They’re a weird mob: a South Australian attends the 1950 VFL Grand Final

In 1961, Robert Heinlein wrote his science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, about a human, born and raised in Mars by Martians, who returns to earth and interacts with the alien environment with which he is confronted. It should come as no surprise then that he drew his inspiration from an event 11 years earlier when a person by the name of L.T.A. Good left Adelaide’s comfortable confines to experience Melbourne’s slavering hordes. More specifically to see how they did Grand Final footy.

Remember 1950? Well, no, demographically most of us don’t. However, in 1950 the VFL to a South Australian was merely scores in the newspaper and seconds of footage on the occasional Cinesound Movietone newsreel. The last time South Australians had seen the Victorian football team in the flesh had been at the national carnival in 1930. So the VFL and its Grand Final was indeed a mystery to a Good man of Adelaide in 1950.,

Thankfully, Mr Good recorded his experiences of attending the 1950 VFL Grand Final between Essendon and North Melbourne and transcribed said experiences for publication by the News. Here is the full page spread in all its glory (courtesy of that national treasure Trove, all images used in this piece are drawn from the 28 September 1950 edition of the News, Adelaide’s evening newspaper).

First thing’s first, please help us with our ongoing battle with drosophila and the only white maggot that a self respecting South Australian should be worried about. Secondly, any young men in need of a career should head down to the Bank of Australasia on King William Street immediately; good luck finding it though! Now, I don’t expect you to don the eyeglasses to read the page in its entirety, so some larger excerpts follow.

Initially our Good South Australian notes that, while the game we play is the same, many of the trimmings are different.

 

Intrigued? What does he mean by “preliminaries” and “accessories”? Well, firstly, Victorians seem to have an unnatural obsession with the umpire’s shiny balls. Can any Victorians enlighten us as to what was going on here?

 

Then, while the umpire has all the balls, the players have none as they run onto the ground. What is this sacrilege?

 

Onto the national anthem, as God Save the King rings out across the MCG (the 1950 lineup of the Sex Pistols an odd choice as performers, almost as poor as the decision to give Meatloaf a gig many years later) the more uncouth of the Victorian crowd starts to barrack. At what point did that stop and the crowd wait for the end of the anthem before roaring to life?

 

Next, imagine Mr Good’s shock and/or horror when he discovers that VFL captains do not always wear No. 1. Dick Reynolds wearing No. 3 perhaps reflecting the higher level of inflation in Victoria during the goldrush. Also worthwhile noting that this is a South Australian tradition which Port Adelaide maintains.

 

Finally, something on which the Victorians can be congratulated. Their goal umpires appear to be better organised and better attired than their South Australian brethren. But you do have to wonder, are the bigger flags perhaps a symbol of an underlying insecurity, needing to be considered to be the best at everything despite the fact that no-one else cares? At this time end-to-end Adelaide Oval is much longer than the MCG so the need for visibility can’t be the concern.

 

Righto, one compliment is sufficient, back to criticism. Have we mentioned that Victorian police are lazy and the crowd disrespectful? What civilised society would pelt a mistaken goal umpire with any missile to hand when there is a POLICEMAN standing right in front of you? The goal umpire in the 1997 preliminary final can be thankful an MCG crowd’s proclivities had changed by then.

 

And while we’re on the crowd, just how much beer can you shamelessly drink at a Grand Final? These days it depends on whether you’ve taken out a second mortgage on your house… and how much you like watery midstrength.

 

Any South Australian attending a Victorian football game for the first time will be desperate for a Footy Record. They cannot be expected to know their Colemans from their Reynoldses, their Footes from their McCorkells (by the way, Jock McCorkell sounds more like a groin injury that will see you out for 1-2 weeks than a player’s name).

But a Record is not to be found. In something that was unlikely to be uttered much in 1950s Australia, thank god for the Communists, as the player lists handed out with some propaganda allows Mr Good to spot a young Wally May for the first time. South Australians will never hear that name (or voice) again…

 

But enough of bagging the crowd and the lack of pestering program sellers (I wonder if they had pie girls?), time for a compliment. Victorian crowds know their footy and are much less likely to constantly bleat “BAAALLLLLL”. What happened with that?

 

In terms of the actual play itself, the Victorians are much better in the ruck, in long direct play, and in high flying… and thuggishness. By contrast the South Australian game is more highly skilled, particularly by hand.

This reputation carries right through to the point at which South Australia enters a team into the VFL (sorry, after the 2057 announcement, let’s just go back to calling it what it is). The “Crows throw” being a combination of Victorians not being used to seeing the level of skill and speed by hand of slow midfielders like Andrew Jarman… and the fact that they were chucking it half of the time.

 

So, in conclusion, a Good day out was had but get this man back on the Overland as soon as is humanly possible. Our South Australian strangeness is, after all, adorably idiosyncratic. In a time where every decision by the AFL seems to other all football outside Victoria, it is nonetheless nice for the boot to occasionally be on the other foot.

 

For the record, Essendon defeated North Melbourne by 38 points in the 1950 VFL Grand Final, holding the shin-boners goalless in the last quarter. Coleman kicked four goals for the Bombers while Jock Spencer (again, sounding more like a strange undergarment than a football player) kicked three for North Melbourne.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says:

    Great year 1950 Dave! It was the year I was born, the Bombers won the Premiership, and Coleman kicked a hundred goals.

  2. Stainless says:

    What a fascinating piece. Amusing and informative at the same time. And I like your cheeky barb about 2057 too!

  3. Dave- Brilliant. The art of cultural observation! The author would’ve made a fine Almanac lunch guest speaker. I also like to see a goal umpire dashing for the flags, don’t we all?

  4. Rulebook says:

    Well played,Dave very entertaining

  5. Good friends of the Almanac Tony and Gary Robb will be interested in this Dave – as I was – because their Dad Tim Robb played in this Grand Final. Tim later headed to the Riverina where he was such a good coach he was known as The Bush Barassi. There’s a super piece about him (by Tony) in Footy Town which is still available if anyone is interested,

    However Tony may not be interested in footy anymore as he barracks for Carlton. Gary has taken on the family colours and stuck with North. Big weekend for the Robbs – their teams play each other.

  6. Luke Reynolds says:

    Nice find Dave!
    Particularly liked the line about pretending not to know a person drinking beer at the footy in Adelaide. Is that still the case?
    Wonder if Mr Good ever got around to reading the exhortations of the Communist Party?

  7. By the way Dave, I love the title. Perfect!

  8. Dave Brown says:

    Thanks for the read and comments all. We had our first practice match of the season yesterday, Mickey. As always it was fun watching the (volunteer) goal umpires trying to juggle their flags and signaling etc.

    Ah, nice linkage there JTH. Yep, love that piece in Footy Town. I’m not so interested in the big footy anymore, which is why I find myself on Trove.

    Hmmm, Luke, of course there was a time not that long ago at Footy Park where you weren’t allowed to have a beer in the stands. There was a line painted at each concourse entrance where beer was not allowed past. Eventually, the SANFL realised the revenue it was foregoing and relented.

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