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VFL: “For the little feller”

As so often seems to happen, the taste of grand final defeat worked wonders in terms of spurring a team - in this case Hawthorn - on during the following season. Allied to this, tenacious club skipper Peter Crimmins was seriously ill with cancer, and a desire to win a flag "for the little feller", as coach John Kennedy referred to him, was overwhelming. When Hawthorn confronted their 1975 nemesis North Melbourne twelve months later in the '76 grand final it was the fifth meeting between the clubs for the year: during the home and away season the Hawks had won by 28 points at Princes Park and 8 points at Arden Street; the clubs had also met in Adelaide in the final of the inaugural NFL Championship series, when Hawthorn had won by 48 points; and, just to reinforce their superiority, the qualifying final at the MCG had seen the Hawks emerge 20 points to the good, so that if ever a team went into a grand final deserving of premiership favouritism, it was Hawthorn in 1976.

Football is full of stories of teams which overturned the odds and made a nonsense out of pre-match predictions, of course, but North Melbourne in 1976 was not to prove to be one of those teams. From start to finish Hawthorn gave their opponents a football lesson as they steamrollered their way to a 30 point win, which but for inaccuracy in front of goal would have been much greater. Best afield in the 1976 grand final was spectacular blond haired centre half back Peter Knights, whose consistently brilliant displays throughout the season had seen him finish as runner up to Essendon's Graham Moss in voting for the Brownlow Medal. Others to shine included full forward John Hendrie (who booted 2.7), back pocket Brian Douge in the last of his 91 games for the club, and centreman Barry Rowlings. In addition, Matthews was still very much in the thick of the action, as indeed he would be for a further ten seasons, contributing 2 goals as well as abundant energy, determination and purpose to the Hawthorn cause.

In the midst of the euphoria surrounding the Hawks' success an element of tragedy intervened just three days after the grand final, when Peter Crimmins lost his fight against cancer; it was a sombre and perhaps timely reminder that all triumphs, of whatever kind, are transitory. Peter Crimmins always nursed an ambition to captain Hawthorn to a premiership, an ambition that remained unfulfilled. However, it his hard to deny the assertion that, by his inspiration and example, Peter Crimmins achieved much more.

North Melbourne’s grand final defeat was arguably even more painful than their loss of two years previously against Richmond, in the main because expectations at the club were higher. Being second best was no longer acceptable to ‘Roos supporters. Nevertheless, it was clear that North still had a nucleus of top quality players; what was needed was a way of deploying them to maximum effect. Twelve months later they would do precisely that, albeit with a stutter or two. 

North qualified for the 1976 finals in third place having won 8 of their last 9 matches for a 15-7 overall record. Hawthorn in the qualifying final proved too strong, although North gleaned a measure of solace from their 4 goals to 1 final quarter which reduced a 36 point three quarter time deficit to just 20 points at the end. In the following week’s sudden death first semi final the Kangas faced Geelong and led all day en route to a conclusive 14.9 (93) to 8.12 (60) victory. The preliminary final clash with minor premiers Carlton was a bona fide classic, with North trailing at every change before procuring victory by a solitary point. With almost twenty minutes of play still remaining the Kangaroos kicked their 10th and last goal to lead 10.7 (67) to 8.9 (57). Most of the remainder of the match was played in Carlton’s attacking zone but they only managed to score 1.3 with several seemingly goalbound shots being marked near the line by North’s flamboyant utility Malcolm Blight. After the euphoria of this triumph came the desolation of not only losing the grand final to Hawthorn, but not even getting close - something coach Ron Barassi would use to fuel the fires of revenge the following season.

For the second season in succession Carlton were pace setters during the minor round only to come comprehensively unstuck when it mattered. There were rumours that first year coach Ian Thorogood did not enjoy the respect of his senior players, but whatever the cause the Blues were dismal in the second semi final against Hawthorn, and somewhat unfortunate in the preliminary final loss to North. In spite of continued whisperings of discontent among his players Thorogood retained his position as Blues coach.

Geelong, who had finished second from last in 1975, enjoyed their best season in some time to qualify for the finals in fourth spot with 12 wins from 22 home and away matches. In the elimination final against Footscray, played at Waverley, they dominated the opening term only to let themselves down in front of goal, managing just 4 goals from 12 scoring shots. During the second and third terms the Bulldogs went some way towards extracting payment as they added 9 goals to 5 to go into the last change 13 points to the good. It was not enough. The Cats upped the ante in the final quarter to add 5.5 to 2.3 and secure a hard earned and well deserved 7 point victory. North Melbourne in the first semi final proved much too accomplished, however.

