Explore the History of australian football

John Cahill (Port Adelaide)

​Sergio Silvagni (Carlton)

South Fremantle coach Harold "Hassa" Mann

Sturt's Malcolm Greenslade

WANFL: Bulldogs’ Rages to Riches Tale

The 1969 season had produced South Fremantle's fourth wooden spoon of the sixties and there appeared to be little on the horizon to promote cheer. However, thanks to what the club's official history described as "a felicitous combination of interlocking circumstances”[1] the 1970 season brought a dramatic reversal of fortunes, on a par with those experienced earlier at Bassendean and Claremont Ovals.

Briefly, the circumstances in question were:

* the 'delayed benefits' accruing form the coaching methods of former Melbourne veteran Hassa Mann; appointed coach in 1969 after a ten season 178 game VFL career Mann took some time to get the players on his wavelength, but once he did the effect was significant;

* the intensive (and quite innovative by WANFL standards) pre-season fitness campaign engaged in by the players under the supervision of professional fitness advisor Rodney Rate;

* the arrival of former Collingwood and Preston player Len Clark;

* the return of former player John O'Reilly after eight seasons in the VFL with Carlton and Footscray;

* the rapid and marked improvement shown by youngsters such as Danny Civech (who won the 1970 club best and fairest award), Tony Ryan and Don Haddow.

Notwithstanding all of this, during the home and away season South Fremantle had to accept second billing to Perth, which defeated South in all three home and away meetings and finished a game clear at the head of the ladder going into the finals. However, once there the Bulldogs, as South Fremantle were by this stage popularly known, exhibited the full scope of their abilities, downing the Demons by 4 points in the second semi final and overwhelming them 15.7 (97) to 6.18 (54) a fortnight later in the 'big one' before a crowd of 40,620.

The press were generous in their acclaim:

There is little doubt that the pre-match attitude of the rival teams had a bearing on the result. South, whose last grand final appearance was in 1956, were at fever pitch in the days leading up to the game. But for Perth (premiers 1966-68), the novelty of grand final football had worn off.[2]


South showed that their vulnerability in adverse conditions was a myth when they mastered conditions that were thought to favour Perth, turning the second half of the grand final into a runaway victory.[3]

The Simpson Medal went to rover Brian Ciccotosto for a display of "courageous defensive roving”,[4] with sterling performances also coming from half back flanker Danny Civech, centre half back 'Big Tom' Grljusich, centreman Don Haddow and ruck rover John Dennis.

Despite the loss of Barry Cable to North Melbourne, Perth topped the WANFL ladder after the minor round, and was warmly favoured to move straight into the grand final given that it had beaten its second semi final opponent South Fremantle in all three qualifying round meetings between the sides.  The red and whites surprised, however, with a 4 point win, and the Demons were forced to endure a relentless, heart-stopping preliminary final encounter with old rivals East Perth from which they emerged bruised, battered and thoroughly fatigued victors by just 2 points.

Grand final day was wet and blustery, conditions which were widely assumed to favour Perth, but in the event it was South who demonstrated greater hunger, steadiness and desperation to win by 43 points.  In a sense, it was a defeat which heralded both the end of an era, and the end of an empire. Demons centreman Pat Dalton’s surprise Sandover Medal win provided at least a modicum of consolation. Dalton was a key member of Perth's 1966-7-8 premiership teams.  Renowned for his work ethic and excellent team sense, he played a total of 217 games for the Demons, winning the club's fairest and best award on two occasions.  Somewhat surprisingly, given his reputation as one of the most effective and damaging centremen in the game, Dalton only represented Western Australia once.

Subiaco, who won 13 home and away matches and lost 8, qualified for the finals in third place. Under inspirational coach Haydn Bunton the Lions were playing a more vibrant and cohesive brand of football but they lacked finals experience. Accordingly, when they met a finals hardened East Perth in the first semi final they failed to do themselves justice and went down by 50 points. 

