An empty cauldron: playing in a crowd-free ‘G

The imminent prospect of Richmond and Carlton playing to a virtually empty MCG has fired up a fond memory for me.


While my experience isn’t unique (many Shield cricketers, perhaps?) I have played football in the Temple down the Road* with nobody present. Doubtless some sub-editor (do any still exist?) will this week produce the headline – or has already done so, without my noticing – “Suppose they gave a football match and nobody came?”


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Melbourne Boys’ League, a competition for Under 17s, included a majority of VFL teams (fourth XVIIIs), together with a smattering of others. Of the old VFL clubs, all but Carlton, Essendon, Geelong and North Melbourne participated.


The normal fixture for the VFL involved seniors and reserves playing, with Under 19s (thirds) and where they existed 4ths, playing on the opposite ground. So if Fitzroy were at home to Hawthorn in the seniors at Brunswick Street, Hawthorn 3rds and 4ths would host Fitzroy at Glenferrie. Reserves and 4ths played curtain-raisers (remember them?) to the seniors and 3rds respectively.


I played with Box Hill, one of the non-VFL teams in the competition, in 1963 and 1964. Ground rationalisation was in the future, initiated with Richmond’s transfer to the MCG in 1965 and Fitzroy’s move from Brunswick Street Oval to Princes Park two years later. 1965 was also the year in which St. Kilda relocated from the Junction Oval to Moorabbin (obviously not ground-sharing). During 1963 and ’64, I was in visiting teams at Collingwood, Fitzroy (Brunswick Street), Footscray, Hawthorn, Richmond, St. Kilda (the Junction) and South Melbourne (Lake Oval). The magical moment late in 1963 was our match against Melbourne at the ‘G. While Box Hill had a competitive team in 1962 (drawn largely from Box Hill High School, which participated in the very strong central High Schools competition with Melbourne & University High Schools among others), it’s probably no coincidence that my arrival at the club came at a time when we were outclassed. I can only recall victories against the other district (i.e. non-VFL teams) during my two seasons, and we were often beaten by embarrassing margins.


My memories of the occasion aren’t detailed, but the thrill remains. It was a sunny day late in the season, probably August. If there were 50 non-participants in attendance that would be it, so players’ calls echoed around the stadium. I am confident that there were no media present, in contrast to next Thursday night and any future games during the virus precautions.


I played only the final quarter, being deservedly 20th man in the pre-interchange era. I was a poor player in a poor team, but the selection committee had my talent appropriately assessed. Readers may be familiar with the saying “The older we are the better we were when we were younger.” My rejoinder to this is that I am blessed/cursed with a reliable memory, so I am under no illusions; I was a crap footballer, where my enthusiasm inadequately compensated for limited ability and a faint heart. I did manage a couple of kicks, but certainly no score and in other respects my famous quarter (in my own mind at least) was no more distinguished than my other perhaps 250 games on less storied ovals.


Nonetheless it is a warm memory, a comfort in my dotage along with so many grand memories as a spectator at the famous ground, as the experience for those younger than me has almost only been available to Little Leaguers (although I do recall Dips O’Donnell’s account of his participation in a charity match during an AFL game a year or two ago).



*Brian Matthews “The Temple down the Road – the Life and Times of the MCG”.




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  1. A very interesting reminiscence. Thanks Peter.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Not too many people can say they have played footy on the MCG! Enjoyed your reflection Peter.

  3. DBalassone says

    Great yarn Peter. Can’t imagine what that would have felt like playing on the hallowed turf – regardless of your perceived limitations as a footballer (although you must have been okay if you chalked up 250 odd games).

  4. I’m with Col, Peter. I would love to play a game (of anything) on the MCG. Dips had the honour a few years ago. Great yarn.

  5. Magnificent Peter. What a memory.

  6. Thanks blokes for the reactions to my self-indulgence.
    Smokie I saw and enjoyed your piece in Balcony Banter about your elaborate preparations for the Boxing Day Test.
    Colin, I travelled a fair metaphorical distance in 1963, from playing in a paddock in Cororooke to gracing (ahem) the MCG.
    My only other appearances on the ground have been at the conclusion of Melbourne Marathons and other shorter fun runs. That final 3/4 circuit always offers a frisson.

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