Side by side, back to back

On Friday night the Magpies and Swans engage in the most important game they’ve played against eachother for 76 years.  This is the Collingwood’s 50 Most Sensational Games story of the 1936 Grand Final.

1936 Grand final
MCG, Saturday 5 October
CROWD: 74,091
UMPIRE: Blackburn

Collingwood            3.6.24   7.16.58   8.19.67   11.23.89
South Melbourne    3.4.22     5.7.37   8.12.60   10.18.78

– Pannam, Whelan, Carmody, Kyne, Todd, Fraser, Doherty, Ross, Regan
SOUTH MELBOURNE – Robertson, Cleary, Hillis, Richards, Nash, Evans, Moore

– Pannam 5, Todd 4, Knight, Kyne
SOUTH MELBOURNE – Pratt 3, Johnson, Moore 2, Nash, Robertson, Evans


Players in their positions and by number, height and weight. Few players nudge past the 6ft / 180cm mark.

South Melbourne headed the ladder once again in 1936.  South (16 wins) and Collingwood (15 wins) were clearly a cut above fellow finalists Melbourne and Carlton.

As South had to make do without their champion spearhead the previous year, so too did Collingwood in the Grand final re-match.  In arguably as unfortunate circumstances, Gordon Coventry was dealt a severe eight-match suspension by the VFL tribunal.  In the one and only report of his 306 game career, Coventry was booked for striking Richmond fullback Joe Murdoch in a violent game at Punt Road.  Murdoch’s repeated attempts to punch the ball from behind connected once too often with Coventry’s painful boils on the back of his neck.  In the third quarter ‘Nuts’ ‘lost it’ and swung wildly, but barely connected.  In hindsight, the truth of extreme provocation would probably have served better than The Club’s defence of concussion. John Wren’s influence had an official acting on his behalf offer Murdoch £100 to tell the truth, yet Murdoch refused to play ball.  Howls of protest met the decision, similar to the outcries over Jason Cloke and Anthony Rocca’s suspensions that saw them miss the 2002 and 2003 Grand finals. In Coventry’s case, given his impeccable record and circumstances, the complaints were more than justified. One of the game’s heroes season was over five weeks before the finals.  The tribunal and League stood by the decision, despite the issue being raised in Parliament.

Fortunately there was an able substitute in Ron Todd who was to prove a high-flying, goal-kicking sensation to rival Pratt (notwithstanding McHale initially trialed Kyne at full-forward, and left Todd out of the Second Semi in favour of Jack Knight).

The Second Semi was a violent one.  Both teams lost key players for the Grand final.  Diggins suffered a broken jaw courtesy of Len Murphy who received eight weeks from a tribunal that if nothing else was consistent.  The tragedy for Murphy was that he’d missed the ’35 Flag through injury.  The Semi final was a great game in itself; after an absurdly inaccurate first term (1.7 – 1.6) Collingwood took control until a third term rout led by Nash put the Bloods ahead at the last change.  South players Dineen and Reid copped brutal knocks and Nash did his best to defy a desperate Magpie onslaught in the last quarter.  Collingwood bagged six goals to two and prevailed by 13 points.

South booked a title rematch by comfortably defeating Melbourne by 26 points in the Preliminary final.  Their unusual scoreline of 11.1 to 3/4 time was counter balanced by a woeful 2.10 in the last quarter.  The Bloods entered the ’36 Grand final under intense pressure.  There were no injury excuses this time, and the prospect of big time failure three seasons running was not a palatable return on investment.  Weighing in on average a stone heavier and 1¼ inches taller, South had physical superiority.  Although experts such a Ivor Warne-Smith disagreed, the general consensus was that South would claim redemption.

Footy, booze and cigarettes… the 1936 Grand final Football Record.

Collingwood could not have hoped for a better start. Knight goaled after a minute, closely followed by Todd.  Several times the Bloods incurred the ire of umpire Blackburn, who in the early stages was keen to penalize any rough play.  Several misses failed to press home the Magpies’ early dominance, as Nash and then Robertson, using his famous sprinting capabilities, hit back for the Bloods.  Fraser in the ruck and his rover Pannam instigated many of the Magpies’ forward thrusts, and although Graham was outmarking Kyne, Todd was a magnificent focal point.  Both teams traded goals to end the quarter, with the Woods just two-points to the better.  Having kicked four points in a row at one stage, it should have been more.

