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​A Review of the 1967 Football Season

Grand final results - VFL: Richmond 16.18 (114) d. Geelong 15.15 (105); SANFL: Sturt 13.10 (88) d. Port Adelaide 10.17 (77); WANFL: Perth 18.12 (120) d. East Perth 15.12 (102); VFA: Division One - Dandenong 16.13 (109) d. Port Melbourne 12.12 (84); Division Two - Oakleigh 12.14 (86) d. Geelong West 11.7 (73); TANFL: North Hobart 11.12 (78) d. Glenorchy 8.16 (64); NTFA: East Launceston 9.12 (66) d. North Launceston 8.16 (64); NSWANFL: Newtown 9.16 (70) d. Western Suburbs 8.12 (60); NTFL: St Marys 15.9 (99) d. Darwin 11.11 (77); QAFL: Mayne 9.22 (76) d. Western Districts5.10 (40); NWFU: Wynyard 13.7 (85) d. Cooee 7.7 (49); CANFL: Manuka 11.15 (81) d. Eastlake 6.13 (49). 

VFA Enjoys A Boom Year

The VFA enjoyed a remarkable year in 1967, with aggregate attendances of 472,000,[21] and one of the most memorably dramatic, not to mention controversial, grand finals in history.  On the face of it, the burgeoning crowds were something of a surprise, given that 1967 was the year that Channel 0 began its ‘live’ televising of VFA football.[22] However, the fact that the majority of the Association’s 1st division games now took place on Sundays, when the VFL had no counter attractions on offer, almost certainly outweighed any negative impact of TV.  Moreover, it is at least moderately feasible to suggest that a number of new patrons were enticed to try the ‘live’ product for themselves after first witnessing it on the small screen.  

Both Association grand finals were played at new venues in 1967.  The 2nd division game at Coburg between Oakleigh and Geelong West, watched by 3,500 spectators, looked to be going the Roosters' way when they trailed by just 5 points at the last change, with use of the wind to come in the final quarter.  However, the more experienced purple and golds, who had seemed to have an edge in pace all day, upped the ante in a frantic finish to the game to add 3.4 to 2.2 and win their first ever division two flag by 13 points.[23]  

It was in 1st division, however, in the grand final between Dandenong and Port Melbourne at Punt Road, that the real drama occurred.  Watched by 17,000 spectators inside the ground, and numerous others on television, ultimately it was the fitter, more purposeful Dandenong side which prevailed, but not before Port Melbourne skipper Brian Buckley had threatened to lead his team-mates from the field during a tension-packed 2nd term.  Buckley was furious over what he perceived as the umpire's blatant favouritism toward the Redlegs, who up to that point in the match had been awarded no fewer than 26 free kicks compared to Port Melbourne's 11; moreover, he felt strongly that Borough ruckman John Peck had been so persistently and consistently victimised by the umpire - including being reported for foul and abusive language - that he ended up being effectively "umpired......out of the game".[24]  

Port Melbourne officials were eventually successful in persuading their team to resume play but a strong undercurrent of tension remained.  Port Melbourne played strongly in the 3rd quarter to be right back in the game at 'lemon time', but Dandenong then reassumed control to run out comfortable victors by 25 points.  Ruckman Alan Morrow, rover David Keenan and half forwards Brian Hill and Ron Townsend were prime factors in the Redlegs' victory.[25] 

​BACK TO:   Season Reviews​

In Victoria, too, the concept of a national competition was increasingly being mooted, although most proponents of the idea were careful to stress that it should be evolutionary, featuring the twelve current VFL clubs at its centre, rather than an entirely new competition.  Prominent Essendonfootballer Jack Clarke (pictured right), for example, summarised the feelings of many when he outlined his ‘blueprint for the survival of the game’ in an article in the ‘Melbourne Sun’.  Faced with increasing competition from sports with an international profile, such as soccer, the VFL, he declared, had to aspire to become a fully professional, nation-wide concern.  This could not happen overnight, he admitted, but could easily be achieved if undertaken in carefully planned stages.  As part of the initial stage, Clarke recommended that Fitzroy should agree to shift operations to Albury, while Clarke’s own club, Essendon, should relocate to Ballarat.  (This latter suggestion was perhaps a tongue in cheek riposte at the club for dropping him from its senior side earlier in the season.)  Once this set-up had been consolidated, the league should look to expand its horizons still further, with “at least one team in Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide”.  In terms of its organisation, the VFL should emulate the American system of private ownership in which “the profit motive rules supreme” and the “administrators.......think big”.[10]  

Television was also helping prepare the public for a football competition which transcended state boundaries as well as, to an increasing extent, state loyalties.  VFL highlights were now being televised each weekend in Perth and Adelaide, thereby de-mystifying what had previously seemed a very distant, almost ‘foreign’ competition.  From this period on, many a South Australian or Western Australian youngster would openly and proudly declare allegiance, not just to one of the teams in the local competition, but to one of the twelve VFL clubs as well.  This state of affairs would have been unthinkable prior to the burgeoning of VFL telecasts, and it undoubtedly played a part in encouraging more and more of the top Western Australian and South Australian footballers to see Melbourne as the ‘Mecca’ of Australian football, and to aspire to head there at some stage in their careers in order to ‘prove’ themselves.  

