Explore the History of australian football

West Perth's Bill Dempsey, another important contributor to West Perth's flag win.

​Port's Russell Ebert, winner of the 1971 Magarey Medal.

​A Review of the 1971 Football Season

​Former South Melbourne player Bob Kingston who was SA's full back in 1971.

BACK TO:      Season Reviews 2

Grand final results -CoA: Hawthorn 13.13 (91) d. North Adelaide 10.7 (67); VFL: Hawthorn 12.10 (82) d. St Kilda 11.9 (75); SANFL: North Adelaide 10.19 (79) d. Port Adelaide 9.5 (59); WANFL: West Perth 14.17 (101) d. East Perth 9.15 (69); VFA: Division One - Dandenong 14.14 (98) d. Preston 13.14 (92); Division Two - Sunshine 22.26 (158) d. Brunswick 16.8 (104); TANFL: Sandy Bay 18.13 (121) d. Clarence 16.16 (112); NTFA: Scottsdale 21.10 (136) d. City-South 5.13 (43); NSWANFL: East Sydney (formerly Eastern Suburbs) 19.15 (129) d. Western Suburbs 15.22 (112); NTFL: Darwin 16.7 (103) d. St Marys 7.13 (55); QAFL: Sandgate 16.11 (107) d. Kedron 10.20 (80); NWFU: Latrobe 14.16 (100) d. East Devonport 5.9 (39); CANFL: Manuka 10.17 (77) d. Eastlake 6.15 (51); TSP: Sandy Bay 12.14 (86) d. Latrobe 8.17 (65).

 ​Woodville's 1971 best and fairest award winner and arguably the state's best rover, Ray Huppatz.

Peter Steward, who crossed to West Perth from North Melbourne in '71, and was a key factor in the Cardinals' premiership triumph.

Peter Hudson topped the VFL goal kicking list in 1971, equalling Bob Pratt's all-timke record of 150 goals for the season.

​East Fremantle's 1971 Sandover Medal winner Dave Hollins in action against Claremont.

VFA: Success for Redlegs and Crows

The VFA first division was extremely competitive in 1971 with even the bottom two sides, Williamstown and Geelong West, managing wins in two thirds of their matches. The top four comprised Preston (13-4-1), Dandenong (12-6), Oakleigh (12-6) and Sandringham (10-8). Preston and Dandenong contested the grand final with victory going to the latter by a single straight kick. The match attendance was a somewhat disappointing 14,529, which was roughly 8,000 fewer than had attended the previous year’s grand final. Overall, however, VFA crowds were up, and indeed the 1970s would prove to be a bumper decade for the competition.

The second division grand final was considerably more one-sided than the first, with Sunshine overcoming Brunswick by 54 points, 22.26 (158) to 16.8 (104). Sunshine had qualified for the second division finals for seven consecutive season but this was their first, and ultimately only, flag.

WANFL: “Polly” Bows Out on a High

After winning the 1969 WANFL premiership in convincing, tough and often exhilarating fashion West Perth inexplicably lost their way, together with 11 of their 21 minor round matches, in 1970. Apart from the loss of John Wynne to Norwood the team was the same as the previous year’s but it suffered an alarmingly poor start to the season, and although it recovered noticeably later on, winning 5 of its last 7 matches, it had too much ground to make up and failed to qualify for the finals.

Everyone at West Perth was determined to make 1971 a season to remember, not merely to erase the memory of a lack-lustre 1970, but also because it would represent the swansong of captain-coach Graham Farmer, without doubt one of the greatest and most inluential footballers of all time. Even at the age of thirty-six Farmer was still arguably the best ruckman in Australia as his displays in interstate matches, most notably against Victoria in Melbourne in 1970, continued to demonstrate. In 1971 the Cardinals had bolstered their playing ranks with the acquisition of North Melbourne defender Peter Steward, a regular VFL interstate representative who had won All Australian selection at the 1969 Adelaide carnival, plus Leon O’Dwyer (a Victorian who had been playing in the Northern Territory), who would develop into one of the best back pocket players in the country, and Phil Smith, who had been understudy to champion full forward Doug Wade at Geelong.

