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Big V Reign Supreme in Adelaide

The 1953 Adelaide carnival brought together the 5 section A sides only.  Section B would be contested on an elimination basis the following year.  Despite - or perhaps in part because of - the reduced programme of matches, the championships attracted record crowds, including 52,632 for the decisive match between the host state and the VFL, which remains (and is likely ever to remain) a record for an interstate match in Adelaide.

Despite promising performances in 2 of their first 3 matches in the carnival the South Australians, who had defeated the Big V in Adelaide in both 1951 and 1952, wilted pathetically when confronted by genuine pressure in the championship decider. In truth, as was increasingly becoming the case in carnivals, the VFL side was much too accomplished and battle-wise for all the other teams, and was never at any stage of any of its matches remotely at risk of losing.

For the Western Australians, as for South Australia, the carnival was enormously disappointing, with the team never recovering from an opening day rout at the hands of the host state. Big Merv McIntosh's Tassie Medal was probably the only memorable feature of the championships for the sandgropers.

Aside from the VFL's dominance the revelation of the carnival was provided by the 'other' Victorian team, the VFA.  Only once, against South Australia, was it comfortably defeated, and even then it could not be said to have been outclassed. The inclusion of two Association players in the All Australian team was well merited.

Tasmania only put in one performance of note, going within a couple of straight kicks of downing the South Australians.  The Apple Islanders would be required to defend their elite status against the section B champions (which proved to be the Australian Amateurs) before the next carnival.

VFL: Magpies Have Geelong’s Measure

The 1953 flag was as memorable as any in Collingwood's illustrious history.  Reigning premier Geelong was thought by many to be unstoppable, but the Magpies not only beat them, they did so twice, coming back from 4 points down in the second semi final to win by 5 goals, and then overrunning the hapless Cats in the grand final a fortnight later to have the game effectively over by three quarter time. During the final term, Geelong managed to outscore Collingwood and got to within a couple of kicks at the end, but it was all "sound and fury, signifying nothing". The Magpies' 11.11 (77) to 8.17 (65) triumph precipitated scenes of irrepressible joy among the club's faithful followers, for many of whom the seventeen year gap between premierships undoubtedly seemed like an eternity. The untimely death of Jock McHale a few days later dampened the celebrations somewhat, but this would be as nothing compared to the anguish to come.

Football, like most sports, is evolutionary in nature.  That is to say, the criteria for success are continually being modified and redefined.  Geelong in the early 1950s had set new standards with a fast, open, run on style of football which certain other teams had swiftly endeavoured to copy, but without ever achieving the same degrees of fluency or success.  Sides like Collingwood and Footscray, however, adopted a totally different tack; instead of 'if you can't beat them, join them', they endeavoured to counteract, stymie and undermine.  Such an approach required considerably less pure football talent than the method favoured by Geelong, but it did at least possess the supreme virtues of being (a) easier to implement, and (b) much more in keeping with the traditional, hard-nosed, unspectacular Victorian ethos which held that “good football was pressure football”.

Despite having what Bob Davis regarded as a stronger all round team than in either of the previous two seasons,[1] Geelong in 1953 ultimately came unstuck at the hands of a Collingwood side which had been well schooled in the traditional “Victorian football values” of persistence, hard work, and channelled aggression. In the second semi final, the Cats, with their confidence still perhaps impaired by a tentative performance against South Melbourne a few weeks earlier,[2] were harassed and intimidated virtually to a stand still by a tenacious, vibrant Magpie outfit. Collingwood won 13.12 (90) to 8.12 (60), and although Geelong ultimately qualified for a third consecutive grand final with a 26 point preliminary final defeat of Footscray, they again found the Magpies too hot to handle. Admittedly, a determined last quarter effort brought the final margin back to just 12 points, but at the end of the day there could be little doubt that coach Reg Hickey’s formula had finally found its measure.

One highlight of the season for Geelong was their feat in winning the first 13 minor round matches of the season. This gave them a new VFL record of 23 wins in succession.

Reg Hickey would remain at the helm at Geelong for a further six seasons, but the club's halcyon era was well and truly over.

