1981 Revisited – Round 1: ‘Just Like Starting Over’

Sam Steele continues his round by round account of the 1981 footy season. with this look at the Carlton-Richmond clash. If you have something to add about the 1981 season (any match) and would like us to publish your story, let us know.




Round 1, March 28, 1981


It’s the week before Round 1. I’m playing table tennis at school with a classmate. He’s a taciturn fella. Not dumb. Just hard to get much out of him. But as with many awkward 17-year-old boys, footy’s a subject we can open up about. He’s a Carlton supporter, so naturally, the Blues’ upcoming match against Richmond is the subject of a bit of shy banter between our rallies. Still basking in the glory of our 1980 triumph, I’m blithely optimistic about the Tigers. I don’t think I really understood the term “complacent” at the time. I get a few comments back about some new faces at Carlton who might be worth watching. I don’t really process the names “Bosustow” and “Hunter”. David Parkin, the Blues’ new coach, means a bit more to me, but even there, I dismiss his appointment as a desperate move to get someone, anyone, to replace Percy Jones.


I’m part of the 56,000 crowd at VFL Park on that first Saturday of the season. Taking our familiar position directly behind the Richmond Cheer Squad, my mates and I are immediately aware of the sea of new faces in the crowd. Mostly young bucks and birds. Mostly wearing brand new Richmond gear. Mostly interested in each other rather than watching the game. I don’t think I really understood the term “bandwagon” at the time.


In retrospect, it was a result that foretold the pattern of events for the next 36 years at Richmond but, at the time, the ten-goal hammering we suffered that day was the shock of Round 1.  See highlights https://youtu.be/HKWxEJdilJ8 While the Tigers sought stability in selecting 17 of its 1980 Premiership team and no newcomers, we look sluggish from early on. The Blues pile on the goals during the second quarter and it’s obvious they’ve stolen a march on us. With Michael Roach leading the way (check his Mark of the Week on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0MP8ddefLQ), Richmond stage a brief revival during the third quarter but Carlton are never really threatened and run right away in a dispiriting finish for the Tigers. The Blues have been breathtakingly quick and more skilled in every facet of the game. And those names, Peter Bosustow and Ken Hunter, the two West Australian debutants, have made an immediate impact. Among Carlton’s best on the day (in a team that scarcely had a passenger), they’re a telling indication of the shift in the balance of power that will take place in 1981.


New season, new coach, new expectations. It’s a well-worn cliché in football. But never more so than in 1981. The season kicked off with no less than six teams with new coaches in charge – half the competition. The blood-letting had begun during the 1980 finals series with a number of the new appointments confirmed even as the Tigers’ Premiership celebrations were in full swing.


David Parkin’s move to the Carlton coach’s box, having transferred across from Hawthorn, was as big a talking point as any from the game at Waverley. After guiding the Hawks to the 1978 Flag, Parkin’s credentials were assured, but following up with two indifferent seasons in ’79 and ’80 had tarnished that reputation to a degree. His stint at Carlton would change all that.


And elsewhere, what a list of names joined the coaching ranks that day! None were bigger than Ron Barassi who returned to Melbourne after a decade and a half at Carlton and North Melbourne, his reputation as the “supercoach” well and truly forged. Today, we think fondly of Barassi as an ageing legend of the game, his great deeds acknowledged but gradually fading in our memories. But it’s impossible to overstate what a dominant figure he was in 1981 and just how much excitement his return to Melbourne generated, 16 years after the seismic shock of his departure. To say that there was a buzz around the MCG at the prodigal son’s return was an understatement. Melbourne’s pulsating first quarter against Hawthorn had the Smokers’ Stand briefly, rapturously, transported back to the 1950s. Unfortunately, the mirage was fleeting. Hawthorn slammed on 17 goals to 9 from then on, led by a superstar of their own, Leigh Matthews, who turned in an 11-goal masterclass. In charge of the brown and gold for the first time that day was Allan Jeans, himself a legendary Premiership coach at St Kilda. Barassi and Jeans. How different their coaching pathways would be from this moment on.


The other three new coaches were debutants in the true sense. Kevin Sheedy (Essendon) and Robert Walls (Fitzroy) had only just retired as players. Malcolm Blight (North Melbourne) was to be the last player-coach in VFL history, a clear sign of the game’s growing professionalism. Blight and the Kangaroos began confidently enough. The coach had 18 disposals and contributed two goals in North’s eight-goal win against South. However, the demands of combining both roles would take their toll on Blight as the season progressed.


