1981 Revisited – Round 18: ‘You want it. You got it.’

In the 24/7 secular society of 2020, it’s hard to fathom why the introduction of Sunday football was such a big deal in 1981. But back then, Sunday still had many of the characteristics of the traditional Christian Day of Rest. The retail and hospitality sectors were largely closed. Pubs certainly were. There remained strong views across much of the community that this was a good thing. Much reform occurred during the 1980s to change this, but it took long and often bitter debates and legal stoushes to bring this around. Even at the basic level of football, Sunday was the long-held domain of the VFA. Any inroads by the VFL into the Association’s patch was staunchly resisted because of the disastrous impacts that would surely follow.


It was into this conservative environment that the VFL was launching its pitch to play games on Sundays. Clearly, it had a strong commercial interest in doing this, but its public stance was very much about having the right to choose what it thinks is in the best interest of its patrons. To quote the ever-modest VFL President, Allen Aylett, “we are running the biggest and best spectator sport in the country and I believe it is our right to act on behalf of the people who support us”.


The League had been lobbying the State Government for months, years even, to be given the green light to trial Sunday football. Eventually, the Government relented and allowed two trial games – they were Essendon v Collingwood on August 2 and South Melbourne v Carlton on August 9, both to be played at the MCG. In a further sign of the times, the matches would not be telecast and liquor would be banned.


Even when acknowledging the obvious financial benefit to the League of being able to stage these games in front of much larger crowds than would otherwise be possible, the “public interest” was the overriding concern. “Being able to play this match at the MCG is beneficial, not only to the football public in general but to the supporters of both clubs involved,” Dr Aylett said. “Everyone who wants to see the game will be able to do so. And they will see it in comfort.” VFL General Manager, Jack Hamilton, also towed the party line. “Discussions have taken place with various authorities in order that the matches will be played with the minimum of inconvenience to the community,” he said. “I am sure supporters of all four clubs will benefit from these two Sunday games. They are certain to appreciate being able to get a seat rather than stand in crowded conditions or not get in at all,” he said.


The League claimed strong evidence to support its views about the public’s preferences. A “special VFL survey”, taken at VFL Park on May 16, showed that 84 per cent of those attending wanted to be seated when watching a VFL match. This confirmed the results of surveys taken in 1979 at all VFL grounds which strongly advocated the provision of better facilities. The League was quick to point out that the May 16 match that was surveyed involved Essendon and Collingwood and attracted a then record crowd of almost 80,000. On that day, the match was one of the least important of the round as Essendon had won only two of the first seven matches. The following week, North Melbourne was at home to Collingwood in the match of the day and drew only 24,625. This was well short of the capacity indicating that people did not want to go to Arden St., despite the quality of the match. The League also cited figures showing that the three grounds where the VFL had frozen development funds — South Melbourne, North Melbourne and Fitzroy – were in the bottom four of average attendances for 1981. Funny that.


Dr Aylett expressed confidence that the matches would be a success and that the State Government would give the go ahead for Sunday football in 1982. “The all-clear for 1982 would not necessarily mean that we would play every Sunday,” he said. “But we should have the right to play at least one game every week if we believe it to be in the best interests of our patrons.” That phrase again!


So it was that Sunday 2 August came around and the Essendon-Collingwood game was played at the MCG amidst great fanfare. The sky didn’t fall in. The crowd of 64,000 was unquestionably double the capacity of Windy Hill where the match would normally have been played. But it must be said that for a massive game in the context of the season, let alone being staged with no other VFL games competing, the attendance was slightly disappointing.


But the League was having none of it. “It was a success, there’s no doubt about that. Everything ran very smoothly. Players and officials were also pleased with the overall result,” Hamilton said. Amidst further survey evidence of the public’s preferences to be seated at alcohol-free venues, one telling statistic was not noted: the gate receipts from the Sunday game ($194,000) exceeded the combined takings of the other five games by $30,000!


“The Age’s” front page report of the day included some rather different views. Bob Maguire, a guest in the MCC, had little time for the VFL’s line about patrons’ preferences. “You ask me if I want Sunday football. It doesn’t matter what I want: this is bread and circuses for them. They’ll always need this so long as people are being squeezed economically from Monday to Friday”. Collingwood fan, Robert Rowe, standing in Bay 13 was more prosaic in his opinion about the grog ban. “Terrible. It’s disgusting. I won’t be coming to one of these again”. And he said that while the Magpies were three goals in front!


