1962 in review: Back to Earth with a thud for Sandgropers
Bunton's Swans Remain Benchmark In West
In terms of attendances and public interest, the WANFL enjoyed a boom year in 1962. There were a number of reasons for this, not least of which was the stimulus to the game brought about by Western Australia’s stunning success at the 1961 Brisbane carnival. Other factors included the instilling of new life into the competition by Haydn Bunton junior’s ‘rags to riches’ Swan Districts combination, and the fact that the 1962 season saw “an incredibly fierce”¹ race for the finals, which was not ultimately resolved until deep into time-on on the last Saturday of the minor round.
That minor round saw numerous attendance records broken, including the all time record aggregates for both a split round (47,512 in round 3) and an ordinary round (38,348 in round 16). Overall, crowd figures broke the 800,000 barrier for the first time, while the 27,524 fans who turned up for the 1st semi final between West Perth and South Fremantle also constituted a record.
Reigning premiers Swan Districts did not have things all their own way in 1962 in what was an extraordinarily evenly contested season, with a mere 6 wins separating first from seventh, and even bottom side Claremont (4 wins and 17 losses) managing a stirring come from behind victory against eventual runners up East Fremantle. Ultimately, however, 14 wins from their 21 minor round matches was good enough to see Swans top the ladder for the first time in their history; East Fremantle was half a win behind in 2nd place, while South Fremantle and West Perth, both with 12 wins, made up the remainder of the ‘four’.
After seeming to have a mortgage on the double chance earlier in the season the southerners had suffered a mystifying loss of form which left them facing a ‘do or die’ round 21 tussle with East Perth at Fremantle Oval after which the winners would qualify for a knock-out semi final against West Perth, while for the losers it would be ‘mothballs’ for season 1962. In front of 13,188 spectators, its biggest home crowd of the season, South Fremantle struggled for most of the match, and midway through the final term looked down and out; however, during the last ten minutes of the match players who hitherto had been out of sorts suddenly found hidden reservoirs of strength while their Royals counterparts began to wilt. The upshot of it all was that the Bulldogs kicked the last three goals of the game to sneak a 7 point win, 18.16 (124) to 17.15 (117).² Their glee was shortlived, however, as, after a closely fought first three quarters in the following week’s 1st semi final, West Perth, inspired by its formidable captain Brian Foley (pictured left, marking), added 3.7 to 0.3 in the final stanza to win ‘pulling away’.³
The 2nd semi final saw Swan Districts firm as premiership favourites with a 17.9 (111) to 11.10 (76) defeat of East Fremantle,⁴ but Old Easts’ stunning 22.14 (146) to 9.16 (70) preliminary final obliteration of the Cardinals caused many pundits to regard the grand final re-match as ‘line ball’.⁵
Swan Districts, however, with Keith Slater controlling the rucks, and winners on every line such as full back Joe Lawson (right), centre half back Bagley, wingman Gray, half forward Watt and forward pocket-cum-rover Walker, exploded out of the blocks with 7 opening term goals to 1, and by ‘lemon time’ the grand final was effectively over. Old Easts at least managed 5 late goals to reduce the margin at the end to 18 points, and they did provide the Simpson Medallist in Ray Sorrell, but no one at the ground was left in any doubt that Swans were by some considerable measure the superior team.⁶
Swan Districts also provided arguably the two finest players of the season in captain-coach Haydn Bunton junior, who won both the Sandover Medal and two of the three main media awards, and shrewd and highly effective ruckman Keith Slater, who was successful in the other media prize. Bunton’s Sandover victory made him the first son of a former winner to claim the honour, his father Haydn Bunton senior having been a three time Medallist with Subiaco. The younger Bunton may have lacked his father’s elegance and poise, but no one could possibly question his determination, strength of will and toughness; as a child he had suffered for many years from a serious, crippling illness, while only three years earlier he had had to have his right knee cap removed following a car accident in Tasmania. As a player, his ability to win possession of the ball under duress was unequalled; in one match against South Fremantle during the 1962 season statisticians credited him with no fewer than 88 kicks, 55 of them in the first half. His handball statistics were not recorded, but given that Bunton was renowned at the time as one of the most prolific practitioners of that particular art, it is hard not to imagine his having exceeded 100 total possessions for the match, an incredible, and quite possibly unsurpassed, achievement.⁷
Keith Slater probably deserves almost equal credit with Bunton for Swan Districts’ meteoric rise from cellar dwellers to perennial finalists. A supremely talented all round sportsman, he made no fewer than 21 interstate appearances for Western Australia, and was also a fine cricketer, representing his home state in the Sheffield Shield, and making one Test appearance for Australia.⁸
