Almanac (footy) History: VFA Lightning Premierships


Watching the first quarter of the recent Richmond V Collingwood season ‘re-opener’ something flicked in my poor old brain. With its shortened quarters, the low scores, the match gave me odd flashbacks of the old Lightning Premierships. For many readers a Lightning Premiership is a foreign concept.  For those of us in Victoria one of the better-known examples (maybe) is  from the halcyon days of the Victorian Football Association, (VFA).  They are/were Australia’s second oldest Football league commencing back in 1877.


Way back when I was ‘Living in the 70’s’ the VFA ran a Lightning Premiership. In that period the VFA was divided into the two divisions, the First, and the Second.  It’s worth noting this wasn’t the first time the VFA ran a Lightning Premiership, they had done so previously in 1896. The 1896 event saw four teams, Essendon, Port Melbourne, Collingwood and South Melbourne compete on a Saturday early in the season.  That time the victor was Essendon 2.4.16 triumphing over Port Melbourne 1.1.7. Interestingly two rules introduced for that encounter became long term aspects of our ‘home grown’ game. There was the introduction of boundary umpires, also the requirement to kick the ball 10 yards into the hands of another player for it to be called a mark.



The VFA Lightning Premiership was a knockout competion where a loss was sudden death, whilst a victory took the team to the next round.  It was a shorter version of the actual game of football without any changes to the rules.


The lightning premiership commenced in 1972, its last season was in 1979. Competing teams were those who failed to reach the finals of their respective Division. The matches were primarily curtain raisers to the actual VFA finals. Matches consisted of two shortened halves. With the two divisions the seasons didn’t run concurrently, thus the Second Division finals commenced, and concluded, a fortnight prior to the First Division.


Over the seven seasons of the Lightning Premiership the format of how teams reached the final underwent some changes. Remember this competition commenced during a time of final four, the VFA also only having ten teams in each division. Primarily the team finishing seventh played the tenth ranked team first up, concurrently the eighth placed played the ninth.


This was followed by the two winning teams meeting. Next up the semi-finals with the team who finished the First Division season in fifth spot playing the winner of the Second Division Lightning Premiership, whilst the seasons sixth based team played the winner from the clashes between the victors of the opening matches.  From there we had a final.


The Second Division format saw the opening clash mirror the First Division format. You had the first semi-final where the fifth played the winner of the clash between the seventh and tenth, then next up the sixth placed side saw them take on the winner of eight versus ninth. Into the from there, and if lucky enough into the First Division semi-final. With the Second Division Lightning Premiership, the winner of this went into the semi-finals of the First Division Lightning Premiership.


The below listed indicate the victors of the respective divisions. The first listed result is from the First Division, ditto the next relates to the Second Division.


1972: Coburg 6.2.38 Defeated Port Melbourne 3.8.26: Box Hill 3.6.24 defeated Frankston 2.3.15


1973: Geelong West 8.3.51 Defeated Preston 2.9.21: Northcote 9.5.59 defeated Box Hill 3.5.23


1974: Preston 6.2.38   Defeated Prahran 5.3.33:  Northcote 7.3.45 Defeated Frankston 4.3.27


1975:  Prahran 7.2.44 Defeated Northcote 3.5.23: Northcote 6.8.44 defeated Mordialloc 2.4.16


1976: Coburg 5.7.37 Defeated Brunswick 1.7.13: Camberwell 4.3.27 Defeated Werribee 1.3.9


1977:  Caulfield 4.7.31 Defeated Dandenong 4.3.27: Frankston 6.4.40 defeated Northcote 5.4.34


1978:  Werribee 5.2.32 Defeated Sandringham 3.10.28: Werribee 5.4.34 Defeated Box Hill 4.3.27


1979:  Sandringham 3.5.23 Defeated Yarraville 2.5.17: Yarraville 6.8.44 Defeated Northcote 1.5.11


There were some notable results over the years.


In 1975 on the back of their third consecutive win in the Second Division Lightning Premiership, Northcote advanced to play the season decider against First Division side Prahran.  Unfortunately for Northcote’s Dragons they couldn’t deliver on the big stage, Prahran saluting by 21 points.


We saw Second Division team Werribee win the 1978 First Division Lightning Premiership over an inaccurate Sandringham, 5.2.32 to 3.10.28. If my memory is correct former Australian test cricketer Les Joslin coached Werribee that day, with future Australian test cricketer Merv Hughes playing in the winning side.


Werribee had won four matches on their way  to the decider.  In the Second Division matches they had beaten Williamstown, Northcote, then Box Hill prior to going to the next stage where they took on First Division opponent Coburg. In a tight clash they beat Coburg by 5 points, 7.1.43 to 6.2.38; this got them into the decider against Sandringham.  The victory over Coburg was achieved when Werribee’s John Bellin goaled after the final siren. Coburg had finished the 1978 season holding fifth spot in First Division, one game out of the finals.


It’s worth noting the season prior Sandringham made the First Division Grand Final. It was the VFA Centenary year, with the result being a concise 100 points victory to Port Melbourne, trouncing Sandringham 23.19.157 to 7.15.57.


Another interesting feature was in 1973 Box Hill were wooden spooners losing every home and away game, but reached the Second Division Lightning Premiership final. This wasn’t the only time Box Hill were wooden spooners in the regular season though reached the Lightning Premiership final, doing the same in 1978. Whilst we’re talking about Box Hill it’s worth mentioning their draw against Sunshine on May 28, 1978 ended a 29-game losing streak in the regular competition going back to round 15 1976.


