Bombers on Strike

Looking back at Australian Bureau of Statistics, (ABS), data on strikes and industrial action I looked at the figures for Victoria. In 1970 there were 447 industrial disputes in Victoria. These involved around 333,000 workers, and saw just over 510, 800 working days lost. Missing from these statistics were the actions of a group of players at Essendon Football Club, who took their own form of industrial action to redress, perceived wrongs.


Essendon had a productive 1960’s with six finals appearances, leading to three grand finals, culminating in two premierships. In 1968 they lost a close Grand Final to Carlton then in 1969 they missed out on the finals. At the start of the 1970 season the players wanted payments for attending training tripled from one dollar to three, this coinciding with a request of receiving forty dollars per match until they had reached 50 games, and increments from that point after every further 25 games. It appears the club was willing to accede to these requests, but pressure from the Victorian Football League, (VFL), curtailed any settlement.


Five Essendon players led this ‘strike’, being the 1969 captain Don McKenzie, Barry Davis, Darryl Gerlach, Geoff Gosper, and Geoff Pryor. With Essendon being unable to settle, the five took a stand and chose not to play against South Adelaide in a pre-season practice match, but after further negotiations they made themselves eligible for selection. Shortly after the five ‘retired’, and were not chosen for the opening match of the VFL premiership season.


Essendon’s opening match was at Princess Park, against the previous season’s runners up, Carlton. The match was never a contest as Carlton jumped away to a 33 point lead at quarter time, 7.6.48 to 2.3.15. Carlton won by 49 points 21.19.145, to 14.12.96, with club legend Alex Jesaulenko kicking a tally of 9 goals, 6 behinds on his way to a season tally of 115 goals. One of the few notables for Essendon was a 6 goal performance from future Victorian and South Australian Sheffield Shield batsman, Les Stillman.


Following the loss it appears the club was willing to settle, yet pressure from the VFL meant they could not reach an early compromise. The stalemate dragged on a few more days, with resolution being reached prior to round 2. The VFL finally gave ground, and allowed Essendon to agree to increase the match payments to thirty five dollars. The club also gave money to a testimonial fund the players could access on retirement.


In round 2 Essendon played at home against Footscray, but there was no substantial improvement with visitors winning by 32 points, 14.22.106 to 10.14.74. One of the notables out of the match was it being the final game for Footscray defender Jon Jillard, who saw a victorious end to a 189 game career.


The same season saw a similar conflict occur at Collingwood with two of its key players Des Tuddenham, and Len Thompson, but that is another story.


The 1970’s were the first decade since the 1930’s that Essendon did not raise the Premiership Cup. This less than auspicious beginning might have been a portend of things to come, as they were not able to win a further premiership until 1984.


Hopefully this brief article can get tongues talking. There is more about this period that can and should be said, and if this starts the ball rolling it will be good.




I can be contacted at either [email protected], or [email protected]









  1. Dave Nadel says

    I have commented about this before on the almanac website, but you are missing the most interesting aspect of this story. The Essendon President, whose intransigence was probably the biggest impediment to settling the dispute, was Alan Hird. Hird’s daytime job was as a senior executive of the Victorian Education Department where he spent his time saying “no” to the teacher’s unions.

    One of the five strikers, Geoff Pryor, went on to be a key player in founding the vFL Players’ Association. Alan Hird went on to be the grandfather of a man who was, for a while, the highest paid player in the AFL, James Hird.

  2. Fair enough point Dave, and i take it on board. I had limited luck in finding more detailed information, though i could have tried a bit harder in certain areas. I am aware of Alan Hirds position, and did not feel confident discussing it in detail as i was aware you had covered some of this material,and i was not finding anything new to add to it. Ditto i had no luck geting contact details re Geoff Pryor. As i aluded to in the closure i am hoping this gets the ball rolling on this topic, and as i have finished my studies i am able to put some more effort into working on future material.



  3. Mic Rees says

    Glen – Excellent debut piece.

    Interesting times regarding sportmen “organising” – Marvin Miller and the MLBPA had just started to flex their collective muscle for minimum wage, free agency/death of the reserve clause etc.

    Look forward to your follow up(s).


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