During 1967, Channel 7 joined forces with a tobacco company to launch and promote a competition to find the 'champion kick in Australian football'.  Beginning with a series of qualifying heats in each of the four major football states a competition was conducted, and televised each Sunday on ‘World of Sport’, which culminated in a finals series in Melbourne featuring the four state champions.  Terry Phillips of Central District won this inaugural event,[11] which would continue to run for another five years, contributing in no small measure over the course of that time to the process of ‘de-mystification’ which can be viewed, in hindsight, as having proved so essential to the acceptance by the non-Victorian public of the expanded VFL competition when it ultimately emerged.[12]  

In 1967, of course, that development still lay many years in the future, but there can be little doubt that, as a result of greater and more widespread media exposure, events in the VFL competition were starting to acquire more and more importance to football supporters throughout Australia.  

The Game Enters A New Phase

The term ‘watershed’ is carefully chosen, but no doubt needs a measure of justification.  Literally, of course, the word means ‘a key period, or factor, that acts as a dividing line’, but in this case one would be hard pressed to be anything like so literal.  Certainly, there was no significant single event, such as the meeting which led to the initial formulation of the game’s rules in 1858, or that between the rebel VFA clubs in 1896 which spawned the VFL, to benchmark the sort of changes which occurred - or more accurately, which I am claiming came to some kind of perceptible fruition - in 1967.  However, in terms of important trends in the development of key patterns and styles of play, as well as in the move towards what might be termed the 'professionalisation' of the code (including the concomitant evolution of a national competition), 1967 deserves to be recalled as a year of considerable significance.  

To consider the points in order, if one desires proof that football in 1967 had reached a new level of sophistication in terms of the implementation of what might be called ‘the play-on ideal’, in which quick, incisive movement of the ball, at all costs, by both hand and foot supplanted the ‘prop and kick’ style of yore, then one need only watch, back to back, video tapes of the 1966 and 1967 VFL grand finals.  Carlton’s 2nd half performance against Collingwood in the 1970 VFL grand final, when they were famously enjoined by coach Ron Barassi (shown below) to ‘handball, handball, handball’ is often regarded, only half seriously one hopes, as signalling ‘the birth of modern football’.  In truth, of course, no single match could ever be said to constitute the ‘birth’ of a completely novel or different style of play – and, in any case, the unthinking assumption that the VFL was automatically and invariably the birthplace of every important development in football belies the clearly observable fact that, as has been intimated on several occasions elsewhere in this website, the trends which led to the evolution of modern, play on football were occurring just as visibly and obviously in Perth and Adelaide, for example, as in Melbourne.  However, video footage of VFL matches is clearly much more readily accessible than that of other state competitions, hence my use of the 1967 and 1966 VFL grand finals as my examples.  If, having viewed Richmond’s and Geelong’s efforts during the last quarter of the 1967 match, you are still inclined to accord any credence to the popular view that ‘modern football’ was born at the MCG on the afternoon of Saturday 26 September 1970 I shall be very surprised.  (I shall, needless to say, be discussing the extraordinary Geelong-Richmond match in some detail later.)  

VFL: Hafey's Tigers Break 24 Year Premiership Drought

Perhaps bearing out Sir Kenneth Luke’s point about the desirability of an intense, even competition, once the 1967 VFL finals started, the Melbourne public came out in force to support the four combatants: Richmond, which under second year coach Tom Hafey was contesting its first finals series in 20 years; Ron Barassi’s rapidly emerging Carlton side; Geelong in ‘Polly’ Farmer’s VFL swansong year; and perennial finalist and 1966 runner-up Collingwood.  Hafey’s Tigers, who had finished the home and away season with six highly impressive victories in succession, were favoured by most pundits to clinch their first flag since 1943, with their main challenge expected to come from the Blues.  However, in the end it was Peter Pianto’s ‘classy Cats’ who struck their best form of the season at the right time before going on to provide the Tigers with what proved to be a formidable, if ultimately fruitless, grand final challenge.   

Regarded as “beyond all shadow of doubt.....the most skilful teams in the league”[13], Richmond and Geelong were both prime exponents of ‘play on’ football.  However, whereas the Tigers’ style was characterised by long kicks to position interspersed with prodigious marking and quick, consolidating handballs, the Cats favoured a less direct, ‘patchwork quilt’ type approach in which handball played a much more central role.  This lead to a potentially pleasing contrast in styles which, on grand final day, produced one of those all too rare games that genuinely befit the epithet ‘classic’.  To use an analogy, if football in the VFL at the time typically resembled freestyle jazz, being largely characterised by impromptu, haphazard, staccato bursts which only occasionally, almost accidentally, approximated to genius, then the 1967 grand final was more akin to a full scale classical symphony, with its shyly probing opening stanza, the apparent conclusiveness of the second, the eloquent counterpoints and ripostes of the third, and the vast, soaring, elegant sweep of its climax, which saw players of both teams achieve a sustained pinnacle of virtuosity seldom, if ever, previously attained in the game.  This was dream football, the game as it was ostensibly designed in blueprint, but so seldom made manifest.  