The Cardinals showed vastly improved form in 1971, and went on to procure the premiership, the club’s second under the tutelage of “Polly” Farmer. Unlike in 1969, however, this time ‘round the Cardinals would have to do things the hard way: they lost a tight, low scoring second semi final to East Perth by 10 points - the fourth successive occasion during the year that they had lost to the Royals - and then survived a late scare in the following week’s preliminary final when East Fremantle’s Gary Fenner missed an eminently kickable goal scoring chance in the final minute to leave West Perth victors by 3 points. Pumped up and consummately focused for “Polly” Farmer’s last ever league game, the Cardinals then found probably their best form for the season in upsetting the warmly favoured Royals, 14.17 (101) to 9.15 (69) in the premiership decider.  Right from the outset, East Perth had no answer to West Perth's aggression and pace, and although the final margin of victory was considerably smaller than in 1969, in a way it was every bit as convincing.

Graham Farmer put in a formidable last league performance to be many observers' choice as best afield.  However, the  Simpson Medal went to rover Steve Sheridan, with Bill Dempsey, Peter Steward, Alan Watling and Barry McAuliffe also earning mentions in dispatches.

A comparison between the 1969 and 1971 grand finals, played in similar weather conditions between the same teams, affords fairly stark evidence of the speed with which the game was evolving.  For example, in 1969 the drop kick was still the kick of choice approximately 50% of the time, whereas just two years later, although still very occasionally resorted to by some of the older players, it had been almost entirely superceded by the drop punt.

After the grand final a “premiers carnival”, featuring leading club sides from Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria was held in Perth as a testimonial to Farmer.  Matches were played over two halves of thirty minutes each, with Hawthorn eventually beating Claremont in the final.  West Perth was placed third, after beating both East Fremantle and Port Adelaide, but losing to Hawthorn.

East Perth’s losing grand final appearance in 1971 was the club’s seventh since it last won a flag in 1959. Almost a generation of Royals fans had grown up without knowing the unique feelings of fulfilment and exhilaration engendered by the winning of a premiership. All they had known was disappointment. Making that disappointment even more intense was the fact that, just as in 1961, 1967 and 1969, the Royals had enterfed the finals as minor premiers and favourites for the flag.

East Fremantle fell narrowly short of reaching the grand final in 1971. In a bid to turn things around after their disastrous four season sequence of ‘outs", Old Easts had decided that it was time to go back to basics.  To that end they appointed as senior coach former Hawthorn player and, more recently, Preston captain-coach Alan Joyce, a renowned disciplinarian with an avowedly “no frills” philosophy about how the game should be played.  Along with him, Joyce brought two rugged ex-Hawthorn footballers in the shape of Neil Ferguson and Richard 'Buster' Browne, and he wasted no time in implementing an intense and physically gruelling pre-season training regime designed to make East Fremantle the fittest team in the league.

As the 1971 season got underway, there were initially no real indications that the corner had been turned.  A scratchy 4 point win over Claremont in round one was gratifying but scarcely impressive, and there then followed three successive losses against South Fremantle, Swan Districts and Subiaco, all of whom were destined to miss the finals.

Thereafter there was steady rather than spectacular improvement, although the team could still be frustratingly inconsistent.  Its most protracted sequence of success came with four consecutive wins between rounds 17 and 20, a run which effectively sealed finals participation.  As for Alan Joyce's much vaunted pre-season fitness campaign, it is difficult to gauge its success.  One possible means of assessment is to look at how strongly the team finished games, and in this connection it is perhaps relevant to note that, during the minor round, Old Easts outscored the opposition in the last quarter in 11 of their 21 games, which hardly suggests markedly superior fitness.  However, such a means of assessment takes no account of the importance of the last quarter in terms of deciding the result of the match, and it perhaps deserves to be mentioned that there were three occasions when the side overcame significant three quarter time deficits in order to emerge with a win.  The most noteworthy of these fightbacks came in the home game against Perth in round 13 when Old Easts kicked 6.6 to 1.1 in the final term to win by 2 points, having trailed by 33 points at the last change.  Perhaps significantly, there were no converse examples of opposition teams fighting back from ostensibly hopeless positions at three quarter time to overcome Old Easts.

