Explore the History of australian football

Normal Service Resumes in VFL

After the Collingwood engendered hiatus of 1958 the 1959 season brought a restoration of normality, with Melbourne comprehensively reassuming their mantle as the arguably the greatest combination seen in football up to that point. Another minor premiership - the club's fifth in succession - was followed by an emphatic 11.15 (81) to 4.13 (37) second semi final demolition of Carlton. The grand final, against Essendon, was considerably harder fought, at least for the first three quarters, but after leading by only a goal at the final change the Demons assumed complete control in the ruck to add 6.3 to 1.2 in the last term and win with deceptive ease. Ron Barassi partially erased the memory of a poor, by his standards, performance against Collingwood in the previous year's grand final with a best on ground display, while Bob Johnson, Brian Dixon, Ian McLean and Dennis Jones were among others to shine.

Essendon qualified for the finals in fourth place with 11 wins. Fifth placed Fitzroy had 10 wins and a draw and a superior percentage. In the first semi final the Bombers produced an excellent second half to oust Collingwood from premiership contention. Scores were Essendon 14.16 (100) to Collingwood 8.14 (62), after the Bombers’ lead at half time had been a single point. 

The preliminary final between Essendon and Carlton was played on an exceedingly wet day and scores were low. Midway through the second quarter the Bombers led 4.5 to 0.3 only for the Blues, inspired by great work in the ruck by John Nicholls, to fight back strongly. Early in the third term it was Carlton by 3 points but cleverly snapped goals from Peucker and Birt regained the initiative for Essendon. In the last quarter both sides added a couple of goals leaving the Bombers victors by 7 points.

In the grand final Essendon kept pace with Melbourne for three quarters only to wilt in the fourth. Final scores were Melbourne 17.13 (115) defeated Essendon 11.12 (78).

Essendon full forward Ron Evans topped the VFL goal kicking list in 1959 with 78 goals. Evans only had a comparatively brief senior league career, but he achieved a fair amount of notoriety during it. He began with Essendon in 1958 when still a few months short of his nineteenth birthday having captured attention by breaking the Essendon District League goal kicking record the previous year with Essendon Baptists. Hardly surprisingly, the Dons elected to use him at full forward, where after taking a while to find his feet he developed, for a brief time, into arguably the best player in that position in the league.  Certainly, the VFL state selectors appeared to think so, because Evans was a regular in the Big V jumper in both 1959 and 1960, the same two seasons which saw him head the league's goal kicking list with 78 and 67 goals respectively.

Quite tall at 188cm, but wiry at only 78kg, Evans relied for his success on fine judgement, excellent marking - made easier by his uncannily long arms - and accurate kicking. In 1961, however, he appeared to lose his way somewhat, and the following year he was replaced at full forward by Charlie Payne. The 1963 season found him at West Perth, where he quickly succeeded in resurrecting his career, booting 97 goals in his debut season to top the WANFL list, and following that with tallies of 84 and 90 goals in 1964 and 1965 respectively, both of which were good enough to head the Cardinals' list.

Ron Evans departed the league football scene at the end of the 1965 season having played 64 VFL games and booted 209 goals with Essendon, and 60 WANFL games for 271 goals with West Perth. He later enjoyed a successful career as a football administrator. Carlton, who had finished seventh in 1958, were the VFL’s big improvers a year later, but after an excellent minor round the Blues disappointed in the finals. 

Collingwood were the form team going into the finals, having won their last 10 minor round matches in succession. (They had earlier lost their opening 5 fixtures.) However, after slugging it out with Essendon in the first half of their first semi final clash they were left chasing shadows as the Bombers produced a dynamic, purposeful second half.

Fitzroy’s draw with Melbourne at the MCG in round fourteen was one of the factors which scuppered their finals aspirations. Had they defeated the Demons they would have displaced Essendon in the four on percentage. Then, in seventeen Fitzroy and Essendon played one another in what to all intents and purposes was a “winner takes all” affair. The Bombers seized the initiative from the outset with a 5 goals to nil opening term and although the ‘Roys made a semblance of a comeback after half time there was only ever really one team in it.

Fitzroy won the 1959 VFL night flag with a 10.10 (70) to 4.16 (40) defeat of Hawthorn in the final.

