Explore the History of australian football

Haydn Bunton junior of Swan Districts

WA Upset the Odds (and Vics)

Western Australia's triumph at the Brisbane Carnival of 1961 ought logically to have given Australian football a much needed shot in the arm. Here, at last, was undeniable proof that Victorian footballing pre-eminence was not in the nature of an unchallengeable “given”.[1]  A year earlier, in Adelaide, South Australia had provided a clear indication that the Victorian empire was far from indefatigable with an historic 69 point triumph. It was not so much the margin of victory which had heralded the decline as the Vics' abject inability to trouble the goal umpires; their total of 3.12 (30) was their lowest in interstate football up to that point.

Carnival football represented another step up in intensity from the ordinary interstate sphere, however, and the approach of VFL representative teams competing in Carnivals was correspondingly intensified. Arguably, only VFL finals football approached the intensity of an interstate Carnival, and for this reason the Big V was significantly better equipped than the other states to succeed. However, in 1961 the Western Australians and, to a lesser extent, both South Australia and Tasmania showed themselves perfectly capable of handling the pressure. Unlike at Melbourne three years earlier most matches were hotly contested and at least three of them - the games between SA and WA, SA and Tasmania and the decisive encounter between the VFL and WA - were bona fide classics of the highest order.

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A Review of the 1961 Football Season

SANFL: The “Turkish Bath” Grand Final

After West Adelaide slumped to fourth in 1960 Jack Oatey departed to be replaced as coach by Neil Kerley.  Under Kerls the Blood 'n Tars proved irrepressible in 1961, taking out the minor premiership and then overwhelming arch rivals Port Adelaide in the second semi by 17 points, 11.24 (90) to 9.19 (73). After Norwood surprisingly accounted for the Magpies in the following week's preliminary final West, having already outpointed the Redlegs in two of their three previous meetings for the season, entered the grand final as odds on favourites. Moreover, there was the clear advantage of having had a week's rest while Norwood were slogging their way to an energy-sapping 2 point victory over Port.

As it turned out, fitness and freshness were even more of the essence than usual, as the grand final took place in unprecedented heat which saw the thermometer rise to over 96 degrees Fahrenheit during the opening term. In retrospect, the match can be seen to have been won and lost during that initial phase, with West changing ends at quarter time only 9 points down despite Norwood having had the advantage of a 3 or 4 goal northerly breeze. Over the final three quarters the Blood 'n Tars held sway all over the ground as they surged to a comfortable 36 point victory, 16.13 (109) to 11.7 (73). Notable performances for the victors in a match quickly dubbed by the press 'the Turkish bath grand final' came from Kerley, Reu, Eustice, Benton, Ryan and De Broughe. 

If there was a tinge of disappointment amidst the euphoria which inevitably attends a premiership victory it was to do with the fact that West's grand final victims had not been the detested Magpies.

Norwood qualified for the finals in fourth position, 1 win plus percentage ahead of reigning premiers North Adelaide. In the first semi final the Redlegs accounted for West Torrens by 21 points, 11.15 (81) to 9.18 (72). Two weeks later they overcame an inaccurate Port Adelaide by 2 points, 134.13 (91) to 11.23 (89). In the grand final they kept pace with Westies for the better part of two quarters but after half time they were distinctly second best. The Magpies’ 25 point defeat of West Adelaide in the grand final of the SANFL’s night competition will presumably have provided absolutely bnothing in the way of consolation.

For most of the 1961 season Port Adelaide gave no indication that their six year stint at the pinnacle of South Australian football was about to end. The Magpies finished the minor round at the head of the ladder after losing just 4 of their 19 matches: to West Adelaide in round one, South Adelaide in round three, Norwood in round eleven and West Torrens in round nineteen when the result was of little consequence. Then, inexplicably, against West Adelaide in the second semi final they produced probably their worst performance of the season in losing by 17 points, a margin of defeat which frankly flattered them. Against Norwood in the following Saturday’s preliminary final they ought really to have won but their kicking for goal was horrendous and despite managing 34 scoring shots to 26 they ended up losing by 2 points. One of South Australian football’s greatest ever football dynasties was over.

