The Gang of Five


The Gang of Five


From 1967 to 1989 an interesting phenomenon happened. Every VFL premiership was won by one of five clubs. All of them. If you barracked for Collingwood, Moggies, Saints etc, no cigar. That means that during the Sensational Seventies and the Electrifying 80s where Aussie rules passed cricket and racing as the number one sport in the land, for most clubs and fans it was the familiar feeling of rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.


Clubs came – West Coast, Brisbane, clubs went – South metamorphosed into Sydney, most of the VFA clubs vanished. Tempy Goyra Patchewollock became Ouyen United. And still the Gang of Five gathered flags, while the losers gathered sorrow.


Let’s have a look at the winners:


Hawthorn. In 1971 the Hawks won flag number 2 at the expense of Saint Kilda. Their run was assisted by Tasmania’s favourite son, Peter Hudson, the goal kicking machine from New Norfolk. A few handy blokes like Leigh Mathews, Peter Crimmins and Peter Knights also helped. There followed a plethora of premierships in 1976, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1988 and 1989, the last Gang of Five era premiership, for now… Esssendon. They were the last of the Gang of 5 to win a flag during the golden era, after coming close in 1968. In 1981 they finally recruited a decent coach, one Kevin Sheedy, after stuffing around with tryhards like Barry Davis. In 1984 it happened, overwhelming Hawthorn in the last quarter of the grand final. A bunch of talented youngsters from the Wimmera, the middle of the Maroondah Highway and some stars from WA like Billy Duckworth were irresistible. They followed it up with another in 1985, featuring the amazing ruckman/forward Paul Salmon, but had to wait until the end of the end of the Gang of 5 era for a third in 1993… North Melbourne won premierships in 1975 and 1977. They recruited a galaxy of stars including Barry Cable, Malcolm Blight, Doug Wade and John Rantall. Won flags under talented coach Ron Barassi. Tried it again in 1979-80, recruiting Gary Dempsey, Phil Kelly and Russell Ebert, but they just weren’t good enough.  They were, however, the first club to realise the riches in South Australia, if only you could smarm your way past the grumps manning the fence… Richmond The first club to win a flag in the gang of 5 era, and, until last year, the first to let the dream die, finishing up in 1980. 5 glorious flags, followed by 37 years of misery. 1967, 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1980, they saluted the judge. Compare their ruthless acquisition of Rob Wiley, Rob McGhie and Wayne Walsh with the sheer ineptitude of Geelong’s pursuit of Barrie Robran and Stephen Michael. They were the only member of the Gang of Five with a crap zone, so they had to work extra hard to recruit. When it became personal, as with Pitura and Raines, they nearly destroyed themselves. However, in the beginning, their recruiting was sound, including Tasmania’s other favourite son, Royce Hart.


Carlton Taking a bit of Eno’s and Imodium here. Ok, some unkind souls would say that they behaved like a cross between the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission, Kerry Packer and Professor Fate from The Great Race:


“I want to win my way, by cheating!”


However winning is winning as Manchester United and Real Madrid will attest. 7 glorious premierships from 1968 to 1987 including back to back in 1981 and 82. Also, they got their own lads to coach premierships, Nicholls in 72, Jesaulenko in 79 and Walls in 87. Positives to come out of this, you go after the big recruit, like Kernahan, don’t dilly dally like the Swans with Dexter Kennedy.


One of their locals, Mr. Wayne Johnston, although reviled by opposition folks, demonstrated that, unlike Collingwood bad boys Carman and Taylor, he knew how to win footy matches.


The Gang of Five era ended on 6 October 1990 when my beloved Magpies finally won the flag they had tried so hard to win on so many occasions. Of course it was business as usual the following year when Hawthorn beat West Coast in the gf. But change was coming. The big interstate clubs West Coast and Adelaide won premierships in the 90s, followed by Brisbane, 2001-3, Port Adelaide 2004 and Sydney 2005. Grand finals without the Gang of Five started to become more commonplace.  The Gang of Five has won 11 premierships since 1990, the rest have won 17, so nearly half, a bit of a worry. Hawthorn has won 5, Essendon 2, north 2, Richmond and Carlton 1 apiece.  So are they all making a comeback?


How did it all happen? Satellites came in about 1969, enabling VFL matches to be broadcast live to far flung outposts like Sydney and Canberra. Colour TV came in 1975 making sport a huge financial attraction. There was a court case in Sydney where a rugby league player won the right to play anywhere. This was hanging over the head of the VFL all through the big money era. Country zoning came in, with 4 out of the 5 members of the Gang of 5 having a rich zone. WAFL, VFA and finally the SANFL became less important as time and money went on. But they were useful sources of recruits for the gang of 5. The national draft came in, big interstate clubs came in, TVs got cheaper. Movies and footy appeared on Sunday. Rupert bought the Herald and the Sun. Basically there was so much stuff happening between 1967 and 1989 that I can’t list it all. But you can dear reader… Well, as Bob Dylan says:


“Money doesn’t talk it swears, obscenity who really cares.”


Shakespeare said:


“Fortune that arrant (er, person who sells sex for a living) Ne’er turns her key towards the poor “as poor old Footscray found when they had to sell most of their champions from their rich Latrobe Valley zone… Well, success breeds success and money was a major factor in the gang of 5 being successful. All had good administrators. Cheatley, Aylett, Harris, Richmond. All of them used the system to their advantage – zoning, Clayton’s salary cap, plundering players from the weaker clubs. Don’t forget that a similar upheaval was happening with rugby league, with the rich Manly and Canterbury clubs dominating the comp. note that the rest have won no more than 3 flags individually since 1967. The gang of Five have won 4 or more each – Hawthorn 12, Carlton 8, Richmond 6, North and Essendon 4.


But if you spend like there’s no tomorrow, eventually someone hands you the bill. Richmond, Collingwood, Saints, Swans, even moneybags Carlton eventually found themselves on the run from the repo men. Two of the losers, Fitzroy and Footscray tried to merge, with devastating results. We may curse the salary cap, but it was brought in to save clubs from themselves.


By the way, I think the cheating quote is from Dick Dastardly, who of course is based on Professor Fate. Shout out to Mr Trevor Poole, played 100 games for Richmond – came from Tempy Goyra Patchewollock.


This has to be part One. Next week or whenever I can put the time in, I will discuss the Gang of Five, the Big Money era, the Losers.


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