Footscray had a young side which showed considerable improvement in 1953. The Bulldogs qualified for the finals in third place and then scored a hard fought 8 point win over Essendon in the first semi final. It was a result and a performance which elicited fulsome praise:

Nothing finer was seen in the season than the collective courage with which the Bulldogs rose to the occasion in the last term to hold a side technically far better equipped than their own.[3]

Essendon might be said to have had their excuses, not least the fact that their champion full forward, John Coleman, was clearly labouring under an injury cloud. Coleman booted 97 goals in 1953 to top the VFL goal kicking list for the fourth and last time. His team mate Bill Hutchison was awarded the Brownlow Medal. Recruited by Essendon from local league side Essendon Stars, where he had played chiefly as a wingman, Hutchison developed into one of the greatest rovers the game has seen.  Initially though the Dons used him as a half forward flanker, which was where he lined up for most of his debut season of 1942, including that year's winning grand final against Richmond.  Hutchison had a quiet game that day, but next time he appeared in a grand final, in 1946, he put in the sort of tireless, elegant, pacy performance that was to become his trademark as the Dons crushed Melbourne by 63 points.

Hutchison won the first of seven Essendon best and fairest awards in 1946, by which time he was already a stalwart in VFL representative sides, for which he made a near record 30 appearances, earning All Australian selection in 1953 and 1956. Despite, or maybe partly because of, a propensity to “backchat” to umpires, he almost invariably polled well in the Brownlow, finally breaking through for a win in 1953 after missing out only on countback the previous year.  In 1989 the VFL retrospectively awarded him, as well as all other countback losers, a 1952 Medal as well, but sadly Bill Hutchison had by this time passed away.  His volubility notwithstanding, few players in history have so admirably and consistently conformed to both requirements for receiving Brownlow Medal votes, for Bill Hutchison was as impeccably fair as he was brilliant.

Always a dangerous player near goal, Hutchison averaged nearly 2 goals a game over the course of his sixteen season, 290 game VFL career, during which he took part in no fewer than nine grand finals for five flags.  Despite his small stature, he managed to remain remarkably injury free, a tribute both to his speed of movement and adroitness of mind.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment of Hutchison's career was that, after he replaced Dick Reynolds as Essendon's captain in 1951 he was unable to emulate his predecessor by leading the club to a premiership.  Nevertheless, few players, either at Essendon or elsewhere, have enjoyed such illustrious careers at football's highest level.

Carlton won 10 matches to finish fifth, leaving them 3 wins adrift of both Essendon and Footscray. The Blues almost always managed to defeat the sides ranked below them on the premiership ladder but failed to win even one of their games against an eventual finalist.

Fitzroy, like Carlton, finished the minor round with 10 wins but a substantially inferior percentage. Their best result was probably their 1 point win over Collingwood at Victoria Park in round eleven, while their most ignominious was undoubtedly their 60 point loss to Footscray at the Western Oval in round five. The Maroons’ tally for the day was a solitary goal, kicked in the last quarter. Footscray totalled 10.6 (66).

North Melbourne, with 9 wins and a healthy percentage, finished seventh. The Kangaroos managed to defeat both Collingwood and Essendon during the season but they also lost a number of games to sides placed below them.

South Melbourne had a very similar season to North, winning 9 matches and boasting a decent percentage. As mentioned earlier, the Swans trounced Geelong in round seventeen, and they also won against Essendon in round two at home, and Footscray at the Western Oval in round nine.

Ninth placed St Kilda won 5 matches but, thanks largely to a woeful attack, finished the season with the worst percentage (68.2) in the entire competition.  The Saints were well off the pace in terms of finals qualification, and the same could be said of tenth placed Richmond, Melbourne (eleventh) and Hawthorn (last).

Max Mayo (Norwood)

WANFL: South Again Triumphant

When West Perth turned the tables on 1952 grand final opponents South Fremantle in the opening fixture of the 1953 season a number of so called “experts” were quick to write off the reigning premiers. The facts that the defeat had only been by 3 points and that early season form, in almost any sport, is notoriously unpredictable were conveniently overlooked. In round two South annihilated Subiaco 30.17 (197) to 5.6 (36) and then proceeded to rack up a further 16 consecutive wins before losing another tight one to East Perth by 7 points. Again, fickle observers were quick to suggest that the red and white bubble had burst, but the side went through the remainder of 1953 unbeaten and many of those same cynical observers were among the first to proclaim South Fremantle one of Western Australia's greatest ever teams at season's end.

In the second semi final South Fremantle nudged past West Perth by 11 points but when the teams next faced one another a fortnight later the southerners produced arguably the finest grand final performance in their history up to that point to win by nearly 10 goals, 18.12 (120) to 8.13 (61). Rover Steve Marsh produced his customary grand final effervescence to take out the Simpson Medal, while full forward Bernie Naylor netted 8 goals to take his tally for the season to a staggering 167 - easily a new record for the major football states. Others to shine for South Fremantle in a match variously described as being watched by 34,207 and 31,610 spectators included ruckman Norm Smith, wingman John Colgan, centreman Tony Parentich and back pocket Don Dixon.

