Australian Rules football

A guide to researching history, players, matches and clubs

Great games you may have missed

When season 2020 has been shut down after one game in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic we felt it was a good time to experience some great games from the past that we have never seen.

Up until 1930 the premiership was decided under the Argus finals system. There were some variations but generally this handsomely rewarded the side that finished atop the ladder. If the top side won the preliminary final, they were crowned premiers. If the top side lost the preliminary final or their semi final they could challenge the preliminary final victor to decide the premiership.

In 1924 a very odd variation saw the four finalists play a round robin with six games played over three Saturday afternoons.  Essendon were declared premier having won two of their three finals with a superior points difference to Richmond on the same number of wins.

We have used the term 'grand final' for games prior to 1931 to indicate the match that decided the premiership.

Click on the tabs below to access each of the games.

1909 South Melbourne's first flag

In 1909 South Melbourne and Carlton, two of the powerhouses of the era, played off in a thriller. The Blues had won the previous 3 flags and had beaten South by 5 points in 1907. In 1909 South turned the tables, winning by 2 points.

It was the first Australian Rules football match to have significant film coverage and remarkably a 10 minute film of the grand final is available to view (see below).


  • at the time the Argus system of finals was in place. There were two semi finals and the winners played off in a preliminary final.
  • if the side that sat atop the ladder won the preliminary final they were premiers
  • if the top side lost the preliminary final (or had lost their semi final) they could challenge for a rematch to decide the premier.

Carlton, coming off three flags in a row, still found time for internecine internal battles with a late season coaching change. Despite this South and Carlton decisively accounted for Collingwood and Essendon respectively in their semi finals.

Carlton were comfortable 22 point victors in the preliminary final. However South Melbourne had finished on top of the ladder with the same number of wins as Carlton but a superior percentage, and therefore could challenge.

South lost three players from their preliminary final side, Jim Caldwell to suspension, Bill Dolphin and Dick Casey to injury. But in difficult, windy conditions, they won the final match by 2 points.

The grand final attendance was 37,759, slightly down on the preliminary final crowd of 42,418. At the time Melbourne's population was about 555,000 and Victoria's about 1.28 million.

Notable characters

Team captains Charlie Ricketts (South) Fred 'Pompey' Elliott (Carlton)

Team captains Charlie Ricketts (South) Fred 'Pompey' Elliott (Carlton) Leader 2 October 1909: p.29

Charlie Ricketts

South Melbourne captain coach Charlie Ricketts had been a star in the VFA with Richmond, playing in their 1905 premiership before moving to the VFL.

Despite leading South to their first flag in 1909, Ricketts was replaced as captain coach by team mate Bill Thomas for the 1910 and 1911 seasons. He was reinstated in 1912. He later played for and coached Richmond and then St Kilda.

Jack Worrall

Carlton triple premiership coach, Jack Worrall, had been a star footballer for Fitzroy (in the pre VFL days). He also played test cricket for Australia, including 2 Ashes series in England in 1888 and 1899.

Known as the 'Napoleon of Victorian football', he was the first real coach in the VFL and imposed professional standards. In an early address to his players he reputedly said:

Boys, booze and football don't mix. You’ve got to cut out one or the other. Players who prefer beer to eucalyptus will be struck off the list.

By 1909 some players were rebelling against his exacting requirements. This led to his late season resignation. He went on to coach Essendon to the 1911 and 1912 premierships, leaving the game a five time premiership coach.

Fred 'Pompey' Elliott

For the remainder of 1909 the coaching job fell to captain Fred 'Pompey' Elliott who had played in the 1906 and 1908 (captain) triumphs, missing 1907 through suspension.

Following his outstanding football career he enlisted in the AIF in 1915 and was wounded in France. The noted Australian military commander Harold Elliott was nicknamed 'Pompey' after the great footballer.

Norm 'Hackenschmidt' Clark

A Carlton player with a  rather more expansive nickname was Norm "Hackenschmidt" Clark. So impressed were his team mates with his physique that they nicknamed him after the famous Estonian wrestler Georg Hackenschmidt, who toured Australia in 1904.

Clark won the 1899 Stawell Gift and played in two premierships with North Adelaide prior to coming to Carlton. His combination of strength and pace made him a formidable opponent.

He was a member of Carlton's 1906-7-8 premierships and coached the Blues to the 1914 and 1915 premierships.

Vic Belcher

Vic Belcher was a member of the South Melbourne team defeated by Carlton in 1907. A key player in the 1909 victory, he played 226 games for South. In the 1912 grand final he was on the losing side to an Essendon team captained by his brother Allan (180 games).

At three quarter time in the 1918 grand final Collingwood, who had led all day, were up by 2 goals in a low scoring contest. Belcher went into the ruck and sparked a thrilling last minute South Melbourne victory.  Remarkably he was a boundary umpire for the 1921 grand final. In 1922 he coached Fitzroy to the premiership.

