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WANFL: Hat Trick of Flags for South

If South's 1953 premiership winning performance had been impressive the 1954 showing, in which East Fremantle provided the opposition, was positively awesome. Watched by either a new WANFL grand final record crowd of 36,098, or slightly less than the old record at 33,464 (depending on which media source you go on), the southerners actually appeared in trouble early on and trailed by 20 points at the first change. However, thereafter they methodically rattled up 18 goals to 3 to win with considerable comfort by 78 points, 21.14 (140) to 9.8 (62). Half forward flanker Charlie Tyson won the Simpson Medal with other strong displays coming from rover Steve Marsh - as ever - full forward Naylor (7 goals for a season's tally of 133), half back flankers Treasure and Crawford, and ruckman Smith.

A 14.9 (93) to 10.14 (74) end of season win over Carlton at Subiaco lent further substance - if it were needed - to the claim that South Fremantle were, at this particular point in time, the strongest club side in Australia. Reports of the match make it abundantly clear that neither team treated it as a low key exhibition affair; they played for keeps.

In the second half, the atmosphere was like that of a Victorian league grand final. Tempers were frayed and brawls started among the players.

Carlton had waited seven weeks for the fixture  and had been almost goaded by reports of SF’s prowess. Before the game, the players had been offered financial inducements if they could win. [4]

The consummate nature of their dominance during the finals belied the fact that South had only actually been placed third at the conclusion of the minor round. In addition to the grand final therefore their route to the flag also involved wins in the first semi final against Perth and the preliminary final over West Perth.

The WANFL minor premiers in 1954 were East Fremantle who finished the season with a 15-5 record, the same as second placed West Perth. The second semi final meeting of the pair was tense and tough, with scoring at a premium. Old Easts ultimately won by 12 points, 7.12 (54) to 6.6 (42). The result saw plenty of people talking up East Fremantle’s premiership chances but they were universally struck dumb by the relentless magnificence of South Fremantle’s display.

West Perth finished the minor round in good form, emerging victorious from their last 4 matches, including a 10.9 (69) to 8.9 (57) defeat of South Fremantle in round twenty. However, their finals form was disappointing. In the second semi final they lost to a better team on the day in East Fremantle, while their preliminary final performance against South Fremantle was blighted by inaccuracy when kicking for goal. The Cardinals tallied 9.23 (77) in losing by 24 points to South’s score of 15.11 (101).

Perth maintained their solid postwar record by qualifying for the finals in fourth place. South Fremantle quickly put paid to the Redlegs premiership hopes, however, as they eased to victory by 47 points, 18.14 (122) to 12.9 (81). Merv McIntosh provided some cause for celebration by taking out his second consecutive Sandover Medal, and his third in total. Powerfully and athletically built, McIntosh combined strength and determination with a formidable football brain. However, he rarely made illegitimate use of his strength, regarding football as essentially a game rather than the all out war facsimile into which it was gradually evolving in Victoria.  Indeed, it was alleged that he could "short pass as daintily and turn as nimbly as any footballer of more reasonable proportions”.[5]  The fact that his impact and reputation transcended state boundaries was emphasised as early as 1947 when the “Sporting Globe” nominated him as Australia's leading footballer.

Perth was a powerful club, contesting the finals almost annually, throughout Merv McIntosh's 218 game league career, but a flag proved elusive. To the delight of a large proportion of the 41,659 spectators who turned up at Subiaco Oval for the 1955 grand final, the breakthrough finally arrived in the nick of time.

Subsequent Western Australian rucking greats like Jack Clarke, “Polly: Farmer and Graham Moss perhaps enjoy more auspicious reputations, but “Big Merv” was arguably the template on which all of them, to some extent, were based.

East Perth and Claremont finished fifth and sixth respectively, with both sides winning 8 and losing 12 matches. For the most part they struggled against the sides placed above them lon the premiership ladder, although the Royals did seemingly have the wood on Perth whom they defeated in all 3 minor round encounters between the sides.

Swan Districts (6-14) and Subiaco (4-16) were significantly weaker than the other teams in the competition. Swans managed a 14 point win over South Fremantle in round three but hefty defeats were more commonly the order of the day.