Despite Geelong’s heroics in overcoming Collingwood by 5 goals in the 1st semi final, and Carlton by 29 points, after trailing by 39 points at half time, in the preliminary final,Richmond’s pre-finals favouritism was undiminished in most pundits’ eyes on the eve of the grand final.  In fact, the Tigers were probably the “hottest favourites since Melbourne in 1958”[14], with that status if anything reaffirmed by the decision of prominent media identity Lou Richards, renowned for his ‘kiss of death’ predictions, to publicly and confidently back the Cats.[15]  At quarter time, it seemed that Richards may in fact have been preternaturally astute, as Geelong, despite kicking into the breeze, was only 6 points in arrears, having played well.  However, in the second term Richmond, with centreman Bill Barrot (pictured above, left) in impeccable touch, assumed almost complete control to jump out to a 16 point advantage, which only waywardness in front of goal prevented from being much greater.  Realising they had been let off the hook perhaps, the Cats raced out of the blocks after half time to snatch three quick goals, and the lead, by the seven minute mark of the third quarter.  The scene was set for a rip roaring finale, with the last thirty minutes of the game being widely regarded as “one of the best quarters of brilliant football seen in a grand final”.[16]  Richmond began the last term 2 points to the good and quickly extended that margin to 8 points courtesy of a brilliantly snapped goal from Kevin Bartlett.  Geelong, with Farmer and Goggin repeatedly combining to ensure first use of the ball, refused to concede, however, and a goal to Ryan followed by a succession of behinds put them in front by a point.  Shortly afterwards, Richmond drew level, and thereafter, on no fewer than four occasions during the quarter, the scores were deadlocked. 

There was an element of controversy, too.  Midway through the quarter, with Geelong trailing by a point, Cats half forward John Sharrock chased a bouncing ball into the Geelong goal square and soccered it through the goals, only for the goal umpire to rule that the ball had already crossed the line when Sharrock’s boot connected with it.  A slow motion review of this incident on video casts considerable doubt on the goal umpire’s decision, to say the least.  

During the closing ten minutes of the match, Richmond played with greater cohesion and purpose, and goals to Ronaldson and Bartlett sealed a 9 point win.[17]  Richmond had been “unforgettable in winning and Geelong magnificent in losing”,[18] while overall the game itself had been “a portent of 1970s-style football”.[19]  

On the individual front the year belonged to St Kilda rover Ross Smith (pictured left), who “consistently turned in tireless roving displays”[20] to run away with the Brownlow Medal.  Smith, who had finally blossomed in 1967 after an inconsistent first six seasons in league football, polled 24 votes, 7 more than the runner-up, North Melbourne ’s Laurie Dwyer.  Doug Wade of Geelong topped the goal kicking list, falling short of the magic ton by just 4 goals.  

SANFL: Double Blues Go Back To Back

In the SANFL, the season produced a record aggregate attendance of 1,088,424,[26] and numerous highlights, culminating in Sturt’s second consecutive premiership.  The Double Blues were the dominant team for most of the season, winning 15 of their first 17 minor round matches before experiencing a perplexing slump in form.  In round 18, they handed Woodville one of only three premiership points annexed by that club all year after scraping out a scratchy and unconvincing draw at Oval Avenue, and they followed this up with losses to fellow finalists Glenelg and North Adelaide (action from the latter game is pictured right).  The loss to North allowed the Roosters to claim the minor premiership, but Sturt’s emphatic 18.13 (121) to 10.17 (77) 2nd semi final victory quickly made a nonsense of this ostensible classification.  The Roosters’ disappointment was completed the following week when they lost a dour, low scoring preliminary final to Port Adelaide by 8 points. 

​For the third year in a row therefore the grand final pitted Fos Williams’ rugged, hard tackling, hyper-resilient Magpies against the well oiled, clockwork-like precision of Jack Oatey’s Blues.  Sturt had won all three minor round encounters between the sides in 1967, and by relatively comfortable margins, but over the month or so prior to the grand final it had been Port Adelaide which, despite numerous injuries to key players, had displayed the superior form, and for much of the grand final itself this pattern continued.  With captain John Cahill in superb touch at centre, and winning rovers in Jeff Potter and Ross Haslam, the Magpies dominated the 2nd and 3rd quarters, only for poor kicking for goal to prevent their establishing a match-winning break.  Port led 9.14 to 9.6 at the final change, but a series of positional moves made by Sturt coach Jack Oatey late in the 3rd term was to have a decisive impact on the final outcome.  Chief among these was the shifting of 1966 All Australian Rick Schoff (shown below, right), a burly, combative performer, onto Cahill.  During the final quarter, Schoff became the dominant player on the ground, repeatedly driving the Double Blues forward, and although the Magpies stretched their lead to 16 points early in the term, once Schoff had got fully into his stride there was only ever going to be one winner.  Over the final 20 minutes of the game, Sturt added 4.4, whilst keeping Port goalless, and for Magpies’ fans the season was epitomised by the sight of their cramp-ridden ‘captain courageous’ repeatedly being treated by trainers as the final siren approached.[27] 

