Mind games aplenty as Dogs beat Dees in 54

The figure of Ron Barassi has long loomed large at the MCG.
The figure of Ron Barassi has long loomed large at the MCG.

Footscray coach Charlie Sutton had a cryptic message for his players before they ran out for the 1954 VFL grand final against Melbourne.

"Shop early and avoid the rush," Sutton told them.

The meaning?

"It meant get the jump-start on the opposition," Sutton would later explain.

"And if there's any rough stuff to take place, make sure you do it early on to upset them and get the upper hand."

In the Melbourne changerooms on that warm and sunny September 25 in the Victorian capital, the Demons' coach Norm Smith delivered his own message: wait here.

There was no deeper meaning.

It was simply stay here, in the changerooms, while the 80,897 spectators, umpires and Bulldogs wondered where they were.

The Dogs team had already entered the famous arena and warmed up; the umpires were in position, ready to start the game at the scheduled time.

But there was no Melbourne team.

The Demons players, following Smith's instructions, waited in the changerooms. And waited. And waited.

Five minutes after the scheduled first bounce, Melbourne appeared.

They jogged onto the hallowed turf to hisses and boos and catcalls from a bemused crowd.

Smith's mind game was designed to fray the nerves of the Dogs as they hunted their first premiership since joining the VFL in 1925 - the Demons had already won a half-dozen.

But the Bulldogs' playing captain-coach Sutton also wasn't averse to playing mind games as well as footy games.

"I had missed the second semi-final with a hamstring strain but I was 100 per cent fit for the grand final," he would say.

"But I thought we might get an advantage if I wore a huge bandage around my thigh because the Melbourne boys would think I was still injured.

"It worked because they started a younger, more inexperienced opponent on me, John Beckwith."

Beckwith soon became a victim of Sutton's 'shop early' message.

In an era renowned for on-field violence, Sutton had also instructed his players to "not to go mad - I could look after that side of the business".

"Melbourne had a few tough nuts in their side," he said.

"But I told the players: 'I'll look after the heavy stuff, you just concentrate on playing football'.

"I asked them to play with grit and determination. We were going to play run-on football at all costs - and, of course, shop early and avoid the rush."

Sutton was a man of his words.

"I thought I would try to upset them a bit so I started a dust-up with Beckwith and had another with Barass."

Barass was Melbourne's Ron Barassi.

In his first VFL game in 1953, Barassi was clobbered by Sutton.

A year later, despite being aged just 18 and in his second season, Barassi had earnt a fearsome reputation for being as tough as he was talented.

On grand final day in '54, Sutton's 'shop early' rattled not just Barassi and Beckwith, but seemingly the entire Melbourne team.

By quarter-time, the Dogs - with their star full-forward Jack Collins in full flight - led by 29 points, 6.3 to 1.4, after kicking six consecutive goals.

Collins, the VFL's leading goalkicker that season, had already booted three majors from five scoring shots despite Melbourne's fullback Lance Arnold, quite literally, attempting to knock the Dog spearhead off his game with a series of physical tactics.

Early in the second quarter, Collins goaled again to put the Dogs 35 points up before the Demons rallied with three successive goals to sneak within 16.

Then, just minutes before halftime, came what in hindsight was a match-defining moment.

The Bulldogs pressed into attack when the Demons' backman Arnold marked in his team's defensive goal-square and, unexpectedly and inexplicably, played on.

Seconds later, Arnold was hit by what one reporter described as a "a guided missile in the shape of Bulldogs skipper Charlie Sutton and he crashed to the turf".

Sutton was awarded a holding-the-ball free, goaled, and the Dogs took a 23-point lead into halftime.

The Demons never got closer during a second-half procession for the Dogs, who scored 7.7 to 3.3 in the final two quarters to claim their breakthrough premiership, 15.12 (102) to 7.9 (51).

Collins finished with seven goals, as many as the entire Melbourne team, while among the Bulldogs best players was a 19-year-old Ted Whitten who, along with his grand final foe Barassi, would leave legendary imprints on the code.

While the Bulldogs wouldn't salute again until 2016, Barassi was the linchpin as the Demons won six of the next 10 premierships culminating in their 1964 triumph which remains the club's most recent flag.

Australian Associated Press