Photographs and memories
The 1960’s won’t be remembered as a golden era in the history of the Footscray Football Club. 69 victories from 187 starts (a winning percentage of 36), one finals series appearance, a Brownlow Medallist and a wooden spoon – not what you’d call a decade of Doggie dominance .
The photo below recently came into the possession of my good friend Peter Feehan. He’d received it from his sister Kathy – she’d been handed the portrait by a fellow parishioner following a recent Sunday service. With the exception of Mr Football Ted Whitten, 1960 Brownlow Medallist John Schultz and Footscray/Western Bulldogs Team of the century member John Jillard, the remainder of the squad would be familiar to only the most die-hard Doggie fan.
The first hint to identifying the particular squad presented itself when the picture was turned over, revealing the message “Merry Christmas from the Footscray Football Club, 1965”. I had a definitive date to work with. Now, all that remained was identifying the remaining twenty or so ex Sons of the ‘Scray. Fortunately I did have an acquaintance I could call on for assistance.
Earlier this year I interviewed former Bulldog ruckman Murray Zeuschner to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of his senior VFL debut, a link to the piece is attached below.
I emailed the photo to Murray (above) hoping he may be able to assist in some way. Within an hour he’d produced the goods identifying the two dozen players, as well as the name of the suited chap in the middle of the front row (Jim Miller, FFC president 1963-66). He verified the squad as the team that represented Footscray in the 1965 Night competition.
So, with thanks to Mr Zeuschner, the squad as pictured is as follows:
Back Row – Ivan Marsh, Dallas Patterson, Ken Duff, Murray Zeuschner, Kevin Stevens, Bryan Pleitner, Gary Peters, John Bradley
Middle Row – Peter Shanahan, Don McKenzie, Alan Hunter, Rod O’Connor, David Darcy, Noel Fincher, Ron McGowan, Alan Mannix, Algy Vosilaitis
Front Row – Kevin Jackman, Graham Ion, Ted Whitten, Jim Miller (President), John Schultz, John Jillard, Graeme Chalmers, Rod Barr
What was the Night series?
From 1956 running through until 1971, the “Night” competition was contested by the eight sides that failed to reach the VFL finals series i.e. the teams that finished 5th to 12th at the completion of the home and away season. The series ran during the first three weeks of September each year. All games were played under lights (obviously) at the home of the South Melbourne Football Club, the Lakeside Oval. Fittingly, the Swans won the first Night Premiership in 1956, a crowd of 32,450 saw them beat Carlton by six points, 13.16-94 to 13.10-88. The Bloods proved their efforts in taking out the inaugural night comp were no fluke by comfortably accounting for Geelong (15.13-103 to 8.4-52) in the 1957 final.
Whilst success in the home and away competition during the early part of 60’s had eluded the Boys from Barkly Street, they managed to secure some joy in the VFL Night Series. A six point victory in the 1963 final over Richmond (10.9 to 9.9) saw the Bulldogs crowned Kings of Footy under Floodlights. A nail-biting five point win against St Kilda in the following years finale (11.12 to 11.7) saw the coronation ceremony repeated. As such, the 1965 squad were aiming to become the first Footscray outfit to achieve a "three-peat" of any sort since the turn of the century.
Prior to being admitted into the Victorian Football League with North Melbourne and Hawthorn at the completion of the 1924 season, Footscray was the pre-eminent team in the Victorian Football Association (VFA). From 1897-1924 they won the premiership on nine occasions including the back-to-back-to-back hat trick of titles garnered from 1898-1900 (inclusive).
Footscray’s opponent in the round-of-eight of the 1965 night competition was North Melbourne. The Shinboners’ efforts under lights to that point in time had been far from impressive, the only occasion the Roos had advanced to the decider resulted in a twelve point loss to Geelong (9.20 to 9.8) in the 1961 final. The Doggies and Kangas had met just once during the 1965 home and away season. A crowd of 14,150 attended the July 3 Western Oval showdown, the hosts prevailing by two goals - 7.10-52 to 5.10-40. Match reports suggest that with the exception of Rod O’Connor making his senior debut in Red, White and Blue and Graham Ion celebrating his 100th game for Footscray, the contest wouldn’t hold a place in the hearts and memories of either set of supporters.
The teams selected for the Tuesday September 14, 1965 clash were as follows:
- Neither George Bissett or Ian Bryant were part of the team picture
North jumped to an early lead scoring the first four goals of the game before the Bulldogs settled, responding with three late goals to Ted Whitten (2) and Graham Ion. When the siren sounded to end the first term the Dogs had reduced the Kangaroos lead to just two points.