A Review of the 1954 Football Season

South Fremantle's Charlie Tyson

Charlie Sutton (Footscray)

Bill McKenzie (North Adelaide)

SANFL: Magpies to the Fore

Port Adelaide made amends for their grand final loss of the previous year by coming from behind to down West Adelaide in a spiteful 1954 premiership decider.

A melee of a kind not seen on a football ground in 25 years marked the end of the first half. It happened when Boyd (Port) and Faehse (West) crashed together while going for a mark. 

In a matter of seconds, all players rushed to Port’s half forward line, and punches were being thrown by players on both sides.

As Wests left the field at half time a spectator wearing a black and white blazer punched Faehse on the jaw. A West supporter immediately knocked down the attacker. [6]

West led 7.7 to 3.6 at the main break but in the third quarter they appeared to lose their focus and Port kicked 6 goals to 2 to go into the last quarter just a couple of points in arrears. With the rough play and fisticuffs still in evidence the Magpes fought - often quite literally - their way into the lead, and with seconds to go the margin was 4 points in their favour. Then West rover Jim Wright was presented with an excellent last gasp opportunity to win the match, and the flag, for his side. However, his somewhat rushed snap registered only a minor score, and Port were home by 3 points, 11.13 (79) to 10.16 (76). The exhiliration of winning a grand final was something to which Port supporters would soon become accustomed.

After losing the second semi final to Port by 11 points West Adelaide tuned up for the grand final with an impressive 10.19 (79) to 5.10 (40) preliminary final defeat of West Torrens. West’s fast open style of play had troubled Port at times kin 1954, but they had always come up short in the end. During the first two quarters of the grand final they appeared to have unearthed a winning formula but in the wake of the Boyd-Faehse collision the Magpies comprehensively re-wrote the script. Just as Port supporters would soon become accustomed to grand final triumphs the West fraternity would become inured to heart-breaking, some would say unlucky, grand final losses.

In round thirteen at Thebarton Oval West Torrens scored a slashing 39 point win over Port Adelaide. So compelling was their performance that many observers tipped them to be the Magpies’ main rivals for the premiership. This did not transpire, however. At the conclusion of the minor round the Eagles, having won 10 and lost 8 of their matches, occupied third place on the premiership ladder. A tough, tight, intense first semi final encopunter with Norwood followed, with Torrens trailing at every change by 18, 11 and 18 points before surging to a well merited victory by the narrowest of margins.

A fortnight later, the Eagles faced West Adelaide in the preliminary final, and another close contest was anticipated. Instead, Westies blew Torrens out of the water, almost doubling their score in the process. The Eagles’ 1953 premiership must have seemed a distant memory to the club’s supporters.

Norwood did not so much qualify for the finals in style as stumble into them, almost despite themselves. The Redlegs were woefully inconsistent, capable of twice beating eventual premiers Port Adelaide whilst losing to the likes of seventh placed South Adelaide or wooden spooners Glenelg.

North Adelaide (fifth) and Sturt (sixth) both won 8 matches and lost 10. The Roosters provided the competition’s leading goal kicker in the shape of Bill McKenzie, who booted 67 goals. McKenzie was a high leaping, strong marking forward who made his league debut in 1950 as an eighteen year old, but who found it hard to establish himself as a senior player for several years. In 1952, the year that North went top with a then record 108 point grand final demolition of Norwood, he played just 1 senior game for the season. In 1953, however, he was a virtual ever-present, and by 1954 he was arguably the pre-eminent key position forward in the SANFL, topping the league list as mentioned above with 67 goals. His tally of 60 the previous year had been good enough to earn him his club's leading goal kicker award, as would the same tally be in 1956. When he retired in 1957, McKenzie had played 102 league games and booted 266 goals. He also kicked 4 goals in 3 interstate appearances for South Australia.

Sturt’s Len Fitzgerald won the Magarey Medal, having previously won the award in 1952. His career is profiled in the review of that season.