​Port Adelaide’s major consolation for its grand final loss came in the form of Trevor Obst’s unexpected but highly popular Magarey Medal win.  The stolidly built but deceptively adroit and speedy Obst was the first permanent back pocket player to win South Australian football’s premier individual award.  Tying with the Magpie defender on 18 votes, but being placed second on a countback, was North Adelaide's veteran high flyer Don Lindner, who also collected virtually all the major media awards for the season.  Nicknamed ‘leaping Lindy’, the Rooster stalwart, who had achieved All Australian selection six years previously, was especially renowned for his prodigious, gravity-defying spring, but he also possessed a formidable football brain and was one of the best kicks in the North team.  Thirty one years later the SANFL decided to award retrospective Magarey Medals to all the players who had originally lost either on countback or on the casting vote of the league chairman, and so Lindner was belatedly accorded the honour many South Australian football fans of all persuasions felt he deserved.  

One vote adrift of both Obst and Lindner came a first year player who would go on to carve out an even more auspicious reputation for himself.  North Adelaide’s Barrie Robran gave notice that he possessed football ability of the highest order – some would call it genius – right from the opening minutes of his SANFL debut at Unley Oval against Sturt in round 1 1967.  Robran beat first Bob Shearman and later Paul Bagshaw that day in a best afield performance which had the watching media contingent groping for superlatives.[28]  At season’s end, there was unanimity in declaring Robran a champion in the making, with his “speed.....big spring and ‘magnetic’ hands” the central features of his play.  Moreover, despite his 188 centimetre height and seemingly somewhat ungainly gait, he possessed “an uncanny ability to baulk, weave, side-step or back-turn his way out of trouble” [29] - attributes which, along with impeccable disposal skills on both sides of the body, and that rare champions’ ability of always seeming to have a surfeit of time available to accomplish exactly what he wanted, combined to make him, without doubt, one of South Australian football’s, and indeed the code’s, greatest ever exponents.


[1]  South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 43.

[2]  Notwithstanding which every grand final between 1964 and 1969 attracted attendances in excess of this figure. 

[3]  ‘Footy World’, 19/7/67, pages 1 and 7.  

[4]  ‘VFL Football Record’, 23/9/67, page 12.  

[5]   Ibid., page 1.  

[6]   Ibid, page 1.  According to Luke, over the course of the 1967 season “rain fell on ten of the twenty playing days available by comparison with an average of three wet days per season over the past five years.”  Moreover, “few of the remaining ten days could be considered ideal; overcast, windy and cold conditions attracted only the more spartan patrons”.  On the question of the unevenness of playing standards, Luke alluded to “plans at present being prepared by the league to control the recruitment of players” which would “assist in levelling the standard” and “provide a more intense competition”.  

[7]  The Pioneers by Marc Fiddian, page 38.  

[8]  Champions Of Australia by Max Sayer, page 54.  

[9]  True Blue: The History Of The Sturt Football Club by John Lysikatos, page 202.  

[10]  From an article which originally appeared in the ‘Melbourne Sun’, and which was reprinted in part in ‘Footy World’, 21/6/67.  

[11]   Players were required to execute a range of kicks, and were assessed in terms of their accuracy, style and (with the exception of the stab pass) distance.  The South Australian and Victorian representatives occupied the first two places in the competition every year, with the winners from 1968 to 1971 being: 1968 Bob Shearman (Sturt); 1969 Doug Wade (Geelong); 1970 Colin Tully (Collingwood); 1971 Bob Shearman (Sturt).  The victorious player received the princely sum, for the time, of $1,000.  Source: South Australian Football Record Yearbooks 1967-68-68-70-71.  

[12]  Not all South Australians and Western Australians were impressed by the VFL, many feeling that its sycophantically churlish infatuation with ‘pressure’ football often produced a spectacle which, in comparison to local manifestations of the game, was almost risibly unkempt.  No doubt they would have agreed with Haydn Bunton senior’s assessment, ventured many years earlier, that “the play in other (non-Victorian) states is much more attractive to watch”, whereas in Victoria expediency overrode spectacle every time. (Source: The Sporting Globe Football Book 1946 pages 23-25.)  

[13]  Ibid., page 8.  Back

[14]  The Complete Book Of VFL Finals From 1897 To The Present by Graeme Atkinson, page 220.  

[15]  Fabulous Grand Finals of the Sixties (video).   

[16]  ‘VFL Football Record’, 24/9/77, page 11.  

[17]  Fabulous Grand Finals of the Sixties (video) and Atkinson, op cit., page 220.  

[18]  ‘The Melbourne Sun’, 25/9/67. 

[19]  The Winter Game: The Complete History Of Australian Football by Robert Pascoe, page 164. 

[20]  The Encyclopedia of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 413.  

[21]  Fiddian, op cit., page 42.  

[22]  Ibid., page 38.  

[23]  The Roar Of The Crowd: A History Of VFA Grand Finals by Marc Fiddian, page 95.  

