1977, as seen via the 'Footy Record'
The 1977 season was beautifully captured from a North Melbourne perspective by John Powers in his seminal tome, The Coach, since reprinted several times and again this year by Slattery Media. In this piece, I do not attempt to emulate Powers' work in any way, but rather look back at the season as I remember it as a 12-year-old by leafing through the Football Records from that year, fortunately saved by my mother from the recycle bin.
A week, they say, is a long time in footy. For footy fans, a year can seem an eternity - especially if your team's premiership quest had ended without victory. At those moments next season's finals feel like they're a millions miles away.
If a year feels like that, how about 40 years? Relatively speaking, wondering what will happen 40 years from now in the AFL probably requires the perspective of an almost geological timescale. And for today's 'younguns', 40 years back in time must feel similarly prehistoric. For those of us who lived through it, while it can at times also seem ancient, it can at other moments feel proverbially like it was only yesterday. An interview with a player of the time or an old television highlights reel can bring specific moments back into sharp focus, and the long lost memories, sounds and emotions can quickly resurface.
Science tells us that the basest of all senses is smell. A particular scent can help evoke a memory far more powerfully than a picture or a sound might. It is certainly true in my case, and when I opened up a storage box some time ago and pulled out the Football Records of my childhood, their particular combinational smell of the paper and ink brought it all flooding back for me.
The 1977 season was the last in which the Football Record was produced in black and white on newsprint-style paper. From 1978 the VFL's official organ was produced in colour in glossy paper, a change that came with an accompanying price rise to 30 cents.
In 1977, though, a 20-cent coin got you 32 pages of all the information you needed to know when heading into the Western Oval in West Footscray, Princes Park in Carlton, Glenferrie Oval to see the Hawks, or the MCG to see either Melbourne or Richmond on 'hallowed' turf.
To say that the Record in 1977 was a black and white publication is not strictly true. In fact the front cover logo would be 'stamped' in a different colour each week, red one week, blue the next, perhaps green the week after. As a kid, I can remember looking forward to getting to the Western Oval every second week and finding out what colour this week's edition would be.
The front-cover colour of the week would also be sprinkled throughout the pages of the Record, either as a page header ("SENIOR AND RESERVE LIST PLAYERS") or as part of the ad on the back page, which through the late 1960s into the '70s was usually an ad for the now long gone Golden Fleece petrol stations.
In the round one edition of the Record, VFL President Allen Aylett's season-opening 'address' on page three promised us the "most exciting season of our 80 year history" and that various VFL initiatives would "prove that '77 WILL BE THE START OF OUR GREATEST ERA". They were bold promises made by Dr. Aylett, a former North Melbourne star player and captain who as club president had taken the Kangaroos out of the 'dark ages' into a new era of professionalism and entertainment, and also landed the club its first flag in 1975.
The League itself recognised that it, too, needed to move into a new era of professionalism, and astutely identified Aylett as the man to do the job. His page-three missive in that first-round edition of the Record made it very clear that he believed he was the right man for the job and that he wouldn't be wasting any time in getting on with it.
Aylett' prediction of the 1977 season being the most exciting ever proved somewhat prophetic, although there was a fair element of luck involved with that, with the '77 Grand Final producing only the second-ever drawn premiership decider in the league's history and the first for 39 years. As for the new developments that heralded the league's "greatest era", they included:
- "New sponsorship to the tune of $150,000 for this season alone from the Marlboro company."
- "A new and exciting Night Series for the Herald-Amco Cup, involving $200,000 in prizemoney...telecast direct from VFL Park in full colour."
- "Tabella, the new form of betting on VFL scores, introduced by the State Government. The success of this will grow with the interest in our games in 1977."
Aylett went on to announce that football was
in the age of big business. The contribution League football make to the welfare of this State is show when it is realised that football is responsible for turning over almost $100 million annually in Victoria.
When viewed in the context of the literally hundreds of gambling options available for football matches today (Sportsbet has 239 available "markets" for each of the 2017 preliminary finals) the league and state government's joint Tabella initiative¹ seems rather quaint, but few would argue that Aylett during his eight-year tenure as VFL president transformed the game as we knew it. Ultimately his administration paved the way for the forming of the VFL commission and the nationalisation of the competition several years later.
But back to 1977. The Round 2 edition of the Record expanded on the night series concept, announcing that work on the "powerful new lights for VFL Park" was "proceeding with all haste" in time for the first-ever night match to be played at Waverley on May 17. That match saw Fitzroy take on North Melbourne. It was in fact the third match of the knock-out competition, with the first two matches having been played at South Melbourne's Lake Oval, where the old post-season night series had been played between 1956 and 1971.
The night series was a separate competition to the main VFL season, played each Tuesday night. The knock-out format necessarily meant that continuing success in each round would result in the wining teams having to play on Saturday, Tuesday and then Saturday again several times during the season. While this may not have been seen as an ideal arrangement in terms of players' fitness for Saturday matches, the prize-money on offer ($50,000 for the Grand Final winner) saw the 12 clubs seemingly take the competition very seriously. The inaugural winner of the series was Hawthorn, which defeated Carlton 14.11 (95) to 11.5 (71) in the Final on August 2.