The other two coaching newbies both began their careers with losses, albeit honourable ones. At the Junction Oval, Robert Walls’ Fitzroy, the 1980 wooden-spooner, pushed Grand Finalist Collingwood all the way in a 42-goal thriller. The Pies broke way only in the last few minutes, their new star, Peter Daicos, leading the way with six goals. With 20 goals of their own, the Lions could take plenty from the game, their surprising last-placed finish of the previous season looking more than ever like an aberration.


On a day where warm dry conditions encouraged a series of high scoring games (five of the six winners scored over 140 points and three of the losers scored over 100 points), the exception was down at Geelong.   Even with the addition of Garry Sidebottom from St Kilda in their forward line, the Cats continued their 1980 pattern of steely defence and threadbare attack in a game that produced the two lowest scores of the round. It was enough, however, to get them over the line against Essendon. The signs were promising for new coach Sheedy, considering the daunting first-up task of playing the 1980 minor premier at their home ground. The Bombers matched Geelong all the way and their game was highlighted by an impressive debut from another West Australian recruit, Tony Buhagiar, who managed a game-high 25 disposals and three goals. See highlights https://youtu.be/zLs7hZfqJEI


In the only game not involving a new coach, St Kilda’s win at Footscray was arguably an upset in the battle of two of 1980s bottom sides. Alex Jesaulenko, the other playing coach still going around, led the way for St Kilda along with a five-goal effort from the gloriously-named Milan Faletic.


As I trudge out of Waverley to face the long bus and train trip home, a harsh new reality confronts me about what it means to be a supporter. But unlike those newcomers behind the Richmond goals (we saw precious few of them again), I resolve to hang tough. Round 2 can’t come quickly enough.





CARLTON 3.3 10.7 13.9 22.12(144)
RICHMOND 1.3 3.4 8.7 12.10(82)


CARLTON — Best: Bosustow, Doull, Hunter, Wells, Jones.
Goals: Wells 4, McConville 3, Marcou 3, Maylin 2, Ashman 2, Maclure 2, Fitzpatrick 2, Bosustow 2, Jones, Francis.


RICHMOND — Best: Wood, Rowlings, Roach, Weightman, Dunne.
Goals: Roach 6, Weightman 2, Wiley, Sarah, Jess, Rowlings.


Umpires: W. Deller, K. Smith.


Attendance at VFL Park: 56,372. Receipts: $130,429.


HAWTHORN 6.3 14.7 18.10 23.15 (153)
MELBOURNE 7.5 8.9 12.12 16.16 (112)


HAWTHORN — Best: Matthews, Davies, Green, Tuck.
Goals: Matthews 11, Russo 2, Goad 2, Hendrie 2, Kennedy 2, Goss, G. Ablett, Davies, Tuck.


MELBOURNE – Best: Giles, Baker, Gordon, Nettlefold.
Goals: Jackson 4, Nettlefold 3, Moir 3, Barnes 2, Flower, Gaunt, O’Donnell, Healy.


Umpires: P. Cameron, K. Quinn.


Attendance at MCG: 32,202. Receipts: $73,508.



COLLINGWOOD 6.13 10.15 16.24 22.27 (159)
FITZROY 2.2 9.7 15.9 20.13(133)


COLLLINGWOOD — Best: Daicos, Williams, Davis, Barham, Stewart.

Goals: Daicos 6, Davis 4. Stewart 2, Allan 2. Kink 2, Barham, Morris, Williams, Shaw, Taylor, Moore.


FITZROY – Best: Wilson, Quinlan, Hinchen, Conlan, Harris.

Goals: Conlan 5, Harris 5, Quinlan 3, Hansen 2, Wilson 2, Murnane 2, Lewis.


Umpires: S. Carbines, G. James.


Attendance at Junction Oval: 27,200. Receipts: $59,222.



NTH MELB. 5.5 9.8 16.15 21.19 (145)
STH MELB 2.7 5.11 8.16 12.25 (97)


NTH MELB — Best: W. Schimmelbusch, McCann, Good, Ramsay, Glendinning.
Goals: Good 5, McCann 3, D. Schimmelbusch 2, W. Schimmelbusch 2, Kelly 2, Blight 2, Boyse 2, Easton, Spencer, Hodgeman.

STH MELB — Best:
Smith. K. Taylor, S. Wright, Teasdale, Browning.
Goals: Taylor 5, Smith 3, Roberts, Evans, Round, P. Morwood.


Umpires: J. Chapman, J. Morgan.


Attendance at Arden St: 19,437. Receipts: $31,267



ST KILDA 8.6 12.13 18.17 23.19 (157)
FOOTSCRAY 2.3 5.6 9.7 16.12 (108)


ST KILDA — Best: Dunne, Faletic, Sartori, Jesaulenko.
Goals: Faletic 5, Jesaulenko 3, Meehan 3, Sartori 2, Dunne 2, Duperouzel 2, Mildenhall, Cunningham, Roberts, Fehring, Sarau.


