Comparing the VFL and the AFL: 1978 v 2021


I know we are at the height of the cricket and tennis seasons, and it is more than two months until the AFL season commences. But I couldn’t help reflect on what football (VFL) looked like to me as a 13-year-old fan in 1978, and compare it to 2021. I chose 1978 because I can remember most of the games, and much of the atmosphere. I am sure others will recall features I have forgotten; I look forward to being reminded of further differences!




Comparative features              



Build-up to season:  In 1978 there was a slow build up resulting in frenzy of excitement for first game. The night series started in March, but only one game per week. Day competition started on April 1st. In 2021 the AFL Community Series commences on February 18th, the first home and away match on March 18th.



Food:  In 1978 options were pies and hot dogs, beer or soft drinks. In 2021 most grounds offer a diverse supply of food including fish and chips, pizza, salad et al, and range of hot and cold drinks



Pre-game: In 1978 Under 19s and Reserve games played from 9am. The good bit was that crowds would generally build up from about 1pm, enjoy the opportunity to see younger up-and-comers or veterans returning from injury, and often get quite engaged in a close final quarter of the Reserves. The disadvantage was that on a wet day an already muddy ground would become even more chopped up. Think Moorabbin at its worst. In 2021 there are no curtain raisers. Usually some random competition or entertainment, sometimes accompanied by loud music appreciated by only about 10% of the crowd.



TV/Radio: In 1978 no games except the Grand Final (from 1977 onwards) were televised live. About three radio stations would cover games exclusively, and the remainder would cover games in between important horse races as evidenced by the famous line ‘He’s about to shoot at goal to win the game …Racing at Randwick’. The Channel 7 Big League replay and the Winners on the ABC would broadcast about three games each week. In 2021 all games are live on Foxtel, and about half on Channel 7. Most games available on the radio and also via online options.



Recruits: In 1978 players were recruited from all over Australia with little or no vision available. Some rumoured to be the best player ever to come out of WA, SA or Tasmania, others arrived very quietly. Some of the latter turned out to the best of all. In 2021 the National Draft is covered ad nauseam by the media. Most supporters access huge amounts of information about new players even before they commence training.



Grounds: Round 1 of 1978 I attended Fitzroy v St Kilda at the Junction Oval. St Kilda won by eight points. Fitzroy no longer play in the AFL, and the Junction Oval last hosted games in 1984. Round 1 of 2021 I will be watching North Melbourne play Port Adelaide at Docklands. Neither the away side nor the ground existed in 1978’s VFL landscape, nor did Sunday football.



Seating: In 1978 most grounds other than the MCG and Waverley had limited seating reserved either for club members, or those who paid an additional fee on the day. The remainder of the crowd stood to watch the game, and sometimes when there was a large attendance it was difficult to see the play. In 2021 the MCG and Docklands have seating all round the ground. Additionally, there is a roof at Docklands.



Extra: In 1978 a peanut seller roamed at least one of the grounds each week. So did young boys collecting used cans to sell for scrap metal. I haven’t seen either of these phenomenon for a long time.





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.



About Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes is an academic who follows AFL, soccer, tennis and cricket. He supported Fitzroy Football Club from 1970-1996, and on their death he adopted the North Melbourne Kangaroos as his new team. In his spare time, he occasionally writes about his current and past football teams.


  1. Wow Philip , there’s a few memories there.

    Home and away games in March ? Jog my memory; was there a season in the late 70’s, early 80’s that kicked off with a stand alone game,moved from R3, prior to the opening round?

    Re food and beverages, in 1978 you could roll up with an esky carrying as much beer as you could. That changed after a tragic death in R 1 of 1982. Fitzroy played Carlton at Princess Park that day, March 27. Early start to the 1982 season.

    3KZ, the ‘Captain & the Major, with the around the grounds team, were beloved in that time. Footy on TV: if your team was a cellar dweller you’d lucky to be seen during the season.

    Fitzroy, South Melbourne, two teams that are long gone. Their histories,cultures were recuperated to legitimise the new corporate inter state teams that had big $$ spent on them, to give them some legitimacy.