[24]  Ibid., page 92.  

[25]  Ibid., pages 91-92.  

[26]  South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 43.  

[27]  Ibid., pages 29 and 31.  

[28]  Barrie Robran: the Man and His Football (video).  

[29]  South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 40.  

[30]  The Footballers by Geoff Christian, page 91.  

[31]  1989 West Australian Football Register, page 61.  

[32]   Ibid., page 90.  

[33]  A Century Of Tasmanian Football 1879-1979 by Ken Pinchin, page 111.  

[34]  Ibid., page 111, and Main and Holmesby, op cit., page 28.  

[35]  From 'The Examiner', and quoted in Never Say Die: The North Hobart Football Club - A History, page 75.  

[36]  Ibid., page 75.  

[37]  The National Game in the National Capital by Barbara Marshall, page 132. 

[38]  NTFL: A History of Australian Football in Darwin and the Northern Territory from 1916 to 1995 by David Lee and Michael Barfoot, page 54.

[39]  Ibid., pages 134-5.  

[40]  ‘VFL Football Record’, 23/9/67, page 8.  

[41]  Ibid., page 8.  

[42]  'Footy World', 5/7/67, pages 1, 2, 3 and 6; 'VFL Football Record', 23/9/67, page 8; and South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1968, page 15.  

[43]  ‘Footy World’, 26/7/67, page 1.  

[44]  Marshall, op cit., page 132, and ‘New South Wales Australian Football League 1993 Annual Report and Balance Sheet’, page 73.  

[45]  ‘Queensland Australian Football League 27th Annual Report 1990’, page 33, and Marshall, op cit., page 132.  

[46]  ‘NSWAFL 1993 Annual Report and Balance Sheet’, page 73, and ‘QAFL 27th Annual Report 1990’, page 33.  

[47]  For the Love of the Game: a Centenary History of the Victorian Amateur Football Association by Joseph Johnson, page 228, and A History of the South Australian Amateur Football League 1911-1994 by Fred Bloch, page 176. 

[48] In the opening match of the tour, the Galahs beat reigning All-Ireland champions Meath 3.16 to 1.10, with goals being worth 3 points, and behinds, or 'near misses', which are not counted in Gaelic football, being included in the score as just about the only concession given to the Australians.  The Galahs then took on and beat another top side in Mayo, 2.12 to 2.5.  On the way home the party stopped off in New York where a match was arranged against a local side whose vigorously physical approach to the game was much more akin to what the Australians were used to.  Despite this, the Irish-Americans won 4.8 to 0.5.  (Sources: The Sunday Independent/ACCBank Complete Handbook of Gaelic Games by Raymond Smith, page 445, and www.setanta.com.)

Burnie's West Park Hosts Football's Most Infamous "No Game"

If you include the crowds for the TFL-NTFA intrastate fixture, and the Tasmania-VFL interstate match, then aggregate attendances in the TFL in 1967 exceeded the 300,000 mark for the third consecutive season.  All told, 318,496 spectators attended TFL matches, with the figure for league games (276,495) slightly up on the previous year.[33] 

​The trend for clubs to appoint experienced coaches from interstate continued, with former Geelong vice-captain John Devine in charge at North Hobart, his erstwhile Geelong team mate John Watts, originally from East Perth, taking over the reins at Hobart, and Sandy Bay appointing former West Torrens player Ray Giblett.  In addition, Clarence’s new coach John Bingley, who had commenced his league career with East Devonport, was back home in Tasmania after playing the last of just 8 VFL games with St Kilda in that club’s 1966 grand final victory over Collingwood.[34]  

John Devine’s North Hobart created history in 1967 by not only catapulting from bottom place on the ladder the previous season to a premiership, but by becoming the first club ever to win a grand final after qualifying for the finals in 4th spot.  TFL fans were treated to some memorably exciting finals matches in 1967, with North Hobart’s grinding 14 point grand final defeat of Glenorchy, astonishingly, the most one-sided.  However, for real excitement the state premiership play off between North Hobart and NWFU premier Wynyard at Burnie's West Park would be difficult to surpass.  

The match was tense and closely fought all afternoon, but the main drama was reserved for the dying moments. With just seconds left on the clock, Wynyard led by a single point when John Devine was awarded a free kick on the forward line. He promptly passed to full forward David Collins who marked 20 metres from goal, with the final siren sounding a split second later. He never got the chance to take his kick, however, as "in wild scenes of mob rule.....the crowd swooped onto (the ground).....and the goal posts were removed from the North Hobart goal end."[35]

Despite the best efforts of the police to restore order the last (and in all probability decisive) kick of the game was never taken leading to the TFL declaring the match void; Collins still has the ball.  Wynyard coach John Coughlan laid down the gauntlet saying that his side would be prepared to take on North Hobart anywhere - "on the beach if we have to" - but the Robins refused, feeling that the crowd invasion had effectively prevented them from clinching a hard fought and justly earned victory.[36]

VFL Teams Visit Canberra And Darwin

There was something of a Tasmanian flavour to the main event in the 1967 football season in Canberra, too, with Eastlake’s sequence of success stretching back to 1962 finally being brought to an end by a Manuka side captain-coached by former New Town (later, of course, re-named Glenorchy) and Devonport star Neil Conlan.  Manuka defeated Eastlake in the grand final with surprising ease, winning by 32 points, 11.15 (81) to 6.13 (49).  

