Brent Crosswell, Martin Flanagan and 1970

Martin Flanagan’s essay about the 1970 Carlton-Collingwood grand final, simply titled ‘1970’, is the best piece I’ve ever read about football.


Collingwood lost the 1970 grand final after leading Carlton at halftime by 44 points. It is the most famous match in VFL/AFL history for numerous reasons.


Flanagan’s essay is 100 pages long, written in 1999. After interviewing many of the people involved in the match, his aim is to collate people’s quite variable memories and check how deeply the loss was felt on the Collingwood side, as individuals and for the club itself.


Memory is fickle. Some Collingwood players remember dozens of jubilant gatecrasher supporters in the changerooms at halftime, some do not. And the loss caused a dissolution in that Magpie team, who “Don’t have anything to talk about” when they reunite, and for whom “It’s funny that we would be a tighter bunch of blokes of only we’d kicked two more goals.” Magpie ruckman Jenkins, for example, has kept most in touch with the guy that took The Mark of the Century on top of him that day, Alex Jesaulenko.


Flanagan first gives background to both clubs, their triumphalism and at the end, some sneaking doubts that were later to bring both juggernaut clubs down to some degree. Collingwood represented working class supporters for whom Collingwood was sometimes the only thing present in their lives, and Victoria Park was famously a rabid visit for opponents.


The dominance of ‘The Machine’ of 1930 convinced them of their greatness and invulnerability, but thirty years later key Collingwood people could faintly perceive cracks.


As a working man’s club, all Collingwood players were paid equally until 1969. Flanagan wonders if consequently Carlton had spikier characters than Collingwood, who especially later in the 1977-81 teams were often honest tryers compared to the star teams that always agonisingly beat them. But Flanagan also wonders if that is confirmation bias, that he only imagines Collingwood’s flatter personalities of the era “From the dismal perspective of defeat”.


Collingwood’s nemeses were Melbourne and then Carlton, the common denominator of course being Ron Barassi, who would also reappear to stick the dagger in in 1977 with North Melbourne. All these clubs won repeated close grand finals against Collingwood. It was suggested that Collingwood’s training wasn’t comprehensive enough, that opponents were always able to run over the top at the end of matches under Magpie coaches Phonse Kyne and Bob Rose.


Meanwhile Carlton was business, success, and like Collingwood, arrogance. The proximity to Melbourne Uni made them the professionals’ club. They were and still are also something of a Jewish and Italian club. “By and large, for Carlton 1970 became another bright button on the tunic of success.” The downside of Carlton’s winning culture were the younger players thrown on the scrapheap like Vinnie Catoggio.

This was detailed in a newspaper article by Carlton’s maverick, Brent Crosswell.


Crosswell’s presence in football moves me very much, and others too, judging how many people repeatedly ask for copies of the seemingly lost articles Crosswell penned for The Age in the 1980s. I saw him on The Footy Show in the 1990s, that anti-intellectual footy gathering par excellence, and in that blokey atmosphere Crosswell in his slow, quiet way ran rings around them. He told Sam Newman how much he valued his judgement, “I know you’re a man of some discernment.”


Crosswell biffed and bashed with them all. Flanagan’s ‘1970’ makes it sound like getting punched to the head and face in a football game were a given before the 1990s. One young Collingwood starlet from 1970, Jonathan Greening, 21, had his career stolen from him when he was mysteriously decked behind play at Moorabbin in 1972 and spent 48 hours in a coma. Greening recovered physically but not mentally and played only eight more games. To compare, it would be like Gary Ablett Jr being taken out forever in 2006.


In this climate, and no doubt in the current-day one of ‘The Footy Show’ and myriad media and fan rabidity, it is moving that Brent Crosswell fleetingly exists to show some humanity, and more importantly dissention, in footy circles.


I would love a world where everyone gets along splendidly, and it breaks my heart daily that this is not the case. The movie ‘Team America: World Police’ sums this one up: among people, there are pussies, dicks and arseholes.


Even after gentrification and message massaging, footy is still not a ‘nice’ game. Race and wives are now out but players still say terrible things to each other onfield, even if in the internal dynamics of teams it is mostly ‘no dickheads’ now. But if today there are no more Jonathan Greenings, there are strange events involving groupthink and those who can’t fit into it, and also among footy and rugby teams questionable behaviour regarding players and women.


I’ve never seen a moment of Brent Crosswell play. But I’m grateful that there was a player who was a communist in a conservative society, who when Barassi told him to go on the ball via a runner replied, “Tell the coach to get f—ed,” who doesn’t submit to the legend that Barassi is God and created modern football on the spot, who when he kicked the winning goal in that 1970 grand final flicked his hair out of his face diva-like because in his vanity he understood the moment’s immediate history.


I’m grateful that Crosswell could be smart in a macho, anti-intellectual environment, an individual in a group, but could still be skilled and hard and respected with the rest of them.


