When the Saints travelled to VFL Park to take on the Cats in Round Four 1983, they did so with four players set to make their debut appearance in red, black and white at senior level. Despite this quartet containing a 17-year-old who would become the leading goal scorer in competition history, it would be the appearance of a pair of former Swans that would grab the headlines in the days to follow and have a seismic effect on the then VFL.
After months of legal wrangling, a Supreme Court decision on the day before the game gave St Kilda the right to play Silvio Foschini against the Cats. In the wake of the decision some clubs threatened to boycott matches against the Saints, only to step back from their stance upon learning the position could see them found to be in contempt of court.
Emboldened by the court’s ruling, and unperturbed by the mood of other clubs, they made the controversial decision to play not one but two wantaway Swans by sending Paul Morwood out onto VFL Park too despite him not having been cleared to play for the club. While many of the 20,286 fans at the ground may not have realised at first that it was not Peter Kiel in the number 17 jersey that day, it was quickly noticed by VFL officials. In chaotic scenes, upon recognising the bearded Morwood, VFL Chiefs Jack Hamilton and Allen Aylett made hasty exits from the Saints Pre-Match function.
Having received advice from three Queen’s Councils prior to making the decision to play Morwood, St Kilda President Lindsay Fox was confident of his position when he spoke with reporters on the day. “There are no rules at all,” he answered questions as to the implications of the Supreme Court’s finding before expressing his belief that most of the competition’s rules around player movements would need to be modified.
While Fox was vocal in his confidence in the club’s position, the club’s General Manager Ian Stewart offered slightly different reasoning behind the decision. Asked post-match as to why the club had risked four premiership points, he suggested it was a free hit for the Saints. “We were beaten by 21-goals last week,” Stewart told reporters. “Where was the risk?”
The story behind keeping Morwood’s debut secret until he took the field was one of incredible scheming and plotting. Secret night-time training sessions were held for the 24-year-old during the week, and while for some it was suspicious to see him arrive on game day these doubts were waylaid in part because he did not have his kit bag with him. He didn’t have it with him because his new captain, Trevor Barker had brought it to the ground for him.
All the subterfuge and intrigue seemed worth the effort when they led the undefeated Cats by 16-points after a scintillating opening quarter. Mark ‘Jacko’ Jackson providing a strong target up forward, kicking three goals for the term and 4.3 for the day.
Foschini, finally able to let his football do the talking kicked two majors and helped set up two others for team mates. A more than serviceable afternoon but, with four behinds to his name too, it could have been even more influential.
Wearing the number 37 jersey, and looking a shadow of the behemoth he would become, Tony Lockett came off the bench and fittingly kicked a goal with his first possession. He would add another before the final siren as he began his journey to his record tally of 1360 career goals.
Fellow debutant, Mak Foyster would also have a solid first day on the job. The 19-year-old from Mt Eliza would finish the day with 14-possessions, enough for him to earn selection the following week. Despite this, his time at Moorabbin would come to an end at the end of the 1984 season after nine career games in the red, black and white.
The Saints would surrender the lead by half-time, but with the margin just one-point the game was set up for a gripping second half. Sixteen-year-old Rod Owen, in just his third game, again showed his promise and with Robert Elphinstone and future coach Grant Thomas performing strongly down back, the match was in the balance until late in the final term. The Cats Terry Bright would ultimately prove the difference, his three final quarter goals seeing his team home by 11-points.
Morwood with 19 possessions, after having been at the centre of the days controversy, was another solid contributor for the Saints before fading late in the match. Interviewed post-match he told reporters that he had only made the decision to play after advice from his solicitors. “Once I got out there I was OK,” he said. “I found it a lot easier than I thought. But it was probably the hardest decision of mv life.”
Despite the legal advice he and the club had received, the days events were not well received at VFL House. Some of the more outlandish penalties considered in the aftermath included St Kilda’s expulsion from the VFL and lifetime bans for Fox and Stewart. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the sternest punishment handed out was delivered by the Swans the following week when the two clubs met in Sydney. Defying convention, Sydney made it clear that the Saints were not welcome at the pre-game President’s lunch. Taking the snub in his stride, Fox and his fellow Saints officials famously enjoyed meat pies in the SCG carpark instead.
|VFL 1983 ROUND FOUR|
Geelong 2.4 7.5 10.9 13.12 (90)
St Kilda 5.2 7.4 8.7 11.13 (79)
Best: Geelong: Neal, Kol, Featherby, Peake, Bright, Turner.
St Kilda: Elphinstone, Owen, Dunne, Mace, Crow, Thomas.
Goals: Geelong: Bright 4, Kol 3, Lenaghan 2, Johnston, Peake, O’Keefe.
St – Kilda: Jackson 4, Mace 2, Foschini 2, Lockett 2, Elphinstone.
Umpires: Cameron, Rich.
Attendance at VFL Park: 20,826