Almanac (Footy) History: 1942 VFL Grand Final – Essendon v Richmond

Hard times. The year started with serious bushfires on our East Coast, then we found ourselves exposed to a global pandemic.  Victoria, especially Melbourne, has paid a heavy penalty from this pandemic; as a health professional don’t I know it! Maybe the last time Australia felt under this level of threat was during 1942.


True the current threat of Coronavirus, Covid 19, is different to the fears brought about by war, and the invasion by the ‘other’ with all its horror and brutality, but in both cases the ‘normality’ of life in Australia has been threatened and dramatically changed. What may have seemed a dystopian future is our current normal.


In 1942 the fears of Asiatic hordes, yellow peril, so pronounced in the beloved ‘White Australia’ policy looked like coming to fruition. With the declaration of hostilities on December 7 (or December 8, depending where one was on the international dateline) 1941, World War 2 took on a global feel.  The forces of Japanese militarism swept quickly through the European colonies in South East Asia as the colonial rulers proved to be little more than colossuses with feet of sand. The old certainties disappeared as the Rising Sun replaced the flag(s) of the colonial rulers. The quick, brutal victories, and widespread atrocities committed by Japanese forces caused great fear and angst in Australia. A particularly dreadful example was the rape, and murder, of Australian nurses who were captured when the SS Vyner Brooke was sunk off Bangka Island, adjacent to Sumatra.


For the Australian service men, and women, this was a dangerous time. For two years they’d seen action in Europe, and North Africa fighting fascism, now the war was on Australia’s back door step.  Members of the 8th division were in the forefront of action, with many subsequently captured/killed in Malaya, Singapore, Timor, Ambon and Rabaul. The 8th division lost over 10,000 men, including 2,500 killed in action. Of those who became Prisoners Of War (POW) an estimated 1/3 died. Reinforcements from other units that were hurriedly sent to Java also suffered the same fate.


Our aircraft, such as Buffaloes, Wirraways, and the slow, though dependable Catalina flying boats were outnumbered, and outclassed, by the experienced Japanese pilots in their more modern aircraft, as our limited number of available aircraft were heavily decimated. On the seas Australia suffered further losses including the sinking of the cruiser HMAS Perth, whose legendary captain Hector Waller was one of 353 who lost their lives when the Perth went down. The gaunt survivors joined the growing ranks of POW’s.


The Australian mainland was under attack, the first time since the European invasion. Darwin was bombed initially on February 19, with further air raids on Broome, Wyndham, and Townsville. The raids on Darwin continued well into 1943. Even Sydney Harbour did not provide safe harbour as on the night of May 31 Japanese midget submarines snuck in torpedoing vessels with a substantial loss of life. Over the next week the submarines remained active on this stretch of coastline.


Amidst the horror, gloom and doom the Victorian Football League (VFL) remained a constant, a beacon in this challenging period. Like the Australian Football League (AFL) in 2020 it gave a ‘relief’ from the overwhelming horrors confronting the populace.


The VFL, like the AFL now, had to adjust the playing of the season. The 1942 season was reduced to 16 rounds, and adding to its complexities there was a bye, as Geelong’s withdrawal from the competition reduced it to 11 teams. The bye gave the recipient 4 points; however, this wasn’t always even as some teams got two byes during the season, others only got the one.


Geelong was not the only club to have a difficulty taking the field in 1942. The toffs of Melbourne briefly spoke of amalgamating with the working-class Collingwood: perish the thought! It didn’t eventuate.


Various footy grounds were not available, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground, (MCG). The MCG became a major military base.  Firstly, it housed members of the American Airforce, during which it was named Camp Murphy in honour of an American pilot shot down and killed in Java, early in 1942. Subsequently the Royal Australian Air Force, (RAAAF) and the United States Marines, occupied the MCG. No official sport was played there during the reminder of the war.


Even the Brownlow Medal went into hiatus, not being awarded again until Melbourne’s Don Cordner won it in 1946.


At the end of the home and away season Essendon finished top on 52 points, with twelve wins and a bye from their sixteen games, four points behind was second placed Richmond. Both met in the second semi-final where Richmond 11.12.78, were too strong for Essendon 8.8.56. Essendon bounced back with a 28-point victory over a side called South Melbourne, 19.10.124 to 14.12.96, to win a berth in the Grand Final.


Essendon had been runners up the previous year, Richmond the year prior. Both had lost to Melbourne. Now was a chance for redemption.


The 1942 Grand Final was played at Princes Park. This was first of three Grand Finals played at this ground, the last of these being the ‘bloodbath’ in 1945.


Around 49,000 spectators crammed into the ground on Saturday September 19. Away from here Australian service personal were in action across the globe, including on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea where a bloody, ruthless campaign was fought terribly close to Australia. The enemy was on the doorstep, so a VFL Grand Final would hopefully help bolster spirits on the home front. This was the backdrop to the day.