Another highlight was the staging of an exhibition match between Fitzroy and North Melbourne during a VFL split round in July.  The match, which was won by Fitzroy by 25 points, took place at Manuka Oval and attracted a new record Australian football crowd for the nation’s capital of 7,500.[37]  

As usual, the first major grand final of the year took place in Darwin where, for the second season in a row, St Marys overcame the disappointment of a 2nd semi final loss, this time against Darwin, to secure a comfortable win in the grand final a fortnight later.  St Marys’ seventh senior flag was won by 22 points, 15.9 (99) to 11.11 (77).[38]  

October saw Gardens Oval playing host to two special promotional matches in which a Northern Territory combined side took on, first, VFL club Collingwood (losing by 19 points after leading by 15 points at half time), and then, three weeks later, a VFL ‘All Stars’ combination (losing by 69 points).  The All Stars side, which was en route to Ireland where it would semi-miraculously reinvent itself as 'the Galahs', contained some of the biggest names in football at the time, including recent Richmond premiership players Royce Hart, who booted 7 goals, Roger Dean, and Paddy Guinane, together with Melbourne’s Hassa Mann, Carlton’s John Nicholls, and the South Melbourne pair of Bob Skilton and Stuart Magee.  Small wonder the margin of victory was so great![39]  

 Topsy-Turvy Season On The Interstate Front

​​On the interstate front, the VFL reaffirmed the supremacy it had shown at the 1966 Hobart carnival by triumphing in all three of its encounters in 1967, although the game against South Australia in Adelaide was not won without a scare. 

Failure to agree terms over broadcasting rights meant that there was no TV or radio coverage of Tasmania’s confrontation with what was effectively a second string VFL combination at North Hobart Oval on 17 June, and this may in part explain why a record crowd of 20,142 paid an average of 70 cents a head to watch the game at first hand.  If the ultimate result was unsurprising, it was nevertheless an enthralling match.  After a closely fought first half Victorian coach Norm Smith made what proved to be a match winning move by shifting centre half forward Peter McKenna to the goal front, where he promptly exploded into life and was the main factor in the Vics adding 7.5 to 2.1 for the quarter to lead by 40 points at the last change.  Although the home side fought back courageously in the final term, adding 4.8 to 0.3, there was never any real danger of the Victorians faltering.  McKenna finished with 5 goals, while Essendon’s Barry Davis was the popular selection as best afield.[40]  

Meanwhile, on the same afternoon, the VFL’s first choice XVIII jumped out of the blocks against the hapless Western Australians at the MCG with an 8.5 to 3.2 opening term burst.  Apart from the 2nd quarter, when they more or less matched the Vics, the sandgropers were torn apart.  Richmond’s Royce Hart, in his interstate debut, booted 7 goals for the victors, while former Melbourne player Bob Johnson, a somewhat controversial selection at full forward for Western Australia ahead of Phil Tierney and Austin Robertson, clearly relished the return to his old stamping ground by helping himself to 5 of his side’s 11 majors for the match.  The VFL ultimately won by 53 points, 20.15 (135) to 11.16 (82), with centreman Bill Barrot giving spectators a preview of his grand final heroics with a stirring, best on ground performance.[41]  

A fortnight later the Vics travelled to Adelaide determined to avenge the 64 point loss sustained on their last visit there in 1965.  In a fiercely contested game, South Australia, with Darryl Hicks in outstanding form on a wing, full back Ron Elleway keeping the dangerous Royce Hart quiet, and a winning centreman in Paul Bagshaw, led narrowly at every change by 5, 3 and 3 points, but in the closing stages the Victorians showed their class and experience by edging into the lead and staying there.  Hawthorn's Des Meagher, eventual Brownlow Medallist Ross Smith , and Western Australian import Denis Marshall were best in what was a fairly even all round display by the visitors.  Finals scores were: VFL 11.19 (85); South Australia 11.13 (79).[42]  

The boot was on the other foot for the Western Australians when they followed their inept display at the MCG with an 80 point mauling of South Australia in front of a record crowd for a WA-SA match at Subiaco Oval of 36,129.  As mentioned earlier, Bill Walker was at his irrepressible best for the home side, caring little whether the hit-outs were being won by the South Australian ruckman, as they were early on, or by his own team mates, as was increasingly the case the longer the match continued.  Moreover, with full forward Austin Robertson being reasonably well contained by Ron Elleway, Walker very thoughtfully stepped into the breach by contributing a full forward’s tally of 6.3 himself.  With numerous other players such as centreman Syd Jackson and Walker’s fellow rover Barry Cable also in blistering form the sandgropers “cut SA to ribbons with fast, accurate handball and stab passes” en route to a 20.19 (139) to 10.5 (65) triumph.[43]   

