Footy: New VFL season prompts review of a classic grand final

By Michael Rees

The Victorian Football League, formerly the Victorian Football Association,  kicks off its 133rd season this weekend. Perhaps the most intriguing clash on opening weekend will see the newest member of the league Gold Coast locking horns with old stager Port Melbourne at Southport.

At a time when the competition is suffering an identity crisis of sorts – Is it stand alone, the AFL reserves “in drag” (is it just me or does anyone else cringe when you hear an AFL coach, or senior player, refer to a teammate’s good form in “the twos”?) or a combination of aligned, non-aligned, interstate & rural based clubs ? Whatever it is I took the opportunity last Friday afternoon, a very Good Friday indeed, to look back at one of the great Grand Finals in recent memory, the 1978 Grand Final clash between Prahran and Preston.

A crowd of just under 30,000 — 29,569 to be precise — filled the picturesque Junction Oval in St Kilda and paid a whopping $41,933 on that beautiful September 24 afternoon to witness the season’s final act.

It was somewhat of a surprise that these two teams would meet in the big one. Port Melbourne finished the home & away season on top of the ladder and even after going down by 4 points in the Second Semi-Final to the Bullants were expected to overcome Mick Erwin’s Two Blues in the Preliminary Final. A five goal performance from Slammin Sam Kekovich and a storming finish by the men from Toorak Park put paid to Port’s “Three straight in ‘78” campaign. It was a case of “Brown Out” as the  5 season 3 Premiership reign of Norm Brown, replaced by Peter McKenna within weeks of their straight-sets demise. Even more surprising was the fact neither of the Grand final combatants had made the previous season’s finals, a fact to be repeated the following season when Coburg met Geelong West in the big one. Anyway, on to the game itself.

First Quarter: Robert Anderson (Prahran) won the toss and elected to kick with the aid of a two/three goal zephyr blowing toward the lake, or “Scoreboard” end. Within two minutes Prahran had two majors on the board from strong marks by Preen & Kim Smith, his 89th goal of the season. Liston winner Durward steadied and scored Prestons first, but Kelvin Clarke and Taylor push Prahran out to a three goal buffer. It stayed that way until quarter time. Preston were getting good service from its small men, Peter Marshall & Ken Marks, who had 7 clearances in the first quarter and Gonzales being its only multiple goal kicker with two. Both defences were holding up well with Paul Bolger, one of the few remaining amateurs in the competition, keeping Kekovich to just two touches. The only damage Kekovich inflicted to this point was to the head of Preston’s McCullogh, a hip & shoulder that would land him a 6 week holiday for something similar these days.  Preen 3 & Smith 2, picked up Sam’s slack and at quarter time Prahran were up 8.5-53 to 5.3-33.

Second Quarter: As was the case in the first quarter the team kicking with the aid of the slight zephyr piled on the early pressure. Preston were still controlling the clearances, and proceeded to kick the first four majors of the term, two to the dangerous Arthur Cann, to take the lead from the Two Blues. Kekovich, still struggling to recapture the form of 168 hours earlier, takes an air-swing at the melon headed Harold Martin, misses, but still manages to have his number taken by field umpire Rex Wenn.  A few “spot-fires” break out – this is a sign of what’s coming within the next hour or so. With the Preston backline of Walsh, King and Bolger holding sway, and plenty of ball entering their forward area, a half time lead of 10 points 10.11-71 to 9.7-61 would’ve probably disappointed the Preston coaching staff.

3rd Quarter: Despite Durward having an early shot on goal (no score), its Prahran through Johnston who bring up the first of the term. It’s the first of four for the quarter to take his seasons tally to 73. Two of the four were right foot snaps. Did he score more than two off the wrong foot over his whole career with Carlton? Prahran blow the game open with nine goals for the quarter, one that goes 38 minutes in length. Johnson’s efforts in this term are probably the match-winning performance, along with Kim Smith adding another three to the total. Their superlative efforts have probably been forgotten over the years as whenever someone mentions the third quarter of this game it’s only remembered for the brawls that saw Harold Martin reported for head butting Gary Chapman, & both Ian McGuiness and Robert Anderson having their numbers taking for striking Peter Marshall & Bruce Gonzales respectively. Two late goals to Grant Wilmot, one a free for tripping over himself, give Preston some hope, remembering they will have the final use of the breeze. They have continued to win the clearances, and whilst under siege in the third quarter, the backline of Bolger, King & Walsh has managed to keep them ever so remotely in the game. At the final break its Prahran 18.12-120 leading Preston 13.12-90.

