The propaganda round - June 14-16, 1952
How surprised would Joe Public be if upon perusal of the 2013 AFL Draw he saw the Cats scheduled to clash with the Crows in Camperdown, the Dees and the Dockers drawn to duke it out at Deniliquin or a Richmond v Roos rumble in Rochester? The Queens Birthday long weekend marked the sixtieth anniversary of a round of fixtures that were played across rural Victoria and three capital cities of Australia. Round 8 of the 1952 season saw the Victorian Football League in conjunction with the Australian National Football Council (the games governing body) boldly take elite Australian Rules Football were it hadn’t previously done so. The round was given a few different names – the Away Round and the National Round were two.
Some media outlets referred to it as “The Propaganda Round” - an additional round to the nine home & nine away 18 game fixture the twelve VFL sides played, all teams scheduled to play “away”.
Instead of the usual mix of matches played across suburban Melbourne and Geelong, the VFL fixtured games in three rural towns across Victoria/Southern New South Wales - North Melbourne and South Melbourne would travel to the border town of Albury for their Saturday afternoon battle, Footscray and St Kilda journeyed to the Gippsland town of Yallourn, (neighbouring Trafalgar having been the first choice) to fight for four points with Carlton and Hawthorn venturing 90 miles (imperial measurements in those days) to Euroa in the states north east for their June 14 showdown. Three interstate matches would see Collingwood take on Richmond at The Sydney Cricket Ground, Geelong play Essendon at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground, and Fitzroy clash with Melbourne at North Hobart Oval. Melburnians keen for a Saturday afternoon footy fix had the option of supporting the State side with Victoria taking on Western Australia at the MCG.
The Melbourne Herald of Friday 13 June noted that “TAA, ANA & Ansett airlines were reporting heavy bookings from footy fans keen to see their teams play interstate”. Inclement weather on Friday disrupted the travel plans of two clubs. Melbourne, who were on their way to Hobart, and Albury bound South Melbourne had their flights delayed due to heavy fog. Buses taking supporters to the games at Euroa and Yallourn were scheduled to leave Melbourne between 8.00 and 10.00 am Saturday morning.
The SCG game between the Tigers and the Magpies was undoubtedly the highest profile match of the round. Some media outlets referred to the game as the “Missionary” match so fervent was the VFL’s attempt in spreading the message during this novelty weekend of fixturing. In Thursday evening's Melbourne Herald the doyen of football scribes, Alf Brown, raised the possibility of a huge crowd attending the Sydney match. In an article titled Large Crowd Expected at game in Sydney, Brown noted that Percy Page, the Australian National Football Council official responsible for organising the game in Sydney, had won much publicity for the game in Sydney newspapers. Brown added that Page had “aroused the curiosity of thousands of rugby fans wanting to see aerial ping-pong at its best”.
Just under 25,000 (24,174) braved the atrocious conditions at the SCG to see the Woodsmen negotiate the slush and mud better than their Tiger opponents. The Maggies added six second term goals whilst holding their opponents scoreless, and by half time had established a match winning lead of 46 points (8.6 to 1.2). Despite being outscored two goals to four in the second half, Collingwood ran out easy 36 point winners 10.12-72 to 5.6-36. Col Davey, with three goals, was named best for the winners, along with Roy Williams and Jack Hamilton. Kevin Hogan, with two majors, was the only multiple goal scorer for the Tigers. Col Austen, Geoff Spring and Kevin Dillon tried valiantly for the badly beaten Yellow and Black.
Fitzroy rookie Tony Ongarello’s four first quarter goals helped his side grab a handy 20 point lead at the first change in their match with Melbourne at North Hobart Oval. The Maroons lead all the way to prevail by the quarter time margin, winning 13.12-90 to the Redlegs 10.10-70. The nineteen year old Ongarello, playing in just his eighth game of VFL football, notched seven goals to be named best afield receiving good support from Vic Chanter and first gamer Jack McGregor. For the defeated Demons Robert McKenzie kicked four goals, with Geoff McGivern, Eddie Jackson and Mike Woods amongst their better players.
