The Federal Territory Australian Rules Football League was just two years old when the Eastlake Football Club first emerged on the scene in 1926. Comprised chiefly of local tradesmen, many of whom had moved to Canberra from the southern states, the team did not take long in finding its feet. In 1927, it contested its first grand final, losing by 34 points to Acton, and the following year achieved premiership success for the first time with a comprehensive 9.16 (70) to 4.6 (30) grand final defeat of Ainslie. Eastlake’s ranks in 1928 had been bolstered by the acquisition of several players employed at the newly opened Government Printing Office.
Ainslie achieved revenge over Eastlake in 1929 with a hard fought 8 point grand final triumph, but Eastlake opened the 1930s in fine style, conclusively downing the Tricolours 14.16 (100) to 7.7 (49) to clinch the club’s second premiership. Eastlake proved to be Canberra’s most successful club during the 1930s, emerging with a 100% record from four grand finals. The club’s third premiership victory in 1933 was rewarded with permanent possession of the ‘Canberra Times Shield’, which was one of several trophies presented to the competition’s premier team at various times.
During world war two, Eastlake combined briefly with Manuka, winning a premiership in 1942, and becoming known for a time as ‘City’ (rather than the more usual straight hybrid of the two partners’ names).
Eastlake was back as an independent entity in 1945 and, in what was an abbreviated season with only four clubs competing, emerged victorious from one of the most exciting grand finals seen in Canberra up to that point. The temporary non-involvement in the competition of Ainslie, Manuka and Queanbeyan proved inordinately beneficial to Eastlake, which proved to be the favoured transient refuge for many of the players from those teams. Duly reinforced, Eastlake was able to compete on equal terms with armed service teams comprising large numbers of highly proficient southern states footballers, including reigning premiers Navy which had proved a cut or two above the rest in 1944. Navy it ultimately was which stood between Eastlake and premiership glory on grand final day and, after a titanic struggle during which the lead repeatedly changed hands, the final margin, courtesy of a rushed behind in the dying moments, was the barest one attainable, in Eastlake’s favour.
Three years later things could hardly have been more different as Eastlake scored a resounding 80 point grand final victory over past and future merger partners Manuka. Scores were Eastlake 22.16 (148) to Manuka 10.8 (68), a result which clearly reflected Eastlake’s dominance during a season which brought only 1 defeat.
The 1950s brought an unwanted first for Eastlake, with the hitherto unprecedented indignity of a wooden spoon in 1952. The remainder of the decade brought gradual improvement, however. Within a couple of years of ploughing the depths, the club played off in a grand final against the Queanbeyan-Acton. However, it proved to be a distinctly unmemorable occasion for the boys in white and red, with the ‘Combine’ as they were known surging to a victory of record scope, 23.15 (153) to 6.8 (44).
When Eastlake finally broke through for another flag in 1957 it did so in the most emphatic fashion, remaining undefeated (including one tie) all season to earn the rare title ‘premiers and champions’. The grand final against Manuka, which was the team that earlier in the season had come within an ace of denting Eastlake’s record, was a tough, closely fought affair, with Eastlake emerging winners by 15 points after rallying strongly in the final term.
The 1960s would prove to be easily the most successful decade in Eastlake’s history, and the club served notice of what was to come in 1960 with another undefeated premiership. This time around the performance was, if anything, even more conclusive, culminating in a 20.15 (135) to 9.9 (63) grand final demolition of Ainslie.
Between 1962 and 1966 Eastlake dominated the Canberra football scene as no team, before or since, has done. Playing a strong, aggressive style of football, and boasting a formidable defence, the side was never severely tested in five consecutive grand finals. Future VFL champion Alex Jesaulenko was a member of three of these premiership winning Eastlake combinations.
Although the remainder of the decade heralded a comparative decline in fortunes, Eastlake was still able to contest the grand final for a further three successive years, losing to Manuka each time. Manuka again had Eastlake’s measure in the 1971 grand final, but when the Demons eventually returned to the winners’ frame in 1972 they did so in the most emphatic fashion imaginable with a 26.19 (175) to 9.8 (62) annihilation of Ainslie. They were almost as impressive four years later, thrashing their erstwhile nemesis Manuka by 69 points.
The 1978 grand final, watched by a good crowd of 9,500, was one of the most exciting ever staged in the nation’s capital. At half time, Eastlake trailed Ainslie by 27 points, but then came roaring back to claim a memorable 24 point victory, 19.23 (137) to 16.17 (113). However, this proved to be Eastlake’s last solo premiership. After losing three consecutive grand finals between 1982 and 1984 the club began to struggle, and in 1991 the oldest surviving ACTAFL club entered into a merger agreement with Manuka which spawned the establishment of the Southern District Demons.
1 For convenience, the term 'grand final' is used to describe any premiership-deciding match, even though, prior to the implementation of the Page-McIntyre finals system in 1931, there was, strictly speaking, no such thing as a 'grand final'. The usual system was for the competition's top four sides to play a straight elimination series of two semi finals and a final, with the proviso that, if the minor premier was defeated at any stage during the finals, it could challenge the eventual winner of the final to a decisive, premiership deciding play off. Thus, matches conveniently described as 'grand finals' prior to 1931 would, in actuality, either be 'finals' or 'challenge finals'.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications