'Handball, Handball, Handball': 1970 Grand Final
In the minds of many, the Carlton and Collingwood Football Clubs are archetypal opposites, a situation which rendered the 1970 VFL grand final an especially enticing prospect to the hoards of Melbournians to whom football was tantamount to a religion. Collingwood, the so called 'working class' club, which arguably boasted greater popular support than any other sporting organisation in Australia, was favoured to win what would have been a 14th VFL flag on the basis of an outstanding 'home and home' season (won 18 lost 4) backed by a solid 17.16 (118) to 17.6 (108) 2nd semi final victory over their allegedly 'white collar' grand final opponents.
The fact that Collingwood had also been successful in both minor round meetings between the sides intensified that favouritism. In round eight, at VFL Park, the Magpies had trailed at every change by 11, 29 and 20 points before surging home with an eight-goal-to-one final term to win in the end with deceptive ease. There was nothing deceptive about Collingwood's win at Victoria Park in round 19, however, as the Blues were well and truly annihilated by 77 points. It was not so much the margin which was noteworthy, albeit that it represented the Magpies' biggest win over the Blues up to that point; rather it was Carlton's extraordinary inability to trouble the scorers which attracted comment, suggesting as it did that the discrepancy between the teams was virtually insurmountable. It is arguably this context of apparent Collingwood superiority that gives the 1970 VFL grand final, when viewed through the spuriously augmented lenses of hindsight, its almost unique, larger than life aura. Either that, or history truly is written by the winners.
The Channel 7 TV commentator for the match is Mike Williamson, with special comments coming from Alan 'Butch' Gale and 'Mr. Football', Ted Whitten. An all time record crowd for an Australian football match of 121,696 watches as Carlton skipper John Nicholls wins the toss and elects to kick to the Punt Road end of the MCG.
5 mins After a frenetic opening during which the ball has remained entirely on the Collingwood forward lines the Magpies finally achieve a decisive breakthrough. Tuddenham collects the ball midway between centre half forward and half forward right and, after evading the vigorous but ill timed attentions of two Carlton defenders, sends a wobbly punt kick tumbling through the goals. Collingwood 1.2; Carlton 0.0
7 mins Wayne Richardson is awarded a free at centre half forward and just manages to register a minor score with a tentative drop punt, prompting 'Butch' Gale to proffer a mild rebuke: "he should have used a flat punt". Collingwood 1.3; Carlton 0.0
14 mins Concerted attacking pressure from the Magpies finally pays off as Tuddenham races through the centre of the ground and passes to a fast leading Peter McKenna at centre half forward. The ball bounces off McKenna's chest but the umpire either awards a mark or a free kick for an alleged push in the back by Hall. McKenna's perfectly executed drop punt precisely bisects the uprights, eliciting no response whatsoever from Mr. Gale. Collingwood 2.5; Carlton 0.0
20 mins From a ball up at centre half forward Thompson deftly taps the ball to Max Richardson who sends a high left foot punt kick into the left forward pocket where McKenna manages to out position Hall only to drop a seemingly straight forward mark. Recovering quickly, however, he snatches up the ball and feeds out a quick hand pass in field to Britt, who takes a couple of steps to steady himself before calmly slotting home the Magpies' third. Collingwood 3.6; Carlton 0.0
29 mins Hall's kick in after a behind comes off hands at centre half forward to Wayne Richardson whose left foot pass finds Hall's immediate opponent, McKenna, standing unmarked in the right forwardpocket. From a distance of 15 metres on a 45 degree angle the Magpie sharp shooter effortlessly goals. Collingwood 4.8; Carlton 0.3
Shortly afterwards the siren sounds to bring to an end a quarter of football which had contained uncanny - and, from a Carlton standpoint, unnerving - echoes of the two sides' round 19 home and away series meeting at Victoria Park. On that occasion also the Blues had been kept goalless in the opening term before, as alluded to above, eventually succumbing to their most ignominious ever defeat against their arch rivals.