After narrowly missing the finals in 1960 West Torrens finished the minor round third before succumbing, somewhat meekly, to Norwood in the first semi. Since winning the 1953 premiership the Eagles’ record in finals had been poor - a trend would not be reversed in the remaining three decades of the club’s solo existence. Key forward Geoff Kingston booted 79 goals for the season to become the first West Torrens player since John Willis in 1952, and only the third of all time, to top the SANFL’s goal kicking list.

After winning the 1960 premiership North Adelaide might have been expected to kick on but they underperformed badly to finish with a 10-9 record which was only good enough for fifth place. The Roosters managed to overcome both Norwood (twice) and West Torrens but otherwise failed to impress against the top four.

A huge chasm in ability separated the league’s top five and bottom four in 1961. South Adelaide (5 wins), Glenelg (4) and Sturt (3) seldom challenged the leading sides. One noteworthy exception was South’s 13.7 (85) to 9.10 (64) defeat of Port in round three, a result which might be said to have clinched the Panthers’ procurement of sixth place on the premiership ladder. Another was Sturt’s 11 point victory over Norwood in round ten. Some of the bottom three’s defeats were by substantial margins.

Despite ending up with the wooden spoon Sturt did manage one noteworthy achievement in the shape of John Halbert’s popular Magarey Medal win. Halbert had made his league debut with Sturt in 1955 and proved an immediate success, so much so that he finished runner-up in the Magarey Medal to Lindsay Head of West Torrens. Unfortunately for Halbert, coming second was something he would have to get accustomed to; three years later, he was runner-up to Head once more, and in 1960 he was bested by North Adelaide wingman and occasional rover Barrie Barbary. Finally, following a stellar 1961 season that had also seen him procure selection in the All Australian team after the Brisbane carnival, Halbert broke through for a richly deserved and extremely popular Medal triumph. He finished with a total of 20 votes, two more than Haydn Linke of Glenelg, and five ahead of the pre-count favourite, West Adelaide's Neil Kerley.

Geoff Kingston of West Torrens takes a well-judged mark.

Record Crowds in TANFL

A total of 173,255 spectators attended TANFL roster matches in 1961. This constituted a new record. Aggregate attendances at finals games amounted to 54,263, which was roughly 6,000 less than the 1958 high. 

The TANFL first semi final was contested between Sandy Bay and Clarence, with victory ultimately going to the former by 19 points. A week later North Hobart accounted for Glenorchy by 10 points in a real thriller. Scores were North Hobart 11.10 (76) defeated Glenorchy 10.6 (66).

A big crowd of 10,265 turned up for the preliminary final in which Glenorchy pulled away to enjoy a comfortable 29 point triumph over Sandy Bay. Final scores were Glenorchy 13.13 (91); Sandy Bay 9.8 (62).

North Hobart reasserted their dominance over Glenorchy in the grand final which attracted 15,217 spectators. Victory was achieved by 36 points, 16.12 (108) to 11.6 (72), and North went on to secure the state premiership as well with wins over NTFA premier North Launceston by 26 points and Cooee from the NWFU by 28 points. It was the tenth time that the Robins had won the “double” of state and local premierships.

In addition to their involvement in the Brisbane carnival Tasmania also played an interstate match against the VFA in Hobart, winning by 23 points, 17.12 (114) to 11.25 (91).

Other States and Territories

In the Sydney-based NSWANFL North Shore, which had finished ninth (of ten) a year earlier won the premiership with a convincing 11.15 (81) to 4.11 (35) grand final defeat of reigning premiers Sydney Naval. It was the Bombers’ first senior grade premiership since 1952. Newtown and Eastern Suburbs completed the final four. For the third season in succession Liverpool had to endure the indignity of the wooden spoon.

Mayne won their first QANFL premiership since 1958 thanks to a 13.18 (96) to 11.14 (80) grand final defeat of Coorparoo. It was either the Tigers’ ninth or tenth senior grade flag.[10]

Watched by what was claimed to be a CANFL grand final record crowd of approximately 6,000 Ainslie scored a hard fought 8 point win over Queanbeyan. Final scores were Ainslie 9.12 (66) defeated Queanbeyan 9.4 (58). Eastlake and Manuka made up the final four.

