Almanac Footy Memoir – VFL Grand Final 1970: It’s the Vibe


The title to Tony Wilson’s book 1989: The Great Grand Final rightfully says it all, that grand final between Hawthorn and Geelong was a great game; a fantastic contest with wonderful stories. Similarly, Essendon’s win over Hawthorn in 1984, Sydney over West Coast in 2005 and the draws between Collingwood and St Kilda in 2010 and Collingwood and North Melbourne in 1977 are all games for the ages.

Does any game warrant the ultimate superlative “the greatest grand final”? The answer is blurred by personal experiences and allegiances. These defeat objectivity, especially when encountered as an 11 year old child.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1970 grand final, which I consider the greatest grand final. That seemed pre-ordained; the season had already been one of many firsts. If Ronald Dale Barassi, taking up the mantle of his mentor Melbourne legend Len Smith, changed football as we know it with his handball at all costs instruction at half time on grand final day, that followed other notable events during the year.

Don McKenzie, Jeff Gospar, Darryl Gerlach, Jeff Pryor and Barry Davis from Essendon and Len Thompson and Des Tuddenham from Collingwood refused to play in Round 1 due to a player payment dispute. Although the dispute was resolved by Round 2, Tuddy lost the Collingwood captaincy to Terry Waters.

In Round 1 Richmond and Fitzroy played the VFL’s first ever Sunday game at the MCG on 5 April. The second half was played with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne in attendance.

Mr Football, Ted Whitten, played his 321st senior game for the Bulldogs in Round 5 breaking the league record of Dick Reynolds from Essendon. Ted promptly retired.

The much maligned and now gone VFL Park Waverley opened. As a football stadium it makes a great housing estate.

Channel 7 broadcast the first live Brownlow medal count.


1970 was the year to be a full forward. 3 players topped the century. The goal kicking tallies are amazing compared to what we see in the 21st century. Peter Hudson kicked 146 for the Hawks, Peter McKenna 143 for the Pies and Alex Jesaulenko 115 for the Blues.

Collingwood had dominated the home and away season winning 18 of 22 games and finishing with a percentage of 136.5% to finish a couple of games ahead of Carlton. In the second semi Collingwood overtook Carlton in the last quarter to win by 10 points 17.16.118 to 17.6.108. Collingwood legend Peter McKenna kicked 9.5 and Jezza kicked 8 straight for the losers. The Blues cleaned up St Kilda in the preliminary final by 62 points, 17.21.123 to 7.19.61. Syd Jackson kicked 6 goals and Jezza and Percy Jones 4 each.

So the Blues were in the Grand Final. My main problem as a young Eaglehawk-based Blues supporter was how to get there. In those days it was legally permissible to advertise finals tickets for sale in the local newspaper, the Bendigo Advertiser (unkindly known as “the Agoniser”). My father, a lifelong Richmond supporter, came home from work on the Wednesday night and told me he had bought a couple of standing room tickets in the second level of the old 1956 Olympics stand at the MCG.

Nowadays the trip from Eaglehawk/Bendigo to Melbourne is about 100 minutes on the dual carriage way Calder Freeway. That was far from the case on the much less well-appointed Calder of 1970. We had a 5:30 am start to enable arrival at the MCG early enough for a decent standing position. Our route followed in reverse the arduous trek that fortune seekers had taken to the Bendigo goldfields in the 1850s, meandering through Harcourt, Malmsbury (always being careful to avoid the “Malmsbury mauler” ; the local copper renowned for zealously enforcing speed limits), Woodend , Macedon, Diggers Rest (and its notorious rail crossing) and finally the Big Smoke. 3 hours plus in the family’s blue 1964 EH station wagon JLO 506 (How do I remember the rego of the long gone vehicles of my childhood, and yet can’t remember the rego of the car we have owned for five years sitting in our driveway).