Quarter time: North Melbourne 4.2 (26) v Footscray 3.6 (24)
Two nasty melees erupted during the second quarter. The first fracas occurred when Whitten and North ruck rover Bob Pascoe clashed. Players from both sides rushed in, with the flare-up involving 28 players in total. The Bulldogs captain-coach was the only player reported during the exchange of pleasantries, charged with striking Pascoe to the face. Minutes later field umpire Gaudion took Pascoe’s number for allegedly tripping Whitten. Following the second bout of anti social behaviour the game settled down, two goals from North’s champion ruckman Noel Teasdale and singles to Mick Dowdle, Dave Rogers and Bert Johnson saw the Roos head to the sheds well on top, their lead just shy of four goals.
Half-time: North Melbourne 9.6 (60) v Footscray 5.7 (37)
The ill-tempered shenanigans continued into the third period and another two Footscray players had their names and numbers go into Gaudion’s notebook. Merv Hobbs was reported for charging John Ibrahim and Ivan Marsh for striking Dennis McGrath. Whilst outscored four goals to two for the quarter, North still held a handy fourteen point lead at the final change.
Three-quarter time: North Melbourne 11.9 (75) v Footscray 9.7 (61)
In comparison to the first hour and a half of play the final term proved to be relatively uneventful. The Bulldogs failed to add to their tally of goals allowing the Kangaroos to cruise to a comfortable four-goal victory.
Final score: North Melbourne 13.12 (90) v Footscray 9.12 (66)
John Waddington, Mick Gaudion and Teasdale were named best for the winners; Teasdale with three goals led all scorers for North Melbourne. Frank Goode (who coached Footscray for one game in 1981 in Royce Hart’s absence) kicked two goals. The Dogs were ably served by John Schultz, Algy Vosilaitis and John Jillard. Whitten’s three majors led the scoring for the Dogs. 13,880 people paid 3,090 pounds for the pleasure of watching what turned out to be a somewhat spiteful encounter.
When the tribunal hearings took place the following Thursday evening Whitten, Hobbs and Pascoe beat their charges. Ivan Marsh wasn’t as lucky and was found guilty of striking Dennis McGrath. The ensuing two game suspension delayed his start to the 1966 home and away season.
The victory kick-started North Melbourne’s run to its first night competition flag, the Shinboners easily dispatching 1965 wooden spoon recipients Hawthorn (13.10-88 to 6.10-46) in the semi-final before registering a comfortable 40-point victory over Ron Barassi’s Carlton in the final (14.13-97 to 9.3-57). They repeated as night champs twelve months later, smashing Hawthorn in the Final by a whopping 53 points (20.12-132 to 12.7-79).
West is best!
As suggested earlier the Footscray teams of the mid sixties will never rank amongst the greatest to have graced the VFL’s playing fields. However, there’s no denying the local flavour of the playing list at the Western Oval during this period. Of the 24 players in the attached team snap almost two thirds had graduated out of the Footscray District Football League (FDFL) or had progressed through the clubs lower grades.
Ted Whitten and Ivan Marsh were products of the mighty Braybrook Football Club. Ken Duff & Bob Barr were recruited from Parkside, Spotswood was the original football home of Don McKenzie and Graeme Chalmers, with Dallas Patterson and Kevin Jackman commencing their respective football journeys with West Footscray. David Darcy (Sunshine YCW), Algy Vosilaitis (Seddon) and Noel Fincher (Kingsville) completed the list of FDFL recruits.
Four players - John Jillard, Graham Ion, Peter Shanahan and Gary Peters had advanced through the clubs lower grades. Jillard and Ion commenced their Western Oval careers in the clubs Sixth grade, Shanahan and Peters in the Under 19’s.
Of the remaining nine players Rod O’Connor could comfortably fit into the “local boy” category having arrived at the Kennel via Victorian Amateur Football Association club Footscray Tech Old Boys. From rural Victoria the club acquired the services of John Schultz (Boort), Alan Mannix (Crib Point), Bryan Pleitner (Kyabram), John Bradley (Wagga), Kevin Stevens (Mildura Imps) and Murray Zeuschner (Stony Creek). Two interstaters Ron McGowan (Scottsdale, Tasmania) and Alan Hunter (West Brisbane) rounded out the squad.
Australia’s population in 1965 was just under 11.4 million people. The nation was entering a period of “adjustment”. Robert Gordon Menzies was within a few months of retiring as the Member for Kooyong and finishing his second stint as Prime Minister. Looming large on the horizon was the introduction of decimal currency.
The playing list at the Western Oval had been subjected to sweeping changes in the period following its second place finish in 1961. Three more players Graham Ion, Bob Barr and Ken Duff, bid adieu to the Western Oval for pastures greener at the completion of the clubs commitments for season 1965. In addition to the aforementioned departing trio, Merv Hobbs, remembered for his magnificent mark in the 1961 preliminary final was injured prior to the commencement of the 1966 season and never played another game of senior VFL football. Ion’s departure and Hobbs’ premature retirement meant that of the 20 players who represented the Dogs in the 1961 Grand Final (the club's last Grand Final appearance) only four players – Ted Whitten, John Jillard, John Schultz and Ian Bryant remained on the clubs senior list by the start of the 1966 season.
Whilst team glory was in short supply at the Western Oval during this period, the three night premiership victories the club enjoyed during the swingin’ sixties (1963, 1964 & 1967) did provide a little sunshine in an otherwise cloudy period for the Bullies. A number of the players in the 1965 night comp squad managed to achieve personal and team success in the Victorian Football Association.
Dallas Patterson and Kevin Jackman were members of Williamstown’s 1969 Second Division Premiership. Patterson almost missed out on the Seagulls surprise pennant victory over near neighbours Sunshine after being involved in a car accident (with his Captain Max Papley) on the Monday prior to the Grand Final. Jackman and Patterson played major roles in Williamstown’s unlikely run at back-to-back VFA flags in 1970. Jackman finished runner-up to former Footscray teammate Fred Cook in the competitions highest individual accolade, the Liston Trophy. Patterson, with 72 goals, placed second to Dandenong’s Jim “Frosty” Miller (80) in the race for the First Divisions leading goal kicking award. Unfortunately the Seagulls completed a trifecta of silvers when they were defeated by Prahran in the 1970 First Division Grand Final
In 1971 Don McKenzie coached perennial second division Cinderella side Sunshine to a long overdue premiership. Despite contesting every finals series from 1963 to 1971, the mighty Crows hadn’t tasted the ultimate success prior to their nine goal triumph over Brunswick. The following season McKenzie scored 34 votes to take out the Liston Trophy. When Bill Goggin tendered his resignation as senior coach of Footscray following the opening round of the 1978 season the Bulldogs appointed McKenzie as Goggin’s successor. The Dogs won 14 and a half of the 43 games played during McKenzie’s two seasons in charge.
Other members of the ’65 night squad who enjoyed personal triumph in the VFA included Alan “Doc” Mannix who was a member of Coburg’s 1974 second division premiership. Mannix later coached Werribee for one season in 1980. Murray Zeuschner joined his brother Barry at Sandringham for the second half of the 1967 season following a mid-season transfer from Footscray. Despite playing a mere 10 games for the Zebra’s, Zeuschner took out the clubs best and fairest in his only season at the Beach Road Oval. Merv Hobbs spent time with Yarraville and Brunswick before coaching Williamston, and Ivan Marsh provided fine service for Coburg in the early 70’s prior to returning to the Footscray District Football League.
A few more tales involving the Class of ’65 include:
On May 4 1968 Graeme Chalmers’ 75 game VFL career with Footscray ended with a loss to Fitzroy at Princess Park. Shortly after his departure from the Western Oval Chalmers commenced air force pilot training with the RAAF. Chalmers graduated from the course in September 1969 and less than twelve months later was flying Iroquois helicopters in the conflict in Vietnam.
A week after Chalmers’ curtain call Bryan Pleitner’s four season/28 game tenure in Red, White and Blue came to an end. Pleitner transferred mid season to Hawthorn, making a single senior appearance in Number 32 for the Hawks in their round 12 loss to Essendon. The next recipient of the #32 guernsey for the Hawthorn Football Club was none other than Leigh Raymond Matthews.
Ron McGowan and Ivan Marsh were involved in the great Scanlen’s Footy Card "cock up" of 1969. McGowan and Marsh, along with Fred Cook and David Thorpe all appeared in the 1969 set of Scanlen's VFL footy cards. Unfortunately and confusingly, the photos and names were mixed up to the point where no player's photo match their name!¹
- The full story can be found here. See "A Case of Mistaken Identity".