Explore the History of australian football

 ​South Adelaide rover Alf Skuse

BACK TO:   Season Reviews

VFL: Demons’ Last Hurrah

Since capturing the 1960 VFL flag - the club’s fifth in six seasons - Melbourne had continued to display excellent form every season during the minor round, but that form tended to desert them once the finals arrived. Between 1961 and 1963 the Demons engaged in five finals matches, losing all bar one. Would things be any different in 1964?

One difference was that, for the first time since that 1960 premiership year, Melbourne finished the home and away matches at the head of the ladder. Whether or not this instilled some kind of psychological advantage in the team is of course impossible to ascertain, but the fact is that the Demons played scintillating football in the second semi final to annihilate Collingwood by 89 points. The nature and scale of the triumph were reassuring, but nobody at Melbourne was counting any chickens. The memories of 1958 were still sharp in the mind; that was the year the Demons thrashed the Magpies in the second semi only to lose to them a fortnight later when it mattered much more. Would history repeat itself?

Collingwood certainly hoped so, and they almost got their wish. The first three quarters were tight and tense, with Melbourne in front by a point at the first change, Collingwood by 2 points at half time, and the Demons by 11 points at the last interval. What followed was one of the most sensational finishes in VFL grand final history.

Melbourne attacked from the outset, but all they managed was a succession of 3 behinds. The first goal of the term was kicked by Des Tuddenham for the ‘Pies, reducing the deficit to 8 points. The Demons then squandered a couple more goal scoring opportunities, managing only behinds, before Collingwood put themselves right back in the picture when burly ruckman Ray Gabelich grabbed the ball from a boundary throw-in and goaled.

Four points now separated the teams. Then came the sequence of play for which the 1964 VFL grand final is remembered. Tuddenham’s pass found Gabelich, unattended, at half forward left. Amazingly, there was nobody between the big ruckman and the goal, and he promptly galloped off, bouncing the ball at regular intervals, and indeed almost losing it more than once. Eventually, however, he reached the goal square and, to a cacophanous roar from the Collingwood contingent in the crowd, kicked truly. The clock showed that there were four minutes plus time on remaining.

Melbourne attacked for the majority of the game’s closing minutes, abandoning team rules to flood their forward zone. The tactic paid off. Four minutes into time on slimly built Demons back pocket player Neil Crompton gathered the ball off the hands of a pack of players near goal and split the centre with a low, spearing punt kick. It was his only goal, indeed his only score, of the season, and despite Collingwood’s best efforts to drive the ball forward from the resumption the siren sounded soon after to leave Melbourne victors by 4 points. It was the Demons’ twelfth league flag, just one fewer than record holders, Collingwood. More than half a century later, however, they are still waiting for premiership number thirteen.

The heartache experienced by Collingwood supporters that day was something they would have to endure five more times over two decades. Opposition fans delighted in attributing this persistent failure to what was termed “Colliwobbles” and there are some who believe the label sank deep into the subconscious of several generations of Magpie players, creating what was in effect a self-fulfilling prophecy. Certainly, in both 1970 and 1981 against Carlton the ‘Pies somehow conspired to surrender from positions of apparently consummate superiority.

In 1964, fans of 1963 premiers Geelong - and, one imagines, multitudinous others - were of the opinion that Collingwood ought not even to have been in the grand final. This opinion was based on the Cats’ waywardness in front of goal throughout but chiefly in the closing minutes of their preliminary final clash with the Magpies. With Collingwood ahead 7.6 (48) to 5.10 (40) Geelong, through the agencies of Farmer, Routley and Wade (twice), registered four consecutive behinds from comparatively easy shots. Had just one of these shots procured full points the Cats and not the Magpies would have faced Melbourne in “the big one”.

There is little doubt that Geelong remained the league’s classiest side, although it is also worth pointing out that they had, statistically, the best defence in the competition. Missing the double chance (which they did only on percentage) was arguably critical.

Essendon showed occasional glimmers of their 1962 premiership form during the 1964 season, procuring wins over all four fellow finalists, together with a draw in their second meeting with Geelong. In the first semi final, however, despite a solid start, the Bombers succumbed by 17 points to a faster, fitter Cats side.

