Monday, 10 June 2013

The Forgotten Grand Finals

Many hours of looking at the online archives of The Age and The Argus have left me closer to insanity than usual and neglecting the blog for the longest time in it's brief history.

I guess most casual observers of the local game may know that the VPL switched from a first past the post Championship to a Finals series in 1992, with North Geelong taking the first Grand Final 4-1 after extra time against Brunswick Juventus. Despite the old First Division, and then from 1958, the old State League awarding the Championship to the side the headed the ladder at the conclusion of the season, there had been "Grand Finals" prior to 1992.

In 1915 the fledgling League was contested in two Sections rather than Divisions. In the Semi-Finals, Albert Park (top of Section A) defeated St Kilda (runner's-up in Section B) 4-0. Section B leaders Thistle got past Section A runner's-up Northumberland and Durham United 3-2. Thistle claimed the Championship of Victoria by triumphing 1-0 over Albert Park at Middle Park, Brown being the scorer.

With the disruption caused by the First World War, soccer in Melbourne went into recess as most players enlisted to serve their King and Country. When organised football got back underway in 1919, there were only enough teams for one division, but in 1920 the two section set-up was back in use. The first Grand Final between Northumberland and Durham United and St Kilda was drawn 1-1, leading to a replay in which N&D (a much needed abbreviation) claimed the title with a 2-0 win.

The competition then went back to the traditional divisional structure, but again a Grand Final of sorts was required in 1923. This time it was because deciding the Championship on goal difference or goal average was considered inadequate, so St Kilda and Footscray Thistle, locked on 20 points each faced each other in a Championship Play-Off. The two sides still took a bit of separating, the first encounter ending in a 2-2 draw. The replay was also drawn, this time without any goals, before St Kilda finally took the honours 2-1 in the second replay, making it a double by winning the Dockerty Cup 1-0 over Preston as well.

There was upheaval in the administration of the game in 1927, with a "District" competition set up by the new Melbourne Soccer Football Association. Some older clubs were cast aside and played in their own competition, which was not covered by the major papers.

In 1928 the District League was divided into North and South Sections, again requiring a Grand Final to determine the Championship of Victoria. Naval Depot, playing out of Crib Point, went undefeated in the Southern Section, and Footscray also failed to taste defeat in the Northern Section. The Grand Final at the Motordome saw the Navy men take the honours 2-1 with goals from Crowe and Lewis. P.Lewis would go on to represent Victoria and play for Brunswick and Hakoah before his death on May 26th, 1936.

The District set-up was abandoned in 1929, as was the use of sections in the top league. They say war is hell, and it certainly was for local football in the latter part of World War Two. The league continued to shrink, back to a single division for much of the hostilities. In 1945 the teams played each other once, before the second phase saw the top five play each other once again, the bottom five doing likewise.

By 1947, it was back to the two sections top division concept, this time with ten teams each. It turned into a farce, as the difference between some clubs was vast. Sunshine United hammered Heidelberg Rangers 21-0, South Melbourne United won 13-0 at Woodlands, the R.A.F. beat Olympic 12-1, Moreland crushed Woodlands 15-2 and Park Rangers defeated the same hapless Woodsmen 18-1 amongst the many uneven contests which resulted in numerous double figure scores. Angus Drennan netted 8 goals in the above mentioned romp by Sunshine United. The Grand Final was also a high scoring affair, with Sunshine United getting up 6-2 against Moreland at Olympic Park.

The debacle saw a permanent return to the traditional divisional league structure from 1948. So there were Grand Finals before 1992, but I've yet to ascertain enough information from match reports to see if we can declare retrospective Jimmy Rooney Medal winners.

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