Western Australian football has seen numerous talented spearheads, but few if any better than South Fremantle's Bernie Naylor who, in a ten season, 194 game league career booted 1,034 goals, adding a further 45 in 16 interstate matches.  According to Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, however, he achieved all this despite failing to receive any indulgence from the men in white: 

"Naylor (was) a scrupulously fair player who suffered from the umpires' delusion that full forwards were there to be buffeted and knocked down and around, and therefore were not entitled to free kicks.  In one of his prolific ten seasons he kicked his 100th goal of the year with his first free kick." [5]

Club champion in 1953, Naylor bagged 8 goals in that season's winning grand final against West Perth, adding another 7 the following year when arch rivals Old Easts were the victims.

"Naylor was not a spectacular high mark in the style of his talented successor, John Gerovich.  He was sure enough, but most of his marks were taken safely on his chest.....His long, spiral punts were a joy for.....supporters to behold, and everyone who loved football admired his skill and amazing ability."  [6]

One of the secrets of Naylor's success was his almost obsessive dedication to training.  On training nights, long after his team mates had left, he could be found at Fremantle Oval practising his trademark torpedo punt kicks for goal, from a variety of angles, but always from a distance of about forty metres, with the ball invariably held with the lace to the side “for extra stability in flight”.

Shortly after the grand final South Fremantle engaged in two exhibition matches against third ranked VFL side Footscray, winning by 46 points at Subiaco, and going down by 9 points in a much less intense encounter a few days later at Bunbury.

West Perth lost only 3 matches - 2 to South Fremantle and 1 against bottom side Subiaco - en route to the finals. Sandwiched in between their second semi final and grand final losses to South there was a resounding 18.12 (120) to 9.14 (68) trouncing of East Fremantle in the preliminary final. If nothing else this result emphasised the fact that, in 1953, West Perth and South Fremantle were streets ahead of the rest of the competition. No one could question that South were worthy premiers, but their winning margin might have been somewhat smaller had the Cardinals’ champion full back Ray Schofield been fit to play. In his absence, South full forward Bernie Naylor had a field day, bagging 8 goals. The Cardinals were coached this year by former Hawthorn skipper Peter O’Donahue, who replaced club legend Stan “Pops” Heal.

East Fremantle managed to qualify for the finals in fourth spot despite only winning 9 of their 21 minor round games. That was 5 fewer than third placed Perth who had accounted for Old Easts in 2 out of their 3 home and away meetings during the season. However, when Perth and East Freo locked horns in the first semi final victory went to the latter by a conclusive 61 point margin. Scores were East Fremantle 20.14 (134) defeated West Perth 10.14 (74). Old Easts were unable to get past an abundantly talented West Perth combination in the preliminary final, however.

Perth’s capitulation to East Fremantle in the first semi final was as surprising as it was conclusive. There was some cause for cheer though as Redlegs ruckman Merv McIntosh won his second Sandover Medal. 

East Perth finished a win plus percentage behind East Fremantle. In what was something of a topsy turvy season the Royals managed to beat South Fremantle but lost twice to Claremont and once to Swan Districts.

Swan Districts and Claremont both won 7 games, with Swans having marginally the better percentage. Last placed Subiaco’s only wins were against West Perth in round five and Swan Districts in round twenty-one. 

Other Highlights

Port Melbourne won the 1953 VFA premiership in emphatic style. The Boroughs lost only 2 matches in the minor round before downing Williamstown in the second semi final by 10 points. Yarraville then ousted the Seagulls from the premiership race in the following week’s preliminary final - much to Port Melbourne’s secret relief. After the first quarter the grand final was a wholly one-sided affair with the Boroughs ultimately winning by 60 points, 21.15 (141) to 12.9 (81).

For the second season in succession Hobart topped the ladder after the TANFL roster matches. However, their finals form was poor, and they dropped out of contention with straight sets losses to New Town and Sandy Bay. The grand final, watched by a crowd of 11,866, was an exciting spectacle, with New Town just doing enough to hold off a determined Seagulls side in a strenuous final term. Scores were New Town 16.18 (114); Sandy Bay 15.13 (103).

The state premiership was contested this year for the first time since 1951. New Town emerged as winners when they accounted for City of Launceston in the final.

