Book Extract: The Last Hurrah by Adam Woolcock

This is an edited extract from THE LAST HURRAH: Melbourne – Premiers 1964

by Adam Woolcock published by Hardie Grant Books and in store



An unlikely hero


Smith now doubted his team could find an eighth goal, but his devotion defence and towards the forward line, he sent a runner to tell him to get back in position. Crompton had been pushing up to intercept Collingwood attacks all day, but he had been under strict instructions to never cross the centreline. Now, with opponent Bone heading into defence to try and preserve the lead, Crompton made the fateful decision to follow him.


After Mann’s miss, the job of getting the ball as far away from Melbourne’s forward zone as possible fell to Kevin McLean. He chose to aim his kick-in towards the boundary, thumping a long drop-kick towards the Southern Stand wing. At the worst possible time his aim was wayward, as his kick was marked by Dixon. Rose had tried to get an instruction out to his players not to kick to Dixon’s wing, but the message didn’t arrive in time. Adding to his frustration, Rose’s brother Kevin failed to contest the marking duel, allowing Dixon to take the easy mark.


Not knowing exactly how much time was left, but sure that it wasn’t much, Dixon thumped the ball to a pack 20 metres from goal. Perhaps fortunately, considering his inaccuracy, Barassi was unable to haul in the mark, but his contest helped bring the ball to ground where Crompton was lurking. The unlikeliest of crumbers crouched to gather the ball, and with no time to consider the wall of defenders bearing down on him, he snapped truly on his right boot to put Melbourne back in front. Teammates who saw the kick at close range said it felt as though it took forever to go through, as though in a slow-motion movie.


His lightning transition from gathering the ball to kicking it was crucial—another half a second and he’d have been engulfed by Magpies. Crompton had kicked 23 VFL goals in his 83 games before, boosted by seven in one game while playing as a rover five years earlier, but none had the same impact as this one. Until now he’d taken his role as a pure defender seriously, not even having a sniff at goal since returning to the club in 1962. He would not kick another major in his final two seasons.


Describing the moment, Crompton said: “I saw Barassi and Rose go for the ball. Then it was coming straight for me. I grabbed it, kicked for goal and that was that.” Of the most famous goal in Melbourne history he said, “It happened so quickly. I looked at the goals and went back, kicked it high and hard, a torpedo punt, and it went through.” Speaking after the match he said: “I didn’t fully realise what I’d done until the ball was well in the air heading for goal. Then I woke up that I’d kicked the winning goal!” That it would be, but there was still time for Melbourne to lose the lead again.


Vagg said: “I didn’t think it was a fluke at all. He might have kicked six out of 10 of those.” From the stands Groom saw it otherwise, calling the winning goal, “an ordinary flat punt that went through”.


From his prime viewing position Barassi described it as “the sweetest, truest, most glorious kick of the whole darn season”. He credited Crompton’s experience under pressure as a state cricketer for helping him stay calm in the moment, but it’s doubtful he had enough time with the ball in hand to think about what he was doing.


It didn’t matter how unattractive the snapshot was, only that the ball crossed the line without being touched. The game was already among the most exciting Grand Finals played, and this confirmed it. Since World War I only three teams had won the premiership by under a goal, making it an unusual enough occurrence without a hurried, last-ditch, come-from-behind snap by a back-pocket player.


Gabelich’s golden goal had made the difference for just a few minutes; in his play Royboys, playwright and author Barry Dickins referenced the cruelty of Gabo’s heroic act having such a short shelf-life. “That’s the Australian way,” wrote Dickins, “Fortune and disaster, fantastic luck and awful luck, all in the same spoonful.”


Crompton’s kick became a legend of both the club and the competition. Before the 2000 season, Melbourne players gathered around the 1964 premiership cup, placed on the same spot that Crompton had kicked from, and vowed to improve after a disappointing 1999. They won through to the Grand Final, but comparisons to the Smith era ended there, as they were thrashed by 10 goals by a dominant Essendon.