The NTFL premiership was won by Works and Housing who overcame a wayward St Marys in the grand final by 14 points. Final scores were Works and Housing 10.8 (68) to St Marys 6.18 (54). It was the Tigers’ second senior grade flag.[11]


[1] This is not meant to suggest that Victoria's footballing pre-eminence had never previously been subject to scrutiny or brought into question. By 1961, however, thanks to a burgeoning mass media and enhanced interstate communication such scrutiny could, potentially at any rate, be immediately and effectually engaged in by all members of the football fraternity. Unfortunately, few if any of the real power brokers in the game were watching. Moreover, the Melbourne press devoted fewer column inches to the Australian national football Carnival of 1961 than it did to events in local amateur football competitions. 

[2] Bunton made his league debut for North Adelaide in 1954 at the age of seventeen and the following year was chosen to represent South Australia against Western Australia in Perth. He coached Norwood in 1957 (second) and 1958 (fourth) before accepting a contract to coach Launceston in the NTFA in 1959. While there he was involved in a car accident in which he sustained a serious knee injury but, aided by world-renowned athletics coach Percy Cerutty, he made a rapid and near miraculous recovery which enabled him to return to Norwood as a player in 1960. His ambition to coach was still overwhelming, however, and he took little persuading to take the coaching reins at Swan Districts the following season. 

[3] Men of Norwood: Red and Blue Blooded by Mike Coward, page 210.

[4] Ibid, page 210. 

[5] Polly Farmer by Stephen Hawke, page 140.

[6] Ibid, page 210.

[7] For example, the Cardinals beat Swan Districts in rounds five and nineteen and East Fremantle in rounds seven and fourteen, but they also sustained losses at least once at the hands of all three teams to finish below them on the ladder.

[8] WA's Fabulous 40 - The Best 40 Footballers Over 40 Years by Alan East (ed.), page 79. 

[9] Football Greats of Western Australia volume one by Anthony James, page 32.

[10] Some records show that the 1930 premiership was shared between Windsor and Mayne after Mayne refused to allow Windsor to use the right of challenge which they had earned as minor premiers. Other records have Windsor as premiers.

[11] The club is nowadays known as Nightcliff.

Grand final results - VFL: Hawthorn 13.16 (94) d. Footscray 7.9 (51); SANFL: West Adelaide 16.13 (109) d. Norwood 11.7 (73); VFA: Division One - Yarraville 22.7 (139) d. Williamstown 11.10 (76); Division Two - Northcote 12.15 (87) d. Dandenong 9.18 (72); TANFL: North Hobart 16.12 (108) d. Glenorchy 11.6 (72); NTFA: North Launceston 8.11 (59) d. Longford 8.10 (58); NSWANFL: North Shore 11.15 (81) d. Sydney Naval 4.11 (35); NTFL: Works and Housing 10.8 (68) d. St Marys 6.13 (49); QANFL: Mayne 13.18 (96) d. Coorparoo 11.14 (80); NWFU: Cooee 8.10 (58) d. Burnie 8.5 (53); CANFL: Ainslie 9.12 (66) d. Queanbeyan 9.4 (58); TSP: North Hobart 13.8 (86) d. Cooee 8.10 (58).

Brisbane Carnival results - VFL 20.30 (150) d. Tasmania 12.17 (89); South Australia 16.13 (109) d. Western Australia 15.17 (107); Western Australia 24.23 (167) d. Tasmania 10.6 (66); VFL 21.22 (148) d. South Australia 13.12 (90); South Australia 15.17 (107) d. Tasmania 14.16 (100); Western Australia 15.14 (104) d. VFL 14.11 (95).

Melbourne's Brian Dixon

VFL: A Football Revolution at Hawthorn

Under the gruelling commando-style regime based on circuit training which was introduced by Jack Hale during the 1950s, and which John Kennedy, who was appointed Hawthorn coach in 1960, elaborated on and augmented, the players reached a pinnacle of physical fitness that had probably never previously achieved in the history of Australian football. There was no finesse about the Kennedy approach, but no one could deny it was effective. During his first season as coach the Hawks had their first ever win at Victoria Park over Collingwood - the club which, ironically, edged into fourth place at the end of the home and away season ahead of the Hawks on percentage. One season later, however, Hawthorn finished at the head of the premiership ladder with 14 wins from 18 matches, and went on to reach the grand final after a hard-fought second semi final win over reigning premiers, Melbourne.