Formidably built at 196cm and 96.5kg Geelong full forward Larry Donohue boasted the evocative nickname of “Bear”.  Despite having the physical proportions of a ruckman he was extremely quick, especially when leading, and he topped off many an exhilarating lead and mark by bisecting the uprights with perfectly executed and weighted drop punts.  Between 1976 and 1978 Donohue was probably the most damaging key forward in the game, topping both the century in terms of goals, and the league list, in the first of those years, and bagging highly respectable totals in the others.  Before and after those seasons, however, he struggled somewhat, and midway through the 1980 season felt constrained to retire on account of a mysterious shoulder injury sustained during the previous summer.

Footscray improved from seventh place in 1975 to fifth, and a taste of finals football, a year later. The Bulldogs’ improvement was actually only marginal: they won 11 games in ’75, compared to 11 plus a draw in ’76. Their involvement in the major round was brief and scarcely memorable.

Melbourne, like Geelong, had their best season for some time, and might be considered unfortunate not to have qualified for the finals. As it was they finished half a win behind fifth placed Footscray, albeit with a better percentage. (Footscray’s drawn match, which was against minor premiers Carlton, occurred in the last home and away round.) The Demons’ best football was spectacularly eye catching, and only Hawthorn finished the minor round with more “points for” (2323 as against 2319).

Two years earlier Richmond had been beyond question and by some measure the finest team in Australia. In 1976, however, they were blighted by inconsistency, and won just 10 matches. At their best they could still  beat the leading sides as they proved, for example, in round three against Noprth Melbourne, round thirteen against Geelong and round twenty-one against Hawthorn. However, they were also capable of lowering their colours against the likes of St Kilda, Collingwood and Fitzroy.

South Melbourne, St Kilda and Essendon, who finished eighth, ninth and tenth respectively, all won 9 games. The Saints managed to down both Hawthorn and Footscray, while the Bombers won against the Hawks, and the Swans overcame the Bulldogs.

The highlight of Essendon’s season came when their West Australian import, Graham Moss, won the Brownlow Medal. Moss had made his Claremont debut in April 1969, a month before his nineteenth birthday. He lined up in a back pocket against West Perth, which was coached at the time by one of the greatest ruckmen in the history of the game, and a player Moss lionised, Graham 'Polly' Farmer. Over the ensuing decade and a half, Moss would carve out a reputation for himself that bore healthy comparison with that of his hero.

It was not long before Moss was moved from the back pocket onto the ball, and it immediately became clear that the Tigers had been blessed with a player of prodigious all round talent. A superb knock ruckman, he was equally impressive around the ground, both aerially, and in the packs. In 1970, he made the first of an eventual 23 interstate appearances for West Australia; called into the team after the sandgropers had suffered an embarrassing defeat against Tasmania, he combined well with fellow ruckmen Graham Farmer and Bill Dempsey to help his state to a hard fought 4 point win over South Australia at Subiaco Oval.

After helping Claremont reach the 1972 grand final, which resulted in a 15 point loss to East Perth, Moss joined the rapidly growing exodus of top players to Victoria when he signed for Essendon.  His four season stint with the Bombers only served to confirm what football fans west of the Nullarbor already knew: that Graham Moss was one of the finest big men in the game.  Runner-up in the Brownlow Medal in his debut season, Moss landed the award in his last; he also represented the VFL on 5 occasions, and won the Bombers' top individual award in 1974-5-6.  At the end of the 1976 season, however, he felt that Essendon "did not seem to be going anywhere”,[1] and accepted an offer from Claremont to return home as the club's captain-coach.

Moss' first couple of seasons as coach convinced him "that I could not continue a professional career and coach at the same time”.[2]  Accordingly, he gave up his job as an engineer, went into real estate to supplement his income, and devoted himself full time to his coaching duties.  Claremont's fortunes promptly revived, and, after failing to qualify for the previous six finals series, the side participated in the next six, winning a premiership in 1981, and finishing runner-up in '82 and ’83.

On the field, Moss continued to play as well as ever, winning Claremont's fairest and best award in 1977-8-9-80, and continuing to represent West Australia with distinction. Frequently described as “a gentle giant”, he was certainly not shy of “mixing it” if the need arose.

