It affords me the greatest pleasure to be invited to contribute an article to this splendid website. I am taking the opportunity to display Australia’s most cherished collection of football landscapes. These sublime landscapes were crafted anonymously by an unknown youthful genius and – I hesitate to add - left behind to rot in an inner-suburban Melbourne garret. Connoisseurs of Fine Art will recognize the artist’s stylistic debt to Chagall, Dali, Modigliani, and the Heidelberg School.

Forsaking the traditional paint brush and easel and giving full rein to a daring and vivid imagination, our artist prodigy has reached for his/her box of coloured pencils and created an extraordinarily perceptive panorama of Victorian League and Association football as it was played in the early fifties era (specifically, we believe, 1952).

If it bothers you, just ignore the evenly-spaced blue vertical lines: the exercise book was the chosen medium for promising cash-strapped artists in the early fifties.

Geelong versus Carlton - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Geelong versus Carlton - artist:Ken Mansell 1952



This sensitive and delicate study of a Geelong versus Carlton game of the early-fifties era must have been imagined. Scrawled notes left behind by the artist indicate he/she did not see an actual Geelong-Carlton game until the 1960’s.

The discerning lover of fine art works will undoubtedly appreciate the creator’s thoughtful identification of his/her subjects. Football followers will not need such help – the likenesses are uncanny! Here we have two Geelong stalwarts Bernie Smith and Peter West doing battle – albeit at a distance of approximately seventy-five yards – with two Carlton stars: Doug Beasy and Ern Henfry. The Carlton players are connoted by mere initials but this enigmatic anomaly does not in itself indicate the artist loathed Carlton at this time. Carlton after all was then more of a sympathetic working-class club than the pastoralist upper-class Geelong.

In choosing Smith as the active protagonist the artist is paying homage to the back pocket’s popular 1951 Brownlow Medal win. Heaven knows why he/she chose West. Compassion perhaps, because after venturing down to the Pivot from Warracknabeal, Peter West played only two games for the Cats (he was twentieth man in Rounds 6 and 7 of the 1952 season). This might be a clue allowing us to identify the match in question. Round 7 of 1952 saw Geelong play (and go down to) Carlton at Princes Park. Note that Geelong appear to be wearing white shorts and Carlton black.

Smith, West and Henfry wear broad smiles and give every indication they are enjoying the game. (Beasy is expressionless). No other players are visible, possibly suggesting a very open Geelong forward line. Henfry, a champion product of Western Australia who had taken on the captaincy of the Blues, is here depicted balancing on one foot, a stance commonly adopted by Sandgroper players of the fifties. He is guarding the Carlton goal and seems to have strayed some considerable distance from his customary position in the centre. Smith, a back pocket specialist, has also strayed. Here he is seen lining up for goal before sending a raking, booming drop-kick into the upper atmosphere. Half-way through its trajectory the ball is suddenly overcome by the force of gravity and plummets towards the ground. Beasy is caught out of position and the ball sails past Henfry for a major. Slap bang through the middle of the hi-diddle-diddle resembling sticks of black spaghetti. West who has all but been decapitated by the force of Smith’s projectile prepares to run towards his team-mate and congratulate him. Geelong in 1952 were a very confident side and on their way to a record 26 games without loss. The fact that Smith, a right-footer, has kicked for goal with his wrong (left) foot attests to the club’s arrogant mentality.

The game is very obviously an early season encounter. The verdant field, bathed in warm sunshine under a hot and benignly anthropomorphic Sun, is yet to be churned up into the usual mid-winter stinking mud-heap.

Hawthorn - Essendon - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Hawthorn - Essendon - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


Another early season encounter played on a verdant field, this time between Hawthorn and Essendon. The artist’s realist vision encompasses the full extent of a scene of dramatic action somewhere on the Essendon forward line. Essendon’s champion full-forward, the legendary John Coleman (‘John C’), is lining up to kick for goal for the eighteenth time that afternoon. He is watched admiringly by team mate and double-Brownlow Medallist Bill Hutchinson (‘WH’). Hutchinson is seen here with his jumper rolled down so far he appears to have no shorts.