Arthur 'Poddy' Hiskins

Arthur Hiskins played 185 games for South Melbourne.  He was centre half forward in the 1909 grand final. Three brothers, Fred (Essendon), Rupert (Carlton) and Stan (Sth. Melb.) were all VFL footballers. Arthur (along with Stan and Rupert) interrupted his career to serve in World War 1. He was also a VFL goal umpire over 52 games between 1930 and 1933

Alf Gough

One of South's best in the grand final, Alf Gough shared roving duties with captain coach Ricketts. Dangerous up forward, he kicked the final goal that sealed the victory. He died young at only 42.

Arthur 'Shooter' Ford

Arthur Ford was a fine defender and member of the 1908 Carlton premiership team. He was also acting as club secretary and after a Carlton/Fitzroy match in 1910 he was reported for threatening an umpire. He was suspended for 12 months as both a player and official (later appealed). He returned to play a handful of games in 1911 and 1912.


Carlton and South Melbourne players from the 1909 grand final

Alf Gough (South); Norm "Hackenschmidt" Clark (Carlton) Weekly Times 30 July 1910 p.28; Vic Belcher (South) Football Record 6 September 1913 p.5; Arthur 'Shooter' Ford (Carlton) Weekly Times 13 August 1910 p.30;  Arthur 'Poddy' Hiskins (South) Weekly Times 6 August 1910 p.28;

The umpire

Jack Elder was appointed to his second grand final in 1909, the second of a consecutive grand final run from 1908-1913. Elder also umpired the premiership decider in 1918-1920 and 1922. HIs record of 39 finals appearances was only passed in 2018.

The Grand Final Football Record

  • no footy records on sale for this game unfortunately.The Football Record commenced publication in 1912

Statistics and players

  • there was not the detail of statistics that are collected now but the AFL Tables do contain the match details and great statistics about the players careers.

Melbourne & Victoria in 1909

For a social, economic and demographic picture of Melbourne and Victoria in 1909 see the Victoria Yearbook 1909.

Grand Final  Leader 2 October1909

Grand final action Carlton v. South Melbourne Leader  2 October 1909 p.29

In newspapers


Game day account



A  number of newspapers published a range of excellent photographs of the players and the crowd

The aftermath

The 1910 betting scandal

It was a tumultuous time for the Blues. In 1909 they were on the threshold of their fourth successive premiership but endured a mid-season player revolt resulting in the loss of their coach, Jack Worrall.

The following year on the eve of their semi final against South Melbourne, a betting scandal broke. Three players, Alex 'Bongo' Lang, Doug Fraser and Doug Gillespie, were hastily withdrawn from the semi-final side accused of accepting bribes to, in Lang's words, 'run the bye'.

Lang admitted accepting £10 but claimed he intended to 'turn the tables' by taking the money and then passing it to a friend to wager on a Carlton victory.

Lang and Fraser, despite protests of innocence, were both suspended for 5 years. Gillespie was exonerated. Remarkably Lang returned after serving his suspension, and played a further 15 games in 1916 and 1917.

LEague football scandal news headline

League football scandal Geelong Advertiser 26 September 1910: p.3

Needless to say South Melbourne won the semi final, but due to the anomalies of the finals system, Carlton still went through to the grand final having finished top of the ladder. Collingwood defeated South in the preliminary final and then defeated the Blues in the Grand Final.

While receiving some money to cover expenses, the players were not professional, despite the popularity of the game, and the money generated by gate receipts. As a result of the betting scandal and increasing suggestions of 'under the table' player payments, the League succumbed to pressure and in 1911 players could be officially paid.

See these articles for a detailed account:

Player payments and the great bribery scandal State Library Victoria blog post

‘Playing Dead’ and Killing Off Amateurism: Bribery Scandals, Illegal Player Payments, Rule Expunging, and the Victorian Football League’s Authorization of Professionalism in 1911, Tony Joel, Mathew Turner & Col HutchinsonThe International Journal of the History of Sport, 35:2-3, 173-195, 2018

Legitimizing amateur status using financial reports: Victorian football league clubs, 1909-1912. Abdel K Halabi,  Margaret Lightbody, Lionel Frost, and Amanda J. CarterAccounting History 21, (1) (02): 25-47, 2016.

South Melbourne went on to play in the 1912 grand final, but after finishing top of the ladder they lost to an inspired Essendon team, who won all their three finals, ironically under the coaching of Jack Worrall.

The game on film

Scenes from the grand final were captured by film exhibitor Charles Cozens Spencer. The film is the earliest known surviving footage of Australian Rules football action. It gives a unique insight into the game and the crowd. The film is held by the National Film & Sound Archive .

The South Melbourne jumpers haven't changed much apart from their sash being modified to a 'V' and then a yoke.

The Blues players surprisingly are wearing a mix of jumpers. Some players are wearing the older style guernsey without a monogram and with a light coloured yoke, others are in the dark navy with a monogram. The play itself looks quite modern, apart from the occasional place kick and a looser interpretation of the handball.


1909 - written by Andrew McConville, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

1924 Essendon (VFL) versus Footscray (VFA)  - the clash of premiers

The VFL 1924 season was the last without a grand final. For years there had been calls for the premiers of the two main competitions, the VFL and the VFA, to play off for a 'Championship of Victoria' and it was decided to arrange such a match at the end of 1924.