Hawthorn, runners up in 1963, missed the 1964 finals by a couple of points plus percentage. The Hawks were still the same ruthless, immensely fit combination, but other sides had caught up. Nevertheless, had they managed to win their round seventeen encounter with Melbourne then they, and not the Demons, would have topped the ladder. Melbourne won thanks to a freakish late goal from the boundary by “Hassa” Mann and the composition of the finsal four was effectively decided.

Sixth placed St Kilda had been expected to kick on after reaching the finals in 1963. However, the Saints were extremely inconsistent, particularly away from home. On the plus side, they finished the season with three consecutive wins, including a last round victory over Geelong which deprived the Cats of the minor premiership.

Footscray, who finished seventh, were another team with a good home record (7-2) who suffered (2-7) on their travels. Possibly the highlight of the Bulldogs’ season was their 11.12 (78) to 11.7 (73) defeat of St Kilda in the night series grand final at the Lake Oval. The match was watched by a record crowd for the night competition of 36,300. It was Footscray’s second successive night series premiership.

With just two exceptions all of North Melbourne’s wins in 1964 came against teams which finished below them on the ladder. Those exceptions came in successive weeks in rounds three and four and were at the expense of Essendon at Windy Hill by 14 points and Hawthorn at Arden Street by 31 points.

Richmond managed one more win - six compared to two - than in 1963 but it was still a hugely disappointing season. The Tigers appeared like a club going nowhere at this time and it would be a few seasons yet before this changed.

Carlton’s Gordon Collis only had a comparatively brief career at the top level, but it was certainly eventful.  He made his VFL debut as a forward in 1961 after the Blues had won a race with Fitzroy to procure his signature.  Most of his early football was played on the forward lines, and he was successful enough to be chosen at centre half forward in the VFL 'B' team in 1962.  In 1963 his form fell away, and it later emerged that he had been having sight problems.  Prior to the start of the 1964 season, he was fitted with contact lenses, and, lo and behold, his form underwent a remarkable improvement.  After beginning the season at full back he was moved to centre half back during the round 5 clash with Collingwood at Victoria Park after Magpie full forward Terry Waters had threatened to cut loose.  Collis took to centre half back as though born to the position: week after week he made the best player lists, he was selected to play there in the senior VFL interstate team, and he ended up running away with the Brownlow Medal, 8 votes clear of Hawthorn's Phil Hay, and Ken Fraser of Essendon.  For good measure, he also won Carlton's best and fairest award.

Unfortunately, the remainder of Gordon Collis' 95 game VFL career was short-circuited by recurrent, niggling injuries, culminating in serious damage to a foot which prompted him to 'retire' at the end of the 1965 season.  Still aged only 27, he decided after a year away from the game that he would give it one more try, and 1967 saw him back at Princes Park for what proved to be his final league season.  On doctors' advice, he retired for good at the end of the year after being diagnosed with stomach ulcers.  

Ironically, in 1968 the Blues broke through for their first flag since 1947, an achievement to which Gordon Collis would, no doubt, dearly have loved to contribute.

Gordon Collis’s Brownlow Medal win was very much the highlight for Carlton in what was otherwise a dismal season producing just 5 wins and a draw from 18 minor round matches.

South Melbourne fared even worse than the Blues, managing just a couple of wins all year. The only team which the Swans defeated was Fitzroy who finished in last place without a win.

 ​Port's 1964 Magarey Medal winner Geof Motley

"King" Kerley

 ​Melbourne premiership hero Neil Crompton

​Claremont's Ian Brewer

A Review of the 1964 Football Season

Victoria Reasserts Its Interstate Dominance

The VFL comprehensively reasserted its dominance in the interstate arena in 1964. Against Werstern Australia in Melbourne the Vics did more or less as they pleased in strolling to a 112 points victory, 24.21 (165) to 7.11 (53). South Australia in Adelaide proved a somewhat tougher nut to crack and indeed they led until early in the last term. However, during the run-in the VFL added 7.6 to 1.3 to emerge in the end as comfortable victors, 13.22 (100) to 10.8 (68).

South Australia and Western Australia proved to be relatively evenly matched. In Adelaide on 27th June the two states conspired to poroduce “perhaps the dullest interstate game at Adelaide since World War Two”[5], with South Australia ultimately edging home by 13 points, 18.11 (119) to 16.10 (106). By contrast, the return match in Perth was furiously contested and only settled in the home state’s favour in the final moments. Scores were Western Australia 8.8 (56) defeated South Australia 6.15 (51).