Coleman, like Geelong’s Bernie Smith in the previous landscape drawing, has developed the knack of kicking into the upper atmosphere and bending the ball back in flight so as to deftly steer it through the hi-diddle-diddle. This technique ensures the ball cannot be touched by the two unnamed Hawthorn defenders who are seen jumping very high from an inert standing position with eye’s glued (metaphorically) to the ball.

The artist (like Coleman who once kicked twelve goals against Hawthorn in his very first VFL match) obviously has a very low opinion of Hawthorn. One of their players has yellow shorts and a yellow face and both are unnamed. In those days (unlike these days) it was customary for artists and pundits to treat the lowly Hawks with contempt. It is likely the artist was unable to identify the Hawthorn players - if after regular team thrashings these two never played before, or again. Interestingly, for economic historians, there is evidence (namely the fact that one behind post is almost twice the size of the other) of the VFL’s financial plight in the immediate post-war era. The artist has either forgotten the Sun, or there was no Sun.

Richmond - St.Kilda - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Richmond - St.Kilda - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


A Richmond-St.Kilda game played under a very prominent Sun looking like a disembodied Joe Cocker. Surprisingly, given the Saints’ lowly position on the 1952 ladder (last), the St. Kilda full-back (possibly Bruce Phillips) has managed to kick the ball the entire length of the Junction Oval. En route to goal the ball passes between or through the groin region of the Richmond player – looking suspiciously like a balding Des Rowe – and he doesn’t look particularly happy about it.

Williamstown -Brighton - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Williamstown -Brighton - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


A fierce contest for the ball on a very green and verdant field. This is a match between Victorian Football Association (VFA) clubs Williamstown (left, blue and yellow) and Brighton (right, maroon and gold). In 1952 Williamstown and Brighton were headed in quite opposite directions. The Seagulls were on the cusp of their greatest-ever era – five premierships in six years (1954-56, 1958-59). The Penguins had been a VFA powerhouse in the forties and took out the 1948 premiership. However, stung by the introduction of nearby Moorabbin to the competition in 1951, the club was now on a slow slide to oblivion. The artist seems to be suggesting both clubs were desperate enough to use players suffering from yellow jaundice.

As was often the case in the VFA, the match was a very rough encounter. The heads of two of the players have been rendered black and blue. No goal posts can be seen in this particular landscape. The artist has zoomed in on action taking place in the very centre of the field. The position of the ball in relation to the position of the four players might suggest one or both clubs were still in the habit of employing the famous VFA ‘throw pass’ but this had in fact been outlawed in the previous season. Closer inspection reveals the ball is in fact being kicked – by the Brighton player third from left. The VFA might have finally caved in to the Australian National Football Council (ANFC) and abandoned its revolutionary ‘throw pass’ but it never lost its hunger for innovation. That it would do anything in order to survive (and steal a march on the VFL) is evidenced by the blue and yellow boots. Truly revolutionary!

Essendon - Melbourne - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Essendon - Melbourne - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


The ubiquitous Coleman and Hutchinson again, this time in a match against Melbourne. Coleman and Hutchinson are camped in Essendon’s right forward pocket and practicing knee lifts to keep warm.

Melbourne in 1951 won only one solitary match and finished with the wooden spoon. The artist has such disrespect for these so-called Demons he/she has written their names in yellow - and made sure they are indecipherable. One Demon wears blue shorts over his blue legs while the other Demon wears black shorts over his black legs. The Demon with blue legs who is nearest the ball is armless but still flies for the mark. (Good luck mate). The Demon with black legs is either red-faced with embarrassment or about to explode in anger.

Not to be outdone by VFA innovation, the VFL has responded by painting the goal posts blue and sticking one lot of posts in the middle of the oval.