Another son of a famous father, Austin Robertson junior of Subiaco, hit the headlines in 1962 by registering 89 goals during the home and away rounds to top the WANFL goal kicking list. Aged just 19, the former Scotch College pupil served notice of an outstanding career in prospect in what was his ‘big league’ debut season. Quick, agile and an unwaveringly accurate kick for goal, Robertson shared not only his father’s astuteness and skill, but also his memorably distinctive nickname of ‘Ocker’; much more would be heard of this formidable talent in years to come.⁹
Victorians Re-establish Interstate Dominance
If 1962 was a memorable season domestically, however, in another, equally important sense it was an extremely disappointing year for Western Australian football. The state side travelled to Melbourne in June hopeful of not only repeating its heroic success against the ‘Big V’ of the previous year, but of winning at the MCG for the first time ever. An all time record interstate match crowd of 64,724 turned up anxious to see a restoration of Victorian supremacy, and in the end they went home highly satisfied; at quarter time, however, they could perhaps have been excused for thinking that the players were following the same script as for the previous season’s Brisbane carnival encounter.
With Brian Foley, Les Mumme, Haydn Bunton and John Todd to the fore, the Western Australians matched the home side in every facet of the game, and ended the opening term 5 points to the good. Thereafter, however, it was a quintessential case of 'men against boys' as the navy and white machine lurched ominously into top gear, adding 22.7 to 4.8 over the remainder of the match to win with an ease that was as consummate as it was unexpected. Geelong’s Doug Wade (left) booted 10.2 for the victors, who after the first quarter had winning rovers in Johnny Birt and Bob Skilton, the best ruckman on the ground in John Nicholls, and other fine players in Ted Whitten, Graeme Ion, Ron Barassi and Brian Dixon.¹⁰
On the same afternoon in front of 15,310 spectators at North Hobart Oval Victoria’s ‘B’ team overcame a stern 3rd quarter challenge from Tasmania, which got within 5 points at one stage, to pull away in the end to an emphatic 42 point victory, 11.19 (85) to 5.13 (43). Earlier in the season the Tasmanians had played host to the VFA at Devonport where, in front of a crowd of 10,255, they had fought back strongly from a 26 point three quarter time deficit to go under in the end by just one straight kick. Final scores were VFA 12.15 (87) to Tasmania 12.9 (81). It was the first time the two sides had played one another in Devonport.¹¹
On the Saturday after its game against Victoria on the MCG, Western Australia met South Australia on the Adelaide Oval with its squad seriously weakened by an influenza virus. Indeed, “at least eight of the players would have been declared unfit had they been named at home to play in a club match”.¹² In the circumstances therefore it was no disgrace to lose by only 32 points after staying right in touch with the croweaters until half time.
The Western Australian half back line, notably Ken Bagley and Denis Marshall, was in superbly resilient form throughout, while Keith Slater was the game’s dominant ruckman. Across centre, however, the home side, with centreman Don Hewett most observers’ choice as best afield, remained comprehensively on top all match, while ruck-rover Neil Kerley and rover Jeff Potter combined well to negate a certain amount of Slater’s good work in the ruck.¹³ The South Australian press was not pleased, however, with one reporter suggesting that the team would have to “improve ten goals” to beat the Vics in three weeks time.¹⁴
Far from improving, however, South Australia put in its worst interstate performance since 1959 when it allowed the formidably pumped up Victorians to seize control right from the start, and indeed the longer the match went on the less of a realistic challenge the croweaters offered. The VFL went on to more than double South Australia’s score, winning 13.17 (95) to 6.11 (47), with Richmond’s Ron Branton (right) vying for best afield honours with team mate Verdun Howell of St Kilda. ‘Big V’ full forward Doug Wade again played well, adding 5.4 to the 10 goals kicked against Western Australia, while for South Australia centreman Don Hewett was once again, by some measure, the pick of a somewhat mediocre bunch.¹⁵
Season Of Controversy In SA
Football’s unpredictability was starkly demonstrated a fortnight later when the South Australians ventured to Subiaco Oval, a venue which, so often in the past, had proved a graveyard for their ambitions, and turned in “a superb display of football ability and courage”.¹⁶ South Australia was forced to omit Neil Kerley and Geof Motley from its starting line up after the pair failed fitness tests on the morning of the match, and worse was to follow after injuries to Potter, Hayes, Kernahan (below left) and Bills left the team with only 16 fit men for the vital final term which started with Western Australia 9.14 to 8.8 ahead.
