Your first final?

What was the first final you ever went to?  Technically, mine was the 1978 grand final.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to watch the game.


Instead, I was with thousands of kids clad in North Melbourne or Hawthorn t-shirts and socks.  We were part of the pre-match entertainment, getting marched into the MCG clutching helium filled balloons and lining the boundary line, waiting until a man in a blue coat told us to let them fly.


I was lucky enough to provide balloon service for grand finals in 1979 and 80.  It was a great thrill, standing on the boundary as the teams ran onto the ground and tore through the banner.


The first time I sat in the crowd to watch a final was the 1983 qualifier between Hawthorn and Fitzroy.


I was there with Johnny Franklin, a Fitzroy fan who lived two houses away down Willett Avenue in Oak Park. He and his brothers were the only kids at school who followed Fitzroy.  That made them unique and unusual.


Johnny had red hair, freckles and wore thick glasses.  That meant he got picked on occasionally, for no reason other than his appearance.  He was tall and thin, gentle without fear, with plenty of cheek but never instigating a confrontation.


The one time he engaged in a fight, a grub who wasn’t involved in the fight punched Johnny from the side, breaking his glasses and cutting his eye.


We lived a minute walk from Oak Park Primary School and spent hours on the oval kicking the football or playing cricket in the nets.  There were dinners at each other’s houses, trips away, places to go on our bikes and plenty of time to hang out at school.


Each Wednesday I helped him on his paper round.


Johnny had a spare ticket for the qualifying final because his older brother couldn’t go.  My dad took some convincing but relented.  We took the train from Oak Park to Flinders Street and walked to the MCG.  We were 12 years old, without adult supervision.


It didn’t matter that North wasn’t involved.  By 1983, I hated Hawthorn more than any other club.  I thought Leigh Matthews, Robert Dipierdomenico and Dermot Brereton were thugs.  The Hawks didn’t just play hard, they played dirty.


Besides, they’d beaten North in grand finals.  And North finished on top in 1983, with Hawthorn second.  I was more worried about them than any other finalist.


So I wanted Fitzroy to win.


Our seats were great, on the flank at the city end about ten rows from the fence.  It was a beautiful day.


We were sitting behind a group of Hawthorn fans, men in their thirties and forties.  One of them had the biggest beer gut I’d ever seen and a thick moustache.  During the first quarter, when Michael Tuck kicked a goal, Johnny let his frustration show.


‘Fuck you Tuck, you Kentucky Fried Fuck,’ he yelled.


The fat man turned his ample head and growled at us.  ‘Cut out the swearing boys.  Don’t talk like that again.’


We didn’t swear again.  To this day, I try not to swear loudly at the football.  The fat man was scary.


Scores were level at quarter time.  The Hawks kicked away in the second term and led by 27-points at half time.  Johnny was angry.  He wanted to swear.


Fitzroy won the third quarter by a goal to trail by 21-points at the last change.  Johnny wanted the first goal of the last quarter.


Fitzroy fought back in the final term.  Bernie Quinlan’s eighth goal put the Lions in front at the 23-minute mark.  Four minutes later, Gary Pert was penalised for a soft in-the-back free by umpire Glenn James.  Richard Loveridge goaled.  Hawthorn won by four points.


Johnny was shattered during the train ride home.  Fitzroy had been finalists in three of the previous five seasons.  1983 was their best chance to win a premiership.  All they had to do was beat Hawthorn.


The following week, they lost the first semi-final to Essendon by 25-points.  And those brutal bastards, Hawthorn went on to win the grand final.


Johnny’s father moved the family across town to Mordialloc in September, 1984.  I stayed over for a few nights in December, meeting Johnny in the city and playing the pinnies before taking the train to Mordialloc.


We had a great time, but that was it.  We never spoke again.  Johnny now lived on the other side of town and was going to a different school.


A few years ago I tried finding him on Facebook but couldn’t.


I wanted to ask how he handled Fitzroy’s merger with Brisbane.  If he stayed loyal to the brand and celebrated three consecutive premierships or chose another club in Melbourne to support.


