In this second article on the history of football under lights in Victoria, we focus on a practice match in 1935 between Richmond and South Melbourne at Olympic Park. After the first exhibition games in 1879, this was the next known match under lights in Victoria. The problem was now not technology, but the will and desire to play football at night and when to play it.
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IntroductionBy the 1920’s electricity was slowly being rolled out to workplaces and suburban homes around Melbourne. In 1879 technology was not up to scratch for night football, this time it was to be politics which ended the chance of regular night games.
Night Football Interstate SuccessOutside Victoria there had been a number of moves toward playing football at night with a number of successful one off events.
In Queensland, with it’s warmer evenings, a number of stadiums were set up to host events at night. In 1927, 6000 people at the Exhibition Ground in Brisbane watched China defeat Brisbane in Soccer 6-3 under lights. In 1929 Brisbane Rugby Team v Barambah indigenous team under lights at the Brisbane Cricket Ground (Sunday Mail-Brisbane 4Aug1929) and in 1932 Ipswich Queensland begins rugby league night matches - (Brisbane Courier 17Mar1932 p5), in 1934 NSW defeat Ipswich under electric lights to begin their Rugby League tour of Queensland Western Champion – (Barcaldine 7Jul1934 p12)
In New South Wales in 1928 Newcastle Coursing and Sporting Club, hosted a four team rugby league teams under lights.
In 1933 Sydney Rugby League held a11-a-side summer night Football competition at the showgrounds. The first match was between University and Western Suburbs.(The Sydney Morning Herald 28Oct1933 p20).
The concept of profitable night football was being demonstrated, especially in the warmer summer months when natural light lasted longer into the evenings.
Melbourne's MotordromeIn 1924 a concrete motorbike race track was installed in the Amateur Sports Ground on the Yarra, beside the MCG and Punt Road Oval. The new stadium was called the Motordrome but would later be renamed Olympic Park. It's owners were keen on night football, but it was 10 years before it eventuated.
A consortium called Melbourne Carnivals, ran the newly built Motordrome. Influential businessman John Wren was the name behind the scenes. Wren had strong links to racing, liquor and gambling and had significant involvement in State politics. Wren was a keen Collingwood supporter.
The owners of the new stadium added lighting for night racing and were keen to add football to their venue.
Night Football ProposalsMelbourne Carnivals proposed numerous schemes to get football to their stadium. In 1924 they unsuccessfully proposed a 10th VFL team of Public Services Players.One of the selling points for the use of the Motordrome was the fact that "Special flood lights would be installed, so that if nessecary, the game could be played in the evening, as the ground would be made as light as day." (Argus 5Jul1924 p22) But in 1925, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Footscray were added instead
In February 1925 Melbourne Carnivals attempted to gain admittance of the Public Services team to the VFA, agian proposing games on Monday nights, again unsuccessfully. - Argus 13Feb1925 p5
In September 1925 an unknown backer proposed Summer night football in Melbourne, using VFL players, but creating new teams, using extensive lighting and with Carlton's Princess Park suggested as a possible venue. (Argus 24Sep1925 p6) Due to cricket most grounds, including Princess Park, would have been unavaiable..but the Motordrome would have been available and already had the lighting.
Day Time FootballFootball was regularly played at the Motordrome by the Midweek Industrial League, Tramways teams and the Victorian Football Association.
In 1925, the new look VFA began playing their finals series at the Motordrome before reverting back to Association ground in 1928. In the 1927 series, sensationally, both semi finals at the Motordrome were drawn and had to be replayed.
The Motordrome becomes Olympic ParkIn 1933 the concrete track was removed and the ground renamed Olympic Park. The concrete track had proved dangerous and the ground was refitted for midget car racing.
The VFA played two more final series at the ground in 1933 and 1934. The 1934 Grand Final, which would have been the fifth at the ground, but had to be moved to the Melbourne Showgrounds after heavy rain delayed the match and Olympic Park was already booked for other purposes for the following week.
The VFA did not return in 1935. (Argus 30Apr1935 p11)
Richmond v South Melbourne Trial gameIn 1935 Richmond Football Club were renegotiating their agreement with the Richmond Cricket Club for use of the Punt Road Oval.
As an alternative to Punt Road Oval, Olympic Park was modern, next door to Punt Road Oval and was not affected by the cricket season. Management at Olympic Park were also offering a larger percentage of the gate.than Richmond received at Punt Road. (The Age 30Mar1930 p24) In this climate and before the start of the VFL season, Richmond organised a night time game at Olympic Park.
This would be the first Australian Rules game involving a major teams under artificial light since 1879. As such the match was highly reported in the Australian Rules States and it’s success would be noted and remembered. Richmond and South Melbourne had both been Grand Finalists in 1934, so even without the novelty value, a big crowd would be expected.
It must be remembered that the lights had been used since 1925 and there had been at least once instance where soccer had been played on the ground at night. (Argus 9Oct1934 p8) This would be a new for the football community, but the lights had been in use at the ground for a long time and their quality and reliability were well known.
The VFL gave permission for the match and Richmond would play on 30 March with a white ball especially prepared by Syd Sherrin (Argus 22-Mar-1935 p14).
TeamsFriday Night Team Lists only. Source: The Argus 29Mar1935 p11
Players marked with * are mentioned in the Argus or Age Newspaper Match reports.
