1981 Revisited – Round 15: ‘The Tide is High’

Rain, rain and more rain. Does Melbourne have winters like this anymore? At least the scheduling of a split round of matches gave players (and spectators) a week’s break during this bleakest time of year.


The mid-winter lull coincided with the VFL’s national agenda resurfacing on several fronts. Chief among these was the submission of a proposal by South Melbourne to play its home games in Sydney from 1982 onwards. South’s submission was timely, arriving at headquarters alongside the report from VFL-appointed consultant, Graham Huggins, on the feasibility of a thirteenth club in Sydney. The report presented two options. One, that a Melbourne-based team play half its games in Sydney, or that a thirteenth club be formed.


The South Melbourne proposal was consistent with option one. They would play their eleven “away” games at the SCG on Friday nights and their eleven “home” games at VFL Park on Friday nights. The SCG matches would be televised direct to Melbourne, and their games at VFL Park would have television replays immediately after the match. South Melbourne President, Graeme John, said under the proposal, his club would be the first to have all its games televised. “South Melbourne has no intention of leaving its clubrooms or giving up the Lake Oval,” John said. “It will continue to be headquartered there.”


The terms of the South proposal appeared an aggressive pitch to give the club sizeable advantages in terms of fixturing, television exposure and revenue, and, importantly, retention of its identity. But in truth it was an ambit claim born out of desperation. The League had South over a barrel. The club was nearly insolvent and the VFL had “frozen” the club’s money accumulated in the Ground Improvement Fund, effectively preventing South from making any improvements to the increasingly-derelict and unviable Lake Oval. In essence, the League saw no future for the ground as a VFL venue and was using this tactic to force the Swans into alternatives.


South made no pretense in its pitch to the League and in a letter to its own members that this was a “survival plan”, hatched to prevent the club from going into voluntary liquidation and to avoid amalgamation with another team. The letter to members bluntly outlined the club’s plight. “The South Melbourne Board of Directors has taken into account all the advantages and alternatives and believes the proposal is the club’s only chance of survival and revival as a force in the VFL,” it said. Preliminary calculations indicated that the move would turn the club’s projected $180,000 loss for 1981 into a $90,000 profit. John said that if the proposal was rejected, South Melbourne could be forced out of existence via liquidation. On the other hand, if VFL Directors gave the move the go-ahead, the club would convene a special meeting to discuss the matter in detail.


For the League’s part, General Manager Mr Jack Hamilton said South Melbourne had presented a “very comprehensive submission. It supports the number one option presented by Graham Huggins in his report on the feasibility of VFL matches being played in Sydney on a regular basis”. Although the League deferred debate of the proposal, media speculation was that it was a done deal.


At the same time as the VFL was dealing with the South Melbourne/Sydney question, other clubs emerged with proposals to “rationalise” their playing arrangements. Fitzroy indicated its keenness to play its 11 home games at VFL Park on Saturdays, whilst other possibilities were mooted for Hawthorn to move to VFL Park, North to Princes Park and the Lions to Victoria Park. (Interestingly, a couple of these moves eventually happened).


And as if to prove the old adage that “it never rains, it pours” (appropriate enough given the shocking weather at the time), the South Australian National Football League submitted a plan to enter a composite team in the VFL, while also progressing its own proposal to establish a 13th club in Sydney. Treading the fine line between cautious diplomacy and relentless positivity, League President Allen Aylett again used the opportunity to comment that the South Australian move vindicated the VFL’s policies and stand on the national development of Australian Football. Aylett said that national involvement was a natural progression. “If this happens over the next 10 years, it would be fast enough,” he said. “It has to be a gradual conditioning process as we must not lose what we have built over the past 84 years”.


Media reactions to these developments were mixed. The Age editorial queried the merits of a proposal that locked South Melbourne into playing exclusively at night, arguing against it on the basis of poor playing conditions. It seems bizarre and a tad tongue-in-cheek by today’s standards. It did at least conclude with the serious comment that the League needed to consider the similar plights of several other clubs in the interests of maintaining a strong and even competition.


The Australian, by contrast, was more gung-ho in supporting the League’s expansionist agenda.


What a blinder of a mark the Victorian Football League is making in the field of sound sense and foresight. The league’s plan to go national – with teams in each city – is the best idea since one-day cricket. You don’t have to be an Australian Football fan to appreciate the scope of it. If, as planned, Sydney and Adelaide join the competition in 1982, it will be but a matter of time before Brisbane, Hobart, Perth and perhaps Canberra join in. Then we will have a winter code with mass spectator appeal – played at first-class and first-grade level – in each city. We will have a sporting competition along the lines of British soccer and American baseball No more will each State’s best players be lured off to Melbourne. Instead they will be turning out for their own cities with State leagues becoming nurseries for the top grades. Soccer has much the same thing and the codes of rugby had their chance but lacked the vision. Supporters of other codes should not deride the emergence of this national Australian Football competition. There will always be room for rugby, if only because it can put guernseys on shapes Australian Football cannot accommodate. As The Australian’s Richard Sleeman illustrated in articles this week, Rugby League is losing support because its administrators will not accept change. Their counterparts in the VFL have and all power to them.


