Era, era on the wall; 1967-1976

Part 5 – Rocking the suburbs

Robbie McGhie was only doing what came naturally after the 1973 Grand Final when he sucked on a tinnie and lit up a smoke, resplendent in his lace-up guernsey and old school tatts. The Tiger hard man wouldn’t have dreamed he’d be immortalised by the late, great Rennie Ellis as an icon for a time unfettered by political correctness.

Robert Menzies takes pole position at Princes Park in 1972 (pic: Carlton FC)

Out in the far eastern wilderness the futuristic VFL Park was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1970 but the footy experience was more vice than regal. Biffo, booze filled eskies, cheer squad fires, standing room only and a Carlton / Richmond / North / Hawthorn hegemony epitomized a game that, like society, belatedly broke the shackles of conservatism.

Bigger, better, fitter players coached to engage their brains as well as brawn improved the spectacle, as did the long awaited Second Coming of the full forward.  Aided by a liberal interpretation of what constituted a mark and fed by skilful onballers, Jezza, Huddo, Macca and Wade regularly booted individual tallies that would have won matches in the early ‘Sixties.  Even a rover (Leigh Matthews) kicked 11 in a game in 1973 – incomprehensible today.  Meanwhile, lesser lights Geoff Blethyn and Larry Donohue managed to top the magical ton.

Blight’s torp will never be topped

The escalation in goals from 1967 onwards was era defining. Come ’69 and scoring on Melbourne’s heaving paddocks was easier than Woodstock.  Average totals skyrocketed from 82 to 97 points per team per game, coinciding with the new out on the full rule snaffling the backmen’s get out of jail free card. Forwards were also thankful for the game’s openness, reinforced by the introduction of the centre diamond in 1973 (which became a square in 1975).

Classic Royce (pic: Herald Sun)

Country zoning, introduced in 1967, would impart severe ramifications through subsequent decades.  Had the disparate zones been rotated, as per the original intention, more than five of the twelve clubs would surely have flagged between its introduction and the end of its impact in 1989.  By comparison nine clubs contested Grand Finals between 1961 and 1967 with six different winners.

“No coach has won a premiership with poor players.  Hawthorn was very fortunate, they had a very good county zone and I got the benefit out of it.”
– Allan Jeans

Clubs became more adventurous and aggressive in recruiting players from near and afar.  At the same time footballers began realising their worth, and it was considerably more than 15% of the average wage.  Collingwood’s Len Thompson and Des Tuddenham, in addition to five Essendon players, went on strike over pay conditions in the 1970 preseason.  Having meekly abandoned an attempt to form a representative body back in 1955 (under pressure from the League), the VFL Players Association was formed in late 1973.

KB never did get the hang of it

Attendances between 1967-76 hovered around the 23-25,000 per game mark.  Aided by Collingwood, Richmond and Carlton regularly crossing paths in finals, the MCG’s new Ponsford Stand and questionable public safety standards, the five largest crowds in League history (and 14 of the top 20) occurred in this period.  Interestingly, the advent of VFL Park failed to have an impact on overall numbers.  The location and lack of canny fixturing intent didn’t help.

“There’s no denying the fact that the commercial side of football has now developed into a big business”
– Football Life, 1971

Despite television’s exposure of the game and influx of corporate dollars, essentially the competition remained a glorified suburban league.  Players enjoyed their privacy, trained twice a week, held down jobs and drank and smoked pretty much as they pleased.  Instructively there was less evidence of players losing the plot in end of season drug or alcohol binges.  If they did, well it wasn’t perceived as being in the public interest to report.  Players were idolised, none more so than Peter McKenna who managed to score a few hits in between a mountain of goals.

Where players did lose the plot was on the field.

John Greening (pic: Collingwood FC)

Games may have been televised for replay purposes however the quality of coverage and inability to sanction the old behind play ultra-violence led to some truly shocking acts by today’s standards.  White line fever had Carlton and Collingwood players in its thrall at Princes Park in 1968.  Tragically, a star of that game and many others, John Greening, almost lost his life four years later at Moorabbin owing to a cowardly king hit by Jim O’Dea.  Nor was it the Age of Aquarius according to Leigh Matthews, if his near-lethal hit on AFL Legend Barry Cable in a 1971 state game was a guide.  The Hawks-Saints Grand Final the same year was no place for the feint hearted either, nor was the 1973 decider between the Tigers and the Blues when Neil Balme and Laurie Fowler ran amok.  Then there was the infamous Windy Hill brawl of 1974.

