Lose the battle, win the war

by Mic Rees

The Cats host the Dogs on Saturday at Kardinia Park. If current form is any guide a repeat of last seasons 17 goal smashing the Dogs received may be on the cards.

One clash between Saturday’s combatants that evokes wonderful memories for me was played nearly thirty years ago at the Leagues then headquarter stadium at Waverley. Despite the fact that they lost the match, it would be the starting point from which Footscray would rise from the parlous state it found itself in at the end of the 1982 season, to a situation where it went close to playing off for all the marbles within two and a half years.

They were the worst of times

After losing the 1976 Elimination Final to Geelong by seven points (14.11 to 14.18) Footscray’s fortunes dipped dramatically. Billy Goggin, who coached the Dogs to that Final defeat, quit the post after the opening round of 1978 after the club granted Bernie Quinlan a clearance against the better judgement of the coach. Don McKenzie replaced Goggin and his 14-28-1 record included some gutsy wins and some putrid losses. The less said of the Royce Hart experience (8 wins 46 defeats) the better. Club favourite and former Cat, Ian “Bluey” Hampshire replaced Hart for the last dozen games of the 1982 season. With only two of those battles resulting in victories, Footscray finished the season with 3 wins and 19 losses, a record that resulted in the Bulldogs “winning” their first wooden spoon since 1967.

Surprisingly, the club didn’t panic and dump “Big Blue”, but radical changes were made to the playing list. Kelvin Templeton left to join Melbourne, Ian Dunstan departed to North Melbourne, and injuries brought Ted Whitten juniors’ fine career to a halt. Over 450 games in experience needed to be replaced. The club embarked on a vigorous nationwide recruiting drive. In their place players from interstate, other VFL clubs & local region and zoned players were added. The Footscray team that lost the Round 22 game against Essendon the previous year by 146 points looked nothing like the one that ran out to represent them for the opening game of the 1983 season seven months later.

Half empty, half full, half new

The headline in the Age sport section on Friday 25 March 1983, 10 New Bulldogs, illustrated how hard the Dogs had worked over the summer. Half of the team that took the field the following afternoon would be wearing the Red, White & Blue for the first time. A mixture of players deemed surplus to demand by their previous teams – Mark Kellett (St Kilda), Chris Hansen (Fitzroy) Robbie Semmens (Richmond) & Stephen Lunn (Geelong) were joined by John Taylor from local FDFL club Albion, two youngsters from the clubs Gippsland zone, Stephen Wallis & Brian Royal, plus three recruits from the WAFL, that included Ian Williams from Swan Districts and the East Fremantle pair of Andrew Purser & Jim Sewell. The Cats selected two players for their first games for the club, they being Michael Kol from the Under 19’s and Denis Lenaghan, recruited from Carlton having played nine games for the Blues over the previous two seasons.

March 1983 – How it was

Saturday March 26 1983. Three weeks had past since the “Silver Bodgie” and the ALP swept Malcolm Fraser and the Coalition from power at the Federal election. Fraser tendered his resignation as leader of the Federal parliamentary Liberal Party and as the member for Wannon following the defeat. This sparked a lively contest amongst locals for pre-selection for the safe Western District seat, candidates included farmers, lawyers & businessmen – what a broad church the Liberal Party was three decades ago. In retrospect the real highlight of the March 5 poll was Peter Reith losing his seat of Flinders. If you were still celebrating, or required paint thinners, a 750ml bottle of Leo Burings’ Liebfrauwine would set you back $2.89, alternatively you could lash out and grab yourself a Great Western Imperial Reserve Brut for the princely sum of $3.99. Ghosts of the ALP’s past returned when the Age of Thursday 24 March carried a story concerning former “Loans Affair” middleman Tirath Khemlani. The article noted that Khemlani was using documentation signed by former Minerals & Energy Minister Reginald Francis Xavier “Rex” Connor (magnificently portrayed by Bill Hunter in The Dismissal) to depict himself as an international financier. Connor died almost six years earlier in August 1977, the same month Elvis & Groucho Marx fell off the twig. Finally, Melbourne’s water restrictions, in place since February 16 would be lifted with effect from midnight April 6.