Western Australia also visited Hobart in 1964 and convincingly overcame Tasmania 24.15 (159) to 5.7 (37). Tasmania also played a match against a VFA representative team in Launceston with the visitors triumphing by 27 points.

Sydney was the venue for the two other interstate matches contested in 1964. In both, the home state New South Wales was vanquished, by 50 points at the hands of Queensland, and by 31 points against Canberra.

Record Crowds in Tassie

The Tasmanian Football League saw a number of attendance records broken. Total crowds for the roster matches were 207,174, a new high, while the aggregate attendance of 57,764 for the finals included a grand final record of 20,775. Overall, if intrastate, interstate and state premiership attendances are included, the total for the season was 297,687, which was 30,150 more than the previous record.

New Norfolk headed the ladder after the roster matches and then convincingly overcame Sandy Bay in the second semi to proceed straight to the grand final. The Seagulls also ended up reaching the grand final after defeating Hobart 12.11 (83) to 8.14 (62) in the following week’s preliminary final.

The record grand final crowd was treated to a thrilling contest in which Sandy Bay turned the tables on their second semi final conquerers to capture their third TFL flag, and their first for twelve years. The Seagulls were no match for NTFA premiers Scottsdale in the state preliminary final, however, and went down by 9 points. In the state premiership decider NWFU premiers Cooee triumphed over the Magpies by 8 points, 15.16 (106) to 14.14 (98). It was the Bulldogs’ first state flag.


Other States and Territories

St George thrashed Western Suburbs by 10 goals in the NSWANFL grand final giving them their first premiership for twenty-one years. 

In Queensland, Coorparoo won back to back premierships thanks to  an 18.18 (126) to 12.21 (93) grand final defeat of Mayne.

Eastlake won a third successive flag in Canberra. The Demons overcame Manuka in the grand final by 26 points, 14.11 (95) to 10.9 (69).

In Darwin, the team bearing the city’s name claimed a second consecutive NTFL premiership by means of an 8.9 (57) to 4.10 (34) grand final triumph over arch rivals St Marys.

Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 8.16 (64) d. Collingwood 8.12 (60) (Norm Smith's  6th VFL flag as coach of the Demons) [See GREAT GAMES section]; SANFL: South Adelaide 9.15 (69) d. Port Adelaide 5.12 (42); WANFL: Claremont 14.18 (102) d. East Fremantle 15.8 (98)  [See GREAT GAMES section]; VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 14.17 (101) d. Williamstown 10.5 (65); Division Two - Geelong West 14.14 (98) d. Sunshine 11.11 (77); TANFL: Sandy Bay 11.11 (77) d. New Norfolk 9.11 (65); NTFA: Scottsdale 8.15 (63) d. City-South 6.7 (43); NSWANFL: St George 14.18 (102) d. Western Suburbs 4.18 (42); NTFL: Darwin 8.9 (57) d. St Marys 4.10 (34); QAFL: Coorparoo 18.18 (126) d. Mayne 12.21 (93); NWFU: Cooee 17.12 (114) d. Ulverstone 5.14 (44); CANFL: Eastlake 14.11 (95) d. Manuka 10.9 (69); TSP: Cooee 15.16 (106) d. Scottsdale 14.14 (98).​

FOOTNOTES

[1] “SA Football Budget”, 21/9/63, page 15. Swans duly went on to claim a third successive flag in 1963.

[2] The distance between finals qualification and September mothballs was, arguably, as narrow as the goalpost against which West Perth's John Vuckman sent his shot from point blank range in the dying moments of a game against Perth in the penultimate round of the home and away season.  Had Vuckman kicked truly then the Cardinals, and not Claremont, would have participated in the 1964 major round. 

[3] Quoted in “The 1987 WAFL Grand Final Football Budget”, 19/9/87, page 11. 

[4] It could be called a mini final because the loser would be ousted from the September fray, while the winner would proceed to the first semi final.

[5] South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1965 page 27.