    The outer. Roofs? These show the direction that footy has gone. Standing in the outer could have its ‘moments’, but was accepted as what was. A roof for a winter sport???

    Johnno, the Peanut Man was an iconic figure @ both VFL & AFL games for many moons. With his dirty old clothes, hessian sack of small paper bags containing unshelled peanuts, he would not get a guernsey in the corporate settings of today

    Thanks Phillip. It’s a different world now.


  2. Daniel Shavitsky says

    Hi Phil,

    I remember the peanut sellers walking around the ground throwing peanuts in their shells packaged in white paper bags around the boundary line.The bags of peanutes in turn were often in large laundry type bags. People wantingpeanuts would chuck their 20c Coins at the peanut seller, often trying to hit him, The peanut guy in turn would throw the packets of peanuts back , hopefully somewhere near the person wanting to buy them. Then of course there were the “food vendors” walking around with large trays held around their neck via straps selling either hot pies OR drinks and seets calling out “lollies, chocaolates, drinks and potato chips”. There was also the respective cheer squads also walking around boundary lines with blankets hoping to get money throen by crowd to use in buying material (streamers, tape etc) to make banners/run-throughs for teams to break as they ran onto the grounds.Another memory was collecting steel cans of empty beer cans to make a small stnd of sors to stand on so you could see over the heads of adults/taller people in front of you. After the final siren there was also the race to run onto the ground to get autographs of players as they were walking off the ground…something young ‘uns arent allowed to do today.

    Of course, depending on hwo keen you were, you could get to the groud real early to watch the Under 19’s, Reserves and Seniors. I agree that watching the reserves to see promising young players emerg. I remember seeing a promising young player emerging in the resrves who had alopecia and already had sever hair loss by his late teens. That fellows name was Mil Hanna.Footy records were in black and white, coloured records were only sold during finals. When buying “mixed lollies” at milk bars in small paperbags, there would often be the words of random teams on the back.

    Of course there was some famous footy replay commentary…such as the following I seem to remember by Lou Richardscommentating on a St Kilda Game that Mordy Bromberg was playing in along the lines of: “Bromberg picks up the ball and bursts through the pack like a Six Day War”.

    Finally (for now) there was the almost obligatory muffled announcemant over the Public Address System along the lines of “Would the driver of car with license plate ABC123 return to you car. You’ve left your engine running”.

  3. Philip Mendes says

    Glen – Nice memories. I think that stand alone game was Richmond vs Fitzroy in 1982. The Tigers – particularly Brian Taylor – destroyed us at VFL Park, and it stuffed our season which never quite got back on track although we won six out of the last seven to finish 6th. Dan – some further great memories there. Lou Richards was lucky he had Peter Landy to back him up with more cultured English, just as Ian Mayor rescued Jack Dyer from regularly butchering the language. One item I didn’t mention was the Little League. In those days I think they played on the full oval in club colours at half time, and sometimes neither team scored. Then they gradually dumped the club colours, and switched to smaller areas and smaller goals playing multiple games at a time.

  4. Mark Schwerdt says

    Adelaide Oval – “Choc Ices … assorted sweeeets”

    Elizabeth Oval – “Hot fresh donuts … delicious toffee apples”

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Good stuff, Philip! Your piece evoked many memories for me, including the time (1980) I worked as a blue-coated ticket checker for Geelong (complete with GFC badge) in the then-new Hickey Stand at Kardinia Park.

    And Jack Dyer vis-à-vis the English language! One of my favourite Dyer-isms was when he lamented the attitude of the contemporary footballer, saying something along the lines of “All they want to do these days is sit around and smoke marinara [sic]”!

  6. While 1978 was a bit before my time Philip, I do remember the call being ‘Hot pies, cold drinks’ for some years from the early 1990s at Waverley and Princes Park. I might have caught the tail of the peanuts, but I also remember grandpa and dad telling me about the big steaming boiler of hotdogs at some of the grounds (might have been Moorabbin?)