Seventh placed South Adelaide (5-13) and last placed Glenelg (4-14) had seasons which were as dismal as their records imply. South’s highlights were a 9.22 (76) to 11.8 (64) defeat of Norwood at Norwood Oval in round three and a 13.5 (83) to 8.16 triumph over West Torrens at Adelaide Oval in the last minor round match of the season. Glenelg managed to beat Torrens by 19 points at Centenary Oval in Port Lincoln in round four and Norwood by 24 points at Adelaide Oval in round eight.

VFA: Seagulls Bounce Back Against Borough

Defeated by Port Melbourne in the second semi final Williamstown recovered to eliminate Northcote the following week before obtaining revenge over the Boroughs in conclusive fashion in the grand final. The Seagulls could almost be said to have won the game in the opening term when they scored 4.7 to Port’s solitary behind. In an effort to get back into the game Port Melbourne’s approach became indelicate in the extreme, but umpire Jack Irving was quick to punish all indescretions so that the tactic effectively played into Williamstown’s hands. The Seagulls ultimately triumphed by 32 points, 11.20 (86) to 7.12 (54). 

Tigers Triumph in Tassie

In a season which saw teams producing the highest all round standard of football since the war Hobart claimed their second TANFL premiership. In front of 11,461 spectators the Tigers accounted for reigning premiers New Town in the grand final by a margin of 10 points. Scores were Hobart 12.10 (82) defeated New Town 10.12 (72). Hobart had previously accounted for New Town in the second semi final, with New Town then going on to down North Hobart 12.12 (84) to 8.13 (61) in the preliminary final. The first semi final had seen the Robins triumph by 4 points against Sandy Bay.

Other Football of Note

In the interstate sphere the VFL achieved an unprecedented level of dominance with four slashing wins, two each against both South Australia and Western Australia. Against the South Australians the Vics won by 127 points in Melbourne and 54 points in Adelaide while they accounted for Western Australia twice in Perth by margins of 42 and 69 points.

Section two of the Australian championships saw New South Wales account for Canberra by 45 points in Sydney. Final scores were New South Wales 19.19 (133); Canberra 12.16 (88). Queensland then defeated New South Wales 15.17 (107) to 9.23 (77) in Brisbane. The final pitted Australian Amateurs against Queensland in Melbourne, with victory going to the former by 79 points, 17.17 (119) to 5.10 (40). Australian Amateurs then travelled to Hobart to take on Tasmania, with a berth in the 1956 section one carnival in Perth awaiting the victors. Tasmania won with something to spare, 16.21 (117) to 11.10 (76).

In Sydney, Eastern Suburbs won their second successive NSWANFL premiership after accounting for Newtown in the grand final. North Shore were third and St George fourth.,

For the second time in a row the QANFL flag went to Western Districts who downed Sandgate in the grand final by 16 points.

Queanbeyan-Acton were another team to go back to back. They annihilated Eastlake in the grand final by 109 points.

NTFL side Waratahs also went top for a second consecutive time, downing Buffaloes by 3 straight kicks in a low scoring grand final.


[1] The Complete Book of VFL Finals by Graeme Atkinson, page 176. 

[2] Near the end of the match he gave away the chance of an eighth goal when, after marking within scoring range, he spotted team mate Brian Gilmore in space nearer to goal, and passed to him. Almost as soon as Gilmore had marked the ball the siren sounded to end the game; eschewing the opportunity to rub further salt into the Demons' wounds, he tossed the ball away and ran off to join his celebrating team mates.

[3] From an “Argus” match report by Hugh Buggy, reproduced in full in The Bulldog Book: Sons of the 'Scray 1883-1983 by Greg Hobbs, page 16. 

[4] The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 115. It has to be noted, of course, that Carlton had only finished eighth in the VFL in 1954 and therefore could scarcely be said to represent the very best of Victorian football.

[5] The Pash Papers by Jeff Pash, page 257.

[6] Football Flashback 1960 by Eric Gunton, page 81.