Whatever the logic of South Melbourne’s arguments, it was of little consolation to the rusted-on fans. No sooner had the news of the proposal broken than a supporters group, “Keep South at South”, was formed. The collective had immediate aims to examine the club’s constitution to ensure that the “ordinary supporters’ interests” were protected, and to develop an alternative plan to the Sydney option. The seeds of a bitter dispute had been sown.


In the midst of these dramatic developments, some games of old-school mid-winter footy broke out around Melbourne with three matches played on each Saturday.


The Saints aquaplaned to a three goal first term lead at Waverley, only to be submerged to the tune of 5. 13 to 1.4 in the next three. Not for the first time, Carlton’s defence were the unsung heroes on a day when spectacular forward play was nigh on impossible.


The Bombers made it nine on the trot with a clear-cut win at the Junction Oval, no mean feat this season, and a clear sign of their rich vein of form.





Perversely, Essendon slipped to fifth on the ladder despite their win as a result of Hawthorn’s thrashing of North Melbourne. At Arden Street, the mood among home fans matched the weather. After a spirited opening term, the Kangaroos remained goalless in the second and fourth terms and were overwhelmed by the Hawks. Matthews was outstanding in the wet with a round-high six goals.





By the time the second half of the round came around, the full ramifications of the South-to-Sydney plan had been absorbed by the football world and South’s cheer squad made their views crystal clear. As the South Melbourne players ran onto the Western Oval for their match against Footscray, they were greeted with a run-through of pure black. The playing group, which had indicated its strong support for the Sydney proposal, pointedly ran around the banner. They at least went on to give their distraught fans the cheer of a solid win. After more than a month of promising performances, the Bulldog pups fell flat on their noses just when a victory was being anticipated. The determined Swans didn’t let the Bulldogs off the leash all day and, in contrast to their recent habit of falling away late, they finished with an emphatic eight-goal final quarter.


A listless Richmond found themselves a game and plenty of percentage out of the five after being blasted by a well organised blitz from the hard-tackling Cats.


At the MCG, ten minutes into the last term the Demons trailed Collingwood by just five points. But a couple of errors with the excitement mounting saw the Pies slip away to safety. Coach Barassi and players alike blasted the umpires for several contentious decisions that favoured the Magpies during the final minutes. The performance mirrored Melbourne’s other gallant near misses against Carlton, Essendon and Richmond, but the stark reality was bottom place and just one win. The match was Brent Crosswell’s 200th game.








Carlton 1.1 4.3 5.11 6.14 (50)

St. Kilda 4.1 4.1 5.3 5.5 (35)



CARLTON: McConville 2, Marcou, Buckley, Ashman, Bosustow.

ST KILDA: Gorozidis 2, Dunne, Sarau, Breen.



CARLTON: Sheldon, Perovic, Doull, Wells, English, Ashman.

ST KILDA: Sarau, Barker, Thomas, Duperouzel, Fldler, Hewitt.


Umpires: Bryant, Dye.


Attendance at VFL Park: 21,579. Receipts: $43,556.





South Melb 5.3 7.6 9.10 17.12 (114)

Footscray 1.3 2.5 6.8 7.9 (51)



SOUTH MELBOURNE: J. Roberts 5, W.Carroll 4, Foschini 2, Evans, Teasdale, T.Morwood, Wright, James, P.Morwood.

FOOTSCRAY: McKenna 2, Hampshire, Loveless, Burton, Whitten, B. Cordy.



SOUTH MELBOURNE: Jackson, Browning, Smith, Rhys-Jones, J. Roberts, Evans, Windbanks.

FOOTSCRAY: Dunstan, Hampshire, McKenna, Hawkins, Whitten, Burton.


Umpires: Fellows, Cameron.


Attendance at Western Oval: 10,478. Receipts: $14,674.





Essendon 2.4 7.5 9.9 11.14 (80)

Fitzroy 1.2 3.4 5.8 8.13 (61)



ESSENDON: Buhagiar 2, Neagle, Reid, T. Daniher, Foulds, Schultz, Burdett, S.Madden, Watson, Bennett.

FITZROY: Poynton 3, Parish 2, Quinlan, Rendell, McConnon.



ESSENDON: M. Neagle, P. Bennett, M. Daniher, Buhagiar, Reid, T. Daniher, Watson.

FITZROY: Francis, Lawrie, Parish, Carlson, Hanson.


Umpires: Chapman, Smith.


Attendance at Junction Oval: 18,374. Receipts: $36,472.