For the third season in succession and the sixth time in all Subiaco spearhead Austin Robertson topped the WANFL goal kicking list. He booted 111 goals.

East Perth edged out Claremont on percentage to take the fourth finals berth. The Royals lost their last two minor round games, but fortunately so did the Tigers. In the first semi final East Perth’s major round experience came to the fore as they won convincingly against Subiaco. Final scores were East Perth 17.14 (116) defeated Subiaco 10.6 (66). Against Perth in the preliminary final the Royals came very close to causing an upset, but ultimately went down by 4 points.

Had Claremont won any of their last three home and away matches then they, and not East Perth, would have qualified for the finals. Somewhat inexplicably, however, the Tigers went down in successive weeks to East Fremantle (seventh), Subiaco and Perth meaning that they finished in fifth place on percentage.

When West Perth handed Sturt a 21.19 (145) to 9.11 (65) trial match trouncing prior to the start of the 1970 season considerable optimism was engendered regarding the club's prospects.  However, the truth was that West Perth lacked the depth of the previous year, with key players in John Wynne, Laurie Edwards and Neil Evans having moved interstate, and Brian Sampson retiring; consequently, once the season got underway in earnest, the side lacked consistency, managing just 10 wins overall for the year to miss the four completely. 

East Fremantle and Swan Districts had eminently forgettable seasons with both teams managing just 4 wins.

Perth's 1970 Sandover Medal winning centreman Pat Dalton

SANFL: Sturt Do It Yet Again

Sturt made it five flags in a row with a disarming lack of fuss in 1970, losing only 3 minor round matches for the year before downing Port Adelaide in the second semi final by 35 points and Glenelg in the grand final by 21 points. Bagshaw, Rigney, Endersbee, Greenslade (6 of Sturt's 12 goals) and Schoff were the best players. Final scores were Sturt 12.13 (85); Glenelg 9.10 (64). 

Carlton 21.13 (139) defeated Sturt 12.22 (94) in the Champions match.

According to Glenelg coach Neil Kerley the 1970 season brought a disappointing end after a rewarding season.[5] The Tigers only just managed to squeeze into thge top four but then surprised by downing North Adelaide in the first semi final and minor premiers Port Adelaide in the preliminary final. In the grand final they gave Sturt a run for their money, leading narrowly at half time before fading somewhat in the third term. The last quarter was evenly contested but the Double Blues’ third quarter burst saw them emerge victorious by 21 points.

After a dismal season in 1969 Port Adelaide improved out of sight in 1970 after winning 17 and drawing 1 matches to finish the minor round at the head of the ladder. Unfortunately the side did not fare well in the finals, losing to a more talented Sturt combination in the first semi final and a fired up Glenelg a fortnight later in the preliminary final.

North Adelaide finished the home and away rounds in third place, but just as in 1966, 1967 and 1968 they disappointed in the finals, going out at the first hurdle to Glenelg. Scores were Glenelg 14.16 (100) to North Adelaide 12.12 (84). The prodigiously talented Barrie Robran won his second Magarey Medal from John Cahill (Port Adelaide) and Robert Day (West Adelaide).

Had fifth placed Norwood defeated Port Adelaide in the last minor round match of the season they would have displaced Glenelg from the final four. As it was, Port Adelaide managed to get up and draw in the dying moments and the Redlegs’ much improved season ended in disappointment.

After finishing third in 1969 West Adelaide might have been expected to kick on in 1970 but team spirit was severely damaged by a groundswell of ill feeling among certain of the club’s more experienced players. They were disgruntled over a discrepancy in contracts which saw many new and young players receiving more money than the established hands. This dissatisfaction could not help but affect the team’s performances on Saturdays, and the energy and desire which had characterised their displays in 1969 were largely absent. West did manage to defeat Sturt in the final series but the Double Blues had already comfortably secured the double chance.

