VFA/VFL – The Burgers v The Boroughs: Red and blue deja vu



It’s a cool early May afternoon and I’ve ventured to the heart of the Peoples Republic of Moreland, more specifically the Coburg City Oval. Traditional Sunday footy fare is on offer with the local lads taking on old foe Port Melbourne.


The Burgers and the Borough. Memories of epic stoushes between these one-time giants of the Victorian Football Association come rushing back. One such clash from almost four decades past has been on my mind in the lead up to this, the 167th meeting of the two historic football clubs.


Having triumphed in their previous three contests across the 1980 campaign, Port Melbourne entered the Grand Final a raging 4-1 on favourite to complete a season sweep over minor premier Coburg. Smarting at the lack of respect emanating from Melbourne bookmakers, Colin Kinnear’s men came out firing and controlled the game across the opening three quarters. When John Douglas notched his second goal of the game inside the opening 45 seconds of the final stanza the well-endowed lady was clearing her throat. 23 points in arrears and just five goals to show for their afternoon’s toil the task facing the Borough looked insurmountable. Highly respected football pundit Bill Jacobs, calling the game on behalf of ATV-10, certainly thought so:


“Well, to me, Port Melbourne look a spent force. It’s five minutes into the term and there’s plenty of time to go. But Coburg seem to be in control”


The fifteen year old version of yours truly, on the brink of an emotional meltdown, kept repeating “It can’t end like this, SURELY it can’t end like this”.


Or could it?


Twenty minutes remaining. Five, perhaps six, goals required. The blustery conditions that had rendered their big men ineffective meant the hopes of a Borough revival would fall on the shoulders of their highly credentialed small men. It was time to release the Lilliputians.


With increased output from the midfield, specifically Peter Wilkinson and Billy Swan, the Borough started playing the game on their terms. The brilliant Jim Christou was first to get in on the act, his effort quickly followed by a clever snap from the diminutive Tony Ebeyer. Twelve minutes gone, two goals in as many minutes, the margin now a gettable seven points. Game on! Three minutes later the barnstorming Boroughs were within a kick courtesy of the classy Glyn Evans. When Christou waltzed into goal at the sixteen minute mark the pre-match favourites had hit the lead for the first time since the opening exchanges.


An arm wrestle ensued with neither team able to penetrate the other’s defence. With time on approaching Ebeyer grabbed possession of the ball and belted it forward, his left foot pass hitting a diving Fred Cook on his ample chest. Cook, having squandered a number of chances earlier in the term, looked far from confident as he lined up. Initially it appeared that the champion full forward had shanked his kick. Then, evoking memories of Robert Arnold Lockyer Massie’s masterclass at Lords eight years earlier, the orb swung violently right. Full points. Hey, somebody up there certainly likes “Cooky”.


With its premiership pulse flat lining Coburg hit back and with a minute and a half left on the clock a clever running goal from Robert Herbert breathed life into the title fight.


Cometh the hour, cometh the Count.


Not satisfied with merely turning the game on its head with his final quarter heroics Jim Christou decided to end any speculation as to which Red and Blue clad clan would prevail in 1980’s ultimate contest. Taking possession of the ball on the half forward line and with a desperate Brad Nimmo in pursuit Christou danced his way into Port Melbourne folklore.


Once again I will defer to the legendary Jacobs’ call:


 “Up towards the half-forward line for Port Melbourne. Christou, as good as anyone, has got it. He’s racing away. He’s racing toward goal. Christou has kicked a goal, a goal for Port Melbourne. Put your glasses down. It’s 11.15 to 10.10 and I think that clearly wraps it up.


Wrap it up it did. From the outhouse to the Penthouse. The great escape. Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. Call it what you what, the pennant was on its way to the North Port Oval, the first of a hat trick of titles under the watchful eye of coach Gary Brice.


Enough reminiscing for now, let’s return to the present.


It’s the first time I’ve journeyed to the Harding Street venue since witnessing Port’s 104 point dismantling of the then Richmond aligned locals on a clean, crisp Queens Birthday weekend clash in 2011. Three months later the Borough would complete their season commitments 21-0, premiers and champions. Prior to the opening bounce the crowd observed a minutes silence following the recent death of Coburg legend Ian Liversidge. Mr Liversidge a former player, president, committee man and VFA/VFL life member had passed away earlier in the week. Addressing the crowd former Coburg coach Phil Cleary said he would remember Liversidge as a “unique man with a great sense of humour”.


The opening term saw Port kick with the aid of the slight breeze that favoured the Leisure Centre end goal. Jordan Lisle, fresh from a haul of five goals against North Melbourne the previous Saturday, looked set to run amok taking a number of strong marks inside the 50 meter arc. Unfortunately Lisle couldn’t capitalize on those early opportunities and sprayed his opening two shots. Tom O’Sullivan (jnr) with a pair of six pointers inside the opening twenty minutes, was lively and looked the most dangerous of the Port forwards. No doubt Coburg coach Leigh Adams would’ve been satisfied with his teams work rate over the first half hour. At quarter time the visitors led by the slenderest of margins – 2.5-17 to 2.4-16.