Overture, curtain, lights – Saturday March 26 1983.

Ross Christensen got the Dogs rolling with a soccer goal, but the Cats took control with a pair of goals to Terry Bright and another to Andrew Bews. Jim Edmond, playing his first game as Captain of the Dogs, and Neil Cordy scored the last two majors of the first quarter. At quarter time scores were level 3.2-20 apiece. Peake, Toohey and two- goal Terry Bright amongst the best for the hoops, Doug Hawkins, Kellett & Edmond likewise for the woofers. Despite their inaccuracy in the first half the Pussies held seven point lead over Footscray 5.10-40 to 5.3-33 at the long recess. Blake and Mossop were having good games for the Cats, Edmond the standout performer for the Doggies in the opening half of football for 1983.

Goals to Peter Johnson and the prolific procurer of possessions, Peter Featherby, put Geelong further ahead. Edmond responded and was followed by goals to Taylor and Lunn, their first six-pointers for Footscray. At three quarter time scores were tied 62 points each – Cats 8.14, Dogs 9.8. Denis Lenaghan was good value for Geelong during the third term as was its former captain Brian Peake. Jim Sewell, one of the Bulldogs debutants started to get into the swing of things and Neil Cordy continued his good work from the first half. Half way through the last quarter Geelong held a slender goal lead. A clinical burst of four goals in seven minutes extinguished any flickering hopes the Dogs had of victory as Rod Blake, Bright & Lenaghan (2) – the later with consecutive goals putting the game out of their reach.

When the final siren sounded a wayward Geelong had ran out comfortable winners by 31 points, 15.16-106 defeating an honest Footscray side 11.9-75. Blake led all scorers with four goals, Terry Bright and Denis Lenaghan three each. Peter Featherby with 29 possessions and Mark Yeates were adjudged best for the winners with Brian Peake having a good day having 21 touches. Jim Edmond was magnificent in his debut as Footscray captain picking up 17 kicks 8 handballs and finishing off his hard work with three goals. Gippsland rookies Stephen Wallis 15 kicks/10 handballs & Brian Royal 18 kicks & 3 handballs gave notice to what they were to offer over the next decade with terrific first up efforts.

Not so bad after all!

For the ninth season in a row the Dogs dropped their opening match. Starting the season with a five goal loss doesn’t instil confidence; however this Footscray club was coming off an extremely low base. The team would be further strengthened with the return of Full Forward Simon Beasley, who after a poor start to his rookie year finished with 82 goals the previous season.  Whilst trophies were, and still are at a premium, patience will always remain a pre-requisite for those who follow the Bullies. Well known Dogs fan, legendary Almanacker and Saturday Age columnist Andrew Gigacz summed up the feelings of many when he recently told me “We came away from that game believing the bad days were over” – How true!


Seven days later the heartbeat signalling the Dogs resurrection grew stronger. After trailing reigning premier Carlton by five goals less than a quarter of an hour into the Round 2 clash, Hampshire’s men would rally to eventually record an upset 17 point victory over the Blues in front of a boisterous Western Oval crowd of just under 25,000. The Dogs went on a hot streak winning the next three games, including the incredible Anzac Day victory over the Tigers at the MCG. After kicking 10 unanswered goals in the first quarter Footscray just managed to hold off a fast finishing Richmond to win by 2 points. Reality slapped all and sundry in the face five days later when Essendon handed out the second of consecutive 100 point plus Windy Hill drubbings to the Dogs. A fortnight later North Melbourne inflicted more pain on the young Bulldogs winning the Round 9 clash at Arden Street by 115 points. A mid season losing streak of seven games derailed any hopes of September action. When the dust settled on the 1983 Dogs campaign the 10 win, 12 loss, seventh place finish was a huge improvement what had been served up over the previous five years.

