Australian Football Celebrating the history of the great Australian game



Dandenong played in the Federal Football League before joining the VFA in 1958 at the same time as Mordialloc. The introduction of the two division format three seasons later was the club’s springboard to pre-eminence. Dandenong finished as runner-up to Northcote in Division Two in 1961 and the following year achieved promotion with a resounding 16.24 (120) to 8.12 (60) grand final victory over Prahran.

Throughout the life time of the two division system the majority of promoted VFA clubs tended to struggle the following year, but the Redlegs[1] proved an exception to this by swiftly becoming competitive. They finished third in 1965 and two years later played off in the grand final against Port Melbourne at Punt Road where 17,000 spectators were treated to one of the most memorable and controversial matches in Australian football history.[2] Ultimately, it was Dandenong which prevailed, but not before Port Melbourne skipper Brian Buckley had threatened to lead his team-mates from the field during a tension-packed second term. Buckley was disgruntled over what he perceived as the umpire’s blatant favouritism toward Dandenong, as evidenced by Redlegs players having been awarded 26 free kicks compared to Port Melbourne’s 11,[3] as well as Borough ruckman John Peck being reported for foul and abusive language and subsequently “umpired .... out of the game”.[4]

Port Melbourne officials were eventually successful in persuading their team to resume play but a strong undercurrent of tension remained. Port Melbourne played strongly in the third quarter to be right back in the game at ‘lemon time’ but Dandenong then reassumed control to run out comfortable victors by 25 points. Ruckman Alan Morrow, rover David Keenan and half forwards Brian Hill and Ron Townsend were best for the Redlegs.

Controversy again attended Dandenong on their next appearance in the grand final in 1971 when they defeated Preston. The controversy focused on a goal kicked by Dandenong full forward Jim ‘Frosty’ Miller from a free kick awarded before umpire McMaster had even bounced the ball to start the game. The fact that this goal represented the Redlegs’ final margin of victory only served to intensify the ill feeling.

Much of the post match discussion centred on the question of whether McMaster was within his rights to award a free - which he did for an alleged push in the back by Preston full back Barrie Leslie - before play had officially started. The situation was mitigated even further when, as the final siren sounded, Dandenong rover David Sheehan, who had marked within easy goalkicking range, threw the ball away as soon as he realised his team were in front. Had he kicked even a behind - which was virtually certain given his proximity to goal - much of the controversy would have been short-circuited. Two weeks earlier in the second semi final Dandenong had thrashed the Bullants by 74 points making it extremely difficult to argue with their right to be adjudged worthy premiers.

There was little opportunity for contention after the following season’s grand final which saw Oakleigh triumph over the Redlegs by 44 points in a high scoring game. The next two years saw Dandy remain one of the strongest sides in the competition for third and fourth place finishes before again contesting the grand final in 1975 and 1976, albeit without success.

The 1975 grand final saw Geelong West victorious by 28 points, 18.13 (121) to 14.9 (93), while the following season brought the Redlegs head to head with their opponents from the tumultuous encounter of nine years previously, Port Melbourne. Once again - hardly surprisingly, given the amount of ill feeling which still existed between the two clubs - an intense, spiteful game ensued, with no fewer than nine reports and numerous unsavoury incidents;[4] however, as far as Dandenong supporters were concerned the only meaningful statistics were those which appeared on the scoreboard and, disappointingly, this showed Port Melbourne as comprehensive victors by 57 points.

Dandenong would not appear in another grand final until 1991. After finishing the home and away rounds in second place behind Werribee with a 13-5 record and comfortably the best percentage in the competition Dandenong opened its finals campaign with a hard fought 19.15 (129) to 16.7 (103) qualifying final defeat of Box Hill. The following week in the second semi-final the Redlegs “won everywhere except on the scoreboard” as their eventual tally of 11.27 (93) to Werribee’s 16.9 (105) attests. In the preliminary final a strong second half during which it added 17.8 to Box Hill’s 8.3 after leading by a mere goal at the long break renewed Dandenong’s confidence prior to a revenge meeting with Werribee in the ‘big one’. In front of 13,565 spectators at Carlton’s home ground of Princes Park the Redlegs started brightly to lead 4.0 to 3.4 at the first change. However, in the second term Werribee assumed complete control all over the ground adding 5.2 while Dandenong scored six straight behinds. A four goal margin in the Tigers’ favour at the long break seemingly spelt big trouble for the Redlegs but in a tumultuous third term which exemplified everything that was best about the Dandenong psyche the leeway was systematically eroded and when the siren sounded for three quarter time the scoreboard read Dandenong 11.13 (79) to Werribee 11.8 (74). Tackling ferociously, Dandenong withstood everything the Tigers could throw at them during the closing half hour and, on a heavy ground which tested the fitness of players on both sides to the limit, held on to win by 9 points. Final scores saw Dandenong 15.15 (105) overcome Werribee 14.12 (96) with McCormack, captain-coach Elshaug (4 goals), Gotch, Murray and Hollow among the best players for the victors.

Sadly, it was to be very much a swansong for the Dandenong Football Club, which had been battling with serious financial problems for some years. Prior to the 1993 season it was declared insolvent, and the VFA revoked its licence. Dandenong then formally disbanded, only to reform under the name Dandenong Redlegs and apply successfully for readmission to the VFA. Although technically a new and different club, the Redlegs soon found themselves beset by similar financial difficulties to those which had brought about their ostensible predecessor’s demise. Despite solid on-field performances in both 1993 and 1994, Dandenong’s days as a senior club were numbered. When the VFA underwent radical restructuring in 1995 the club administration opted to subordinate itself to the increasingly overweening control of the AFL by concentrating all its efforts on maintaining and developing its under eighteen team in the VSFL feeder competition (now the TAC Cup). A short but often colourful and enthralling history was thus brought peremptorily to an end.


  1. Although almost invariably referred to as "the Redlegs" throughout their involvement in the VFA Dandenong's actual nickname for most of this time was "the Dandies". In 1963 the club conducted a competition to find an emblem and this was won by schoolboy Graham Russell with a design based on the traditional "dandy's" clobber of top hat, white gloves and cane. Russell won a £10 prize for his idea, but perhaps not surprisingly it did not exactly take hold among died-in-the-wool barrackers in the outer.
  2. This may seem like redundant hyperbole, but this whole website rests on the philosophical premise that 'big is not necessarily best'. In other words, when 'AFL' becomes a synonym for 'Australian football' - as, in some quarters, it already has - the game is doomed.
  3. This means that 37 free kicks had been awarded in less than half a match; by comparison, it is interesting to note that in 1996 each AFL home and away match saw an average of 38 free kicks awarded, with the average dropping to 30 per game for the finals. Whether this is an indication that the game has got cleaner in the interim is debatable.
  4. Mark Fiddian, The Roar of the Crowd, page 92.
  5. See the Port Melbourne entry for a more comprehensive match description.


John Devaney - Full Points Footy Publications


* Behinds calculated from the 1965 season on.
+ Score at the end of extra time.