About Marty Gleason

As a toddler-ish Footscray fan at Western Oval in the 1980s, I collected rocks while Mick Malthouse climbed a ladder to sit in the coach's box on top of a pole. I think about those four games in 2016 every day.


  1. Shane Backx says

    Tiger wrote a ripper article about a disastrous Melbourne training session in the Australian, 28 March 1995. Hilarious it was!! Yes Martins 1970 is the best piece of footy writing I’ve ever read, but, as a Collingwood fan who remembers that day only too well, also the most depressing.

  2. Marty Gleason says

    Yes the Collingwood bits of ‘1970’ were quite depressing. The book ‘In Black and White: 125 Moments that Made Collingwood’ also stresses this match as a negative turning point/sliding doors moment for the club.

  3. John Butler says

    Marty, the 1968 grand final is, truth be told, a very ordinary standard football match, apart from the close finish (and the result). Not a patch on 1970. It looks very dated now.

    But two players that day, to my eye, stand out as looking like modern footballers. Jezza was one. Tiger Crosswell was the other.

    A man ahead of his times.


  4. Dr Goatboat says

    Crosswell was great to watch, my favourite in the then VFL….my lasting memory is him thumping his chest and remonstrating in the goal square at Arden St. strong as a mallee bull and talented…his own man

  5. Stainless says

    I loved “1970” also. I loved the central premise that a game of footy can have such a profound impact on the lives of those involved. It was the primary inspiration for my own rudimentary efforts at this sports writing caper.
    I also remember Crosswell’s pieces for the Age. The Catoggio article is a classic example. Raw emotion, wit, poignancy and empathy all rolled into one. And yes, he was a fair footballer too!

  6. Crosswell’s written some brilliant pieces for the Age in his time. There’s a series of them published in “The Best Australian Sports Writing, 2003” which includes the piece on Cattoggio along with an obituary for Jack Dyer (not written by Crosswell).

    There’s apparently a great piece he wrote for the Age for the ’88 bicentenary but have had no luck finding it. Even contacted Flanagan himself to see if he had a copy but no such luck. It’ll turn up one day.

  7. DBalassone says

    I’d love to get old hold of those Crosswell pieces as well. I’ve read snippets through google books, very entertaining and very funny. JTH was also featured in the 2003 Best Aust Sports Writing with pieces on G. Hackett (fascinating in retrospect) & K.Trewick.

    Some wonderful colour footage of 1970 here:

  8. JBanister says

    Lovely stuff Marty. I read this too, earlier in the year. It’s a cracker and Crosswell is brilliant. And, your assessment of where he sits is also brilliant. Good work.

  9. Tony Tea says

    My fave Croswell moment came when he was playing full back for Melbourne on Mal Blight. Blighty took this amazing contested mark and Tiger just stood over him clapping.

  10. Peter Fuller says

    I would hope that a call out among Almanackers might generate at the minimum a bibilography of Tiger’s published material. I certainly recall his contributions in the Age (fewer than twenty pieces, perhaps). My guess is that tragics like us are likely to have kept copies of some of the best. My favourite – which I typically cannot retrieve from a notoriously haphazard filing system – is his account of his brief engagement as an assistant coach at North when John Kennedy had been recruited by Ron Casey.
    Adam, I’m sure that I have a copy of the Sportswriting Annual to which you alluded, but we have a lot of books in storage at present, and I can’t locate it. Could you provide a list from the contents of the book?
    Tony, your recollection was new to me, but it did prompt me to recall the occasion when Blighty did something similar to Bruce Doull. The notoriously silent Doully complimented Mal “you’re a freak, Blighty”.

  11. Marty Gleason says

    From the contents of “Best Australian Sports Writing 2003”

    166 Even in Chess a Man Was but a Pawn to Barassi Brent Crosswell
    169 Vinny Catoggio Brent Crosswell
    172 Footballers at Pains To Reach the Threshold of Greatness Brent Crosswell
    175 Sex before the Game Brent Crosswell
    178 Dreamtime Touch Brent Crosswell
    182 Why Best on Ground Went like a Greyhound in the ’70 Grand Final Brent Crosswell
    186 Mongrel Weapon Victim of Soft-shoe Shuffle Brent Crosswell …

    (There might be one or two more after this, I’m not sure.)

    Happy hunting

  12. Marty Gleason says
  13. Adam Fox says

    Few more to add:

    Life After Football Needs Steady Nerves 193
    Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Tribunal 195
    The Day, The Place, The Game 199

    Also – Crosswell Wrote Like He Played – Brilliantly (by Martin Flanagan) p166

    Thank god someone produced that piece from the Australian – spent a fair bit of time at work trying to chase up that one!

  14. DBalassone says

    I might be asking too much here, but is there any chance someone could scan those Crosswell pieces from this 2003 book into a PDF file? Or is there copyright issues?

    Am I right in saying he is the only player to play in two premierships for two different clubs? I can’t think of anyone else.

  15. We’d need permissions I reckon. I have the 2003 Best Sportswriting book here. They are certainly worth a read. How does it come up on Trove Damian?

