Anzac Day 1966

Anzac Day 1966 also fell on a Monday.

It completed a split round which greeted the new season.
A ten year old goes to his first ever VFL game.
Fifty years on – there is a gap between what we knew then and what we know now.

A fledgling sporting appetite had already been whet in the few months leading up to Anzac Day 1966.

In the summer just gone, Australia has retained The Ashes in a series where the English side had a Smith, a Brown and a Jones. A two and half day innings from Bob Cowper ensured the outcome. With three tons, Bill Lawry was the man of the series but his iconic sporting achievement was still a week or three away. Despair also for Essendon’s Greg Brown and Barry Davis who were on course to repeat their remarkable double of a District Cricket and VFL premiership players in the same year.

In the months leading up to Anzac Day 1966, conscription was reintroduced. And Australia converted to decimal currency. Hard to believe that 200 teachers and students swear they saw flying saucers hooning around South Clayton and even harder to believe that three sibling children could simply vanished without a trace from a crowded Glenelg beach on a beautiful summer’s day.

And pre-season, there had been a significant retirement. Carlton stalwart Bob Menzies stepped down from his government job after 16 years. In a move not unlike the Malthouse / Buckley transition, a succession plan was implemented. It was foolproof and designed to ensure that the new boss Harold Holt would remain in the role for many years to come.

On the Saturday, the league’s two strongest clubs both had wins. Peter McKenna kicked 12 to help Collingwood destroy the Hawks. And last year’s premier Essendon had a hard fought success against Geelong. Both Davis and Brown are named among the best.

A train ride to Richmond is an adventure in itself. So is the tunnel and footbridge walk across Punt Road. We buy The Record. I memorise the player numbers I don’t know. Turnstiles and concrete steps. Up steps we bloom from shadow into sunlight. We find a location on the flank. The MCG is pretty packed.

The Saints are expected to win. Melbourne had been the VFL powerhouse winning 6 premierships in the past decade but things had changed for them since last season. Although their team boasts 8 premiership players, it also has five debutants. Dad says that with the recruiting of Tasmanians Baldock and Stewart, the Saints are as good as any team in the League now. But it is the inclusion of the blond bombshell Carl Ditterich which would be the X factor. If St. Kilda is going to win the flag, Big Carl will be the difference. This was going to be a famous year for football.

We are looking across the oval directly toward the Members’ Stand. Sun in my face a bit. Dad sits. I stand. It’s easier. I rest my chin on the back of my downturned hands which are perched between the famous pointy metal pickets.

Early kudos goes to Melbourne as they gets home in the curtain raiser by 4 points. The balance is restored a quarter of an hour later when Baldock wins the toss and kicks to the Punt Road end. Melbourne ruckman Ed Burston leaves an impression with a strong mark and long kick. So too does Brian Mynott, who hits the post from two yards out. A ten year old could have kicked that!

Leading by 3 goals at the big break, the second half begins and ends with some Big Carl biffo. First it is Barry Bourke who cops it and just nearing the final siren Brian Dixon gets on the end of one too. In that night’s edition of the Sporting Globe, Bill Twomey confirmed that “the vigorous Ditterich was certainly adding colour to his reputation but he should be grateful that umpire Stan Fisher let him off this time with just a warning.” Good advice I am thinking.

Saints bang on 12 goals to 2 in the second half to win by a bundle. Hero of the hour is club stalwart Ian Rowland who kicks five. His best game ever. He has played in some famously poor St.Kilda teams over the years but under Jeans and Baldock the club seems to be a genuine premiership contender now. The clever rover from Wangaratta has played well over a hundred games. He is not overly fast but he is a proven goal kicker. In fact, a few years earlier he won St.Kilda’s goalkicking. Formerly team mates, Allan Jeans is now his coach. They are best mates too. Rowland has waited a long time for the footballing Gods to smile on him. Today he was terrific. Five goals. Brownlow votes. His VFL football future seems well assured now.