East Fremantle headed into the finals in third position and comfortably overcame Claremont in the first semi final. Their preliminary final clash with West Perth was memorably dramatic, and is covered in detail elsewhere. Sadly for Old Easts, as mentioned above it ended in defeat. Consolation of a sort was afforded by Dave Hollins’ conclusive victory in the Sandover Medal. Hollins received 26 votes compared to runner up Mel Whinnen’s 16.

Claremont actually won fewer matches in 1971 than in 1970 (11 compared to 12). However, unlike in 1970, when they finished fifth, theymade the finals, only to succumb at the first hurdle to East Fremantle. Scores were Old Easts 18.21 (129) defeated Claremont 11.16 (82). The Tigers would show considerable improvement in 1972, but it would be a full decade before they again procured premiership honours.

In fifth place, a win behind Claremont, came Subiaco. The Lions’ main problem was inconsistency. During the course of the season they managed to defeat three of the competition finalists at least once (the exception being East Perth) but they also managed to lose to all three of the teams which finished below them on the ladder.

The first such team was 1970 premier South Fremantle, which inexplicably nosedived to sixth place in the premiership table with just 9 wins. They actually commenced the season in the same kind of form which had secured the premiership, handing out a 93 point hiding to Subiaco in round one and following this with a hard fought eight point win in the Fremantle Derby against Old Easts. Thereafter, however, their form more or less deserted them, and almost all of their remaining wins were against fellow non-finalists.

The highlights of seventh placed Perth’s year both came early on with wins against West Perth in round one and East Perth three matches later. Indeed, after round four Perth remained the only unbeaten side in the competition, but after that it was all irreducibly down hill.

Wooden spooners Swan Districts did not even manage to make it beyond the foothills and some of their defeats were sizeable. In round eight, for example, they succumbed to East Perth by 98 points, while four rounds later West Perth annihilated them 31.16 (204) to 6.10 (46). (Ironically, Swans’ finest performance of the season came against their round eight conquerers: in round fifteen they downed East Perth 13.8 (86) to 9.16 (82).)

Western Australia’s two interstate outings in 1971 both ended in defeats, by 38 points against the VFL in Perth, and to South Australia in Adelaide by 27 points.


Minor States and Territories Round-up

In Tasmania, the premierships went to Sandy Bay at the expense of Clarence (TANFL), Scottsdale against City-South (NTFA), and Latrobe versus East Devonport (NWFU). The state premiership decider was contested between Sandy Bay and Latrobe with the former emerging victorious by 21 points, 12.14 (86) to 8.17 (65).

The 1971 QAFL grand final between Sandgate and Kedron was won by the latter, largely thanks to their greater accuracy in front of goal. In the end they got home by 27 points, 16.11 (107) to 10.20 (80).

Premiers in the other state/territory competitions were East Sydney (NSWANFL), Darwin (NTFL) and Manuka (CANFL).

A section two interstate carnival was contested in Brisbane. Besides the home state it involved the ACT, New South Wales and Australian Amateurs. The final saw the ACT comfortably overcome New South Wales 26.13 (169) to 15.11 (101) giving them their first ever section two carnival triumph.


FOOTNOTES

[1] Hawthorn’s first flag in any grade was won in 1958 in the VFL reserves competition. The Hawks repeated their success the following year.

[2] South Australian Record Yearbook 1972, page 29.

[3] Ibid, page 75.

St Kilda's dynamic blond bombshell "Big Carl" Ditterich.

VFL: A Hawk Resurgence

Since winning a first senior grade premiership in 1961 Hawthorn’s fortunes had waned.[1] From 1962 to 1970 the Hawks only once qualified to contest the finals. That was in 1963, when they got as far as the grand final only to succumb by 49 points to Geelong. In 1964 and 1969 they missed out on finals footy very narrowly, but other than that their performances had been uniformly mediocre, with the nadir coming with a wooden spoon in 1965.

The mastermind of Hawthorn’s 1961 premiership triumph had been John Kennedy, who famously espoused a commando style training regime which made the Hawks by some measure the league’s fittest team. Other clubs were quick to implement similar approaches, however, and given that several of these clubs had superior pools of playing talent available to them a changing of the guard became inevitable. Moreover, John Kennedy’s reign as coach ended after the 1963 season, and without his input the Hawks lost much of their discipline and fanaticism.

In 1967, Kennedy was re-installed as coach, and thereafter the team began to show slow but measurable improvement. In 1971 the Hawks were indomitable, winning all but 3 of their 22 minor round games, leaving them 12 points clear of second placed St Kilda and third placed Richmond. Although they boasted players of genuine star quality - full forward Peter Hudson booted a record-equalling 150 league goals and finished joint second in the Brownlow voting, Leigh Matthews and Peter Crimmins comprised arguably the competition’s best roving pair, and in Bob Keddie they had perhaps the finest half forward flank specialist in Australia - it was their efficiency and effectiveness as a team unit which elevated the Hawks above the common herd. Many of their wins in 1971 were by sizeable margins - notably a 95 point drubbing of North Melbourne at VFL Park in round eight, a 14.12 (96) to 4.12 (36) defeat of Carlton the following Saturday, a slashing victory by 115 points over Footscray in round seventeen, and another big win - 92 points - in the return match against North in round nineteen.

Second semi final opponents St Kilda provided much sterner opposition, however, although for the first three quarters the Hawks seemed to have things more or less their own way. At the last change it was Hawthorn by 33 points in a comparatively low scoring affair, but the final term saw the Saints mount a determined and very nearly successful rally which saw them add 5.9 to 1.2 and fall short by just a couple of points.

The closeness of the match made many sit up and take notice, and after St Kilda convincingly accounted for Richmond by 28 points in the preliminary final much of the serious money resided in their corner for the re-match with Hawthorn in the big one.

The Saints, like Hawthorn, had enjoyed senior grade premiership success only once, and again like the Hawks it had been achieved comparatively recently by means of a 1 point grand final triumph over Collingwood in 1966. The intervening four seasons had produced finals appearances in 1968 (fourth) and 1970 (third), while the side had also been competitive in both 1967 (fifth) and 1969 (seventh). The team boasted considerable talent in the shape of players like 1967 Brownlow Medallist Ross Smith (later selected as first rover in St Kilda’s official Team of the Century), all action ruckman Carl Ditterich, ultra solid Tasmanian defender Barry Lawrence, and talented West Australian follower John McIntosh. The absence from the grand final through injury of McIntosh, who had been in superlative form all season, might well have meant the difference between winning and losing for the Saints.

Among St Kilda’s most memorable performances during the 1971 home and away series were a massive 94 point triumph over Geelong at Kardinia Park in round one, plus big wins over South Melbourne both home and away, and North Melbourne at Arden Street. Their achievements this year were all the more impressive when you consider that they had lost arguably their greatest player, dual Brownlow Medallist Ian Stewart, to Richmond. Stewart quickly showed he had lost none of his prowess by adding another Brownlow win, but overall the Saints had more reason than the Tigers to feel pleased with their 1971 season.