Dad found a good parking spot somewhere in East Melbourne. I don’t recall any parking restrictions in those days. I walked to the ground with that feeling of stomach-churning excitement and apprehension. Dad strides along at his rapid pace, me taking two steps to his one to keep up. The Footy Record purchased near Jolimont station includes a full-page recruitment ad for Victoria Police; cadets being paid $26.06 per week. We walk past the Salvos shaking tins, thru the old rusty turnstiles into the MCG (no-one called it “the G” in those days) by about 9:30, and find a position a couple of rows back from the fence separating standing room from the more privileged seated areas in front.

The several hours before the main game in shared spartan conditions developed a real sense of camaraderie in standing room. I digress momentarily. The previous year 1969 my father had taken both my younger brother and me to the grand final Richmond v Carlton; once again in standing room. We arrived early as usual and obtained a good position. Just before two o’clock, two guys in their late 20s pushed in front of my less than four-foot-high brother and I and began admiring the wonderful view they had procured for themselves. Dad was wondering how he was going handle this, wanting to avoid a dispute with a nine and ten-year-old in tow. While Dad considered his options, fate, literally, stepped in. From behind Dad, a big bloke about 6 foot 4 and 17 stone on the old scale, tapped the two late arrivals on the shoulder. He said: “Hey you two, these kids have been here since 9:30; up the back!“ and gestured with a large meaty thumb towards the far rear ranks of standing room. This demonstration of social justice was generally approved by several other spectators in the vicinity. The latecomers vanished, never to be sighted again.

By game start there were 121,696 of us in attendance. A record I suspect will never be threatened given today’s limitations arising from occupational health and safety regulations, corporate hospitality boxes, dining rooms and spectator comfort, let alone Covid driven social distancing. The MCG bathed in its most important day of the year, the old white steel picket fence festooned with banners and floggers. The playing surface, no centre square or 50 metre arc needed; a covering of brilliant streamers, balloons and paper from cut up phone books sufficed.

Collingwood played brilliantly in the first half to be 44 points up at half-time, 10.13.73 to 4.5.29. Peter McKenna was in charge up forward and had kicked 5 goals. Collingwoods formidable on-ballers including Wayne and Max Richardson, Con Britt, Tuddy and Barry Price were dominating. The Pies bigger blokes, 1969 Brownlow medalist Len Thompson, Graham Jenkin, Terry Waters and Ross Dunne were in control and full back Jeff Clifton had a good first half. The “Jesaulenko you beauty” mark late in the second quarter provided a rare highlight for Carlton. Memory can betray you. Many Carlton fans recall Jezza’s mark as occurring during the big third quarter comeback. In reality, it foreshadowed what was to come. 10.13 by the Pies flattered Carlton, it could easily have been 13 or 14 goals (had McKenna kicked to his normal standard, he would have had 7), and then this piece would never have been penned.

I suggested to Dad we should abandon ship and go home. Dad told me to hang in, you never know. Perhaps he was channeling Ronald Dale.

The Blues seven goals at the start of the third quarter included three by Ted Hopkins, repeating his performance in the second semi, and a brilliant left foot snap from the pocket by Syd Jackson (viewing Syd’s career highlights on YouTube are minutes well spent). The Blues are within three points at the 12 minute mark but it is far from capitulation by Collingwood. The Pies steady and win the remainder of the quarter thru goals to Thompson, Twiggy Dunne and McKenna to lead by 17 points at three quarter time.

After Thomo goals again five minutes into the final quarter, the Pies are 21 points up. Far from comfortable but still a significant lead. Big John Nicholls demonstrates why he is a Carlton and AFL legend and goals twice, the second from a mark elegantly plucked from the back of the pack. Hopkins gets number four (being 40% of his career tally of 10 goals) and Jezza contributes his second major highlight and the game sealer with a left foot snap and bouncing goal. Blues win 17.9.111 to 14.17.101.

