Footy: My favourite night footy/pre-season cup moments

By Damian Watson

After a long, arduous four-month wait the Pre Season competition is finally upon us!

In this five-week period, players will begin to regain their football prowess in a competitive nature after a gruelling summer out on the track. Coaches will experiment with methods and young hopefuls emerging from the draft. Despite the various opinions from those claiming that the competition should be scrapped, supporters are no doubt relieved that the moment has arrived and the catch cry “The footy is back!” is heard repeatedly in February after an off-season that has proved too lengthy for many. As a 15 year old footy fan the commencement of the pre season is similar to making a sea change; it is exciting but what lays ahead can be unpredictable.

The competition has certainly changed since its debut back in 1956. The Night/ Pre Season Series have provided memorable moments over the years and after re-jogging the memory bank and knuckling down with some research, I have decided to list some of the biggest events from series past:

Birth of a New Competition: In 1956, the then VFL decided to create a knockout competition comprised of the 8 teams who failed to reach the Finals Series. The series was held under lights at the Lake Oval throughout weeknights in September. The inaugural Grand Final proved to be a success for the VFL as over 32,000 crammed in amongst the palm trees to witness South Melbourne narrowly overcome the Blues by one straight kick. The night series continued in this format until 1971, the Swans and the Doggies proving to be the most successful of the competition’s 15 year span. Both were premiers three times in what was fairly dismal era for both clubs. A decade later the ground was unable to host AFL matches, paving the way for the Swans relocation and after hosting reserves matches the ground was tragically converted into a soccer pitch.

The Whacky World of Waverley: Following a five-year hiatus the Night Series was back in 1977 as the VFL installed lights at Waverley Park, however its stint in the Eastern Suburbs provided somewhat unusual moments. Older supporters often claim that the weather at Waverley resembled an Antarctic blizzard as large fogs and hailstorms were regular occurrences, the footy was often harder to spot than a green frog in a tree. The night when the sprinklers came to life in the middle of a match between Hawthorn and Claremont is also still talked about. From 1977-87 the night series was often played at Waverley mid-season on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Sponsors Galore: The Pre Season/Night Series has become a corporate wonderland and the winner of the competition has been provided with truckloads of cash over the years. Sponsors such as Escort, Channel 7, Panasonic, Fosters, Ansett Australia, Wizard and NAB have being a major sponsor the Pre Season competition. As a generous gesture in the 2009 NAB Cup Final, Mark Thompson promised to donate the $50 000 won to the Bushfire appeal. This followed the thousands of dollars raised for victims of the Black Saturday disaster in the Bushfire Appeal Match between the Bulldogs and Essendon weeks earlier.

The Headband Incident: In a night match back in 1977 legendary Carlton defender Bruce Doull had his headband stolen by Hawthorn’s Kevin Ablett. This let off a fuse and the Flying Doormat wasn’t a happy man, throwing Ablett to the ground and letting the odd punch fly. This was not the last time Doull would lose his headband; nippy Essendon rover Tony Buhagiar threw the headband over the fence at an Elimination Final six years later

Did You Hear The Siren? The biggest climax to Night Series final came in 1980 between North Melbourne and Collingwood in front of a large crowd at Waverley. In the dying seconds Malcolm Blight accepted the ball in the centre and as the siren sounded sent a spearing pass down the throat of teammate Kerry Good at centre half-forward. However the umpire failed to hear the siren and paid the mark. Under immense pressure and with thousands of fans streaming onto the ground, Good kicked truly to sew up North Melbourne’s first Night Premiership.

Tim’s Dazzling Run: There is something exciting about the name Watson! This Bomber dynamo provides evidence of this fact and has shone over the years with his skill and presence in the Essendon midfield.  Tim Watson was the catalyst in the 1981 Night final against the Blues and the vision of Watson leaping over the fallen Simon Madden before racing in to convert from 20 metres is looked back fondly by Essendon supporters. That night the Bombers held off the Blues by four goals in the wet conditions.

Delirious Dees: The pulse rate for all of the Demons fans attending the 1987 final was dangerously high in this nail biting contest against the Bombers. The game was low-scoring and immense physical pressure was placed on both sides. With only minutes remaining crumber Bret Bailey converted with a left foot snap to send the Demons four points up. The score failed to change as the siren sounded with the Bombers streaming into attack. Delirious scenes followed as thousands of fans invaded the ground to celebrate a drought-breaking premiership for the Dees, their first in 23 years.

Next Score Wins: By 1989 the Night Series was played in the Pre Season hence creating the Pre Season competition. The VFL adopted the controversial rule in the Pre Season competition which claimed in the event of a tie it would be a next score wins scenario. This only occurred once in a match between hawthorn and West Coast at Waverley. Trailing by two goals with only minutes remaining the Eagles looked gone until big Laurie Keane bobbed up to boot two long goals and scores were level as official time ran out. A minute into extra time Paul Peos was unmarked at half forward and booted a behind to signal a win. Judging by the celebration as the siren rang it was clear the players had no knowledge of the rule and it was eventually scrapped soon after.

Lightning Premiership: In 1996 the AFL embarked on an experiment to celebrate it’s 100th season to create a Lightning Premiership. This competition would be held in similar fashion to a state carnival and new rules were implemented including a 3 point reward for hitting the post, a free kick to the opposition if a teammate has touched the ball last before travelling over the boundary line and matches were played within a 35 minute period. Essendon were deserved winner, defeating the Bears by 17 points in the Final.

