“It has been demonstrated in the past that what happens at Victoria Park in August isn’t always a sure guide to what might happen on the MCG in September.”
So wrote The Sun’s football correspondent, Kevin Hogan, reporting the calamitous events of the 19th round contest between Collingwood and Carlton on a winter’s Saturday in 1970. Hogan was amongst the 40,000 who had clambered for a vantage point at Victoria Park, as Bob Rose’s team completed a 77-point butchery of Ron Barassi’s Blues . . . and Peter McKenna booted nine goals to bring up his ton.
Hogan was a seasoned scribe. He had seen it all before, and his critique, which appeared in the now defunct daily on the Monday after that round 19 debacle, would prove chillingly prophetic.
A little more than seven weeks later, before the greatest gathering of humanity ever assembled at a game of Australian football, Rose and his demoralised players would remain forever haunted by the surreal events of the 1970 Grand Final.
The Victorian Football League Grand Final brought together the great Australian game’s two archetypal opposites. It pitted football’s working class bastion with the so-called silvertails, and it set on collision course the nation’s most famous sporting institutions, who shared nothing in common other than a territorial boundary.
Allen Aylett, who would one day champion the VFI’s push for expansion, dubbed the 1970 Grand Final “the match of the century” - and he was, of course, correct.
Think 1970 and think “big” . . . big crowd, big mark, big comeback, “Big Nick”.
And yet, John Nicholls’ memory of 1970 isn’t so much triggered by this extraordinary contest, but by the season itself. “We had a hard four or five years,” the then Carlton captain explained.
“‘Barass’ lost the players in 1971, and in 1970 we weren’t playing really well through the season. We lost games because we weren’t switched on properly.”
But in respect of the Grand Final itself, Nicholls is in no doubt: “If we’d have played anyone bar Collingwood we wouldn’t have won.”
The navy blue crepe paper was no match for “Big Nick” as he breasted the banner to the shrill cries of Carlton supporters who made up the unprecedented game day audience of 121,696 as he led out his men. The Carlton team which took to the MCG on Grand Final day 1970 was as follows:
Backs: Barry Gill, Kevin Hall, Vin Waite
Half-Backs: John Goold, David McKay, Barry Mulcair
Centres: Garry Crane, Ian Robertson, Phillip Pinnell
Half-forwards: Brent Crosswell, Robert Walls, Syd Jackson
Forwards: Peter Jones, Alex Jesaulenko, Bert Thornley
Rucks: John Nicholls (c), Sergio Silvagni, Adrian Gallagher
19th and 20th: Neil Chandler, Edward Hopkins
The Magpies, meanwhile, were unbackable by the time Terry Waters led them out. Their near-flawless home and away campaign of 18 victories from 22 encounters had earned them the minor premiership with an eight-point buffer from their nearest rival, a Carlton outfit they had twice beaten through the course of the winter, and again in a closely-contested second semi.
“Collingwood was, in that period, a very, very good side,” former Blues rover Adrian Gallagher said. “When you go through them it was a bloody good side, and if you went through ours we had our flashes of brilliance, but we were more of a hard-nosed team. (Brent) Crosswell was sensational at Carlton at that time. He was the best finals player I saw, absolutely, no doubt about it. You had him, (Alex) Jesaulenko and (Syd) Jackson for your ability, and everyone else like Barry Gill and myself doing their job, and that’s when you got the results.”
Adrian Lindsay Gallagher was born on May 12, 1946, and hailed from the Gippsland dairying town of Yarram. He was seconded to Princes Park from University High and, as he proudly notes, “I’m the only player to play in Carlton’s under 15s, under17s, thirds, seconds and seniors”.
In May 2000, Gallagher was named in Carlton’s Team of the 20th Century, alongside John Nicholls and Sergio Silvagni, in what was perhaps football’s most famous following division. Half a century ago, “Gags” had watched on from the bleachers as Nicholls and Silvagni went about their business. “The first game I ever saw was the opening round of 1959 and Silvagni kicked five from full-forward against Essendon,” Gallagher said. “I was only a kid, and how lucky was I running out to get their autographs? To think that it [Nicholls, Silvagni and Gallagher] is what it was in the 1970 Grand Final.”
Gallagher would represent his club in three of its greatest Grand Final victories and would be acknowledged as its best and fairest footballer in 1970.
That last stat places him in truly elite company, for in the 85 years since the Robert Reynolds Trophy (now the John Nicholls Medal) was first awarded to Cresswell Crisp, only 11 other Carlton players can lay claim to the club champion honour in a premiership year: Crisp in 1938; Ron Savage (1945), Bert Deacon and Ern Henfry (1947); Sergio Silvagni (1968); Geoff Southby (I972); Mike Fitzpatrick (I979); Ken Hunter (1981); Jim Buckley (1982), Stephen Kernahan (1987) and Brett Ratten (1995).
