Football History: 1919 VFL Grand Final


The last time football, Australia, the world, experienced a pandemic, was following the Great Trade War, AKA World War 1. 62,000 Australians lost their life in this conflict with another 156,000 wounded. A staggering 65% of Australians who saw action were casualties, the highest casualty rate per head of population from any nation involved. Amongst the dead were 96 VFL players.


Following the horrors of war, the Spanish Flu, H1N1 virus struck cutting like a scythe through populations tired from four years of war and deprivation. Globally over 500 million people were infected with over 10% of them dying. In Australia 1 million people were infected, with 12,500 deaths. 30 & % of the victims were Victorians.


I’ve previously written about this time in football history ;


So here I’m going to look at the last time we had a Grand Final played in the time of a Pandemic.  In that period, it wasn’t the Australian Football League, (AFL) that had the best players with the best quality competition, it was the Victorian Football League, (VFL).


Finals then were quite different being played under what was known as the Argus System. This was in the period of a final four, it not being until 1972 the number of teams competing in the final series was expanded beyond four. The Argus System was in place from 1901 until 1930, with several changes made to thrash out some of its anomalies. It basically worked along the lines of having semi-finals where second played fourth, first played the third.  The following week saw the two victors play off. This match could determine the premiership. If the winner of this second clash had the best record overall for the season, they were deemed the premiers. But, if the winner of the second week clash was not the one with the best record for the season a deciding match was played.


Collingwood finished top of the 1919 ladder, winning 13 of the 16 matches they played. Their three losses included St Kilda’s first ever win at Victoria Park, a ground they always struggled at. Joining Collinwood in the final four were South Melbourne, Carlton, and Richmond. The latter occupied the fourth spot, finishing two-points clear of Fitzroy through Fitzroy had the superior percentage. Bringing up the bottom of the nine-team ladder were Melbourne; winless. This was Melbourne’s first year back in the VFL, as the club had performed their patriotic duty sitting out the competition during the years 1916 to 1918.


The finals opened with Richmond defeating a side, who now no longer exist, South Melbourne, by 14 points, 10-13-73 to 9-5-59. The other Semi-Final saw Collingwood win by three goals over Carlton, 9-10-64 to 6-10-46. Thus, Richmond were set to play the top side for the season, Collingwood. If Collingwood won, they were premiers, however if they didn’t, they could have a second crack at it.


As it was Richmond had a substantial 29-point victory, 10-14-74 to 6-9-45, over Collingwood in the Preliminary Final. Collingwood were determined a rematch would reverse this result.


Collingwood were coached by the legendary Jock McHale. For many years McHale held the AFL/VFL coaching record of 714 games until Micky Malthouse recently surpassed him. In McHale’s tally were sixteen Grand Finals, including eight flags. Collingwood had lost the previous year’s Grand Final to South Melbourne despite being two goals up at the final break. Could 1919 redeem this?


For Richmond this was their first VFL Grand Final. They had entered the VFL in 1908, with 1916 being their first finals series. Adding spice to the contest was the subject of Dan Minogue, who’d in 1914 been voted the best player for Collingwood, also being the team captain. At the end of the 1916 season Minogue was chaired from the ground after he announced he was leaving football to join the Australian Imperial Forces, (AIF) to fight in the Great Trade War.


Minogue spent his time overseas with the AIF. However, in his absence there were ‘ructions’ within Collingwood about the playing list. Upon his return to Australia he sought a transfer to Richmond, with it being eventually granted… in time for he to play in the 1920 VFL season!  1919 was marked with acrimonious wrangling between Richmond and Collingwood as Minogue was forced to sit out the entire season. A century later Dan Minogue is recognised as an Australian Football Hall of Famer.


A crowd of 45,413 turned up to the Grand Final. In the words of the Argus, of Monday October 13; Again, an immense crowd assembled on the spacious Melbourne Cricket-ground to see the last struggle for the football championship of the year.


According to The Argus, Collingwood had the ‘best end for a start, ‘however in an even first quarter they only managed a slender three-point lead, 1-5-11 to Richmond’s 1-2-8.


The second quarter remained tight Collingwood increasing their lead by a point, leading 5-5-35 to 4-7-31. Early goals to Collingwood, combined with missed shots by Richmond, allowed Collingwood to break away. However, Richmond finished strongly and a late gaol by Donald Don (Welsh?) had the margin under a goal.


Then the ‘premiership quarter’ arrived and Collingwood gained the break. After Richmond again wasted early opportunities, Dick Lee goaled to extend Collingwood’s lead. Richmond stayed close but late six pointers from Bill Walton, then Bill Twomey, hurt them.  Going into the final change Collingwood were leading, 8-8-56 to Richmond 5-10-40. Could Richmond again beat the ladder leader, thus snaring their first VFL premiership? Would Collingwood repeat the ‘choke’ of 1918?  All would be revealed.