Source: All cards from the 1935 Hoadleys Victorian Footballers Series - Source: Australian Football Cards
|B:||Martin Bolger||Maurie Sheehan?||Fred Heifner|
|HB:||Jack Baggott*||Joe Murdoch||Basil McCormack*|
|C:||Bill Garvie||Dick Chirgwin*||Candy (Probably M. Candy from Ararat)|
|HF:||Pat Davey*||Dave Baxter*||Jack Dyer*|
|F:||Clarrie Jordan?||Jack Titus*||Fred Crapper * (Probably))|
|Foll:||Percy Bentley*||Bert Foster*|
Source: All cards from the 1935 Hoadleys Victorian Footballers Series - Source: Australian Football Cards
Joe Garbutt, the Port Melbourne Player, trained with South Melbourne in the 1935 pre season but eventually played the 1935 season with St Kilda.
The Age newspaper report on the Monday after the game listed that South Melbourne were missing a number of key players including Bill Faul, Jack Bissett, Austin Robertson, Laurie Nash and Bob Pratt.
Pratt and Bissett were listed on the Friday night list and therefore although listed, they did not play.
|B:||Hec McKay*||Joe Garbutt*||Jock McKenzie*|
|HB:||John Austin?||Brighton Diggins||Linsday Richards?*|
|C:||Harry Clarke||Frank Davies?*||Jim Reid?*|
|HF:||Roy McEachen||Wilber Harris?||Alan Welch*|
|F:||Fred Backway*||Bob Pratt||Bert Beard*|
|Foll:||Jack Bisset*||Dinny Kelleher|
Syd Dineen a centreman for Preston played on the night for South Melbourne.
|Richmond||4.3 (27)||7.6 (48)||11.6 (72)||14.8 (92)|
|South Melbourne||1.1. (7)||4.1 (25)||6.6 (42)||8.8 (56)|
Richmond: Titus (5), Harris (2), Edmunds (2), Jordan, Davey, Foster, Baxter, Bentley
South Melbourne: Backway (3), Davies (2), Matthew, Welsh, McKenzie
For the winners none was more conspicuous than Basil McCormack – (Argus 1-Apr-1935 p7).
25,000 people crowded Olympic Park to watch Richmond and South Melbourne.
When they last met in the 1934 Grand Final, Bob Pratt had kicked his 150th goal for the season, but South Melbourne lost by 39 points.
Ivor Warne-Smith writing in the Argus reported that the lighting was good, the white ball easy to see. Although players found marking and handling the ball slightly more difficult. The low lights also meant that players could be temporarily blinded by the lights when there was a boundary throw-in. (Argus 1-Apr-1935 p7)
“From the beginning until the final bell the players of both teams, in spite of their strange surroundings and the soft training, did remarkably well and strove valiantly to keep the enthusiasm of the gathering alive. Unfortunately the spirit of a competitive game was missing. Players did not have the urge to win, which puts that extra ounce of devil into their play.....Stuill, the spectators enjoyed themselves in a quiet way, and night football would seem to have great possibilities given a competitive flavour.” Ivor Warne-Smith (Argus 1-Apr-1935 p7)
The Age report on the success of the match recorded the popularity of the car races before the game, and at half time as well as the good visibility and a good game. (The Age 1Apr1935 p5)
The night was a booming success for Richmond and the club profited by 200 pounds. On the night a match for the next week was announced over the loud speakers to cheers from the crowd.
VFL Night Football Ends
Richmond argued that Punt Road was being used for District Cricket Finals and had been obliged to experiment with night football, which had been a financial success.
A range of reasons were given for not supporting the venture, issues such as
- Ensuring the League controlled all games
- Pre season games taking away from the importance of league games,
- Difficultly for lower placed teams to sell season tickets if they lost in pre-season matches
- The whole issue of night football being a bad thing..”Do we stand for Day football or Night Football”
Richmond’s experiment was financially successful but the debate regarding night football became wrapped up in issues about the benefits of running a pre-season competition.
On the night of the VFL vote, an attempt was made to allow the Richmond v Collingwood game, but not to allow further pre season games until the VFL had ruled. The Richmond delegate, as acting chair for the night disallowed the amendment forcing the committe eessentially to vote on allowing unlimited pre season games between League teams, which was defeated.
The vote against the preseason competition was dominated by the weaker teams.
AGAINST (14): Carlton 2, Essendon 2, Fitzroy 2, Footscray 1, Hawthorn 2, Melbourne 1, North Melbourne 2, St Kilda 2
FOR (9): Collingwood 2, Footscray 1, Geelong 2, Melbourne 1, Richmond 2, South Melbourne 1
Source The Age 6Apr1935 p.16
Richmond re-signed at Punt Road Oval which meant that the VFL returned to a situation where none of the grounds had lighting for night football. (Though many were istalling sufficient lighting for night training.)
Further Night Football in the 1930sThe VFL decision to stop night football did not end night football in the 1930s but future games would be sporatic and charity affairs.
In South Australia a very different lesson was learned from the Victorian experiment and a number of successful games were played under lights including West Adelaide versus Sturt at Wayville Showgrounds only a few weeks after the Richmond South Melbourne game.(Advertisor - Adelaide 17Apr1935 p22). Night football would continue in the following years.
In 1935 a charity night football game where Jockeys defeated Police was also a popular event. (Advertisor - Adelaide 6Jun1935 p11)
The following year, on 21 Sep 1936 a VFA v VFL charity match was played under lights at Olympic Park. The match was played the first week of the VFL finals and no players from the four teams appearing in the VFL finals appeared in the VFL team, thus the game is not counted among VFA v VFL games.
Strong finishes by VFL teams in the final quarter were common in Interstate games and again in evidence here. Although the Association team led at half time, the VFL finished strongly to win by 29 points. See Argus 21Sep1936 p14 and Argus 25Sep1936 p15