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SANFL: Port Power On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VFA: Hat Trick of Flags for Seagulls

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


Bumper Year in Tassie

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

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


Other States and Territories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



FOOTNOTES

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

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

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

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

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

South Fremantle's John Gerovich takes a screamer.

Davey Boyd (Port Adelaide)

Vics Continue to Reign Supreme

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

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

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VFL: Dees Dominate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WANFL: A Right Royal Revival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Review of the 1956 Football Season