With a little help from some new friends

Apart from the 10 “New Faces” of 26 March, Footscray set about adding some depth to its squad over the course of the 1983 season. Those who made their initial appearance for the Dogs that year included Bruce Duperouzel & Con Gorozidis who both crossed from St Kilda playing 14 and 7 games respectively and dual Carlton premiership player Robbert Klomp who played 8 games after transferring to the Western Oval early in the season. Two other first year players who would provide the club with tremendous service for the remainder of the decade were Peter Foster & Michael McLean. Foster had played 7 games in 3 seasons with Fitzroy prior to coming to the Western Oval in 1983. Over the next few seasons Foster established himself as one of the premier key defenders in the competition, winning the Bulldogs Best & Fairest in 1990. McLean was a marvellous contributor for the Dogs who recruited him from Darwin club Nightcliff. He played 95 games for the club from 1983-1989. He moved to Brisbane in 1991 and won the Bears Best & Fairest award in both his first season in the Sunshine state and repeated as numero uno in 1993.

The Round 1 debutants

March 26 1983 should be remembered fondly by Dogs fans. Not since the 1951 opening round entrances into league football of Ted Whitten & Peter Box had the Footscray football club been blessed to have such an abundance of talent debut on the one day.  Mark Kellett proved to be the handiest pick up amongst the “retreads” turning out 63 times for the second of three League teams he would represent. Taylor is to the best of my knowledge part of a great trivia question – name the only brothers to make their VFL debuts against the same opponent in the same season in different home & away rounds – John’s brother Andrew debuted in the Queens Birthday clash with the Cats in Round 12 – should anybody out their know of any other brother combination that meets the criteria specified above please contact me in the space provided below.

However it’s the outstanding service over the next few seasons that Purser, Royal, Sewell & Wallis provided that make 2631983 such an important date for the club. Of the following 75 games Footscray participated in, it would go to battle on only two occasions – Round 19 1983 when Brian Royal missed the match against North Melbourne at VFL Park through injury and Round 11 1985, this time Purser sitting out the visit of the Saints to the Western Oval through suspension – without all four players taking the field. Quite an amazing feat of durability by these four men. But lets not forget how good they were individually.

Purser: Mick Malthouse named Andrew Purser as first ruck in a team comprised of the finest players he’s had the fortune to coach over an incredibly successful 28 year career, saying Purser had “Rucked for every minute of every game I coached him in”. Blessed with a great pair of hands and a big heart, the indestructible Purser played 112 of a possible 113 games during his five season stint at the Western Oval, winning the clubs best and fairest award in his second season at the Kennel.  Match hardened when he arrived in Victoria having played senior WAFL football for East Fremantle for the previous five years, he is fondly remembered by the Dog diehards.

Royal: Senior VFL debut delayed after sustaining a knee injury. Won the clubs best & fairest in his rookie season. Terrific on-baller, his 299 goals in 199 games is an indication of how dangerous he was both up forward as well as the time he spent on the ball. Kicked 5 or more goals on 14 occasions, Footscray winning 13 of those contests. Represented Victoria in State of Origin football eight times.

Sewell: Like Purser arrived as a ready made mature age recruit. Spent most of his WAFL career up forward or on the ball, but commenced his VFL career in the back line. First Hampshire, then Malthouse, utilised Sewell’s ability to play at either end of the ground. Played the first 75 of his total 76 games consecutively. The back injury that curtailed his 1986 season was a massive loss for Malthouse, one that an already depleted Footscray outfit couldn’t cover.

Wallis: As was the case with fellow Gippslander Royal, a leg injury in 1982 delayed his senior debut. Didn’t miss a senior game during his first five seasons. Provided magnificent service both on ball and across the back line during his 261 games/14 season career. Captained the Dogs for one season in 1989. His talented offspring Mitch was drafted to the Bulldogs under the Father-Son rule last November.