I wonder why I can’t find him on Facebook.  I wonder if he’s still alive.  I wonder if I can use Facebook properly.


Johnny is just a memory now, one indelibly linked with football.  He is just a kid I think about occasionally whenever I feel sorry for Fitzroy, or recall my first final.


When you’re a kid, whatever the reasons, mates are often expendable.  Memories, though, are never expendable.  Not when it comes to old mates and football.


About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. First final (at least the first I remember being at) – Drawn 1969 First Semi, West Torrens v West Adelaide @ Adelaide Oval. Sitting on the fence on the Member’s wing, watching Murrray Weidemann kicking to the northern end. I know I went to a few others before this (according to my mum!), but the next I remember is the magnificent Centrals win over Sturt in the 1971 First Semi. Then I remember all too many Centrals losses……

  2. Great article that resonates so well.

    My first final was also Hawthorn v Fitzroy but in the 1986 Preliminary. I follow the “thugs” and my mate was Fitzroy. It was a warm sunny day and a big crowd at VFL Park. Sat about 20 rows back behind the goals at the big scoreboard end. I actually marked the ball when one of the goals was kicked but when I saw the replay was disappointed that the camera panned to the goal umpire for a decision rather than follow the flight of the ball and give me my moment of fame. For some reason I was wearing a lime green windcheater – 1986 was a year for the bright colours of Ken Done and Jenny Kee – and if you freeze the footage and squint you can see a green spot in the crowd.

    Hawthorn ran away with it in the second half and Dipper flattened Michael Reeves on his wedding day and the following Monday they gave him a Brownlow. I am fairly sure only those following the brown and gold were happy with the result that day.

    My mate’s loyalty to Fitzroy was what always impressed me most as, of all the clubs to follow, it always seemed like your second club but not something you would take on as a main act. There was a girl in the year above at school who was also a tragic Lion and they would often meet up to discuss the latest news – “Did you watch the Foster’s Cup last night? on Palmer’s Punchlines they said Les Parish had been sacked!!! Can’t believe they did that”

    I miss Fitzroy and wonder what my mate did when they vanished, haven’t seen him since around 1989.

  3. I reckon the first final I got to was a Norwood v Centrals elimination final in the late 80s / early 90s at Footy Park. Don’t remember anything of the game other than that we won and the Centrals supporter that sat a couple of seats away shouted “c’mon dogs’ for the whole game. Did not say anything else the whole time.

  4. 1986 – the best year in footy ever. The Blacks win the Ammos flag, the mighty Woodpeckers (Woodville Warriors for the youngsters reading) make the SANFL prelim final, and the mighty Roy Boys do the same in the VFL. A lot of pay back for the years of wallowing at the wrong end of the table. Looking back, thank god the Peckers & Lions didn’t go the whole way – I’d still be drunk!

    First final – SA 1970 GF. Sturt v Glenelg. Being a boy from the bush, we didn’t see a lot of SANFL in the flesh. 1970 – Dad took me to the granny. Drove to Adelaide, probably for school hols and stayed at the grandparents. Weather was miserable. Woken by dad at some ungodly hour so we could catch the first bus in. Weather even worse. Can recall standing in the queue waiting to get in and no amount of umbrellas or raincoats could keep one dry. A couple of games before the big one (just to ensure the ground was a true bog), standing in the rain and wishing I was back at grandmas in front of her fire and enjoying her home cooking. Then the game started. I recall just 2 things. The noise at the opening bounce. Even back then it was deafening for a lad more used to the laid back opening bell at Cleve. Second was Bruce “Dizzy” Raymond’s brilliant ball handling and classic one hand pick ups in the bog – right in front of us. Sturt won their 5th in a row (they were my second side so I didn’t mind) and eventually made it back to grannies and the home cooking!

  5. Chris Weaver says

    Matt – no discussion about the 1983 Qualifying Final can be complete without mentioning that appalling deliberate out-of-bounds free paid against Michael Nettlefold.

    1990 Elimination Final – Melbourne v Hawthorn.

    I was 7 years-old.