As late as round sixteen North Melbourne occupied a place in the top four but the Kangas were then unaccountably thrashed by South Melbourne an d dropped down the list to fifth. They still had a mathematical chance of finals participation but only if they overcame Carlton in their final match. However, they were well beaten.

Hawthorn finished with the same win/loss record as in 1958 (9 wins, 9 defeats) but this was only good enough for seventh place on the ladder, one place lower than the previous year. The Hawks generally found the top four sides to be too strong for them, but they did manage a 5 point win over Essendon at Glenferrie in round ten.

St Kilda also won 9 matches but their percentage was substantially inferior to that of Hawthorn. Arguably the Saints’ best win came in round four at the Junction Oval when they accounted for Collingwood by 27 points. They also scored a 14 point triumph over Essendon in round thirteen. 

It should perhaps be mentioned that in the Brownlow Medal voting St Kilda full back Verdun Howell receiv ed the same number of votes as the winner, Bob Skilton. However, he was placed second on a countback. The league later awarded him - and all such runners-up - a retrospective Medal.A half forward during the bulk of the Tasmanian phase of his career with City-South, Howell was transformed by St Kilda into a prototype of the modern attacking full back. He played 159 games for the Saints between 1958 and 1968 and was second on a countback for the Brownlow in only his second season. Thirty years later the VFL saw fit to award him a medal retrospectively.

Despite his venturesome spirit, which manifested itself in a tendency to leave his man in order to embark on dashing runs upfield, Howell seldom conceded many goals for the simple reason that whenever he pursued the ball he normally got it. In short, he transformed the backing of one's judgement into an art form.

As Howell's VFL career progressed he made a gradual journey back to the forward lines. He was on a half back flank when St Kilda won its only senior flag in 1966 and, as vice captain, combined with skipper Darrel Baldock to provide the Saints with a unique, all Tasmanian on field leadership team.

As his career drew to a close Howell frequently played on the forward lines and was highly effective; in one game against Hawthorn he booted 9 goals. However, it was as a defender that he rose to his greatest heights, winning St Kilda's best and fairest award in 1959, representing the Big V on 9 occasions, and, to all intents and purposes, re-writing the chapter in the manual of footy entitled "How to Play Full Back”.

After his retirement as a player, Howell coached Claremont from 1972 to 1974, steering the Tigers to a losing grand final against East Perth in his first season only to see them plummet to a wooden spoon the following year.  When the 1974 season brought scant improvement he was replaced as coach by Mal Brown.

In 2004, AFL Tasmania announced its Tasmanian Team of the Century, which included Verdun Howell in a back pocket.

Ninth placed South Melbourne were in fourth place after round twelve but only managed 1 more win all season. They did have the satisfaction of providing the Brownlow Medallist in the shape of Bob Skilton, however. Skilton’s career is spotlighted elsewhere on the site, in the review of the 1968 football season.

Geelong managed just 5 wins and these were mostly at the expense of teams in the lower half of the premiership table. 

After showing a modicum of promise in 1958 Richmond plummeted to second from last after recording just 4 victories all of which, as was the case with Geelong, were against lower ranking teams. Wooden spooners Footscray, however, achieved probably the upset of the season. In round fifteen at the Western Oval they overcame eventual premiers Melbourne by 9 points, 12.8 (80) to 10.11 (71).

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Wally Dittmar (Port Adelaide)

WANFL: Royals Romp Home

Under Jack Sheedy, East Perth played a style of football which in many ways was fifteen or twenty years ahead of its time. For one thing, handball was used as an offensive weapon, rather than merely as a last resort when a player got into trouble.[1] Other sides had difficulty coping with this style and in Sheedy's first six years as coach the Royals were easily the outstanding side in the competition. Out of a total of 138 matches played between 1956 and 1961 East Perth won 106, drew 2, and lost just 30. In addition, the team headed the ladder after the home and away rounds in four out of those six seasons, reaching the grand final every time for wins in 1956, 1958 and 1959.