On 9th May Dexter Kennedy became the youngest senior grade player in league history when he was included in West Adelaide’s twenty for the match against Port Adelaide at Alberton. Kennedy was aged fifteen years, eleven months and two days.

Thanks to a very good second half of the season Central District equalled their best ever league finish, established in 1965, of seventh place. The side had more self belief than in recent seasons and this enabled them to beat eventual finalists in the shape of Glenelg and North Adelaide, something they had not managed to do for some time.

West Torrens managed just 7 win in an injury affected season. Nevertheless, the young side could sometimes, inexplicably, turn it on, as was the case in round fifteen against Glenelg (won by 8 points) and round nineteen versus West Adelaide (won by 71 points). At other times the Eagles were simply woeful; take for instance their round eighteen loss to South Adelaide which captain-coach Johnny Birt called “the most painful defeat I have felt in SA”.[6]  

Woodville failed to build on their promising 1969 season and won just 6 matches to finish ninth. The side lacked purpose and enthusiasm, particularly during the second half of the year when they lost 9 games in succession at one stage.

South Adelaide had another dismal year managing just 3 wins and finishing last for the second time in succession.

Clarence Break The Ice

After Sandy Bay had been the most consistent team during the roster matches, Clarence “brought home the bacon” in decisive style come finals time. In the second semi final the ‘Roos overcame the Seagulls by 22 points, 13.13 (91) to 10.9 (69). New Norfolk then left Sandy Bay’s season in tatters with a 13.19 (97) to 11.13 (79) preliminary final. New Norfolk had earlier annihilated North Hobart in the first semi final by 80 points, 27.15 (177) to 14.13 (97). The grand final attracted a record crowd of 24,413 who saw Clarence produce arguably their best football of the season to convincingly down the Eagles. Final scores were Clarence 19.16 (130) defeated New Norfolk 10.15 (75).

The state premiership went to Latrobe, who were captain-coached by the great Darrel Baldock. Latrobe overcame Clarence in the final by 35 points, 15.10 (100) to 9.11 (65). Clarence had earlier defeated Scottsdale in the state preliminary final by 28 points.

Highlights From Other States and Territories

Newtown defeated North Shore by 5 goals in the NSWANFL grand final to claim their third flag in four seasons. Western Suburbs came third and St George fourth. The competition was reduced to eight clubs following the withdrawal of University and South Sydney.

In the QAFL, a tempestuous grand final between Sandgate and Coorparoo resulted in a victory to the former by by 39 points. The win gave the Sea Hawks their first flag since 1957.

Ainslie won their first CANFL premiership for nine years with a 12.23 (95) to 13.11 (89) grand final defeat of Manuka.[7] The win provided some revenge for the losses sustained at the hands of the same opponents in 1967-8-9.

Darwin clinched their third NTFL premiership in succession when they downed arch rivals St Marys in the grand final by 13 points.

Interstate Match Round Up

Western Australia produced arguably their best ever performance against the VFL in Melbourne before succumbing in the end by 6 points. It was the first ever interstate match to be staged at VFL Park.

The VFL-WA game took place on Saturday 12th June. Two days later, the Western Australians, full of confidence, fronted up to Tasmania in Hobart. The last time Western Australia had played Tasmania, at the previous year’s Adelaide carnival, the sandgropers had done virtually as they pleased all day en route to 113 point victory. Things could not have been more different this time round as the home state led from start to finish, ultimately holding off a predictable last quarter charge from the visitors to edge home by 2 points, 18.10 (118) to 17.14 (116).

Western Australia finally managed an interstate win a month later when, despite some erratic kicking for goal, they overcame South Australia by 4 points at Subiaco Oval. Scores were Western Australia 12.17 (89) defeated South Australia 13.7 (85).

Earlier, the VFL had blown South Australia away on the Adelaide Oval by 42 points. Scores were VFL 23.12 (150) to South Australia 15.18 (108). The match was as good as over at quarter time with the Vics holding an 8.3 to 0.1 advantage.