QUARTER TIME: Collingwood 4.8 (32); Carlton 0.3 (3)
2 mins A ball up takes place on the front edge of the Carlton goal square. Jones wins the tap, which goes to Collingwood's Adamson, who fumbles, allowing Gallagher to take possession momentarily before being flattened by Jenkin. Umpire Jolley awards a free kick to Gallagher for a head high tackle, and the Carlton rover nonchalantly (or perhaps dazedly) registers his side's first major score of the match. Collingwood 4.8; Carlton 1.3
3 mins From the ensuing centre bounce Collingwood concoct a swift and telling riposte as Dean's trenchant punt kick finds McKenna 30 metres out from goal directly in front. Hall makes a determined last ditch attempt to spoil but his flailing fist finds only fresh air. McKenna's kick for goal is once again sublime. Collingwood 5.8; Carlton 1.3
6 mins Clifton's long clearing kick is first trapped and then gathered up by Dunne at centre half forward. The gangly Magpie ruckman, whose preparations for the grand final had been soured by the death of his father, wheels around onto his left foot, takes a bounce, and unloads an immense punt kick that just makes the distance and squeezes through for a goal. Collingwood 6.11; Carlton 1.3
7 mins The Magpies again win the ball out of the centre: Jenkin taps the ball to Waters, who hurriedly throws the ball onto his boot, sending the ball floating towards centre half forward where it eludes a group of players from both teams before being snatched up by McKenna. The Collingwood spearhead cleverly evades the attentions of Hall and sends a low left foot snap shot tumbling through the goals via a vacant goal square. Collingwood 7.11; Carlton 1.3
9 mins Goold tears through the centre of the ground and delivers a long left foot kick to within 25 metres of goal where it is marked on the chest by Walls. The Blues centre half forward appears to mistime his kick slightly, but it floats through for full points all the same. Collingwood 7.11; Carlton 2.3
12 mins From a throw in in Carlton's right forward pocket the ball goes to ground. Blues ruckman John Nicholls throws himself on top of it and manages to scramble it forward to the right front edge of the goal square where Croswell, under intense pressure from Clifton and Eakins, refrains from grabbing it, instead opting to tap it between his legs across the face of goal to Gallagher. With two metres of space to work in Gallagher (right) just manages to get his boot to ball ahead of Tully's desperate, lunging attempt to spoil. Collingwood 7.11; Carlton 3.3
16 mins From a free kick in the centre of the ground Max Richardson tries to pick out McKenna at centre half forward, but his kick is too high and ultimately reaches Wayne Richardson, who juggles the ball twice before dropping it, but is nevertheless paid the mark by umpire Jolley. From a distance of approximately 45 metres out almost directly in front Richardson's high, tumbling punt kick just does enough as it narrowly avoids striking the left hand goal post. Collingwood 8.11; Carlton 3.3
22 mins McKenna, who only minutes earlier had been in the hands of the trainers after sustaining a heavy blow to the head, has recovered sufficiently to out-maneuver Hall at centre half forward and pull down a strong mark. Hall protests to umpire Jolley that McKenna's use of the body had transgressed the bounds of propriety, but to no avail, and the Magpie hero raises the ball above his head in a gesture of triumphant celebration. Kicks for goal from less than 50 metres out on no appreciable angle are meat and drink to the Collingwood maestro and he promptly slots home his fifth goal of the game. Collingwood 9.11; Carlton 3.4
27 mins Carlton full forward Alex Jesaulenko, who had been in doubt during the week preceding the grand final after injuring an ankle during the preliminary final win over St Kilda, takes one of the most famous marks of all time (left).
