After enjoying a somewhat buoyant period during the 1950s football in the Australian Capital Territory experienced something of a hangover in the ensuing decade. Many clubs struggled financially, and the standard of play declined. One exception to the general rule was Eastlake, which enjoyed the greatest decade in its history, commencing with an unbeaten premiership in 1960. The 1961 season brought a drop to third but then the ‘Lakes embarked on a sequence of eight consecutive grand final appearances, the first five of which resulted in victories. Manuka provided Eastlake with its most consistently powerful opposition during this period, while Ainslie was also strong.
The 1963 season saw the Canberra Australian National Football League’s ranks bolstered by the admission of a team representing the Australian National University. This gave the league eight clubs and eliminated the need for a bye. All clubs were based in the ACT, except Queanbeyan which is just across the border in New South Wales. ANU had been successful in the reserves competition and was not out of its depth in senior company, finishing a creditable sixth in its debut season. After that, the club showed gradual improvement, and was a finalist every season from 1966 to 1971, albeit without ever finishing higher than third.
In 1963, the final four comprised Eastlake, Manuka, Ainslie and Acton. In the grand final, Eastlake proved too fiery and aggressive for Manuka and eased home by 31 points, 11.15 (81) to 6.14 (50). It was a fine season all round for the ‘Lakes as their centreman Robert Shearer became the first player from the club to win the league’s best and fairest award, the Mulrooney Medal, outright.38 Shearer, a former Sandringham player who had represented the VFA at the 1956 Perth carnival, was agile and quick and a fine kick with either foot.
Manuka obtained a measure of revenge over Eastlake when the two sides met in the reserves grand final, with the Bullants squeezing home by 3 points, 4.15 (39) to 5.6 (36). This proved to be the first of three successive triumphs in reserve grade for Manuka. The 1963 season also saw the introduction of an under nineteens grade to Canberra football, with Turner winning the inaugural premiership.
The teams which failed to qualify for the senior grade finals in 1963 were, in order, Queanbeyan, ANU, Royal Military College and Turner.
The season’s top goalkicker was Keith Bromage of Manuka with 70 goals, a season after he had “topped the ton” with 108. Bromage was an ex-VFL player who had played 28 games for Collingwood between 1953 and 1956 and 41 games with Fitzroy from 1957 to 1961.
Canberra engaged in two representative fixtures in 1963, downing New South Wales at home by 11 points, 8.12 (60) to 7.7 (49), and losing by the same margin to Queensland in Brisbane, 13.12 (90) to 14.17 (101).
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A Review of the 1963 ACT Football Season