Good Old Collingwood Forever

The Story of Collingwood's 1953 Premiership

Posts Tagged ‘Western Bulldogs

The Opposition – Footscray

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Footscray in 1953 were on the cusp of premiership success. This was the year they won their first ever final, when they defeated Essendon in the semi-final by 8 points. They reached the preliminary final which they lost to Geelong by 26 points. It would be another year before the Bulldogs would finally taste premiership glory by winning their only Grand Final.

Footscray were captained and coached by Charlie Sutton. He debuted with the club in 1942 and played 173 games in a career that lasted 12 years. (He did not play between 1943-1945) He became captain/coach of the Bulldogs in 1951, a year after he won the best & fairest award which would subsequently be named after him. He would remain captain until his retirement as a player in 1955 and stay as coach until he was unceremoniously dumped midway through the 1957 season, when Ted Whitten took over. He is also a member of Footscray’s team of the century. He is a legend of the Footscray Football Club.

Ruckman Harvey Stevens won Footscrays’ best & fairest award in 1953. Two weeks prior to the start of the 1953 season Stevens was dumped by Collingwood and was fortunately picked up by the Bulldogs just prior to round 3. Stevens played VFL footy for 10 years, with 5 seasons at Collingwood where he played 55 games, and 5 at Footscray where he played 72 games. He played in Collingwood’s losing 1952 Grand Final side, where he was tried without success at full-forward, even though he had never played in that position before. Many feel that he was made the scapegoat for that loss and despite performing well in the 1953 preseason he was dumped from the team before the start of the new season. Stevens became a  member of the Bulldogs’ 1954 premiership side and captained Footscray in 1957.

The most famous Bulldog of all was a member of the 1953 side. 1953 was the 3rd VFL season for the legendary Ted Whitten. ‘E.J’ had played just 29 games prior to 1953. To many people he was the embodiment of everything Footscray, he captained the club from 1957 until his retirement as a player in 1970. Teddy also coached the club from July 1957 until 1966, when his predecessor Charlie Sutton took over the helm, and again from 1969 until 1972, when Collingwood’s greatest ever player Bob Rose took over the coaching role. Whitten won the Bulldogs’ best and fairest in 1954, 57, 58, 59 and 61 and was their leading goal kicker in 1961, 62, 64 and 68. He is the captain of both the Western Bulldogs‘ team of the century and AFL team of the century. Like Sutton he is a legend of the Western Bulldogs Football Club.

In 1953 the leading goal kicker for Footscray was Jack Collins who kicked 50 goals for the season. Collins won the best & fairest award for the Bulldogs in 1951 and 52. His 1953 season is perhaps remembered mostly for the controversy that occurred in the final round of the home & away season when he and Collingwood’s Frank Tuck clashed which caused both players to be suspended for the finals series. Collins played 154 games for Footscray over 9 seasons and kicked 385 career goals.

Peter Box was another of Footscray’s top players of the 1950s. He debuted in 1951 but missed the entire 1952 season through injury. In 1956 he won the Brownlow Medal after winning Footscray’s best & fairest in 1955. Don Ross the 1956 Footscray best & fairest was playing his second season in 1953.

The Footscray backline of 1953 also featured some of their all-time great players including Wally Donald and Herb Henderson. The Bulldogs conceded only 959 points for the season, the lowest in the VFL history to that date.

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1953 Lightning Premiership

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Tuesday June 2 1953

The 1953 Lightning Premiership was an odd and meaningless diversion played in the middle of the premiership season. It was a knockout competition featuring the 12 VFL teams, played at the MCG on Tuesday June 2. Each match consisted of a two quarters, with the winner progressing to the next round. The only teams who fielded their almost full-squads seemed to be those dwelling on the bottom half of the VFL ladder, with cellar dwellers Richmond defeating St Kilda in the final.