The 1959 premiership was arguably the most convincing. The Royals spent the entire home and away season at the head of the ladder, ultimately finishing on 18 wins and just 3 defeats, fully 5 wins clear of second placed East Fremantle. East Perth were comfortably superior to Old Easts in the second semi final as well, winning by 23 points without really needing to shift into top gear. It was a similar story a fortnight later against surprise grand finalists Subiaco, with the Royals leading at every change en route to a 12.19 (91) to 9.14 (68) triumph. The attendance at the grand final - 45,245 - was a new record.

East Perth’s Neil Hawke booted 114 goals in 1959 to be the league’s top goial kicker. Had he elected to concentrate on football rather than cricket, Hawke might well be remembered today as a champion key position forward.  Immensely powerful overhead, and surprisingly quick at ground level for someone of such hefty build, he typically rounded things off with an almost unfailingly accurate drop punt.

Hawke burst onto the scene with Port Adelaide in 1957, but after just 5 games, which yielded 27 goals (15 of them in one match against South Adelaide), he was unceremoniously dropped after a poor performance against West Adelaide and never played for the club's senior side again.  During Port's end of season trip to Perth to play East Fremantle the team stayed at the Savoy Hotel which was managed by East Perth coach Jack Sheedy, who persuaded Hawke to have a chat about his football future with officials from his club.  The Royals ended up signing Hawke, who in two seasons in the west provided ample evidence of just how fine a footballer he was, booting 157 goals in 42 games, and helping the side to successive grand final wins over East Fremantle and Subiaco.  After playing mainly on the half forward line during his debut season he was moved to the goalfront the following year and his tally of 114 goals was good enough to top the WANFL list.  Mind you, there were some concerns over his kicking, particularly early on during his time in the west.  In June 1958, for example, Alan Ferguson, writing in “The Football Budget”, observed:

Neil Hawke as a centre half forward commands an aerial supremacy.  However, to secure the best from Hawke (only 18) East Perth must improve his kicking. Drop punts are useless on fine days.

How times - and perceptions - change!

Hawke spent the whole of 1960 concentrating on cricket but in 1961 he returned to South Australia and resumed his football career with West Torrens.  Between 1961 and 1963 and in 1966 he added a final 33 league games to his tally, kicking 97 goals.  Quite a number of his games for the Eagles were played at centre half back, a position to which he adapted well.  Over the course of his career, Hawke played a total of 4 games of interstate football, 2 each for Western Australia and his home state.  He spent the 1961 football season playing for Brighton in the SAAFL, winning the Hone Medal as best and fairest player in A1 section.  He also helped South Australia to a win over Victoria in an amateur interstate match on the Adelaide Oval.

Subiaco, which had not participated in a finals match since 1946, somewhat surprisingly re-emerged as a force in 1959.  After winning 12 out of 21 minor round matches to qualify for the finals in fourth place, the side then annihilated Perth by 129 points in a boilover first semi final. The preliminary final two weeks later saw East Fremantle conclusively put to the sword, and so convincing had the Maroons been that many scribes gave them a realistic chance of overturning reigning premiers East Perth for the '59 flag. This ultimately proved beyond them but there seemed little doubt that Subiaco was a club with a glittering future. Indeed, in some ways it was, but it would glitter later rather than sooner.

Perennial finalists East Fremantle suffered the indignity of bowing out of premiership contention in straight sets. The preliminary final defeat to Subiaco was particularly disappointing as the Maroons dominated affairs from start to finish. For a club of Old Easts’ pedigree and pride it was an anti-climactic and uncharacteristic capitulation.

Perth consistently good form since world war two continued as the Redlegs qualified for the finals for the twelfth time in thirteen seasons. However, any gratification at the achievement was promptly erased when Subiaco scored a resounding and in some ways unexpected first semi final victory. Scores were Subiaco 26.23 (179) to 7.8 (50) with the Maroons kicking 20 of their goals in the second half. 

West Perth, who finished fifth, won 10 and lost 11 matches leaving them a couple of wins shy of finals qualification. There was some cause for celebration, however, as redoubtable ruckman Brian Foley won the Sandover Medal.  After a somewhat stuttering start to his league career, West Perth's Foley developed into one of Australia's finest ruckmen.  Making up for in dogged persistence what he may have lacked in raw talent, Foley gave as good as he got against the likes of Farmer, Clarke, McIntosh and Slater at home, and Nicholls, Schultz, Wedding and Wright interstate.  The fact that Foley made no fewer than 22 interstate appearances for Western Australia in an era when the state was blessed with considerable ruck strength is perhaps the most persuasive testimony as to his prowess, as well as to the esteem in which he was held.

