Part 4 – A popular routine
The first Grand Final of the 1960’s proved to be a portent of things to come when Collingwood limped to an embarrassing total of 2.2.14 against its nemesis Melbourne. Team score averages now hovered around the low to mid-70 range during a period where Ted Fordham’s 76 goals in 1966 was the high water mark for forwards.
The immediate impact of 17yo blond bombshell Carl Ditterich in 1963 revitalised the game somewhat, as did Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer as he ambled around the ground pinpointing better placed teammates with 30 yard handballs. At the other end of the spectrum, ball magnets Baldock, Skilton, Stewart and Goggin played the game at a level above.
With the likes of EJ, Barry ‘Hooker’ Harrison, Ken Boyd and Big Nick doing the rounds, the VFL remained a physical, at times brutal sport. Lone umpires and cameras obviously missed a lot, however jungle law still prevailed and retribution was usually just around the corner (of an opponent’s elbow). The most infamous hit was perpetrated by Collingwood’s Duncan Wright on John Somerville in the ’65 Prelim. Wright claimed provocation and was interrogated by police before a League investigation. Ultimately it would be Wright’s club that decided his fate, cutting him loose at the end of the next pre-season.
“Get up you weak bastard.”
Hawk skipper Graham Arthur to teammate Garry Young (perforated bowel)
Despite continued poor conditions, an often stodgy brand of football and ‘shocking and consistently bad crowd behaviour’ (according to a visiting US journalist in 1961), attendances continued to average around 26,000 (the 28,173 figure in 1962 wasn’t surpassed until 1993). What was the secret? Affordability? Accessibility? Stability? Lack of alternative entertainment?
Fans themselves may have played a role by raising the sense of theatre when they began forming cheer squads. Whereas goals were customarily greeted with minimal fanfare, a carnivalesque celebration entailing floggers, banners, streamers and ‘snow’ (cut up phone books) rose in popularity, especially come finals time.
The onset of television, football replays and shows such as Football Inquest, World of Sport and League Teams was certainly a game changer. Distant, unknowable football heroes were suddenly up close and personal. Nonetheless, administrators were wary of TV’s potential to negatively impact gate revenue, rejecting a 17,550 pound offer from three stations to broadcast final quarters in 1961. The Grand Final was broadcast that year – but not until 4.45pm.
Perhaps it was the one-on-one contests within closely fought contests that captivated crowds. North, South and Richmond were mostly mediocre and Fitzroy suffered an abysmal decline (14 wins in 1960 to 6 wins across 1963-66), however within just 7 years the rest of the competition’s fans enjoyed Grand Final action and five teams the ultimate joy. In fact the only time a club competed in consecutive deciders was St Kilda in 1965-66. The 1964 regular season in particular enjoyed an exceptional climax when Hassa Mann’s miracle major during time-on saw Melbourne finish top and consign Hawthorn to fifth. Had the shot missed the combatants’ final standing would have been reversed. Ultimately it was two freakish goals (Mann and Crompton) that enabled the Demons to claim the cup.
“I’m aiming to mould the perfect team. No one has achieved this yet but if you aim high enough I think you have a better chance of success.”
– New Carlton captain-coach Ron Barassi
On the back of John Kennedy’s play-on at all costs method, football romantics savoured Hawthorn’s first premiership in 1961. Few would have guessed the heart stopping grand final of ’64 would serve as the Demons’ last hurrah. Ron Barassi leaving the blue bloods for the Blues and the (temporary) sacking of Norm Smith the following season were earth shattering events that changed the course of the Dees’ history. Barry Breen’s wobbly point that secured the Saints’ first and only flag by the barest of margins in 1966 is football folklore. Their fans’ reaction was a far cry from when the club moved to Moorabbin from the Junction Oval just the year before (supporters rallied at the president’s Moorabbin home).
John Kennedy and Tom Hafey pioneered an emphasis on raising fitness levels but to be honest, whilst the introduction of TV coverage was a giant leap forward, watching surviving footage is hard going compared to what was to follow.
Many a good footballer opted to ply their trade for more pay or a better job in the country while the VAFA boasted League level talent unwilling to put their bodies (and professional livelihood) at risk in the VFL’s rough and tumble.
Rudimentary recruiting and training methods were still in vogue and clubs were prone to losing track of players between seasons. Preparation for games entailed chowing down on a big steak. A player as accomplished as Murray ‘Wild Man’ Weideman took up professional wrestling in 1962 to earn a decent quid. It’s similarly hard to believe Saints champion Neil Roberts played his first five years for nix to maintain his amateur status (so he could compete in surf lifesaving events).
A would-be star might be offered a persuasive sign-on ‘inducement’ (no cash allowed, supposedly) but thereafter it was rations. Players played because they loved the game. Whilst footballers were by and large happier than today’s heavily burdened lot, until they became organised, they would continue to be poorly remunerated and poorly treated once the final siren sounded on their careers.
So, was 1960-66 a golden age? In modern day footballer-speak, I’d be inclined to proffer a ‘yeah, nah’.
1960 Melbourne v Collingwood Grand Final
1961 Hawthorn v Footscray Grand Final
1962 Essendon v Carlton Grand Final
1963 Geelong v Hawthorn Grand Final
1964 Melbourne v Collingwood Grand Final
1965 Essendon v St Kilda Grand Final
1966 St Kilda v Collingwood Grand Final
Part 5: Rocking the suburbs (1967-1976)