After 253 games for Claremont, Graham Moss announced his retirement at the end of the 1983 season, only to resurface, for one match only, two years later. He thus ended up with an overall tally of 343 club games, which includes 89 at Essendon. Moss carried on as Claremont coach until the end of the 1986 season when he accepted the position of General Manager of the newly formed West Coast Eagles Football Club. After a couple of years in that role, however, he moved on to other challenges outside football. 

Persistent cellar dwellers Fitzroy managed just 7 wins to finish eleventh. Rather more surprisingly Collingwood ended up in last place with just 5 wins. It was the Magpies’ first ever wooden spoon.

A Review of the 1976 Football Season

Sturt's Rick Davies

SANFL: Sturt’s Sensational Victory

During the 1976 minor round Sturt produced some good football but the consensus was that they were a trifle past their best. “Too old and too slow” was the catch cry, and when Glenelg annihilated Sturt 28.16 (184) to 15.12 (102) in the last minor round match of the season and followed this up with another comfortable win in the qualifying final this assessment seemed vindicated.

Come first semi final day, however, and a different Sturt emerged, only Norwood's exceptional accuracy in front of goal preventing a massacre. The Double Blues won 17.23 (125) to 16.3 (99) and in the following week's preliminary final maintained their good form to gain revenge over Glenelg by 7 points in a thriller.

Sturt's grand final opponents were Port Adelaide, which had been far and away the season's dominant club. The bookmakers made the Magpies 10/7-on favourites but, perhaps significantly, players from the other eight league clubs, when asked to predict the winner for a feature in the grand final issue of 'Football Budget', seemed less sure, three having no hesitation in tipping the Double Blues, with West Adelaide's Bob Loveday predicting a draw. "Port should win it, but the way Sturt are playing I can't see them losing” was his assessment.

Interest in the match was unprecedented, in part because of the intense rivalry between the two clubs which had burgeoned over the preceding decade. An all time record crowd of 66,897 crammed into Football Park, many of them being forced to sit on the grass just outside the boundary line. Many thousands more were locked out.

Port started strongly with the aid of a 3 to 4 goal breeze but, with Sturt ruckman Rick Davies acting as an extra defender and taking several telling marks, numerous Magpie forward thrusts were repelled. At quarter time Port Adelaide led by only 8 points, and thereafter the Double Blues gradually assumed complete control adding 16.11 to 8.10 over the remainder of the match to win “running away”. Rick Davies gave one of the greatest all round performances seen in a grand final accumulating 21 kicks, 21 handballs, 15 marks and 21 hit outs, all the while displaying a "nonchalant air and unruffled ease". Other notable contributors to what the vast majority of Sturt supporters would probably tend to regard as the club's finest hour were ruck rover Paul Bagshaw - always a dynamic force in big matches - the half forward line of Michael Graham, Robbert Klomp and John Murphy,[3] and centreman Brendon Howard. Seventy-five years on from its formation the Sturt Football Club's position had never seemed so secure, but the next two decades were to demonstrate that no club can afford to rest on its laurels when it comes to maintaining a position of pre-eminence in the cut-throat world of Australian footbal

For Port Adelaide, defeat in the 1976 grand final constituted an unprecedented nadir. Not only were the Magpies without a senior grade premiership in eleven years, they had lost yet another grand final, their sixth such defeat in that time. Moreover, of all those losses this was far and away the hardest to bear in that it was largely unexpected. Port had been easily the best team in the competition all year - until the one day that mattered most.

If there was consolation to be derived from Russell Ebert’s Magarey Medal win no-one at Alberton would dare admit it. Four times a winner of South Australia's most prestigious individual football award (the 1976 triumph was his third), Ebert's solo achievements belied the fact that he was, above all else, a quintessential team man. Like his contemporary, Barrie Robran, frequently regarded as Ebert's chief rival for the unofficial title of South Australia's greatest ever footballer, Russell Ebert off the field was shy and unassuming, preferring - if the cliché can be allowed - to “let his football do the talking”.

And how loquacious that football was!  Quite simply, Russell Ebert probably came as close as any player in history to exhibiting complete mastery over all the essential skills of the game.  On the attacking side he was a superb mark, handled the ball brilliantly in all conditions, and typically disposed of it, whether by foot or by hand, with pinpoint accuracy.  However, it was his defensive qualities which really marked Ebert out from the herd; unlike many acknowledged champion players Ebert excelled in performing the small, often unnoticed, ostensibly ignominious tasks that are so vital to a winning performance - tasks like shepherding, smothering, checking, tackling, spoiling which are the traditional function of the football journeyman rather than the superstar.