The match was played for the benefit of  Dame Nellie Melba's charity supporting limbless and tuburcular servicemen.

Each competition provided their best when it came to umpiring. Jack McMurray Snr had umpired the play-off final that confirmed Essendon's 1924 premiership. He would go on to umpire the next four VFL grand finals. For the VFA Jack Leheney took up the whistle following on from the 1924 VFA Grand Final. He would eventually transfer to the VFL for the VFL would umpire 62 matches as a field , 1 as a boundary and 21 as a goal umpire, The men shared the day's duties alternating quarters.

Pitting Essendon (VFL) against Footscray (VFA) the match proved both entertaining and contentious. Footscray, having had two weeks to train specifically for the match, ran out winners over an Essendon side reportedly coming to blows with each other in the rooms at half-time.

Allegations of some of the 'Same Olds' team playing dead were rife at the time and still being debated decades later.

Victorian Football Championhip. Essendon (VFL) versus Footscray (VFA)

Football match between Essendon and Footscray played on the MCG, The Australasian  11 October 1924: p.67. (Inset: captains Con McCarthy Footscray (at left) Syd Barker Essendon (at right)


The Football Record

See the footy record for the game including teams:

In the newspapers



Later conjecture and memoirs

Other journal articles

Notable players

Players can be searched on the Players page of the Australian Football website​


>Essendon Football team 1924

Essendon Football team 1924 (Wikipedia, public domain.)


1924 - written by David Flegg, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

1929  The Collingwood machine

Dubbed The Machine by the press, Collingwood dominated the competition from the mid 1920s to the late 1930s. Over that period the Pies contested 11 grand finals and won 6 premierships, including 4 successive wins from 1927 to 1930.

Amongst all that success their most remarkable year was 1929 when they completed the home and away season undefeated (the only club ever to  achieve that).  Surprisingly they then lost their semi final against Richmond by 10 goals. 

Thanks to the Argus finals system, Collingwood could challenge the preliminary final victor. The Pies won the brutal challenge match against Richmond to capture the premiership. 

The Game

Collingwood had lost decisively to Richmond in the semi-final but their top of the ladder season guaranteed them a spot in the grand final against the winner of the preliminary final. They rested as Richmond and Carlton fought a tight and gruelling contest for the grand final spot.

The Tigers prevailed by 6 points but captain Cyril 'Dooley' Lilburne, and Maurie Hunter, who had kicked 5 goals in the semi final and 3 against Carlton, were left struggling for fitness after the game.

Tiger pair Percy Bentley and Stan Ryan had smothered Syd Coventry in the semi final. For the grand final legendary Collingwood coach Jock McHale promoted raw boned ruckman Charlie Ahearn to absorb and counter the physical tactics of the Richmond rucks.

After his team was outpaced in the semi-final, McHale brought in speedy wing man Percy Bowyer to support centreman Jack Beveridge.

The Richmond defenders were able to contain Gordon Coventry, however Horrie Edmonds was given too much freedom and booted 5 goals.

Richmond forward Jack ‘Skinny’ Titus had starred with 5 goals in the semi final. This time close checking defender George Clayden went to Titus and held him goalless.

The Tigers kicked the first goal but the Pies raced to a 27 point lead at quarter time. From then on it was goal for goal with Collingwood recording a 29 point victory.

The newspapers named Billy Libbis and Leo Westcott as the Pies best. The Tigers got great drive from wingers Allan Geddes and Carl Watson, while Don Harris was a stalwart in defence.

Harris had been reported for striking in the preliminary final but the charge was not sustained. His opponent, Carlton's Tommy Downs, wasn't so lucky. He was reported twice for striking Harris and suspended for the following season. Downs had the dubious distinction of missing more games through suspension (60), than he played (56).

Harris played in three consecutive grand final losses for the Tigers, then swapped over to Collingwood, missing Richmond's 1932 triumph.

The umpire

Umpire Bob Scott had a good day with the whistle. It was the first of his seven consecutive grand finals. 


This was an outstanding Collingwood side driven by two sets of brothers, the Colliers and the Coventrys. Brownlow medalists Albert 'Leeter' Collier (1929) and his brother Harry (1930 - tied, awarded retrospectively) were 6 time premiership players. Harry captained the Pies in their 1935 and 1936 triumphs.

Syd Coventry also won a  Brownlow medal (1927) and was a 4 time premiership captain. His brother Gordon kicked an astonishing 1299 goals across 306 games including 5 premierships. He won the club goal kicking for 16 consecutive seasons.

The 1929 side also included the Murphy brothers. Although perhaps not in the Collier/Coventry class they were very fine players. Len played in 173 games and three premierships with Collingwood, while Frank played 145 games including four premierships.


Collingwood football team 1929

Names of Collingwood players 1929

Collingwood team 1929 The Australasian  1 June 1929: p.76.
Some of you may remember Bruce Andrew, (second from left, front row) as a panelist and judge of the kicking competition during the long run of Sunday afternoon sports show World of Sport.

