1897 VFL finals series

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The Victorian Football League's 1897 finals series determined the top four final positions of the 1897 VFL season. It began on the weekend of August 21, 1897, and ended on the weekend of September 3, 1897. Essendon were crowned the 1897 VFL premiers, finishing the finals series on top of the mini-ladder.

The 1897 premiers, Essendon.
Players (from left): Stuckey (c), Sykes, Waugh, Kearney, Officer, Anderson, Collins, Gavin, Campbell, Cochrane, Cleghorn, Vautin, Wright, Kinnear, Forbes, Croft, O'Loughlin, Barry, Martin, Groves.

Final ladder[edit]

Charles Coles played 13 games and kicked 17 goals in the 1897 season,[1] and was instrumental in helping Geelong finish on top of the ladder after the home and away season.
Team Played Won Drawn Lost For Against % Points
1 Geelong 14 11 0 3 704 382 184.3 44
2 Essendon 14 11 0 3 706 444 159.0 44
3 Melbourne 14 10 0 4 685 473 144.8 40
4 Collingwood 14 9 0 5 508 446 113.9 36
5 South Melbourne 14 8 1 5 594 430 138.1 34
6 Fitzroy 14 4 1 9 508 485 104.7 18
7 Carlton 14 2 0 12 377 737 51.2 8
8 St Kilda 14 0 0 14 281 966 29.1 0


Finals system[edit]

Abandoned systems[edit]

When the VFL was initially established at the end of 1896, it immediately announced that a finals series would be played. However, there were two other announcements of different finals formats, before the system used was ultimately decided upon late in the season.

The format that was originally announced in October 1896 was that after fourteen weeks of home-and-away matches, a finals series would be played as a simple four-team knock out tournament amongst the top four clubs, and the gate takings from the semi-finals would be donated to charity.[3]

By February 1897, the knock-out tournament had been abandoned in favour of a system which bore some similarities to the Page–McIntyre system which would ultimately come into use in 1931.[4] In it, matches were to be played as follows:

  • Week One: Two matches played: one between 1st vs 2nd, and one between 3rd vs 4th. As originally intended, the takings from these matches would go to charity.
  • Week Two: Two matches played: one between the winners from Week One, and another between the losers from Week One.
  • Week Three: The two winners from Week Two would play against each other in a Final for the premiership.

Drawn matches would be decided by twenty minutes of extra time, or if still drawn after extra time, by a replay the following week.

It was realized during the season that this finals system was not entirely fair, particularly since the results of the first week of finals were somewhat meaningless; nevertheless, the league was prepared to proceed with the system right up to its scheduled commencement on 14 August. However, when inclement weather on that weekend forced the postponement of the charity round, the league used this opportunity to abandon this finals system and develop a new one.[5]

1897 finals system[edit]

On 17 August 1897, a new system was decided upon. The new system comprised a round-robin amongst the top four, with the provision for a play-off match for the premiership depending on the results of that round-robin.[6] The finals system was as follows:

  • The top four teams were to play off against each other in a round-robin series played over the following three weekends.
  • The match-ups in the first week would be drawn by lot, the match-ups in the second week would be determined by pairing the winners and the losers from the first week against each other, and the remaining pairings would then contest the third week.
  • If one club finished as the outright winner of the round-robin series on win-loss record (i.e. without using percentage as a tie-breaker), that club would automatically win the premiership.
  • If two clubs had finished with the same win-loss record, those two teams would contest a Final on the following Saturday to decide the premiership.
  • If three (or all four) clubs had finished with the same win-loss record, the top two clubs as determined by using percentage as a tie-breaker would contest a Final on the following Saturday to decide the premiership.

As originally planned, the takings for the first week of the finals were donated to charity; the remaining takings were divided amongst the league.

Venue controversy[edit]

A point of contention was the venue for the finals matches.

The venues were originally to be drawn by lot, but in early August, the league decided to fix the venues in advance, and in doing so did not schedule a final at Geelong's home ground of Corio Oval, which offered much lower gate takings than the four venues in Melbourne where the matches were originally scheduled (the MCG, the Brunswick Street Oval, the Lake Oval and the East Melbourne Cricket Ground).[7]

This decision was later reversed after Geelong, who had won the minor premiership, lodged an official complaint with the league stating that this arrangement would be unfair to the club and its supporters.

