was also decided that each new club would be required to remit a license fee of $4 million as a condition of entry. This license money would, it was believed, be sufficient to ensure the short term survival of the struggling clubs, with their long term viability being aided by the hoped for economic spin-offs of participation in a competition perceived as having a ‘national’, rather than merely Victorian, profile.
As already mentioned, the VFL’s preferred options were for new teams to be based in the comparative football hotbeds of Adelaide and Perth, but when the SANFL - disgusted at being asked to pay an exorbitant license fee simply to participate in a competition it had helped bolster for years - refused to play ball, attention shifted north, to Queensland. Initially, it looked as though Fitzroy might move north, but when a benefactor stepped in with sufficient funds to enable the Lions to consolidate, this idea was abandoned, and the focus shifted to bids from groups willing to develop a fledgling club from scratch. At least three such groups came forward, but it soon developed into a two horse race, with the VFL Commission favouring a proposal from a consortium led by Australian Tennis Open promoter John Brown, but the league’s individual member clubs preferring a bid jointly sponsored by actor Paul Cronin and the QAFL. Ironically (as would soon emerge), the clubs’ stance was based on a perception that the Cronin-QAFL bid was more financially secure, and it was primarily on this basis that they were ultimately awarded the license. Thereafter, matters proceeded swiftly, indeed with such indecent haste that it was clear to everyone that the potential on field viability of the fledgling Queensland club was not high on anyone’s agenda. Indeed, from the VFL’s standpoint, it was probably not seen as desirable that either Brisbane, or the new Perth-based club, West Coast, prove too successful. All that really mattered was their license money.
The Brisbane Bears Football Club, with the maroon of Queensland and the gold of the Queensland sunshine as their colours, was officially unveiled to the public on 7th October 1986, with Paul Cronin installed as inaugural chairman. However, the man who really appeared to pull the strings was media magnate Christopher Skase, who was officially listed as Cronin’s deputy. Skase it was who had come forward promising to underwrite the $4 million license fee after it became known that the consortium was having trouble raising it. Three years later it emerged that the bank from which Skase had borrowed this money was still awaiting its repayment.
Right from the outset, the Bears had problems establishing credibility. Despite being known as ‘Brisbane’, Skase insisted that the club base itself at Carrara on the Gold Coast. Moreover, despite carrying the Bears nickname, the club’s official emblem featured a koala, which was not actually a bear at all. Even more critically, the club encountered enormous difficulties in trying to assemble a viable team. The attitude of opposition clubs and the VFL was hardly sympathetic or supportive, and whereas West Coast had access to a substantial wellspring of local, WAFL-based talent, Brisbane was forced to ‘pay through the nose’ to recruit players. In total, the Bears incurred an outlay of more than $1 million in procuring a team containing barely a handful of household names. Among these was the first player to sign for the club, Mark Williams, who headed north after a protracted contract dispute with former side Collingwood, while perhaps the biggest name on the Bears’ inaugural list was Brad Hardie (shown above) from Footscray, winner of two Tassie Medals and the 1985 Brownlow. Originally from South Fremantle, the red-haired, nuggety Hardie combined a straight ahead, no nonsense approach with considerable flair and versatility. Sadly, although he would later become the first man to register 100 games with the club, Hardie’s form at Brisbane would seldom reach the same heights as it had with either South Fremantle or Footscray.
Other key figures in the original Bears set-up included coach Peter Knights, a former Hawthorn champion, captain Mark Mickan from West Adelaide, deputy vice-captain Steve Reynoldson from Geelong, Bernie Harris (ex Fitzroy), Geoff Raines (from Essendon, and formerly of Richmond and Collingwood), Ken Judge and Mick McCarthy (both ex Hawthorn), Jim Edmond (from Sydney, having played previously with Footscray), native born Queenslander Frank Dunell (from Essendon), and former Collingwood and Richmond wingman Phil Walsh, who would be the eventual recipient of the club’s inaugural best and fairest award.
Almost universally written off as a ramshackle collection of rejects, has-beens and ‘failures waiting to happen’, the Bears were given absolutely no hope, outside of Queensland at any rate, of winning their first game of the season, away to North Melbourne. In truth, there were probably very few people in Queensland either who gave them any chance, and indeed not that many who even knew about the club or, if they did, who cared two cents for its prospects.
In the event, despite a solid start the Bears endured a testing debut season which produced just half a dozen wins and saw them finish above only wooden spooners Richmond on the premiership ladder.
As regards the West Australian bid, some background information might be instructive. As the 1980s dawned it was virtually taken for granted that any Western Australian footballer worth his salt would, having served an all too brief apprenticeship in the WAFL, head east to the VFL. The standard of football being served up by the eight WAFL clubs inevitably declined. East Perth Football Club, conscious both of this and the likely long term effects on the health of the game if the continued player drain went unchecked, in 1980 made a unilateral bid to enter a team in the VFL from the following season. Club President Jim Leahy succinctly and somewhat wryly observed, “Our prognosis for Western Australian football is that it is destined for second class status because of the continual loss of quality players to Victoria.”