Other notable players

In a surprise selection after the semi-final debacle, Collingwood brought in Charlie Ahern for his third game. His role was to protect Syd Coventry from the expected Tiger barrage. The tough Ahern did his job with such effect that Coventry singled him out in amongst the post match speeches. It was, though, Ahern's last game. He became ill shortly afterwards, passing away in April 1931.

Horace 'Tubby' Edmonds debuted in 1929. The Richmond defenders strenuously blanketed Gordon Coventry, who was held to 2 goals. This left room for Edmonds to boot 5. He was a member of the 1930 premiership side. Later he moved to the Tigers, and was part of their 1934 premiership.

Richmond's champion wingman Allan Geddes captained the Tigers in their 1927 grand final loss to Collingwood. He missed the 1928 grand final through suspension, but played in the 1929 loss. He played in four successive grand finals between 1931 and 1934, retiring with 2 wins (1932 and 1934) from 6 grand finals.

Caricatures of Richmond player Maurie Hunter and Collinwood's Gordon Coventry

Richmond's Maurie Hunter and Collingwood's Gordon Coventry.

The Grand Final Football Record

Statistics and players

  • there was not the detail of statistics that are collected now but the AFL Tables do contain the match details and great statistics about the players careers

Melbourne & Victoria in 1909

For a social, economic and demographic picture of Melbourne and Victoria in 1929 see the Victoria Yearbook 1929.

In the newspapers


Will Collingwood or Richmond win Premiership? Weekly Times 28 September 1929: p.92. 

Powerful sides opposed. The Age  27 September 1929: p.6.

The word from the captains Sporting Globe  25 September 1929: p.1

League grand final The Argus 25 September 1929: p.19.

Game day account

Winners superior at almost every point Sporting Globe 28 September 1929: p.1


Collingwood's treble The Age 30 September 1929: p.6.

Collingwood premiers, Richmond overwhelmed, scientific machine triumphs The Argus  30 September 1929: p.15.

Collingwood's revenge The Herald 30 September 1929: p.3.

Collingwood premiers The Australasian  5 October 1929: p.28.


Scenes from the football final The Argus 30 September 1929: p5.

Huge crowd witnesses Collingwood-Richmond grand final The Age  30 September 1929: p.6.

Wells sees the Magpies premiers The Herald  30 September 1929: p.3


Richmond football team 1929

Richmomd Football team 1929 player names

Richmond Football Team 1929 The Australasian 4 May 1929: p.76

Footage from the match

1929 - written by Andrew McConville, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

1932  Tigers in a thriller

This was one of the great grand finals. The lead changed several times in the ten goal last quarter, with the Tigers snatching the ascendancy in the final moments booting the last two goals of the game.


There were all sorts of connections between the sides, and some of the games great names were involved.

  • between 1927 and 1934 the Tigers played in 6 grand finals, with 1932 and 1934 their only victories.

The Strangs

Included in the Richmond team were the Strang brothers Doug and Geoff, part of a footballing dynasty.

  • their father was South Melbourne player Bill Strang
  • two brothers Colin (St Kilda) and Alan (South Melbourne)  also played a handful of VFL games.
  • John Perry (a nephew) and Geoff Strang (Doug's son) both were part of Richmond's 1967 triumph, Geoff also played in Richmond's 1969 flag winning team.

The Gills

  • Carlton champion defender Frank Gill was uncle to Carlton players John and Barry Gill (a member of the Blues 1968 and 1970 flags)

The coaches

  • Richmond coach 'Checker' Hughes had played in the premierships of 1921 and 1922 for the Tigers.
    • he endured four grand final losses as coach prior to the 1932 victory
    • he left the club after the 1932 season to take up the reins at Melbourne where he added 4 more premierships to his CV
    • in a bizarre turn of events, having retired after the 1948 Melbourne premiership, he returned in 1965 to coach one more game when legendary coach, (and 1948 captain), Norm Smith was sacked (only to be reinstated a week.later).
  • Dan Minogue, the Carlton coach, had captain-coached the Tigers to the 1921 and 1922 flag wins.

Percy Bentley & Jack Dyer

  • injury cost young Tiger star Jack Dyer a spot in the grand final side
  • Richmond captain Percy Bentley, after a distinguished career as player and coach of the Tigers, went on to coach the Blues 281 times including the 1945 and 1947 flags
  • he left Richmond after a rumoured falling out with Jack Dyer

The umpire

Umpire Bob Scott, umpiring his fourth grand final, performed creditably and with the the exception of a pair of reports passed mostly unnoticed.

The Argus, of course had the usual back-handed compliment commenting "Generally his display was satisfactory, and the onlookers enjoyed the way in which he gave the players their heads. One wondered, however, if the 'hold the man, hold the ball' rule had been deleted from the book of rules."

The Grand Final Football Record

If you are going to follow the game and mark down all the goals, you need your footy record

Melbourne & Victoria in 1932

For a social, economic and demographic picture of Melbourne and Victoria in 1932 see the Victoria Yearbook 1932.