In terms of pure footballing ability Hawthorn's team in 1961 could only really be described as ordinary, but in spite of this they achieved the ultimate when, on grand final day, they comprehensively outplayed Footscray to the tune of 43 points. With fitness fanatic Brendan Edwards in irrepressible form in the centre, and with strong supporting performances from rover Ian Law, ruckman John Winneke, wingman John Fisher, ruck-rover and captain Graham Arthur, and half forward Ian Mort, the Hawks gave new meaning to the phrase “pressure football” (a term which, during the 1960s, came increasingly to be regarded as a synonym for “quality football” - in Victoria, at any rate).

A statistical analysis of the 1961 grand final helps bear this out.  The overwhelming majority of kicks (60.1%), by both teams, were wayward, in part because of slipshod execution - the drop kick, in particular, which was used 24.0% of the time, did not lend itself to pinpoint accuracy - but chiefly because the ball carrier was compelled to dispose of the ball hurriedly either in order to avoid being tackled, or because he was already being grabbed by an opponent.  This also helps explain what might seem to some to be the surprisingly high incidence of handball in the match.  Between them, the teams executed a total of 106 handpasses, but far from denoting any observable adherence to the principles of “play on” football, this merely reinforced the fact that players were, typically and repeatedly, being harassed into getting rid of the ball as quickly and expeditiously as possible.  On only 8 occasions during the entire match did players who had marked the ball decide not to walk slowly and purposefully back and take their kick, but instead play on by handballing to a team mate.  Moreover, 5 of these instances occurred during the dying minutes of the final term, when the outcome of the match had been determined.

Rather than being used proactively, as a means to open up or force the play, virtually all the handpasses made during the game were reactive, typically made as a desperate last resort, often blindly, by players either being, or about to be, tackled.  As a result, some 33% of handballs ended up going straight to an opposition player.  To modern eyes, therefore, much of the football produced in the 1961 grand final appears slipshod, errant and uncoordinated.  Players did not so much impose their wills on the game as respond, instinctively, and often almost desperately, to its ebbs and flows.  Constructive creativity quite simply never came into play.  Only once during the entire game was there a sequence of as many as 3 consecutive handballs by players from the same team.  A player's automatic response upon gaining possession of the ball in space was to kick it as far as he could in a goalwards direction.  Short or medium distance kicks aimed at finding a specific team mate did occasionally occur, but so infrequently as to appear anomalous, and so inexpertly as to provoke a singularly unvarying pejorative reaction from the TV commentary team - "Oh no, they're messing around!"   Such sentiments presumably encapsulated the contemporary viewpoint, which would appear to have been that any attempts on the part of players to impose order and coherence on the game are fruitless, and hence to be scorned.  Thus, in the main, play in the 1961 grand final comprised a relentless sequence of long kicks forward interspersed with frenetic tussles for possession.  Hardly any kicks could be categorised as 'passes', and many went either directly to an opposition player, or out of bounds.

None of this is meant to imply that the Hawthorn system was not revolutionary in its way.  In particular, its side effects were quite significant.  For one thing, as players endeavoured to diminish and counteract the destabilising effects of 'pressure football' they developed noticeably greater facility in their execution of the basic skills.  Disposing of the ball speedily and accurately became paramount, which meant that handball - the quickest method of disposal available to a player - became increasingly important.  Meanwhile the drop kick, which had been a pillar of the game since its inception, began to be supplanted by the drop punt, which was both immeasurably more accurate, and quicker and easier to implement.  In the 1961 grand final the drop punt was used only twice; by the time that the Hawks next claimed a premiership, a decade later, it was the preferred kick of almost all members of the team.

Footscray finished the 1961 minor round in fine form to qualify for the finals in fourth spot. First semi final opponents St Kilda had comfortably won the round ten clash between the sides but finals football is always a different affair to the bread and butter routine of the home and away schedule. Accordingly, no one was particularly surprised when the Bulldogs triumphed by 9 points, a margin which actually flattered the Saints who never really looked like winning.

Preliminary final opponents Melbourne had also had the better of Footscray during the minor round, winning by 25 points at the Western Oval in round six, and by 40 points at the MCG in round seventeen. The Bulldogs, however, got the jump on the Demons in a first quarter which saw them rattle on 4 unanswered goals. Melbourne made a semblance of a comeback in the second term but Footscray still led by 17 points at the long break. The second half was all Footscray, and their eventual margin of victory of 27 points, compared to Hawthorn’s 7 point defeat of the same opponents a week earlier, prompted some to install the Bulldogs as flag favourites. However, it was not to be, as despite a solid first half performance they ended up being overpowered.