From an individual perspective, the highlight of Brian Foley's illustrious 202 game league career came in 1959 when he was a runaway winner of the Sandover Medal.  Foley also won his second Cardinals fairest and best trophy that year, having previously won the award in 1957.  In 1960, he was one of the most conspicuous performers on the ground as West Perth overcame arch rivals East Perth by 32 points in the grand final.

Given that he was playing at a time when VFL clubs were beginning to make significant inroads into Western Australia's vast pool of playing talent it was inevitable that Foley should become a prime recruiting target.  North Melbourne came closer than anyone to procuring him - Foley even signed a form four - but the Cardinals steadfastly refused to agree to a clearance.  This, of course, was in the days when the ANFC was in ostensible control of interstate clearances.

Captain of West Perth from 1960 to 1964, Foley decided to play one last season in 1965 after Bob Spargo took over as captain-coach.  He finished on a “high”, performing consistently well all year, as well as leading the ruck in typically resolute fashion when Western Australia came from behind to defeat the VFL in a mid-season interstate clash at Subiaco Oval.

For the third season in a row South Fremantle failed to qualify for the finals, managing just 8 wins from 21 matches to finish sixth. The team was still capable of producing good football, as exemplified, for instance, in wins over East Fremantle in both the first and eighth rounds. However, there were also a number of execrable performances against lower ranking sides.

Perennial strugglers Claremont and Swan Districts occupied seventh and eighth positions respectively on the premiership ladder. The Tigers managed wins against Subiaco in rounds eight and fifteen, East Fremantle in round nine, and Perth in round twenty-one, but they also succumbed to some hefty defeats. Swans best victory probably came at the expense of West Perth in round twelve.

Tigers Splash Their Way to Victory

The TANFL grand final between Hobart and New Norfolk was played in extremely wet conditions which obviously dissuaded large numbers of potential spectators from attending. The match attendance of 10,103 was more than 5,000 down on the figure for the 1958 grand final. New Norfolk, playing in their first grand final, seemed stuck in the mire as they totally failed to trouble the scorers in the opening term. The Tigers meanwhile registered 4.6. By half time Hobart led by 36 points, which given the weather conditions was effectively a match-winning advantage. Final scores were Hobart 9.14 (68) to New Norfolk 2.9 (21).

The state title also went the way of Hobart who downed NWFU premiers Burnie by 27 points in the final. Earlier, Burnie had ousted NTFA premiers City-South from contention in the preliminary final.

There was further reason for celebration among Hobart’s supporters when ruck-rover Malcolm Pascoe won the William Leitch Medal. Still a few weeks short of his sixteenth birthday, Pascoe had joined Essendon from Essendon Bombers in 1949, and spent the next four seasons working his way through the club's junior ranks. In 1952 he starred in the Dons' 7.14 (56) to 4.5 (29) seconds grand final win over Collingwood. Strong overhead, and a prodigious drop kick, he played a total of 94 VFL games between 1953 and 1958, including the losing grand final of 1957 against Melbourne when he shared the ruck-roving duties with Hugh Mitchell. In 1959 he accepted the post of captain-coach of TANFL side Hobart, where he enjoyed a dream debut season that saw him represent the state, win the William Leitch Medal for best and fairest in the competition, top the league's goal kicking list with 75 goals, and steer his side to a 9.14 (68) to 2.9 (27) grand final defeat of New Norfolk. Shortly after the grand final he steered Hobart to its first and only state championship title courtesy of a 14.11 (95) to 9.14 (68) victory over Burnie.  He led the Tigers to a second successive TANFL flag in 1960, and also topped the league's goal kicking list again, this time with 57 majors. A third local premiership followed three years later, and Pascoe stayed at the helm until the end of the 1965 season, making him Hobart's longest serving senior coach up to that point.  He continued as a player under his successor John Watts, and his final tally of 177 TANFL games included a starring role in the Tigers' heart-stopping 10.14 (74) to 11.7 (73) grand final defeat of Glenorchy in 1966. In 1978 he returned to Hobart as non-playing coach and was in charge for two seasons. The importance of Mal Pascoe's contribution to Hobart was later recognised with his inclusion, as first ruckman, in the club’s official Greatest Team 1947 to 2002.

