AFLW Round 3 – GWS v Fremantle: Sharp plays key role in 43-all draw
Tuesday June 22, 1987
Fitzroy vs South Melbourne
Brunswick Street Oval
The first draw in VFL/AFL history was played out between Fitzroy and South Melbourne, 120 years ago, in Round 7 of the 1897 VFL season. The two games the sides played in that first season were both thrillers – this, the first, ended with the scores tied at 43 a piece. The second was played at what is now Lakeside Stadium, where South Melbourne triumphed by a single behind – 3.12.30 to 4.5.29.
Round 7 in 1897 contained a couple of other firsts. All four games were played on a Tuesday, the first time that VFL/AFL games were played on a day other than Saturday. The Argus ran a four-page special commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria on the day in question, which likely explains why it was celebrated as a holiday and hence, why football was played. There’s no real formal note of this fact, however, aside from a statement in the regular edition of The Argus, which mentioned that the day was ‘observed as a holiday in the produce and import trade generally’. The date also marks the first game played at Princes Park, where Collingwood beat Carlton by a kick – 6.5.41 to 5.5.35.
Both Fitzroy and South Melbourne went into this first Tuesday game after bruising encounters just 3 days prior. With rain sweeping much of Victoria, Fitzroy travelled to Corio Oval to play Geelong and lost a bizarre affair by sixteen points. A delayed train meant that the game was completed in near-darkness. On occasion, the players were heard to exclaim ‘I thought you were them!’. One can only imagine how the poor umpires fared. The final scores were tallied up under the light of matches beneath the scoreboard, which may have taken some time, given Geelong kicked 3.13 to the Roys 2.3. South Melbourne’s game saw them defeated by Essendon, 1.13.19 to 2.4.16. They had fancied themselves prior to the game, and probably considered their loss an opportunity missed, given the Dons played without three of their key men.
And so, to the draw itself. The venue was Brunswick Street Oval. There are no recorded crowd numbers, however, The Argus states that ‘there were not a great many people’ present. Five straight defeats had seemingly sapped the enthusiasm from the faithful fans of the Fitzroy Football Club. The game was close all day. That said, the quality of the football left a bit to be desired. South Melbourne were guilty of holding on to the ball too long, whilst Fitzroy were guilty of holding onto the man. With scores level at 33-apiece just before three-quarter time, South Melbourne goaled, only for their lead to be slowly stripped away by six consecutive Fitzroy behinds.
The finale? Well, it seems this wasn’t just the first draw, but also, the first time that the age-old dream of every footy kid became a reality – except, it didn’t quite go to plan. With just three minutes to play, South Melbourne held a slender lead of two points, but the Roys rallied. J. Grace hit the post, cutting the margin to just a point. Shortly after, Sharp, who had been a poised presence for Fitzroy all day, marked in front of goal, just as the bell (I’m assuming sirens weren’t invented yet) rang. Another milestone on a day already full of them – this was the first AFL/VFL game in which the result hinged on a kick after the final bell, whistle, siren, or air horn from the two-pence shop down the road. Sharp, of course, couldn’t provide the fairytale ending favoured by kids and instead gave the neutrals a reason to smile. He kicked a behind, and a historic first drawn league game was recorded.
Fitzroy ? ? (33)? 5.13 (43)
South Melbourne ? ? (39)? 5.13 (43)
South Melbourne: ?
Fitzroy: D.Moriarty, Sharp, Hickey, Banks, G. Moriarty, Sloan, M’Kay,
South Melbourne: Adamson, Windley, Pleass
3. Adamson (South Melbourne) 2. D.Moriarty (Fitzroy), 1. Sharp (Fitzroy)
The information above was pieced together using various copies of, and articles from, The Argus, available via the National Library of Australia
Fast forward 120 years and we’re back in 2017. The competition is now national. Fitzroy is now the Brisbane Lions and South Melbourne is now the Sydney Swans. A game on a Tuesday is still unusual but Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays are now regular parts of the fixture. We’ve had a few draws, since that first one – even some in Grand Finals. Isaac Smith kicked for goal last year in the first week of the finals and missed, just like Sharp missed for Fitzroy. Unfortunately for Smith, his team were further behind and so his kick didn’t even tie the scores.
There’s something else, too. Women are playing footy. Not just in parks, or in local leagues, but in a national competition. On Saturday, two new women’s teams, from relatively new clubs, faced off – Fremantle, from the west of the country, and GWS, from the west of Sydney.
For Fremantle, a woman by the name of Sharp kicked 3.2 from a half-forward flank, a rather wonderful coincidence. The Dockers had the upper hand for much of the day, but their inaccuracy in front of goal let them down. The whole game came down to a final bit of action in front of the GWS goal, after a controversial free kick for a late and high bump on the 50-metre arc. The ball was driven long to the top of the goal square, but Freo marked and eventually cleared. The siren sounded and everywhere, players collapsed to their haunches or placed their hand on their heads in disbelief. The scoreboard read: GWS 7.1 (43) – 6.7 (43) Freo. Another first played out, in a season of them. By now, you’ll probably have realized that a 43-all draw sounds oddly familiar…
We all like to play with the idea that Footy Gods have some sort of omniscient control over the footy landscape. Sometimes, things just don’t make sense – like that ball the ran away from Stephen Milne in yet another memorable draw. It would be easy to dismiss these two 43-all draws, 120 years apart, as a spooky statistical anomaly, those Footy Gods just having a laugh at our expense. That said, I think there’s a reminder brought to bear because of this odd coincidence. Scores in that 1897 season were generally low. Many of the games I read about were even lower scoring than that first draw. Since that Fitzroy v South Melbourne game, there have been 155 more draws in VFL/AFL men’s games. Only 8 have had lower scores than the first and 6 of those were played before 1910. The scoring, of course, has gradually increased as the men’s competition has moved forwards. A 43-all draw, in men’s footy, now seems like little more than a statistic from a bygone era. But imagine if we’d foolishly dismissed the game then, as too low scoring, not entertaining enough, with skills too poor to be worthy of our attention. There wouldn’t be any footy, and we’d all be searching for some other way to kill time on a Saturday afternoon… I’m glad we stuck at it.
Greater Western Sydney 0.0 2.0 5.0 7.1 (43)
Fremantle 1.3 3.5 5.5 6.7 (43)
Greater Western Sydney: McWilliams 2, Barclay, Brush, Nguyen, Walker, Schmidt,
Fremantle: Sharp 3, Phillips, Donnellan, Barr.
Greater Western Sydney: McKinnon, Barr, Tompkins, Dal Pos, Swanson
Fremantle : Donnellan, Filocamo, O’Sullivan, Sharp, Antonio, Miller
UMPIRES: Garroway, Barr, O’Brien CROWD: 4,000
OUR VOTES: 3. Sharp (Freo), 2. Barr (GWS), 1. Filocamo (Freo)