Saints Finally March In: Approaching the 1996 season, St Kilda were off the back of a dismal previous season however with promising youngsters such as Aussie Jones, Joel Smith, Tony Brown and with superstars Harvey and Loewe in full flight, the Saints were striving for success. Under the fiery Stan Alves in the 1996 Final the young skilful Saints were never seriously threatened racing away to a thumping 58 point victory over Carlton, the reigning premiers. Scenes of jubilation surrounded Waverley with thousands of St Kilda fans streaming onto the ground celebrating the clubs first flag in three decades, one supporter managing to climb halfway up the goalpost. The Saints had a dismal 1996 season but would be crowned minor premiers the following year.

The King On and Off the Throne: In 1998, Wayne Carey was at the peak of his powers and this was exemplified in the 1998 Pre Season Cup Final. Carey dominated around the ground for the Roos against the talented St Kilda side, his 70 metre goal making the vast expanses of Waverley appear to be the size of a small kindergarten playground. Carey also took one of his trademark screamers sprinting from the side of the pack, which epitomised his courage. His hand in North’s 14 point defeat of St Kilda was rewarded with a Michael Tuck Medal as best afield. In the Pre Season of 2002 Carey would turn from hero to villain in the eyes of the North faithful. Only a few days after performing admirably in North’s opening round Pre Season match against Hawthorn in Tasmania, Carey held a press Conference admitting to an affair with the wife of vice-captain and close teammate Anthony Stevens. In the space of a few days Carey’s successful reign at North was over.

Waverley’s Last Hurrah: In a controversial and somewhat regrettable decision the AFL announced in 1997 that it would scrap Waverley as an AFL venue by the end of the century. In 1999 it hosted it’s last Pre Season Final, fittingly hosted by Hawthorn against Port Adelaide. The Hawks were on top from the opening bounce while in contrast Port Adelaide were woeful, scoring five goals for the entire match. With Ben Dixon contributing well up forward and Paul Salmon on fire in the ruck the Hawks cruised to a 47 point victory in front of 75 000.

Fev’s Dozen: On New Years Eve 1999, young Blue forward Brendan Fevola was content to herald in the new Millennium in style bagging twelve goals in Carlton’s 88 point annihilation of arch rivals Collingwood at the MCG. Fevola took time to make his mark in senior football, failing to boot his first five goal haul until late 2001.

Poker Faces with the Cup: In the 2004 Wizard Cup Final the Saints proved they were a force to be reckoned with that season as they defeated the Cats by 22 points in a physical encounter. The stage was set at the opening bounce as Brent Guerra cannoned into Cameron Ling leaving the Cat battered and bruised. At the Presentation coach Grant Thomas and skipper Lenny Hayes controversially stood on the dais stony-faced as they held the cup. The Saints were in premiership contention that season before falling to Port Adelaide at the second last hurdle.

We Are Geelong: In 2006 the Cats won a thrilling NAB Cup Final with an 8 point defeat of Adelaide at AAMI Stadium. Despite losing Cameron Ling early with an ankle injury the Cats fought back in the final term with Cameron Mooney booting three vital goals to scrape over the line for their first Pre Season Flag and first premiership since 1963. Despite a horror 2006 season the Cats played scintillating football over the following three years adding two Premiership Cups to the cabinet by the end of the Decade.

If you have your own account of these moments or if you have any other memorable Pre Season moments that I have overlooked feel free to comment.

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16's.


  1. Great account of Pre-Season memories their Damo. Well done.

    I can’t really think of any other significant moments, except for the amount of confetti that is sprayed into life on the ground after the match, which is a joke. I would demand to be paid maximum amount to clean up that mess.

  2. John Butler says

    Nice work Damian

    I was there in ’96 when the Saints cleaned us up. I remember thinking at the time that the intensity of their celebrations set them up for a fall that season- which duly occurred.

    About the only thing I can think to add is Michael Tuck forgetting his own name when presenting the … errr… Michael Tuck Medal one year.

  3. Steve Healy says

    Awesome writing Damo, one of your finest.

    I remember in the semi final in 2004 when the dees lost by a kick to Geelong, I remember Paul Wheatley mark about 75 metres out on the siren, and I was egging him to have a shot to win the game, I was so sad that night.

    Hahaha, that St.Kilda supporter did well to get up the post since he was pretty overweight, as the 90’s DVD told us.

  4. My favourite Night footy memory is climatic rather than football. I remember stepping out in my garden in Moonee Ponds in the late seventies on a cold but dry night then going into my loungeroom to watch a night footy match being played (badly) in pouring rain in front of two men and a dog.

    Three thoughts occured to me.

    1. Who watches a football match between two down the ladder teams,that is not for premiership points, in person, on a really wet and cold weekday night?

    2. How lucky I was to live in the North Western side of Melbourne which is clearly in a warmer, drier climate zone than the South East.

    3. Why would any sports organisation build its showcase stadium in the wettest and coldest part of the city, thirteen miles from the centre of town in an area poorly served by public transport?

  5. Damian Watson says

    Thanks for the stories guys, keep them coming!

    That’s right John looking back at the tape those involved at the Saints celebrated deliriously but they did have a poor season in 96′.

    I agree Dave that the conditions were regularly treacherous at Waverley sometimes but in my case, I wish it was still an AFL venue because it was geographically convinient for those in the South Eastern suburbs including me, an area which is the epicentre of the population in Melbourne.

    The public transport was definitley woeful however in the last few years Eastlink has been completed, their is the plan for an impending tramline through the area and an extra lane has been built on Wellington Road.

    So in hindsight and with another Victorian ground needed in the AFL, I believe Waverley probably needed to stay.

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