SANFL: Motley’s Magpies Fly High

Having steered Port Adelaide to half a dozen league premierships, including the last five in succession, Fos Williams was replaced by as coach by Geof Motley, who also assumed the captaincy as Williams had retired as a player. Apart from these changes it was business as usual for Port who won yet another minor premiership, with their only loss for the entire minor round coming in the opening round against West Adelaide. In the second semi final West inflicted the Magpies’ second defeat of the season and did so withsuch conviction that they promptly earned themselves premiership favouritism. Port were not to be outdone though. In the preliminary final they outclassed Glenelg toi the tune of 59 points and in the grand final re-match with West they unearthed a steely determination that had been absent a fortnight earlier.  West’s trademark short game which had proved so effective in the second semi was derailed by the ferocitylof the Magpies’ tackling and the closeness of their checking. By half time Port had procured a lead of 6 goals and although West fought back to a degree after half time there was only ever going to be one winner. Final scores were Port Adelaide 13.9 (87) to West Adelaide 11.11 )77).

Port Adelaide’s Wally Dittmar was "a highly accomplished footballer; technicall ........ at least as well equipped as the best”[2] - which immediately begs the question, why was he so often little better than a fringe player at Port Adelaide during his league career which spanned twelve seasons, and yet saw him play just 79 senior games (plus half a dozen for the state).  When given a concerted run in the senior side, as he was in 1959-60, he proved himself to be arguably the most effective full forward in the SANFL; at any rate, with tallies of 74 and 69 goals, he topped the league's goal kicking list in both seasons.  For the most part, however, he was given only sporadic opportunities at the top level, for reasons which will probably always remain a mystery, although perhaps Jeff Pash's wry observation that he had "not the flashing eyes and floating hair, and in fact the gritted teeth so beloved of those who see football as a battle”[3] hints as closely as we are ever likely to get at the truth of the matter.  Sometimes, at least as far as clubs like Port Adelaide, which pride the team ethic above all else, are concerned, it is perhaps possible to be too audaciously gifted for one's own good.

West won 12 minor round games to finish a comfortable second on the ladder heading into the finals. Their performance in downing Port Adelaide 13.14 (92) to 10.7 (67) in the second semi final was so outstanding that they entered the grand final re-match a fortnight later riding high on a wave lof confidence. Port, however, opened with a 5 goals to 1 first quarter and after that Westies were forced to chase the game. They managed this with some degree of success after half time, on one occasion getting within 9 points, but the Magpies deservedly held on.

Despite having a percentage of only 49.58 Glenelg qualified for the finals in fourth place. They then managed something they had failed to achieve in 3 minor round encounters during the season and downed Sturt. The margin was a bare point, with the Bays 15.17 (107) defeating Sturt 14.22 (104). Port Adelaide in the preliminary final was a totally different matter, however, and Glenelg slumped to a heavy defeat.

In 1959 Len Fitzgerald returned to Sturt from Ovens and Murray Football League team Benalla and he promptly won his third Magarey Medal as well as helping Sturt to their first finals series since his departure four years earlier. Their involvement was brief as they bowed out - somewhat unluckily, it has to be said - at the hands of Glenelg in the first semi final.

A win in their final minor round match would have earned West Torrens a finals berth. Unfortunately for them, that match was against Port Adelaide at Alberton Oval, where the Magpies had not lost all season. The Eagles made a good fist of it for three quarters, at the conclusion of which they trailed by just 3 points. Port, however, ran rampant in the final term, rattling on 6 goals to 1 to win convincingly by 37 points.

Norwood appointed a Victorian, Alan Killigrew - nicknamed “Killer” - as coach in 1959. Noted for his fiery, impassioned oratory hewas  not an immediate success. Indeed, the Redlegs did not manage to win a match until round six when they came from behind to account for South by 27 points. There was a measure of improvement after that, but their final tally of 7 wins was nowhere near good enough to secure finals participation.