Two other interstate matches took place in 1970, Canberra defeating New South Wales by 2 points in Sydney, and Queensland also downing New South Wales, but by the rather more comfortable margin of 60 points, in Brisbane.


[1] The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 179.

[2] Geoff Christian in “The West Australian” quoted in The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 181.

[3] Ibid, page 181.

[4] Ibid, page 181.

[5] South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1971, page 33.

[6] Ibid, page 39.

[7] Other sources give the result of the match as Eastlake 12.27 (99); Manuka 13.15 (93).

Grand final results - CoA: Carlton 21.13 (139) d. Sturt 12.22 (94); VFL: Carlton17.9 (111) d. Collingwood 14.17 (101); SANFL: Sturt 12.13 (85) d. Glenelg 9.10 (64); WANFL: South Fremantle 15.7 (107) d. Perth 6.18 (54); VFA: Division One - Preston 17.18 (120) d. Williamstown 10.10 (70); Division Two - Coburg 20.17 (137) d. Box Hill 16.11 (107); TANFL: Clarence 19.16 (130) d. New Norfolk 10.15 (75); NTFA: Scottsdale 18.16 (124) d. Launceston 14.15 (99); NSWANFL: Newtown 15.16 (106) d. North Shore 10.16 (76); NTFL: Darwin 12.13 (85) d. St Marys 11.6 (72); QAFL: Sandgate 14.12 (96) d. Coorparoo 8.9 (57); NWFU: Latrobe 14.19 (103) d. Wynyard 12.5 (77); CANFL: Ainslie 12.23 (95) d. Manuka 13.11 (89); TSP: Latrobe 15.10 (100) d. Clarence 9.11 (65).

A Review of the 1970 Football Season

VFL: Bonanza for Blues as Collingwood Collapse

If 1969 ended with a disappointing fade out for Carlton, the following year was just the reverse as the Blues recovered from a 44 point half time deficit in the VFL grand final against Collingwood to win one of the most dramatic and famous matches of all time by 11 points. Watched by what remains (and is likely to remain) an Australian record crowd for any football match of 121,696 Carlton looked dead and buried at the long break inducing Barassi to unleash his now famous instruction to his players to "handball, handball, handball". The players' compliance with this command, coupled with the inspirational impact of nineteenth man Ted Hopkins, saw the pattern of the game alter completely. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the half time interval of the 1970 VFL grand final was when the 'prop and kick' style of football finally died and was replaced by the modern, run on game. From a strictly historical standpoint this is clearly as nonsensical as maintaining, as many persist in doing, that the sport of Australian football was “born" in 1858 when Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar engaged in their famous match on the future site of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The claim is also hard to endorse on purely statistical grounds. For example, Carlton players only played on a total of twenty-five times all match, which was just four times more than Collingwood. However, what the claim lacks in historical or statistical veracity it makes up for in poetic, indeed almost mythic, potency. Moreover, it is undeniably the case that in the second half of the 1970 VFL grand final Carlton, by judicious and inventive use of handball and short passing, coupled with enhanced aggressiveness and desperation, made Collingwood appear both unimaginative and uncoordinated and as such provided a basic template for almost every V/AFL premier since. (Click here for an analysis of this famous match.)

Carlton's best players included half forward flankers Brent Crosswell and Syd Jackson, centre half back David McKay, ruck rover Sergio Silvagni, centreman Ian Robertson, and ruckman John Nicholls.

A comfortable win over Sturt in the so called “Champions of Australia” clash rounded off a season which for excitement, drama and quality of achievement would be hard to improve on. 