Scores, statistics and players

There was not the detail of statistics that are collected now but the AFL Tables do contain the match details.

In the newspapers


Game day account

  • Richmond overpowers Carlton to win The Herald 1 October 1932: p.3
    • the Blues grabbed the lead twice in the last quarter but each time the Tigers came back with Jack Titus sealing the match in the final minutes.

After the game

Argus 1 October 1932 p19 illustration of grand final players

"The two captains, and four leading players on each side, are shown, with an aerial view of the Melbourne Cricket-ground as a background."

The Argus 1 October 1932 p19

Richmond team 1933

Richmond Football Team 1933. H2008.122/20

Many members of the victorious 1932 outfit are in the picture. For details of the players see the notes section at the bottom of the catalogue record. A very young Jack Dyer is picture second from left, top row. Jack starred in the early part of the 1932 season but a knee injury kept him out of the latter games including the grand final.


1932 - written by Andrew McConville, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

1938  Blues in front of a record crowd

After enduring 23 years without a premiership, the Blues managed to defeat their arch rival Collingwood. Carlton led all day, but the Pies kept coming, getting within 4 points late in the final quarter. The Blues steadied with a goal to Jack Hale. A late sealer from Ken Baxter gave Carlton a solid 15 point victory.

The game took place in front of a then record crowd of 96,834. This was an extraordinary crowd at a time when Melbourne's population was 1 million and Victoria's population 1.87 million.

Carlton Football Club circa 1939, containing most of the players from the Premiership Year.

Carlton Football Club circa 1939, containing most of the players from the Premiership Year. See the catalogue record notes for names.


Carlton had finished the season on top, the Magpies won through to the grand final from fourth place. There were great names on both sides.The Pies side, under legendary coach Jock McHale, included Phonse Kyne, Jack Regan, Marcus Whelan, Albie Pannam and Albert Collier.

A pivotal contest was Carlton's Jack Hale taking on Collingwood's young champion Des Fothergill. Fothergill had debuted the previous year when only 16 and won Collingwood's best and fairest in his first two years. In the grand final Jack Hale prevailed and was named best afield.

Fothergill won another best and fairest and a Brownlow medal in 1940 before leaving to play for big-spending Williamstown in the VFA. He served in the Army during World War 2, returning to Collingwood for his last three seasons.

Jack Hale retired in 1941 after badly breaking his leg. He was coach of Hawthorn from 1952 to 1959. He handed over to John Kennedy, having helped set up the foundations for sustained success.

Carlton's star full forward Harry Vallence, at age 33, was playing his last game for the Blues. Collingwood full forward Ron Todd ended the season with 120 goals (including finals). He had kicked 18 goals in the two meetings with Carlton during the season and came into the grand final after an 11 goal haul in the preliminary final.

One of the keys to the grand final was how the Carton defence would contain Todd. Jim Park, well supported by Frank Gill, held Todd to three goals. Todd managed 121 goals in 1939 before controversially transferring to VFA club Williamstown after five seasons in the VFL. There he joined forces with Harry Vallence. The two great full forwards managed 210 goals between them in the 1940 VFA season. Williamstown, though, having finished top, lost both their finals.

Carlton's Jim Park enlisted in the Army in 1941, and in 1943 was killed in action.

Carlton captain-coach Brighton Diggins was originally from Western Australia. He came to Victoria to play with the South Melbourne 'foreign legion', (thus named because of the club's aggressive interstate recruiting).  Diggins was an integral part of South's famous 1933 premiership.  He came to Carlton in 1938 and proved to be an inspirational leader.

The Carlton team included Rod McLean and Bob Chitty, two of the league's most intimidating players. Rod McLean's son Ricky played for Carlton and Richmond, and his grandson, Brock, played for Melbourne and Carlton.

A strong contributor in the 1938 grand final, Bob Chitty also captained the Blues in the 1945 'bloodbath' grand final. He received an 8 week suspension for an incident in that game. Following his retirement he played the role of Ned Kelly in 1951 feature film, The Glenrowan Affair.

  • see this overview of the match from the Carlton history site the Blueseum

The umpire

Bill Blackburn, nearing the end of stellar on-field career, had the whistle. All his experience came to play and he held everything in control. He was given a great reception and general acclamation as he made his way to the dressing rooms after the match. 

The Grand Final Football Record

Melbourne & Victoria in 1938

For a social, economic and demographic picture of Melbourne and Victoria in 1938 see the Victoria Yearbook 1938.

Scores, statistics and players

  • there was not the detail of statistics that are collected now but the AFL Tables do contain the match details.

4 Carlton premiership players

4 members of the 1938 Carlton premiership team.
Jack Carney H2008.122/164, Jack Hale H2008.122/137, Paul Schmidt H2008.122/133 and Cresswell 'Mickey' Crisp H2008.122/163.

In the Newspapers


Game day account


The grand final on film

Brief footage from the 1938 grand final, (courtesy of the Carlton Football Club)

Player interview

In an interview with Tony De Bolfo,1938 Carlton premiership player Don McIntyre shares his memories of the game, (courtesy of the Carlton Football Club.)