In a performance that was as full of resolve and courage as the display against the VFL had been inept and wayward, South Australia added 3.4 to no score in a tempestuous last quarter to win both the match and the acclaim of the usually partisan Perth crowd, which reserved a special ovation for ruckman Harry Kernahan, the victim of a broken collar bone, who nevertheless elected to fight through the pain barrier and stay on the field, where he ended up making a more than modest contribution to his team's final term effort.¹⁷
The 1962 SANFL season was largely the story of three coaches. In the first place, Jack Oatey, whose revolutionary ideas on the game had positively transformed the fortunes of Norwood (1945 to 1956) and West Adelaide (1957 to 1960) had, after a one year break from the game, been persuaded to take over the coaching reins at Sturt, a club which had had made only sporadic finals appearances since World War Two. Oatey was initially reluctant to resume coaching, but had finally been talked around by Blues chairman Ray Kutcher.¹⁸ Ultimately, ‘the Oatey era’ would develop into far and away the most successful in Sturt’s history, but in 1962 “you couldn’t help feeling that Oatey and his players weren’t operating on the same wavelength”.¹⁹ The Blues managed just 4 wins from 19 matches and finished just one place off the bottom.
The second coach to make headlines in 1962 was Fos Williams who returned to the coaching helm at Port Adelaide having spent the 1960 season at South Adelaide, and after having enjoyed a sabbatical in 1961. The Williams method was immediately applied to great effect to restore the Magpies to pole position in South Australian football. That method had previously garnered six successive premierships,²⁰ with its chief ingredients being well known:
Tremendous team work, understanding and confidence. Sometimes ability seems to be an afterthought. It is hard to imagine Port paying thousands of pounds to import interstate players and coaches. ²¹
This last remark was a reference clubs like Norwood, which had endeavoured, without success, to ‘buy’ a premiership by appointing, at considerable expense, renowned firebrand orator Alan Killigrew as coach, and West Torrens, whose failed attempts to do the same had involved the appointment as coach of legendary former Essendon player and coach Dick Reynolds, along with experienced Bomber half back or centreman Bob Shearman (right), who had earned All Australian honours in his first season with the Eagles in 1961, and who would go on to captain the club in 1963 and 1964.
Perhaps the most dramatic story involving a coach in 1962 centred around Neil Kerley, who following his success in steering West Adelaide to a premiership in 1961 went within 3 points of doing the same this year. West’s performance was all the more meritorious in that it had been blown off Adelaide Oval to the tune of 61 points by grand final opponents Port Adelaide in the 2nd semi final a fortnight earlier. A solid 29 point preliminary final win over Norwood bolstered confidence, but even so there were few who expected Kerley’s mob to get anywhere near the all powerful Magpies when it counted.
As it was, West faced significant obstacles even before the opening bounce, with 1962 Magarey Medallist Ken Eustice and 1961 All Australian Don Roach both failing fitness tests on the morning of the match. Then, in a match where the lead changed hands repeatedly and there were seldom more than a couple of kicks separating the teams, Westies’ three main goal kickers unaccountably decided to put in their worst collective display of the season, managing just 1.11 between them.²² Of course, some of the credit for this must go to the redoubtable Port backline, but one is hard pressed to find anything but praise for West Adelaide’s effort in going so close to a second successive premiership against virtually all the odds.
Praise, however, was the last thing on the minds of West’s club committee, who in a decision that seems even more extraordinary with the benefit of hindsight, elected not to reappoint Neil Kerley as coach for the 1963 season. Kerley’s contribution to the club in 1962 had been unsurpassed, for in addition to his coaching achievements he had won West’s best and fairest player award, the Trabilsie Trophy, for the fourth time in five years – and this in a season when, as mentioned above, team mate Ken Eustice had been voted the best and fairest player in South Australia.