In Sydney, Eastern Suburbs won their first NSWANFL premiership since 1941. Opposed in the grand final by Western Suburbs they emerged victorious by 46 points, 21.22 (148) to 15.12 (102). Newtown and St George finished third and fourth respectively.

Western Districts won the QAFL flag with a hard fought 7.14 (56) to 6.11 (47) grand final defeat of Windsor.

In Canberra, Queanbeyan-Acton reigned supreme thans to a 5 point grand final win over Ainslie.

The NTFL premiers were Waratahs, with Buffaloes runners-up.

Aside from the section one interstate carnival in Adelaide four matches involving section two teams took place. In Brisbane, Queensland and New South Wales shared the spoils in a two match series. Queensland won the first match comfortably with scores of 25.9 (159) to 15.16 (106). However, New South Wales then turned the tables with a fighting 3 point success, 7.20 (62) to 8.11 (59).

The same two sides also met in Sydney, with victory going to the home state. Scores were New South Wales 15.14 (104) defeated Queensland 11.16 (82).

In Canberra, the home side effectively kicked itself out of the match in losing to Queensland by 14 points. Final scores Queensland 12.9 (81); Canberra 8.19 (67).


[1] The Road to Kardinia by Russell H.T. Stephens, page 162.

[2] In round seventeen at the Lake Oval eighth placed South Melbourne booted 7 last term goals to 1 to achieve a resounding victory. Final scores were South Melbourne 14.14 (98); Geelong 8.7 (55).

[3] VFL Premiers by Hugh Buggy, page 38.

[4] In 1998, the SANFL awarded all such runners-up retrospective Medals.

[5] The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 115.

[6] Ibid, pages 115 and 119.

Grand final results - VFL: Collingwood 11.11 (77) d. Geelong 8.17 (65); SANFL: West Torrens 9.13 (67) d. Port Adelaide 8.12 (60); WANFL: South Fremantle 18.12 (120) d. West Perth 8.13 (61); VFA: Port Melbourne 21.15 (141) d. Yarraville 12.9 (81); TANFL: New Town 16.18 (114) d. Sandy Bay 15.13 (103); NTFA: City 10.12 (72) d. Longford 9.12 (66); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 21.22 (148) d. Western Suburbs 15.12 (102); NTFL: Waratahs 10.10 (70) d. Buffaloes 6.11 (47); QANFL: Western Districts 7.14 (56) d. Windsor 6.11 (47); NWFU: Ulverstone 8.14 (62) d. Wynyard 7.14 (56); CANFL: Queanbeyan-Acton 9.12 (66) d. Ainslie 8.13 (61).

Adelaide Carnival results - VFA 11.18 (84) d. Tasmania 5.11 (41); South Australia 19.24 (138) d. Western Australia 8.7 (55); Western Australia 12.8 (80) d. VFA 8.14 (62); VFL 22.20 (152) d. Tasmania 2.8 (20); VFL 16.13 (109) d. VFA 11.10 (76); South Australia 19.13 (127) d. Tasmania 17.15 (117); South Australia 16.8 (104) d. VFA 7.11 (53); VFL 13.15 (93) d. Western Australia 5.6 (36); Western Australia 12.19 (91) d. Tasmania 5.7 (37); VFL 19.16 (130) d. South Australia 4.7 (31).

South Fremantle's Bernie Naylor kicks for goal.

South Adelaide's Jim Deane

A Review of the 1953 Football Season

Merv McIntosh (Perth)

SANFL: High Flying Eagles

Of all the premierships won by West Torrens that of 1953 was arguably the most decisive and convincing, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be termed 'easy'. After proving the dominant team throughout the minor round the Eagles looked to be in trouble during the second quarter of their second semi final clash with Port Adelaide when they trailed badly, 0.0 (0) to 6.6 (42). Thereafter, however, everything mysteriously 'clicked', and they went on to add 15.6 to 1.2 over the remainder of the match to win with ease.

The Magpies comfortably accounted for Glenelg in the preliminary final and the 42,948 spectators who turned up for their re-match with Torrens were treated to one of the greatest grand finals in South Australian football history. In one of those games where neither side is able to acquire a decisive advantage Port led by 6 points at quarter time, Torrens by a point at the half, and the Magpies by 6 points again at the final change. As the match entered its closing moments the Eagles had edged their way back in front by the narrowest of margins and were hanging on defiantly. Port then made their last, desperate forward thrust and as they approached to within goalkicking range Neville Hayes attempted to handball to team mate Leaver. Torrens half back Frank Graham read the play, however, and ran in to intercept before launching a swift counter attack which culminated in Ray Hank kicking what proved to be the decisive goal.