  16. Jarrod_L says

    Had to look it up, my first thought was Martin Pike (forgot that he only played in one for North).

    Turns out Crosswell is in elite company, but he’s not Robinson Crusoe: Mick Grace played in Fitzroy’s back-to-back flags in 1898 & 1899 before going to Carlton for another back-to-back in 1906 & 1907. The more you know!

  17. Shane Backx says

    Marty Gleason and John Harms, maybe chase up the Australian archives. I doubt that article was a one off.

  18. On ya Marty, keep up the great work.

    You mentioned the Greening incident and how his career was curtailed at the age of 21. It’s interesting to note that the 1970 Grand Final could have been Brent Crosswell’s final game of football.

    In 1971 Crosswell developed osteomyelitis and it was feared he may not return to the playing field. He managed to get back for the final two home and away games of that year, fittingly his season debut coming in the infamous “Fog Match”.


  19. Great memories. Thanks Marty. As a South Australian I only have black and white TV memories of Crosswell from back then. The contemporary media certainly stereotyped him as an uppity/flakey long hair who would be a better, more consistent “team man” if he got a hair cut and dropped the attitude.
    I always thought of him as the Victorian Blight, but without the same passion for the game.
    I liked your regretful commentary about “footy as the continuation of war as the continuation of politics – by other means”. The common mirror we all see our true selves in all our magnificence and ignorance.

  20. bring back the torp says

    Ian Stewart played in Premiership teams for St Kilda in 1966, & Richmond 1973. There must be others.

    Re Crosswell’s newspaper Aricles, these might be available with, the world’s biggest commercial archivist.
    I’m not sure about copyright issues, if they were to be reproduced here.

    Can anyone contact Crosswell to see if he kept copies -& perhaps they could be reproduced here?

  21. There’d be plenty, Shaun Burgoyne probably the most recent to achieve the feat I’d say. But winning at least twice for two different clubs, that’s a different kettle of fish.

  22. Forgot this one from “The Best Australian Essays, 2002” – the title is “This Unsporting Life” which is a review of the book “Rose Boys”. You can view it on Google Books (will post link below). Apart from the aforementioned articles I don’t think there’s much else. I did check some time ago, primarily to find his Bicentennial piece for the Age. Contacted Martin Flanagan about this who had previously asked Crosswell if he kept a copy but nothing doing. Anyways here’s the link:

  23. Btw, also in the company of Crosswell, Pyke and Grace:
    Bryan Wood (Rich 1973, 1974 & 1980 & Ess 1985).

  24. Marty,
    Thanks for this piece. Most enjoyable reading.
    It is interesting that Flanagan and Crosswell are both Tasmanian, and cut from a similar deep-thinking cloth. The number of comments in this thread are indicative of the reverence we hold for Tiger (and Flanners).
    As a North Melbourne supporter, I was fortunate enough to see Crosswell play countless times.
    To this day, he remains my favourite player, ever.
    His columns were brilliant and entertaining – the column about sex before the game generated some controversy at the time, but he just shrugged it off.
    Dugald Jellie is in touch with Tiger, I believe, as he taught Dugald at school.

  25. DBalassone says

    Adam, Torp, there’s plenty of players who’ve played in premerships for two different clubs – I was asking the question of players who had played in two premierships for each of his two clubs – a rare feat indeed. Thanks Jarrod_L for the answer – it seems that Mick Grace is the only other player beside Crosswell to achieve the feat.

  26. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Marty. Flanagan’s piece on 1970 is also one of my favourite pieces of writing. Des Tuddenham’s last words particularly resonate.
    Hopkins and Crosswell played vital roles in the Blues’ comeback, but Robert Walls’ first 10 minutes in the 3rd quarter when Collingwood were caught napping are downplayed by comparison. Ahh my Pies…Hubris never sleeps at that club.

  27. Earl O'Neill says

    Brent, so the tale goes, was such a big-game performer that he approached the club to suggest he start his season in July.

  28. Matt Watson says

    The 1970 book is brilliant.
    Tiger was a super player and a great writer.
    His game in the 1975 grand final was superb.
    Thanks for reminding me of that book and all those great games – and Tiger’s words…

  29. I love the stuff on Brent Crosswell. I followed his career from when he started at University High School in Melbourne, fresh from Tassie, in that tumultuous political year, 1968. He sat next to me in his first class and introduced himself as a footballer for Carlton. Our birthdays were a couple of days apart and we concluded our matriculation year with him winning a VFL grand final and me earning enough points to get into Monash Uni and its Labor Club the following year.

    There’s another longform essay about Brent that’s now available, the notorious interview by Colin Talbot published in The Digger in October 1972. It’s fondly remembered for its coverage of which parts of football freaked him or almost disgusted him, his politics as well as dope and “digging the trains” at Glenferrie Oval.

    Go to page 4:

  30. Earl O'Neill says

    Many thanx for the link Geoffrey.

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