After multiple renditions of ‘We are the Navy Blues’ and watching the presentation of the premiership cup and lap of honour, Dad and I walked back thru the MCG parklands in the early evening to begin the long drive home. We listened to the reviews on the radio (“3KZ iiiiiissss football”) and after a counter tea at a pub in Kyneton are back in Eaglehawk around 9.30 to be greeted enthusiastically by my Blues loving Mum and somewhat more coolly by my Tigers supporting brother and sister.

Watching the black and white telecast of the game 50 years later, commentated by Mike Williamson, Butch Gale and Ted Whitten is both a great pleasure and also a little melancholy. You enjoy how the game was once played but you also see what the game has lost. The beautiful drop kicks exploited by the likes of Barry Price, Ian Robertson, Twiggy Dunne, Swan McKay and Terry Waters are long gone. Far too risky in the age of possession football. The 1970 game is relentless attack by both teams; no chipping around to retain the ball, no kicking down the line along the boundary or burning time with 20 metre backwards kicks. Players get on with it; they take a mark or get a free kick then shoot at goal. No procrastinating and watching the clock wind down until 30 seconds has almost elapsed.

Yes the game is slower, players skills are more fallible and much less crowded wrestling for possession. But that adds to the attractiveness, the ball launches from one exciting contest to the next. Even the pre colour, pre computer age telecast camera work from only a handful of cameras somehow makes the game feel less structured, more random and yet a more intimate spectacle for viewers. Maybe it’s just nostalgia.

There are reminders that our game has always changed. In the first quarter Max Richardson misses with a drop punt from “only 50 yards out”. On the telecast the irreplaceable Butch Gale says “Oh, he could have kicked a flat punt there Ted “. The great Peter Hudson may have nodded in approval.

With hindsight on our side, we now know what lay ahead for these players and coaches. Success and accolades for some; disappointment and troubled times for others. They include:

*Ron Barassi – on top of six premierships as a player, after this second premiership with Carlton went on to coach 515 games in total with Carlton, North Melbourne, Melbourne and Sydney and win 2 further premierships with North Melbourne. Recognised as one of the games great identities and the first Legend inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.

*Bob Rose – after his outstanding 152 game playing career he coached Collingwood and Footscray for 282 games. This was the last of three losing grand finals as Collingwood coach. In 1974 a car accident resulted in his son Robert, a Collingwood player and State cricketer, becoming a quadriplegic.

*Alex Jesaulenko – played 279 games for Carlton and St Kilda, 4 premierships at Carlton (including as captain coach in 1979) but left Carlton in 1979 after supporting outgoing president George Harris in a messy power struggle. Had a coaching stint at St Kilda and then returned to Carlton in 1990, inducted into both the Australian and Ukranian Sport Hall of Fame and a legend in the AFL Hall of Fame.

* Peter McKenna – 180 games for Collingwood and then ironically 11 games at Carlton. A goal kicking machine with 874 goals, leading goalkicker at Collingwood in eight successive years 1967-1974 and inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame. Appeared frequently on variety television and as a football commentator and also an advocate for support of epilepsy sufferers and their families.

*John Nicholls – played 328 games for Carlton, captained 3 premierships (including as captain coach in 1972), coached 97 games at Carlton, felled by Laurie Fowler in the 1973 grand-final against Richmond and an inaugural legend in the AFL Hall of Fame.

*Graham Jenkin – played 149 games for Collingwood and Essendon, ever immortalised as the back on which Jezza jumped.

*Sergio Silvagni – played 239 games with Carlton, Blues powerbroker for decades to come and progenitor of a continuing Carlton dynasty.

*Ross Dunne –played 213 games for Collingwood and often underrated as a player. 7 years later in 1977 showed nerves of steel to kick a late flat punt goal to draw the grand final against Nth Melbourne and force a replay.

*Robert Walls – played 259 games for Carlton and Fitzroy, three premierships at Carlton, coached 347 games at Fitzroy, Carlton, Brisbane Bears and Richmond including Carlton to a premiership in 1987. A strongly opined media commentator and inducted into AFL Hall of Fame.

