Déjà vu all over again
The half time siren sounds, the Navy Blues trail Collingwood by seven goals. During the fifteen minute interval a seething Ron Barassi and his match committee desperately attempt to make the changes necessary to get their side back in the contest. When play resumes the prolific Peter McKenna becomes a non-factor, the brilliant Brent Crosswell stars and is named best on ground. A rampant Carlton chases down a tiring Magpie outfit to pull off a remarkable comeback victory.
A synopsis of the events of September 26 1970 in less than 100 words? Not quite, try late August 1971.
Oz in ‘71
Following a leadership spill on March 10, William McMahon defeats incumbent John Gorton as leader of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party and in the process becomes the 20th Prime Minister of Australia. McMahon’s twenty month stewardship will be best remembered for his wife’s choice of apparel whilst visiting the Whitehouse rather than his parties’ legislative achievements. The Eighth National Census takes place on June 30 and for the first time Indigenous Australians are included in the count. The results are released 18 months later, our population totalling a little over 12.7 million people. The release of "Walkabout" and "Wake in Fright" provide the first signs of a renaissance in the Australian film industry. Evonne Goolagong is named Australian of the year. It’s her third “title” for 1971 following victories in the French and Wimbledon Womens singles finals.
Meanwhile in Melbourne
For reigning VFL premier Carlton an adequate encore to its efforts of the second half of the 1970 Grand Final has proved impossible to accomplish. A poor start to their title defence includes an opening day defeat at the hands of the previous season’s wooden spooner North Melbourne. A two goal victory over Footscray at the league's Waverley headquarters in Round Seven takes their record to four wins/three losses, and for the first time in 1971 they enter the top four. Their stay amongst the upper echelon of the VFL’s elite is brief. Seven days later Richmond, who trailed the Blues by four points at three quarter time, hold Barassi’s men to a solitary behind whilst slamming on eight final term goals themselves to knock Carlton from the league’s top bracket. The Blues are destined not to return to the top four during the remaining three months of the season.
The Blues finals heartbeat would flicker until it flat lined following the extraordinary circumstances of the penultimate weekend of the home and away fixture. During the Round 21 clash with Fitzroy at the Junction Oval, the ground was blanketed in a thick fog making vision of anything greater than twenty yards ahead nigh on impossible. After an even first three quarters the Lions managed to break the shackles in the final half hour outscoring Carlton four goals to one. The ‘Roys upset win ended any hope the reigning premiers had of making a last minute bid to make the finals and defend the title won in miraculous fashion eleven months earlier. In addition to its on field woes the Blues were robbed of the brilliance of the previous season’s Grand Final best on ground, Brent Crosswell. The brilliant Tasmanian missed all but the final two games of the season after suffering from the effects of Osteomyelitis, and infection of the bone(s) or bone marrow.
Collingwood’s initial response to its dramatic collapse in the second half of the previous year’s decider was emphatic, a Round 3 draw at Windy Hill the only time the Pies failed to take maximum points in its opening seven contests. The Pies would cool off somewhat in the second half of ’71, their ticket to September action validated when the Blues went down in the “unFOGetable” Junction Oval clash the previous Saturday.
Despite qualifying for the seventh finals campaign during Bob Rose’s eight year stint as senior coach, Victoria Park was anything but a happy hacienda. Reports suggested trouble within the playing group had been bubbling away for a while, and late in the season the club relieved Terry Waters of the captaincy of the team replacing him with Wayne Richardson. Rumours circulated that Waters had played his last game in Black & White and would be replacing Russell Blew as the coach of VFA side Waverley. (Waters did in fact return to the Collingwood senior side the following year, his last in the VFL). Prior to the final home and away game Richardson called a “players only” meeting. Following the get together a statement was released re-iterating the players support of both coach (Rose) and committee.
Carlton were rocked on the eve of its final playing engagement for the year when Ronald Dale Barassi, senior coach for the past seven seasons – a period in which the club made three Grand Finals, winning two and re-establishing the Blues as a super power, announced that he was “quitting big time football for good”. Despite having two years remaining on a contract to coach the side, Barassi asked the club to release him from that commitment. Carlton President George Harris confirmed the Committee had both received the request and had granted Barassi his wish to leave.