On the way out, we buy some hot jam doughnuts. And the Sporting Globe. Saints are on the top and Melbourne on the bottom. Dad tries to explain to a fifth grader how percentage works. Across town, the Tigers have beaten the Blues by a goal. Today is the first day of a life-long love affair.

Fifty years on, history confirms:

• That season, St. Kilda did go on to win the VFL premiership.

• One player in the Melbourne line up that day went on to coach St. Kilda.
One player in the St. Kilda line up that day went on to coach Melbourne.

• A player from each side would go on to win a seat in Federal Parliament.
A different player from each side would go on to win a seat in State Parliament.

• A fortnight before the finals, vigorous ruckman Carl Ditterich was reported for striking Fitzroy’s Daryl Peoples. He was suspended for the rest of the season. Big Carl never played in a premiership team.

• Rover Ian Rowland played every game for St. Kilda that season. After the final training session on the Thursday evening before the 1966 VFL Grand Final, Ian’s best mate and club coach Allan Jeans pulled him aside to inform him that he had not been selected in the team. He was also informed that he was not a reserve nor was he named as an emergency. Rowland never played another VFL game.

• 20th man for St. Kilda on Anzac Day 1966 was Kevin Billing.
He didn’t get a run that day and he spent the entire game sitting on the bench.

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. Shane John Backx says

    Its tales like this that make the Almanac worth reading. Forget the modern stuff!!

  2. Allan Grant says

    Warwick , great stuff as always. Doggy was pretty stiff to not be an emergency if I remember rightly both emergencies hadn’t played a game all season, Schwarzman and Lilley and Kevin Billing was no Doggy Rowland. Wonder what the internal politics were all about in that selection.

  3. Steve Hodder says

    Delightful reading Warwick.


  4. Gareth Meyer says

    Love the account, particularly the detailed memories of what it all looked and sounded like. And the jam donuts. As a kid I was lucky enough to go to Melbourne from Tassie to see the Hawks on occasion. Same feeling of excitement.

    You left us hanging on the Ian Rowland story. – why was he dropped before the GF?

  5. Great stuff Warwick, now i’m trying to put the pieces together.

    “Big Carl’ played for St Kilda; coached Melbourne. The other player in the equation ?

    Darrel Baldock, and Brian Dixon were both state politicians. Did Roy Groom play for Melbourne that day ?

    Nope, i’m stumped with my answers. Please explain ?


  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Enjoyable read and history lesson Warwick. I’d never heard of Ian Rowland before reading your piece. So many chance intersections and sliding doors moments in life and footy. What was ANZAC Day in 1966 like compared to today’s poppiefied and commodified version?

  7. Glen – Stan Alves went on to coach St Kilda.

    Sorry, can’t help with pollies.


  8. Warwick
    Thanks for the reminder that there was a time when other teams got to play footy on Anzac Day before Essendon and Collingwood turned it into an AFL-sanctioned cartel.
    As per Phil’s question – interesting that you make no mention of any Anzac Day ceremony. Was there one? My recollections of going to Anzac Day (before the duopoly) are that there was the Last Post and a minute’s silence but it was much lower key than today’s contrived extravaganza. A bit like the evolution of Anzac Day itself in fact.

  9. Good spot Mick, i didn’t think about coaches from the 90’s. My thought process was re the 70’s & 80’s.

    Dixon was a Liberal politician In Victoria, Baldock ALP in Tasmania. I’m sure Groom was a federal Liberal politician as well as being a Tasmanian based Liberal. Who was the other Federal politician ?

    I know ‘Big Carl; ran for Victorian parliament in 1999, but didn’t get in ?


  10. Peter Ashton says

    Bob Miller. 33 for Melb as a local member in ? Oakleigh

  11. Ta Peter. Bob Miller was a state ALP member for Prahran .

    Warwick, some guidance please. A player from each side would win a seat in state parliament, ditto a player from each side would win a seat in Federal Parliament. It seems we’ve found four MP’s but they don’t fit into the categories you mentioned. Can you please inform us of who the four were ?


  12. Gareth, check out KB Hill’s great story on Ian Rowland (

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