Whatever sage advice Adams’ passed on to his charges it proved inspirational as the home town heroes slammed on eight goals for the term holding a pedestrian Port to just two majors. Young Jesse Corigliano, who in the opinion of this writer appears to possess the skill and poise to sit comfortably on an AFL list, provided the highlight with an exquisite left foot shot from the dead pocket on the stroke of half time. Corigliano’s second goal of the match pushed the Lions lead to an impressive 36 points – 10.5-65 to 4.5-29. Lochlan Dickson (15 p’s) and Marcus Lentini (14 touches) as well as the aforementioned Corigliano (12 possessions, 2 goals) were the busiest Burgers. Steve Stroobants (3 goals) was dangerous up forward and led all scorers. Port skipper Tom O’Sullivan and Jarryd Blair (13 and 11 possessions respectively) were industrious for an otherwise moribund Borough outfit.


Enduring a less than satisfactory return to his former home ground Port big man Tom Goodwin managed to raise the hackles of the Harding Street faithful after “reacquainting” himself with one-time teammate Dickson minutes before the main break. Cue lots of chit chat, gesticulating, shoving and scoreboard pointing. I doubt it would’ve perturbed the 200cm/110kg one-time Coburg skipper. Premature congratulations rang out as the locals made their way into the change rooms. Still, anyone familiar with the events of September 1980 might’ve warned the young Lions that an hour of football remained in the contest.


A re-invigorated Port Melbourne worked its way into the contest early in the second half. The midfield, torched during the second term, came to life with Eli Templeton, Harvey Hooper, the ageless Ben Jolley and 2017 Grand Final hero Mitch Wooffindin providing plenty of grunt through the guts. Goals to Campbell Walker, Lisle and Goodwin whittled the deficit to just 16 points. Adam Swierzbiolek grabbed a steadier for the Lions but late majors to Ash Krakauer and Blake Pearson slashed the hosts lead to just 8 points – 11.6-72 to 9.10-64 – at the final break.


Rounding the home turn holding a slender lead and kicking with the aid of a slight breeze the game was Coburg’s to loose. Sphincters on the home bench began to pucker when Shannen Lange’s brilliant goal from the pocket brought the guests within a point. A dour battle followed as both defences asserted their authority and the game descended into a later day version of the 70’s computer game Pong. With time on looming the Borough pressed hard and the imposing Khan Haretuku marked strongly 30 metres out. His aim was true and Port nosed ahead for the first time since early in the second quarter. The home sides’ response was swift and Stroobants’ fourth goal saw them back on top. Having battled back from its parlous half time situation the visitors weren’t going to gift the valuable four points to their opponent without a fight. Two minutes into added time they found a hero in Campbell Walker, the 20 year old’s second goal of the contest snatching back the lead, Port by five points.


Despite the best efforts of both tribes neither team were able to conjure up a six pointer across the remaining minutes of the game. When the final siren sounded Port Melbourne 12.13-85 had outlasted Coburg 12.7-79.


Goal kickers: Port Melbourne: Ash Krakauer, Jordan Lisle, Tom O’Sullivan (jnr) and Campbell Walker 2, Tom Goodwin, Khan Haretuku, Shannen Lange and Blake Pearson.


Coburg: Steve Stroobants 4, Sam Binion and Jesse Corigliano 2, Billy Cannolo, Sam Lowson, Adam Swierzbiolek and Josh Weightman.


Best Players Port Melbourne: Ben Jolley, Harvey Hooper, Ash Krakauer and Callum Searle.


Coburg: Josh Weightman, Jesse Corigliano, Tom Lever and Steve Stroobants


On an afternoon highlighted by a moving tribute to one of its finest, the final result would’ve left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Coburg faithful. Conversely Port, pre-match favourites and one of the teams expected to challenging for the flag, would’ve been relieved to leave postcode 3058 with the points. Victoria’s premier state based football competition may have changed, and not necessarily for the better, over the past few decades. One constant we can be thankful for is that whilst these two fabled Melbourne football institutions continue to take the field memories of the maverick, 16 a side, rough and ready Sweet VFA will continue to delight those of us of a particular vintage.


Can’t ask for anything more than that, can you?


Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE





  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Great stuff, Mic. Well researched and written. I used to live around the corner from Coburg City Oval and regularly walk up for a quarter or half. I still try to get to a few games each season. Love the old stand, it hunches over like a set of broad, safe shoulders. The club lost all links with the local community, however it’s heartening to see under Leigh Adams they’re trying to reconnect. I know dads from my daughter’s school have bought memberships this year. The Burgers are a thumping example of the damage City Hall can do. They have been shopped and booted around by AFL clubs and ravaged by changes to the competition, it’s a credit they are still around. There’s a long road ahead but it looks like they’re heading in the right direction now. Go Burgers.

  2. Rod Oaten says

    What a great report,I really enjoyed reading it.