 ​Ray Gabelich (Collingwood)

​1964 Brownlow Medallist Gordon Collis

VFA: Borough and Roosters Ease to Victory

Port Melbourne had suffered no fewer than seven grand final defeats during the 1950s, including three at the hands of Williamstown. In 1964 the Borough got revenge over the Seagulls, winning both the division one second semi final and grand final comfortably. In the opening term of the grand final Port produced a sustained display of purposeful brilliance leaving many Wiliamstown players floundering. At quarter time the margin was 41 points in Port’s favour, and although the remainder of the match was evenly contested the Seagulls simply had too much ground to make up. Final scores were Port Melbourne 14.17 (101) defeated Williamstown 10.5 (65).

In only their second season since crossing from the Ballarat Football League Geelong West produced a major surprise by defeating Sunshine 14.14 (98) to 11.11 (77). It was a hard fought victory as the Crows, trailing by 25 points at three quarter time but coming home with the breeze, fought back to lead midway through the final term. It was this point that Geelong West’s ruck division, led  by veteran Max Croft, suddenly clicked into gear and produced a rapid succession of scoring opportunities. The Roosters added 4.4 in the closing stages to win with deceptive comfort.

WANFL: Tigers Triumphant

Quite incredibly, Neil Kerley was not the only coach of a major football club to “do a Bunton” in 1964. In Western Australia former East Fremantle rover Jim Conway was appointed coach of Claremont, which in 1963 had finished bottom of the ladder after winning just 4 out of 21 minor round games. The move was far from universally popular, but Conway soon had his charges playing competitive, if hardly spectacular or even consistent, football.  By the end of the minor round the Tigers had scraped into the finals in fourth place[2] but it would have taken a very brave person indeed to wage money on their going on to lift the flag, or even progressing any further.  In this context Claremont's hard fought 10.13 (73) to 8.13 (61) first semi final defeat of Subiaco was probably perceived as little more than an unexpected, if gratifying, bonus by most of the club's supporters.  However, when the club followed this up a fortnight later with a 9 point win over Perth in the preliminary final expectations among the Tiger faithful soared.

The 1964  grand final presented the West Australian public, which traditionally identifies with and affirms the underdog, with a classic “David and Goliath” scenario.  Claremont, which had not participated in a senior grand final since 1940, was given little serious chance of upsetting minor premier and perennial finalist East Fremantle, which was aiming to secure the 22nd senior flag in its history.  Old East had contemptuously brushed aside Perth's challenge in the second semi final to the tune of 43 points, having earlier vanquished Claremont by a similar margin on the teams' last meeting in the minor round.  A near record crowd of 45,120 turned up at Subiaco Oval on grand final day and many would have derived enormous satisfaction from witnessing the underdogs, whose skipper Kevin Clune had won the toss and elected to kick with the aid of an appreciable breeze, dominate early proceedings.  Indeed, had the Tigers players managed to kick straighter the match might have been virtually over by quarter time.  As it was, Claremont led by 25 points, 4.9 to 1.2, but by half time East Fremantle had edged into a 2 point lead and things were beginning to look ominous.  The third term - so often the decisive phase of a match - did not on this occasion prove conclusive, and at three quarter time there were only 5 points in it as Claremont led 10.13 (73) to 10.8 (68).

The final quarter saw the two sides matching one another stride for stride and score for score.  Twenty three years on George Grljusich recalled the closing moments of a game with one of the most dramatic climaxes in  history:

I'll never forget that game.  I was covering the game for ABC television and (former Claremont and Geelong champion) George Moloney was my expert comments man.  It was well into the time-on period and Claremont were down by 8 points.  They needed 2 goals to win and at that point Moloney conceded defeat.  But (East Fremantle's) Norm Rogers who had been a tower of strength at centre half back suddenly cramped up and Claremont centre half forward Ian Brewer broke loose to kick 2 angled goals which gave Claremont victory.  Claremont had fought back gallantly .........  When Moloney had conceded defeat I, too, was sure that it was going to be East Fremantle's victory. [3]

Claremont won 14.18 (102) to 15.8 (98) with the only marginally sour point being that it was East Fremantle's Norm Rogers who claimed the Simpson Medal for best afield.

Not that anyone at East Fremantle would have been remotely gratified about this. Old Easts were a premiership winning machine, and grand final losses stung. The fact that East Fremantle had comfortably accounted for Clkaremont in all three meetings between the teams during the minor round if anything only served to twist the knife.

