Sport, more so than most other facets of life, often produces weird and wacky occurences which usually spark varied opinions and much debate. The 1967 Tasmanian State Premiership Final was one such example and will go down as one of the most controversial matches in the history of Australian Rules Football.
The match, played on Saturday 30 September 1967 at West Park Oval in Burnie, was meant to decide the winner of the 1967 Tasmanian State Premiership, an annual contest between the individual premiers of Tasmania’s two major football leagues. However after a bizarre sequence of events, it didn’t, and the match was declared no result, with the premiership being withheld from both sides.
Leading up to the match, the Wynyard Cats had qualified after dominating the North West Football Union (NWFU) 1967 season, finished with a 17 & 1 win-loss record. Their only loss was against Ulverstone, which was by just eight points, and they finished six wins ahead of the other three finalists; Burnie, Ulverstone and Cooee. It what was a truly dominant home and away season.
During the resulting finals campaign, the Cats outclassed Burnie by 58-points in the Second Semi Final before easily accounting for Cooee in the Grand Final, winning by 36 points. It was Wynyard’s second ever NWFU premiership and it was the first since 1957 that the flag had been won by a team other than Burnie or Cooee.
The North Hobart Robins on the other hand had stormed home to win the Tasmanian Football League (TFL) premiership after an incredible form reversal from the previous season. Having finished last in the TFL in 1966, with a win-loss record of 2 & 16, the Robins recruited John Devine from the Geelong Football Club to serve as a playing coach. The team however started the 1967 season poorly and continued to languish at the bottom of the ladder as Devine was forced to serve a suspension which was carried over from his final VFL match for Geelong. The Robins however, who had a win-loss record of 1 & 6 with a draw after eight weeks, stunningly turned their form around and went on to win nine of their remaining eleven games to finish fourth on the TFL ladder and sneak into the finals.
Once there, they continued to improve, starting with a nail-biting 5-point win over New Norfolk in the First Semi Final, before another close game against Clarence in the Preliminary Final which resulted in a 9-point win. In the Grand Final, against the Minor Premiers Glenorchy, the Robins found themselves in yet another tight contest, however eventually over-powered their opponents to record a 15-point victory and secure the premiership. It was North Hobart’s 21st TFL premiership and better yet, it was the first time a club had come from fourth on the ladder to win the flag.
With the two finalists decided, all was set for a fantastic State Premiership Final. Wynyard, who had never previously contested the State Premiership, were considered the underdogs, whilst North Hobart, who were making their eighteenth appearance in the State Premiership Final (11 victories), were the bookies favourite to win their first title since 1962. The match was umpired by Jack Pilgrim, a neutral umpire from the Northern Tasmania Football Association (NTFA).
After North Hobart won the toss, they decided to kick to the eastern end of the ground and were aided by a strong westerly wind. It proved to be a wise move as they dominated general play, with playing coach John Devine leading the way around the ground. The Robins managed eleven scoring shots to Wynyard’s two in the first quarter, however only led by only 19 points at quarter time after some strong defensive pressure by Wynyard’s Phillip Dell and David Cox lead to some inaccurate kicking.
1/4 Time: North Hobart 3.8 (26) vs. Wynyard 1.1 (7)
Kicking with the aid of the wind in the second quarter, Wynyard took control of the match, even scoring a goal within the first minute of play. They dominated to such a degree that they had overcome their quarter-time deficit of 19-points, just seven minutes into the quarter. After a relatively even battle with his North Hobart opponents in the first quarter, Wynyard’s Leon Clarke was controlling the ruck contests both in the centre and around the ground, whilst the forward-line combination of West and captain-coach John Coughlan was proving to be dominant.
The Cats had opened up what seemed to be a match-winning lead of 32-points, however North Hobart, who had been kept goalless for almost the entire quarter into the wind, managed two quick goals late in the second quarter to reel the gap back in to 20-points at the half time break. One of the goals was courtesy of a brilliant long-range kick by Devine after the half time siren.
1/2 Time: Wynyard 9.7 (61) vs. North Hobart 5.11 (41)
Once again kicking with the wind in the third quarter, North Hobart this time took full advantage, despite an early goal to Wynyard. The Robins dominated the play and had regained the lead after just fifteen minutes. Devine continued to find himself in open space around the ground and was proving to be very damaging in a best-on-field performance. He kicked a further two goals himself and assisted in three more for the quarter. Dell and Cox continued to battle hard in defence for Wynyard, however the Cats conceded two bouncing goals after twice leaving the goal square unguarded.
During the third quarter the game became quite heated and was marred by some violent clashes off the ball by both sides. The worst of which was the treatment of Wynyard rover, Kevin King, who was forced to endure substantial scragging. In addition to this, numerous players were caught up in off-the-ball spotfires as more than six players were reportedly king-hit behind play. At three quarter time, it was certainly game on as the Robins led by 14 points.