Final Quarter: Former Captain/Coach Graeme Renwick replaces current CC Martin in the ruck. Goals to Cann & Lorenzini reduce the margin to 19 points. Clarke & Austin, as well as Stephen Rae, who up until the final quarter had a relatively quiet afternoon, continue to provide the Two Blues with plenty of drive as have Marks & Marshall done all day for the Ants. Smith’s sixth provides a little breathing space for Prahran. Teams exchange goals and when Cann kicks his second for the quarter with around 10 minutes remaining Preston are still amazingly a chance to pinch it. A couple of misses by Gonzales is immaterial as Smiths seventh for the day sees the Blues home with the final margin 22 points, 21.15-141 to 17.17-119. For the third time in the decade Prahran have not only taken the flag but not lost a single final of the eight they have played. For Preston, a disappointing end to a season that saw all three teams (First, Seconds & Thirds)  make the Grand Final, and yet only their reserves take home a flag.

Prahran would eventually lose a final the following year to Peter McKenna’s Port Melbourne, his only finals win as coach of the Burra, 13.11-89 to PM 14.17-101 in the First Semi. They would never win another First Division title. Mick Erwin would get a crack at coaching in the then VFL with Collingwood, replacing Tom Hafey mid-season 1982. In what was a major fall from grace for the Pies who had played in 4 of the previous 5 years Grand Finals, it was only a Round 22 victory at Kardinia Park that ensured they wouldn’t win what would have been their second spoon on 6 years. Erwin made way for Jack Cahill the following season. Harold Martin copped six weeks for his Grand Final misdemeanour(s). Preston’s 1979 was wrecked when the were docked 6 points for playing an ineligible player and missed the finals. They were to return to September action in 1981, only to be humiliated by Port Melbourne in that seasons finale by more than 100 points. Martin had stints as coach in the eighties at Coburg & Box Hill. Preston won VFA pennants in 1983 & 1984.

Other observations

  • Kim Smith, who booted 95 goals in 1978, was unfortunate to not play more games with Melbourne in the VFL. He debuted Round 1 1975 against Footscray, who also debuted Peter Featherby and the tragic Neil Sachse on that grey April afternoon at the MCG. Maybe this was due to his slender build. He was officially listed at 80 kilograms in weight. He never looked that heavy,  playing a total of 4 games and kicking 3 goals for the Dees. He returned to Prahran the following season. He kicked 610 goals in 136 games. Sadly he passed away last September at the very young age of 57. Vale Kim.
  • Wayne Johnson had a personal “Back-to-back” winning a flag in his first season with Carlton in 1979
  • Ian McGuiness was named Man of the match by the Channel 0 commentary team.
  • Second Division Werribee, coached by Australian Test Cricketer & Footscray CC team-of-the-century member Les Joslin, shocked First Division Sandringham to win the Lightning Premiership earlier that afternoon 5.2-32 to 3.10-28. Go Bees.
  • Mrs Burke, no address given, won the Sleeman Ford “Pick the Points” competition on Channel 0 and won herself a new car. Lucky her.

Finally, for those looking to have a wager on this season’s competition: whilst some pundits have written them off, you could do worse than have money on North Ballarat “three-peating”. If you do, good luck to you.


  1. Martin Reeves says

    Mic – a story with a central character named ‘Bruce Gonzalez’ is always going to be entertaining. Nice one.

    What chance Richmond/Coburg can take out the double of wooden spoons in 2010?

  2. Mic Rees says

    Martin: Bruce “Pancho” Gonsalves had a brief career with Collingwood ( 4 games 1975-76). May have led the VFL reserves goalkicking in 1976.