Windy Hill brawl, 1974 (pic: John French, The Age)

The weekly brawls got to the stage where Ron Barassi called a meeting of coaches in 1975 to discuss the game’s violent image.  It was decided the game was too fast to be as rough as it used to be.  As an extension of that contention, two field umpires were used for the first time in 1976.

Other lowlights of the period included John Coleman’s sudden death at 44, Robert Rose and Neil Sachse‘s life changing, career ending accidents and the loss of Hawthorn champion Peter Crimmins to cancer, who hung on just long enough to see his teammates win the flag for him in 1976.

In ’75 the volatile Phil Carman dominated his first year as few players ever have.

Besides the drama of Carlton’s famous 1970 comeback triumph over Collingwood in front of over 120,000 stunned fans, the most emotional flag of the era was North’s breakthrough after 52 years of trying.  Wooden spooners in 1972, a startling ascension was powered by super coach Ron Barassi and a star studded line-up assembled with the aid of the short-lived 10 Year Rule.   North played the other clubs on a break.  Knowing the likely outcome, and already having several restless stars aligned, it was the only club to vote against the rule (to camouflage its covert operation).

1975 Grand Final (pic: Museum Victoria)

The same year ‘Seventies fashionista Ron Barassi claimed the Kangas’ first cup, the advent of colour TV in 1975 spawned another beautiful thing when Richmond and Fitzroy stunned sensitive retinas with bright yellow shorts. Meanwhile Footscray and Essendon took the field resplendent in red knicks. How could something so wrong seem so right?

That was this (mostly) wonderful era in a nutshell.

Video links
1967 Richmond v Geelong Grand Final
1968 Carlton v Essendon Grand Final
1969 Richmond v Carlton Grand Final
1970 Carlton v Collingwood Grand Final I 1970 season highlights
1971 Hawthorn v St Kilda Grand Final I 1971 season highlights
1972 Carlton v Richmond Grand Final I 1972 season highlights
1973 Richmond v Carlton Grand Final I 1973 season highlights
1974 Richmond v North Melb. Grand Final I 1974 season highlights
1975 North Melb. v Hawthorn Grand Final I 1975 season highlights
1976 Hawthorn v North Melb. Grand Final I 1976 season highlights


5 balls

Part 6: Castles made of sand (1977-1986)

The story so far
Part 1: Well oiled machines (1925-1938)
Part 2: A war of attrition (1939-1948)
Part 3: Safe, at home and away (1949-1959)
Part 4: A popular routine (1960-1966)



About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Hi Jeff, being a pedant, was the Carlton Collingwood encounter you mentioned the 1969, not 1968, match?


  2. Peter Warrington says

    Sheedy in 74. Sublime!

  3. Yes, you are correct Glen. For your viewing pleasure/displeasure;

  4. notwithstanding all of that, I have always been fascinated by 1971. Hawthorn coming from 8th to finish 1st with 19 wins. The Hawks knocking off the Sts in the major semi, the Saints seeing off a surging Tigers inthe Prelim, and a first rate violent and skillful grand final, with Hudson’s dramatics a bonus.

    with Hawthorn conspiring to miss the final 5 the next year. No premiership window there. Just a 21-win season out of the blue, and glory. bizarre.

  5. Good point there Peter. It really is a weird anomaly when you think how strong Carlton and Richmond were either side of 1971 (and Collingwood for that matter). But I guess when your 150 goal full forward goes down for the season in Round 1 of the following year then back in those days the window tended to slam shut pretty quickly.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff JD. 12.5 in the 3rd quarter of that game in ’69. Wish I’d been alive to see it. Wonderful era where old myths and new technology began to collide. ’67 GF is my favourite game because it was the last GF where the classical skills of stab passing, drops and torps were used. The dropkicking of Fred Swift and Roy West from fullback still delights the footy romantic in me. ’73 was another missed opportunity for the Pies, 19-3 and out in straight sets after being 40+ up on Richmond in the Prelim. My brother and my dad went to that game and he still has the film on his Super 8 recorder, in colour.