Allegedly, no reasons were ever given to Kerley for what, to all intents and purposes, constituted a dismissal, but given that relationships between key figures at football clubs often tend to be fairly combustible one feels constrained to speculate that the man who was popularly referred to as 'Knuckles' did not always enjoy the most harmonious of relationships with those holding the purse strings - and hence the real power - at Richmond Oval.²³
Robins On A Roll
In Tasmania, North Hobart’s dominance at both TFL and state level continued. In the TFL grand final, watched by a record crowd of 19,311, the Robins proved just that little bit steadier than a determined Clarence team, which was contesting that club’s first ever premiership decider at this level, and edged home by 15 points, 10.12 (72) to 7.15 (57).²⁴ Shortly afterwards, North Hobart’s second successive state title was gained on home turf at the expense of NWFU premier Burnie, which had overcome NTFA premier City-South at Launceston in the preliminary final.
Plummeting Hawks And High-Flying Bombers
Among the major talking points of the 1962 VFL season were reigning premier Hawthorn’s failure to reach the finals – the Hawks won just 5 games and finished a dismal ninth – and the enthralling and controversial preliminary final marathon between Carlton and Geelong, which began with only the third tied finals match in VFL history. Carlton’s 1961 Brownlow Medallist John James (pictured below, left), who had been controversially dropped to 19th man for this game,²⁵ almost won it for the Blues at the death, but his long range snap shot ended up missing everything and sailing out of bounds. The final scoreboard read Geelong 13.7 (85) to Carlton 12.13 (85).²⁶
The following Saturday’s replay, in front of a record preliminary final crowd of 99,203, was just as exciting, and ended in a welter of controversy. With moments to go, and Carlton in the lead by 5 points, Geelong full forward Doug Wade, who already had 6.1 to his name, marked about thirty metres from goal directly in front, only for umpire Irving to take the ball off him and hand it to his opponent, Peter Barry. Irvine later said that Wade had been holding Barry by the shorts, but most media observers were scathing of the decision. Seconds later, before Barry could even take his free kick, the siren sounded to propel Carlton into a grand final showdown with minor premier Essendon, which had lost only twice all year.²⁷
The grand final actually attracted fewer spectators than the preliminary final replay, with a crowd of 98,385 turning up to see a lacklustre game that was as good as over by quarter time, the Dons having by that stage accumulated 6.5 to the Blues’ paltry 1.1. Thereafter both sides managed 7 goals, but Carlton never seriously threatened to overhaul the Bombers, for whom centreman Jack Clarke, rover John Birt and “will-o-the-wisp”²⁸ ruck rover Hugh Mitchell were superb. The Blues had been well served by Sergio Silvagni and John James, but overall they had been “run.......off their feet.”²⁹
Geelong players won the main individual plaudits in 1962, with Doug Wade kicking 68 goals to top the goal kicking list for the first time, and classy, elusive centreman Alistair Lord running away with the Brownlow Medal nine votes ahead of his nearest rivals, Richmond’s Ron Branton, Essendon’s Ken Fraser, and Kevin Murray of Fitzroy.
Sandringham's Amazing Grand Final Comeback
The VFA’s two-division system entered its second year and continued to prove popular with fans. The division one grand final at Junction Oval saw one of the greatest come from behind victories in the competition’s history as Sandringham, 44 points in arrears at the last change against Moorabbin, added 8.3 to a solitary goal in a rampaging final quarter to squeeze home by a point.³⁰ In 2nd division, Dandenong scored a comprehensive victory over Prahran, 16.24 (120) to 8.12 (60).³¹ Both grand finals attracted crowds in the region of 11,000.³²
Minor States Round-Up
Victoria was also the venue for the eighth staging of the Australian Amateur Football Council interstate championships which saw the home state extend its unbeaten record in carnivals to 14 games. Tasmania, which beat both South Australia and Western Australia, finished as runner up for the first ever time. Future Test cricketers Ian Redpath (Victoria) and Eric Freeman (South Australia - right) participated in the carnival.³³
One week after the conclusion of the championships, an All Australian amateur side, selected from players who had competed at the carnival, travelled to Manuka Oval where it scored a hard fought, 14 point win over a Canberra combined team,³⁴ in what was the only representative match played by any of the minor states and territories in 1962.
