Almanac Footy History: 50 Years On – Hawthorn’s Nadir, May 1970


The old Sony Beta video tape machine had six very “clunky” piano type keys. A “state of the art” freeze frame capability (circa 1970) was it’s prized feature. Fifty years later, we could do worse than to just, perhaps, press that metaphoric ‘Pause’ button and have a closer inspection of how the mighty Hawks were travelling around May 1970.


As the month begins, we note that consecutive losses to each have now seen Richmond, North Melbourne and Hawthorn share the foot of the VFL ladder. Not too sure what happened next but history will confirm that these three clubs would recover and share eight premierships in the coming decade. Amazing.


But it is Hawthorn’s situation which attracts attention. Hudson is kicking bags. So is Matthews. Parkin is there, So is Scott. So is Knights. So, of course, is Kennedy. By mid-May, the Hawks are still winless and are two games clear at the bottom.


Fast forward twelve months to May 1971 and the Hawks are on top of the VFL ladder and on their way to a premiership and a stellar decade.


So how did that happen? Can someone please tell me?


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About Warwick Nolan

Cricket tragic. Football tragic. However, he did enjoy glory early in his career. His zenith was as a ten years old when Simpson and Lawry opened the batting, Baldock wore a Collingwood jumper and a UFO landed on the school oval.


  1. Well Warwick, you lost the first 7 games of 1970 then whipped South Melbourne ( remember them?) who were on their way to their first finals appearance since 1945.

    You won then won 10 of the next 15, though 4 of those losses were consecutive weeks between R’s 17& 20.

    1971 was a whole new story, 3 losses for the year: Peter Hudon, Hawthorn at their peak. Just before half time R 1 , 1972, Peter Hudson with 8 goals next to his name did his knee. 1971 was memory.


  2. Warwick Nolan says

    Thanks Glen,

    What astounds me is that the Hawthorn players’ list of 1970 remained virtually unchanged for the following season. All the premiership players of 1971 (and Peter Knights) were a part of Hawthorn’s poorly performing list of the previous season. No wholesale changes – only one new face – Robert Day.

    Was he the difference?

    Some might feel that perhaps Peter Hudson the difference?
    Hudson kicked a 146 in 1970 so the improvement can’t be defined as linked to his increased input. I can’t recall if John Kennedy was under any pressure or media scrutiny at the time – as current day coaches would be – as a winless, fourth year coach with seven straight losses?

    Hudson turns it on in the coming weekend against South to break the drought. I think the confirming turnaround for the Hawks probably comes in the following match against the eventual premiers at Princes Park?

    PS: Hawthorn is not my team.

  3. Yes Warwick i was just a nipper then,with a far better collection of 1971 than 1970.

    What changed? Hardly Robert Day, a good HB flanker,but ….. Of course we could talk about Alan Martello in his second season, Peter Knights/Leigh Matthews in their third, Peter Hudson best ever season,it’s like all the stars aligned during 1971.

    Of course 1971 was Hawthorn’s first September appearance since the 1961 premiership. Round 1 , 1972, Peter Hudson with 8 goals to his name does his knee just before half time in the season opener at Glenferie. No finals in 1972, or 1973.

    So Viele Fragen, So Viele Berichte.


  4. Stainless says

    I read a story about this just recently as it was exactly 50 years ago. The gist of it was that an exasperated John Kennedy handed the problem over to his players to sort out. Apparently there were some fairly strong words exchanged, particularly about how the ball was being delivered from the midfield to Peter Hudson. Whatever the case, it seemed to work. Possibly an earlier example of the successful “hands-off” coaching model that Hardwick and Buckley have adopted in recent years?

  5. Warwick Nolan says

    Thank you Stainless.
    Your explanation has me nodding in agreement somewhat.