An early goal by Mal Seddon stretched the Collingwood margin. Richmond were not able to rebound as Collingwood pulled away in the final term finishing victors 11-12-78 to 7-11-53. The 1919 VFL premiership was theirs, the fifth in club history, the second for Jock McHale.


Back in 1919 there were no Norm Smith medals for best on the ground.  As it was the great Norm Smith had not yet turned 4!  Though if there was this medal, who may have won it?


An area in the Preliminary Final where Richmond had been on top was in the rucks. A week later Collingwood turned this right around. Les Horace ‘Lofty’ Hughes, Collingwood’s ruckman was a key in the victory, as was fellow ruckman and skipper Con McCarthy, the ruckmen giving their team first use of the ball. Should the fact Hughes was also a goal scorer in the match tip the balance in his favour as the best player for the day?


Collingwood’s Charlie Laxton was a beneficiary of his ruck’s dominance, obtaining good use of the ball, baffling opponents. In the words of The Argus Laxton, was chief winner for the side.


Bill Twomey, the patriarch of the Twomey clan was another who contributed to the victory. The Argus talked of Twomey’s, dashing game – he has proved to be one of their bright particular stars in the three finals.


For Richmond Frank ‘Checker’ Hughes, in the centre, may stake a claim, with Reg Hede another who could put in a claim for the medal. New Zealand born Hugh James MC, equal leading goal kicker with 2, was another who contributed for the vanquished.  I shouldn’t put in a claim for Richmond’s Frank Huggard, who later Captain Coached Corowa in the Ovens and Murray League, but I thought I may as well mention him.


Well, when will the 2020 AFL Grand Final be held? Sometime in October seems most likely. The 1919 Grand Final on October 11 is one of 28 held in October, including the three replays from the draws. The latest in October the match has been played was October 20, way back in 1923. That day saw Essendon kick 8-15-63 to record a victory over Fitzroy, 6-10-46. Anybody old enough to remember Fitzroy?


The future is unwritten.

1919 VFL Grand Final, Collingwood V Richmond


1/4 time: Collingwood 1-5-11 V Richmond 1-2-8

½ time: Collingwood 5-5-31 V Richmond 4-7-31

¾ time: Collingwood 8-8-56 V Richmond 5-10-40

Final score: Collingwood 11-12-78 V Richmond 7-11-53




D Lee3, M Seddon2, B Twomey1, C Laxton1, E Lumsden1, L Hughes1, B Walton1, H Curtis1



H James2, D Don2, G Bayliss2, F Harley1.


PS: Remember, TEST, TEST, TEST!






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  1. John Butler says

    Imagine a modern day star having to sit out a year because a club cracked the sads.

    Collingwood have a much better strike rate in October GF’s than September ones.

    Thanks for this Glen. It’s interesting how the Spanish Flu had been subsumed into WWI memories until our current circumstance.


  2. Warwick Nolan says

    Thanks Glen. Enjoyed this very much.
    Would have been a unique era?

    Like many others in 1919 I suspect – both my grandfathers returned home from war, met my grandmothers and got married – all before Grand Final day – in October! Neither had turned 20 yet – less so for my grandmothers.

    Wonder how significant the role of VFL football may have been 1919 (and beyond) in assisting them and others to adjusti to life after the war?

    Appreciate your piece very much Glen.
    Thank you.

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic, well researched piece Glen. 3 goals to the great Dick Lee, a player who should be in consideration when “Legend” status awards are being handed out.

    By coincidence, the Dan Minogue story was talked about on ABC Melbourne breakfast this morning!

  4. Hmm, thanks chaps.

    I’m curious where the earlier 5 comments have gone?! Peter, Phil, Chris,Rod, …. Did i imagine them. Is it my computer?

    Editor ?


  5. Oh,now the penny has dropped. I know where the earlier comments went.

    This post first went up on 28/5, then was reposted on 2/6.

    It’s amazing this technology stuff.


  6. Great stuff, Glen!
    Just love a well-researched historical piece.
    Pre-Covid, I am not sure there were many people who had even heard of the Spanish flu pandemic.

  7. Stainless says

    Fascinating piece Glen. It’s interesting that even though the Spanish flu hit Australia hardest during 1919 there were apparently no impacts on the football in terms of its programming or attendance. The Argus System of finals certainly gave the top team a free kick! A few minor premiers in recent years would have appreciated the right to challenge!

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