It should not be assumed that such a view was universally held, however. Despite the player drain, football in Western Australia was superficially healthy. Crowds were buoyant, and the introduction of state of origin football gave supporters an annual opportunity to witness the sport being displayed by some of its most proficient practitioners. All too quickly, however, the crowds began to diminish. By 1983 the management of the WAFL itself acknowledged that economic crisis loomed. They approached the state government for financial aid, and were rewarded with a grant of $1.9 million. However, inevitably there were strings. The government wanted a full scale investigation into the likely future financial demands of football, and they set up an investigative committee to report on this.
The investigative committee consisted of local businessmen Bill Mitchell (chairman), Peter Collins and John Horgan, and the main recommendation in its report, which was published in January 1984, was that Western Australian football should be controlled by an independent board, rather than by the traditional WAFL management committee. Within a month this recommendation had been implemented and a new, streamlined seven man administration was in place. The government indicated its satisfaction by taking up the payments still owing on the $4 million two tier grandstand at Subiaco Oval which had been completed three years earlier. Western Australian football was now free to embark on a future in which the whole landscape of the game would be transformed by what, to earlier generations, might well have been viewed as ‘fraternisation with the enemy’.
By 1986 thinking in Perth and Melbourne as to the best future direction for football had reached a point of convergence, at least tacitly. With many VFL clubs in dire financial straits an expanded competition was looking increasingly desirable, if only from a purely financial perspective. In Western Australia, too, the major constraints were economic, but there was also concern that the traditional controlling authority for football in the state, the WAFL, might be undermined by a VFL incursion. In July 1986 the WAFL board published a 64 page report outlining its preferred future path for football in the state. The report conceded that an expanded VFL competition was inevitable, and suggested that the WAFL needed to be proactive in ensuring that Western Australia’s involvement in such a competition was conducted, as far as possible, under its own auspices. Already there had been rumblings from at least three WAFL member clubs to the effect of wanting to ‘go it alone’ in terms applying to enter teams in the VFL, while the prospect of another Sydney Swans type scenario with one of the weaker Melbourne-based clubs re-locating to Perth was as real as it was distasteful and alarming.
It is against this background that the apparently undignified haste of the West Coast Eagles’ formation needs to be viewed. Ostensibly, the WAFL board bent over backwards to conform to every whim of its VFL counterparts over the admission, in 1987, of a Perth-based club. Such subjugation even included the payment, in full (rather than by instalments over ten years, as originally mooted), of a $4 million ‘license fee’, without which it is doubtful that the inward-looking and arrogantly parochial VFL clubs would even have given the fledgling Eagles time of day.
Prostitution or prescience? You decide.
As far as the ‘game’ of football itself was concerned the newly formed club had just six months to assemble a squad of players capable of holding its own in the VFL. East Fremantle’s Ron Alexander had been appointed as the new club’s coach even before its admission had been ratified by the VFL and on 1st October, simultaneously with the VFL endorsement, came an announcement that former East Perth star Ross Glendinning, who had won the 1982 Brownlow Medal while with North Melbourne, would be returning home as inaugural captain.
On 30th October 1986 the club’s name and colours together with the identities of the thirty-two players on the initial training list were unveiled at a glitzy ceremony at the Merlin Hotel in Perth. The name ‘West Coast’ was chosen to signify representation of the whole of Western Australia, not just Perth; the wedge-tailed eagle is the state’s largest bird of prey, hence the ‘eagle’ emblem; and blue and gold were allegedly registered with the VFL as the new club’s official colours just a matter of hours before West Coast’s fellow debutants Brisbane endeavoured to do the same.
When the West Coast Eagles were launched with Hollywood style glitz the acclaim was considerable but by no means universal. Many felt, with Les Everett, “that those in charge of the new VFL club believed they were the product of some sort of immaculate conception - as if football hadn’t existed in WA before the Eagles came along”. Tragically, and shamefully, this lie continues to be peddled.
As the curtain came down on the 1986 season then, football was on the verge of a new era. Indeed it might be argued that the changes wrought to the football landscape in 1987 were every bit as significant as the codification of the game’s laws in the 1870s and the establishment of the VFL in 1896. In contrast to those developments, however, football in the AFL era would not be the property of those who played and watched it, but rather of the AFL itself. Answerable to no one, the AFL would treat the game as a commodity to be reshaped and modified as the perceived needs of the market dictated. Meanwhile, the needs and desires of leagues, clubs and individuals lower in the pyramid would be ignored. To some, this is progress. Others though remember how things were.
Grand final results - VFL: Hawthorn 16.14 (110) d. Carlton 9.14 (68); SANFL: Glenelg 21.9 (135) d. North Adelaide 12.15 (87); WAFL: Subiaco 19.16 (130) d. East Fremantle 8.13 (61); VFA: Division One - Williamstown 17.9 (111) d. Coburg 14.14 (98); Division Two - Box Hill 14.14 (98) d. Sunshine 11.14 (80); TFL: Glenorchy 14.20 (104) d. Sandy Bay 9.18 (72); NTFA: Scottsdale 20.14 (134) d. Longford 17.11 (113); SFL: Campbelltown 17.13 (115) d. North Shore 13.14 (92); NTFL: St Mary’s 32.19 (211) d. Nightcliff 4.9 (33); QAFL: Coorparoo 12.16 (88) d. Southport 11.12 (78); NWFU: Ulverstone 9.10 (64) d. Smithton 7.7 (49); ACTAFL: Tuggeranong 8.11 (59) d. Queanbeyan 8.10 (58).