Among the minor states and territories the ACT took pride of place in 1967 courtesy wins over New South Wales by 39 points in Canberra,[44] and Queensland by 10 points in rain-soaked Brisbane.[45]  In the only other fixture, New South Wales overcame Queensland in Sydney by 15 points, in spite of some atrocious kicking for goal.[46]  

The 1967 season saw the 10th staging of the AAFC’s interstate carnival series, featuring the four major football states of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.  Held at York Park in Launceston, the title was ultimately retained by Victoria, but only after a titanic tussle against the host state in the decisive match.  At half time, Tasmania led 6.7 to 2.9, and at the final change still clung onto a 1 point advantage.  The last term was evenly and vigorously contested, but whereas the Vics managed to snatch the odd major score, the Apple Islanders registered only behinds, leaving Victoria 21 points ahead at the final siren.[47]  

Beitzel Gives Birth To Galahs

Arguably the most significant representative football of 1967, however, took place on the other side of the globe – with a round ball.  At season’s end Harry Beitzel, a former VFL umpire turned media personality and entrepreneur, embarked on an audacious, privately funded tour of North America and Ireland with a select group of VFL players whom he insisted the media refer to as ‘the Galahs’.  The ostensible purpose of the tour was to achieve more widespread international exposure for Australian football, but the way Beitzel proposed to do this was bizarre to say the least, and arguably made the ‘Galahs’ tag all the more appropriate.  Beitzel’s idea was for his team of ruggedly hardened VFL champions to take on the finest North American and Irish exponents of Gaelic football at their own game, a venture they handled with perhaps surprising, some indeed would say astonishing, success.[48] Nevertheless, it is doubtful if the tour did anything at all to afford more widespread recognition to Australian football, and neither was it a resounding success financially.  More than thirty years on, however, the annual ‘Combined Rules’ test matches between Ireland and Australia, which might logically be regarded as the bastard offspring of Beitzel’s original venture, have supplanted interstate football as the only significant representative outlet available to players at the game’s highest level.  Of all the developments in 1967 which helped produce the impression that this was a seminal, watershed year, it is perhaps ironic that the one with arguably the most explicit direct impact on the modern game occurred not at the MCG, or Princes Park, or Subiaco Oval, but in front of 30,000 Guinness-stoked Irishmen at Croke Park, Dublin. 

Although football had been "professional" for many years in terms of being an essentially profit-making affair – a ‘business’, in point of fact, although the term was not yet widely used with specific reference to the sport – as well as in directly supplying a select group of individuals with a livelihood, when compared to major sports elsewhere in the world it remained very much a small time concern.  In particular, its chief protagonists – the players – although granted remuneration in return for their efforts, were not in a position to make a living from the sport, and were thus not, in the strict sense of the word, ‘professional’.  That said, there was a sense in which, especially in the VFL, but also to varying extents in all the other major state competitions, players were increasingly being required to aspire to what might be called ‘professional’ standards of behaviour when undertaking football-related activities.  In other words, the trappings of professionalism were already, to some degree, in place, and concerns over football’s perceived vulnerability – to other sports mainly, but also to other, non-sporting leisure pursuits – was prompting the game’s leading administrators to aspire to professionalism in other ways.  

In South Australia, for example, the SANFL implemented a series of measures aimed at streamlining its administration, as well as rendering its operations more efficient, accountable and business-orientated.  Chief among these measures was the replacement of its tried but no longer trusted finance, ovals, emergency and TV and broadcasting sub-committees with a single, five member management committee.  The league also appointed both a General Manager (Colin Thorpe) and a Liaison Officer (Don Roach) for the first time.[1]  In addition, conscious of a need to compete more aggressively with other entertainment outlets by endeavouring to maximise spectator comfort, the SANFL commenced negotiations with the SACA over ways in which the two bodies might cooperate to improve the facilities at the Adelaide Oval.  The Oval, which was Crown land leased to the Cricket Association by the Adelaide City Council, was regarded in 1967 as having an ‘official’ capacity of 55,000,[2] which included a total of 9,600 seats under cover, and a further 10,250 in the open.  At a press conference on 10 July the league announced that it would like to see the ground transformed into an all seater venue with under cover accommodation for 60,000 spectators.  If this proved impossible, Central District’s home ground at Elizabeth was being tentatively mooted as an alternative site for the league’s future headquarters.[3]  

Meanwhile, in Melbourne the VFL was confronted by similar concerns, but was somewhat further along the road toward their resolution.  Construction work at the league’s new ‘dream venue’ at Waverley was proceeding apace, with perimeter fences erected, terracing laid in front of what would be the main grandstand, player dugouts and underground races installed, and the first grass seeds, watered by a fully automatic watering system drawing from the VFL’s own 13,000,0000 gallon capacity dam, sown on the playing arena. Already, the league had received 8,000 applications, at $5 a head, for VFL Park membership.[4]  