The teams, as selected on the Thursday evening, were as follows:
B: Collins, Southby, McKay
HB: Gill, McKay, K Hall
C: Doull, Barrott, Crane
HF: Crosswell, Robertson, Jackson
FOR: Jones, Jesaulenko, Armstrong
FOLL: Nicholls, Silvagni
19th/20th: Quirk, Mulcair
B: O’Callaghan, Potter, Dunne
HB: McKenzie, Eakins, Salmon
C: Atkinson, Greening, Dean
HF: Tuddenham, Thompson, Britt
FOR: Heard, McKenna, Coles
FOLL: Jenkin, M Richardson
ROV: W Richardson
19th/20th: Stevens, Treadrea
The game would mark the end of the VFL careers of two fine servants of the Carlton Football Club in Sergio Silvagni and Ian Collins. Silvagni’s 14 seasons in Navy Blue included Grand Final victories in 1968 and 1970 in addition to winning the clubs best and fairest award in 1962 and 1968. Collins, recruited from Sale in the Gippsland region, was lining up for 161st game for Carlton. A member of the 1968 flag winning team Collins missed a chance to play in the 1970 Grand Final due to injury.
The 33 year old Silvagni lead his team out on to the field. After a trying week Collingwood captain Wayne Richardson got his afternoon off to the best possible start by calling correctly at the toss of the coin, electing to kick to the Heatley Stand end of Princes Park.
The Magpie skipper got his team on the board inside the first two minutes of play, his long shot going through for full points. The Carlton response was swift, Jesaulenko replying shortly after. Whilst a tricky cross breeze was making conditions difficult for both sides it was Collingwood who managed to adapt quicker, taking complete control of the game. McKenna, Henry Coles, Con Britt and Graeme Jenkin goaled prior to Croswell’s accurate snapshot that brought up the hosts second goal for the term. McKenna and Britt both notched their second six pointers, and at the first break the Pies held a comfortable by 32 point lead, 7.2-44 to 2.0-12.
Coles grabbed the opening major of the second quarter to push the visitors' lead past six goals. With no sign of the tricky zephyr abating Barassi moved Jesaulenko to full forward. When the 26 year old champion crashed to ground after a vain attempt at a spectacular grab Carlton’s already bleak afternoon looked like it was set for a turn for the worse, Jesaulenko limping away rather gingerly. Adrian Gallagher’s successful “soccer” was sandwiched by McKenna bouncing one through and Wayne Richardson goaling before the siren. At the long interval Collingwood 10.5-65 enjoyed a more than comfortable seven goal lead over its arch rival who sat on 3.5-23.
When the teams met earlier in the season on the Queens Birthday Monday, Collingwood crushed Carlton by 85 points (24.14-158 to 11.7-73), meaning the Magpies had its tormentor of the previous September by more than 20 goals in three hours of football in 1971.
Barassi’s furious outburst upon entering the rooms at the half time break of the 1970 Grand Final is legendary. Prior to returning to the field Bert Thornley would be replaced by Ted Hopkins, and the rest, as the old saying goes, is history. Neither Thornley nor Hopkins figured in this game - in fact, after making a fleeting appearance in the season opener at Arden Street, Hopkins retired from VFL football taking up the position of Head Ranger/Manager of the Falls Creek snow resort. When Bert Thornley walked from the Melbourne Cricket Ground at half time on September 26 1970 he wouldn’t have realised his VFL career had just ended. Prior to the commencement of the 1971 season Thornley moved to VFA side Preston. Sadly the 29 year old native Western Australian would experience more heartbreak when the Bullants went down to Dandenong in a controversial VFA finale in September.
On this afternoon the target of the Supercoach’s rage would be none other than “Bustling” Bill Barrot. Some reports suggest Barrot, when accused by Barassi of not trying, threw a punch at his coach and was subsequently replaced by Bryan Quirk. He (allegedly) left the ground never to return to VFL football. In addition to replacing Barrot a number of other positional changes were made, including Ian Robertson moving to the centre, Bruce Doull was shifted to a half forward flank and Syd Jackson went to a wing.
It couldn’t happen again, could it?
The glut of moves didn’t provide an immediate return as both sides continued to struggle with the blustery conditions. A Percy Jones’ goal drew an immediate response from the Magpies, McKenna’s fourth for the afternoon restoring the seven goal half time margin. Despite controlling the game across the ground Collingwood were unable to extend their lead, and it came as no surprise that once the hosts started getting their hands on the ball they began to whittle away the deficit. Crosswell juggled a mark and converted, Jackson added another and the home side were back in the match. Jones was in everything, and after grabbing his second major for the quarter was involved in a heated exchange with Jenkin. Despite being under siege for the best part of the third term the Collingwood half back line of Peter Eakins, Brian McKenzie and Daryl Salmon stood firm under increasing pressure. Jackson bagged his second goal for the quarter and at the final break Collingwood lead of 20 points (11.8-74 to 8.6-54) looked anything but unassailable.