North Adelaide had a dismal season, managing just 4 victories and giving absolutely no signs that they were on the verge of a memorable premiership triumph.

South Adelaide fared even worse. The Panthers only wins came at the expense of West Torrens in round one (by 7 points), North Adelaide in round seven (39 points) and Sturt in round nine (27 points). Meanwhile, some of their losses were acutely embarrassing in scale.[4]

Seagulls Reign Supreme

Williamstown made it five VFA flags in six seasons with a pulsating come from behind grand final win over Coburg. During the first half the Seagulls were the better side, but poor kicking for goal allowed the Lions to remain in touch on the scoreboard. Then in the third quarter Coburg took control, adding 4.3 to 0.1 to lead by 13 points at the last change. Hopes of an upset win to the Lions were quickly eroded in the final term, however, as the Seagulls rapidly upped the ante and, playing with a dynamism and purpose that had been missing earlier, had soon made up the deficit. Williamstown added 9 goals to 2 for the quarter to score a deceptively convincing 35 point win.

Interstate Fixtures

VFL representative sides engaged in three matches in 1959 and won every one of them with something to spare. In Melbourne, Western Australia were subjected to a hiding of unprecedented proportions with the Vics amassing 31.21 (207) to the Sandgropers’ 3.11 (29). South Australia in Adelaide were conclusively put to the sword to the tune of 68 points, 21.15 (141) to 11.7 (73). Meanwhile what was officially a second string combination completely outclassed Tasmania in Hobart, winning 17.17 (119) to 9.10 (64).

If Western Australia had been almost unbelievably poor against the Victorians they were still beyond question the second most powerful state team in Australia. They emphasised this in 1959 with wins over South Australia (twice) in Perth, and Tasmania in Hobart. They also suffered a reversal against South Australia in Adelaide, but the margin was only a couple of points, and the Western Australians were rated the better side by many observers.

Other Competitions

Eastern Suburbs claimed an all time record seventh successive NSWANFL premiership with a 7 goal grand final defeat of Newtown. Western Suburbs and Sydney Naval completed the final four.

Kedron downed Wilston Grange by 4 points in the QANFL grand final to secure their sixth senior grade flag.

Ainslie won their second successive CANFL premiership, and their seventh in total, thanks to an 11.12 (78) to 8.8 (56) grand final victory over Eastlake.

In the NTFL grand final St Marys thrashed Buffaloes by 80 points. Their tally of 17.20 (122) constituted a new record for a grand final.

Grand final results - VFL: Melbourne 17.13 (115) d. Essendon 11.12 (78); SANFL: Port Adelaide 13.9 (87) d. Werst Adelaide 11.11 (77); WAFL: East Perth 12.19 (91) d. Subiaco 9.14 (68); VFA: Williamstown 15.21 (111) d. Coburg 11.10 (76); TANFL: Hobart 9.14 (68) d. New Norfolk 2.9 (21); NTFA: City-South 13.10 (88) d. Longford 9.13 (67); NTFL: St Marys 17.20 (122) d. Buffaloes 6.6 (42); QANFL: Kedron 11.9 (75) d. Wilston Grange 10.11 (71); NWFU: Burnie 16.10 (106) d. East Devonport 11.10 (76); CANFL: Ainslie 11.12 (78) d. Eastlake 8.8 (56); TSP: Hobart 14.11 (95) d. Burnie 9.14 (68).


[1] Perhaps East Perth concentrated on handball too much, to the detriment of other skills - like kicking for goal! In one match against Swan Districts in 1957 the Royals had 33 scoring shots to 16 but, in one of the most atrocious bouts of inaccuracy in senior Australian football history, scraped home by just 7 points, 3.30 (48) to 5.11 (41).

[2] The Pash Papers by Jeff Pash, page 96.

[3] Ibid, page 96.

[4] For example, the Panthers lost to Port in round five by 83 points, West in round ten by 65 points, Glenelg in round eleven by 90 points, Norwood in round twelve by 86 points, and West in the final minor round match of the year by a whopping 175 points.

Hobart's former Essendon star Mal Pascoe

West Perth's Brian Foley

A Review of the 1959 Football Season