    Sitting on the wing in the top tier of the old Southern Stand, which had recently had its roof removed in readiness for demolition. The place was a tip – the old maroon toilets were inadequately spaced and dank, the wooden seats were uncomfortable and there were few food vendors. The saving graces were a terrific view over the sand-heavy ground and that it was a warm, clear day with a light breeze.

    Went with my dad, cousin and aunt. Melbourne thankfully won by 9 points in a dour struggle, just one week after beating the some opponents at the same venue in Michael Tuck’s record 404th game (he got caught in the banner as he ran through).

    Once every three months, my cousin still lauds Jamie Duursma for marking the helmeted Jason Dunstall out of the game. Once every three months, I remind him it was Tony Campbell and that Duursma was injured that year (and never played again).

    Like Tony Campbell, I revel in being the defensive one.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    First strong recollection is 73 when some of the finals were played at Norwood Oval
    The mighty legs beat the magpies and then the next week we played the roosters again at the parade . Dennis Sachse was payed a ridiculous free kick and my mother swore ( had never heard her swear before and very little since ) and we lost a cliffhanger

  7. Hey men,
    I’m loving all these recollections.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. My first final I was already at Uni. It was 1993 Qualifying final between Essendon and Carlton and went with my brother and a couple of mates (both Essendon). We sat at the top of the Olympic stand and I believe it was the first night final played. Dont have a lot of memories of the game – Ang Christou running from defensive 50 to the forward line but missing his shot on goal. It was a tight finish, Tim Watson kicked a goal to narrow the margin and all the Bombers supporters went up but a second later the siren sounded so all the Blues were out of our seats at the same time. This game and Justin Madden’s running goal in the Semi Final against Adelaide is all I care to remember of the 1993 finals series.

  9. Living in Brisbane I finally made the trip down in 1995 and the first final I saw was Richmond v North. North featured my brother’s school mate Goozy Geister (there’s a name for you) from Eudunda. I saw all four finals that weekend. Geelong kicked 10 goals in the first quarter v the Dogs. (with no Ablett from memory?) Brisbane scared the bill goats out of Carlton on the Sunday and we (13 on-tour blokes) wound up doing the conga in the old East Melbourne Hotel (was that on Hoddle Dtreet?) to the brilliant band which was doing a very hip version of Spiderman. In many cities of the world we’d have been booted out, but I loved that we were embraced by the equally high-on-life diners.

  10. I can’t remember my first final but I will never forget my first Grand Final.
    1970 Carlton vs Collingwood. I was 15 and a long time Demons supporter (only one in the family) which came about after sitting watching Ronald Dale Barassi’s kids show on my grandparents TV.
    Dad got tickets from a mate at Carlton but then had to work – I did question whether there was a god – so I went with my mum. Mum was a lifelong Cats supporter whose dad worked in the woollen mills firstly in Clifton Hill and then in Geelong.
    She always told the story of going to a game at old Victoria Park between Collingwood and Richmond and watching Jack Dyer physically destroy Collingwood. Many pies supporters were waiting after the game baying for Jacks blood and he calmly emerged from the rooms dressed in his full Victoria Police uniform. But back to 1970.
    It was ideal weather, I can recall the sun and nice temperature as we arrived by train at Jolimont. We got there early enough to see the reserves from our seats in the top tier of the stand. The stand quickly filled up and we were surrounded by a throng of Carlton supporters. I had never seen so many people in one place in my short life. However it was a very quiet crowd during the first half as Collingwood dominated to lead by 44 points at half time.
    The Carlton crowd only seemed to get excited twice in the first half, firstly when Tuddy put the perfect hip and shoulder but missed his target and flattened McKenna who had kicked 5 goals. The second excitement was when I thought the stand was coming down as Jezza stood on Jerker Jenkins shoulders and took an awesome mark. He was up so high that I thought I could reach out and touch him from our seats in the top tier of the stand.
    The second half brought many occasions when I thought the stand was going to fall down as the Carlton supporters couldn’t contain their excitement as Barassi’s handball and play on instruction and Teddy Hopkins and Tiger Crosswell dominated the game.
    That I was there to see the best mark ever, part of the biggest crowd ever, in the middle of ecstatic Blues fans witnessing the biggest comeback ever and the birth of “modern football” is something I will never forget.
    It is now 44 years since that wonderful day, same number as the margin that the blues were behind at half time. I live in Queensland now and I haven’t been to another grand final since and am content that I have probably witnessed the best ever. Sure I watch the Grand Finals on TV but I haven’t really felt the urge to go to mother Grand Final.
    But never say never as my son and I are members at the Gold Coast Suns and maybe they will be the temptation back to the MCG when they play in a Grandfinal.