In front of 7,500 paying customers at Euroa, Carlton’s Jack Howell matched Ongarello’s opening term effort scoring four goals prior to the first break. He finished with a total of eight and despite the Hawks staying within touch for most of the afternoon, a five goal to two final quarter burst saw the Navy Blues take the spoils 17.15-117 to 11.14-80. Vin English, Max Thomas and Howell were outstanding for the winners. The defeated Gold & Brown were best served by Mike Fitchett, Peter Kanis and debutant Bill Collins. Jim Robison slotted three goals for the men from Glenferrie Oval. The North v South “Battle for the Border” match at Albury was close for three quarters, the teams locked together at 12.9-81 at the final change. However it was the Bloods who found a little extra during the last quarter adding six goals to their opponents two to wrap up the match by 22 points 18.10-118 to 14.12-96. South’s Captain/Coach Gordon Lane and Paddy Deagan led the way with four goals each with Keith Schaefer, Eddie Lane and Frank Brew the best for South. Noel Alford, Allen Aylett, John Brady, Barry Brooker, Kevin Dynon and Kevin Smith scored two goals apiece for North, Brady, Aylett and John Reeves the shining lights for the Shinboners.
Heavy rain turned the Yallourn Oval into a quagmire and St Kilda, adapting to the conditions better than the Dogs took control of the game in the second quarter scoring four goals to a point to set up an imposing five goal lead (6.2-38 to 1.2-8) by half time. Whilst Footscray outscored the Saints in the second half, it was to no avail with St Kilda registering its first win for the season 7.7-49 to the Dogs 5.4-34. St Kilda’s Jack McDonald and Footscray’s Ted Whitten, each with two goals, were the only multiple scorers. McDonald, Norm Bloom and Alan Squire were super for St Kilda. Stand in Captain/Coach Wally Donald did his best for the Dogs and was ably supported by Allan Rogers and Don Ross.
Five inches of rain was dumped on Brisbane prior to the scheduled Saturday night Essendon v Geelong fixture. As a result the game was moved to the following Monday night, meaning it was the first time a VFL match for premiership points was played under lights. Geelong trailed the Bombers by a couple of points at quarter time, but once Essendon superstar John Coleman found the target (his first five scoring shots were all behinds) it was all over for the Hoops, Coleman finished with a club record 13 goals for his nights work. At evenings end Essendon 23.17-155 had easily dispatched Geelong 12.14-86. Coleman, John Gill and Lance Mann (two months removed from his win in the Easter Gift at Stawell) shone for the Dons. For Geelong Bill McMaster and George Goninon, who was forced from the field in the third term with a shoulder injury, got three goals each. McMaster, Peter Pianto and Bob Davis provided fine service to the Geelong cause.
At the “G”
40, 749 people attended the MCG to see a star studded Victoria (13.13-91) hold off a determined Western Australia (13.4-82). North Melbourne’s Jock Spencer, with six goals, was best for the Big “V” with Thorold Merrett and John Kennedy having good afternoons. Conway & Crabb each got three for the Sandgropers, Marsh, Sparrow and Crabb named as their finest on the day.
With the exception of the Bombers crushing victory over Geelong in Brisbane results went as expected. St Kilda’s ice breaking win at Yallourn could’ve been viewed as an upset, however their opponent sported a 2win/5 loss record and a percentage below 80%. Only four premiership points separated eighth placed Fitzroy and fourth placed Melbourne prior to their battle at North Hobart Oval suggesting the Roys victory on the Apple Isle wasn’t a huge shock.
The Propaganda Round would afford four venues Albury, Euroa, Yallourn and the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds the once in a life time opportunity of hosting a VFL game. When VFL football returned to the Sunshine state 29 years later, Hawthorn and Essendon met at the Gabba rather than the BEG. North Hobart had to wait 39 before the leading Australian Rules competition returned to town. Eight games of VFL football were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground between 1979 and 1981, the Moore Park arena becoming a permanent VFL venue when the South Melbourne Football Club relocated from the Lakeside Oval to Harbour Town at the start of the 1982 season.
Attendances, with the exception of the game in Gippsland that attracted a disappointing 3,500, weren’t all that bad. 18,387 saw Fitzroy defeat Melbourne at North Hobart, and remains the largest crowd to attend the five games that have been played at that ground. The “official” number for the Monday night game in Brisbane was 28,000. Some suggested that as many as 40,000 saw the game. The Melbourne Argus of Tuesday 17 June noted “2,500 stormed the gates and forced their way into the ground” and “at least 2,000 burst through the arena fence and sat around the boundary. Other reports had the non paying figure as high as 4,000. The game at Albury drew a total of 15,000 spectators. The next five home and away games between North Melbourne and South Melbourne averaged 12,800. Carlton v Hawthorn had averaged attendances of just over 11, 000 during their previous five battles, so a crowd of 7,500 was nothing to be sneezed at. Taking into consideration the woeful weather conditions that hit Sydney prior to the game (seventeen hours of continuous rain lashed the town prior to the opening bounce) the ANFC would have been pleased with an attendance of 24,174. The next three games between the Pies and the Tigers in Melbourne drew crowds of 22, 000, 23, 000 and 18,000.