In their match the Magpies played Footscray. Neither team was at full strength but the Bulldogs advanced to the quarter-finals by beating Collingwood easily. The Magpies did not score a goal for the game. Thorold Merrett was Collingwood’s best player on the wing, but his good work was brought undone due to the Magpies’ poor forward work. (1)

Teams

Score

Footscray

3.2.20
Collingwood

0.2.2

In another first round match Essendon defeated Geelong.

Footscray encountered eventual Lightning Premiership winner Richmond in the next round, which they lost by five points, while Essendon would lose to St Kilda in a semi-final.

The Magpies and the Bulldogs would encounter each other again in four days time in what would be a classic match at the Western Oval. That match would be for premiership points and show that both of these teams would almost be ready for the monumental challenge that was Geelong.

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Footnote

  1. The Herald – Tuesday June 2 1953 – page 16

Round 5 – Collingwood Vs Hawthorn

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Saturday May 23 1953

Collingwood were expected to dominate their Round 5 encounter with Hawthorn at Victoria Park and ended up winning by 70 points. In front of just 9,627 people (1) in atrocious conditions both teams struggled with their being just 12 points separating the two teams at three quarter time. The Magpies finally broke the shackles with a devastating 9 goal final quarter.

The Hawks were tenacious for the first three quarters (2) and held a ruck advantage (3), with John Kennedy’s ruckwork being a highlight of the match. (3) Hawthorn also proved to be more adept at handling the greasy ball. (4) Unfortunately for the Hawks Kennedy’s efforts were often nullified by the roving of the Richards brothers Lou and Ron. (5)

The Magpie ‘Machine’ could not slip into gear until the final quarter when every player started producing his best. (6) Hawthorn were swept off their feet as Collingwood took control (7), the Hawks being unable to halt the sudden, systematic brilliance of the Magpies. (8) This final 9 goal burst boosted Collingwood’s percentage enough to put them into the four for the first time since Round 1. (8)

Bob Rose playing on the half-forward-flank proved to be the moving force behind the majority of Collingwood’s attacks with great ball-handling and kicking despite the conditions. (9)

Scores

Teams

1st Quarter

2nd Quarter

3rd Quarter

Final Score

Collingwood 3.3.21 3.10.28 4.13.37 13.18.96
Hawthorn 3.3.21 3.3.21 3.7.25 3.8.26

Goals

Collingwood – Tebble 2, B Rose 2, Hickey 2, R Richards 2, Kingston, Merrett, Finck, Clarke, Healey

Hawthorn – McCann, Coghlan, Collins

Best

Collingwood – B Rose, L Richards, Healey, Merrett, Tebble, R Richards, Mann, Waller, Kingston

Hawthorn – Kennedy, Simmonds, Crane, O’Mahoney, Philp, Robison, Coghlan, Pearson

In Other Games

Footscray went to second place on the ladder with a 60 point victory over Fitzroy at the Western Oval that the Argus’ Hugh Buggy said resembled a swamp. (10) If it was not for a goal from Alan Ruthven late in the last quarter the Maroons would have had the dubious distinction of being the first team in VFL history to have gone through a match scoreless. (11)

Geelong beat Richmond by 54 points with Goninon kicking 11 goals. John Coleman could only manage 2 goals in Essendon’s 11 point loss to Melbourne.

In Financial News

Alf Brown reported in the Herald that whilst it costs Collingwood £250 to field a side each week, Collingwood lost £240 on this game. (12) The gate for the match in which less than 10,000 fans attended due to inclement weather and Hawthorn’s poor form, was just £212. (13)

In Injury News

Jock McHale was injured during the week when a log fell on his left foot and badly bruised his big toe. The former coach received treatment for this injury at half-time. (14)

VFL Ladder after round 5

Team

Win

Draw

Lose

Premiership Points

Geelong 5 0 0 20
Footscray 4 0 1 16
North Melbourne 4 0 1 16
Collingwood 3 0 2 12
Carlton 3 0 2 12
Fitzroy 3 0 2 12
Essendon 2 0 3 8
South Melbourne 

 

2 0 3 8
St Kilda 

 