3/4 Time: North Hobart 11.17 (83) vs. Wynyard 10.9 (69)
By the time the final quarter had arrived, the strong wind which up until this stage had seen 17.20 (122) of a total 21.26 (152) kicked to the eastern end of the ground, had dropped-off considerably and proved less of an advantage to Wynyard. However despite this, two goals in two minutes saw Wynyard close the margin to less than a goal. Devine however returned fire and gave North Hobart some breathing space after spectacularly out-marking Dell at Full Back, before proceeding to kick his fifth goal.
This minor setback though didn’t stop Wynyard from continuing to attack and after two near misses, West kicked his sixth goal at the 20-minute mark of the final quarter to tie the game at 90 apiece. From this moment on, no further goals were scored as Atkins managed a behind to put the Cats ahead 91-90 before the Robins rushed a behind to once again tie the game. Templar, who had played a minimal role on the day then kicked a behind at the 29-minute mark to put the Cats ahead 92–91.
Then, in the dying seconds of the game, Templar conceded a controversial holding-the-man free kick to Devine, approximately 50 meters from goal. With under 5 seconds remaining, Devine quickly kicked the ball long towards the goal line however against the breeze, it fell short, setting up the controversial finish…
As Devine’s kick fell short, North Hobart Full Forward David “Dickie” Collins marked in front of a large pack of players, on a slight angle just outside the goal square, simultaneously to when the final siren sounded. Believing they had won the premiership by one point, an unknown Wynyard player knocked the ball from Collins’ hands shortly after the mark was taken, in order to obtain the match ball.
Umpire Pilgrim however had paid the mark and as a result of the Wynyard players action, awarded a 15-yard penalty to Collins. As Wynyard players argued with Pilgrim about whether or not the mark was legitimate, Wynyard fans streamed onto the ground and occupied the western end, surrounding Collins and other players.It is estimated that more than 3,000 of the game’s 8,289 attendees were involved in the ground invasion.
Aware of the surrounding madness, North Hobart playing coach John Devine specifically instructed Collins not to take his kick until a space had been cleared around him and although umpires, players, team officials, trainers and police did their best to clear a pathway for Collins to take his kick, it was proving to be almost impossible to have the path cleared.
After several minutes of frantic work, they did succeed in clearing a pathway, albeit temporarily, however umpire Pilgrim did not allow Collins to take his kick at this time because he was not on the correct line with the goal. The crowd, furious at this stage, once again converged on Collins before he could correct his line and the opportunity was lost. Within seconds the ground invasion had become riotous, with many punches were exchanged between rival fans, players, team officials, umpires and police.
The police were now left facing the near on impossible task of restoring order and when North Hobart’s Barry Styles was knocked to the ground and trampled, things reached a whole new level of severity. Styles was left unconscious, suffered numerous broken fingers and had to be carried from the field on a stretcher. Whilst this was occurring, furious Wynyard fans began pulling down the goal posts at the western end of the ground, a now famous scene which helped this game earn its nickname of, “The Goalpost Final”.
Aware the goalposts had been removed and any chance of a re-start now lost, umpire Pilgrim had no choice but to abandon the game and he left the ground under police protection. The last remaining players left the arena shortly afterwards, and Collins, who had miraculously managed to regain the ball keep it tucked under his guernsey, was the last player to leave the arena, about ten minutes after Pilgrim and under police protection.
With all players and officials now off the ground, still nobody knew for sure who had won the game and as the crowd continued to riot outside, Pilgrim and Collins were left with no option but to be driven from the ground in police cars for their own protection.
Approximately half an hour had passed after players had left the arena, when match manager Jack Leary made the following announcement to the thousands of fans still awaiting an outcome:
“The umpire states that he had awarded the mark to North Hobart, and that the mark was taken before he heard the siren, and had the crowd not rushed onto the ground, the North Hobart player would have taken his kick. Consequently, the match is a no-decision one.”
Despite the match being declared a no-decision, the Tasmanian Football League (TFL) Standing Committee had not yet determined what steps, if any, would be taken to decide the premiership. It was decided that the TFL Standing Committee would meet two days later on the night of Monday October 2, to make a ruling on the premiership.
During the meeting, numerous options were discussed as to which way the premiership would be awarded. These options included;
– A full replay of the state final at a neutral venue
– Allowing Collins to take his potential game-winning kick at a later date
– Overturn Pilgrim’s decision to pay the mark, awarding the game to Wynyard
Despite this, the Standing Committee could not reach an agreement and as a result, it was decided that the declaration of no-decision for the game would be upheld and that the 1967 State Premiership would be left unawarded.