The home side started the final term as they’d finished the third, and within ten minutes they’d levelled the scores courtesy of goals from Quirk, Jones and Robertson. Crosswell was marking everything that came his way, and when he grabbed Jackson’s long bomb he made no mistake, the goal putting the Blues in front. The mercurial 21 year old was putting on a show, illustrating not just to the 32,000 plus crowd in attendance, but the football public in general, how severe a blow his absence during the first twenty weeks of the season had been to Carlton’s hopes of repeating the previous year’s flag winning performance. He proceeded to add a fourth and fifth goal to put the Blues well and truly in control. Quirk and Gallagher provided a little insurance, their six pointers pushing the difference out to 31 points. Consolation goals Wayne Richardson and Con Britt bridged the gap to 19 points. The final siren sounded shortly after bringing to an end the incredibly successful Barassi era at Royal Parade, his men recording a memorable nineteen point victory - Carlton 16.10-106 to Collingwood 13.9-87.
Best for the winners were a pair of Tasmanians, Brent Crosswell (5 goals) and Peter Jones (3 goals), Jones and John Nicholls controlling the rucking contests for the Blues after half time.
Wayne Richardson, John Greening and Brian McKenzie were named best for the vanquished visitors. Four goals to Peter McKenna, who turned 25 a day earlier, took his season tally to 130.
A photo of a jubilant Barassi hugging Sergio Silvagni at games end was splashed across the front page of the Sun News Pictorial the following Monday morning (30 August); the back page contained a shot of RDB hugging his son Ron junior at the conclusion of the game. Happy days indeed for Number 31, not only did he get one over a despised opponent, he was able to announce to readers of the popular Melbourne tabloid he would be covering the 1971 Finals for the newspaper. The following year saw Barassi return to the playing field with VFA powerhouse Port Melbourne (fellow Carlton retiree Ian Collins had been appointed Captain/Coach at the North Port Oval). The comeback lasted a mere three games, the 36 year old injuring a hamstring, and calling it quits. Following Barassi’s resignation John Nicholls was named as Captain/Coach of the Blues for the 1972 season, Big Nick taking the Blues to a premiership in his first year in charge.
The Pies quest for their 14th premiership would end a week later following a disappointing seven-goal loss to Richmond in the First Semi-Final. The loss brought Bob Rose’s first stint coach of Collingwood to a sad end, Rose resigning as senior coach a few days after his teams September exit. Neil Mann, an assistant under Rose, was named as his replacement. Not long after departing his beloved Victoria Park, Rose surprised the football community by accepting an offer to coach the perennially underachieving Footscray Football Club. His four seasons in charge at the Kennel (72-75) included a trip to the finals in 1974. Ironically the Bulldogs opponent that day was Rose’s old side Collingwood, the Pies smashing the Dogs by 69 points, the victory breaking the Magpies six game losing streak in finals. Rose departed the Western Oval at the completion of the 1975 season.
Rose returned to coach Collingwood in 1985, resigning two games into the following season. Des Tuddenham was appointed Captain/Coach of Essendon for the 1972 season. His first game in charge of the Bombers pitted his men against former mentor Rose’s Bulldogs, the Dons leaving the usually inhospitable Western Oval with the four points following a ten goal victory. Tuddenham led Essendon to back-to-back Elimination Final appearances in his first two seasons in charge at Windy Hill. He returned to Victoria Park as a player in 1976, the curtain finally coming down on his a brilliant career two games into the 1977 season.
Recently I re-visited 1970, Martin Flanagan’s superb look at the “Game of the Century”. During his interviews with the Collingwood players Flanagan noted that “It’s remarkable how many Collingwood players claim to have no memory of this match (Rd 22 1971) at all." Who could blame them for wanting to wipe any lingering recollection of a second monumental collapse to its fiercest rival inside 48 weeks from their memories?
This Friday evening a huge crowd is expected to assemble at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to witness the 245th episode of the Carlton/Collingwood “soap opera”. Some pundits suggest Brett Ratten’s future prospects as the senior coach of the Carlton Football Club may ride on the outcome of this clash. Ratten should consider invoking the spirit of August 28 1971. He could do a lot worse.