2 0 3 8
Richmond 1 0 4 4
Melbourne 1 0 4 4
Hawthorn 0 0 5 0

Leading Goalkickers

Player

Team

Goals in Round

Goals For Season

J. Coleman Essendon 2 37
G. Goninon Geelong 11 28
J. Hickey Fitzroy 0 22
N. Trezise Geelong 0 17
J. Collins Footscray 3 16
P. Bennett St Kilda 3 11
G. Marchesi North Melbourne 2 15
A. Aylett North Melbourne 2 14
A. Walsh Carlton 2 13

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Footnotes

  1. The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  2. The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  3. The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  4. The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  5. The Age, Monday May 25 1953 – page 7
  6. The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  7. The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  8. The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  9. The Age, Monday May 25 1953 – page 7
  10. The Age, Monday May 25 1953 – page 7
  11. Buggy. H – The Argus, Monday May 25 1953 – page 12
  12. Brown. A – The Herald, Monday June 1 1953 – page 12
  13. Brown. A – The Herald, Monday June 1 1953 – page 12
  14. The Sun, Monday May 25 1953 – page 25

The Opposition – South Melbourne

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Ron Clegg

1953 was an OK year for South Melbourne with the Swans finishing the season in 8th place on the VFL ladder. They would have 9 wins and 9 loses for the season, with their biggest scalp being a 43 point victory over Geelong in round 17 at the Lake Oval. They also defeated Footscray in round 9 at the Western Oval by 29 points and Essendon by 10 points at the Lake Oval in round 2. The only finalist that they did not beat in 1953 was Collingwood who easily defeated South both times that they met.

in 1953 South were coached by Laurie Nash. Nash who was a member of the Swans’ 1933 premiership team and captained the club in 1937, was appointed coach for the 1953 season. Nash also played test cricket matches for Australia in the 1930s. In 1954 he would be replaced by former team-mate and captain Herbie Matthews.

The Swans best player of the early 1950s was Ron ‘Smokey’ Clegg. He was a brilliant key position player at either centre half-forward or centre half-back who won the Brownlow Medal in 1949. He also won South Melbourne’s best and fairest award three times in 1948, 49 & 51. Clegg played 231 games for the Swans between 1945 & 1960 and was considered one of the greatest players to put on a Swans guernsey. He was a superb mark and a driving kick.

In 1953 the Swans’ best and fairest award went to Jim Taylor. Taylor played for South between 1949 and 1954, before going to South Australia to play with Norwood. He returned to the Lake Oval in 1956 and again won the Swans’ best and fairest award. He was also fourth in the Brownlow Medal count of that year. He was a very versatile footballer who play as a dashing ruckman or centre-half-back. He won a second best & fairest award in 1957. He also worked part-time as a male model who helped promote cigarettes.

Stringly built ruckman Ian Gillett was South Melbourne’s leading goalkicker in 1953, scoring 34 goals for the season. He played 135 games for South between 1951 & 58 and won their best and fairest award in 1955. His best haul of goals was 5 in a losing side against Collingwood at the Lake Oval. He was a great protector of South’s rovers and captained the team in 1956.

Fred Goldsmith played his third VFL season in 1953. He only played 8 matches for the 53 season and could not really cement his spot in the team. In 1954 South moved him from the half-forward-flank to full-back which turned his career around. In 1955 he won the Brownlow Medal by 1 vote to Essendon’s Bill Hutchison. He was a spectacular mark and a long drop kick, in 1956 he won the Simpson Medal as Victoria’s best player.

Bill Gunn was a brilliant forward who played 104 games for South Melbourne between 1952 and 1959. He was a fast and clever footballer with good instincts who represented Victoria in 1952, 1954, 1956 and 1959. He was selected to play in the 1953 ANFC carnival in Adelaide but had to withdraw due to work commitments. Gunn was a quick and active centre-half-forward who kicked 101 goals in his career; he captained the Swans in 1955.

Keith Schaefer was a consistent centreman who played 102 games for the Swans between 1947 and 1953. He had a fine turn of speed, was an excellent mark and an accurate stab pass. He won South’s best and fairest award in 1953.