Oh dear – those Magpies! Assuredly, this was a top-quality game befitting the contestants’ ladder positions. But once again, Collingwood failed on the big stage. Midway through the third quarter, the Pies led by 20 points, only to tire badly, conceding the last six goals of the game. A string of missed opportunities masked Essendon’s dominance, the Bombers keeping their opponents in the contest until the last few minutes when late goals to Hawker and Schultz sealed the issue. The Bombers registered only their fifth win over Collingwood since 1970 and two wins in one season for the first time since 1966. Their run of 12 wins straight was now the best since 19 by Melbourne in 1955-6. The video footage includes some good pre and post-game snippets that capture the significance of the occasion. Plus a classic shot (around 35.00) of Paul Van der Haar lighting up a gasper in the dressing room!



The Sunday game aside, Round 18 was significant in that it also matched Carlton and Geelong, second and third on the ladder, at Princes Park. Injuries had hit the Blues hard and they entered the game without Harmes, Marcou, Buckley, Klomp, Southby, Jones, Perovic, Austin and Armstrong. Despite the losses, the Blues took the bit between the teeth and attacked from the start, firing seven goals through the strong Cats’ defence by quarter time and holding firm from thereon. Geelong worked their way back to within three goals by the last change but an early bomb from Johnston steadied the Blues. Bosustow followed up moments later, taking the well-remembered mark of the year. His resultant goal confirmed the result.




The results of these two games saw a significant reshuffle of the top four. Carlton grabbed top spot again while the Cats handed third spot over to the devastating Dons. Fifth place changed hands too with Hawthorn (5th) displaced by Fitzroy (6th) after going down to the Lions at a wind-affected Junction Oval. After conceding the first six goals of the game Hawthorn trailed Fitzroy by only a goal after seven minutes of the last term and had the wind behind them. From there, the Hawks scored just 0.7 to 2.1, their inaccuracy costing them dearly.



The only other game with any bearing on the finals race was at Waverley where a lacklustre Richmond moved to 6th, overcoming a slow start to run over Footscray. Michael Roach all but wrapped up the race for the inaugural Coleman Medal with a match-winning seven goals and Paul Sarah played his 150th game.


A rule change regarding clubs with clearance details of players out of order enabled the Saints to regain the points that had been deducted earlier over the Doug Cox affair. It didn’t help the Saints in their match at Arden Street, however, as the rejuvenated Malcolm Blight followed up his 11-goal haul last week with a further eight goals this time as new coach Cable guided his charges to two wins from two.


And in a much more low-key encounter at the MCG 24 hours before the big Sunday stoush, South Melbourne, led by Graham Teasdale, shook off a persistent Melbourne. David Rhys-Jones and others entertained the crowd in the martial arts at regular intervals, he and Brent Crosswell copping four match suspensions as a result.








North Melbourne 9.8 11.10 15.18 16.21 (117)
St.Kilda 2.0 5.4 7.9 12.13(85)


Goals —
Blight 8, Holt 2, Spencer, Byrne, Wright, D. Dugdale, Demetriou, McCann.
ST.KILDA: Gorozidis 6, Faletic 2, Barker, Hewitt, Elphinstone, Mildenhall.


Best —
Dempsey, Blight, Demetriou, Spencer, Dench, Glendinning.
ST KILDA: Burns, Thomas, Barker, Gorozidis, Faletic, Hewitt.


Umpires: Marcy, Sawyers.


Attendance at Arden Street: 11,517.


Receipts: $15,545.





Richmond 1.2 6.6 10.11 15.13 (103)
Footscray 4.5 7.8 7.11 9.15 (69)


Goals —
Roach 7, Bartlett 3, Martello 2, Rowlings, Freame, Vernon.
FOOTSCRAY: Davidson 2, Templeton 2, Hawkins 2, Gallagher, Whitten, McAllester.


Best —
Rowlings, Raines, Roach, Martello, Jess, Lee, Malthouse, Landy.
FOOTSCRAY: Edmond, Hampshire, Egan, Whitten.


Umpires: Morgan, Bryant.


Attendance at VFL Park: 19,725.


Receipts: $38,869.





Fitzroy 4.7 6.7 8.12 10.13 (73)
Hawthorn 0.4 3.10 5.12 7.19 (61)


Goals —
Poynton 3, Alexander 2, Quinlan, Conlan, Carlson, McConnon, Murnane.
HAWTHORN: Davies 2, Ablett, Matthews, Knights, Hendrie, Greene.


Best —
Parish, Poynton, Conlan, Lawrie, McMahon, Smith, Taylor.
HAWTHORN: Wallace, Ablett, Scott, Knights, Matthews, Davies, Hendrie.


Umpires: Robinson, Sutcliffe.


Attendance at Junction Oval: 16,013.


Receipts: $28,910.





Carlton 7.2 9.5 11.7 17.13 (115)
Geelong 2.3 4.3 8.7 12.10 (82)


Goals —
Bosustow 4, McConville 3, Maclure 3, Johnston 2, Ashman 2, Wells, Waddell, Lenaghan.
GEELONG: Bright 5, Jeffreys 3, Mossop 2, Featherby, Blake.