FOOTSCRAY — Best: Edmond, Davidson, Knight, Hampshire


Umpires: P. Howe, J. Sutcliffe.


Attendance at Western Oval: 19,101. Receipts: $37,438.


GEELONG 3.4 6.9 8.14 10.17 (77)
ESSENDON 3.2 4.5 9.8 10.11 (71)


GEELONG — Best: I. Nankervis, Bos, Johnston, Marlarkey, Bright.
Goals: Johnston 2, Bright 2, Sidebottom, Turner, Mossop, Reynoldson, Taylor, Lunn.


ESSENDON — Best: Buhagiar, Andrews, Hawker, Crow, Neagle.
Goals: Buhagiar 3, T.Daniher 2, Crow 2, Neagle, Van der Haar, Madden.


Umpires: N. Nash, I. Robinson.


Attendance at Kardinia Park: 37,303. Receipts: $73,508.






Round 1 Ladder Wins Points Percentage
Carlton 1 4 175.6
North Melbourne 1 4 149.5
St Kilda 1 4 145.4
Hawthorn 1 4 136.6
Collingwood 1 4 119.5
Geelong 1 4 108.5
Essendon 0 0 92.2
Fitzroy 0 0 83.6
Melbourne 0 0 73.2
Footscray 0 0 68.8
South Melbourne 0 0 66.9
Richmond 0 0 56.9


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About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. John Butler says

    Terrific Sam.

    You will, of course, know that you’re very much talking my language here. #Baggerporn :)

  2. george smith says

    I have written before about my miserable 1981 finals series. Girlfriend dumped me, pies lost to Moggies, redemption against Fitzroy at the cost of Peter Moore’s injury, car broke down at Seymour, stuck at Seymour the whole day then two weeks later down to Melbourne again for the grand final only to lose in the last quarter.

    Some day I will write a story about this mournful time, but in the mean time I will watch highlights of 2010, part 2…

  3. Stainless says

    Thanks John and George
    Know how much it pains me to write about a season in which both Carlton and Collingwood were…ahem…quite good.
    Of course we must all make sacrifices for the greater good during this time, and objectively, 1981 is a pretty memorable season to reflect on in these footy-free times.

  4. Sam, i’m aware of Milan Faletic’s 5 goals on a day out. I was there, the lone Geelong supporter attending the Footscray St Kilda clash.

    However did Footscray have any goal kickers that day? You have none listed.



  5. Stainless says

    Hi Glen
    Attention to detail!
    Knight 4, Edmond 3, Burton 2, Loveless 2, Davidson, Jennings, McConnell, McKenna, Towns.
    Why were you there and not down the highway?

  6. Ta Sam.

    I was raised in the western suburbs. Being a lazy bugger i often found it easier to walk 25 minutes to the Western Oval to catch up with mates, than spend ages travelling around to Geelong games on me Pat. So for a while i would have seen more Footscray matches than Geelong games.

    Chris Burton ended up at Tigerland. He was English born if my memory is working, wasn’t he ?

    Look forward to following your series. Scary for me to think how far back 1981 was, it really isn’t too distant in my mind.


  7. Stainless says

    Fair enough Glen. The trip to Geelong was a bigger deal back then than today.
    According to Wikipedia Chris Burton was born in England and yes, I do remember him playing for Richmond from about 1984, I reckon.
    39 years – it’s not a long time if you say it quickly!

  8. DBalassone says

    One of my favourite seasons of all time…looking forward to Round 10 Stainless.

    Btw, as an 8-year-old numerologist there were a couple of scorelines that fascinated me from ’81:
    1) As you showed above, Collingwood defeated Fitzroy 159 to 133; in their return clash in Round 22 Fitzroy defeated Collingwood 59 to 33 (knocking the Pies off top spot in the process).
    2) In Round 6, Collingwood defeated Carlton 144 to 87. In Round 8, Collingwood lost to Essendon 144 to 87 (our first loss of the season, in front of a then record VFL Park crowd).
    3) Collingwood famously defeated Carlton in Round 16 by a point, with the scoreline 11.11.77 to 10.16.76. Look closely! This is what the scoreline would have been in the 1979 Grand Final if the Ken Sheldon goal was disallowed for Harmes being out of bounds (final score in the 79 GF was Carl 11.16.82 to Coll 11.11.77).
    4) Half-time score in the ’81 GF was Carl 5.8.38 to Coll 5.7.37. Half-time score in the ’79 GF was Carl 5.7.37 to Coll 5.6.36

    Am I the only person in the world to notice these things?

    I’ll stop and take my pills now.

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