And “superstar” - an admittedly much over-used term - is exactly what Russell Ebert was.

Between 1968 and 1985 he played a total of 417 games of league football, all but 25 of them with Port Adelaide.  He also represented South Australia 29 times.  In addition to his Magarey Medal wins in 1971, 1974, 1976 and 1980 he was Port's best and fairest player on no fewer than half a dozen occasions.  He had the satisfaction in 1977 of captaining the Magpies to their first premiership in twelve years, and also played in the premiership teams of 1980 and 1981.  After the 1981 grand final victory over Glenelg, he won the Jack Oatey Medal for best afield. Mere statistics can only hint at the true genius that was Russell Ebert, however.

As a coach, Ebert enjoyed rather less success, but his accomplishments were by no means negligible.  He steered Port Adelaide to the 1984 grand final, for instance, and masterminded South Australia's state of origin victories over Western Australia in 1996 and 1998.  

Seemingly well in charge when they led 14.16 (100) to 12.9 (81) at the last change of their preliminary final clash with Sturt, Glenelg somehow contrived to fall in a heap and go down by 7 points. The Bays were the SANFL’s top scorers in 1976 but there were some defensive frailties. Having reached the previous three grand finals it was disappointing to drop down the list to third with the implicit suggestion that the team were in decline but as ever with football things would prove not to be quite so straightforward.

On a brighter note, Bays full forward “Fred” Phillis booted 98 goals for the season to top the league’s top goal kicking list for the fifth time.After beginning his league career with Glenelg as a centre half back in 1966, Phillis was to develop into one of the greatest full forwards in the history of the game, thanks partly to some inspirational lateral thinking by Neil Kerley, who took over as coach of the club in 1967.  Aware that Phillis was extremely quick for his size (187cm, 90.5kg), and was one of the best marks at the club, he decided to try him at centre half forward, where he was moderately successful, and later at full forward, where he frequently saw enough of the ball to kick a swag of goals, but was profligate.  His first season at the goal front saw him top Glenelg's goal kicking list with 30 goals, but he missed at least as many, and during the close season coach Kerley stipulated an intensive regime of goalkicking practice which, in 1969, was to bear fruit in the most unexpectedly spectacular way.

Given that his name today is synonymous with excellence at the king of winter sports, it is perhaps surprising to learn that Phillis owed his nickname to his prowess at cricket.  As a youngster, Phillis fancied himself as a fast bowler, prompting his schoolmates to dub him 'Fred', after the most famous Test paceman of the day, 'Fiery Fred' Truman of Yorkshire and England.  In 1969, the name 'Fred Phillis' was on the back pages of Adelaide newspapers, and the lips of footy supporters, more often than any other.  While it would be misleading to suggest that he now kicked for goal with unerring accuracy - in the Australian championships in Adelaide that year he booted 12.12 for South Australia, for instance - overall he was registering nearly twice as many goals as points.  Moreover, he was registering a lot of goals - a hundred by the end of July, and a league record 137 by the end of the Bays' losing grand final clash with Sturt.  Even the umpires were full of admiration, collectively bestowing 18 Magarey Medal votes on the twenty-one year old architecture student to make him the first ever winner of the award to spend the season predominantly at full forward.

Phillis went on to secure the elusive 'ton' on two further occasions, besides missing out by a single goal in 1971, and by two in 1976.  Statistically, he is Glenelg's greatest ever goal kicker - no mean achievement when you consider that the club also boasts Jack Owens and Colin Churchett among its former champions.  Phillis' career tally of 884 goals in 280 games places him third on the all time SANFL list, and included 'bags' of 10 or more goals on nine occasions.  On one memorable afternoon at Glenelg Oval in 1975 he contributed 18 of his team's record-breaking 49 goals against Central District, but almost certainly the highlight of his career came in 1973 when he failed to trouble the scorers as the Bays defeated North Adelaide by 7 points in the last grand final to be played at the Adelaide Oval.

When the Glenelg Football Club inaugurated its official 'Hall of Fame' in 2002, “Freddie” Phillis was one of eight players included from the period 1961-76.

