1981 Revisited – Round 5: Anzac Day ‘All those years ago’

ANZAC Day and the AFL are inextricably linked. Within the powerful imagery that surrounds this day, the ceremonies staged at ANZAC Day football matches are as recognisable as the parades of veterans and dawn services staged at Gallipoli, the Shrine of Remembrance and cenotaphs the length and breadth of the country.


So here’s a piece of trivia. How many times is ‘ANZAC Day’ mentioned in the Football Record for Round 5, 1981?


The answer may surprise. It’s zero. A complete round of matches was played on ANZAC Day 1981 and the VFL didn’t even rate the day itself worth a mention.


A retrospective series like this provides an opportunity to reflect on how changes to the game reflect broader change in our way of life and our attitudes. In revisiting 1981, the profoundly contrasting recognition of ANZAC Day football, then and now, says a lot about societal change over the last four decades.


In 1981, the VFL’s lack of acknowledgment of ANZAC Day mirrored a widespread attitude at the time. The ranks of veterans from the two World Wars were thinning out. Public enthusiasm for honouring those who had served was low, tarnished by the bitter divisions caused by Australia’s recent involvement in the Vietnam war. There was little effort being made, either by governments or returned services organisations, to turn the tide of public opinion. In short, the place of ANZAC Day, as a significant part of our national identity, was in steady, seemingly inexorable decline.


This malaise was reflected at the footy on 25 April 1981. As a regular punter, I used to arriving early to secure a good vantage point and watch the curtain-raiser, I instead had to endure a couple of hours watching an empty MCG, thanks to legislation that prohibits sport on this day prior to 1.00pm. At around 1.30, the lull was broken by an amateurish pre-game ceremony involving a poorly-observed minute’s silence and a rendition of the Last Post. The crowd, unfamiliar with these formalities and, by this point, impatient for action, marked them neither with the respect nor solemnity that crowds today have learned to display.


How to explain, then, the massive transformation that now sees ANZAC Day occupying its prime position on the football calendar? The obvious catalyst was the freakish combination of that epic Collingwood-Essendon match and the monster attendance in 1995. But a similar event occurred in 1977 when Richmond and Collingwood played before a crowd of 92,000. Despite that clear indicator of ANZAC Day’s potential, we continued to treat it as just another day at the footy for two more decades. The difference in 1995 was the ever-active mind of Kevin Sheedy which conceived the notion of making this game a permanent fixture with clear links, commercial and symbolic, to ANZAC Day and the returned services men and women it honoured.


The timing was perfect, aligning as it did with a major positive shift in public sentiment towards ANZAC Day and those who have served in armed conflict over the last century. The reasons for this are complex and belong in a sociological thesis rather than a brief retrospective football summary. However, what is evident to me is that with the passage of time since my youth, the original ANZACs, now no longer with us, have assumed legendary status, particularly in the minds of younger people who never knew the survivors as my generation did – as mere mortals with various imperfections. The growth of the ANZAC Legend occurred alongside (or because of?) the greater prominence given to our military history in the official narrative about our national identity, which began under the Howard Government and has now endured a generation. As a consequence, Australians have become better informed about their deeds and the horrors they endured. Where once these experiences and their awful impacts on health and mental well-being used not to be spoken about, marginalising the ANZACs to an insular, little-understood group, that silence has been replaced by greater openness, understanding and empathy.


This shift is reflected in the presentation of ANZAC Day footy today with its elaborate, professionally choreographed ceremonies. Yet, respectful and moving as they are, I cannot help a nagging sense of a narrative being imposed, that wasn’t there in 1981.  When I think of my late grandfather, A World War 1 veteran who absolutely shunned any observance of ANZAC Day, I wonder whether he would have approved of the pageantry that now takes place, with its thinly veiled streak of patriotism?


Once the awkward ceremonials had been observed, a fairly mundane round of footy played out.


At the G, Richmond made it four wins straight and inflicting a third consecutive loss on Geelong. The Cats’ strong defence, led by Gary Malarkey, kept Roach and Bartlett quiet, but the Tigers still dictated terms through the dominance of Lee, Sarah, Rowlings. Wiley and Wood. Back to third on the ladder, the reigning premier had seemingly overcome its shock Round 1 loss and was starting to mount a strong defence of the 1980 Flag.