*Ted Hopkins – played only one further game for Carlton after this one, made a successful career in media and business including as co-founder of AFL statistics company Champion Data.

*John Greening – in 1972 was knocked unconscious by St Kilda’s Jim O’Dea, who incurred a 10 match suspension. Greening was comatose for 24 hours and did not recover complete consciousness for some days. He did return 18 months later to play a handful of games for Collingwood in 1974, 1975 and 1976.

*Des Tuddenham – played 251 games for Collingwood and Essendon, coached 112 games with Essendon and South Melbourne, had some legal difficulties, inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.

*Peter Jones – played 249 games for Carlton (Wikipedia’s entry on why no 250th and events leading back to May 1968 is very amusing) and coached 24 games in 1980, ran a series of hotels including most notably ‘The Blush and Stutter’ with Adrian Gallagher. Ran for Victorian Parliament in the early 1980s with the unforgettable slogan “Point Percy at Parliament”.

*Len Thompson – 301 games for Collingwood, South Melbourne and Fitzroy, won the Brownlow medal in 1972, inducted into AFL Hall of Fame and a respected media commentator.

So why the greatest grand final? For me viewed at that most impressionable eleven years of age, it will always occupy that place. The year itself, the MCG, time with Dad who died a couple of years ago, the record crowd, the players and coaches, the biggest comeback in history, Jezza’s mark, Hopkins’ goals. Five decades later looking through the eyes of an ageing man, in the words of Dennis Denuto from The Castle “It’s…it’s…. just the vibe of it.”

Mark Poustie

In compiling this story, I have referenced Wikipedia, Lionel Frost’s Old Dark Navy Blues and the [then] VFL’s 1970 Grand Final Footy Record (of which, perhaps unsurprisingly, I have three copies)




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  1. Terrific Mark. I reckon I’ve watched that game more than any other because they replayed it at every pie night I ever went to at primary school. Amazing how the game has changed.

    Very vivid recollections.

    And yes I remember the old Calder Highway very well. What a trek!

  2. Good stuff Mark. Like Peter Clarks’ marvellous recent series of St Kilda’s 1966 premiership season you’ve not just focused on what took place on the ground, but in the context of the time, of other events that created the setting. Very appreciative of this sort of social history.

    I reckon 1970 Grand Final is the first one i have a recollection of. Watching the replay with my parents that night wondering how a side could be so far in front, but lose. The mind of a 7 year old wanting to learn, understand

    Looking at some of the names of the players you listed.

    John Greening went on to be a Bookie, after being a premiership player with Port Melbourne.

    Peter McKenna had a spell in the VFA captain coaching Port Melbourne into third spot in 1979.

    Graeme Jenkin, his name imortalised in song by TISM.

    I remember seeing Tuddy a few times about 7, 8 years back, He still looked in good nick.

    About 1983 I went to a talk on footy & politics where Ted Hopkins presented .

    Then of course, ‘Percy’ Jones, mine host of Haskins Hotel in North Fitzroy.

    Keep it up Mark, wonderful read of a great match.


  3. Really enjoyed this Mark, particularly the details – I’m guessing $26.06 a week was pretty good coin in 1970. It’s before my time and I follow the Lions, but I love reading about the 1970 Grand Final. It seems like a real hinge moment in footy history. I’m glad your Dad convinced you to stay!

  4. TeD Budner says

    Len Thompson won the 1972 Brownlow. Medal

  5. Ian Grummitt says

    Even for an avid Collingwood supporter like me, this was a brilliant read. Full of reminiscing from the heart, and appreciation of Aussie Rules as it was and all that came with it. It beautifully captures not only the era, but takes me back to how I viewed the world as a child.
    The author might just find himself headhunted by the Herald-Sun and Fox Footy to replace the retired Mike Sheahan.

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