Both teams contained Legends of their clubs. Essendon were led by triple Brownlow Medallist Dick Reynolds, Richmond led by none other than the immortal, ‘Captain Blood’, Jack Dyer.  Both were Captain-Coaches of their respective teams. Alongside Reynolds were players like Wally Buttsworth , centre halfback in Essendon’s team of the century along with others bearing famous names such as Cassin and Hird, family names that are etched into Essendon history.  ‘Captain Blood’ had the company of chaps like Jack Titus, full forward in their team of the century, another listed as a club immortal.  Also, in the team were mere mortals like Ray Steele who later managed Australian cricket teams, and Danny Guinane, father of future club vice-captain Paddy.


The first term was even enough, Essendon leading by two points. 2.6.18 to 2.4.16.  Essendon had an early case of the yips kicking six straight minors, before converting. Richmond hung on, hoping for better.


Richmond were handicapped by not being able to finalise their team until just prior to the start of the game, with several late changes to the starting line-up.  However, they got the opening goal of the second term giving them a short-lived break before Essendon got on top holding a substantial buffer at half time, leading 8.14.62 to 4.4.28. As was the case at the start of the game their kicking for gaol was less than perfect. With half time the teams were able to gain a breather, but there was a half time ‘event’ to keep the fans attention. In this modern era where footy sits at the forefront of the entertainment industry, the beginning, timing, of a half time break may be impacted by making sure the sponsors message is received by the audience. More than once the start has been delayed by having the TV cameras able to have a clear, unhindered view of some advertising display. (Have I imagined that?) Here the start of the second half was delayed as both Captain-Coaches spoke to the crowd urging they support the war time Austerity Loan. The Austerity Loan was about Australians not spending money on non -essentials (the footy?) thus pledging money into the war loans. The loans saw Australians put their money into helping fund/purchase the equipment required to win the war. Australians were encouraged to work longer, spending less. This was a time when recycling of items, and the popularity of community gardens, were considered as every day normal with people adjusting their lives around supporting the war effort. Anyhow, back to the footy.


The Premiership quarter, the third quarter, saw Essendon go further in front. They kicked another six goals to lead 14.16.100, to Richmond lagging well behind on 5.10.40. With the match in the bag Essendon relaxed in the final term allowing Richmond to regain some pride, as Essendon celebrated their seventh flag, the first since 1924. Essendon were the 1942 VFL premiers winning 19.18.132 to Richmond 11.13.79.


For the victors, team of the century centre half back Wally Buttsworth was the best, marking strongly, and proving a springboard for his team attacks.  Captain-Coach Dick Reynolds led from the front, and up forward Gordon Lane proved a handful, though wasteful, kicking 6.6. Other fine contributors included Jack Cassin, Elton Plummer, and Murray Exelby. For the vanquished Leo Merrett, Ray Steele, Danny Guinane, and Dick Harris all put in fine efforts.


Apparently, the week after this, Essendon played a match against the combined services. Does anyone know about this clash?


In 2020 CE we face a different enemy on the doorstep. It is so different there are people who even deny its existence. Hard to fight something you don’t believe exists. Far harder to recover from something you don’t believe exists.


During 1942 we had probably Australia’s greatest ever Prime Minister, John Curtin, who led the nation through its darkest hour. Currently we have a marketing man, with a special friend in the sky. After the early unity of a national cabinet the fig leaf covering of ‘all of us being in it together’, is rapidly disappearing as blame is being apportioned, with the Murdoch media unleashing a virulent campaign on the Victorian ALP Government of Daniel Andrews. How will we come out of this? What will historians write of this period? Who will win the 2020 AFL flag? I don’t dare ask where the Grand Final will be held, I’ll leave that to others.


Remember; the future is unwritten.


1942 VFL Grand Final, Essendon V Richmond


¼ time: Essendon 2.6.18   Richmond 2.4.16


½ time: Essendon 8.14.62   Richmond 4.4.28


¾ time: Essendon 14.16.100   Richmond 5.10.40


Final Score: Essendon 19.18.132   Richmond 11.14.80



·       G Lane 6

·       D Reynolds 4

·       J Cassin 3

·       L Dearle 2

·       M Exelby 2

·       G Abbott 1

·       T Reynolds 1


·       D Harris 3

·       J Dyer 2

·       J Titus 2

·       B Hay 1

·       D Martin 1

·       L Merrett 1

·       B Randall 1





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  1. Essendon’s 14 scoring shots in the 2nd quarter of the 1942 Grand Final is the equal most for the 2nd quarter of a Grand Final.
    Collingwood 4.10-34 in 1936 vs Sth Melbourne.
    Essendon 6.8-44 in 2000 vs Melbourne.

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