Gallagher would kick Carlton’s first goal of the 1970 Grand Final and, as he did in ’68, would have hold of the footy when the final siren sounded.
So, why did it all click for him in ‘70, particularly given his unavailability for the first six matches of the football calendar year?
“Funny thing, I did do a hamstring earlier in the season and missed a few games. Because I’d started young and hadn’t missed a game until then, sitting on the sidelines made you appreciate how much you missed it,” he said. “When you look back on it, I’d played one hundred games, I was 24 then, and that was young, but what’s young now? I can remember ‘Barass’ always quoting Norm Smith as saying, ‘You have to play 50 games and five years before you’re a League player”. That definitely applied for me, and I would have thought it still applies to any player.
“It’s difficult to reflect on your own game because it’s a completely different game now, but you can still equate it when you watch someone like Marc Murphy or Bryce Gibbs. Murphy’s Dad would feel the same way watching, and you would expect now that Murphy’s coming into [season] four that he would start producing this year, if not the next, because he’s been around.”
On Grand Final day, 1970, Gallagher shared roving duties with the West Australian Gilbert Thornley. He laments the fact that Thornley took the ringside seat when Alex Jesaulenko launched himself into football immortality in the second quarter, “and Alex later declared in his typically modest fashion, that he’d take four of those every night at training in kick-to-kick”. That was because Gallagher had only just changed with Thornley, and saw the sense in taking a breather in a forward pocket to rid himself of Des Tuddenham.
“In the Grand Final, Wayne Richardson started in the forward pocket and ‘Tuddy’ lined up on me, and I thought, “Oh no, I'm dead here,” Gallagher said. “I'd been tagged by Des Tuddenham in the second semi, where he got me with the professional knee to the thigh. He and Francis Bourke were masters at it – you don’t get reported and it takes a bloke out of the game. As it happened, Tuddenham accidentally took McKenna out just before half-time, and Mc Kenna was huge then.”
If the resting rover in the No. 10 guernsey had found a moment to cast a cursory glance to the scoreboard in that lopsided first half, he would have been reasonably perturbed. By quarter-time, Collingwood had banged on 4.8 to Carlton’s miserable three points – the first of them kicked by Crosswell 22 minutes into the match – to set up a 29-point lead. By half-time, the margin had blown out to an incredulous 44 points, 10.13(73) to 4.5 (29).
Collingwood’s lead appeared insurmountable and should have been even greater were it not for the Pies players’ inaccurate finishing in what had been an unrelenting 50-minute assault on the big sticks.
Gallagher conceded as much: "Forget about half-time and 44 points down - it should have been 144.”
At the long break, Gallagher made the mandatory beeline for a cubicle in an annexe of the Carlton rooms because he knew his coach too well. “Barassi came in at half-time and he just snapped. He’s gone berserk. That’s when you hid in the toilet and that’s where I always went because he’d rant and rave for five minutes and then he’d be right. He’d throw the odd drink around, do whatever else, and then he’d let go,” Gallagher said.
“He’d then be completely calm. He’d say, ‘If we don’t put up an effort, if we don’t try, then you will remember being beaten by Collingwood for the rest of your lives’. And we all started think, “Oh, how would it be, it’d be the worst thing to carry around with you.”
“At that stage it was not about winning. It was about saving face, so that for the rest of your life you could at least walk down the street. That’s what it was in a simplistic way. The follow-up was that we were going to do it by taking risks and playing on at all opportunity.
“This was the strength of Barassi’s disciplines and what he had created in his teams, that under extreme pressure, under that intense situation, where most teams would fold or withdraw into themselves, his teams were disciplined. Those who weren’t, he got rid of. This is what his teams were like – when he gave an order they followed it.
“What he (Barassi) did was snap everyone out of being sorry for themselves. Sometimes a game can go too quick and it’s past you and in other Grand Finals players have said, ‘Oh it just went that fast and it’s over’. Everyone has built themselves up to such a degree that they’ve played the game before they get out there. But Barass had that ability to bring them back to reality, and at that vital moment we were left with enough time to get back into it.”
Barassi himself acknowledged that a lot of stuff went on at half-time, “and while credit is given for the ‘handball, handball, handball’ thing, that was only half the story. From memory the first thing I did when I got into the rooms was to ask for the stats. I knew that our 'run pasts' and our handballs would have been low, and I delivered that figure to our players collectively, almost straight away,” he said, in an interview about ten years ago.