Since 1967, when they defeated Geelong by 9 points in the grand final, Richmond had been one of the league’s most consistent team. The Tigers again won the premiership in 1969, and in 1971 there were many who felt that their wealth of experience would stand them in good stead come inals time. Opposed in the first semi final by Collingwood they duly drew on that experience in full measure to coast home by 42 points after things had looked decidedly tricky at lemon time, with Richmond’s advantage a mere 2 points. A fortnight later in the preliminary final the Tigers kept pace with St Kilda for almost three quarters but in the end fell short by 30 points.

Collingwood qualified for the finals in 1971 with 14 wins and a draw from their 22 home and away matches. Among their victories was a 30.20 (200) to 7.11 (52) annihilation of Essendon in round 14 at Victoria Park. (Ironically, their solitary draw for the season came against the same club.) The Magpies also massacred Footscray by 83 points in their opening fixture of the year, and obtained revenge of a sort over their conquerors in the 1970 grand final, Carlton, by downing the Blues 24.14 (158) to 11.7 (73) at VFL Park in round eleven. Another team which seemed to pose Collingwood few problems during the minor round was Richmond; the Magpies won by 37 points at Punt Road and 40 points at Victoria Park. However, when the stakes were infinitely higher in the first semi final Richmond raced to an 18.13 (121) to 11.11 (77) win after registering 7.2 to 0.1 in the final term.

In finishing half a win plus percentage outside the top four Carlton failed to qualify for the VFL finals for the first time since 1966. The Blues still boasted plenty of quality in their team but lacked the consistency of the previous few seasons. Their best performances came towards the end of the season: a 19.6 (120) to 11.15 (81) defeat of eventual premiers Hawthorn at Glenferrie in round twernty-one, and a victory by 19 points against Collingwood the following week.

In terms of matches won, Fitzroy enjoyed their best season (12 wins and 10 losses) since they had last qualified for the major round in 1960. The Lions’ best football was certainly impressive, but never quite good enough to overcome any of the 1971 finalists.

Seventh in 1971, with 11 wins and a draw, were Melbourne. The Dees could be formidable, as in their 105 point victory over South Melbourne in round one, and their come from behind triumph over St Kilda (10.10 to 10.7) on the MCG in round nine. Overall, however, they tended to struggle against the teams above them on the ladder. Perhaps the Demons’ most noteworthy achievement was their victory in the VFL night series, the last to be held for six seasons. Melbourne triumphed thanks to wins over Geelong by 60 points, Carlton by 26 points, and Fitzroy in the final by 16 points. Melbourne had finished runner-up in the night competition in both 1969 and 1970 so it was a classic case of “third time lucky”. It was also the club’s first ever night flag.

Footscray finished half a win and a substantial amount of percentage behind Melbourne, and like both the Dees and the Blues their season was characterised by inconsistency. Counterbalancing wins over Richmond by 20 points, Hawthorn by a goal, Collingwood by 17 points and Richmond by by 35 points were losses at the hands of cellar dwellers North Melbourne and Geelong. 

Ninth on the ladder, but no fewer than 22 points adrift of eighth placed Footscray, were North Melbourne. The Kangaroos actually began the season in extremely promising form with a 26 point victory over Carlton at Arden Street, but thereafter things went from bad to worse. Some of their losses were by immense margins: Hawthorn won by 95 points at VFL Park in round eight, Carlton triumphed 16.18 (114) to 3.5 (23) in round twelve at Princes Park, Footscray amassed 53 scoring shots to 16 in winning by 92 points at Victoria Park in round fifteen, Richmond romped home by 90 points at league headquarters in the seventeenth round, and even wooden spooners South Melbourne achieved one of only three successes for the year at the Lake Oval in the last round, winning 19.17 (131) to 8.11 (59).

Tenth placed Geelong boasted a reasonable forward line, and tended to lose by smaller margins than North, but lose they did all the same, and frequently. The Cats’ most noteworthy win was by 9 points against Collingwood at Kardinia Park in round eighteen.

