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1944 Premiership

Saturday, 30 September 1944. It wasn’t your average Grand Final day in Melbourne.

World War II was still raging, making the MCG unavailable, so the football focus was on Junction Oval. A tram and bus strike caused transport chaos in sweltering 30-degree heat as 1500 people packed train after train for the four-minute journey from Flinders Street to StKilda. Even before game time 12 people were taken away by ambulance as sections within the capacity-plus crowd of 43,000 climbed trees, fences and roofs in search of a good vantage point.

Still, it was a day that Fitzroy people will treasure forever. It was the club’s eighth premiership in the then VFL. And their last as a separate entity.

The Gorillas, as they were then known, had finished second after the 18-game home-and-away season with 13 wins, a meagre 0.1% behind top side Richmond. They beat the Tigers, under captain-coach Jack Dyer, by 11 points in the second semi-final to qualify for their first grand final since 1923. Yet still they started slight underdogs in the ‘big one’ after Richmond ruckman Les Jones was granted late leave from the army to take his place in the side after he was initially ruled unavailable.

Fitzroy captain-coach Fred Hughson, deeply admired and respected by his team, bravely kicked into a strong north wind in the first toss and was delighted as they restricted the opposition to a one-goal lead. The underdogs led a fierce physical battle by two goals at halftime and were not headed. They led by 11 points at the final change and, finishing with the wind, hung on 9.12 (66) to 7.9 (51) after Richmond had pulled to within nine.

Bert Clay was outstanding in the ruck, Bruce Calverley dominated in midfield, and Ken Sier and Keith Stackpole were dangerous up forward. Hughson at fullback kept ‘Captain Blood’ Dyer to one goal in a telling contribution.

Hughson explained his team had won because it had players ‘who would bleed for Fitzroy … really bleed. It wasn’t just for the money, it was for love. Love of the club, pride in themselves. It was a fantastic feeling’.

Generous supporters donated the extraordinary sum of £375 to be divided among players and staff, and later that evening officials, players, trainers and supporters gathered at Brunswick Street Oval for a premiership dinner-dance, celebrating the premiership double of the seniors and reserves. The Mayor of Fitzroy, Keith Parlon, announced that the premiership pennant would be flown from the Fitzroy Town Hall for a week to mark the magnificent victory.


FITZROY 1.2 4.8 6.10 9.12 (66)
RICHMOND 2.2 3.2 5.5 7.9 (51)

GOALS - Sier 3, Stackpole 2, Calverley, Symons, Wright, Ruthven.
BEST - Calverley, Hillard, Price, Hughson, Hearn, Clay.
CROWD - 43,000 at the Junction Oval.



B Clen Denning Fred Hughson (c) Alan Fields
HB Laurie Bickerton Norm Hillard Arthur O'Bryan
C Bruce Calverley Geroge Hoskins Noel Jarvis
HF Stan Dawson Stan Wright Noel Price
F Maurie Hearn Ken Sier Keith Stackpole
FOLL Bert Clay Jack Symons Allan Ruthven
RES Dan Murray    
COACH Fred Hughson