In the match at VFL Park, alarm bells were starting to ring at Essendon, however. Despite further good form from Tony Buhagiar, the Bombers succumbed for the fourth week in five while Fitzroy snuck into the top five with another solid win.



Elsewhere, the competition leaders, Carlton and Collingwood tuned up for their forthcoming match-up with big wins over St Kilda and Melbourne. The Blues were slow out of the blocks but atoned for a goalless first quarter with 17 in the next two. Four goals from Mike Fitzpatrick in nine minutes against the wind shortly after half time put the icing on the cake for Carlton.


The game at Victoria Park was one-sided from early on. Was this the only occasion that Tony Shaw bagged five goals in a game?


South had a comfortable win at home in a match described as follows in the Footy Record: “Neither side distracted the spectators whose attention was directed at the races, the yachting or anything else that moved, such was the standard of the game”. Teasdale’s five match suspension from the previous week was compensated for by a fine game from Barry Round in one of the game’s few highlights.


The Hawks, without Matthews and Knights, were still too strong for North. Tuck, Robertson and Greene spearheaded the Hawks’ thrust while Wayne Schimmelbusch again starred for the losers.







Fitzroy 6.1 10.3 14.6 19.11 (125)

Essendon 2.6 9.8 10.13 15.14 (104)


FITZROY — Goals: Quinlan 4, Mugavin 4, Murnane 3, Conlan 3, McMahon 2, Rendell 2, Lewis.
ESSENDON: Buhagiar 4, Fowler 2, Watson 2, Hawker 2, Neagle, Andrews, Carmen, Foulds, Thomson.


FITZROY — Best: O’Neill, Quinlan, Conlan, Mugavin, Murnane, Harris.
ESSENDON: J. Madden, Buhagiar, Clarke, Stoneham, Watson, Crow.


Umpires: Howe, Sutcliffe.


Attendance at VFL Park: 33,465. Receipts: $69,071.




South Melbourne 4.5 9.9 11.14 18.22 (130)

Footscray 3.4 3.9 7.13 9.14 (68)


SOUTH MELBOURNE – Goals: Roberts 4, Round 4, Smith 2, Evans, Goss, Taylor, Wright, James, Jackson, Kruse, Foschini.

FOOTSCRAY: Dunstan 3, Ford 2, Hawkins, Davidson, Komp, Perrin.


SOUTH MELBOURNE — Best: Round, Hounsell, Wright, Taylor, Evans, Cowton.

FOOTSCRAY: Hampshire, Dunstan, Hawkins, Reid.


Umpires: Sawers, Cameron.


Attendance at Lake Oval: 12,545. Receipts: $19,770.




Carlton 0.4 9.11 17.16 19.23 (137)

St. Kilda 3.6 4.8 7.10 10.13 (73)


CARLTON — Goals: Fitzpatrick 4, Bosustow 4, Ashman 2, McConville 2, Sharp 2, Marcou 2, Wells, Buckley, Howell.

ST KILDA: Meehan 3, Cunningham 2, Barker, Breen, Roberts, Jesaulenko, Nettlefold.


CARLTON — Best: Ashman, Marcou, Jones, Fitzpatrick, Hunter, Bosustow, Perovic, Southby.

ST KILDA: Dunne, Barker, Thomas.


Umpires: Robinson, Smith.


Attendance at Moorabbin: 32,341. Receipts: $68,048.




Hawthorn 6.3 10.6 13.11 17.16 (118)

North Melbourne 2.4 5.8 9.14 11.17 (83)


HAWTHORN — Goals: Goss 4, Davies 3, Hendrie 2, Eade 2, Robertson 2, Tuck, Greene, Considine, Turner.

NORTH MELBOURNE: Easton 2, Glendinning 2, Tanner 2, Jarrott 2, Hodgeman, W. Schimmelbusch, Wright.


HAWTHORN — Best: Robertson, Greene, Goss, Tuck, Eade, Davies.