Grand final results - VFL: Footscray 15.12 (102) d. Melbourne 7.9 (51); SANFL: Port Adelaide 11.13 (79) d. West Adelaide 10.16 (76); WANFL: South Fremantle 21.14 (140) d. East Fremantle 9.8 (62); VFA: Williamstown 11.20 (86) d. Port Melbourne 7.12 (54); TANFL: Hobart 12.10 (82) d. New Town 10.12 (72); NTFA: City 12.13 (85) d. Launceston 7.13 (55); NSWANFL: Eastern Suburbs 13.20 (98) d. Newtown 11.8 (74); NTFL: Waratahs 6.9 (45) d. Buffaloes 3.9 (27); QANFL: Western Districts 12.11 (83) d. Sandgate 10.7 (67); NWFU: Burnie 9.13 (67) d. Wynyard 8.10 (58); CANFL: Queanbeyan-Acton 23.15 (153) d. Eastlake 6.8 (44); TSP: City 9.16 (70) d. Hobart 6.10 (46).

Dog Eat Dog in the VFL

The 1954 VFL home and away season was extremely closely contested.  Footscray managed just 11 wins and a draw from 18 matches, and yet managed to qualify for the finals in second place, one and a half games behind Geelong, and comfortably ahead of North Melbourne on percentage.  Footscray had lost narrowly to the Cats in the teams' only minor round meeting, but bounced back emphatically in the second semi final to record an 11.19 (85) to 8.14 (62) win after the teams had been all square at the last change. To call the result a shock would be a major understatement: the Cats were regarded as easily the most accomplished side of the era, and were widely expected to secure their third flag in four years. When the Cats bowed out of the finals race to Melbourne the following week, Footscray were automatically - one might almost say miraculously - installed as the new premiership favourites.

In blazing sunshine, before of a crowd of 80,897, some of whom sat inside the perimeter fencing, Footscray began the grand final tentatively, allowing Melbourne to register the opening goal of the game after eleven minutes.  As if this was the spark needed to get them going, the Bulldogs immediately upped the tempo, and a couple of quick goals from full forward Jack Collins saw them edge in front. With both sides going in hard there were a number of heavy body clashes, notably Footscray captain-coach Charlie Sutton's flooring of Demons hero Ron Barassi, and the longer the quarter went on the more the Bulldogs seemed to be in control. This superiority was rubber-stamped in the most emphatic fashion during the time on period when goals to Kerr, Stevens and Collins extended Footscray's lead to 29 points at the first change.

The second term was Melbourne's best of the match as they attempted to undermine the Bulldogs' systematic teamwork with vigorous use of the body and, on occasion, outright intimidation. However, despite conceding 3 goals to 2 for the quarter, Footscray stood firm, and their "dressing room generated a tremendous air of confidence during the half time break”.[1]  A couple of early third quarter goals from Collins and Sutton pushed the margin out to 6 goals, a lead the Bulldogs maintained until the final change. The last quarter saw Footscray maintaining control to add 3.3 to 1.2 and win with beguiling ease, 15.12 (102) to 7.9 (51).  Full forward Jack Collins' 7 goals equalled the grand final record,[2] while rover John Kerr, ruckman-defender Dave Bryden, centreman Don Ross, and the irrepressible Ted Whitten were among Footscray's better players in what was an even team display.  According to Hugh Buggy, who estimated that 70,000 of the 80,000-plus spectators at the ground were rooting for the Bulldogs, the grand final victors "won in the rucks, they won in the air, and they outroved Melbourne”.[3]

With seventeen of its premiership twenty working in manual occupations, Footscray's image as a blue collar, working class club was confirmed, and if anything this only served to accentuate the widespread acclaim given to the side from virtually all quarters. Among the Bulldog faithful themselves, of course, the reaction to the team's achievement was predictable:

......Footscray went mad with joy. Bands played, train whistles blew, cars honked and men, women and children cried with delight.

Bursting rockets in red, white and blue intermittently lit up the Footscray sky. Traffic jammed the Footscray streets and police were forced to cordon off the Town Hall area in Napier St. where about 6,000 ecstatic fans surged to pay homage to the victors. And, on the Footscray Oval, a group of revellers lit a fire and warmed their hands over the roasting effigy of a demon.

Charlie Sutton was the King of Footscray. The chant roared on through the evening..."We want Charlie; we want Charlie.”

After a team dinner at the Mayfair Hotel, Footscray Mayor, Fred Peart, introduced the players to the clamoring fans outside the Town Hall.