    It’s fantastic that The Burgers, a stand alone club, are competitive in the VFL. I’m sure they are heading in the right directing, a credit to all concerned. Buy a membership and help the club.

  3. E.regnans says

    Love it, Mic.
    Close to the beating heart of the game.
    I don’t know many of those individuals you name. Which helped me to see something. Something that strikes me in reading, is the importance of club (as an institution). The idea of people passing through, carrying the colours, and then handing them to the next person.
    I enjoyed Coburg City Oval the times I’ve been along, walking along Munro Street and stopping at “old man coffee” (as we called it) in the Coburg mall. Alongside the library, surrounded by pigeons. Crazy-cheap hedgehog at the A1 bakery on the Sydney Road.

  4. Welcome back, Mic.
    As an old VFA fan, I really enjoyed this.

    I fear just where the AFL is leading this comp. And I do not like it.

    P.S. How great for the VFA was one F Cook ??

  5. Mic Rees says

    Thank you very much for your kind words gentlemen.

    Andrew/Rod: A bit of work going on at City Oval at the moment. Very much looking forward to the next visit. Plenty of goers in the Burger line up, I recommend a visit soon, I believe they take on another traditional foe in Williamstown at home in a couple of weeks.

    ER: Let me know when you intend traveling through the Wimmera next, my mother in law makes a mean Hedgehog,

    Smokie: Cooky should’ve managed more than 33 games at the Kennel. Won the 1970 Liston at Yarraville as a Ruckman/CHB. Six premierships, 1200+ goals at North Port. Good for club, great for the competition.


  6. Mic,
    I was unaware that F Cook won a Liston in his time at Yarraville. Amazing.

  7. Mic Rees says

    Hello Smokie

    1970 Liston Medal placings

    1st Fred Cook (Yarraville) 41 votes
    2nd Kevin Jackman (Williamstown) 27 votes (Cook’s former Footscray team mate)
    3rd Derek King (Oakleigh) 22 votes


  8. Yes Michael, i was there along with you, and the other scallywags. The first in the premiership hat-trick, after a couple of barren years.

    Coburg had lost only the 3 games, all against us, going into the grand final. We’d had a bit of a topsy turvy start to the year , with the first four weeks being W,L,W,L. When Sandringham beat us in the bucketing rain at North Port we were what, 6-5, 7-5? I recall being very despondent; then we lifted.

    We marched into the finals, not dropping a game after the Sandringham loss, then polished off Coburg , again, in the second semi final. However on grand final day it all seemed to go wrong for just over 3 quarters, then the big finish.

    The Christou brothers played some good footy for us. The full back hailing from Narrandera, Terry O’Neill, came over in 1980? We got some good players mid season in that time. In 1979 Rod Carter and Alan Sinclair joined us from Fitzroy. Stephen Allender had a big 1980 after Rex Hunt towelled him up at Sandringham in R 2. Moving from full back onto the ball saw Stephen conquer all. Of course Cooky; what a player. In a great error for the VFA, he was the greatest. Cooky was the face of the competition.

    Thanks for sharing the memories of this great match. It was wonderful catching up at Williamstown in R1. Who knows where to from here? As Joe Strummer once said, “the future is unwritten.”


  9. Onthemark says

    Growing up in Coburg my brother and I followed Coburg for years – even taking the supporters bus (and I think it was a furniture van sometimes) to far flung away games at Sunshine, Prahran, Dandenong….
    Great fun to stand behind the goals at Bell St end when players were shooting for goal and competing for the ball with other kids. Half time kick on the field and 3 quarter time listening to the coach at the huddle. Mick Erwin was one I remember giving it to Jim Sullivan.
    Played in my one and only Grand Final in the U13s there …lost!
    North Melbourne played there for a year in 1965 and I think Coburg was kicked off. But being able to go to VFL matches within walking distance was a novelty.

  10. Mic Rees says

    Yes, back to back losses in Rd’s 11 & 12 in 1980 against Sandy (H) and Geelong West (A) saw Port head into the final third of the home and away season 7-5. With the exception of the Grand Final they were never seriously challenged in any of the remaining games. We were extremely fortunate to experience the hat trick of flags between 1980 and 1982. All them special in their own way – the Comeback in ’80, the ease in which the ’81 pennant was won (113point win, 23 goals to 6 after half time) and of course the unexpected triumph in ’82.

    Likewise, really enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with you at the Williamstown game earlier this year. Hope you can get to another game soon. Third at the moment with a 4-2 record. Must get a double chance.

    Onthemark: Did you know that Coburg trained at Brunswick and played their home games at North Port Oval (Port Melbourne) in 1965? Mick Erwin went Port Melbourne in 1974 as a swap for Peter Smith (Norm’s son). Good deal for both sides, Erwin was CHF in Port Melbourne’s 69 point Grand Final victory over Oakleigh and Smith kicked 121 goals for Coburg. The Burgers went 17-1 in the H&A season and won both finals to return to the First Division having been relegated the previous year.

Leave a Comment