    Spoon double ? Highly unlikely. Whilst the AFL Tigers may struggle Coburg should win its fair share of games. Playing some games at Craigieburn. Frankston have lost a number of players and will find the going tough. I’m expecting them to bring up the rear.

  3. A great read Mic, I have only ever seen highlights from that game, that focused on the brawls that took place during the day.

  4. Dave Nadel says

    Identity crisis is right. Back in 1978 Preston was my VFA team because they were linked with Collingwood. The Pies recruited players from the Bullants and encouraged ex-Pies to play with Preston. In the last decade Collingwood seconds became Williamstown and now Collingwood has its own Seconds playing against Willi and the Bullants. Preston no longer exists and has been superceded by something called the Northern Bullants which is full of Carlton players. It becomes very hard to take any part of the competition seriously.

  5. Mic Rees says

    # 3 – Dave. The link between Collingwood & Preston was a fairly strong one in the late 70’s early 80’s – Names such as Shaw, Towan, Gonsalves, Marshall, Ohlsen & Bourke to name but a few. Very good servants of the PFC. Not sure many VFL teams with a full alignment survive should their AFL partner pull out of the “marriage”. Williamstown, Casey, Box Hill.

  6. pauldaffey says

    Nice one, Mick,

    Bruce “Pancho” Gonzales is larger than life in Cairns. I met him in 2002 when he was president of the Cairns Saints.

  7. Mic Rees says

    #3 – David – I’ll get you a copy of the game. Marvellous game of footy. Terrific crowd, which as you would be aware we just don’t get to the competition anymore.

    #6 – Paul – I’m quite concerned as to how “large” Pancho is. Lot of good living to be had up South.

  8. Great work Mic. I watched a replay of this game just recently.
    Prahran had a great team in 1978 winning their third flag for the decade adding to 1970 win over Williamstown and 1973 beating Oakleigh.
    Prahran struggled a bit in the 80s with only a flag over Waverley 1987 in the last ever 2nd division GF. Came good again in 1992 bowing out to the seagulls in the Preliminary final. Their last season in the VFA was in 1994.
    After a short recess Prahran reformed through a merger of VAFA teams Commonwealth Bank and Southbank.
    Still have a few old timers from the VFA days that have off field interest.

  9. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Remember seeing the redoubtable Trevor Durward aka “Higgsie” play for Morningside in Brisbane in the mid-80s – what a player! what a personality! He could get the ball, and use it.

  10. Mic,

    Pancho is big, but not Shane Loveless big. Looked quite healthy and robust, actually.

  11. # 8 – Thanks George. I think Oakleigh won the final 2nd Div flag against our beloved Crows, which was a curtain raiser to the 1st Div Burgers v Gulls Final. No one is more aware than yourself of the depressing demise of some the great VFA teams of the 70’s such as Prahran, Oakleigh, Dandy & Geelong W. Very sad indeed.

    # 9 – Rod. Durward had a marvellous year in 78 sharing the JJ with Gabby Nolan of Brunswick. His use of the ball did stand out in that game. Classy.

    # 10 – Paul. Glad to hear Pancho hasn’t ballooned. Big Shane Loveless. Geez. The Templeton/Loveless set-up was quite successful for a fortnight or so in 1980. Proof that the “Hart Plan” was working.

  12. Toorak Park was a great place to visit when BT joined. He would froth and scream, demand discipline and then do something ridiculous. We’d trudge through the sludge to hear his wrath. Racing identities loved the Sunday slot and cold cans were plentiful as we conducted post-mortems of Saturday night hi jinx and hurled oldfashioned barracking from the wing. Great times (and bloody good footy too).

  13. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Gabby Nolan came up to coach Ganmain in 1981 – absolute ball magnet.
    The Maroons struggled but he’d get 40 plus kicks a game.
    They were saved by the merger with Grong Grong Matong the next year – sans Gabby

  14. dave ralston says

    Trevor Durward was a super star up in QLD. and I saw him playing in the late 90s he must have been well into his 40s, Looked like he had been in a good paddock but was still running kids half his age a merry dance. As for that big “personallity” he was holding court and had everyone around the drip tray hanging on his every word well into the night, What a great footy person.