The ACTAFL premiership went to Eastlake after one of the lowest scoring grand finals on record. In conditions that "would have been more suitable….for the America's Cup than a footsprawl match……(Eastlake) manager Jack Chandler blotted his copybook by forgetting to bring the snorkels".³⁵ Notwithstanding Chandler's oversight, Eastlake overcame reigning premiers Ainslie quite comfortably, 4.9 (33) to 2.6 (18).
The NSWANFL grand final saw Sydney Naval triumph over Newtown by 31 points to procure a second flag in three years, while Mayne's 16.13 (109) to 9.13 (67) grand final defeat of Coorparoo brought the Tigers' their second premiership in succession. In the NTFL, St Marys recovered from its 1960/61 hiatus with a perfunctory 10.12 (72) to 8.8 (56) grand final victory over Buffaloes.
After the tumultuous excitement of a 1961 season which witnessed many upsets, breakthroughs and dramatic events, 1962 represented something of a return to the status quo. However, those who derived solace from such a development would all too soon be clutching their comfort blankets in despair, as 1963 would bring yet another series of giddying, disorientating challenges to football's established order.
1. Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 4.
2. Ibid., pages 86-87.
3. Ibid., pages 88-89.
4. Ibid., pages 90-91.
5. Ibid., pages 93-94.
6. Who’s Who In West Australian Football 1986, pages 53 and 56.
7. Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 38. Graeme Atkinson’s and Michael Hanlon’s 3AW Book of Footy Records, page 54, suggests that some statisticians claimed Bunton had more than 100 kicks in this game.
8. The official WAFL website at www.wafl.com.au, and The Footballers by Geoff Christian, page 74.
9. Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 8, and Diehards 1946-2000: The Story Of The Subiaco Football Club by Ken Spillman, pages 90-91.
10. Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, pages 54-55.
11. A Century Of Tasmanian Football 1879-1979 by Ken Pinchin, page 107, and The Pioneers by Marc Fiddian, page 34, although the latter source incorrectly gives the venue of the Tasmania-VFA match as Hobart.
12. Ibid., page 57.
13. Ibid., pages 57-58, and South Australian National Football League 1963 Official Yearbook, pages 15 and 16.
14. SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 15.
15. Ibid., page 17.
16. Ross Elliott’s Western Australian Football Register 1962, page 74.
17. SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 18.
18. True Blue: The History of the Sturt Football Club by John Lysikatos, page 180.
19. SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 77.
20. Technically, Geof Motley was in charge for the sixth of these premierships in 1959, “but even he would admit that he just pulled the levers that operated the machine patented by F.N. Williams”. SANFL 1963 Official Yearbook, page 51.
21. Ibid., page 51.
22. Knuckles: The Neil Kerley Story by Jim Rosevear, page 75.
23. Ibid., page 76.
24. Pinchin, op cit., page 106.
25. The Encyclopedia Of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 212.
26. The Complete Book Of VFL Finals From 1897 To The Present by Graeme Atkinson, page 203.
27. Ibid., page 203. The Bombers’ losses were by 17 points against Hawthorn at Glenferrie in round 8, and by 37 points in round 17 against Footscray at the Western Oval. (Source: Every Game Ever Played: VFL/AFL Results 1897-1991 by Stephen Rodgers, pages 459 and 461.)
28. Main and Holmesby, op cit., page 301.
29. Atkinson, op cit., page 204.
30. The Roar Of The Crowd: A History Of VFA Grand Finals by Marc Fiddian, page 78.
31. Ibid., page 80.
32. Ibid., page 158.
33. A History Of The South Australian Amateur Football League 1911-1994 by Fred Bloch, pages 155-157, and For The Love Of The Game: A Centenary History Of the Victorian Amateur Football Association 1892-1992 by Joseph Johnson, page 123.
34. Bloch, op cit., page 157, and The National Game in the National Capital by Barbara Marshall, page 115.
35. Eastlake club notes, cited in Marshall, op cit., page 115.