“I forget who I asked, might have been ‘Hally’ (Kevin Hall), but I said ‘What do you think our handpasses are?’, and he said ’25 or 30’, to which I replied, ‘A lousy, stinking, rotten 16’. I then said, ‘We (the match committeemen) are going in to have a look at the team to see what we can do with the positions’. And I told them what to think about. I told them that Collingwood are not that much better than us – we know this – let’s just think about that and I'll come back with some changes."
Barassi can remember the match committee settling for at least two positional alterations, involving John Goold and Ian Robertson. A third involved Ted Hopkins, the 20th man, in what was his 28th and penultimate senior appearance in a Carlton guernsey. “We made about three or four changes on the field, one of them just as the players were heading down the race, to bring Hopkins on and take Bert Thornley off, which was a very risky thing to do,” Barassi said. “I’d discussed that with [Chairman of Selectors] Jack Wrout coming into the rooms from the ground at the half-time interval. I wanted it to happen straight away and Jack said, ‘Oh Ron, what if we get an injury?’ which was common sense. I ummed and aahed and said, ‘Okay, well then let’s make the change 10 minutes into the third quarter if things haven’t changed’.”
“But as the guys were gathering inside the rooms to go down the race, I had this gut feel: ‘No, it’s got to happen now’. Luckily it worked out all right and Jack said to me after the match, ‘Ron, did you make sure you made that decision at the last split second when we couldn’t alter it?’.”
Nicholls, in typically forthright fashion, regarded Hopkins as “just a battling player who’s become famous for that one game, which is unusual”. But Gallagher said his coach was mindful that Hopkins gave Colin Tully the slip when the two teams met on that same ground just a fortnight earlier. “Barassi was of the view that the die was cast with Hopkins in the second semi when he got us back into the game,” he said. “With Tully it had happened before and Bob Rose stuck with him, but the same thing happened in the Grand Final and Tully got found out again.”
The third quarter was not three minutes old when Hopkins, to put it mildly, caused a stir. Hovering ab out the goalsquare, the kid from Moe was front and centre when he crumbed a marking contest involving Peter Jones and Peter Eakins to slot a six-pointer. Less than a minute later, he was there again, perfectly positioned at the back of the pack to gather and goal from point blank range.
From there it was ‘game on’, and Carlton’s passive observers of the first half played like men possessed. Jackson, Crane, Silvagni and Gallagher all found a leg, and Walls and Jesaulenko cut loose up forward. In total, seven goals were slammed on in under 11 minutes of that manic third quarter as Carlton’s hopeless deficit of 44 points was, in a blink, whittled down to just four.
A Collingwood rear-guard action in time-on of the third term left its opponent 17 points in arrears at the final change. It was then that Barassi eyeballed each of his players at the huddle and famously declared, “Win, lose or draw, I’m proud of you”.
Barassi has revealed that he had kept that line locked away in the deep recesses of his brain for 12 long months since the 1969 Grand Final loss to Richmond, “and I got that line from Harry Beitzel, who was writing for a newspaper the year before. At half-time (of the 1969 Grand Final) I gave a real serve to the players because we were down and playing pretty ordinary. We had a very good third quarter, so much so that everyone in the stadium, Richmond supporters aside, clapped,” Barassi said.
“Anyway, we lost the match and Harry wrote, ‘I don’t know what coach Barassi said at three-quarter time but, under the circumstances, this is what I would have said: ‘Win, lose or draw, I’m proud of you’.
“When I read that in the newspaper I thought, ‘Hmm, that doesn’t sound like me, but, perhaps once in my football life I can use that’. And it’s amazing to think that I did, almost one year to the very day, and I got the reaction: ‘Lose? What are you talking about, Ron?’. They just about jumped down my throat, and then and there I thought we were never going to lose. I really did think that because they were fired up and ready to eat you.”
Gallagher said that the reverse psychology inherent in Barassi’s three-quarter time address proved the perfect follow up to his half-time instruction. “He more or less said, ‘Well, we’ve done enough . . . at least we can say we’ve achieved and we can’t be laughed at for the rest of our lives,” Gallagher said.
“And he did get the response, ‘No, stuff you, we can win it now’. That’s where he again got the commitment. The classic example was up the back in the last quarter when McKay handballs to Crosswell and messes it up. The ball then spills to Des Tuddenham, who Jones tackles and gets holding the ball, and the next thing Jones does is play on again – a six-foot, six-inch ruckman. It was unheard of, but that was the classic example of the conditioning of players in Barassi’s team. They all did it.”
The Jones moment also remains fixed in Barassi’s memory.
“Put yourself in ‘Jonesy’s’ situation. He gets a free kick in the defensive goalsquare, they’ve just stuffed up only seconds before, and you’d reckon he’d say, ‘Oh, I don’t know about this thing about handballing over the top’. But that’s what he did, and that to me was one good example of the players trying to do what I told them to do.”
