From Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog, September 28, 2018
JACKIE’S OLD BONES
OR HOW, HALF A CENTURY AGO, ESSENDON WAS ROBBED OF A GRAND FINAL WIN AGAINST CARLTON — DUE TO THE FALL
Jackie’s (male) co-owner has never got over two disappointments in his life. Firstly, the fact that star Essendon full-forward John Coleman was disqualified for four matches having been found guilty by the Victorian Football League Tribunal of striking Carlton’s Harry Caspar in the last home-and-away game for 1951 — at Princes Park in Carlton. Caspar hit Coleman first — he was suspended for four matches. And Coleman received the same penalty for retaliating. Shame.
This meant that John Coleman could not play in the 1951 Grand Final — when Geelong defeated Essendon by a mere 11 points. The score was 11-15 (81) to 10-10 (70).
Gerard Henderson’s pain was made unbearable by virtue of the fact that Geelong’s full-forward George Goninon kicked 4 goals on the day. Goninon had been cleared by Essendon to play for Geelong since he struggled to get a game at Essendon due to Coleman’s dominance.
Gerard Henderson’s anguish is documented in his essay “John Coleman & The Ghosts of Princes Park” which is published in Ross Fitzgerald’s edited collection ‘Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football’ (Connor Court).
And then there was Essendon’s defeat by Carlton in the 1968 Grand Final on Saturday 28 September 1968 — exactly 50 years ago. On this occasion, Essendon could not field its best side due to injuries to star centre-half-forward Ken Fraser and full-back Greg Brown.
The 1968 Grand Final was marred by strong winds — which made marking difficult and kept scores low. In the event, a record crowd of 116,828 (including Hendo) saw Carlton defeat Essendon by 7-14 (56) to 8.5 (53). A mere 3 points. This was the first occasion in a Grand Final where the losing side kicked more goals than the winning one.
In the final moments of the game, a kick into the Essendon forward line saw Essendon centre-half-forward Alan Noonan and Carlton full-back Wes Lofts contest a mark — 20 metres out and almost in front of goal. Noonan was set to mark and kick for goal — when he received an enormous push-in-the-back from Lofts and dropped the ball. A goal would have seen Essendon’s score move to 9-5 (59) — a win by 3 points. However, umpire Jeff Crouch was in nothing-to-see-here mode and called “play on”. Carlton cleared the football and, shortly after, the final siren sounded. Shame.
It was at this moment that Hendo came to completely comprehend the real meaning of The Fall — Original Sin and all that. There on the MCG in front of a crowd of 116,827 (Hendo’s uncle William — a Carlton supporter — left the MCG at three quarter time) was evidence of the fact that no man is born without stain. And that we are all sinners — especially Carlton full-backs and indecisive umpires.
All this was made harder to accept when, addressing the Carlton Football Club in March 1983, Carlton tragic B.A. Santamaria boasted about the fact that Lofts got away with his push-in-the-back. This is what Santa had to say:
“I remember the 1968 Grand Final, in which we beat Essendon by three points. It was won, of course, by the whole team: but if one player can claim to have turned the game, it was Wes Lofts. When Geoff Blethyn flew for the mark only a few yards from the goal, Wes Lofts gave him a gentle push in the back, which unbalanced him. It should, of course, have been a free kick: but the umpire was in front of Blethyn and he missed it. I cannot condone illegality, but there are occasions when one may justifiably follow Nelson’s example and turn his blind eye to the telescope.”
In fact, Lofts pushed Noonan — not Essendon’s full-forward Geoff Blethyn. Same sinner, wrong victim. The point here is that Santa rationalised Lofts’ push-in-the-back. So Lofts’ sin was endorsed by Bob Santamaria — another sin.
Santa was a Catholic who learnt about The Fall as a young boy at St Ambrose Primary School in Sydney Road, Brunswick — not far up the road from Princes Park — but exhibited lotsa stain when barracking for Carlton. Shame.
Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog, September 28, 2018