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    My first final was Geelong v Footscray at the MCG in 1992. Went with my Geelong supporting Mum, step-father and step-brother. Pretty sure it was first week of the finals and Footscray’s first final in several years. Geelong won a high scoring game, Bill Brownless kicked 9 and Danny Del-Re kicked 8 for the dogs. May have been the other way around.
    We went to the home and away Geelong v Footscray game in 1993, early in the season. Brownless and Del-Re were both in the magoos.
    Had to wait until 2002 before attending my first Collingwood finals game.

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Saturday 18th September 1971
    , 2:10pm
    Adelaide Oval

    Port v Centrals
    Prelim Final

    I went to Sydney with my mum and sisters (Derby St, Kingswood to be precise), taking the Overland to Melbourne , then onwards to Sydney (did that train have a name too?), so missed the Dogs first ever final (as mentioned by Rabs), where they put a full stop to Sturt’s five flags in a row. I found some highlights online a while back, gee I was happy about that. I read about that win in the sports section of the Sydney Sunday paper, probably wedged between golf and yachting results.

    I remember a few things from the train journey, listening to the Magarey Medal count on my tranny, a carriage full of footballers playing cards on an end of season trip, and sharing a cabin with relatives of Malcolm Greenslade on the way home.

    Importantly, we made it back home in time for me to see the Prelim Final. I have no recollection of that game, other than we lost and I watched it from the Northern end, after catching the train from Elizabeth South Station.

    My first and only winning final was the following year’s 1st Semi (and possibly mine), when the Dogs’ accuracy got them over the line against Norwood. We had Port on toast in the Prelim, but got rolled in the last 1/4.

    Never again did I bear witness to a Centrals finals victory in the flesh.

  13. There haven’t been many since then Swish… if it makes you feel any better I have seen quite a few Centrals finals victories in the flesh (oh, to have the 2010 gf over again).

  14. I still have the SA Football Budget for the 1968 Grand Final between Sturt and Port but don’t recall whether I was there or not.

    I do remember being at the drawn West v Torrens that Rabid Dog mentioned (or was it the replay?- one or the other). Reckon John Birt captain-coached the Eagles then.

    First VFL Final seen live was 1970 2nd Semi between Collingwood and Carlton. I also still have the Footy record from that great game with Brownlow Medallist Peter Bedford adorning the cover. It was not only the first VFL final I had seen live but the first VFL game of any type and what a cracker it was setting the scene for the memorable GF to come in 2 weeks time. A lazy 112,000 were in attendance to see a classic with Peter McKenna booting 9 goals to get the Pies up by 10 points. Jezza also kicked 8 goals so what a game to set the standard!

    This was also the game where Syd Jackson got reported for striking Lee Adamson. He got off at the tribunal by saying that Adamson had “made reference to my colour and creed”. 20 odd years later, Jackson admitted that Adamson hadn’t racially vilified him at all and that George Harris (Carlton President) had devised the strategy to get him off. Jackson went on to be one of Carlton’s better players in their famous GF victory that year.

  15. Looking though the 1970 2nd Semi Footy Record and the Under 19s featured Richmond v Hawthorn.
    Richmond’s team included Billy Barrot, Brian Wood and Daryl Cumming. Laurie Fowler was vice-captain.
    Hawthorn had no names there that jumped out at me.
    In the reserves, Richmond (Neil Balme, Michael Bowden, Peter Cloke who finished up a real good player at North Adelaide) played Melbourne (Ray Biffen, Paul Callery and Colin Anderson who played in 73 GF win for Glenelg).
    The Craiglee Stakes was run at Flemington and featured Big Philou, Fileur, Tavel, Crewman, Shorengro and Gay Poss. Other top horses running that day were Gay Icarus, Abdul, Dual Choice, Rajah Sahib and Winfreux.