Don was a 100 game player and won the club best and fairest in 1937. Read more about his life and career at the Blueseum

1938 - written by Andrew McConville, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

1944 Wartime grand final - Fitzroy versus Richmond.

The 1944 grand final was played under the shadows of - with hindsight -  the closing stages of World War 2.

Melbourne in wartime

Newspapers from this time are full of the stories and pictures of war, with football a minor player. Decisive moments in 1944 included D-Day, the liberation of Paris and pushing Japan out of Burma. The Battle for Arnhem was fought in the last days of September, ending in defeat and heavy casualties for the allies.

While Australia was remote from the European theatres of war, the entry of Japan into the war, conflicts opening in South East Asia and New Guinea, and the bombing of Darwin in February 1942 made war a more immediate presence for those not already involved through connection with service people. Both world wars had huge impacts on every aspect of home front life, and the running of the football competition was no exception. There were no Brownlow medals awarded 1942-45, and Geelong left the competition due to transporting issues 1942-43. The 1944 season however, was able to include the full 18 rounds.

Manufacturing and industry grew as they focused on supporting the war effort, "normal" life was curtailed as rationing was introduced, sporting events reduced  and citizens participation in war efforts took peoples time.

The shortage of manpower allowed women to become active participants in the paid workforce outside their more traditional occupations - such as becoming tram conductresses and taking up service roles. They also went to the football!
Newspapers traditional Monday wedding photographs section often included the participants in uniform and the imperative of contributing to the national war effort saw recipes, vegetable gardening, crafts revolved around stretching resources become regular features.

On the home-front: Melbourne in war time.
War: domestic mobilisation
Year book 1944-45
Wartime recipes.

wartime melbourne, marching soldiers, planting onions, putting up blackout curtains, wartime recipes

17th Brigade marching through Melbourne. H98.100/2751; Workmen planting onions which will give seed for Britain. H99.201/306; Blackout preparations in Melbourne during World War II. H99.201/4014

The players

Many players served in the forces and somehow managed to fit some games in. There were also games played amongst troops while overseas - notably the Changi League, under the tutelage of Wilfred 'Chicken" Smallhorn, Fitzroy champion and prisoner of war.

It was a very successful year as both Fitzroy first and seconds won their grand finals, playing as the Gorillas - their nickname changed to the Lions in 1957. It was to be their last of eight grand final wins as the Fitzroy Football Club.  Premiership success was achieved by the Brisbane Lions 2001-2003.

Richmond has had 60 players in uniform  The Australasian. 13 May 1944, p.11
Maroons are bidding for 1944 premiership. The Australasian. 27 May 1944, p.8
VFL players killed in action
Football and World War 2


Richmond had won the flag in 1943, after these two teams met in the preliminary final. After a tight season in 1944, Richmond finished top of the ladder and arrived at the grand final after beating Essendon in the preliminary final. This game was nearly derailed due to the  suspension of Richmond player Jack Broadstock for 8 matches on the charge of having hacked (kicked) - or attempted to - Fitzroy player Noel Price. The players determined to forfeit their next game - the preliminary final against Essendon. The club responded by saying the seconds would play and so the firsts relinquished, but demanding that there be an appeals process established - as for other codes - to protect players. Richmond went on to beat Essendon 16.12 (108) to - 12.15 (87) with Jack Dyer kicking 9 goals.

Fitzroy finished the season 2nd on the ladder by a slim percentage. In the second semi-final they ran out 11 point winners over Richmond and  went straight into the grand final. Coach Hughson stated that his side approached the game "fighting fit, and full of confidence."

The location for the game was problematic as the MCG had became Camp Murphy, home to American and Australian forces from 1942 to 1945. The game was ultimately played at the St Kilda Cricket ground (Junction Oval) on a blisteringly hot September day in front of a crowd of 43,000. A tram strike over lack of staff added to complications, with fans packing on trains to get to the ground.

In the papers

Maroons are bidding for 1944 premiership. Australasian, 27 May 1944, p.27
Fitzroy goes to grand final Beats Richmond in Hard Bumping Game. The Age. 18 September 1944, p.4
Richmond for pennant. Football ends today. The Argus, 30 September 1944, p.14
Richmond and Fitzroy have powerful sides. The Age. 29 September 1944, p.6

The umpires

The umpire for the grand final was Eric Hawkins. He umpired 141 matches, including 12 finals in a row, with this game, his last. The boundary umpires were Norman Batty and Lindsay Lancaster, and goal umpires Thomas Nicholson and Leslie Whyte.

Football record

Grand final between Richmond and Fitzroy.
As well as information on the players, there was coverage of preceding finals games and other articles of interest, including the lament in the Today and Yesterday column "there does not seem the same desire for players to keep to their allotted position as in the past."