Having these matches televised by the old Channel 0 gave Second Division players a chance to show their wares to the wider footy following audience.


Two players that come to mind were Yarraville’s John Sharp, also Werribee’s Kevin Leece.


John Sharp was a player you may call a ‘fiery character’. Sharp was subsequently banned from the VFA indefinitely in 1983. Sharp also played cricket for Footscray, where he’s a Hall of Famer, and though blessed with natural ability never got selected for Victoria.


Kevin Leece was a member of the winning 1978 Lightning Premiership side. He was a full forward of note during this time, despite suffering from wonky knees. He’s recognised as the clubs leading goal kicker, also a Legend in their Hall of Fame.


Other leagues in this wide brown land including South Australia, and Tasmania, have had their Lightning Premierships. 1971 saw West Australia host the Rothman’s Channel 7 Cup drawing four local teams, alongside two each from South Australia, and Victoria.


The Australian Football League (AFL) have also toyed with the idea of Lightning Premierships.  Back in February 1996 a Lightning Premiership was conducted to recognise the Leagues’ centenary, with matches consisting of two 17 ½ minute halves.


Again, between 2011 & 2013, opening rounds of the AFL pre-season competition were played in a lightning format, with round robin matches, and knockouts being part of the set up. There were also changes made to some of the rules, such as with the out of bounds rules if the last contact involved a player possessing the ball prior to it crossing the line.


Footy in 2020 is going to be a very different/difficult proposition with a path that is anything but straight and narrow. Could a Lightning Premiership be on the agenda in these dystopian times? Remember, the future is unwritten.




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 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





  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Hmmm, interesting thought! I’d imagine all options are on the table with the AFL at the moment as this crazy season endeavours to move forward.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Well researched Glen, I love reading about the old VFA, was very interested to hear Phil Cleary talk on SEN this afternoon about the new VFA hall of fame that is being started.

    Fond memories of playing Lightning premierships in primary school, we went undefeated the whole year in Grade 6!

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Am I right in thinking Carlton, Collingwood & Essendon had their own 3 team lightning premiership for a year or two in the 1990’s?

  4. Wow, this brought back some memories, Glen!

    By the way, I played cricket both against and with John Sharp at various stages later in his cricket career. As tough a competitor as you would ever come across, and a sledger beyond compare. I must say I much preferred it when he was on the same team as me. He was equally colourful off-field. And, at one point he was married to Playboy centerfold Karen West.

  5. G’day Luke, please jog my memory re Carlton,Collingwood, Essendon in the 1990’s? You’ve caught me out on that.

    Smokie, as i said John Sharp was a ‘fiery character’, apparently not a man to trifle with. There were a few stories of note, you imagine they were heard by the VCA which is possibly why he never played for his state.

    If i’m correct his family owned a record shop in Barkly St,Footscray. I totally forgot the Karen West marriage. He was certainly colourful.


  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Glen, have done a bit of digging, Collingwood, Carlton and Essendon played a three team lightning premiership at Waverley Park prior to the 1995 Ansett Cup. It appears to be only time this happened with these three teams.

  7. Ta Luke.

    I really can’t recall that. I know where i was in 1995, i knew what i was doing, have a good recollection of another fine Geelong season, without a flag, but you’ve caught me out there.


  8. Wally from Williamstown says

    Williamstown won it in 1946 in the second season of the VFA after the war, which was played by all the sides that failed to make the grand final, not just the final four, which seems a tad unfair as the teams that didn’t make the final four had probably been on an end-of-season trip and had four weeks on the turps. Willi beat Port, Oakleigh and then Prahran in the final. Had a pretty fair team also, Ron Todd, Allan Williams (Collingwood), future Richmond star, Geoff Spring, ‘Bomber’ Wells (North Melbourne & St Kilda), Lou Salvas (Hawthorn), ‘Kisser’ Cameron (Carlton), Dick Harris (Richmond), future South Melbourne player Reg Harley, Colin Wilcox (Melbourne) and Jack Sullivan (Richmond).

  9. Like Luke, I have done a bit of research.

    It was actually the 1996 AFL Lightning Premiership. It was an AFL knock out competition played in its entirety before the AFL’s main pre season competition began.

    The lightning premiership was held for the only time in the modern era in 1996, the Centenery season of the AFL.

    It was a knock out competition played from Friday, 9 February until Sunday, 11 February, with 4 games each evening at Waverley Park, each consisting of two 17.5 minute halves.

    The game trialled a number of highly experimental rules, including 3 points awarded both for deliberate rushed behinds and balls which hit the goalposts, and timekeepers not blowing the siren if the scores were tied.

    However, the rule which altered play most significantly was the ball not being thrown from the boundary line after travelling out of bounds, a free kick being awarded instead against the last team to touch the ball. Essendon won the title, defeating Brisbane by 17 points in the Grand Final.

    Like Glen, I have no recollection of that particular lightning premiership. I actually remember a few years ago at Marvel Stadium, there were double and triple headers, where 3 teams would play two 10 or 15 minute halves against each other and another time in the pre season.

    Of course, as a St Kilda supporter, I remember the actual 1996 pre season Ansett Cup, where I was at Waverley Park, and was one of the thousands of St Kilda supporters who ran on to the field after the final siren, when St Kilda thrashed Carlton, in the night Grand Final.

    Although it wasn’t a real AFL premiership, it was the next best thing for very long suffering St Kilda fans, since the 1966 flag.

Leave a Comment