Reigning premiers Norwood suffered a disappointing slump in 1976, eventually finishing fourth. The Redlegs were comfortably superior to the six clubs which finished below them on the ladder, but found the top three too hot to handle at times. That said, they found themselves up against it in the elimination final clash with West Adelaide, with the Wolves kicking 7 first quarter goals to 2 and still leading at the last change by 18 points. The Redlegs then finally bhit their straps, adding 7.8 to 1.3 to win with deceptive comfort by 23 points. 

In the first semi final clash with Sturt the Redlegs, thanks largely to their straight kicking for goal, put themselves in a useful position at half time when they led 11.1 (67) to 6.10 (46). Thereafter, however, there was only one team in it, as the Blues rattled on 11 second half goals to 5, eventually winning by 26 points, a margin which, if anything, flattered Norwood.

West Adelaide qualified for the major round for the first time since 1969 but their lack of finals experience told as they nosedived out of contention at the first hurdle. Coach Fos Williams had the Wolves playing a tenacious, virile brand of football which enabled them to win at least once against all teams in the league except the top two.

Central District were probably the competition’s most unpredictable team, capable of performing like potential finalists one week and wooden spooners the next. Two matches effectively scuppered their major round aspirations: in round eleven they succumbed to Port Adelaide by a percentage ruining 161 point margin; and in round twenty they lost a “must win” game at home to South Adelaide by 17 points.

South Adelaide, like Centrals, were blighted by inconsistency. For example, they won at Unley against Sturt as well as both home and away versus Norwood but were thrashed at home by Woodville and, in round two at Thebarton, handed West Torrens one of their only two wins for the season.

Eighth placed North Adelaide won 8 matches, the same as in 1975 when they had scraped into the finals. The team lacked depth and they suffered some crushing defeats while all their v ictories came against sides which failed to qualify for the finals.

Woodville won just 6 games, with the highlight being their 12.13 (85) to 11.12 (78) defeat of Port Adelaide in round seven. The ‘Peckers set up the victory with a 6 goals to nil opening term. It was their first ever league victory over Port.

West Torrens finished a distant last with their only wins coming in round two against South Adelaide and round five against Woodville.

WANFL: Demons Dominate

Despite the setback of a last round loss to East Perth which robbed the team of the double chance, the Demons put in three weeks of superlative finals football in 1976 to clinch arguably their most emphatic premiership ever. In the first semi final against West Perth, Perth overcame a slow start to win convincingly, 20.18 (138) to 13.4 (82). It was a similar story in the preliminary final as South Fremantle, the team which had displaced the Demons from 2nd position on the ladder after the last round of fixtures, wilted in the face of the redoubtable pressure applied by the Perth players all over the ground.  Perth won 20.19 (139) to 10.21 (81) to set up yet another grand final meeting with East Perth, and just as in the glorious “three-in-a-row” era of the 1960s, it was the men in black and red who prevailed. Perth led at every change by 11, 20 and 15 points before coasting to a 23 point victory that, on balance of play, should really have been much heftier. Mal Day won the Simpson Medal for best on ground, while centreman Gary Gibillini, who had played against Perth in the 1974 grand final, centre half forward Wim Rosbender, centreman Geoff Watt, and rover Robert Wiley were among numerous others to feature prominently.

Robert Wiley was, in a sense, the man who stepped into Barry Cable's shoes:

He was confident as he was skilful, a player of immense class and ability.

He stood out against almost every opponent he played against in both Western Australia and Victoria in a career that spanned fifteen seasons between 1974 and 1988.

Wiley remains the last of Perth's great rovers - a club that produced legends such as Barry Cable.

With Wiley, who won his fourth straight club fairest and best award,[5] very much to the fore Perth enjoyed another fine year in 1977, culminating in a record-breaking win over East Fremantle in the grand final.  During the year, Ken Armstrong had been appointed to the position of full-time coach and football director at Perth, enabling him to develop his natural propensity toward meticulous and thorough preparation still further.  Armstrong's appointment was just one of many factors indicating the extent of the club's ambition at the time.  Just as in the 1960s, a comprehensive system for developing young players - known as 'the Perth academy' - was put into place, and the facilities for training and the treatment of injuries were second to none.  As Robert Wiley, who also spent time with Richmond and West Coast in the VFL, later recalled:

I enjoyed my association with Perth.  They set the standard in the seventies.  They were fantastic years.

My five years at Richmond were also enjoyable.