Mick Sibum who kicked 4 goals in the opening round against Collingwood ended up kicking 20 goals for the season, with those 4 goals being his best haul for the year. He played 111 games for South in 6 seasons from 1950, kicking 88 goals throughout his career. He was a dashing rover who was appointed vice captain in 1955.

Looking back at the 1952 Grand Final & its aftermath

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Sam Wells' preview of the 1952 Grand Final

To really grasp the significance of Collingwood’s 1953 season and their historic, drought breaking Grand Final victory of that year, one has to look back twelve months earlier, when Geelong comfortably defeated the Magpies by 46 points in the 1952 Grand Final. The strength and overall dominance of the Cats’ team of the early 1950s cannot be overemphasised. As they entered the 1952 Grand Final Geelong were not just the reigning premier but were also in the middle of what is still the longest unbeaten streak in VFL/AFL history and had easily defeated Collingwood by 54 points in the Second Semi-Final two weeks prior. The Cats were the undeniable favourites.

Most football observers predicted that the Cats would easily defeat the Magpies in the 1952 decider and whilst the final score of the Grand Final seems to indicate this, what it does not show is that Collingwood did not give up the match without a fight. In the end the courage and determination of the Magpies was simply not enough to even get close to the brilliant Geelong juggernaut, although the Cats clearly did not impress everyone. Writing in the Argus Essendon’s legendary coach Dick Reynolds was clearly underwhelmed by the Geelong effort. He thought that the Cats failed to live up to their stellar reputation and that they failed to turn on the fireworks that everyone had been expecting.(1) Reynolds praised the Magpies whose side was seriously depleted by  injuries, and thought that if they were at full strength they would probably be more than a match for the mighty Geelong team.(2) Reynolds concluded that their performance in the Grand Final proved that the Geelong team, who were starting to be dubbed the ‘Invincibles’ (3) were far from unbeatable.(4) This would perhaps prove to be prophetic twelve months later.

WEG's take on the '52 Grand Final

The Age ‘s Percy Beams said that although “…it was apparent from the start that the Magpies lacked the team balance and skill of their opponents, their sheer determination and concentration worried Geelong into mediocrity…”(5) and that there was a belief among the other sides “…that many Geelong players could be robbed of their confidence to do their best under pressure.”(6) Again these words would prove to be prophetic in 1953 and one wonders whether the Cats’ became too complacent during this time and started to believe that even if they did not play at their best they could still easily beat their nearest opposition.

Collingwood’s biggest problem on the day of the 1952 Grand Final was their inability to kick goals as they were handicapped by what Beams called an inadequate forward division due mainly to the strength of the Cat’s defenders. (7) Collingwood used Harvey Stevens as a makeshift full-forward and whilst he had several opportunities to goal there were many occasions where he dropped marks inside the goal square, with the Argus reckoning he could have kicked six goals if he had been able to hold onto his marks.(8) By the start of the ’53 season Stevens would no longer be a Magpie, having been let go, but he did end up at Footscray and would win their best and fairest award in 1953 and become a member of their only premiership team in 1954.

Cats' skipper Fred Flanagan is chaired from the ground

Collingwood only had two goal scorers for the day in wingman Thorold Merrett and forward pocket Jack Parker, whilst Geelong’s George Goninon kicked five and Neil Trezise kicked four. Things would again be very different in a years time, as prior to the ’53 Grand Final Geelong would drop Goninon for an off-field indiscretion, a move that many Cats’ fans and Goninon believe cost them the 1953 premiership.

