Explore the History of australian football

“No finer exhibition of football has ever been seen in Melbourne, the display being almost perfect. One side was almost as good as the other. No unprejudiced person could rob the South Australians of the credit of having played the nippier and more finished football. Their strongest features were dash and high-marking, while the place kicking of Dewar, who got five goals, was magnificent.”[1]

A crowd of 29,943 yielding receipts of £1,816/5/6 attended the match which was played in ideal conditions; blue skies, brilliant sunshine, and a light breeze which blew directly across the ground. Play in the opening term was characterised by swift movement of the ball and excellent overhead marking from both teams. Paddy O’Brien, Victoria’s centre half back who had been a last minute inclusion in the side, was the most conspicuous player on the ground as he single-handedly repelled many South Australian forward thrusts. Equally effective if rather less eye catching was Vic follower Con McCarthy who used his weight to good effect in the ruck by repeatedly obstructing Tom Leahy’s run at the ball. As a consequence, most of the hit-outs for the quarter were won by the big Richmond ruckman Barney Herbert.

Two other players to catch the eye were South Australian centre half back Dan Moriarty and half back flanker Jack “Snowy” Hamilton. The former was excellent overhead and his kicking was superb. Hamilton meanwhile combined tremendous pace with the unteachable ability of predicting where the ball was going to land and stationing himself there in anticipation.

Early in the quarter O’Brien was beaten overhead for one of the few occasions in the match by Stone, who soared high to mark brilliantly. From the resultant kick Stone scored the game’s first goal. The home side responded energetically, however, and before long they had drawn level courtesy of Fitzroy rover Clive Fergie. Dewar then goaled for South Australia with a majestic, towering place kick that “soared through like a bird”.[2]

The remainder of the term was dominated by Victoria who added two more goals courtesy of Albert Borromeo and George Bayliss. South Australia’s pace had enabled them to dominate at ground level, particularly when the ball was under dispute, but Victoria’s winning rucks had overall given them a slight edge. At quarter time the scoreboard showed Victoria on 3.3 (21) leading South Australia 2.3 (15).

In the second quarter the ruck shepherding duties for Victoria were initially assumed by Seddon, but he was nowhere near as effective as McCarthy with a result that South Australia dominated in the rucks. Victoria responded by reinstating McCarthy but this did not have the desired effect as Leahy seemingly now had his “eye in”. 

After Seddon had snapped a behind for the Vics South Australia swept the ball to the opposite end where Bryant was presented with an easy goal scoring opportunity on which he failed to capitalise, his kick falling short. The situation was quickly rectified, however, as Clarrie Scrutton, one of the nippiest players on the field, got his hands to the ball first and managed to put it through. Behinds followed to Bryant and White putting South Australia ahead by the narrowest of margins.

Superb high marking was a notable feature of the match in this quarter with Curnow and Scrutton excelling for the visitors and Eicke for the Vics.

Victoria recaptured the lead when George Haines snapped truly but South Australia’s response was swift and conclusive, Richardson dashing out of defence before passing to Smith who relayed the ball to Dewar. From a tight angle Dewar made no mistake. For the next few minutes South Australia, displaying great pace and consistently outmarking the Vics, continued in the ascendant. Their fifth goal duly arrived when Dewar evaded Thorp and kicked truly from close in.

During the closing minutes of the term the ball went from end to end with bewildering rapidity. Finally, Herbert marked close in for Victoria and calmly slotted the ball through. A long, weaving run by Hamilton elicited thunderous applause from the crowd. Moments later Bryant made a mess of a glorious scoring opportunity. With the goal gaping before him all he needed to do was pick the ball up cleanly but he fumbled, and Victoria hurriedly rescued the situation. At half time it was a 1 point game: South Australia 5.7 (37); Victoria 5.6 (36).