Like Gabelich, Crompton was asked to recreate his famous moment many years later. Without the luxury of being able to punt it home from the square, the kick fell slightly short and bounced away from goal. He joked the ball was flat and that he’d have made the distance if it had been pumped up. As had Gabelich, Crompton died less than a year after the recreation, aged 66.


While most fans were riveted to their seats by the dramatic finish, 13-year-old Melbourne supporter John Gleeson missed it. In 2016 he told the Herald Sun how his father had declared the game lost after Gabelich’s goal and dragged his son out of his seat to beat the traffic. Father and son made it to the perimeter of the ground when they heard of the winning goal on the radio. “Don’t worry son”, the elder Gleeson told his son, “there will be plenty more of those [premierships] in your life.” Over the next 50 years the Demons would play in two more Grand Finals, losing both by a combined 156 points.


Winning the premiership off your own boot would be enough to please most coaches, but Smith was no ordinary man, having a go at Crompton after the game for leaving his post. The first thing the hero of the day heard from his boss after the game was a stern, “What were you doing up there?” Smith is said to have never properly congratulated Crompton but offered qualified public support. “I didn’t know whether to abuse him for a lack of discipline or cry on his shoulder,” Smith wrote. “I’m glad he used his initiative. There are times when a player has to, and without him we would not have won.”


Trainer Hugh McPherson, a teammate of Smith’s from 1941 to 1944, recalled that behind closed doors Smith couldn’t let go of the failure to follow team rules, no matter the result. On the post-season trip to Adelaide, Smith was still berating Crompton for straying from his post, and when McPherson suggested letting bygones be bygones Smith replied: “I don’t give a damn if he kicked the winning goal. It’s about the principle of the thing. Winning is important—it’s damn important—but it’s not as important as sticking to solid principles. If you deviate from the principles, you deteriorate quickly.”


The goal turned out to be the decisive moment of the season, but for now Crompton was more interested in making sure it wasn’t immediately cancelled out. Shrugging off gleeful pats on the back from relieved teammates who must have been wondering what he was doing down there, Crompton took off towards his defensive post at full speed, desperate to get back into position before play restarted.


There was no time for elation as Collingwood had more than enough time to snatch the game back. If they’d stared down the disappointment of conceding Crompton’s goal and still came out on top, it would have rightly sat amongst their greatest premierships. Now they had to find a goal to win. Conversely, Melbourne just needed to keep the ball away from Collingwood’s attacking end by any means necessary.


Holding on

Smith sent a message to Bourke before the centre bounce, ordering recently at Glenferrie Oval in round 17, and said that immediately after Crompton’s goal, “I had [runner] Sammy Allica grabbing me and sending me into the backline.”


Bourke would play a vital role in the game’s conclusion, but immediately his fumble offered Graham a chance to snatch back the lead for the Magpies, but his kick rolled across goal, leaving his side within a kick but running out of options. From the resulting throw-in, Williams cleared.


Now Melbourne could put victory beyond doubt. The ball eventually fell to Vagg, who estimated he was 40 metres from goal and had to make a lightning decision about what to do next. Without Bourke as a target, Vagg said: “I thought if I kick a point, they’ll get the ball.” so he booted it out of bounds instead. “I just got onto it and it went sailing high into the Ponsford Stand,” he said.


In an era where chipping the ball sideways or backwards to run the clock down had not been considered, Vagg’s kick wasted a few valuable seconds. Umpire Brophy thought he might have been having a shot, and after the game the two crossed paths and Brophy asked Vagg: “Did you kick that out on purpose or not? You looked a bit disappointed.”


It was deliberate, but the ploy nearly backfired. Collingwood won the ball from the boundary throw-in and surged forward. There, Bourke’s move into defence became almost as crucial as Crompton’s push forward, albeit this time under the instruction of his coach. A long kick to the top of the square found a lurking Trevor Steer, who had the sit in the contest and would have been kicking from a near unmissable angle, before a flying Bourke snatched it from his hands at the last minute. After his only mark of the day Bourke wasted a few more precious seconds taking his time to kick to the flank. For all that had been happening at both ends of the ground, there was still more than a minute to play.