NORTH MELBOURNE: W. Schimmelbusch, Jarrott, Glendinning, Ramsay, Tanner, Hodgeman.


Umpires: Deller, Nash.


Attendance at Princes Park: 16,106. Receipts: $25,844.




Richmond 3.4 7.11 10.16 15.22 (122)

Geelong 1.6 7.7 8.13 11.18 (84)


RICHMOND — Goals: Rowlings 3, Cloke 3, Roach 2, Sarah 2, Wiley, Tempany, Wood, Jess, Bartlett.

GEELONG: Bright 3, Clarke 3, Bos 2, Johnston, Featherby, Witcombe.


RICHMOND — Best: Rowlings, Lee, Wood, Wiley, Weightman, Raines, Landy.

GEELONG: I. Nankervis, Malarkey, Turner, Bright, Yeates, Bos, B. Nankervis.


Umpires: Chapman, Dye.


Attendance at MCG: 46,230. Receipts: $96,280.




Collingwood 7.1 13.5 16.11 21.20 (146)

Melbourne 3.1 4.3 9.5 13.5 (83)


COLLINGWOOD — Goals: A. Shaw 5, Davis 3, Barham 2, R. Shaw 2, Weideman 2, Allan 2, Hannebery, Morris, Williams, Taylor, Smith.

MELBOURNE: O’Donnell 4, Healy 2, Moir 2, Giles, Pinner, Catoggio, Seddon, Jackson.


COLLINGWOOD — Best: A. Shaw, Moore, Byrne, Barham, McCormack, Picken.

MELBOURNE: Smith, Baker, Maynard, Moir, O’Donnell, Hutchison.


Umpires: Fellows, James.


Attendance at Victoria Park: 30,096. Receipts: $36,460.








P W L D F A % P
CARLTON 5 5 0 0 616 430 143.3 20
COLLINGWOOD 5 5 0 0 716 503 142.3 20
RICHMOND 5 4 1 0 581 547 106.2 16
FITZROY 5 3 2 0 674 581 116.0 12
HAWTHORN 5 3 2 0 588 536 109.7 12
St Kilda 5 2 3 0 600 587 102.2 8
North Melbourne 5 2 3 0 538 539 99.8 8
South Melbourne 5 2 3 0 576 644 89.4 8
Geelong 5 2 3 0 427 482 88.6 8
Essendon 5 1 4 0 479 512 93.6 4
Melbourne 5 1 4 0 501 701 71.5 4
Footscray 5 0 5 0 455 689 66.0 0


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


Round 5- Monday 27th April
Read The Age, Monday 27th April 1981, for coverage of all matches HERE.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE



About Sam Steele

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



    I WAS TWO IN 1981

  2. Shane John Backx says

    I wish someone would write an article on the Rich-Coll Anzac Day clash in 1977. That game was HUUGE!! Tommy Gods first game coaching against the Tigers

  3. G’day Sam. I’m not entirely surprised of no mention of Anzac Day in the Record.

    Anzac Day wasn’t the ‘commercialised/mythical’ entity is is now. Anzac Day was a solemn day, a day to commemorate, to mourn those who were no longer here.

    There were too many survivors, too many family members touched by war, especially the two World Wars. It wasn’t a day of celebration, tourist jaunts to Turkey, PNG

    Anzac Day was important, but its meaning seems different to how it’s now portayed/perceived.

    As an aspect of the changing nature of the day what was for a long time known as the ‘Kokoda Trail’ has become the ‘Kokoda Track’.

    Let’s acknowledge Anzac Day, acknowledging the horrors of war, with the human costs associated.

    Lest we forget.


  4. Stainless says

    Thanks for the comments.
    It’s obvious from a number of the other current posts that the significance of ANZAC Day within the football calendar is a subject of much debate and is really just a small element of the much bigger conversation about its place in our national identity. Glen – I totally agree with your summation of how ANZAC Day has changed over the years.

    Shane – sadly, I wasn’t at the 1977 ANZAC Day game, but as fate would have it, just a couple of days ago, Tony Greenberg produced a report on the match for the Richmond website. https://www.richmondfc.com.au/news/587105

Leave a Comment