As an adjunct the the night series, a curtain-raiser competition "involving lads from Secondary schools attached to each League club in the metropolitan and Geelong areas" was also initiated. Interest in the competition was high to the point where the Record advised that "VFL Manager of Administration ALAN SCHWAB has literally been besieged with enquiries from schools anxious to take part". With prize-money also on offer for the winner, the schoolboys competition went onto become a very successful feature of the season for years to come.
1977 was a particularly wet year in Melbourne, and the round 13 edition of the Record in its wrap-up of the previous week's matches was sprinkled with phrases such as "a waterlogged Western Oval", "trying conditions", "mud and water on Princes Park", "appalling conditions" and "a mud covered MCG". Despite that, the covers of the Record more often than not featured a 'screamer' from the week before, such as this one from Colin Dell (left). The spectacular snap of Dell's mark was taken by the Footscray Adveriser's Clem Lehrke, but the folk at the VFL correctly identified the photo as one worthy of a Football Record cover.
In many respects the Football Record of 1977 was not all that far removed from that of 2017. The centre pages listed the teams in order of jumper number on one side and as selected on the other, as today's issues still do. Other regular features still seen today included "LOOKING BACK" which, as the name suggests, looked back at the same round five, 10 and 20 years earlier, a puzzle page, the noting of player milestones, results from the previous round's matches, the league ladder and the season's leading goalkickers.
Some elements have been lost. A regular feature of the Record throughout my childhood was 'Progressive Match Scores', with space to write down the quarter-by-quarter scores of the other matches as relayed to us via the scoreboard at each ground. Scores from those games were 'coded' and if the scoreboard showed that 'G' was lead 'H' 14.6 to 11.9 at three-quarter time, only a copy of the Record would reveal that 'G' was in fact Richmond and that they held a 15-point lead over Hawthorn (H) at the last change.
Towards the back of the Record, a full list of race fields at Flemington or Caulfield (or wherever Melbourne's main race meeting was being held that day) was listed, and the results of each race were all displayed on the scoreboard as the afternoon wore on. As a kid I knew nothing of horse racing (and today that is still largely the case) but I used to enjoy making my 'selections' (complete guesses) in the Record and seeing how they would go as the afternoon unfolded.
One of the Record's regular sections that many would today find hard to fathom was the Ampol VFL Football Girl of the Week. Each week an "attractive lass" was photographed in the crowd and her image featured in the following week's edition of the Record. The featured female had only to "identify herself" at VFL House by the following Wednesday and she would win a prize, with the 1977 prizes on offer including:
- "AMPOL super petrol to the value of $20."
- "A shampoo, style and blow wave to the value of $20 by courtesy of EDWARD BEALE.
- "A voucher to the value of $25 worth of jeans from any JUST JEANS shop.
- "A choice of PRUE ACTON fabulous fragrances - 'If' or 'Prue Acton'"
- "A pair of top grade fashionable sunglasses from POLAROID.
The "Girl of the Year" would win a one-week holiday for two staying at the "popular Chevron Paradise Hotel, Surfers Paradise and travelling Ansett - the sporting airline".
I'd be a liar if I denied that, as a 12-year-old flicking though the pages of the Football Record, I would stop and have a little look at that week's "attractive lass". Indeed, I found many of the lasses attractive but it is inarguable that the overwhelming representation of women in the Record in the '70s as objects of desire (as 'Girl of the Week' or a model in an ad) did nothing to help enlighten this young adolescent of the fact that females were capable of doing anything males could do, on and off the field.
Thankfully, we've come a long way in 40 years - perhaps not as far as we need to, but the inauguration of AFL Women's competition and the appointment of Peggy O'Neal to the Richmond Football Club presidency provides today's 12-year-olds with a clear demonstration of the fact that a girl's role is not just to be a pretty face on page 17 of the Footy Record.
While the Record maintained an 8" by 5" black-and-white format in the home-and-away season, the finals saw it expand to full magazine size with a glossy colour wrap-around cover. The Grand Final edition even featured a glossy colour centrefold - albeit nothing more exciting than an ad for Marlboro cigarettes!
The VFL thought they had produced their last edition of the Record for 1977 by the time Grand Final day came around - but they were wrong. Former Richmond coach Tom Hafey looked to have taken his new side Collingwood from a wooden spoon in 1976 to a premiership a only a year later when the Magpies led by 27 points at three-quarter time. But Ron Barassi's North Melbourne rallied in the final quarter to force a draw, only the second in a Grand Final in VFL history. Just as the Pies and Roos did, Football editor Alan McKenzie and his team had to regroup and do it all again in time for the following Saturday.
Much has changed in 40 years, but some things remain as they were. For me, the ritual of walking from station to footy ground and collecting a copy of the Footy Record remains the same. The name has changed to the AFL Record, the format as large and glossy and the price is certainly no longer 20 cents. But while the smell of newsprint is long gone, the excitement of opening up the Record and scanning through your team's player list as you wait for the big game to start is the same for me now as it was when I was 12 in 1977.
1. Two forms of bet were introduced. The first allowed punters to select the highest and lowest scoring team of the round (with this option interestingly also available for the VFA completion), and the second - and by far the most difficult - of the two invited bettors to guess the exact score of a nominated game each week, usually the match played at VFL Park.