  15. Yeah they had another bloke, Michael Farrell, nearly as old, as captain. An even older bloke Carlo. They fill the top three spots in the B&F and win the First Division premiership by 8 goals. Unbelievable,

  16. David Ralston says

    I had a bit of a look into that Beenliegh team from the late 90s. They weren’t the only old blokes they had. There capt. Was a grey nomad, Gray “yogi” Pannen. He was at least 45 even thought he looked 60. And there young gun was a CHB named James Holmes who while only in his late 30s had the body of a broke down 50 year old sumo wrestler. But great blokes with hearts as big as all outdoors from all reports.

  17. I saw the premiership and it was a credit to the nurses at the Beenleigh Retirement Home to get the boys up that day. What made it even better was the CHB for Beenleigh kept the oppositions best forward to 8.6 for the day otherwise they could have lost!

  18. David Ralston says

    Hay double A. I think the full back you speak of was a formerly the best tap ruck man in north Queensland and a well respected ovens and Murray stalwart. I hear he carried that team to the flag single handedly.Anyway didnt a former all Australian teal cup full back player there. How would someone like that end up in Beenleigh.. Must have been a great place for washed up former guns to sun tan and tell stories about There golden years.

  19. Correct, I was referring to Brett Poppleton. If your the David Ralston I think you are I remember your career quite well. More flags than most of the good folk from Daulth Park had teeth. They were good days back then. I spoke to Higgsy last week and he actually said he had more friends from that era than his whole football career combined.

  20. Albert Thurgood says

    I played against a few of those Beenliegh teams of the late 90s, they were star studed, but Higgsy was a level above the rest, And what were they putting in the rum down there, goose fat, they didn’t have a player under 100kg from memory, and some of them were that old they were still using the drop kick. But there were good fellas, and a good club even though they were run but a crazy one eyed New Zealander.

  21. Knight Rider says

    Crazy is an understatement. Knew very little about football, let alone how to run a football club. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear Beenleigh F.C has folded after having that dimwit as president. He even played a couple of games in the reserves after their was an outbreak of gastroenteritis at the local retirement home which forced a shortage of available players. Was like watching a sloth in slow motion ambling down the wing. As for Trevor Durward, boy what a player. He could play in any position, even the 3rd tall forward and take the ruck contests in the forward 50. At he was 5’5 tall – and wide.

  22. Albert Thurgood says

    That’s a bit harsh Knight Rider, I hear what ever the “Kiwi” lacked in knowladge he made up for with his oversize heart, Lucky he had an oversized body to fit that oversize heart in. But he did appoint some strange coaches. One reserves coach he put in place was a lovely Italian chap but he had only ever played soccer and teach kindergarden, not the skill set needed to coach the wily veterans and lunatics from Beenliegh town.

  23. Richard Face says

    I was the umpire that Grand Final Day when the might Buff’s defeated Strathpine. I will say this. The coach (G. Pannan I believe), made history that day. Not by being a Premiership Coach, but he selfishly finished the game with both him and the acting Captain on the day, on the bench. Unbelievable. I believe the said acting Captain has held a grudge ever since.

  24. As a spectator on the GF day when the Buffs won, I will say that the CHF for Strathpine was extremely lucky to kick his 8.6. The young CHB that day was crucified by the umpires. In my book, the CHF should have only kicked 5.3. at a pinch.

  25. Albert Thurgood says

    Wow, How memories fade with time, While Strathpines CHF/FF was a very good player i believe Beelniegh’s stand in key backman did a fine job on him and kept him to 2 goals 4 points by playing clever and disaplined football and making his opponant lead to the pockets and having very hard shots for goal, He got no help from his mid field or a chop out from his other backs and he is by far the only player on that team that “clever” and” disaplined” could be used to discribe. and he was a gun forward himself asked to sacrifice his game for the teams which he gladly did and in so handed the clubs it’s first flag. I say cheers and well done to him

  26. Why did they have a stand in Capt. on G.F. day, was the Capt. ill or injured. he couldn’t have been dropped, who would be heartless enough to drop the skipper, anyway didn’t the Capt. normally play Full Back anyway. So if the oppisition had a gun Full Forward and the Capt. who must have been a very good defender was out it sounds like the stand in Full Back was thrown to the wolves and still battled on manfully and did a super job.