We had great facilities at Perth but I was surprised when I arrived at Richmond to see facilities weren't as good as what we had at Perth.

Having finished the minor round at the head of the league laddder East Perth were justifiably accorded premiership favouritism. They enhanced this status in the second semi final when they overcame South Fremantle by 33 points. The Royals had defeated grand final opponents Perth by 13 points in the last minor round game of the season, and this coupled with the week’s rest they had learned led many observers to back them for the flag but they put in anunaccountably bad performance to go down by 23 points. Had it not been for their accuracy in front of goal the deficit would have been considerably greater.

One of the principal driving forces behind East Perth’s dominance of the home and away rounds was Peter Spencer. On his day one of the most exhilarating players of his generation, Spencer was stymied by recurrent injuries from achieving his full potential. Nevertheless, not many players manage to win two Sandover Medals, which Spencer did in 1978 and 1984 during two separate stints with East Perth.

Equally effective either in the centre or as a rover, the key to Spencer's success was his uncanny ball-winning ability.  Time after time he was the highest possession gatherer on the field, and once he got his hands on the football he invariably used it to advantage.  He was also deadly near goal, and twice finished as East Perth's leading goal kicker in a season.

Spencer made his interstate debut against the VFL in 1976 and went on to play a total of 7 matches for West Australia.  His tally would have been much higher but for injury, which also ruled him out of the 1978 grand final in which East Perth overcame Perth. The fact that this proved to be the only premiership won by the Royals during Spencer's time with them undoubtedly made it the biggest disappointment of his career.

In 1981 and '82 Spencer played for North Melbourne but managed only 24 games as injury again undermined his effectiveness.  On his return to East Perth in 1983 he promptly won the club's fairest and best award, his third, and maintained a comparatively injury-free run the following year when he tied with the Claremont pair of Steve Malaxos and Michael Mitchell for the Sandover. 

The 1985 season saw Spencer on the move to Haydn Bunton's Subiaco, where he spent the better part of two years before rounding off his WAFL career with a couple of games for Claremont.

Peter Spencer's father, Jim Spencer, also played league football with East Perth, and won the club fairest and best award in 1953.  The Spencers share with the Sidebottom family (Wally and Gary) the distinction of being the only father-son combinations to have won fairest and best trophies with the same WAFL club.

In June 2006 Peter Spencer was named on a half forward flank in East Perth’s official Team of the Century 1945 to 2005.

After a solid home and away season which yielded 14 wins from 21 matches South Fremantle underperformed badly in the finals, losing the second semi final to East Perth by 33 points and the preliminary final to Perth by 58 points.

Perth were a team on the verge of great things, but in 1976 they were still a little raw around the edges. Had they beaten East Perth at Lathlain Park in the last minor round game they would have clinched the double chance in the finals, but they went down by 13 points.

West Perth qualified for the finals in fourth place but were no match for Perth in the first semi final, going down by 56 points.

Fifth placed East Fremantle endured another disappointing season. Premiers in 1974, they had slipped down the list to fifth the following season after managing just 10 wins. In 1976 they won 1 game fewer and again finished fifth. If the season had a highlight it was probably the fact that East Fremantle won 2 out of 3 Fremantle derbies against arch rivals South. 

Claremont included triumphs over Perth (twice), West Perth and East Perth in their tally of 8 wins. They also provided the WANFL’s top goal kicker in the shape of Norm Uncle who booted 91 goals.

Swan Districts (7 wins) and Subiaco (4) were by some measure the league’s weakest teams. Swans’ best win came in round two when they accounted for West Perth in impressive fashion by 2 points in front of a bumper crowd of 10,118 at Bassendean. Subiaco managed to beat Perth by 8 points at league headquarters in round ten.

VFA: Revenge for Port

The 1976 VFA season saw Port Melbourne assuming centre stage for a long awaited grand final re-match with their 1967 conquerors Dandenong.