For Collingwood the 1970 season, which had fuelled such enormous drive and optimism for so long, had been transformed into a nightmare - much to the glee of opposition supporters, who were quick to point out that this was not the first time the Magpies had faltered at the tape. The Magpies had finished top of the ladder after winning 18 out of 22 home and away matches including all 11 at home. Included in that tally was a 13.22 (100) to 2.12 (24) trouncing of Carlton in round nineteen at Victoria Park. The Magpies also defeated the Blues by 23 points at VFL Park - the league’s new venue - in round eight, and by 10 points in the second semi final, which was played at the MCG. When it mattered most, however, Carlton had all the answers.

Collingwood’s grand final collapse was somewhat perversely mirrored - in reverse - in round ten at Victoria Park. Opposed by St Kilda, the Magpies trailed by 60 points shortly before half time before rattling on 13.15 to 4.2 over the remainder of the game to clinch victory by 7 points.

Third placed St Kilda won 14 games and had the best defensive record in the league. In the first semi final they crushed South Melbourne by 53 points, 22.11 (143) to 13.12 (90), after the Swans had led by 5 points at the long break. A fortnight later in the preliminary final the Saints kept pace with Carlton for two quarters but were blown away during a second half which saw the Blues add 11 goals to 3 and win by a confidence boosting margin of 62 points.

Prior to 1970 fourth placed South Melbourne had last qualified for the finals in 1945, when they lost the grand final to Carlton. They did not do quite so well this time, bowing out of premiership contention at the first hurdle against a more finals hardened St Kilda side. The match was watched by a first semi final record crowd of 104,239. For champion Swans rover Bob Skilton, in his fifteenth season with the club, it was a first and ultimately only finals appearance. Peter Bedford’s Brownlow Medal win afforded a measure of consolation to South’s long suffering supporters. 

The son of a former Port Melbourne player in Bill Bedford, Peter Bedford was a highly accomplished centreman or on-baller who followed in his father's footsteps with 69 games for the club, initially between 1965 and 1967, and then in 1978-9.  Arguably the most significant of these games was the 1966 VFA grand final in which Bedford's best afield performance in the centre was a crucial factor in the side's eventual 13.12 (90) to 6.11 (47) defeat of Waverley.  In 1968, lured by the prospect of significantly higher player payments, Bedford crossed to VFL club South Melbourne without a clearance, and, over the ensuing nine seasons, went on to become one of that club's most auspicious and memorable performers. Besides winning the 1970 Brownlow Medal he representged the VFL on numerous occasions.   Ironically, Bedford actually preferred cricket, in which he was also highly proficient, as a sport, and were it not for the fact that football at the time offered significantly more lucrative rewards he might easily have been lost to the indigenous game.  As it was, he played a total of 178 VFL games and booted 325 goals for the perennially under-achieving Swans, winning the club's best and fairest award in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973 and 1975, and the goal kicking title on three occasions.  As a player, Bedford combined impeccable all round skills with a fierce, implacable determination, qualities which had sadly dimmed somewhat by the time he played just 8 games in just under two seasons with Carlton towards the end of his VFL career.

Fifth placed Geelong won 12 minor round matches, but only one, against St Kilda in round seven, was at the expense of a finalist. The Cats had the honour of taking part in the first match to be played at VFL Park, the league’s new venue which was situated in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Waverley. Opposed by Fitzroy, Geelong controlled the game from start to finish, ultimately winning by 61 points, 17.12 (114) to 7.11 (53).

Reigning premiers Richmond slumped to sixth after an inconsistent season which got off one the wrong foot with a 20 point defeat at the hands of Fitzroy in what was the first ever VFL match to be played on a Sunday. The reason for this was that a royal party including Queen Elizabeth was in attendance. A crowd of 38,617 watched the game, which was played at the MCG. Richmond seemed in control for the better part of two quarters but Fitzroy produced a big second half to win deservedly. Over the remainder of the season the Tigers mixed wins against the likes of Carlton and Collingwood with defeats at the hands of teams like North Melbourne and Fitzroy.