Locking the ball in the middle of the ground would have helped Melbourne run down the clock, but Collingwood won the ball-up, and a quick kick from the pack bounced their way, allowing Dalton to pump the ball into attack. Only a desperate lunge by Roet stopped Collingwood finding a mark 30 metres from goal, with the ball spilling to ground.  The ball was closer to Collingwood’s goal than from where Crompton had kicked his goal at the other end, but the Magpies didn’t have the same good fortune. The ball sat up for Graham, but as he tried to gather, but he was stopped in his tracks by a heavy bump from Bourke. Livid Collingwood fans demanded a free for a high tackle. Bourke didn’t think their cries were warranted and said: “At that point in a Grand Final you couldn’t pay a free kick.”


Newspaper reports agree; The Age wrote: “Any penalty awarded then would have been on technical grounds. Graham was met heavily and at the same time [he was] grabbed hard, but this was legitimate.” The Demons had won Brophy’s free-kick count 23 to 19, offering further ammunition to aggrieved Pies fans. Had he won the free, Graham would have been the first man to kick for a premiership after the siren. It might have been the best result for him; after one goal from six shots there’s no guarantee he would have converted from directly in front.


The unpaid free was the last act of the afternoon. The ball was wrapped up and there wasn’t enough time for another bounce. When the siren blew Melbourne were VFL premiers for the 12th time. In one of the great ironies, defender Crompton had won the game with a goal, and forward Bourke had saved it in defence.


As Collingwood’s Henderson dropped to the ground in exhaustion and despair, Smith went the other way, leaping to his feet in jubilation, an image immortalised via The Age’s photographer. He was not usually one to show such emotion publicly, but let his relief spill out for the world to see. A few seconds earlier he’d been self-conscious about the photographers waiting to capture his reaction on the siren, now he didn’t care.


“We won it!” Smith shouted to Checker Hughes, and Hughes replied: “My oath we’ve won it”. The coach said: “Never again do I want to experience such a day of agony.” He couldn’t have possibly guessed that his glittering coaching career would only feature one more final, and that would come six years later at unfashionable South Melbourne.


Hughes’ views on the flag were recorded later when he gave a speech at a testimonial dinner for Smith, in 1968. He reiterated the now-popular view that the Demons were already on the slide and the flag had been won against the odds. “We weren’t big enough, we weren’t fast enough, we weren’t good enough,” he said, “but Norm talked the players and himself to believing that we could win.”


A newspaper photographer caught Smith at the height of his leap, off the ground and with his arms fully extended. Next to him sat the more reserved but still clearly thrilled Hughes still wearing his trademark trilby. It was certainly Smith’s team, but the old combination had done it again. Between them they’d presided over 10 of Melbourne’s 12 flags, all won within a quarter of a century. Since then, 13 senior coaches have failed to take the club back to the summit.



MELBOURNE: 2.6, 5.7, 7.10, 8.16 (64) COLLINGWOOD: 2.5, 5.9, 5.11, 8.12 (60)


GOALS: Melbourne: Townsend 3, Lord 2, Bourke, Crompton, Mann.

Collingwood: Gabelich 2, Bone, Dalton, Graham, Steer, Tuddenham, Waters.


BEST: Melbourne: Dixon, Mann, Roet, Adams, Johnson, Anderson

Collingwood: Rose, Hill, Gabelich, Chapman, Waters, Tuddenham




Publishers information about the book can be found HERE.


Copies of the book can be purchased HERE.






The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE



To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.


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 things keep 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. Dr Rocket says

    Terrific stuff!

    Really enjoyed the extract.
    I can’t wait to read the book.

    Adam needed to get it now!!

    So much more appealing than recent contemporary books about the game.

    Thanks for providing links to the publisher.

Leave a Comment