Good luck, we’ll need it

Kardinia Park has never been a happy hunting ground for the Dogs. The late, great E J Whitten never experienced victory at the Cattery as either a player or coach – a draw in the opening round of the 1957 season being as close as Mr Football was to driving back home along the Highway with the four premiership points. Club champions such as John Schultz, David Darcy and John Jillard lost every time they played at the venue. Ironically Bob Rose, the man who replaced Whitten as coach of Footscray at the commencement of the 1972 season lead the Dogs to their first win at Geelong in almost 27 years, the 16.15-111 to 15.18-108 win on May 13 that year was Rose’s seventh game in charge of the Dogs. In an even more outrageous case of right place, right time, Bruce Neish made his only appearance for the Dogs in that famous victory as a late replacement for Stephen Power. Neish, who’d played 21 games for Essendon over the previous two seasons in the No8 Guernsey (Tuddy wore it after him) entered the fray in the final quarter replacing Bill Godridge as the Dogs came from 21 pints down at three quarter time to end a streak of futility that dated back to Bastille Day 1945.

A final thought

With their current record standing at 3-6 perhaps it’s time for the powers that be at the Western Oval to follow the footsteps of those who were in a similar position at the start of season 1983. There is a fair smattering of talent on the Dogs list – it might be time to see if players such as Wallis, Ayce Cordy & Christian Howard are ready to become regular AFL footballers. Surely it couldn’t hurt, could it?


  1. cow shed end says

    Great work again Mic..but shhh don’t mention the chap from Nareen’s demise as PM, the news has not filtered down to Geelong yet!

  2. Great memories Mic. 1978 – 1982 were some very lean years for the Dogs and many a Saturday at Western Oval ended in despair.
    ’83 started well with Fraser crying after losing the election being a highlight for me as well as Reith getting the boot. Don’t think I would have been celebrating with a Liebfrauwine – a beerfor me whilst the better half might have had a bottle of Cold Duck or a Matuese Rose. (no wonder she left)
    Andrew Purser could have played in any era and been a champion. McLean, Royal & Wallis were all stars. Agree with your suggestion that the Dogs could do worse than play Cordy, Wallis, Howard (maybe some others) because the rubbish they have now are certainly not good enough – Hello to Gia, Josh, Wil, Tom, Lindsay, Ryan, Bob.

  3. Alovesupreme says

    An enthralling tale, and one that prompts some memories. Because my (then, very young) son was a Cat fan, I took him to two matches at the Western Oval (mid-eighties). One dreadfully wet day, we only lasted till 3/4 time; the Cats were being flogged, with Simon Beasley leading Tim Darcy a merry dance.
    The other occasion was a very warm early season clash, which, iirc, the ‘Cats won.
    I also liked your tributes to those very fine players – especially Purser, Royal and Wallis.

    Finally, can I have a bit of fun with a typo: you must have had some huge drinkers in the team or the support
    in 1972, as you report coming from 21 pints down at the last change, to snatch victory!

  4. John Butler says

    Fantastic Mic

    I dare say the only football article I’ve read to box Rex Connor, Elvis and Groucho in a trifecta!

    So many memories…

  5. Mic Rees says

    Cow shed end – Is it just me or has JMF become a better bloke since March 5 1983 ?

    Shano – A controlled response from you – can’t believe you stopped at naming only 7 players for the bonfire

    Alovesupreme – Sorry for the typo – I’m teetotal – Beaser played in the wet ? I’ll have to attempt to locate footage of that game.

    John – Khemlani for the quaddie.

    Thank you all for your kind words


  6. Mic,
    JMF got worse…went from conservative polly to attempted statesman and then “rent-a -cause”.

  7. Mic Rees says


    Does ’75 still sit uneasily in the gut ?

    Does with me.


  8. doesn’t register

  9. Yes r 1 1983, Geelong started the year well, won the first 3, or4, then played Melbourne at Kardinia Park. Kelvin Templeton played his best game for Melbourne, 9 goals i think, and from that point 1983 went down the gurgler for the Cats. 1984 beckoned, with G Ablett, Jacko, and Diesel, but that’s another story, but prior to concluding i will mention the following. Geelong and Footscray had another early season encounter at VFL park, this time r2, with the Cats wining comfortably. Simon Beasley played a lone hand for Footscray, kicking 8 out of 9 goals..

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