Collingwood simply ran out of legs at the end of the match, although Bob Rose always battled tirelessly. (9) Collingwood’s skipper Lou Richards also ended up injured in the trainers hands with an injured head and bleeding arm (10). Geelong were simply the quicker team and player with much greater teamwork than the Magpies (11), although Collingwood’s bustling had the Cats worried on occasions. (12) The Magpies also suffered from great inaccuracy in front of goal kicking seven behinds in the final quarter, showing their generally haphazard approach to goal. (13)

Scores

Team

1st Quarter

2nd Quarter

3rd Quarter

4th Quarter

Geelong

4.2.26

5.3.33

11.6.72

13.8.86

Collingwood

1.1.7

3.3.21

5.3.33

5.10.40

Attendance – 82,890

 

Goalkickers

Geelong – Goninon 6, Trezise 4, Davis 1, Flanagan 1, McMaster 1, Worner 1

Collingwood – Parker 3, Merrett 2

Best

Geelong – Williams, Trezise, Morrison, Goninon, Davis, B. Smith, Flanagan

Collingwood – B. Rose, Merrett, Dunstan, W. Twomey, Parker, M. Twomey, Mann

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WEG shows the extent of Collingwood's injuries prior to the '52 Grand Final

AFTERMATH

Was the reason Geelong lost the 1953 Grand Final because they became too arrogant? Did they believe that they were so far ahead of their nearest rivals that they could beat anyone even when they were not playing to the best of their considerable ability? There is one story that I think sums up the arrogance of the Geelong team of the early 1950s which I thought was apocryphal when I first heard it but as all the major Melbourne newspapers reported it I guess that it is in fact true. According to the Sun the evening after the ’52 Grand Final the president of Geelong, Cr. J. Jennings, accompanied by players and officials, tried to bury a dead (or as the Age put it, stuffed) magpie, in front of the celebratory crowd at Kardinia Park. (14) The players carried the magpie in a coffin but the ceremony had to be cut short as the crowd surged forward and women and children were in danger of being trampled. (15) Nowadays football teams control to an extent what they say and do off the field in relations to other teams so as not to give the opposition ammunition to use in future matches, but this did not seem to worry the Cats in 1952. I could not imagine what they would have done if they had beaten Richmond or Fitzroy in the Grand Final. Also could it have been this arrogance as well as morality that led them to drop their leading goal kicker twelve months later? Did Geelong really think they could beat Collingwood without one of the best players in the side? I guess that we will never know.

As for Collingwood they put up a gallant effort but just were not good enough on the day. They did have a lot of injuries during the 1952 season and their stocks were depleted going into the 1952 decider, missing Peter Lucas and Pat Twomey, but they battled hard and exposed a few chinks in the Cats’ armour.  Nobody expected Collingwood to win going into the big match with even two of the Magpie’s former heroes in Dan Minogue and Harold Rumney tipping against their old club. (16) Rarely do players ever make their AFL/VFL debuts in a Grand Final but 22-year-old Magpie Keith Batchelor did in 1952, named as full-back on Geelong’s champion forward George Goninon. The game looked lost before the teams took the field. Surely things would go better for the Magpies in 1953?

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Footnotes

  1. Reynolds, R & Dunn, J – The Argus newspaper, Monday September 29, 1952, page 9
  2. Reynolds, R & Dunn, J – The Argus newspaper, Monday September 29, 1952, page 9
  3. Ryan. P – The Unbeatables – from We Are Geelong, The Story of the Geelong Football Club – John Murray – The Slattery Media Group, page 74
  4. Reynolds, R & Dunn, J – The Argus newspaper, Monday September 29, 1952, page 9
  5. Beams, P – The Age – Monday September 29, 1952, page 14
  6. Beams, P – The Age – Monday September 29, 1952, page 14
  7. Beams, P – The Age – Monday September 29, 1952, page 14
  8. Dunn, J & Johnson, I – The Argus – Monday September 29, 1952, page 10
  9. Brown, A – The Herald – Saturday September 27, 1952, page 19
  10. Brown, A – The Herald – Saturday September 27, 1952, page 19
  11. Brown, A – The Herald – Saturday September 27, 1952, page 19
  12. Brown, A – The Herald – Saturday September 27, 1952, page 19
  13. Brown, A – The Herald – Saturday September 27, 1952, page 19
  14. The Sun – Monday September 29, 1952 – page 1
  15. The Sun – Monday September 29, 1952 – page 1
  16. The Sun – Saturday September 27, 1952