Footscray enjoyed their best season since 1964, winning half their home and away games to finish sixth. The most memorable event of the year was Teddy Whitten’s VFL record 321st (and last) match of a glittering career against Hawthorn at the Western Oval in round five. At three quarter time Footscray led by 2 points, 11.10 (76) to 11.8 (74), whereupon they were treated to a blistering, ferocious address from Whitten. The final term was a desperate affair with neither side conceding an inch. Between them, the two teams only managed 5 behinds for the quarter, with Footscray holding on to win by 3 points, 11.13 (79) to 11.10 (76). Another highlight for the Bulldogs was their 13.17 (95) to 13.15 (93) defeat of Melbourne in the grand final of the VFL night series. It was Footscray’s fourth night flag which made them the most successful team in the history of the competition up to that point.

Eightth placed Hawthorn were clearly a talented side with final four pretensions. However, they were blighted by inconsistency, losing to Melbourne or Essendon one week and then downing the likes of South Melbourne or Carlton the next. Full forward Peter Hudson was a shining light for the Hawks all year, booting 146 goals to top the VFL goal kicking list.

Fitzroy won 9 games to end up in ninth position, the club’s best finish for a decade. The Lions started the season well with a 16.20 (116) to 14.12 (96) defeat of Richmond in the “royal match” at the MCG, but thereafter things mostly proceeded as expected, although when confronted by the Tigers again in round twelve Fitzroy managed another hard earned victory. The 1970 season saw the Lions ending their three year tenure at Princes Park by relocating to St Kilda’s former home ground of Brunswick Street, which had been comprehensively improved.

Melbourne managed just 6 wins for the year to finish tenth. The first of these wins, in round one, was actually better than it appeared at the time, because the opposition was provided by perennial strugglers South Melbourne, who in 1970 would go on to contest the finals for the first time in a quarter of a century. The remainder of the season was mostly disappointing, although a sparkling 9 goal defeat of Richmond in round nineteen brought a rare smile to the faces of Demons supporters.

After either being in or on the fringes of the finals for almost two decades Essendon’s slump to eleventh was unexpected. The Bombers managed just 6 wins, and quite a few of their defeats were by sizeable margins. Their best win came in round nine at Windy Hill against Collingwood. Essendon won by 6 points after kicking much straighter than the Magpies. Scores were Essendon 13.15 (93) defeated Collingwood 11.21 (87).

North Melbourne managed just 4 wins to finish rooted to the bottom of the table. The Kangaroos’ most noteworthy win probably came in round twenty-two when they accounted for fifth placed Geelong at Arden Street by 41 points. However, the miserly match attendance of 6,345 was arguably more illustrative of the nature of North’s season than the win.

The introduction of a free kick against players kicking the ball out of bounds on the full produced an appreciable increase in scores all across Australia. For full forwards the pickings were rich, as perhaps best exemplified in the VFL where no fewer than three men - a record - registered 100 goals or more for the season. Aside from the already mentioned Hawthorn star Peter Hudson, the centurions were Collingwood’s Peter McKenna who bagged 143 goals, and Alex Jesaulenko of Carlton who booted 115.

VFA: Two Blues Triumph

Prahran, runners up to Preston in 1968, won the VFA’s first division premiership with a comfortable 17.18 (120) to 10.10 (70) grand final defeat of Williamstown. Tested in the first quarter, the Two Blues nevertheless led at every change by 4, 27 and 70 points, and were worthy winners. Williamstown nevertheless made a bit of history by being the first team to reach a first division grand final a season after winning the second division premiership. Waverley and Port Melbourne completed the final four. Reigning premiers Preston suffered a surprising decline, finishing sixth.

The 1970 second division grand final was a high scoring affair in which Coburg, superior in the ruck and with a winning centreline, defeated Box Hill by 30 points, 20.17 (137) to 16.11 (107).  Sunshine, grand finalists a year earlier, came third, and Brunswick fourth.