    The ‘Little Leaguers’ in the middle of the ground still wear full club colours too, they’re usually a couple of years older than the multiple games along the boundary from the looks of the height and skill involved.

    I only ever heard the car with the lights on – never the engine running!

  7. Re: TV/Radio pretty certain 1978 was the first year of the “That Was the Season That Was” series that ran until (from memory) 2001.

  8. Philip Mendes says

    Some further great memories there folks. I think Jack Dyer had special trouble pronouncing Dipper’s name in his early days.

  9. Spot on Swish with the Adelaide Oval food sellers. Thebarton Oval had a bloke outside the southern gates after matches with trays of warm pasties covered by hessian bags to keep the heat in. Dunno if his missus made them or he bought job lots of leftovers from the Central Market.
    Pasties need chunky mince meat, lots of pepper and swedes/turnips in the veggie mix. Nowadays the fillings come out of a can.

  10. 1978 for me means Sydney and the local rugby league comp. Twelve suburban teams, none from outside the greater Sydney region. Two of the twelve have disappeared (Norths and Newtown) while three others have ended up part of a merged entity (St.George, Balmain and Wests). The Grand Final at the SCG, all finals there too. Pies and chips the standard food. Think the beer was in aluminium tinnies not steel by then, but as I was too young to drink, can’t be too accurate on that one. One of the strongest recollections is the huge waft of smoke from the scores of smokers at every ground. And the huge wafts of torn newspapers and tossed dunny rolls whenever anyone scored. Oh yes, and how good my mighty Sea Eagles were in those days. The old home ground of Brookie barely changed over the decades until this year.

  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I can still taste those pasties PB, heaven wrapped in pastry. I reckon he also sold them at Globe Derby.

  12. Ta Phil, i also thought about, but forgot to mention, the Little League. They were there @ 1/2 time every Saturday.

    I tend to average at least one serious typo in my comments/postings. Johnno the peanut man was an iconic figure @ VFL & VFA games, not AFL. He may have appeared at some games in the first few years it was called the AFL but he was gone by the latter part of the 90’s.

    Thanks for mentioning Richmond V Fitzroy in 1982; i was having a mental blank, which goes with ageing.

    Keep up the good work.


  13. Thanks for the memories, Philip.
    I turned 13 in 1978, so we are of a similar vintage. I went to nearly every North game and all the finals.

    However, a point of order: it is my memory that the U/19s would play on Saturday afternoons on the opposite ground to the seniors and reserves.


  14. Philip Mendes says

    Smokie – you may well be correct. I’ve got to admit that I never saw an Under 19 Home and Away game live. But I did see Fitzroy play an Under 19 Grand Final live in 1979 which was played in pouring rain at the MCG before the Reserves and then the senior GF between Carlton and Collingwood. Unfortunately we lost a close one to Carlton.

  15. Smokie, 13 in 1978. Oh to be young.

    You’re spot on re the under 19’s. In my dotage i’d forgotten where/when they played.

    Whilst i’m on a roll, can you, or Phil, tell us the final season of the under 19’s?


  16. James Hands says

    Thanks Philip and men, brings back strong memories of dad taking my brother and I to Victoria Park many times to see our beloved Pies, late 60s through early-mid 70s, must have been 6 years old and upwards. Beer can were steel back then, so you could put a few together and stand on them to get a glimpse of the game. Strong smells of VB and Winfields. Seem to recall soggy hot chips and jam donuts.
    Dad took us to training at Vic Park once, early 70s, got Peter McKenna’s autograph and a pat on the head from a giant Len Thompson. Legends.
    These days, beer in plastic cups, seated anyway! No smoking. And doubt anyone could just wander down the ramp into club rooms for an autograph!

  17. george smith says

    Worth noting that in 1978 Fitzroy won the night premiership, its last as the Fitzroy Lions. The following year Collingwood won the night premiership, its only premiership under Tommy Hafey’s coaching. In 1978 we had the team to beat anybody, based around our champion Phil Carman. Unfortunately Phil got into a huge row with coach Hafey, who uttered the famous words : “it’s him or me.”