These developments came in the wake of a five per cent drop in VFL attendances during the 1967 season, which some attributed to increased competition with rival attractions, and “a decline in interest in league football”.[5]  League president Sir Kenneth Luke, however, was quick to scotch such suggestions, citing the lop-sidedness of a competition in which only 5 of the 12 clubs appeared to have realistic prospects of contesting the finals for much of the season, and the uncharacteristic wetness of the winter, as more realistic reasons for the decline.[6]   

The VFA was also flexing its financial muscles, concerned that it was being systematically undermined by the unfettered recruitment by league clubs, both in Victoria and interstate, of many of its better young players.  Prior to the start of the 1967 season, the Association passed a motion requiring all of its clubs to levy a minimum transfer fee of $3,000 for any players who transferred interstate, thereby at least ensuring that clubs would have the economic wherewithal to attempt to redress any deficiencies brought about by this process.[7]  

In terms of the movement of the game towards a national competition a number of developments in 1967 stand out.  The SANFL remained extremely keen on the idea of a national championship for premier clubs, and at the end of the season it arranged a series of challenge matches between three of its own finalists and three of their counterparts from the VFL.  On Tuesday 3 October, under lights at Norwood Oval, a crowd of 11,987 watched VFL runner-up Geelong emerge victorious by 3 points against North Adelaide(3rd in the SANFL), despite atrocious kicking for goal.  Geelong won 9.26 (80) to the Roosters’ 11.11 (77).  Two days later, also under floodlights at Norwood, SANFL runner-up Port Adelaide made light of a break of only 5 days since the grand final when it overcame Collingwood (4th in the VFL) 13.15 (3) to 12.9 (81) in front of another respectable attendance of 10,400.[8]  The pick of the encounters, however, took place at Adelaide Oval on Saturday 7 October when a crowd of 21,741 was treated to all the skills of the game as SANFL premier Sturt 19.8 (122) defeated Carlton (3rd in the VFL) 11.15 (81).  Even Ron Barassi was impressed, declaring “I am now convinced that Sturt are one of the most talented and certainly one of the top teams in Australia ”.[9] 

WANFL Attendance Records Broken

1967 was also a memorable and record breaking season across the Nullarbor, with an all time record aggregate of 960,169 spectators attending WANFL matches during the year,[30] and Mal Atwell’s great Perth team, after a less than thoroughly convincing home and away series, emulating Sturt by clinching a second consecutive flag.  Included in the season’s record aggregate attendance was an all time Perth home ground record of 19,541 who turned up at Lathlain Park for the meeting with East Perth on 13 May.[31]  

After being caught on the back foot somewhat by Perth’s dramatic emergence as a power in 1966, rival clubs ‘wised up’ to considerable effect during the minor round in 1967, with the Demons managing only 13 wins for the year, just 2 more than 5th placed Claremont.  This total of wins was still good enough for 2nd position on the ladder, however, as with the exception of minor premiers East Perth (won 17, lost 4) and wooden spooners Subiaco (3-18), all the clubs in the competition appeared fairly evenly matched.  Once the finals started, of course, it was an entirely new ball game, with the Royals’ 16 extra premiership points counting for nothing whatsoever on 2nd semi final day.  Nevertheless, it was a tough, tightly contested match, with the result in doubt right until the end, and arguably only the Demons’ marginally greater steadiness under pressure, coupled with the urgently dynamic last quarter performance of their 1966 Tassie Medal winning rover Barry Cable, enabling them to squeeze over the line by 5 points.  For the grand final a fortnight later against the same opponent Perth’s captain-coach Mal Atwell (pictured left), normally a tenaciously combative full back, took the extraordinary step of placing himself at full forward, where he produced a stunning 6 goal performance that was probably the chief difference between the sides, and made him many pundits’ choice as best afield.  (The Simpson Medal though went to Cable.) The Demons emerged victorious by 3 straight kicks after a much more free flowing match in which they again had to come from behind in the last quarter to win. 

​Just as in South Australia, voting in the premier individual award in Western Australian football, the Sandover Medal, finished with two players sharing pole position.  However, unlike in the case of Obst and Lindner, Swan Districts rover Bill Walker and his Claremont counterpart John Parkinson could not be separated by means of a countback, and so both players received a Medal.  In the case of the Walker, of course, this made it three in a row, an unprecedented achievement probably never to be repeated.  If Barrie Robran’s genius has rightly been acknowledged by the AFL in recent years with his elevation to the status of ‘AFL Legend’, surely there are grounds for similar recognition in the case of arguably one of the two or three greatest rovers to have played the game since World War Two.  Exquisitely poised and skilled, Bill Walker was sufficiently solid of build not to be easily deflected from his target, be it ball or man, and his pace off the mark, as well as when running freely in the open, was formidable.  In 1967, despite the fact that he was somewhat surprisingly beaten for his club’s fairest and best award by Peter Manning, he played arguably the finest football of his career, with his performance for Western Australia in the interstate clash with South Australia (reviewed below) regarded by many as ‘the game of his life’.[32] ​​

Eventual 1967 Magarey Medallist, Trevor Obst of Port Adelaide, lunges in to smother Norwood captain-coach Haydn Bunton junior's attempted kick during a minor round match at Norwood Oval, which the Magpies eventually won by a single point.