The league agreed with this assessment, and when the finals system was determined on August 17, Geelong was scheduled to host its match in the first week.

Week One[edit]

Tod Collins kicked 2 goals and was named in Essendon's best players in this 1st round match against Geelong.

First Round Final (Essendon vs Geelong)[edit]

First Round Final
Saturday, 21 August (2:30 PM) Geelong def. by Essendon Corio Oval, Geelong (crowd: 5,000) Report
1.5 (11)
1.6 (12)
2.10 (22)
 3.11 (29)
0.2 (2)
1.4 (10)
1.4 (10)
 5.5 (35)
Umpires: Henry "Ivo" Crapp
James, Quinn, White Goals T. Collins 2, Campbell, Cleghorn, Wright
McGuire, Burns, McCallum, Conway, Pontin, Brockwell Best Forbes, Kearney, Vautin, Barry, Croft, T. Collins
Unknown Injuries Unknown
Unknown Reports Unknown

Essendon staged a tremendous last quarter fightback to beat Geelong by a goal. Geelong were unable to stop an Essendon comeback in which Collins and Cleghorn reduced the deficit to a goal, before an error by Geelong player Henry Young let Colin Campbell in for the equalising goal. Essendon scored again soon after and the game was sealed.[8][9] Prior to 2013, this was the only finals match to be played in Geelong.

First Round Final (Collingwood vs Melbourne)[edit]

Melbourne's Jack Leith kicked 4 goals in this 1st round match against Collingwood, the equal highest individual effort for the series.
First Round Final
Saturday, 21 August (3:00 PM) Collingwood def. Melbourne Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne (crowd: 7,000) Report
1.4 (10)
5.5 (35)
6.8 (44)
 7.9 (51)
1.1 (7)
2.2 (14)
4.5 (29)
 7.5 (47)
Umpires: T. H. McCoy
H. Dowdall 2, Condon, Kay, F. Leach, T. Lee, McDonald Goals Leith 4, Young, Geddes, McGinis
Sime, Pannam, Smith, Strickland, Leach, Gregory, Hailwood Best McGinis, Wardill, Robinson, Moysey, Herring, Lewis, Leith
Unknown Injuries Unknown
Unknown Reports Unknown

Collingwood narrowly defeated Melbourne in probably the finest game of the season. Collingwood's form had vastly improved, although the Melbourne side was sadly depleted through injuries.[8]

Week Two[edit]

Second Round Final (Essendon vs Collingwood)[edit]

Charlie Pannam, the first player to reach 100 VFL games, kicked a goal in Collingwood's 2nd round match against Essendon.
Essendon vs Collingwood
Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Final
Essendon 1.1 (7) 2.8 (20) 4.11 (35) 9.16 (70)
Collingwood 1.2 (8) 2.2 (14) 4.3 (27) 4.6 (30)
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
Date and time: 21 August 1897
Attendance: 5,000
Umpires: T. H. McCoy
Goal scorers: Essendon 4: Waugh
2: Gavin
1: Croft, Cochrane, Cleghorn
Collingwood 2: Calleson
1: Pannam, Tulloch
Best: Essendon Forbes, Cleghorn, Barry, Kearney, O'Loughlin
Collingwood Calleson, Smith, Dowdell, Strickland, Sime
Reports: unknown
Injuries: unknown
Australian television broadcaster: {{{tv}}}

Essendon played brilliantly to account for Collingwood, kicking five goals five to three points in the final term. Essendon became the only unbeaten team after round two. [8]

Second Round Final (Geelong vs Melbourne)[edit]