  16. Budge, it was the drawn first semi.
    Both sides had “imported” captain-coaches – Johnny Birt for Torrens and Murray Weideman for Westies.

  17. Pamela Sherpa says

    My first final was the second semi between Carlton and Essendon in 1968. I will never forget the roar of the crowd as we entered the ground while the reserves were playing. The sound just sucked us out of the lift . It was amazing .

  18. Swish – the double entendre was great.
    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s posts about their first final.
    Those games make an impression.
    The first North Melbourne final I went to was the 1987 elimination final against Melbourne.
    That was a bad one.

  19. Geelong V Richmond 2nd Semi VFL Park 1980
    Great game, Kevin Bartlett kicked 8, Geelong went out in straight sets the following week. Richmond looked likely Premiers and so it proved.

  20. I had the opportunity to attend the 1970 Grand Final with a school friend whose Dad was an MCC member. I declined, saying that (at aged six) I would be scared of the noise of the crowd! Probably not my best life decision!

    So my first final ( and first VFL game) was the 1972 GF in which hot favourites Richmond kicked what was the equal highest GF score in history to that point but still got comfortably done by Carlton in a 50 goal spectacular. Even in the days when Richmond ruled the roost, we still had the capacity to cause our supporters heartbreak!

    My recollections are minimal but vivid. Standing in a monster queue, playing chess on a magnetic board while we waited for the gates to open. An endless procession of Carlton goals in the second quarter, during which me an my mate looked at one another with tears in our eyes, learning about the vagaries of sport the hard way. But ending a long day knowing that, in spite of the disappointment, this game had me hooked for life.

    42 years later, Hawthorn v Geelong last week was my 131st VFL/AFL final. Eat ya heart out, Michael Tuck!

    BTW Budge, Billy Barrott couldn’t have played in the Under 19s in 1970 as he’d already played a starring role in the 1969 Senior GF. Surely he was playing in the reserves?

  21. Warwick Nolan says

    Loved your article Mike. As Pauline said . . . “It certainly “resonotated” with me”.

    In 1970, I started at a new school and was assigned a seat next to another new boy. We hit it off immediately and amazingly, have enjoyed a stellar sporting companionship ever since. Yep, 45 years.

    Probably averaged 40-50 games a season for a couple of decades, not to mention our commitment to Saturday afternoon – exclusive to local (non AFL) footy.

    Hope you can locate Johnny Franklin.

  22. Good pickup Stainless.
    I had another look and there is a W Barrot in the U19s. I have since done some research and discovered that this was Billy’s younger brother, Wes Barrot, who went on to play 3 senior games for the Tigers in 1973-74 and 1 game for Collingwood in 1975.
    Sometimes you just see what you want to see!

    1970 was the Bustling one’s last year at Richmond. In one of the great trades, they managed to move him on to St Kilda in exchange for Ian Stewart. Stewart promptly won the Brownlow (and B&F) in his first year at the Tigers and played 78 games for them including the 1973 Premiership. Billy played 2 games for the Saints before moving on to Carlton (12 games), then Oakleigh, West Torrens and back to Oakleigh. Almost makes up for the Pitura trade debacle.

  23. Peter Fuller says

    My first final was Cobden d. Port Fairy Hampden League 1st semi 1957 at Colac.
    My first granny was Coragulac d Winchelsea Polwarth League 1958 at Colac.
    First VFL final, Melbourne d. St. Kilda 1st SF 1963.
    First VFL GF Geelong d. Hawthorn 1963.
    Swish, the Melbourne-Sydney trains of that era were the Southern Aurora for the overnight service, and the unimaginatively named “Daylight (non-) Express if you travelled in daylight hours.
    JTH, I’m wondering if you were drinking in the MCG Hotel (rather than the East Melbourne) in Wellington Parade, close to, if not on the site of the Hilton.

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