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WANFL: Old Easts Hold Sway

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

Nicknamed “Stork”, East Fremantle's Jack Clarke belied his somewhat ungainly appearance with supreme agility and formidable ball skills.  Moreover, in an era boasting many high quality knock ruckmen Clarke had few peers in the role.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Adelaide's Ron Benton

A Review of the 1957 Football Season

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VFL: Dees Make it Three in a Row

Unlike in 1955 and 1956 Melbourne did not have things all their own way this season. After an extraordinarily evenly contested home and away series, Melbourne duly secured a third successive minor premiership, but it did so with just 12 wins and a draw from 18 matches, the poorest record by a minor premier since 1943. Then, in the second semi final against Essendon, the unthinkable happened, as the Bombers, after kicking 10 1st half goals to 2, won by 16 points to progress straight into the grand final.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SANFL: A Hat Trick of Flags for Port

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom Times in Tasmania

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

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

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

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


Moorabbin Break the Ice in Style

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

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


Interstate Matches

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

South Australia played the VFA in Melbourne, winning by 34 points, and in Adelaide where the margin was u1 points in the home state’s favour. They also travelled to Hobart to play Tasmania with their defeat to that state in the previous year’s Perth carnival still fresh in their minds. Once again they were hard pressed, but on this occasion they did just enough to sneak home by 15 points in a high scoring, hugely entertaining game.


Other Grand Finals

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

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

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

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

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


FOOTNOTES

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

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

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

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

Jack Clarke (East Fremantle)