The build up to the game was, by recent VFA standards, almost unprecedentedly intense, with much speculation focusing on the so called 'revenge factor'. In this context, a violent encounter seemed almost inevitable, and so it proved. After a deceptively tame opening term events took a predictable turn for the worse five minutes into the second quarter when Port Melbourne full forward Fred Cook was pole-axed behind the play shortly after kicking a goal. The goal umpire, having just replaced his flags, was in the process of marking the goal on his score card and did not see the incident. Neither did the two boundary umpires who were relaying the ball back to the centre of the ground. Suddenly there was an explosion of activity at both ends of the field as Port Melbourne players endeavoured to exact retribution and their Dandenong opponents resisted strenuously. When order was restored, the Borough were able to race away to a 57 point triumph, 19.18 (132) to 10.15 (75). Best players for Port included ruckman Tony Haenen, half back flanker George Allen, full back Paul Wharton, and ruck rover Graham Harland. Champion full forward Fred Cook contributed 5.6 (including 2 "posters") to take his season's tally to 124. Cook would go on to amass a VFA career record of 1,364 goals in 305 games with three clubs (Port Melbourne, Yarraville and Moorabbin).

Most of the post-match headlines referred to the fisticuffs rather than the football, however, which was hardly surprising given that the VFA Honorary Commissioners had no fewer than nine cases to consider on the following Monday night. These comprised five Port players and two from Dandenong as well as the Port trainer and the Dandenong runner. All but one were found guilty.

Other States and Territories

Sandy Bay reigned supreme in the TANFL, reaching their sixth straight grand final and cruising to a 16 goal victory over Glenorchy. The Seagulls had earlier won the second semi final against the same opponent with scores of 24.15 (159) to 15.13 (103). In the battle fdor the state premiership Sandy Bay lost out to NWFU premiers Ulverstone at the preliminary final stage. The Robins then overcame NTFA premiers Launceston 17.19 (121) to 10.14 (74) in Launceston to take out their second state flag. (Ther first had been won in 1955.)

East Sydney trounced North Shore by 77 points in the NSWAFL grand final. St George finished third and Western Suburbs fourth.

Windsor-Zillmere were premiers of the QAFL for the second successive time. The Eagles overcame Sandgate in the grand final by 36 points.

In the ACTAFL Eastlake thrashed Manuka by 69 points in the decisive match of the year. It was the Demons’ sixteenth flag as a standalone club.

After going into recess in 1975 because of Cyclone Tracy the NTFL resumed operations with Darwin claiming the premiership thanks to a relatively comfortable 38 point grand final defeat of North Darwin.

Interstate Football

The only interstate match involving the major states took place in Perth. There, a VFL representative side overcame Western Australia with consummate ease by 57 points. Scores were VFL 21.18 (144) defeated Western Australia 11.21 (87).

Tasmania avenged their 1975 loss to Queensland by downing that state 21.19 (145) to 14.15 (99) in Hobart. However, the Tasmanians’ reputation was tarnished when they went down by 10 points to New South Wales in Sydney.

The closest interstate clash of the year took place in Brisbane where home state Queensland defeated the ACT by 5 points, 16.18 (114) to 15.19 (109).


[1] Football Greats of Western Australia volume one by Anthony James, page 51.[1] “The South Australian Football Budget”, 25/9/76, page 4.

[2] Ibid, page 51.

[3] This was the last of Murphy's 204 games for Sturt in a career which began in 1962 and which also took in 5 interstate matches for South Australia and four seasons and 58 VFL matches with South Melbourne.

[4] Football Greats of Western Australia Volume One by Anthony James, page 69.

[5] Robert Wiley won a total of eight Perth fairest and best awards in his career, one more than both Merv McIntosh and Barry Cable.

[6] James, op cit., page 71.

Grand final results - VFL: Hawthorn 13.22 (100) d. North Melbourne 10.10 (70); SANFL: Sturt 17.14 (116) d. Port Adelaide 10.15 (75); WANFL: Perth 13.14 (92) d. East Perth 11.3 (69); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 19.18 (132) d. Dandenong 10.15 (75) Division Two - Williamstown 19.13 (127) d. Mordialloc 9.16 (70); TANFL: Sandy Bay 21.10 (136) d. Glenorchy 5.9 (39); NTFA: Launceston 13.10 (88) d. North Launceston 12.15 (87); NSWAFL: East Sydney 23.12 (150) d. North Shore 10.13 (73); NTFL: Darwin 16.14 (110) d. North Darwin 11.6 (72); QAFL: Windsor-Zillmere 17.23 (125) d. Sandgate 13.11 (89); NWFU: Ulverstone 14.9 (93) d. Penguin 7.19 (61); ACTAFL: Eastlake 23.19 (157) d. Manuka 13.10 (88); NFL: Hawthorn 12.17 (89) d. North Melbourne 5.11 (41); TSP: Ulverstone 17.19 (121) d. Launceston 10.14 (74).

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