29 mins A bounce down occurs on Carlton's left half forward flank. Collingwood ruckman Dunne wins the hit out but it goes straight to Silvagni, who handballs in front of himself and appears to get a nudge in the back from Tuddenham. The umpire promptly awards a free and Silvagni, from a distance of 40 metres out almost straight in front, unloads a perfect torpedo punt which sails right through the centre of the goals at just below goal post height. Collingwood 9.12; Carlton 4.5
31 mins Dean receives a free at half forward right and spots Tuddenham standing unmarked in the right forward pocket. He finds him with no trouble, and the former Magpie skipper's tired looking punt kick somehow manages to squeeze through for a six-pointer. Collingwood 10.13; Carlton 4.5
The siren sounds a minute or so later to end a first half in which Collingwood's dominance had been consummate.
HALF TIME: Collingwood 10.13 (73); Carlton 4.5 (29)
During the half time break Carlton coach Ron Barassi allegedly issued his famous injunction to his players to "handball, handball, handball" in an effort to 'up the ante' and increase the pressure on the their opponents.
3 mins Croswell takes a strong mark in a pack near the true centre half forward position and immediately plays on with a handpass to Walls who launches a high kick to full forward. Jones' attempt to mark is spoiled from behind by Eakins but the ball drops straight to Hopkins, Carlton's 19th man, and, from the front edge of the goal square, he makes no mistake. Collingwood 10.13; Carlton 5.5
4 mins At centre half back for Collingwood, Jenkin palms the ball to Waters who is almost immediately wrapped up by Goold. Umpire Jolley, somewhat controversially, blows up for holding the ball, although it is extremely doubtful that Waters had what in later years would come to be termed 'prior opportunity'. Goold kicks wide to the lead of Jesaulenko between half forward left and the left forward pocket; initially, the ball bounces off the Carlton spearhead's chest, but he recovers quickly and sends a left foot centering kick high into the teeth of the goal square where it spins off hands to Hopkins, who goals easily. Collingwood 10.13; Carlton 6.5
7 mins Jackson (right) collects the ball deep in the right forward pocket for Carlton and, under intense pressure, turns in field, away from goal onto his left foot, and, from an acute angle, somehow manages to squeeze the ball through for full points. Collingwood 10.13; Carlton 7.5
8 mins From the centre bounce following the goal Hopkins wins a holding the ball decision and kicks to centre half forward, where a scrimmage develops. Umpire Jolley somehow picks out a free to Croswell and the flamboyant Tasmanian has no difficulty in making Collingwood pay to the full. Collingwood 10.14; Carlton 8.5
10 mins Dean's high left foot clearance from the right back pocket for Collingwood is marked on the chest by Walls who, observing the coach's half time dictum to the letter, plays on immediately with a handball to Hopkins. Chased by Dunne, the blond Carlton rover just manages to avoid being tackled before getting his boot to the ball. From a distance of roughly 35 metres from goal on a 45 degree angle he watches his kick land virtually on the goal line, where it bounces and, after seeming to hang in the air for an age, eventually floats over to bring the Blues to within 15 points. Collingwood 10.14; Carlton 9.5
12 mins Walls marks Crane's pass at centre half forward and plays on quickly, inviting an attempted spoil from Potter by feinting to kick before dodging around him and then goaling with a majestic drop punt. All the initiative now clearly lies with the Blues. Collingwood 10.14; Carlton 10.5
14 mins From a boundary throw in in Carlton's right forward pocket Nicholls deftly palms the ball to Hopkins who just manages to get boot to ball before being flung to the ground by Tully (left). The ball tumbles forward along the ground to Jesaulenko who has time to steady himself, take aim, and fire a low trajectory drop punt straight through the middle. Carlton have now kicked seven straight goals in the last 10 minutes of play. Collingwood 10.14; Carlton 11.5
20 mins Waters just in front of centre is awarded a somewhat dubious mark after merely tapping the ball in the air twice before dropping it. He then sends a perfectly weighted drop kick right into the arms of Thompson centre half forward and the immense Collingwood ruckman makes no mistake. Collingwood 11.15; Carlton 11.5
22 mins Jesaulenko is awarded a mystery free kick 20 metres from goal on a 45 degree angle and he measures his kick to perfection to register his 2nd goal of the term and match. Collingwood 11.15; Carlton 12.5
23 mins Thompson launches a high kick into the goal square where Dunne gets rather more of the ball than had Waters 3 minutes earlier but initially the umpire does not seem impressed. As the ball goes to ground it is picked up by Tuddenham who is promptly 'necked' by Waite, eliciting a peep on umpire Jolley's whistle. Confusion briefly reigns, however, until it emerges that Jolley has awarded the mark to Dunne after all. Dunne has no difficulty in registering full points. Collingwood 12.15; Carlton 12.5
28 mins Dunne takes a strong overhead mark between right centre wing and half forward right and his perfectly timed drop kick reaches full forward where McKenna takes an equally strong grab. From 20 metres out directly in front he coolly snares his sixth major. Collingwood 13.15; Carlton 12.5
Two minutes later McKenna misses to the right in open play from virtually the same spot. The siren sounds shortly after.
