Continuing the series of VFL / AFL 'decades in review'... In part 3, a 'golden era' of the VFL, where most teams had a realistic shot at the flag.
In the 30 seasons from 1950 to 1979, 10 of the 12 competing teams did indeed carry off a season with a flag. While the writing was on the wall at the end of this period for the two teams that missed out, South Melbourne and Fitzroy.
THE BREAKTHROUGHS BEGIN
The first full post-war decade brought the first real success of the 'new teams' introduced in 1925, with Footscray breaking through for their first Premiership in 1954. Even that successful year didn't amount to a successful decade, with a winning percentage of only 48.9%.
The fifties also was the era of dominance by Melbourne under the legendary Norm Smith, when they won 4 flags and could have bagged another 2 more (missing 1954 and 1958). And the Melbourne dominance didn't finish with the end of this decade, with more flags in the 60's.
THE SPLIT APPEARS
The 60's were possibly the most balanced and competitive decade of the VFL, with 7 different teams winning flags, and only 4 teams not having positive winning percentages. It could also be argued that it was the beginning of tough times for the 4 clubs that had the poorest winning percentages. Of those 4 two have moved / merged and the other 2 have had both additional AFL funding and changed their name as well.
This decade was (and still is) St.Kilda's best, with a flag and a 61.2% winning performance. Best by a long way (nearest was 50.4% in the 90's).
It was also the decade of breakthrough for Hawthorn, finally winning a flag and leaving only North Melbourne without a premiership.
The 60's also marked the start of Collingwood's 'Decades of Dissapointment', with no flags for the 60's, 70's and 80's.
With the advent of television and televised games (along with radio coverage) you could also mount an argument that the additional media coverage fuelled the divide amongst the clubs, with more focus on the successful teams pulling in more supporters and dollars etc. You could mount that case, but I will just call it a theory and leave it at that.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The 70's were the era of colour television, where teams accommodated the TV networks by changing jumper colours (e.g. Melbourne to a lighter blue), and even wearing coloured shorts (Richmond and Essendon both donned shorts that matched the sashes, Footscray went for red shorts too). The first real decade where the media influenced football.
In turn it was also the decade where football influenced popular culture as it was when the first Australian Football based feature films were made: "The Great MacArthy" (1975) and "The Club" (movie: 1980, play 1977).
It also saw the last of the 1920's new boys break through and win a flag, with Barassi at the helm and Aylett working the 10-year rule to effect, North Melbourne picked up their first 2 flags. It was also the begininning of a dominating period by Hawthorn and Carlton as well, with 3 flags each and more in the 80's as well.
It also returned football back to a decade of dominance of some clubs, but this time with a twist. Clubs were now openly spending and securing the best talent, as well as developing players from within their zones, which continued into the next decade until the boom time turned to bust.
The spending was partly triggered by the introduction of the 10-year rule, but also by the increased flow of funds into clubs. No longer reliant on memberships and benefactors, this decade brought sponsorship to a new level. No longer were the fences on the outer draped with supporter made banners, but sponsor signs. Jumpers also first sported logos over the left breast
- North Melbourne and Courage Breweries
- Essendon and Don Smallgoods
- Collingwood and Yakka
- Richmond and Carlton and United Breweries
Notably, without sponsorship dollars was St. Kilda, Melbourne, Footscray, Fitzroy and South Melbourne. And for the latter, it was their last decade in Melbourne. The beginning of the end of the VFL had begun, without most people realising it.
And the next three decades would shake the foundations of the football world,
...as well as re-invigorate it into a new dimension.