Perth finished third for the second season in a row in 1964. The Demons achieved at least one minor round win against all three of their fellow finalists, while on the reverse side of the ledger they succumbed to defeat against wooden spooners East Perth in round nineteen. A 43 point loss to East Fremantle in the second semi final followed and although Perth pushed Claremont all the way in the next week’s preliminary final they ultimately fell short by 9 points. With a nucleus of extremely promising youngsters in their ranks Perth could be confidently expected to improve. One of those youngsters, Barry Cable, won the 1964 Sandover Medal. Cable would go on to become one of the all time greats of the game.

Despite qualifying for the finals Subiaco never really suggested that they were premiership material. Perhaps the Lions’ most noteworthy achievement was downing eventual premiers Claremont three times during the home and away rounds. Young full forward Austin Robertson junior gave a hint of great things in the offing by kicking 96 goals to top gthe goal kicking ladder.

As mentioned previously, West Perth could be adjudged somewhat unfortunate not to make the major round. With three minor round games to go the Cardinals were looking confortable but they then somehow conspired to lose to Swan Districts, Perth and Claremont in successive weeks to just miss out. The “mini-final” clash [4] with Claremont at Leederville attracted a crowd of 21,446 which was easily the biggest of the season, and more than attended the following week’s first semi final between Claremont and Subiaco.

Reigning premiers Swan Districts slumped to sixth place in 1964. They began the season in excellent form, standing 6-1 after 7 matches and 7-2 after 9, but thereafter their fortunes nosedived and they managed just 2 more wins all season. Premiership coach Haydn Bunton junior headed to South Australia after the season to take up the role of playing coach of Norwood.

South Fremantle fans endured another dismal season as their team again finished seventh. Perhaps the only bright spots of the year were the derby victories over East Fremantle in rounds one and fifteen.

East Perth’s wooden spoon was the club’s first since 1929. The Royals did not manage a win until round eleven, and thereafter only won a couple more games. Improvement would soon arrive.

SANFL: Kerley “Does a Bunton”

Can Neil Kerley “Do a Bunton” with South next year? Haydn Bunton went to Western Australia three years ago to coach bottom team, Swan Districts. In one year he lifted them to a premiership; repeated the dose last year, and Swans last Saturday turned on an amazing last quarter to down East Perth in the first semi final. If Kerley can lift South next year in the same way, attendances here will rocket just as they did in WA when Swans began moving up the ladder.[1]

South Adelaide laid down the gauntlet to the other nine league clubs with an impressive start to the season. After 8 matches they had suffered only one reversal, by 29 points at the hands of Sturt in round four, and among the vanquished were both the previous season’s grand finalists, West Adelaide and Port Adelaide. Far from slacking off, the Panthers thereafter gathered momentum, losing only twice more prior to the finals, for which they qualified in second place on equal points with minor premier Port Adelaide, but a marginally inferior percentage.

South supporters were presumably having to pinch themselves prior to the second semi final in which 38,918 spectators were treated to a bona fide classic, in which Port, having trailed by 32 points at the last change, snatched victory at the death by a single point. Coach Kerley had instructed his men to play defensively in the final term, and blamed this for the fact the Panthers lost. He resolved never again to resort to defensive tactics in order to hold onto a lead.

On the following Saturday, Sturt was comprehensively outplayed to the tune of 39 points in the preliminary final, thereby setting the scene for a titanic, , “gloves off”, quintessential “David vs. Goliath” premiership decider.

Of the South Adelaide team which took the field in front of 56,353 spectators on grand final day, only Neil Kerley, Lester Ross (ex Norwood) and Ian Day (ex West Adelaide) had played in a grand final before.  Aware of this, 'the King' had kept everything low key in the build up to the big game, and right from the early moments of the opening term it was clear that the players were not about to let their coach down.  As usual, Port's tackling was ferocious, but the Panthers gave as good as they got, and in half forward Alf Skuse (10 kicks in the first quarter), rovers Ian Day and Alan White, strong marking ruckman David Kantilla and elusive centreman Lindsay Backman they had the dominant players on view.  The South rucks were on top early too, although later this would change.  By quarter time, the Panthers had kicked the only 2 goals of the game and were 12 points to the good - still anybody's match, but a sound start.