THREE QUARTER TIME: Collingwood 13.16 (94); Carlton 12.5 (77)
5 mins McKay just manages to keep the ball in play in Carlton's right back pocket and clears toward centre half back with a skyscraping punt kick. Despite being opposed by three Carlton players in Crane, Robertson and Silvagni it is Collingwood's Greening who pulls down the mark before propelling the ball towards full forward where Thompson out-muscles McKay to take a telling grab. From 15 metres out on a 45 degree angle he runs in field slightly to improve his perspective on goal and scores with ease. Collingwood 14.16; Carlton 12.7
8 mins Jesaulenko successfully stages for a free kick 60 metres from goal. His slightly mistimed torpedo punt is juggled in the goal square by Nicholls but Tuddenham, who perhaps assumes that the Carlton big man will hold the mark, grabs him around the neck to concede an obvious free. From point blank range 'Big Nick' has no trouble in scoring full points. Collingwood 14.16; Carlton 13.7
10 mins Jones' dilapidated looking punt kick from half forward left floats to within 20 metres of goal giving Nicholls, who is behind two Collingwood opponents, plenty of time to size up the situation before marking powerfully. Thousands of onlookers already have the goal written down in their copies of 'Football Record' by the time the Blues champion's punt kick splits the centre. Collingwood 14.16; Carlton 14.8
20 mins Eakins' attempted clearing kick from centre half back is smothered by fellow sandgroper Jackson who runs on through heavy traffic before collecting the ball and handballing over the heads of two Collingwood opponents to an unmarked Ted Hopkins. The Carlton small man has time to steady himself and carefully measure his kick, which he steers right through the middle of the goals. The Blues are now within a point of their opponents, prompting Channel 7 commentator Mike Williamson to start speculating over whether "we'll be back here again next week". Collingwood 14.16; Carlton 15.9
25 mins Umpire Jolley bounces the ball 20 metres from the Carlton goal. Crosswell steps in and snares the ball and is immediately caught high by (who else?) Tuddenham. He calmly steps back and fires the Blues into the lead for the first time in the match. Carlton 16.9; Collingwood 14.16
28 mins McKenna fumbles in his attempt to mark at centre half forward and Silvagni gathers the ball and clears towards a group of players just ahead of centre. Collingwood's Clifton is first to the ball but only succeeds in knocking it straight to Jesaulenko who gratefully snaps it up before almost instantaneously swinging his left boot onto it and watching, in a mixture of glee and amazement, as it tumbles haphazardly goalwards, bouncing first almost vertically, and then, as if being sucked by an irresistible force, horizontally through the goals. Destiny, it seems, has spoken. Carlton 17.9; Collingwood 14.16
29 mins Dunne, who appears to be suffering from cramp, misses a comparatively easy shot for goal after having been awarded a free kick 35 metres out directly in front. Seven years later he would be presented with an even more vital late scoring opportunity on grand final day, and would kick truly to level the scores, but on this occasion his failure to register full points effectively brings to an end the Collingwood challenge. The siren sounds moments later.