Richmond-Fitzroy - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Richmond-Fitzroy - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


The artist’s representation of a comparatively congested Richmond-Fitzroy match in the 1952 season. The number of players has expanded. The VFL continues with its revolutionary goal post positioning for just one more week (albeit without the blue paint). Richmond’s Havel Rowe, Des Rowe (balding) and John Nix occupy space on the Richmond back line and monopolize possession of the ball. Nix is at the end of a chain of handballs from his flashy blue-booted team mates and prepares to kick long out of defence.

Identification of the Fitzroy players (then known as ‘The Gorillas’) would test the ingenuity of Sherlock Holmes. No-one called ‘Moggy’ ever donned the Maroon and Blue. The artist – after watching one too many Tom and Jerry cartoons at Saturday Afternoon Matinee and no doubt unfamiliar with the intricacies of Celtic nomenclature – has confused Fitzroy’s Tom Magee with Tom Cat. ‘Moggy’ appears to be lifting up his dress but this must be an optical illusion. The Fitzroy player on the extreme right (‘AR’) is 1950 Brownlow Medallist Alan ‘The Baron’ Ruthven. The Fitzroy player second from the left was probably originally also meant to be Ruthven until the artist (after a rare creative blunder) realized he had not left enough room for a face. This is a shame, because the maroon socks are sensational. The Gorilla with the blue head and flashy blue shorts is Don Hart. Hart did not play in 1952 but featured in a 1951 Kornies swap card.

Footscray-Carlton - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Footscray-Carlton - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


A Footscray-Carlton match played according to the traditional goal post arrangements and in front of a packed grandstand. The Footscray player is probably not actually standing on top of the fence in the outer.

Fitzroy-Essendon - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Fitzroy-Essendon - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


A Fitzroy player and an Essendon player compete for the ball in the air. A more detailed representation of grandstand and boundary fence.

Northcote-Camberwell - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Northcote-Camberwell - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


The artist has captured a moment of dramatic action in a VFA match between Northcote (left, green and gold) and Camberwell (right, red white and blue vertical stripes). No prizes for guessing which team is winning. The Camberwell player wears a joyful, optimistic expression. By way of contrast, the Northcote player resembles Frankenstein.

Melbourne-North Melbourne - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Melbourne-North Melbourne - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


Melbourne-North Melbourne action at the MCG. Celebrated North Melbourne full-back Jock McCorkell launches a powerful torpedo punt from near the centre-half-back position watched by a Kangaroo team mate. Two Melbourne defenders leap – a little too early perhaps – to thwart the attack threat.

A Hawthorn goal - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
A Hawthorn goal - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


A rare and unusual occurrence: a Hawthorn goal. At last the Hawk forwards have mastered the same goal-kicking technique used by the more successful teams. The ball is bent in flight and scoots dangerously between the legs of the bewildered Melbourne defender for full points.

Collingwood-North Melbourne - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
Collingwood-North Melbourne - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


Another superb representation of the revolutionary new flight-bending goal-kicking technique. A Collingwood player launches from over 100 yards out on an angle and completely outwits the hapless North Melbourne defender who naturally (but mistakenly) anticipates the ball curving towards his midriff and then through his legs.

A Collingwood goal - artist:Ken Mansell 1952
A Collingwood goal - artist:Ken Mansell 1952


Yet another Collingwood flight-bending goal. A very strange landscape which defies rational explanation (even by this expert). The hairy Sun again features (along with the verdant green) which suggests a late-season match. However the artist has drawn three (!) teams – Collingwood, Melbourne, and Fitzroy – from which fact we may infer he had either consumed one too many bowls of Kornies Wheat Flakes or was trying to make some obscure comment about the general state of VFL football. The enormous Melbourne player with the red hair is not Frank ‘Bluey’ Adams. He only started in 1953. It’s not Ron Barassi either.

END.

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