Since reaching the 1968 grand final, and losing narrowly to Carlton, Essendon had finished sixth, eleventh, and eleventh again in 1971. It was a distinctly unmemorable season, with the aforementioned annihilation at the hands of Collingwood the undoubted nadir, while the pinnacle arguably came in the year’s other meeting with the Magpies, which ended all square.

After reaching the finals in 1970 South Melbourne could be justified in feeling optimistic about their prospects in 1971. However, the opening round of the season brought a 105 point demolition at the hands of Melbourne, and thereafter things hardly improved. The Swans’ only wins for the year came against Essendon by 16 points in round seven, and North by 9 points in round eleven and 72 points in the last match of the year when the result hardly mattered.

The VFL grand final was a rugged, tempestuous affair rather than a genuine classic, but it cannot be denied that the closeness of the finish produced considerable excitement. Hawthorn full forward Peter Hudson entered the match requiring 4 goals to overhaul Bob Pratt’s long standing record of 150 goals in a season. Opposed by fellow Tasmanian Barry Lawrence, he only managed to equal Pratt’s tally, but presumably could not really have cared less as the Hawks, 20 points down at three quarter time, more than doubled their tally in the final quarter to win 12.10 (82) to 11.9 (75). The match was watched by 118,192 spectators and Hawthorn’s victory by 7 points gave them their second premiership. John Kennedy was coach on boath occasions. Rain fell for much of the grand final, some of it quite relentless, and this undoubtedly contributed to the match being at once unkempt and excessively rugged. During the three quarter time interval coach Kennedy reputedly earmarked half forward flanker Bob Keddie as the man to win the match for the Hawks. Moved to full forward in place of Hudson, who went to centre half forward, Keddie did his coach proud with a blistering final term performance that yielded 4 effectively match-winning goals.

SANFL: Roosters’ Decade in the Wilderness Ends

South Australian football remained quite vibrant and strong in 1971 with most of the state’s elite players still choosing to play out their careers in the SANFL rather than transfer to the potentially more lucrative stamping ground of the VFL. The croweaters’ performances in the interstate arena reinforced this evaluation. In the match against Victoria in Melbourne the home state did not manage to seal victory until late in the final term. Eight minutes into the quarter the visitors led by 8 points but the loss of ruckman Dean Farnham, who had been performing heroically, effectively scuppered their chances. Victoria ultimately, and deservedly, won in the end by 30 points, but the displays of many of the South Australians were highly impressive.

Despite inevitably suffering from a fair degree of leg weariness South Australia comfortably defeated Tasmania in Hobart a couple of days later, and their subsequent defeat of Western Australia (15.19 to 12.10) was marred only by some slipshod kicking for goal.

If anything, the impact of Victorians on the game in South Australia was considerably greater than the reverse. For instance, premiers North Adelaide were expertly captain-coached by ex-Richmond ruckman Mike Patterson, who had his charges displaying VFL style resilience and toughness. Among South Australia’s most noteworthy performers in the interstate sphere was former South Melbourne star Bob Kingston, now playing for Port Adelaide. Kingston’s performance against Western Australia was particularly impressive. Playing at full back against one of the most talented spearheads in the game, Austin Robertson junior, Kingston stuck to the Subiaco champion like a limpet, keeping him kickless for three quarters, and restricting him to just a solitary goal.

North’s Patterson and Port’s Kingston opposed one another in both the second semi final, which the Roosters won 14.9 (93) to 10.18 (78) after trailing by 22 points midway through the final term, and the grand final, which resulted in a much easier triumph to the red and whites. North led at every change by 29, 44 and 56 points before perhaps forgivably taking the foot of the accelerator in the last term to allow the Magpies to move to within 20 points by the end. Best for North, just as he had been in the second semi of a fortnight earlier, was the extravagently talented Barrie Robran.

Minimal consolation for the Magpies’ disappointing grand final performance came in the shape of star centreman and on-baller Russell Ebert’s Magarey Medal win, the first of an eventual four.

