Almanac Politics and Footy: Who was in government when your team won the flag?


Carlton fan Sir Robert Menzies at Princes Park. [Photo: Blueseum]


The week off between preliminary and grand finals has given me time to think about the role of politics in football.  I often hear people talk about footy politics but rarely does anyone go back and consider party politics in relation to footy.


One of my many sisters has been banging on about how Melbourne last won a granny when Sir Robert Menzies was in power.  She feels that noose around their neck needs to be removed.  For those wondering, she’s right.  Melbourne last won the granny in 1964 – Sir Robert’s second last year as prime minister.  Australian history buffs will recall that Menzies came to power in December 1949 and retired on 26 January 1966; his is still Australia’s longest serving prime ministership.


Interestingly (stick with me), all bar one of Melbourne’s premierships have been won while a conservative government was in power.  Menzies was the sitting prime minister for eight of Melbourne’s premierships. The other conservative leaders were Lord Stanley Bruce (1926) and Sir Arthur Fadden in 1941 – although Fadden led the Country Party at the time.  The only “Labor Flag” that Melbourne has won was in 1948 when Ben Chifley was the prime minister.


For the Bulldogs, it’s a much easier task as they have only two premierships to their name, unlike the Dees who have twelve flags – one of which was before federation when Australia did not have a prime minister, per se.  Both of the Bulldogs’ premierships were won while conservative governments were in power.  The first, in 1954, when Menzies (the Carlton supporter) was prime minister while of course the most recent premiership was in 2016 when Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister.


In looking at success of footy teams in terms of the type of Commonwealth Government in power, only Essendon has won more premierships with a progressive government with eight flags under Labor and seven under a conservative government.  West Coast has two flags each for conservative or progressive governments.  My own team (pay attention! – Hawthorn!) is closely divided with seven wins to a conservative government and six wins to a progressive government.


Looking at the “working suburbs”, Collingwood has an 11:4 ratio, favouring the conservatives while Carlton has a 10:6 ratio – again favouring the conservatives.  Some readers might find the table below interesting, or not!


Of course, I could break this down into the gender of prime ministers but given we’ve only had one woman as PM, it won’t take long to read – a bit like the involvement of women in AFL more broadly.  Julia Gillard was prime minister over three grand finals and oversaw diversity in the premierships:  Collingwood in 2010, Geelong in 2011 and Sydney in 2012.


Our longest serving prime minister (remember?  Menzies) reigned when six different teams won a flag – Essendon, Melbourne, Geelong, Hawthorn, Collingwood, and Footscray.  Most of Bob Hawke’s premierships were won by Hawthorn in the glory years of the 1980s (five premierships), although Tony Abbott surprisingly also won a couple for the Hawks.  Note I have now segued to awarding premierships to prime ministers rather than teams.  That’s what happens when you live and breathe politics and footy, and also live in Canberra!


Noting that West Coast has equal numbers of conservative and progressive premierships, Paul Keating is responsible for both of the progressive wins.


Prime ministers who won just one flag are Arthur Fadden (Labor) who won the flag for Melbourne in 1941, Joseph Cook (Commonwealth Liberal) who supported Fitzroy to a flag in 1913, and George Reid (Free Trade) who also supported Fitzroy to a flag in 1904.


What does all this mean for the grand final weekend?  I’ll leave it to the experts to calculate the statistical significance of these data, but given that we’ve all become experts in all sorts of fields since Covid began, I would say there’s no significance here!  Both teams have won more premierships under a conservative government so neither is favoured over the other on this basis!


Stand by for my next instalment when I might look at the colour of the players’ hair!






Adelaide 2 0
Brisbane/Fitzroy 7 2
Carlton 10 6
Collingwood 11 4
Essendon 7 8
Footscray 2 0
Geelong 6 3
Hawthorn 7 6
Melbourne 10 1
North Melbourne 3 1
Port Adelaide 1 0
Richmond 10 3
South Melbourne/Sydney 4 1
St Kilda 1 0
West Coast 2 2
83 37
Gold Coast
Greater Western Sydney



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About Anne Cahill Lambert

One of the first females to be admitted to membership of the G. Thank you Mr Cain. Nicknamed The Hyphen by Alamanac Editor, despite the fact I don't have one.


  1. Good stuff ACL. Certainly gets you thinking. Anyhow a couple of points.

    Firstly being a pedant re ‘Artie’ Fadden. In your third paragraph you acknowledge the Country Party stalwart was Prime Minister when Melbourne won the flag in 1941. He was Prime Minister for 39 days after Menzies lost the support of members of the Coalition government of the day. Anyhow in your third last paragraph you’ve made a typo listing him as Labor.