Melbourne suffered a disappointing and uncharacteristic fade out in 1961. Comfortably second after the home and away rounds the Demons found Hawthorn just a little too energetic and decisive in the second semi final and fell short by 7 points. A week later in the preliminary final Melbourne had no answer to Footscray’s tenacity and superlative use of handball and went under by 27 points.

St Kilda qualified for the finals for the first time since 1939 but their involvement was fleeting as they succumbed by 9 points to Footscray in the first semi. The Saints made the mistake of fielding a half fit Verdun Howell at full back and despite the comparatively narrow losing margin they never looked like winning.

Fitzroy continued their solid form of recent seasons to win 10 matches and draw 1 (of 18) and finish fifth. The draw, which occurred in round twelve against Melbourne effectively robbed the Lions of finals participation as they finished half a win behind third placed St Kilda and fourth placed Footscray but with a superior percentage to both of them.

Sixth placed Geelong had an identical win/loss record but a greatly inferior percentage to Fitzroy. Arguably the Cats’ best performance came in round seven at Kardinia Park when they comprehensively overcame eventual grand finalists Footscray. Scores were Geelong 13.13 (91) defeated Footscray 4.14 (38). Geelong also achieved the rare feat of downing Collingwood both whom and away, although it has to be conceded that the Magpies were by no means a powerful team in 1961. The Cats enjoyed one moment in the sun in 1961 when they downed North Melbourne by 12 points in the grand final of the VFL night competition.

Essendon combined some big wins with a number of inexplicable losses to lower ranked teams. Perhaps their best victory came at the expense of Melbourne on the MCG in round fourteen. In front of a crowd of 31,155 Essendon won by 9 points, 13.9 (87) to 10.18 (78).

Despite their generally poor season eigth placed Carlton at least had the satisfaction of providing both the Brownlow Medallist and the competition’s leading goalkicker. The Brownlow Medal went to John James, who spent most of the 1961 season playing on a half back flank. However, prior to and after 1961 he  was invariably the first man the coach called upon to fill in if the team was breaking down in a certain position.  During his eleven season, 206 games career with the Blues he played, at some point, in virtually every position on the ground with the exception of knock ruckman.

Initially recruited from Ballarat as a forward, he ended his debut season of 1953 with the rankly inglorious tally of 8 goals and 43 behinds to his name, and the disbelieving groans of the Princes Park faithful still ringing in his ears.

When playing in the backlines, James was sometimes criticised for “taking risks”, but his superb judgement meant that he was actually a prototype of the more modern, re-bound style of half back or back pocket.  For James, there was nothing calculatedly tactical about his style; he was simply playing his natural game, just as he had done from his time as a schoolboy at the renowned football nursery of St Patrick's College, Ballarat.

John James' importance to Carlton was emphasised with best and fairest wins in 1955, 1960 and 1961 making him, somewhat surprisingly, the first player to win the award on three occasions.   

The VFL’s top goalkicker in 1961 was first season player Tom Carroll who booted 54 goals. Hailing from a turkey farm at Ganmain he, unsurprisingly, garnered the nickname “Turkey Tom”. He returned home to Ganmain after three seasons with the Blues during each of which he had topped the club’s goal kicking list.

Collingwood failed to qualify for the finals in 1961 for the first time since 1957 and only the second time in ten seasons. The Magpies started the season with a hefty loss to Geelong and their form thereafter was fickle. Much of the season saw them occupying the second from last rung on the ladder before a late, albeit passionless, improvement in form saw them clamber to ninth, their worst finishing position since 1944.

Tenth placed Richmond improved marginally on their 1960 showing when they had finished a distant last. The Tigers’ 5 wins all came against teams in the bottom half of the table. In round sixteen at the Junction Oval they suffered a particularly ignominious defeat at the hands of St Kilda during which they registered just 0.8 for the match. The Saints scored 12.19 (91) to win by 83 points.

Between rounds nine and eighteen South Melbourne and North Melbourne, in that order, occupied the bottom two rungs the ladder. Both teams managed an occasional meritorious performance - South Melbourne even defeated Footscray - but overall they appeared out of their depth. In the only clash between the pair in round eleven at the Lake Oval South won by 18 points, 9.14 (68) to 7.8 (50).