“Everybody had been delighted with the play so far. Nothing finer had ever been seen on the ground. While there was little between the teams in actual play,, the visitors were the more impressive side. Their dash was unmistakable, and their marking, hand and foot passing, and teamwork generally could scarcely be faulted.”[3]

The home side opened the third term brightly and it was not long before they regained the lead thanks to a goal from “Dick” Lee. Again the Vics attacked, haines picking out a fast leading Bayliss and the latter player was unfortunate in that his high kick just grazed the top of the goal post. Victoria now led by a single straight kick, but not for long as South Australia took up the running through centreman Karney who passed to White whose kick presented Dewar with the easiest of goal scoring chances which he duly took. 

The next goal was Victoria’s, Bayliss making amends for his earlier miss. As had been the case for most of the match the teams were going goal for goal. Dewar might well have maintained the cycle after being unceremoniously slung to the ground when not in possession but to the visitors’ consternation no free was awarded. Most of the frees during the game were in fact given against South Australia for holding the man.

Stone had an excellent opportunity to register another goal for the visitors but he foolishly ran over his mark and was fairly tackled. South Australia continued to attack however and the next score, a behind, was kicked by their imposing ruckman Tom Leahy.  Shortly afterwards the best chain of marks of the match involving Moriarty, Curnow, Stone and Scutton culminated in the last named kicking truly.

Scores were now tied at 50 points apiece whereupon South Australia, who were continuing to dominate, added a flurry of behinds. Then, as so often happens, they were made to pay for their waywardness as Victoria mounted a rare attack which was finished off by another goal to Lee. The Bell sounded soon after with Victoria in the lead by 3 points, 8.8 (56) to 7.11 (53).

From the opening bounce of the final term South Australia launched a determined attack but this was repelled by some good combined play between O’Brien and Thorp. Victoria then attacked and added a couple of behinds in quick succession. Then it was South Australia’s turn to push forward and a great chain of marks involving Hamilton, then Leahy, and finally Curnow resulted in a goal. The visitors now had their tails up, and their very next attack resulted in another major score from a superb drop kick by Dewar. South Australia were now playing magnificently, and it was no surprise when another fast, fluent attacking move culminated in Lewis nabbing another major. For the first and only time in the match a team had registered three goals in succession and it would prove decisive.

“The character of the struggle had undergone no change. It was up and down and across, with Leahy the man of iron, still in the ruck. There was no diminution in strength, dash and vigour. Two dangerous-looking Victorian rushes were gallantly thrust aside by Hamilton. On the first occasion he was surrounded by foes - resembling a pack of greyhounds after a hare - yet he outwitted and outpointed the lot, and relieved. Never during my long connection with the game have I heard such cheering.”[4]

Nevertheless the Vics did not give up without a fight. With Bert Rankin displaying his best form of the match in the centre of the ground and others who had been down on form starting to have an impact the navy blues dominated the closing exchanges. However, three shots at goal produced just one goal and two behinds - in stark contrast to the accuracy of the South Australians earlier. 

“The excitement was intense as the play fluctuated first one way and then the other …… Hamilton was doing the lion’s share of the defensive work. It was a thrilling finish. The Victorians dashed goalwards, but Hamilton, Scrutton, Richardson and Moriarty formed a solid barrier.”[5]

In the dying moments a seemingly goalbound kick from Brown was saved by the irrepessible O’Brien. Seconds later he final bell went with the scoreboard showing that South Australia had achieved victory by just 5 points, 10.11 (71) to 9.12 (66).

Goals - South Australia: Dewar 3; Scrutton 2; Curnow, Lewis, Stone   Victoria: Bayliss, Fergie, Lee 2; Boromeo, Haines, Herbert
Best - South Australia: Hamilton, Moriarty, Richardson, Trescowthick, Scrutton, Leahy   Victoria: O’Brien, Haines, Eike, Fergie, Ogden, Lee


[1] John Worrall in “The Australasian”, 5/6/20, page 21.

[2] Ibid, page 21.

[3] Ibid, page 21.

[4] Ibid, page 21.

[5] The “Mail”, 29/5/20, page 3.

Clarrie Scrutton (Sturt and SA)

​Hamilton Reigns Supreme - Interstate Match, 29th May 1920: VFL versus South Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Vic Thorp (Richmond and VFL)

Vic Richardson (Sturt and SA)

Albert Boromeo (Carlton and VFL)