Football record grand final Richmond and Fitzroy 1944

Fitzroy Richmond grand final football record




This game had two captains/coaches playing in  Jack "Captain Blood" Dyer from Richmond and Fred Hughson of Fitzroy. It was a tight game in with narrow margins at the breaks, but significant in the hot and blustery conditions. Dyer who had been unwell during the week was unable to match his preliminary final contribution and Fitzroy kicked some handy goals to be 12 points in front at half time (Stackpole and Sier) and 11 at three quarter time (Symons) with the advantage of kicking with the wind in the final quarter. Their strong defence, keeping an out of form Dyer out of the goal count was matchwinning.

The Gorillas ran out winners by 15 points to win their first flag since 1922.

Match statistics  

See the AFL Tables for details of the game and the season


Fitzroy wins in jubilee year. The Age. 2 October 1944, p.6.
Premiership won by Fitzroy. Too sound for Richmond. The Argus. 2 October 1944, p.12.
Fitzroy's 1000 pound premiership. The Herald. 2 October 1944, p.10.

After the game, many fans went on foot to the Brunswick Street Oval to celebrate. In these days of amateur football, supporters donated to a fund to pay the victorious players - over 350 pounds was collected and handed over to players in envelopes the following Thursday.

Fitzroy Football Club, 1944

The 1944 grand final team and support crew. (Wikimedia Commons.)


Noel Jarvis, Fitzroy Football Club

Noel Jarvis - played on the wing in Fitzroys' firsts and seconds grand final in 1944. H2008.122/116


Fitzroy 1883-1996 Carol Porter

Fitzroy 1883-1996 by Carol Porter. H2006.155/1

Featuring Haydn Bunton at the Brunswick Street Oval, Fitzroy's home ground 1897-1966. Bunton was a star rover for Fitzroy, winning the coveted Brownlow medal in his first 2 years with the club.

1944 - written by Jane Miller, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

1949  a Bomber star is born

John Coleman was a flash of full forward genius playing for Essendon 1949-1954. After injury forced him out of the game he returned to coach 1961-1967 -  taking the club to 2 flags against Carlton in 1962 and St Kilda in 1965.

After a sensational start to his playing career for Hastings, Coleman was cleared the Thursday night before his first game to play for Essendon. After kicking the opening goal of the match, Coleman added another 11 against Hawthorn at Windy Hill in a stunning debut. He went on to kick 100 goals in his first season, the 100th in the grand final against Carlton. And to cap this achievement off, won the clubs best and fairest.

This game had such a sense of possibility and hope for the future with a gun full forward in the side. Coleman's presence in the team increasingly exercised minds on how to limit his influence on the game.

Kicking an average of over 5 goals a game, Coleman would be a handy addition to any side, plus exceptional marking, ball gathering skills and accuracy made him a memorable player to witness.

The Argus Weekend magazine 17 September 1949, page 1.

Football Record

For recording your stats and keeping track of players - and something to read at half time - from Round 1, April 16 1949.
The plethora of statistics that now inform the aficionados and commentators were not taken back in 1949, but the AFL Tables do contain the match details.


The first round of the 1949 season took place over the Easter weekend.  Essendon  finished in 1948 at the top of the ladder, then lost to Melbourne in the grand final with Hawthorn finishing in 11th spot. Captain-coach Dick Reynolds recovered from a training injury to take the field, the rest of the team playing as listed.

Hawthorn struggled early against a full forward who kicked 12 of the Bombers 18 goal haul. Their fast running game, tried to upset the position play of the more experienced Essendon side. The loss of ruckman Boys due to a leg injury in the first quarter added to the challenge for the Hawks. Essendon's defence could hold out Hawthorn attacks, and they ran out 63 point winners.

The umpire

The VFL's youngest ever field umpire at the time Harry Beitzel had the whistle. After his umpiring career he would go on to media stardom that ultimately saw him elected to the AFL Hall of Fame.

Sporting Globe. 16 April 1949, p.6.


Coleman's mark. The Age. 1 June 1953, p.16. Leaping over North Melbourne full-back V.Lawrence.


Only a few snippets of footage survive - this video combines footage with memories from past Essendon players.
John Coleman tribute - Essendon Football Club

In the Newspapers

Coleman's 12-goal debut The Herald, 16 April 1949. p.15
Coleman the answer to a coach's dream  The Argus,18 April 1949, p. 5
Coleman sure to be a menace The Sporting Globe. 20 April 1949, p.10
Recruit kicks 12 goals for Essendon  The Sporting Globe.16 April 1949, p.10


Coleman's football career was cut short by an injury that today could probably have been treated to allow him to continue playing. After retiring as coach at the end of the 1967 season, he retired to the Mornington Peninsula, concentrating on his hotel business. He died, suddenly of a coronary atheroma on 5 April, 1973.

At 20, he's the idol of thousands - my football story by John Coleman. The Herald. 17 September 1949, p.13
John Coleman - Australian dictionary of biography.
John Coleman - from Australian Football


Lis Johnson. John  Coleman statue.
Unveiled in 2013, Coleman's statue is one of a series of champion sporting figures encircling the Melbourne Cricket Ground.