Another ex-Victorian to have a significant impact on South Australian football in 1971 was ex- Melbourne defender Dennis Jones, who since 1968 had been coach of Central District, supervising a gradual improvement during the intervening time which saw the Bulldogs transform themselves from wooden spoon contenders to premiership hopefuls. In 1971 the club qualified to compete in the major round for the very first time, and in the first semi final convincingly overcame both the doubters - of whom there were many - and opponents Sturt to set up a tantalising preliminary final clash with Port Adelaide. The Magpies won, but as Jones observed, “I didn’t feel any real disappointment. For a young side playing in its first major round, it acquitted itself well. We have great potential for next season, and when you look back this wasn’t a bad one. It is a year which will go down in the club’s history.”[2]

Sturt’s first semi final loss to Centrals brought the curtain down on the club’s greatest ever era which yielded grand final appearances in six successive seasons and premierships in the last five. With the retirement of several key players, notably dual All Australian Rick Schoff, 210 game rover Roger Rigney, and consistently effective wingman Trevor Clarke, the Blues were on the cusp of a rebuilding phase which would ultimately bear the most succulent of fruits.

After five seasons in the doldrums Norwood began to show signs of re-emerging as a force in 1971. After winning their first six games of the season, the Redlegs failed to qualify for the finals only narrowly, and some of their performances - such as a 28 point defeat of eventual premiers North Adelaide in round three - were especially meritorious. However, they faltered badly during the second half of the minor round, and their season ended in the most ignominious way conceivable with a 2 point loss to wooden spoon side Woodville.

Having played off for the premiership in both 1969 and 1970 Glenelg might realistically have been expected to kick on in 1971. However, their performances were riddled with inconsistency, with wins over Port Adelaide, Centrals and Norwood being cancelled out by defeats at the hands of South (twice) and Torrens. Like Sturt, however, an improvement in fortunes would not be too long in arriving.

The highlight of seventh placed West Torrens’ season was probably their 9.8 (62) to 7.11 (53) win over Port Adelaide in round seventeen. Two weeks later, eventual club best and fairest Mike Shallow, “socks at half mast ….. waltzed and pirouetted many miles to help West Torrens defeat Norwood by 10 goals at Thebarton.”[3] The fact that Shallow was in his debut season in league football might have generated a fair amount of confidence about the future among both the Torrens brain trust and substantial support base but such optimism was to be sadly misplaced.

Since reaching the preliminary final in 1969 West Adelaide’s fall from grace had been dramatic and swift. In 1971 even their very best form could scarcely be described as better than mediocre. True, they achieved victories over higher ranked teams in both Central District and Norwood, but neither team was in particularly good form at the time. Westies also managed to lose twice to Woodville and once to ninth placed South Adelaide.

The Panthers opened the season promisingly. After losing their first game to Norwood by 29 points they procured a hat trick of wins at the expense of Glenelg, Woodville and eventual finalists Centrals. Therafter, however, things rapidly went downhill, and the remaining 16 minor round games yielded just another 3 wins.

Some of last-placed Wooidville’s losses in 1971 were by exorbitant margins. In the opening round, for example, they went down to Sturt by 135 points, and this was followed by defeats of 139 points against North, 57 points against South, and 162 points at the hands of Port. Although the Woodpeckers ultimately won 6 matches, massive defeats were more the flavour of the day, with the worst coming in round seventeen against Glenelg. The Bays won with ridiculous ease by 170 points, 32.21 (213) to 6.7 (43). On a more positive note, in the shape of utility Malcom Blight and 1971 club best and fairest award winning rover Ray Huppatz the ‘Peckers had two of the most consistently brilliant footballers in South Australia, both of whom would go on to enjoy auspicious careers in the VFL.

​Ian Stewart, who made s asuccessful move from St Kilda to Richmond in 1971, winning the Brownlow Medal for the third time.