Best –
Hunter, Fitzpatrick, Ashman, English, Maylin, Wells, Doull.
GEELONG: I. Nankervis, Jeffreys, Meal, Bos, Bright, Featherby.


Umpires: Nash, Smith.


Attendance at Princes Park: 31,507.


Receipts: $55,785.





South Melbourne 2.1 7.8 11.11 17.13 (115)
Melbourne 3.2 7.5 9.11 12.14 (86)


Goals —
Teasdale 5, T. Morwood 3, Roberts 2, W. Carroll 2, Browning, Evans, Hounsell, Round, Foschini.
MELBOURNE: Jackson 4, Crosswell 3, Healy 3, Nettlefold, Moir.


Best —
Teasdale. Browning, Hounsell, Wright, Round, P.Morwood.
MELBOURNE: Crosswell, Fowler, Keenan, Seddon, Flower, Moir, Elshaug.


Umpires: Chapman, James.


Attendance at MCG: 13,886.


Receipts: $24,979.





Essendon 4.2 6.3 9.9 12.16 (88)
Collingwood 3.5 7.8 9.11 9.15 (69)


Goals –
Schultz 3, Buhagiar 2, S. Madden 2, Foreman, Crow, Watson, Hawker.
COLLINGWOOD: Irwin 3, Barham, Banks, Davis, Taylor, Moore, Weldeman, Allan.


Best —
Crow, T, Daniher, Hawker, Andrews, Stoneham, N. Daniher, Van Der Haar.
COLLINGWOOD: A. Shaw, Taylor, Williams, Magro, Byrne, Allan.


Umpires: Cameron, Dye.


Attendance at MCG: 64,149.


Receipts: $193,784.








W L D F A % P
CARLTON 14 4 0 1969 1505 130.8 56
COLLINGWOOD 14 4 0 2023 1657 122.1 56
ESSENDON 13 5 0 1894 1539 123.1 52
GEELONG 12 6 0 1817 1452 125.1 48
FITZROY 11 7 0 2035 1884 108.0 44
Richmond 11 7 0 2010 1885 106.6 44
Hawthorn 10 8 0 1938 1750 110.7 40
North Melbourne 8 10 0 1993 1945 102.5 32
South Melbourne 8 10 0 1875 2012 93.2 32
St Kilda 4 14 0 1646 1978 83.2 16
Footscray 2 16 0 1491 2207 67.6 8
Melbourne 1 17 0 1521 2398 63.4 4


Read The Age, Monday 3rd August 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. Loving this series, Stainless. Amazing – almost 40 years since the start of Sunday footy! Where are the DR-Js and Croswells today? It’s PC pap by contrast.

  2. Stainless says

    Thanks Ian. If they were playing today, players like Rhys-Jones and Crosswell would either be delisted or would be “professionalised”.

  3. Wally from Williamstown says

    I was at that South v. Melbourne game, Rhys-Jones got reported for kicking the Melbourne runner, a relative of Norm Smith’s no less, amongst other allegations. South cunningly put him in hospital due to ‘severe concussion’ and ensured his photo was in the Sunday Press the following day along with him declaring he had no memory of what took place. Got 4 weeks in total from memory, he’d get life nowadays.

  4. I was @ Princess Park; any one old enough to recall that title?

    My ‘Catters’ were no match for the ‘Blue baggers’. Bosustow,what a mark ! A few weeks later I went to VFL park for the semi-final clash, of these two teams, reasonably confident after Geelong had knocked off Collingwood @ the ‘G’ to open the finals. Bosustow again turned it on with am amazing goal after smothering a kick from Ian Nankervis. Carlton flag, Bosustow goal, mark, of the year. For Carlton supporters it must seem like two life times ago.

    I totally concur with the above points. One thing to stomp out the alleged ‘thuggery’, but the game I played/watched in the 70’s, 80’s is so different to this semi contact pastime. Croswell, Ablett, Neale, Ditterich, Whitten: would they last a season now?

    I’m trying to remember where I was on the Sunday. Did Port Melbourne go to the Geelong West bike track for a pre-premiership warm up ? Let me think.


  5. Glen.

    Yep, you took a trip down the Highway to the Western Oval (Geelong West)

    PM 16.18-114 knocked over the hosts 10.20-80. A nine goal first quarter set up the comfortable victory. Seven goals to the great Jim Christou. Surprisingly both spearheads Cook and Radojevic were held to one major each.


  6. Great memories guys. I was at Waverley, feeling very frustrated that the Tiges weren’t obliterating the Dogs like they did the previous year. Being in Year 12, I went straight to VFL Park from the Monash Uni Open Day!

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