FINAL SCORE: Carlton 17.9 (111); Collingwood 14.17 (101)
Carlton: Crosswell, McKay, Silvagni, Robertson, Jackson, Jesaulenko, Nicholls
Collingwood: Dunne, Tuddenham, W.Richardson, Eakins, Jenkin, Waters
Carlton: Hopkins 4; Jesaulenko 3; Crosswell, Gallagher, Nicholls, Walls 2; Jackson, Silvagni
Collingwood: McKenna 6; Dunne, Thompson, Tuddenham 2; Britt, W. Richardson
ATTENDANCE: 121,696 (record) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
Given the allegedly stunning effectiveness of Carlton coach Ron Barassi's half time injunction to his players to play on at every opportunity, and use handball in order to open up the game, the 1970 VFL grand final has earned itself a prominent place in football's unofficial, anecdotal hall of fame. But just how faithfully did the Carlton players adhere to their coaches instructions? And to what extent did their doing so influence the result of the game? Although statistics can be notoriously misleading, this is arguably one occasion when a statistical analysis might afford some insight.
The table below displays totals for each category per quarter as well as for the entire match. The figures in brackets represent the percentages (rounded up) of those totals which could be deemed to be effective, i.e. in the case of disposals, those which resulted in the team retaining possession, and in the case of shots for goal, those which were successful in registering full points. Drop Kicks include stab passes. Punt Kicks include flat punts, torpedo punts, and checkside/reverse screw punts. All other classifications should be self-explanatory.
|CARLTON||1st Q||2nd Q||3rd Q||4th Q||Match|
|Drop kicks||4 (0%)||4 (25%)||6 (50%)||4 (25%)||18 (28%)|
|Punk kicks||23 (13%)||29 (38%)||34 (44%)||35 (34%)||121 (34%)|
|Drop punts||20 (25%)||17 (35%)||17 (71%)||16 (63%)||70 (47%)|
|Grubbers||1 (0%)||1 (100%)||2 (50%)||4 (75%)||8 (63%)|
|Soccer kicks||1 (0%)||0||0||3 (0%)||4 (0%)|
|All kicks||49 (16%)||51 (37%)||59 (53%)||62 (69%)||221 (38%)|
|Handballs||9 (67%)||11 (64%)||19 (63%)||13 (69%)||52 (65%)|
|COLLINGWOOD||1st Q||2nd Q||3rd Q||4th Q||Match|
|Drop kicks||4 (25%)||3 (67%)||12 (50%)||2 (50%)||21 (48%)|
|Punk kicks||37 (41%)||20 (45%)||22 (32%)||23 (17%)||102 (34%)|
|Drop punts||34 (44%)||29 (52%)||23 (70%)||18 (33%)||104 (50%)|
|Grubbers||1 (100%)||0||3 (0%)||0||4 (25%)|
|Soccer kicks||0||1 (100%)||0||3 (0%)||1 (100%)|
|All kicks||76 (42%)||53 (51%)||60 (62%)||43 (26%)||232 (43%)|
|Handballs||17 (71%)||7 (100%)||8 (50%)||7 (100%)||39 (77%)|
It seems evident from the above table that the drop kick was well on its way toward extinction, although a handful of players in this particular game - Jackson and Robertson for Carlton, Greening for Collingwood - continued to favour it. Meanwhile, the drop punt was emerging as the main alternative to the flat punt or torpedo. By the end of the seventies, the drop punt would be the most popular kick in the game, while the drop kick would have virtually disappeared. A decade earlier, by contrast, the drop kick was still quite prevalent, while the drop punt tended to be regarded almost as an oddity. Exemplifying this, during the 1961 VFL grand final between Hawthorn and Footscray, of the 437 kicks effected during the match, only 2 were drop punts, with the remainder comprising 293 punts, 105 drop kicks, 24 soccer kicks and 13 grubbers. For comparison, the equivalent statistics for the 1977 VFL grand final between North Melbourne and Collingwood were: drop punts 255; punts 172; drop kicks 1; soccer kicks 4; grubbers 18.¹ In rather less than two decades therefore, one important facet of the game - kicking - had altered fundamentally.