    I also did hear that story recently also – about John Kennedy presiding over some tough player led conversations and feedback. The story is that Peter Hudson may have contributed with a suggestion that the midfield work somewhat harder and improve their delivery into the forward line. I think it may have been Des Meagher who provided the terse response involving an invitation for the great full forward to surrender the advantages of a spacious forward 50 and join them in the hurly burly of the muddy midfield – perhaps he could muster some inconspicuous team possessions in that heavy traffic himself?

    The conversations must have been effective. Hudson kicked 13 the next weekend – presumably from the spacious forward 50?

    Like you too perhaps, we were just too busy being a youngsters in 1970 to take any notice at all. In recent years, I have enjoyed reflecting back at various 50 year check points and wondering how I would have responded if I knew then what I know now. I most probably would have wandered out to Glenferrie Oval this weekend.

  6. Yes the comment by Stainless has resonance to it. The role of Des Meagher sounds familiar i, also believe Ray Wilson was another player involved in the ‘dialogue’.


  7. Stainless says

    Warwick – 1970 was the first year in which I was consciously aware of the VFL let alone the internal machinations of a club I don’t support!
    The other reason why I was recently made aware of Hawthorn’s nadir was that one of the games they played during that period was against Richmond at the new VFL Park – which was written up on the Richmond website as the first game either club played there. The Hawks can’t have been going too badly – they lost narrowly with the game’s impressive scoreline reading Richmond 21.11 Hawthorn 20.10. I think Huddo managed a mere eight that day!

  8. Ray Wilson says

    Glen and Lads, yes, the meeting has gone into folklore.
    Kennedy never asked the players for any feedback. We played to only 4 team rules, because he wanted us to be on the same page and he said the dumbest player could only remember 4. One was kick it as far as you could, no special emphasis on picking out a teammate. We had the meeting crammed into a shoe box the physio used. He invited suggestions. Huddo broke the silence suggesting that those of us upfield, if we had time to look, would we consider kicking it to the side that he was to his opponent. Not asking for lace out or anything. Des Meagher didn’t invite him upfield, he said as we had to fight for it he could do the same after we kicked it.
    It sounds crazy, but in the context of Des’s personality it fits. He had a weird sense of humour, he didn’t feel embarrassment and got his laughs seeing others embarrassed. One of a kind, I roomed with him on a Victorian Amateur trip and we played our first game together. We were the two closest to the ball at the siren in 1971. I always remember he and I embracing after it, as shown on the TV. He passed away so young, I miss him.
    Back to the meeting. Yes, I spoke next. Earlier there was a game at Geelong we lost with Scarlett Snr holding Huddo down while Bill Ryan who was a good mark lumbered across and marked it. We kicked long, Ryan marked again and again. I suggested if one of our players was absolutely alone in short we could kick it to him rather than long to a pack. It was accepted. First week one successful short. Next week two. In the next 3 weeks 4 good outcomes. Then at Glenferrie Oval one that missed. Kennedy used to coach from sitting on top of the shed on Linda Cres side. He was only a few metres from the boundary line. You could hear his booming voice over half the ground as you played. When the short kick missed, the voice boomed out “no more short passes”.
    What is not well known is Kennedy has a good sense of humour. Some years ago son Tony had him launch his novel Players in the Glenferrie Oval rooms. John shortened the story to something like ” I see Tony’s father Ray over there. He was one of the thinkers was Ray. We had this meeting once and he made an excellent case for on rare occasions kicking the ball short, which was somewhat foreign to my coaching style. When he had finished, I paused, said he made a lot of sense, and after thinking quietly and a long pause I bellowed “WE WILL KICK IT LONG”
    The crowd roared laughing. They had a taste of the privilege I had for years of being in the company of the great John Kennedy.

  9. Just catching up with this, Ray. Great to get an insider’s view. And, yes, I loved that launch night – ‘roared laughing’ is probably an understatement.

  10. Also, Ray, Peter Clark has been re-visiting the 1966 season – largely from a St Kilda perspective but he includes The Age coverage of all games. This week, by coincidence, Hawthorn went to Geelong. Looks like you were Hawthorn’s best. Brownlow votes?


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