Home ground disadvantage – North Melbourne’s Western Oval dominance 1973-1995

When North Melbourne take on the Western Bulldogs this weekend at the concrete canyon located in Melbourne’s Docklands, discernable home ground advantage will favour neither team. In what was viewed as perhaps the toughest assignment in the days when there was, with respect to the VFL teams located in the Garden City, home ground advantage, a visit to the wonderful windswept Western Oval was one fraught with danger. Not for one team, North Melbourne, who for more than two decades lost only once from a total of 16 visits between the years 1973-1995.

The Barassi years 1973-1980

The first meeting between the two teams in 1973 ended in an 8 goals 8 behinds apiece draw. Amazingly the reserves also played out a draw earlier on that May 26 afternoon at Arden Street, NM 16.7-Dogs 15.13. During Ron Barassi’s enormously successful reign as coach of North he would not fail to return from the short trip down Dynon Road without the 4 premiership points on all seven occasions. The first of these visits resulted in a thrilling 6 point victory 10.14 to 10.8, a win that had the resurgent Roo’s within striking distance of the top 5. Doug Wade’s bag of seven goals (including his 900th in League football) being the difference. The following three seasons saw them post wins 19.10 to 11.14 in 1974, a 49 point hammering in 1975 – 17.15 to 9.14, and a slogging 50 point win on a drenching May 22 afternoon in 1976, 14.11 to 7.3 – those 3 wins by an average just slightly under 8 goals.

“The Coach”

Barassi was quoted in John Powers marvellous chronicling of the Kangaroos successful 1977 campaign The Coach as “Quite often it’s been against Footscray that we’ve bounced back out of a trough”. How true, and how fortunate that following their mid-season slump that saw them record consecutive losses to South Melbourne, Hawthorn & Collingwood, the Dogs would prove to be “Barassi’s bunnies”, North beating the Bulldogs for the 9th consecutive time 11.15 to 9.10.

The Kanga’s would commence the defence of their ‘77 title with a visit to the Western Oval on April Fools Day. After an even first half North would record a crushing 23.11 to 11.14 win. One highlight for the Dogs would be the debut of 17 year old Braybrook boy, Doug Hawkins. Round 2 of the following season would see a North team that included high profile interstate recruits Bryant, Cornes & Ebert  prevail  20.13 to 13.16. This was Barassi’s last visit to WO as coach of the Shinboners as the following year saw the Dog’s move their home fixture to the SCG. Great idea in theory considering the Dogs recent home efforts against its nearest neighbour. Horrendous in practice as North slam danced Footscray by 122 points 26.21 to 8.7. The Dogs lead by 8 points at quarter time, but could only manage 3 more goals for the afternoon.

Even after the prodigal son returned to the impotent Demons for season ‘81, Barassi’s one success in his debut season leading the Dee’s was at the Western Oval in Round 3, a 18.12 to 18.11 win. Mark Jackson’s bag of eight goals just enough for Melbourne to record a win by the barest of margins. This would be the last time Barassi would taste victory at WO as his last two visits as coach of Melbourne would result in a 32 point loss in 1983 and a 20 goal shellacking by a Dogs team on their way to the finals in 1985. He couldn’t conjure a win for Sydney at the Western Oval in his brief 2 and a half year encore performance in charge of the Swans (1993-1995), going down three times at the Western Oval, the last being Tony Locketts Swans debut in Round 1 1995.

Just like Botham

Many Australian’s turned up for work/school during July of 1981 in seriously cranky moods often passing up sleep to witness insipid batting and bowling efforts from their Test side during the Ashes series. At the same time Malcolm Blight was relinquishing the coaching reigns he had held for the first 16 games of the 1981 season at Arden Street. Barry Cable would replace him in time for, surprise, surprise, the visit to Barkly Street. Blight would revel in his new found freedom with his magnificent 11 goals sinking the Dogs 19.11 to 18.8, who would welcome back its injured reigning Brownlow medallist Kelvin Templeton for the first time of his doomed ’81 campaign. Cable & Blight would return the following year on May 29 and mercifully put a full stop to the coaching career of Royce Hart with a 23.20 to 15.10 pummelling of Footscray. Ian “Bluey” Hampshire would complete the 1982 season as senior coach of the Dogs, the prize being the Dogs third wooden spoon in its then 58 season VFL tenure – a 3 win 19 loss last place finish.  1983-1985 would bring the Puppies brief respite with their designated “home” game being played out at Waverley. Footscray won the 1984 & 1985 clashes, the later being the first of three victories the Dogs would record over the Roos that season, including North’s home game, also played at Pleurisy Park in Round 13 of that season.

Hallelujah – a win

1986 was a year that promised much for the Footscray Football Club after failing the reach the previous years Grand Final, going down to Hawthorn by less than two goals on Preliminary Final Day. Unfortunately injuries, departures and form slumps conspired, resulting in a mediocre 11-11 record at seasons end. One highlight was a May 10 victory over John Kennedy’s Roos in Round 7, 14.11  to 10.17. John Kennedy had as successful a recent record at the WO as his coaching contemporary Barassi, having not lost in his final 5 visits as coach of Hawthorn, winning every encounter from 1972-1976. However a 4 goal last quarter effort from Simon Beasley brought up the tri-colours first win against North at home since a 15.10 to 12.14 April 22 1972 victory –  Bob Rose’s first home victory as coach of Footscray. The 1986 victory would be the last time the Footscray Football Club would defeat North Melbourne at its Postcode 3012 home ground.