  7. Thanks my Lord, that super 8 footage sounds like Youtube gold if you could find a way to convert & upload it.

    The ’67 grand final must be the footy equivalent of the Tasmanian Tiger prowling in its enclosure at the Hobart zoo. The last known drop/stab kick sightings around the country would make for an interesting research exercise.

  8. Terrific read Jeff, just as all the instalments have been. Bravo. Looking forward to the next week. KT (100 goals & Brownlow) should get a few mentions – I hope.

    Re: The Biff. I was surprised you didn’t mention the second wild and woolly Windy Hill brawl between Essendon and Carlton in July ’75 – Eight reports, Carlton 14 goals in the 2nd quarter. I remember the game getting a run on Fantastic Footy Flashbacks in the early 80’s. Ugly.

    As for Hawthorn’s “come from nowhere” flag in ’71, I think that particular group get short changed. Only a poor percentage in 1969, when they went 13-7, cost them a spot in the top four. They opened 1970 disastrously and dropped their first seven games, five of those defeats were by less than two goals. They went 10-5 after that, Peter Crimmins & Leigh Matthews did miss chunks of the campaign. So, perhaps, turning it all around the following year shouldn’t have been that much of a shock.

    Great work.

    Phil: Do you think the Pies 19-3 record in ’73 was a little flattering? Back-to-back streaky wins against the Dogs at home and the Cats away early in the second half of the fixture might’ve papered over the cracks. The alarms bells would’ve been ringing loudly after the Tigers beat ’em up at Victoria Park late in the year. Geez, those two finals losses were stinkers.


  9. Thanks Mic – having also seen the footage a few times myself, yes that Blues-Dons game in ’75 must have been one of the top few most violent of this era (not counting some infamous VFA shockers).

    And be rest assured Mic, KT will be paid his due in the next episode.

  10. cowshedend says

    Fantastic again Jeff, ‘more vice than ragal’ great line.

  11. Hi Mic, didn’t the hawks lose the first 8 in 1970.? They broke their duck with a big win over a side called South Melbourne, a club who hasn’t existed since the early 1980’s.

    In 1969 they had two costly late losses, Richmond at Glenferrie, then Geelong at Kardinia Park. In the latter match Wade took the mark of the season over Terry Gay. Hawthorn had a good break early in the final term but Geelong over ran them. Re the Richmond encounter Hawthorn won the first clash of the season, a match at the ‘G’ where Barry Richardson became the first player yo hold Peter Hudson goalless. Hawthorn started 1969 well, Richmond finished the year well. It’s intriguing how these two sides were powerhouses for many years but never met in a final.


  12. That really is incredible that Richmond & Hawthorn have never met in a final Glen. Meanwhile the Tigers have played the Blues 23 times (won 16).

  13. Jeff – re: KT. Thanks, looking forward to your tribute.

    Glen. – Hawthorn sat in the top four from Rounds 6-18 (inclusive) but fell out after the loss at Geelong and that was that. They broke their 1970 “duck” with a ten goal victory over the Bloods in Rd 8 of 1970.
    Good luck on the punt mate.


  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    This whole series is sensational Jeff. Deserves a wide audience. Thanks for the time and effort.

  15. 1. Go Tiges!
    2. Go Huddo. what a genius.
    3. Go Royce.
    4. Carlton, go get….

  16. DBalassone says

    Brilliant stuff JD and to all who have added to this thread – great comments – especially like that Glen ends his name with an exclamation mark. Love it! That’s a great observation about Hawks in 1971 Peter – I had never thought of that before.

    Looking forward to the next installment of the electronic history our great game…

  17. Thanks Swish, Damo. It’s taken a lot of effort but it’s been a fun & interesting one to compile.

    Amid all the change over the years there’s so many recurring themes and issues.

  18. Ditto, Jeff, it’s great to read about this halcyon period of footy. I wasn’t on the radar for the earlier periods you wrote about my formative footy memories are from the 1967-76 period. It was tough, tough skillful period. No closed roofs, no omnipresent advertising logos, muddy winter grounds, footy as i remember from my childhood.

    Keep up the great work it’s been good reading.


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