Peter Burns, pictured here in a South Melbourne guernsey, was widely regarded as one of the finest players in the late 1800s.[10] Burns was named in Geelong's best players in all 3 of their finals series matches.
Geelong vs Melbourne
Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Final
Geelong 0.3 (3) 2.8 (20) 4.9 (33) 5.16 (46)
Melbourne 3.2 (20) 4.4 (28) 5.6 (36) 5.7 (37)
Venue: Brunswick Street Oval, Fitzroy
Date and time: 28 August 1897
Attendance: 4,000
Umpires: Henry "Ivo" Crapp
Goal scorers: Geelong 2: James
1: Parkin, White, Young
Melbourne 2: Moysey
1: McGinis, Steele, Young
Best: Geelong Rankin, J. McShane, Young, Flynn, Burns, Pontin
Melbourne Moysey, Herring, McLeod, Healing, Sutton, F. Sheahan
Reports: unknown
Injuries: unknown
Australian television broadcaster: {{{tv}}}

Geelong finished the stronger to down Melbourne, with a goal by Eddy James near the end winning the game for them.[8] The loss eliminated Melbourne from premiership contention.

Week Three[edit]

Third Round Final (Essendon vs Melbourne)[edit]

Fred McGinis was one of Melbourne's star midfielders in the late 1890s. He was best on ground for Melbourne in this match against Essendon.
Essendon vs Melbourne
Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Final
Essendon 0.1 (1) 0.4 (4) 1.6 (12) 1.8 (14)
Melbourne 0.3 (3) 0.4 (4) 0.6 (6) 0.8 (8)
Venue: Lake Oval, South Melbourne
Date and time: 4 September 1897
Attendance: 3,800
Umpires: S. Hood
Goal scorers: Essendon 1: Croft
Melbourne nil
Best: Essendon Forbes, Sykes, Cleghorn, Officer, Anderson, Barry, Wright
Melbourne McGinis, Lewis, Strachan, Wood, Herring, Wardill, Moodie, Hughes
Reports: unknown
Injuries: unknown
Australian television broadcaster: none

Entering this game, Essendon could clinch the premiership with a victory, while Melbourne was already eliminated from premiership contention. In the low-scoring encounter, Melbourne hit the post three times and a goal by Essendon player Waugh was disallowed after the bell. Edgar Croft scored the only goal of the match after marking a skewed kick in the forward pocket. [8][11] The match set, and still holds, the record as the lowest-scoring in the history of the VFL/AFL, with only 22 points scored between the two teams; and, Essendon's 1.8 (14) also remains the lowest winning score in league history.[12]

Third Round Final (Geelong vs Collingwood)[edit]

Controversial rover Dick Condon kicked two goals and was best on ground for Collingwood in this match against Geelong.
Geelong vs Collingwood
Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Final
Geelong 5.2 (32) 7.2 (44) 8.4 (52) 8.4 (52)
Collingwood 0.0 (0) 2.6 (18) 3.7 (25) 6.12 (48)
Venue: East Melbourne Cricket Ground, East Melbourne
Date and time: 4 September 1897
Attendance: 3,000
Umpires: T. H. McCoy
Goal scorers: Geelong 2: James, Quinn, White
1: Jim McShane, Thompson
Collingwood 2: Condon
1: Kay, Leach, Smith, Stranger
Best: Geelong Rankin, Parkin, J. McShane, Young, McCallum, Conway, Flynn, Burns
Collingwood Condon, Hailwood, Gregory, O'Brien, Calleson, Sime, Strickland
Reports: unknown
Injuries: unknown
Australian television broadcaster: none

Entering this game, it was known that if Essendon lost to Melbourne in the other match (played at the same time), then the winner of this match would face Essendon in a playoff the following week to decide the premiership. Geelong's brilliant first-quarter burst meant Collingwood's chances of making it back into the match were near impossible. However, in a thrilling match, Geelong ran out winners by less than a goal.[8]

Finals series ladder[edit]

Team Played Won Draw Lost For Against % Points
1 Essendon 3 3 0 0 119 67 177.6 12
2 Geelong 3 2 0 1 127 120 105.8 8
3 Collingwood 3 1 0 2 129 169 76.3 4
4 Melbourne 3 0 0 3 92 111 82.9 0


Premiership Finals teams[edit]

These are the finals teams for the top two teams in the round robin series; and, rather than being "Grand Finalists" (because there was no Grand Final match in 1897), they played to decide the premiership. The players that are listed are players used in any one of the three round robin finals played.


The first premiership winning captain, Essendon's George Stuckey.

The players listed below are in no particular order, however the captain and vice-captain appear first.