    Collingwood was toweled up in the finals first by Hawthorn then by North. Phil played a shocker against North, his last game for Collingwood. He was replaced at centre half forward in the team by who else but Rene Kink. Hafey himself was on borrowed time at Collingwood as well, but we didn’t know it yet…

    One memory of those days is writing away for finals tickets. In ’77, ’78, 80 and 81, I managed to score a finals series from a ballot. And they were fairly cheap, as opposed to $130 just for the GF in 2010. I sold my ’78 grand final tickets to another public servant as I wasn’t prepared to travel all the way to Melbourne if the Magpies weren’t in it. But after the horrors of 1980 and 1981 I swore off grand finals for life!

  18. Philip Mendes says

    James – nice memories there. Strangely they still have that unhygienic food at English Premier League games as I found out about 10 years ago when I took my son to see West Ham play at Upton Park. Peter McKenna was a brilliant footballer (on a par with Hudson at the time) who perhaps didn’t get proper recognition as a result of his Collingwood career ending abruptly due to that kidney injury, and then strangely playing one season at their arch-enemy Carlton. I later watched him captaining and coaching Port Melbourne in the VFA.
    George – funny you mention that 1979 Night Grand Final victory as I think most people forget that one, and recall more so the 1980 Grand Final when Kerry good took that mark after the siren had gone, and won the game for North.

  19. Peter Fuller says

    Glen, Philip,
    I checked to confirm my memory that Carlton defeated Essendon in the opening game in 1979; scores 14-17-101 to 11-14-80. This was played a week prior to the rest of the competition.
    Glen you mentioned the tragedy at Princes Park, I’m not sure of the date or year, but it wasn’t the opening round of 1982. My recollection is that it was early in a season in the 1980s, but not round 1. As Philip mentioned the 1982 stand-alone match was Richmond defeating Fitzroy.
    There does not appear to be any other instances around that time of a single game being played in advance of the complete first round.
    My guess as to an explanation would be the VFL’s desire to further encorach on the cricket season, and testing the waters with these matches. I remember Ray Steele – a keen Tiger football supporter as well as his role as a senior cricket administrator – complaining about this. Perhaps it was the 1982 match, because he said that as a protest against the VFL action, he wouldn’t be attending even though Richmond were in action, .

  20. Ta Peter

    The 1979 game was the one I was thinking of, but having a seniors moment it was lost in the fogs of time. The same season the VFA did the same. I recall we went to a ‘stand alone’ clash at North Port where we , Port Melbourne, beat Preston by a point. The week after we went to Sandringham for the official opening round.

    The chap killed at the footy died at Princess Park. He was killed trying to protect his son during an all in brawl. (Was it in the stand at the Royal Parade end?) It was at a Fitzroy V Carlton game, that I’m pretty sure was the round 1 tie in 1982. The VFL acted quickly on access to alcohol. You could no longer bring it to the ground. At the ground you could only obtain two opened cans of beer at a time.

    In closing i’ll pose the same question I asked on 20/1/21. What was the last season of the U19’s?


  21. Glen, the last season of the Under-19s was 1991.

    In The Age on 27/4/2021, Jake Niall wrote that the AFL was contemplating changing the elite junior competition that provides about half their players – the NAB League – from an under-18 to an under-19 competition, but still favoured keeping the minimum Draft age at 18. The NAB League, long known as the TAC Cup would become an under-19 competition in 2021 but it appears that plan fell through, as nothing eventuated from that article. A possible reason was some recruiters and officials did not want the NAB League to become the under 19s, since they were concerned that the large number of older players would reduce the overall talent level of the NAB League.

    Another big difference between 1978 and 2021 is:

    Iin 1978, there were only 12 teams playing in the VFL. There were only 6 games, all matches played on a Saturday afternoon in Melbourne or Geelong.

    In 2021, there are 18 teams playing in the AFL, with 9 games spread out over Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday twilight, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night. Games are played in stadiums across Melbourne,
    Geelong, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Launceston, (assuming there are no AFL Hubs for the AFL Fuxture like in 2020) and in the past, overseas in China and New Zealand.

Leave a Comment