The Magpies began the second term well but were prevented from capitalising on their superiority by a bustling, hyper aggressive South Adelaide defence.  The Panthers, who had hardly managed to get the ball ahead of centre all term, led 2.6 to 0.8 as time-on approached before hitting Port with not one, not two, but three massive body blows in the shape of goals to White, Day and Dick Jackson to go into the main break with a handy looking 26 point advantage.  At half time, astonishingly, the reigning premiers and flag favourites had yet to kick a goal.

South added to the Magpies' misery early in the third term thanks to another goal from White, and although Eric Freeman finally managed to register a major for Port at the seven minute mark, White's third goal moments later restored the Panthers' healthy lead.  However, with Magpie coach Fos Williams ringing the changes, Port finished the quarter strongly, adding 3 goals to get within 16 points at the final change.  The scene was set for a thrilling finale.

South did most of the attacking early in the final term but could only manage minor scores.  Then, 7 minutes in, Eric Freeman goaled for Port to bring the margin back to 13 points, and the crowd to fever pitch.  A lesser team would have buckled at this point, but the Panthers had graduated from the Neil Kerley School of Applied Fortitude and Resolve, and buckling was the last thing on their mind.  A brilliant mark to Skuse, followed by a goal, extended the difference to 19 points, and shortly afterwards wingman Brian Ploenges found Ian Day in the clear, and the future television commentator gleefully put the seal on a great win.  South had taken everything the “mighty Magpies” had thrown at them, and triumphed.

For those “mighty Magpies” their first grand final defeat since 1953 was as welcome as vinegar on apple pie. Under Fos Williams, Port Adelaide played for one reason only: to win premierships. Consequently a season which would have been regarded as acceptable by most if not all the other nine league clubs was deemed a failure. If anyone at Alberton regarded club captain Geof Motley’s widely lauded Magarey Medal triumph as a form of consolation they wisely kept it to themselves.

Sturt showed enormous promise in 1964 to finish third. The Double Blues played a fast, highly skilful brand of football which enabled them to overcome every other team in the competition bar Port and West at least once. They had the wood on their first semi final opponents Glenelg all year, downing them in round one by 4 goals and 19 points in round thirteen. They scraped home by 5 points in their finals clash but were comprehensively outdone by South in the preliminary final.

Sturt’s promise would soon be emphatically fulfilled, but Glenelg, who finished fourth, would fail to build on their much improved 1964 showing. The highlight of the year for the Bays was probably their 17.12 (114) to 16.9 (105) defeat of eventual premiers South Adelaide in round nine.

Fifth placed West Torrens opened the season with four straight wins, including a 1 point triumph over Port, but thereafter they were inconsistent in the extreme. Usually capable of downing teams below them on the ladder with considerable comfort, that round two defeat of the Magpies remained their only success of the season against an eventual finalist, although they did manage a draw with Glenelg in round fifteen.

Wins against Port Adelaide in round one and Sturt two weeks later seemingly set Norwood up for a memorable season but it was not to be. The Redlegs proved to be perhaps the most inconsistent side in the competition, but even so with three matches remaining were still in with an outside chance of qualifying for the finals. That the Redlegs were not major round material in 1964 was then emphasised as they lost all three of those matches, to Torrens by 50 points, against Sturt by 62 points, and by 80 points to South.

After a dreadful start to the season West Adelaide recovered somewhat to finish seventh. Westies lost their first four matches and after nine rounds their only wins had been against the league’s two newcomers, Central District and Woodville. Two hefty wins over Sturt during the second half of the season highlighted their improvement.

North Adelaide, which had reached the 1963 grand final, was without doubt the most disappointing team of 1964. Four of the Roosters seven wins for the year came against SANFL new boys Centrals and Woodville.

Of those newcomers it was the Woodpeckers who performed better. They won three matches for the year, all against Centrals, and they also finished with a better percentage than the hapless Bulldogs.

The undoubted highlight of the 1964 football season in South Australia was Neil Kerley’s remarkable feat in “doing a Bunton” and coaching perennial cellar dwellers South Adelaide to the premiership. The question now was whether, like Bunton, he would prove capable of repeating the dose.

​Norm Rogers (East Fremantle), Simpson Medallist in the '64 grand final

​The great Barry Cable