George Stuckey (c) Jim Anderson (vc) Gus Kearney
Ned Officer Tod Collins Hugh Gavin
Colin Campbell George Cochrane Harry Wright
Arthur Cleghorn George Vautin Ted Kinnear
Charlie Forbes Norman Waugh Edgar Croft
Pat O'Loughlin Son Barry George Martin
Archie Sykes Joe Groves George Hastings
Dave Ferguson - -

[8] [13]


Geelong's first VFL 100-gamer,[14] Teddy Rankin, featured in the best players in two of the three round robin matches.

The players listed below are in no particular order, however the captain appears first.

Jack Conway (c) Peter Burns Charles Coles
Jim Flynn Teddy Holligan Eddy James
Jim McShane Joe McShane Jack Parkin
Alf Pontin Jack Quinn Teddy Rankin
Archie Thompson Fred White Henry Young
Sam Brockwell Edward Greeves, Sr. Firth McCallum
Henry McShane Tom Maguire Arthur Pincott

[8] [13]

Series records[edit]

The Melbourne Cricket Ground, pictured here in 1878, hosted 8,000 fans to watch the 2nd round match between Essendon and Collingwood.
  • Highest team score: Essendon (2nd rd vs Coll.) - 9.16 (70)
  • Lowest team score: Melbourne (3rd rd vs Ess.) - 0.8 (8)
  • Highest score in one quarter: Essendon (4th qtr, 2nd rd vs Coll.) - 5.5 (35)
  • Lowest score in one quarter: Essendon (3rd qtr, 1st rd vs Geel.) - 0.0 (0)
  • Highest winning margin: Essendon (2nd rd vs Coll.) - 40 pts
  • Highest aggregate score: Essendon vs Collingwood (2nd rd), Geelong vs Collingwood (3rd rd) - 100 pts
  • Most goals kicked by a player in a game: Jack Leith (Melb.) (1st rd vs Coll.), Norman Waugh (Ess.) (2nd rd vs Coll.) - 4 goals
  • Most goals kicked by a player for the series: Eddy James (Geel.) (1, 2, 2) - 5 goals
  • Highest attendance for one match: Essendon vs Collingwood (MCG, 2nd rd) - 8,000
  • Highest gate taking for one match: Collingwood vs Melbourne (MCG, 1st rd) - ₤174

See also[edit]

1897 VFL season


  1. ^ "Charlie Coles". AFL Tables. Archived from the original on 2009-07-21. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  2. ^ "AFL Tables - 1897 Season Scores". AFL Tables. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  3. ^ "New Football Association – Limited to eight clubs". The Argus. 3 October 1896. p. 10. 
  4. ^ "The New Football League – Its Plan of Campaign". The Argus. 4 February 1897. p. 6. 
  5. ^ "THE FOOTBALL SEASON. POSTPONEMENT OF CHARITY MATCHES". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 16 August 1897. p. 7. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "Football – Victorian Football League – the Premiership Question". The Argus. 18 August 1897. p. 3. 
  7. ^ "The Football Premiership - Arrangements for the finals". The Argus. 7 August 1897. p. 11. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Atkinson, Graeme (2002). The Complete Book of AFL Finals. The Five Mile Press. ISBN 978-1-86503-892-6. 
  9. ^ "Essendon win at Geelong". The Argus. Melbourne. 23 August 1897. p. 6. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  10. ^ Grant, Trevor (2008). Our Game: 150 Years of Footy - Part 1: It's in our blood. Southbank, Victoria: The Herald and Weekly Times. p. 5.  "Peter Burns was regarded by many as footy's first superstar. He was so idolised by youngsters, folklore has it that many of their night-time prayers finished: "God bless Peter Burns."
  11. ^ a b Main, J. & Connolly, R. (2005). More than a century of AFL Grand Finals, 4th ed.. (Pennon Publishing) ISBN 1-877029-95-5
  12. ^ "AFL Tables - Game records". AFL Tables. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Holmesby, R. & Main, J. (2007). The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers, 7th ed.. (Bas Publishing) ISBN 978-1-920910-78-5
  14. ^ "Edward Rankin (Geelong)". Full Points Footy. Archived from the original on 2009-07-21. Retrieved 2009-07-05.