The second quarter began with Johnson (South) snapping a goal, followed by Moore via a fine mark and kick.  Todd was proving a menace in the second term, but an attack of the yips saw four successive misses. Todd’s exuberance may have been difficult for the accomplished Hillis to contain, although perhaps it also contributed to his wild kicking.  ‘Leading out like a veteran, marking like a champion but kicking like the veriest novice’, Todd at least managed two straight ones, and Pannam also chipped in with one.  The ‘Pies’ second term kicking extravagance (4.10) replicated the frustrating 1934 First Semi final loss against South.

Cleary, Graham and Austin lifted their defence in the third quarter and Robertson was damaging in the middle, clearing the ball regularly.  Pratt finally broke Regan’s shackles and kicked a couple, shifting the momentum South’s way.  The ‘Pies steadied however, Ross doing a fantastic job on Nash and Pannam chimed in with another.  Collingwood maintained a seven-point lead at the last break, the job ahead of the ‘Foreign Legion’.

Nash was deployed onto the ball in a last ditch attempt to right the ship.  Bissett wasn’t going to bear the same criticism as in ’35; – proactively removing himself and ‘Mocha’ Johnson from the ruck duels in deference to Jack Graham and Richards.  The changes bore fruit with South moving within a point courtesy of Johnson’s goal.  By going wide to the flanks, South erred tactically.  Whelan provided drive as Collingwood attacked through the middle.  Fraser held several strong marks in defence, having been given a breather from the ruck.  Reid twice ran too far with the ball, enabling Pannam to kick what looked to be two match winning goals.  The Bloods refused to roll over and be party to the celebrations.  But this time South had the yips, five points to Bissett, Graham (2) and Pratt (2).  Finally, a goal, and the lead was cut to just five points.  Kyne then proceeded to etch his name in gold by nailing the sealer, accepting a cool pass by Albert Collier.  The final bell signaled an 11-point victory to the Magpies and yet another year of heartbreak for South.

Both teams were guilty of errant goalkicking periods.  A combined match total of 21.41 was a poor effort for two teams with so many skilful players at their disposal.

In a perverse way, the absence of Coventry may have in fact helped Collingwood in the short and longer term.  South was used to focusing on Coventry and probably underestimated the rising star Todd.  Had Coventry and Murphy not invoked the ire of the tribunal, Todd may never have fulfilled his destiny as a great goalkicker. McHale’s deployment of the 19-year-old spearhead for the big game was seen as a bold move at the time.  Although Coventry was to return for one final season, Todd was no longer a secondary bit-part player but a shooting star already capable of 14 scores in a Grand final (albeit a profligate 4.10).

For all their aesthetic appeal, it was ruminated that South had to change and become more rugged to prevail in September.  Given the closeness of the game, critics were curiously as harsh about The Bloods’ performance as they were glowing about the Magpies’.  It was said that South carried far too many passengers and its stars were either well blanketed or tried to do too much – substituting team glory for their own.  Tactically, South was also criticized for exhausting themselves in the first half with indirectness, and a similarly fruitless bumping contest.

As usual, the Collingwood supporters celebrated long and hard.  If 1935 was slightly fortuitous, the 1936 Flag was well deserved having twice conquered South in the finals.  The team negotiated strong challenges, kept their nerve, and found a way to win.  Listed as an ‘anonymous supporter’ in The Argus, the Club’s infamous benefactor John Wren rewarded the team to the tune of £100 and £25 each for the captain and coach.  As usual, there was a crush of fans in the rooms.  Players then celebrated ‘at the residence of Mrs. Collier, of Northcote’ – naturally given it was her son Harry’s (and the President Harry Curtis’) birthday.

McHale’s occasional criticism for tactical deficiencies was one thing, but his ability to know his players, their capabilities and where they should be positioned could not be questioned.  Coventry and Murphy were major losses and left potentially gaping holes in defence and attack.  Placing Todd at full-forward came off, and Jack Ross on the mercurial Laurie Nash was a masterstroke.  At just 5ft 7in, few would conceive Ross was capable of containing Nash.  His speed and courage overcame the obvious size disadvantage however, and was key to the victory.

Alby Pannam (Collingwood)
Pannam’s performance (32 kicks and 5 goals) must surely rank as one of the greatest in Grand finals. Pannam was a maestro in front of goal, and equally adept at unsettling the opposition with his lip.  Also a prolific and versatile kick-getter, Pannam’s elusiveness and surety was wonderful to witness.  His long and distinguished career ended as captain in 1945, after 181 games and 455 goals.

For the unheralded Keith Fraser, one of the ‘Pies best, the ’36 Flag was to be his last game for Collingwood.