Essendon Football ground - Windy Hill, home ground for the Essendon Football Club, 1922-1991. H2013.30/61

1949 - written by Jane Miller, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

1975 Kangaroos break VFL premiership drought

Having suffered the ignominy of drawing or losing their only grand final appearances during their 50 years in the VFL North Melbourne looked for their first ever flag in their golden anniversary in the competition.

North had finished last in 1972 but recruited successfully in the ensuing years. Despite finishing runners-up in 1974 they started poorly losing six of their first nine matches but fought on to finish third after the home and away matches. Since the institution of the final four in 1931 no team had ever won the flag from that spot on the ladder. Would North bring joy to their supporters?


Graham Melrose (broken thumb) was the only change from a North Melbourne side fresh from a preliminary final victory over Richmond while Hawthorn were unchanged from the second semi-final.

Ron Barassi pulled a pre-match change relegating Barry Goodingham to the bench and sending Garry Farrant to centre-half back unbalancing Hawthorn. North's 'little men' were crucial on the day making it difficult for Hawthorn to apply their vaunted defensive pressure.

From Burns (NM) opening goal from inside the centre square the ball moved swiftly around the ground. Brent Crosswell (NM) dominated the first quarter, his early season recruitment from Carlton indicated he was far from the spent force the Blues believed. Only the brilliance of a young Peter Knights kept the Hawks in it as they went in 20 points down a the half.

A tight third-quarter saw North lead by 29 points at the final break but perhaps the most important moment in the third term was the injury to Kelvin Moore, the Hawthorn full-back. He limped from the field and from that point on Hawthorn struggled manfully through the first part of the last quarter but an avalanche of six goals from Briedis (3), Schimmelbusch, Wade and Feltham in a ten minute span sealed the result - 19.8 (122) to 9.13 (67).

The speed of the play up and down the ground put enormous physical pressure on the one field umpire, Kevin Smith. While he performed excellent it was also the last time one man had control of a VFL match. The league introduced the two-umpire system in 1976.

To quote Graeme Atkinson in The complete book of VFL finals (1989 ed.) ... "the scenes of jubilation amongst the North Melbourne supporters were a never-to-be-forgotten sight. It had been a long, long wait, and the fruits of victory were sweet indeed".

The Grand Final Football Record

Melbourne & Victoria in 1975

For a social, economic and demographic picture of Melbourne and Victoria in 1975 see the Victoria Yearbook 1975.

Scores, statistics and players

  •  AFL Tables list the match details.and player statistics

North Melbourne players with 1975 premiership cup

North Melbourne players with Premiership Cup H2010.108/38. L-R: Paul Feltham, David Dench, Sam Kekovich, Garry Farrant, Ross Henshaw, Doug Wade, Mick Nolan, Frank Gumbleton and Wayne Schimmelbusch. Rennie Ellis collection. Australian rules football.

In the newspapers


North close to first VFL flag. The Canberra Times,September 27 1975 p. 36.


North's flag - Blues blunder (and other reportage). The Age 29 September 1975 p.24.
Flag is a dream come true (and other reportage). The Age 29 September 1975 p.22.
North wins first VFL title (1975, September 29). The Canberra Times 29 September 1975 p.12.
Forty years on ... Cable talks about 'Roos first flag The West Australian, 1 May 2015.


Local Melbourne photographer, Rennie Ellis, was at the match. HIs photographs from the day are available via the library catalogue.


Ron Barassi - North Melbourne coach, future AFL Hall of Fame legend 
John Kennedy Sr. - Hawthorn coach, who would later coach North Melbourne. His stirring half-time 'Do something' speech can be read and heard on Speakola
Mick Nolan - North Melbourne ruckman AKA 'The Galloping Gasometer'
Leigh Matthews - Hawthorn rover, who would later coach Collingwood and Brisbane to premierships.

Match highlights and documentaries

Footage of the first 16 minutes of the 1975 VFL Grand Final


The Final Story: 1975 – North Melbourne vs Hawthorn

1975 - written by David Flegg, Digital Access & Family History Team, State Library of Victoria

Games at a glance

1909 Grand Final

South Melb. 0.5    2.9   4.12   4.14

0.5    2.9   3.11   4.12




1924 VFL versus VFA

Footscray 2.3   3.4   5.8   9.12 
Essendon 3.1   3.5   3.8   4.12



1929 Grand Final

Collingwood 6.3   7.6   9.6  11.13

2.0   3.3   5.5   7.8




1932 Grand Final

Richmond 3.3    7.9   8.12  13.14
Carlton 2.3    5.6   7.11  12.11



1938 Grand Final

Carlton 3.2    7.6   11.9   15.10
Collingwood 3.1    4.4    8.5    13.7



1944 Grand Final

Fitzroy 1.2    4.8    6.10  9.12

2.3    3.2     5.5    7.9




1949 Round 1

Essendon 7.3   11.7   14.9  18.12
Hawthorn 1.1    4.2    5.2    9.3



1975 Grand Final

North Melb. 4.2     9.2     12.6     19.8
Hawthorn 2.2     5.6     7.7     9.3
Attendance 110,551