Aftermath and reaction
Both Collingwood and Essendon encountered problems returning to Melbourne. The Magpies had their Monday morning departure delayed until later that afternoon. Six Essendon players, including the star of Monday evening match John Coleman, suffered air sickness. The Bombers left Brisbane late on the Tuesday morning but wouldn’t return to Melbourne until 11.00pm that night. By the time the Dons flight reached Melbourne the Essendon airport was closed forcing the pilot to land at Mangalore airport, 2 hours north of Melbourne.
The Sydney press was less than complementary with the proceedings of Saturday 14 June 1952. Sunday newspaper headlines included “Rules games disappoints”, “Game to boost rules a failure” and “Rain ruins Richmond-Collingwood Aussie Rules”. Despite underwhelming reviews the ANFC’s Page was quoted as saying “There is a strong feeling among the SCG trustees and the Victorians that the fixture should be repeated next season with two other teams”.
The suggestion that different teams would be asked to head north to promote the Indigenous Game must’ve warmed the heart of Collingwood secretary Gordon Carlyon, who in a press release said “Collingwood opposed the match, however we fulfilled our part of the bargain and let our effort speak for itself” Carlyon had an ally in Geelong President Jack Jennings who stated “Our team didn’t return to Geelong until 7pm this evening (Tuesday). This round has completely disorganised our training schedule. Brisbane is too far away. We don’t think its right to take players 1,300 miles to play a game for premiership points”. Three teams Collingwood, Geelong and St Kilda opposed the “National” round. The round did find support from other sections of the national football “family”. In a meeting held on the Monday night following the North Hobart clash the Tasmanian Football League expressed a hope that the ”VFL would repeat the round of away from home matches next season”. Speculation as to whether the Propaganda Round would be a one off continued to take up substantial space in the Melbourne press in the days that followed. In the Tuesday issue of The Argus legendary sports journalist Hugh Buggy posed the question “Should we try to spread our code North?” In his Wednesday column in the Age, Percy Beames added “Provided the Australian National Football Council can gain support of the Victorian Football League its almost certain there will be another round of away matches in 1953”.
In a word, No! The pre-season NAB Challenge sees AFL teams travelling to various parts of rural Australia, offering a watered down version of the Propaganda Round. With the exception of the cities/towns themselves these matches attract very little attention in the media. In fact, if not for Essendon’s non show at Wangaratta earlier this season, the matches that make up this part of the pre-season have remained somewhat forgettable in recent years.
A few observations from "The National/Away/Propaganda Round"
According to AFL Tables.com 7 players made their VFL debuts during this round of matches. Those players included Kevin Betson (Richmond), Jack MacGregor (Fitzroy), Mack Atkins & Bill Collins (Hawthorn), Bill Nolan (South Melbourne), Ron Banfield (St Kilda) and Peter O’Sullivan (Essendon).
Eddie Goodger (Fitzroy) and Clive Philp (Hawthorn) played their 50th game of VFL football. Bill Twomey (Collingwood) and Les Reeves (North Melbourne) celebrated their 100th VFL game.
Wally Donald, member of the Footscray Football Club Team of the Century and recent inductee into the Bulldogs Hall of Fame kicked the one and only goal of his illustrious 205 game career during the final quarter of the Dogs clash with the Saints at Yallourn. Both the ground and town have long since ceased to be.
Less than a fortnight after his “baker’s dozen” in Brisbane, John Coleman was held goalless for the first and only time in his brilliant 98 game/537 goal career by Fitzroy’s Vic Chanter.
The teams who clashed for premiership points in the “Propaganda Round” would battle each other three weeks later. Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy and South Melbourne would go on to repeat victories over their Round 8 opponent. Footscray reversed the tables on the Saints for a six point win at the Junction Oval. Essendon (10.16-76) drew with Geelong (11.10-76)