With Todd on the rise and new stars to succeed the Collier–Coventry dynasty, the Magpies threatened to match the achievements of the ‘Machine’s’ first incarnation.  Alas, Collingwood (like South) would suffer the pain of three successive Grand final defeats.  Unfortunately, as the Swans experienced, the team simply struck opposition in Geelong (1937), Carlton (1938) and Melbourne (1939) that were simply too good on the day.  For the Magpie faithful, the drought that extended until 1953 must have seemed an eternity for a club so spoiled by success.  Indeed, for most of the war years, The Club experienced an unprecedented run of footy-free Septembers.

The near exodus of talent that almost brought down the Foreign Legion the year before became a reality at the end of 1936.  On the field Jack Bissett was no longer holding his own, and his failure to bring home the bacon ensured his departure.  Kelleher, Bluey Richards and Jim Reid also left and more sensationally its esteemed on-field leader Diggins had the rest of the competition clamoring for his services.  Appallingly treated, at first he was disappointed by the club’s appointment of Roy Cazaly as coach and Nash as captain, and furious when the committee refused to pick him having declined the role of vice-captain.  Nash himself was uncertain about his future, as were several others.  Pratt’s decline had begun early in 1936, and the heady days of 1933-34 were now just a memory.  South’s fall from grace was swift – ninth in 1937 to an inglorious wooden spoon in 1938.

“Tradition is your keyword and tradition never dies,
Win or lose, you have always put the game beyond the prize,
Sustain that fighting spirit, uphold the old club’s name,
And honour those immortal words ‘Play up and play the game.”
The slogan that President Harry Curtis was said to have imparted on the Magpies in the rooms before the Grand final.

“Men must be made of iron to stand the modern method in a Grand final.  The high marking was capital,  the handling and cleverness of Collingwood’s small men something out of the common, the teamwork excellent, and the knowledge and judgement supreme. The game was won by team work and brains, and every man pulled his weight.  Not so the losing team.”
The Australasian’s Jack Worrall glowing in his praise of the ‘team of the year’.

“The victory was no fluke.  It was too good.  In the last quarter I thought we had a chance but we missed too many chances.  It has to be admitted that Collingwood showed greater determination and purpose, resolved to win the Premiership.  South, on the other hand, played as if it were just an ordinary club game.”
An unnamed South Melbourne official’s honest summation of his team’s downfall.

“It was the Australian code at its best, and for evenness, pace and cohesive teamwork was the grandest exhibition I have ever seen.  Had South snatched victory – as was possible even in the last two minutes – it would not have deserved the laurels.”
Brownlow Medallist Denis Ryan echoes the sentiments of Jack Worrall.


About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. I thought last year’s GF was sensational Jeff. Will that get a mention.

  2. Brilliant Jeff. Imagine watching something like this on a DVD? But, I guess part of the mythological romance is in the fact that it is not accessible. You’ve helped bridge a gap with this feature. Great stuff and Go Pies for a 44th GF!

  3. Great report here Jeff – as a side note I think the Robertson mentioned for South was the father of champion WAFL footballer Austin Robertson recently portrayed in the Howzat mini series handing out the cheques for Kerry Packer’new world series cricket in the mid seventies. They sound like quiet a brilliant sporting family.

  4. Thanks LB – but be careful what you wish for re that 44th Grand Final.

    Ripsnorter you are correct about Austin Roberston Snr & Jnr.

    Fwiw Mark Branagan & Mike Lefebvre wrote a great little book ‘Bloodstained Angels, The Rise & Fall of the Foreign Legion’ about South Melbourne’s aggressive push for success in the 1930’s. Hard to find though. A must read for true Swans fans.

  5. Love it JD. Much to discuss.

    That would be Almanac Stalwart Mark Branagan you’re talking about.

    On the Gigs-stats side of things 11.23 as a GF score does not sit well with Cats fans.

    And, in the Deep North of Queensland, in poker, three threes is called a state express for obvious reasons.

    Terrific yarn.

    We should not underestimate how violent the game of footy was in the first 50 years of the VFL. One of the reasons that the 1937 GF is revered is that it was played in an uncommonly fair way, so much so that the players (Geel and Coll) shook hands at the start of the final quarter. You will hear an argument for the idea that the 37 Grand Final contributed significantly to a change in attitude to footy. The sober middle class, many of whom had eschewed footy as the game of ruffians, ratbags and gamblers, saw that it might just be respectable after all. It was the game where HIckey changed his side around considerably. In the public memory that occurred at three quarter time. IN fact it occurred at quarter time, in the days when they just changed ends. Some hasty decision-making from Reg Hickey and his teamamtes and the big blokes were shifted hither and thither.

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