Two Division Format Gets Thumbs Up

In 1961 the VFA implemented a two division system with promotion and relegation. The move was judged a success in that there were considerably more close matches and attendances were healthy. The inaugural first division grand final attracted approximately 20,000 spectators to St Kilda’s home ground of the Junction Oval, while roughly 8,000 attended the second division play-off at Toorak Park.

Premiers in first division were Yarraville, who comfortably accounted for Williamstown in the grand final. It was Yarraville’s first flag since 1935, and their margin of victory - 63 points - was the greatest since 1918. At half time there was little in the match as the Eagles led by just 14 points, 8.2 (50) to 5.6 (36). During the third quarter, however, Yarraville added 11.4 to 1.1 thereby effectively finishing the game as a spectacle. The roving trio of Ron Brown, Graham Crook and John Clegg constituted the main driving force behind the Eagles’ surge. Final scores were Yarraville 22.7 (139) defeated Williamstown 11.10 (76).

Northcote were far and away the best team in second division. After suffering just two reversals during the home and away fixtures they comfortably topped the ladder before twice accounting for Dandenong in the finals. In the second semi final their margin of victory was 24 points, while although the grand final was somewhat closer at the finish Northcote always seemed to have something in hand. Final scores were Northcote 12.15 (87) defeated Dandenong 9.18 (72). 

South Fremantle's John Gerovich takes a trademark "screamer".

WANFL: Swans’ Stunning Success

By 1961 the popularity of football in Western Australia was at an all time high with an average of more than 30,000 spectators attending each week's round of four matches. The unexpected success of the Western Australian state side in capturing the national title at the Brisbane carnival was one important factor in reinforcing the game's popularity. However, arguably of even greater importance was the equally unexpected emergence of Swan Districts as a league power for the first time, providing the WANFL competition, which had consistently been dominated by the same few clubs since the end of world war two, with a long overdue breath of fresh air.

Swan Districts took a gamble in 1961 by appointing the young Haydn Bunton junior as senior coach. Bunton, whose father had won three Sandover Medals with Subiaco in the 1930s, had spent his early years in Perth but had played virtually all of his football in South Australia.[2] Bunton's courage and dedication were undeniable, but his coaching pedigree was limited. Many felt that what Swans most needed, after claiming the wooden spoon in 1960, was an experienced hand at the helm, but almost immediately Bunton set about showing that the committee had made an inspired choice:

Bunton extricated players from beer gardens around Perth and the city's resort beaches, provided them with a sense of belonging, and set each player a personal challenge. To a man, the players responded to their coach, a supreme leader and master tactician, and won……[3]

Among the newcomers to respond to the Bunton technique was rover Bill Walker, who would go on to become arguably the greatest player in the history of the club. Nevertheless, it was Bunton's "genius (that was) solely responsible for the club's dizzy climb from the bottom to the top of the premiership table in one winter”.[4] 

During the minor round Swan Districts won 12 out of 21 matches to finish second on the ladder to East Perth but most observers considered it of critical significance that the Royals had won all three head to head clashes during the year. The East Perth lobby grew even stronger after the second semi final which resulted in a thoroughly convincing 48 point triumph to the Royals, and when the black and whites had to struggle all the way to overcome Subiaco in the following week's preliminary final the only doubt in most people's minds was how much East Perth would end up winning by.

People had reckoned without Bunton, though, and the 1961 grand final became, above all else, a testimony to his tactical acumen.  East Perth's key player was Graham Farmer, arguably the greatest ruckman - some would say the greatest player - in the history of the game, and Bunton reasoned that, without Farmer's influence to contend with, the Swans would be better than an even money chance. He was right. Thirty years later he recalled the simple but masterful ploy he devised to stymie Farmer's impact and, in effect, win the 1961 grand final for Swan Districts:

"Fred (Castledine) had to come in and get hold - get his (Farmer's) left arm out of the way. Once he had that arm, that was it. Keith Slater was coming in on his right, and Castledine was getting in the way of that arm before he could get it up...... We had rehearsed this.” [5]

Swans ruckman Keith Slater played the game of his life to realise Bunton's ploy, and with the likes of Bunton himself and Bill Walker crumbing superbly East Perth remained distinctly second best all day. Final scores were Swan Districts 17.9 (111); East Perth 12.15 (87) after Swans had led at every change by 17, 13 and 31 points. Keith Slater later admitted that "I got away with a few illegal things in the grand final of '61. That's the luck of the draw.”[6]  Most of the 'illegal things' must have remained unobserved because Slater was a clear choice for the Simpson Medal as best afield, with full back Joe Lawson, rovers Bunton and Walker (5 goals), centre half back Ken Bagley and wingman Johnny Mack also impressive. The match remains one of the epochal moments in Western Australian football history.