    Secondly in Victoria we have a state Labor government. The two times Footscray ( Bulldogs) have been premiers we’ve had Labor governments in Victoria In 1954 it was led by John Cain Snr, in 2016 it was under the current premier Dan Andrews.


  2. Sorry ACL I submitted my comments before I’d put all my notes together.

    Both Footscray (Bulldogs) flags coincided with a state Labor government, as well as a federal coalition government.

    As far as I’ve ascertained the only Melbourne flag won when there was a state Labor government in Victoria was Melbourne reserves victory in 1984.

    Omens look good for the Tricolors.


  3. Anne Cahill Lambert says

    Whoops, silly errors occur when you realise that few people have written about federal politics and AFL and you want to be first at the trough, Glen!
    I had thought about doing a Victorian State Government thing, but decided in the end to focus on it being a national league, despite the fact that it was Victorian for such a very long time.
    It seems, Glen, that you are even kookier than I am in the hunt for political links to grand finals!!
    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


  4. Peter Fuller says

    Point of order (clarification – or perhaps confusion) Madame Speaker:
    By my count Labor has been in office for 35 years of the 121 years, so the expected frequency of Labor.non Labor incumbency 35:86 when a team wins the premiership should be something of the order of 3:7. This requires some modification for teams which joined the VFL and then the AFL later than 1901.
    Richmond 1908, so 35:79
    Footscray, Hawthorn, North Melbourne: 1925, so 29:67
    Brisbane*, West Coast 1987, 12:22
    Adelaide 1991, 8:22
    Port Adelaide 1997, 3:2
    * Fitzroy (if considered separately !897-1996, or for this purpose 1901-’96) 32:64
    Essendon then becomes strongly Labor leaning, Hawthorn decidedly, Carlton and Geelong significantly and Collingwood slighlly so. Of the recent additions as the competition extends beyond Victoria, on this criterion, West Coast is clearly Labor-leaning, Brisbane, Adelaide and Port Adelaide, strongly non-Labor (with the caveat of small samples). Footscray and St. Kilda fall on this side also. North Melbourne, Richmond and South Melbourne/Sydney are all the non-Labor predominant side of expectations to a modest degree. Fitzroy treated separately was 3:3 of their six premierships after Federation, which makes them 2nd only to Essendon as much more Labor leaning than all other clubs.
    (Leaning here is doing a bit more work than it should but I’m not sure what other shorthand term might be more appropriate).
    The pedant.

  5. Anne Cahill Lambert says

    Love your work, Peter The Pedant!
    You can’t count this year though, because it’s not over!
    However, if I decide to develop a research project on the correlation between politics and AFL, I’ll be sure to appoint you as the chief statistician of the research team!
    Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Anne The Madam Speaker.

  6. george smith says

    Ollie wines winning the Brownlow for Port reminds me of when Hasluck and Hayden missed out on Prime Minister and ended up as Governer General!

    I’m sure they all felt they were well compensated for missing out on the big prize…

  7. On a related topic, a couple of notable football/political coincidences:

    The re-election of the Whitlam government in 1974 took place on the same day as the famous Windy Hill brawl (Essendon v Richmond). Not sure of the significance of this although within 18 months, there was an almighty brawl in Canberra!
    And at the State level, one of the biggest upsets in AFL history, Carlton’s amazing 1 point win over Essendon in the 1999 Preliminary Final, occurred on the same day as the equally remarkable upset of the Steve Bracks-led Labor victory over the Kennett Government.

    In trying to look for politically-related omens for Saturday’s GF, all I can suggest is the government’s about-face on the submarine deal. A somewhat bitter pill to swallow for the red, white and blue!

  8. Anne Cahill Lambert says

    Thanks George Smith: they were bleak days for those gentlemen (the two Hs) but they fell on their feet living the good life between Yarralumla and Kirribilli!

    And Stainless: I was across the road in the rose gardens on 11 November 1975 when that Very Big Brawl happened. And it was interesting that the election was held on preliminary final day, eh? Politicians would usually avoid footy finals like the plague because the public is in no mood for their finals to be interfered with – as the Bracks election showed.

    Perhaps if lock down continues for much longer, we’ve got a few rabbits to chase down the warren to link potential winners with scandals, submarines and silliness!

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