1987-1995 Six more of the best (or worst)

After the Great hiccup of 86 North Melbourne would not lower their colours on six more visits to face the Dogs at Western Oval during its time as a league venue. 1987 saw a comfortable 19.8 to 13.10 win. The April 15 1989 clash saw the Roos come from behind at the final change to win 12.12 to 8.18. The Round 20 1990 clash was an even easier day at the office as North outscored its opposition 12 goals to 4 in the second half cruising to a 17.13 to 12.16 win. North would have to wait a further 3 seasons until a bag of six goals from new sensation Adrian McAdam and superb 13 mark, 4 goal performance from Wayne Carey would see them record a 22.9 to 17.8 victory. Carey did it again Round 4 1994 with a 6 goal 13 grab performance helping his team to a 17.10 to 14.15 win. In the final Barkly Street meeting between the two teams on May 20 1995, North would ease away to a 21 point win after a close first three quarters, 15.15 to 13.6. Carey was best afield with 12 marks and 2 goals. In his three appearances against the Dogs at the Kennel from 1993-95, Carey would garner 8 of possible maximum 9 Brownlow votes.

Don’t forget the ‘Roys

North Melbourne would face Fitzroy twice at the Western Oval during the Lions three year tenure at the end of its 100 year stint as a member of the Victorian/Australian Football League. A 29 point victory in 1994 and a five goal win in 1995, meaning they had saluted in 17 of their final 18 appearances at the Western Oval – a 94% success rate.

How did it happen?

For a team to have the wood on another opponent isn’t a rarity. For that run to last over two decades and include some smashing victories at an arena many great sides found more than a handful does pose the question – How? The short answer would have to be that whilst at times in the 70’s & 80’s the ‘Scray fielded teams with up to 4 Brownlow Medalists, the North Melbourne teams of the 70’s were some of the finest  seen in recent memory. This streak continued through to the mid 90’s however, were the gap in quality, at times, had diminished greatly. Perhaps Barassi’s comments about finding form against the Dogs, whilst innocent enough, may suggest he viewed Footscray as not being as mentally tough as his team.


North Melbourne’s average winning margin in their 15 wins against the Bulldogs (73-82 & 87-95) was slightly over 6 goals, 36.3 points. What is even more phenomenal is that Footscray trailed at 3 quarter time in all but the 1981 & 1989 clashes, including its sole victory in 1986.


  1. Mic,
    Are you going? I might have some Axcess One upgrades and athirst.
    Chris (crio)

  2. Martin Reeves says

    Mic – as North were such a sure thing against the Dogs, did you ever lay money down on a North win? You could have made a nice profit over the two periods in question.

    Prediction for this week?

  3. Mic,

    The Dogs and Roos now seem natural allies. They both struggle financially; over the past decade they’ve both had stints in the finals and stints down the bottom; and they’re separated only by one road, Dynon Road (which admittedly is quite a stretch through a weird industrial wasteland that separates Footscray from the rest of Melbourne in more ways than one).

    Maybe it’s just my fascination with Ray Huppatz.

    Is it just me, or have the Roos and Dogs always been perceived as allies?

  4. John Butler says

    It’s just you Paul. :)

  5. Mic Rees says

    Crio – #1 – Not sure, many thanx for the kind offer.

    Martin – #2 – Should’ve put the house on the Roos. Didn’t. Could’ve done with the cash. Dogs should win, North were an attractive $4+ last night. Check the points spread. If you’re punting this weekend put the house on Cardiff becoming the first Welsh team to reach the Premmier League wih a win against Blackpool tomorrow night. Go you Bluebirds !

    Paul – #3 – That stretch along Dynon Rd could change a fair bit over the next couple of decades. North, Dogs, Bombers – always something extra in those games – local derbies (?). Ray Huppatz debuted Rd 3 1974, the same day as KT. 5 days earlier another ex-Woodpecker, Malcolm Blight made his VFL debut (against Dogs). Welshpools Max Parker was the player going the other way in the Huppatz deal. He played over 250 games with Woodville.

  6. Keep up the good work Mic,
    One of the most played highlights of Carey’s career is him standing on Leon Cameron’s back taking a pretty decent chest mark (did he ever take one overhead?). He also had form for belting blokes there too if memory serves.
    Great to see Adrian McAdam get a mention too. Couldn’t help but think of him when Goodes mentioned that Aboriginal players train hard to create their “magic”. Can’t ever remember Adrian burning up the training track during his career.

  7. Mic Rees says

    Leigh – #6 – Hard to believe it’s been 17 years since Adrian McAdam star shone so brightly, if only for a couple of months. He was unstoppable. Leon Cameron on Wayne Carey – Dogs were obviously “vertically challenged” in those days. Carey, I believe, was reported in one of the games against Fitzroy at the Western Oval.

  8. The big Lurch, Barry Goodingham, finished at the Peckers.
    Did high-flyer John Roberts (South) also grace the green and gold?
    We’ll do a pecker piece one day, but Daff, I’d have to agree that Ray Huppatz was unforgettable. Those sidies were impressive.

  9. Mic Rees says

    Crio -#8 – Another son of the ‘Scray Andrew Taylor spent some time with Woodville/West Torrens. He debuted against Geelong Rd 12 1983. I think he may be the brother of John (?), who also debuted against the Cats in 1983, at Waverley – Rd 1.

  10. cow shed end says

    Nice job Mic,
    Andrew and John “Mumbles” Taylor both came from Albion in the FDL..Can never forgive Norfffff for the Dempsey deal Cowton,Mark Williams and I think John Moylan..and 4 old witches hats…the club at least still has the witches hats!

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