What then of the 'play on' game? As the above statistics show, the Carlton players utilised handball more frequently in the second half - 32 instances as opposed to 20 - and they certainly played on a lot more - 20 times as opposed to five. Moreover, their handballs were just as effective after half time as they had been before (65%). That said, one is forced to question just how much of an overall impact 21 accurate handballs (the total managed by the Blues all game) could have had on the eventual outcome. Of somewhat greater significance, perhaps, is the fact that Carlton enjoyed 56% of the possession after half time compared to Collingwood's 44% - an exact reversal of the first half statistics. Carlton's disposals were also noticeably more accurate in the second half (51% compared to 34%), while Collingwood's disposals became increasingly wayward as the match went on (44% accuracy in the second half compared with 50% in the first). As far as playing on goes, the Magpies did this only marginally fewer times overall than the Blues (21 as against 25), and so it seems unlikely that this factor alone could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the match. Carlton's players did handball more than their Collingwood opponents, but again this is arguably more than counterbalanced by the Magpies having had more kicks, taken more marks, and overall been more accurate with their disposal by both hand (43% to 38%) and foot (77% to 65%).
As was noted above, however, statistics can be notoriously misleading. In the aforementioned 1961 grand final, for example, there were a total of 88 handballs, only 3 fewer than in 1970. However, no one watching the two matches back to back could be in any doubt as to the game's having evolved significantly during the years between them. In 1961, handball tended to be used as a last resort, most notably when a player was being tackled and was thereby being prevented from kicking the ball; it was hardly ever used creatively or offensively, and only once during the entire match did either team produce a sequence of as many as three successive handpasses. In contrast, by 1970 a player in possession of the ball would often see a handpass as his preferred method of disposal, regardless of how much immediate pressure he was under. In other words, handball had become part of a team's offensive armoury. (The other point to be made is that in 1961 it was technically easier to effect a handball than would later be the case, given that the flick pass - which when perpetrated by the likes of Footscray captain-coach Ted Whitten was sometimes scarcely distinguishable from a throw - was still legal. Of the 88 handballs executed during the 1961 grand final, 18 were flick passes.)
To suggest, as some people still do, that the 1970 VFL grand final witnessed the 'birth of the modern game' is clearly laughable. (Apart from anything else, it presupposes that all significant innovations in football took place in the VFL, which is palpable nonsense.) However, just as the previous season's grand final clash between Richmond and Carlton or that of 1967 between Richmond and Geelong had done, it clearly showcased some of the key ways in which the game was evolving, and, given that it was a grand final, this has, perhaps understandably if not quite forgivably, given rise to an inflated perception of its significance. Ultimately, however, it seems perfectly clear that the Blues won the 1970 VFL premiership not because of a revolutionary implementation of the 'play on' game (they actually played on more, and more effectively, in their loss to Richmond in the 1969 grand final), but because, after half time, they produced better football than Collingwood. By this is meant that they were more effective at winning the ball, distributed it more accurately, and were able to limit their opponents' success in doing likewise. In a sense therefore, far from heralding the birth of a new era, the 1970 grand final merely gave one or two minor fresh twists to an age-old story, affirming in effect what anyone who has ever played the game already knows: that success in football hinges much more on aptitude and attitude than tactics.
1. It should perhaps be mentioned that both the 1961 and 1977 grand finals were played on mild, sunny afternoons, and - most crucially - the playing surface was dry and hard.
Andrew McConville 28 October 2022
Interesting article, just a side note, none of those frees to the Blues were 'dubious' :-). I remember being in standing room as a youngster with my family and forlornly barracking for the Blues when just before half time a middle aged Collingwood supporter told me to shut up and look at the scoreboard. I didn't think anyone else had heard the comment, but on the final siren, as he tried to make a quick getaway all the crowd around me reminded him to about the scoreboard - a valuable lesson in humility for him I think.
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