Gallagher noted that Jones spent a greater proportion of the 1970 Grand Final on the ball, “because Nick fancied himself a bit against [Peter] Eakins, just as he did two years later on that other back pocket, [Ray] Boyanich”.
“I don’t know how old he was in 1970, but really, when you break it all down, all Nicholls had to do was run out on to the ground. It was his presence and the only other players I’ve seen with it were [Leigh] Matthews and [Wayne) Carey,” Gallagher said. “The funny thing was that he had struggled with his marking and was hitting on with his left hand, which didn’t worry me because I got a lot of it and ‘Craney’ [Garry Crane) got a lot of it. ‘Barass’ actually criticised him in front of us for not marking enough and told him that he had to improve his marking, and in that last quarter he stamped himself. He did it again in ‘72.”
Nicholls was there when it had to be won in the last quarter, landing two telling blows with ruthless efficiency. The first of them came at the eight-minute mark when the colossus thundered out from the goalsquare at the city end in his desperation to contest a carefully directed Jesaulenko torpedo. Hopelessly out of position to mark, he still somehow forced the ball from the desperate clutches of Graeme Jenkin and Jeff Clifton, then weathered two head-high tackles from both Tuddenham and Lee Adamson after taking possession. Receiving a free kick from umpire Jolley, Nicholls promptly goaled from point-blank range . . . but not before he’d straightened the skewiff CFC monogram on his big blue guernsey.
The second goal came just two minutes later, when Nicholls completed a towering one-grabber from behind, again plucking the footy from the frantic clutches of Eakins and Clifton. From point -blank range he again converted with a customary flat punt, and the margin was reduced to just eight points. Some brilliance from Jackson to smother a desperate Eakins’ clearing kick, then gather and flick over the top to the unattended Hopkins for his fourth, reduced the margin further.
‘Tuddy’ then re-offended on the cusp of time-on when he caught Crosswell with another coathanger after the ball was bounced by Jolley in the forward pocket. Crosswell, who had thwarted McKenna in a crucial marking contest at the Punt Road end just moments before, duly stepped up to the plate, and threaded the free kick with a drop punt from 35 metres out.
“CARLTON ARE IN FRONT . . . IT’S A GOAL . . . CARLTON ARE IN FRONT,” asserted redoubtable Channel 7 commentator Mike Williamson as the football split the big stick s.
Then, at the 27-minute mark, came the goal to end all goals.
“The thing I remember most in that game was when ‘Jezza’ kicked that goal,” Gallagher said. “He jumped up between about three of them, turned on his left foot at centre half-forward and got a kick in which bounced through to seal it. It seemed as though the ball bounced 55,000 times and time stood still. Everyone was watching this ball bounce this way and that, and it bounced through. And when it bounced through it looked like everyone in the crowd was going to jump onto the ground.
“That’s what I can remember, looking down at that southern end. Everyone stopped to watch it, and it was the only time really that everyone stopped to watch in a way.” When the siren sounded over Jolimont two minutes later, the HSV7 cameras homed in on one of the most famous Grand Final scorelines:
Carlton 17.9 (111), Collingwood 14.17 (101).
As Nicholls wrested his club’s 10th premiership cup from the clutches of then Victorian Governor Sir Rohan Delacombe, crestfallen Collingwood players sought the nearest hole.
But as the days, weeks, months and years ticked over, there would be nowhere to hide, nor any tears shed by cold blue eyes. “’Barass’ has become famous for using ‘handball, handball, hand ball’, but we’d been talking about it and doing it in lots of other games. The fact of the matter was that the 1970 Grand Final was the first time we’d handballed properly and it worked, which made that game very famous,” Nicholls said.
“Collingwood wasn’t a fragile side but we had come from behind on several occasions and beaten Collingwood, haven given them a start. That’s the sort of side they were. McKenna at full-forward, Barry Price, [Wayne] Richardson and these guys – they could cut you to pieces and kick the ball well, but the minute you shut them down and put pressure on them, man-for-man all over, they became much less of a side. They cut us to pieces in the first half and of course there was Ted Hopkins.
“The fact of the matter was that we played Collingwood, Collingwood choked a bit and when you put them under pressure they weren’t as good. Had we played a better side than Collingwood we wouldn’t have won.”
The final word belongs to Barassi. So where does the 1970 Grand Final rate among the 17 he experienced as a player or coach?
Look, sometimes I’m asked, ‘Who’s the best fullback – is it Dench or Southby?’ I’m sure I’ve nominated both, not at the same time to the same questioner. So it is for the Grand Finals,” Barassi said.
“Under pressure, I always go ’70. It was spectacular, it was played before the largest crowd ever seen for a game of football in Australia and it was just full of heroics by the players. And it was Collingwood, too, so I’ll stick to that.”