And so the night was in full swing. Indeed, for many, the celebrations raged on for days. Some still tell you of the most beautiful hangover they've ever had.

Cream on the cake came in the form of full forward John Collins booting 84 goals for the season to top the VFL goal kicking list. After playing initially with Yarraville, where his father Jim had been captain-coach in 1918-19 before embarking on a VFL career with Essendon, Jack Collins had joined Footscrayn in 1950.  During his debut season he played a number of games at centre half back, but it was ultimately as a key position forward that he made his name. ]Powerful overhead, and a tremendously accurate kick over long distances, he topped the VFL's goal kicking list on two occasions, and the Bulldogs' on five.  His best season was Footscray’s premiership year of  1954, when he amassed a personal record tally of 84 goals, the last 7 of which, as noted above, helped his club to a 51 point grand final defeat of Melbourne.

A regular VFL interstate representative, Collins also won Footscray's club champion award twice.  His older brother Alan had earlier played with great success for both Yarraville and Footscray, as well as representing the “Big V”.

After his retirement as a player, Jack Collins continued his association with the Bulldogs by serving on the club committee, initially as secretary, and later as president.

Although Melbourne had been comfortably defeated in the grand final it was they and not Footscray who would have more reason to celebrate over the course of the rest of the decade. Demonds players like John Beckwith, Laurie Mithen, Bob Johnson, Stuart Spencer and Ron Barassi would become household names as the club put together the greatest sustained period of success in its history. In 1954, however, Melbourne were not quite the finished article, and their achievement in reaching the premiership decider was largely unexpected.

In 1954 Geelong finished the home and away rounds at the top of the premiership ladder for the fourth consecutive time. Going into the finals the Cats were widely expected to capture their third flag in those seasons but, inexplicably, they fell short and, moreover, they did so even more meekly than in 1953 when they had at least made the grand final. In the second semi final against Footscray play was rendered unkempt by a strong breeze and the untidiness clearly favoured the Bulldogs who relied more on tenacity and relentless determination than pure footballing skill. In the second half Footscray simply ran away with the game.

It was a similar story in the following week’s preliminary final clash with Melbourne. Up until half time Geelong looked the better side but the Demons then rattled on 7 second half goals to 3 to win well. The Cats’ last chance of premiership glory for almost a decade had gone.

North Melbourne made a late charge for the finals which saw them unbeaten in their last 5 games (4 wins and a draw). They duly qualified for the September action but their good form deserted them in the first semi final which saw them go down by 6 goals to Melbourne. The ensuing decade for the Kangaroos would be predominantly bleak with the side managing to qualify for the finals just once in nineteen seasons.

Fifth placed Richmond were in the four as late as round fifteen but they then lost in consecutive weeks to Melbourne and Hawthorn which saw them nosedive to seventh. A last round win over Richmond failed to rectify matters although the Tigers did rise two places on the ladder. A key driving force behind Richmond’s highly competitive form in 1954 was ruckman Roy Wright, who won the Brownlow Medal for the second time.

Essendon and Collingwood, like Richmond, finished the minor round on 10 wins. With 2 matches to play both teams were in the top four, the Bombers second and the Magpies third. However, they both then contrived to lose those final 2 games. Essendon’s best win of the season probably occurred in round nine when they downed Melbourne at the MCG by 22 points. Collingwood meanwhile managed to defeat the Demons both home and away and they also won against Fitzroy at Victoria Park.

The next two sides, Carlton and Hawthorn, both managed 8 wins. Ninth place for the Hawks represented an improvement on 1953 when they had finished with the wooden spoon. The Blues by contrast had suffered a slump in fortunes; the previous year had seen them finish fifth.

South Melbourne won 6 games and lost 12. During the year they scored impressive wins at Collingwood and Essendon but otherwise their form was almost uniformly dismal.

Fitzroy and St Kilda had identical 4-13-1 records, with the Saints ending up with the wooden spoon thanks to a percentage that was 0.5 worse than the Maroons’. Fitzroy would soon show considerable improvement, but St Kilda’s fans would have to wait somewhat longer for something to cheer about.