Hefty Torrens back pocket Mick Clingly was a widespread choice as best afield in a 9.13 (67) to 8.12 (60) win which effectively ended the greatest ever era of one club (Torrens) whilst engendering that of another (Port Adelaide). As far as the Eagles were concerned there would be no further grand final appearances whatsoever, while in the thirty-seven seasons which remained until the club's demise in 1990 it would qualify to participate in the major round on only another ten occasions for just 1 finals win.

Port Adelaide finished the minor round at the top of the ladder, marginally ahead of West Torrens on percentage. Both teams won 15 matches and lost 3. In between their twin losses to Torrens in the finals the Magpies accounted for Glenelg by 68 points in the preliminary final. The disappointment endured this season would propel Port to the greatest sustained period of success in the SANFL since the competition began.

Glenelg, with 9 wins, qualified for the finals in fourth place before coming from 14 points behind at three quarter time to score a surprise 24 point win over Norwood in the first semi final. The Redlegs had accounted for the Bays in both minor round clashes between the teams but they were helpless in the face of Glenelg’s last term surge which yielded 6.3 to 0.1.

Glenelg’s season ended in disappointing fashion when they lost heavily to Port in the preliminary final. The Magpies were consummately superior and led at every change by 35, 50 and 36 points before winning 17.22 (124) to 9.12 (66).

Norwood’s exit from the flag race at the first hurdle was both surprising and disheartening. The Redlegs wilted in a very un-Norwoodlike way when Glenelg applied enhanced pressure in the final term. Had they managed to progress in the finals they would have felt justified in feeling confident given that they had defeated both Port Adelaide and West Torrens during the minor round.

A minor highlight for the Redlegs was Max Mayo’s feat in booting 78 goals to top the league list. Mayo was a talented key position forward who was strong overhead, and who could kick accurately from long distances. However, given his ability, his achievements in the game were somewhat limited. He commenced with Norwood in 1948, which proved to be a premiership year for the club, but was not selected to play in the grand final. After missing the entire 1949 season he resumed in 1950 and this time got to play in a premiership team as the Redlegs downed Glenelg in the grand final. Playing at centre half forward, Mayo booted 3 goals in a serviceable display.  He carried on playing until 1953, saving his best for last by topping that year's SANFL goal kicking list and winning his club's best and fairest trophy. He had previously won Norwood's top goal kicking award with 34 goals in 1951.  Max Mayo played a total of 61 league games and kicked 169 goals.

Reigning premiers North Adelaide won 8 games to miss out on finals participation by a win plus percentage. Perhaps the highlight of the Roosters’ season came in round nine when they defeated Norwood by 4 goals at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of an impressively large - and largely impressed - audience of 20,000 spectators.

West Adelaide, Sturt and South Adelaide, in that order, occupied the last three places on the premiership ladder, separated only on percentage after they all won 5 matches. Despite finishing last South probably had most cause for satisfaction in that they provided the 1953 Magarey Medallist in the shape of the mercurial Jim Deane. Arguably the most famous name in the post-war history of the South Adelaide Football Club, in addition to his 1953 Magarey he was runner-up on a countback in 1957,[4] claimed half a dozen club best and fairest awards, was an automatic selection in South Australian interstate teams (15 appearances, and 12 goals), and yet never played in a single major round match in a league career stretching twelve seasons, which included a two year stint at Richmond. His reputation transcended state boundaries, and in the early 1950s he was widely regarded as the best half forward flank specialist in Australia, a status which was endorsed by his consistent selection in that position in the prestigious “Sporting Life” Team of the Year

As a player, Deane possessed all the attributes necessary to succeed in the tough and frenetic world of the VFL: powerful and resilient, no matter how heavy the traffic he almost always seemed able to get his hands on the ball and off load it purposefully. Whereas contemporaries like Bob Hank or Lindsay Head were masters at dodging and pirouetting their way out of trouble, Jim Deane seemed almost to glory in confronting it head on.  He picked up numerous injuries as a result, but this eschewing of personal safety in the interests of the team arguably made him a more effective and valuable player.

After his league career came to an end in 1957, Deane continued as a player in country football for the better part of another decade.  He captain-coached Myrtleford in the powerful Ovens and Murray Football League from 1958-62, winning the Morris Medal for best and fairest in the competition twice.  He spent his final seasons as a player in Port Pirie.

In 1971, Jim Deane returned “home” to South Adelaide as non-playing coach, but in two seasons in charge he was unable to lift the side above second from bottom on the ladder.

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