VFL 1952 – Saints Stun Bulldogs ‘In Mud at Yallourn’

As a result of the Global Covid-19 Pandemic, Round Six of the 2020 AFL season sees every team in the competition play away from home. Surprisingly, this will not be the first time this fixture quirk has occurred. Nearly 70 years earlier, in Round Eight of the 1952 season all 12 VFL teams were sent to various locations on the eastern seaboard. Unlike in 2020 when this was forced upon the league, in 1952 it was a decision made deliberately to spread the game.

The showcase games for the Round were unquestionably meant to be between 1951 Grand Finalists Geelong and Essendon and between powerhouses Richmond and Collingwood. With this in mind these teams were sent to Brisbane and Sydney respectively. Melbourne and Fitzroy were sent across Bass Straight to play in Hobart while North Melbourne and South Melbourne, who met in Albury, were also sent interstate. With Carlton and Hawthorn scheduled for Euroa, St Kilda and Footscray unquestionably drew the short straw being sent to Yallourn for their match.

With due respect to Yallourn, which sat about two hours out of Melbourne in the Latrobe Valley, the most positive thing about it was that it was mistakenly thought to be designed by Walter Burley Griffen. Built by the State Electricity Commission, the sole reason for its existence was to house the people working at the town’s power station. Home to nearly 5000 people at its peak, by 1980 it was no more after the SEC decided in 1968 to close the town and relocate its residents.

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As much as St Kilda and Footscray might have been aggrieved at being short changed, the residents of the Latrobe Valley might have felt that way too. After seven rounds of the season the teams sat 10th and 12th in the 12 team competition with just two wins between them. It was also expected to be one-sided with the Bulldogs possessing all eight premiership points won between the clubs to that stage.

The Argus pointed to Ted Whitten and Footscray’s more settled lineups as the decisive factors on the morning of the match. “Constant sweeping changes have not given the Saints any chance to settle down and develop teamwork,” they wrote. “They are still relying on the individual efforts of players who are hard-pressed to hold down their positions.” It is hard to fault their assessment, just one Saint played all 19 games in 1951 and the club used 46 players while the competition average was just 35. As right as they might have been about the instability at the club, they couldn’t have been more wrong about the match.

Confronted with the kind of conditions that today’s players would refuse to play in, and with 3500 fans in attendance, the Saints and Bulldogs stepped out into torrential rain and ankle-deep mud. With spectators unprotected from the elements, the conditions the players had to overcome were blamed for the low crowd figure. Officials were quick post-match to suggest 10,000 or 12,000 might have attended had better weather prevailed. In fact Yallourn’s state champion soccer team, playing on an adjoining field at the same time, probably had a bigger influence on crowd numbers than the weather gods.

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Those fans who chose to watch the round ball game missed a determined team effort from the Saints. Despite missing inspirational captain Keith Drinan, they attacked the contest more ferociously than their more fancied opponents. While the conditions meant that the low scoring contest was never going to be a grand spectacle of the game’s skills it was a wonderful showcase of its spirit. After an even opening quarter, the Saints were able to build a sizeable lead in the second quarter.

The Herald praised the efforts of St Kilda ruckman Alan Squire. “Opposed to a talented opponent in Dave Bryden, Squire was rarely beaten for the hit-out,” they wrote. They also considered his combination with onballer Nicky Bloom as the decisive factor in the match. This is an interesting assessment given http://www.afltables.com does not list Bloom in the Saints team that day.

Not content with dominating the hit outs alone, Squire would also finish the day with one of the Saints seven goals. A number of usual suspects hit the scoreboard, with Jack McDonald kicking two goals. McDonald would go on and win that seasons goal-kicking award, the second of three times he would do so. Jim Ross, who was on his way to his third best and fairest also kicked a goal as the Saints ran out 15 point winners.

The match, the first and to date only game for premiership points played at Yallourn, was memorable for a few more firsts. For Irving Davidson, he would kick his first and only career goal. Ron Banfield would play his first VFL game but would have to wait until the return match against Footscray to kick his first and only career goal. For Col Williamson, this would be his first win in charge of the team after taking over the reigns as coach at the start of the year. Unlike the other firsts, Williamson would lead the Saints to further victories before his tenure ended after the 1953 season.

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Footscray1. (34)
St Kilda2. (49)
GOALS – FootscrayWhitten 2, Duffy, Edwards, Rogers.
St KildaMcDonald 2, Davidson, Langdon, Mulhall, Ross, Squire
UmpireMax Blumfield
Attendance3500 at Yallourn.

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