  27. Shane Edwards says

    How amazing it is that 25yrs after this game were still talking about “Higgsie”. He became a family friend and as a junior at Morningside in Brissy I watched him for many yrs carve opposition sides to pieces. My U15 side was coached by him turning a side of boys into the best group of young men and footballers for our age in the state. Years later while he was playing for Logan and myself directly against him, I asked tongue in cheek how he was going to keep up with me considering his age, build and him passing all his knowledge onto me. His reply of 3 goals and BOG had me shaking my head at how much of a freak he was. Being coached again by him the same year in the BAFL rep side was another experience ill never forget. Probably the biggest influence on my football career. And great bloke to boot

  28. No the CHB Holmes was probably about 28 and their best player. Good mark. The full back who had 6 goals kicked against him was actually the said David Ralston. Who did have a reasonable game. Not quite sure where the best tap ruckman comes from but top bloke and funny chap. Though lucky the FF spent half the game in the Sin Bin. And he was about Higgy’s age anyway. Probably needed an old fashioned backman against him who wouldn’t be bluffed. Anyway right about the acting captain Carlo spitting the dummy. And the Coach Yogi Pannam. A magnificent chap. Gave his premiership medallion to young Poppleton, who played every game very servicabally in the back pocket but was the unlucky man at the selection table. Top bloke Gary Pannam. Good CHF before he got injured. Bit like Homes. Watched the ball.

  29. They did have a couple of players who were lovely blokes to have a beer with but definitely had white line fever… Farrell. Sellers, Marks and Opbroek. No sense of humor whatsoever. Very tough men

  30. That Farrell started as a kid in the Gippsland League and become a maniac. If he missed a mark he’d just ‘lose it’ and deck any opposition unfortunate to be in the vicinity. I remember Warragul got big McGlashan from Melbourne FC to try to counteract him. Ten minutes in Farrell’s hit McG so hard he had a smashed collarbone and woke up in hospital. Though he could play a bit. Good CHF and Ruck Rover. Took 28 marks in one Final. But Farrell and Loveless – peas in a pod; both nut cases.

  31. I don’t know why the focus is on the Strathpine FF. Never got a kick during the year. Ralston was a tall forward who could ruck. From memory it was his third game for the Buffs. Holmes took their good CHF. Strathpine did have a sneaky flanker but Marks tagged him, and their half back line of Rourke Holmes and Sellars tightened up in the second half. Once their on ballets like Pannan, Ralph (runner up in the league B&F), Durward and Opbroek got on top the game was over. 8 goal win in a Grand Final is a smashing. They had the then young Rowiett coming off the bench and he become a top player. Actually Holmes and Pannan were their best key forwards (but (like Ralston) for team balance, played CHB and Centre. The older Poppleton brother and Mark Young filled the key forward posts – both very fine players in their own right.

  32. Ha. Ha, Ha. Bet the opposition down south were happy ‘Mad Mick’ Farrell held his marks that day.

  33. I remember this grand final. Prahran never looked like losing, they also started that season very poor, they got gary chapman back from fitzroy a few games in and if it wasn’t for his performance against port melbourne prahran probably don’t make the grand final, they always had the wood over Preston that year.

    Rob anderson mark you can’t forget, this is a great review, Preston were certainly undiscipline this day, marks was a sensational player for them, looked like a guy who would thrive these days.

    I wish the old vfa came back, the vfl these days no1 cares about and the passion for your club like it was then has dropped off.

    Thanks mic

  34. Thanks Mic, great article!

    Unfortunately all before my time, however every Saturday arvo when I was kid it was onto Channel 2 to watch the VFA with Keka and Phil Cleary commentating. Loved it.

    The league is a shadow of itself now unfortunately.

    Any chance I could get my hands on a copy of that GF Mic? As my old man has only seen snippets of the game, pretty poor considering he played in it!

    Cheers, Chris.

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