Collingwood 5.3 8.8 9.15 12.16 (88)

Melbourne 2.3 6.3 10.4 10.6 (66)



COLLINGWOOD: Irwin 3, Kink 2, Daicos 2, Davis, Brewer, Williams, Taylor, Moore.

MELBOURNE: Healy 4, Jackson 3,Young, Crosswell, O’Donnell.



COLLINGWOOD: Williams, A. Shaw, Allan, Moore, Byrne, Irwin.

MELBOURNE: Fowler, Keenan, Elliott, Hardeman, Healy, Flower, O’Brien.


Umpires: James, Carbines.


Attendance at MCG: 30,803. Receipts: $64,248.





Hawthorn 3.5 10.10 13.14 16.19 (115)

North Melb. 4.6 4.9 7.10 7.13 (55)



HAWTHORN: Matthews 6, Tuck 3, Robertson 2, Goad 2, Paton, Eade, Greene.

NORTH MELBOURNE: Blight 3, Byrne 3, D.Schimmelbusch.



HAWTHORN: Matthews, Russo,Tuck, Davles, Eade, Wallace, Dipierdomenico.

NORTH MELBOURNE: Byrne, Wilson, Blight,Dempsey.


Umpires: Sutcliffe, Dargavel.


Attendance at Arden Street: 8,160. Receipts: $9,005.





Geelong 2.3 6.5 10.8 12.10 (82)

Richmond 2.2 5.2 7.2 8.4 (52)



GEELONG: Bright 2, Witcombe 2, Matthews 2, Bruns 2, Blake 2, Reynoldson, Neal.

RICHMOND: Roach 4, Bartlett, Welsh, Smith, Weightman.



GEELONG: Peake, Featherby, Bruns, I. Nankervis, Mossop, Witcombe, B.Nankervis.

RICHMOND: Landy, Dunne, Strachan, Raines, Wall.


Umpires: Morgan, Robinson.


Attendance at Kardinia Park: 26,635. Receipts: $44,364.








W L D F A % P
COLLINGWOOD 13 2 0 1774 1372 129.3 52
CARLTON 12 3 0 1625 1246 130.4 48
GEELONG 10 5 0 1497 1201 124.6 40
HAWTHORN 10 5 0 1734 1475 117.6 40
ESSENDON 10 5 0 1560 1334 116.9 40
Richmond 9 6 0 1661 1614 102.9 36
Fitzroy 8 7 0 1725 1621 106.4 32
North Melbourne 6 9 0 1664 1623 102.5 24
South Melbourne 5 10 0 1488 1723 86.4 20
St Kilda 4 11 0 1385 1617 85.7 16
Footscray 2 13 0 1246 1826 68.2 8
Melbourne 1 14 0 1256 1963 64.0 4



Read The Age, Monday 6th July 1981, for coverage of all matches HERE.


To read further stories from ‘1981 Revisited….’ click HERE



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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. Poor old South Melbourne. They were always going to struggle as the VFL developed into the powerful corporation is. What was once a local sporting competition grew into one of the biggest, if not the biggest, entity in the entertainment industry.

    In a perfect world we could have said goodbye to South Melbourne, thanks for the memories, club is no longer in existence. But in this context the history of the club is mechanically added to a whole new entity, giving the new entity some sort of credibility. I can go on and on about this topic, like there were never gate receipts published for Sydney home games, the total lack of interest in the ‘club’ by the majority of Sydney siders, etc, etc, but it’s all been said before. South Melbourne were dead, Sydney was born, though with South Melbourne’s history tradition mechanically added to them.

    How anyone can consider the football club in Sydney is a continuation of South Melbourne football club, shows me the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

    Any how 1981 was the last year this club existed,and i’m enjoying Stainless’s series, so let’s follow the rounds, to see how 1981 pans out.


  2. Stainless says

    “How anyone can consider the football club in Sydney is a continuation of South Melbourne football club, shows me the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.”

    Provocative comments, Glen!

    I wonder what our red and white readers think of that and what memories they might have of this time. Jan? Others?

  3. Maybe provocative Stainless, but apart from some emotional attachment to a red and white football jumper you seriously couldn’t believe these two teams are one and the same. If people chose to do this, that’s their call not for me to adjudicate on, but seriously you couldn’t have a nuanced discussion about Sydney being a continuation of South Melbourne.

    Paraphrasing Adorno, the creation of a Sydney team, adopting the culture/history of a now non-existent Melbourne team is best described as recuperation.


  4. Stainless says

    Glen I agree with you, but I was hoping to get the perspectives of South Melbourne/Sydney supporters who might have been around at the time. For some of them, your comments might be regarded as provocative.
    My personal view, based on observation over the years, is that the South Melbourne diehards were gutted by the loss of their team and largely ignored Sydney, especially during the early years. More recently, there’s been an upsurge in support for the Swans in Melbourne with many claiming to be old-school Bloods. Funny how a couple of decades of consistent success can sway your principles!

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