In 1961 East Perth put in one of the finest home and away campaigns in the club's history, winning all but 2 of 21 games for the season. A 48 point win over Cinderella club Swan Districts in the second semi final earned them odds on favouritism for the grand final re-match a fortnight later, but, as noted above, the Royals were on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in Western Australian football history as the Swans won by 24 points to record their first ever WANFL premiership.

That 1961 grand final was “Polly” Farmer's last ever game for East Perth, the star ruckman transferring to Geelong in the VFL where he went on to enhance his reputation still further. 

Third after the minor round, Subiaco affirmed that status with a 20.17 (137) to 16.11 (107) first semi final defeat of East Fremantle. Against Swan Districts in the preliminary final they managed to keep in touch for much of the afternoon thanks to a mixture of dogged determination and accuracy in front of goal, but ultimately they had to accept that they were second best, just as had been the case in two out of three of the teams’ meetings in the home and away series.

In 1961, East Fremantle qualified for the finals for the ninth consecutive time. Only one of the eight previous appearances had resulted in a premiership, and 1961 was to provide yet another disappointment as they crashed out in the first semi final against Subiaco by a margin of 30 points.

Reigning premiers West Perth had an inexplicably poor season, finishing fifth with a 9-12 record. Still capable on their day of troubling or even downing a top side they were equally prone to succumbing to some of the league’s poorest sides.[7]

Perth managed just 8 wins and a draw in 1961 but they provided the Sandover Medallist in the person of Neville Beard. Whether as a defender or a ruck-rover changing in defence, Beard gave the Perth Football Club fine service in 126 WANFL games between 1956 and 1963. The highlight of his career came in 1961 when, as mentioned above, he was a surprise winner of the Sandover Medal. Beard polled 22 votes, the same as East Fremantle's Ray Sorrell, but won on a countback.  (Sorrell was later awarded a retrospective Medal.)  Selected in Western Australia's 1961 Brisbane carnival squad, Beard was forced to withdraw because of injury.  His only interstate appearance for Western Australia came in the following year's match against South Australia in Perth.  The main strengths of his game were his superb overhead marking and his penetrative left foot kicking.

Seventh placed Claremont endured another poor season which yielded just 7 wins. The Tigers had last contested the finals in 1952, when they finished third.

Despite finishing last and scoring fewer points than any other club South Fremantle had, in the shape of supreme aerialist John Gerovich, the WAFL’s leading goalkicker. Arguably the most distinctive feature of Australian football is the high mark.  Virtually every other facet of the game is shared by other sports, but the sight of a player taking a fingertip “screamer” while perched on the shoulders of an opponent is unique to footy, and players who perfect this art are among the code's most celebrated and well remembered.

John Gerovich, who played 221 league games for South Fremantle between 1955 and 1969, mastered the high flyer's art more comprehensively and eye-catchingly than most.  The photograph of a skyscraping mark taken by Gerovich during the 1956 preliminary final against East Fremantle remains one of the most visually stunning and indeed iconic in football history.  The unfortunate “step-ladder” was Ray French.

John Gerovich was much more than just a spectacular aerialist, however, as he "had superb balance, a blistering turn of speed and the ability to kick goals from long distances with either foot”.[8]  Equally at home at either centre half forward or the goalfront, he topped South Fremantle's list of goal kickers on eight occasions and the league list in 1956 (74 goals), 1960 (101) and 1961 (74). He booted 721 WANFL goals altogether, and was a regular interstate representative (18 games, 56 goals). When West Australia won the Brisbane carnival, John Gerovich played at full forward in all 3 matches, kicking 8 goals.

Perhaps the most persuasive testimony as to Gerovich's brilliance came from Marty McDonnell, who coached South during the early '60s, and who had played at full back on the great Essendon full forward John Coleman.  McDonnell's unequivocal assessment was that "Gerovich was the most sensational forward he had seen in Australia”.[9]

Sturt's John Halbert