The Second Amended Argus Finals System
Australian Rules football has used many finals systems over the journey. In 1929 the SANFL was using what was known as the Second Amended Argus finals system (although it does not appear to have been labelled as such in South Australia, being named after a Victorian newspaper and all). The idea, simply, is to play a final four system that gives a distinct advantage to the minor premier, effectively pre-qualifying them for the Grand Final.
In the first week of the finals, first plays third and second plays fourth. The winners then play off the following week in the premiership match. If the minor premier does not emerge victorious, they get to challenge the winner of the finals series for the premiership.
This system was remarkably well utilised. In the three previous seasons the minor premier had lost at some stage in the finals series and then gone on to win the challenge match Grand Final. Port Adelaide had used just such a path in winning the 1928 Grand Final over Norwood by eight goals. In fact, so strong was the advantage conferred that the minor premier had won every SAFA/SANFL flag since 1915.
Hence, the import of Norwood’s draw with North Adelaide and last two minor round nail-biting victories – in the Second Amended Argus the advantage of the minor premiership was significant.
First Semi Final – 14 September 1929
As is customary in the SANFL (with a Football Park related break of 40 years), all finals that season were played at Adelaide Oval. The Adelaide Oval of 1929 was very different to the modern stadium of the last few years. In fact the only parts that truly remain from that time are the scoreboard and the view of St Peter’s Cathedral just to the north of the ground.
Nonetheless, 27,418 punters rocked up to see second ranked Port Adelaide take on fourth placed West Torrens. During the minor round both teams had won their home fixture against the other. However, despite a flying first quarter, Torrens could not match the superior fitness of the Magpies who won by 28 points, moving through to the next round of finals in two weeks’ time. Elsie Dayman’s seven goals from eight shots more than made the difference between the teams on the day.
In a very early use of additional football metrics, with the help of an expert timekeeper, O.J. O’Grady of The Mail was able to demonstrate that Port had an additional 17 minutes and 31 seconds in possession of the ball across the match – more than sufficient to explain the seasiders’ dominance.
Second Semi Final – 21 September 1929
The second week of finals saw minor premiers, Norwood, playing third placed West Adelaide. Despite the suggestion that minor premiers generally take it easy in the semi-final (with the benefit of a week off before the challenge match in mind), a close final was keenly fought in front of 24,663 spectators.
Scores were level late into the last quarter before two West behinds, the last with a minute before time, allowed the end result – a two point victory to the blood and tars. Thus West were set to play Port in the premiership match (Preliminary Final) the following week, while Norwood would play the winner on 5 October in the challenge match (Grand Final).
Despite the keenness of the contest and the thrilling result, the greatest significance from this match was, again, to be found at the tribunal. Just weeks earlier league chairman, Thomas O’Halloran K.C., had caused such controversy by suspending Port’s Jack Wade for the season after hearing the charge and submitting evidence himself as a witness. Now, West’s Edgar “Dickie” Bennetts was reported for having hacked umpire Currie during the semi-final.
The allegation was that Bennetts had fallen during the second quarter and as the umpire passed him, the player kicked and made an offensive remark towards Currie. The umpire alleged Bennetts said “You are a ----- waster. What’s a man to do to get a mark?” In accepting the Currie’s submission, O’Halloran had no hesitation in suspending Bennetts for three and a half years.
Despite the ban the Bennetts’ relationship with West Adelaide continued as Dickie’s son Jeff played 100 games with the club in the 1960s (including a premiership in the 1961 “Turkish Bath” Grand Final against Norwood) and his grandson Craig played with the club in the 1990s.
Premiership Match (Preliminary Final) – 28 September 1929
Ok, so the Second Amended Argus system is a bit confusing to contemporary eyes. The premiership final is not actually for the premiership. Well, it is, but not really. This final confers presumptive premierness pending challenge from the minor premier the following week. Hence its title – simple really!
The premiership final drew the largest crowd of the men’s season to date with 31,343 cramming into Adelaide Oval. In what was a high pressure and correspondingly low quality game, Port Adelaide got out of the blocks early to lead by 26 points at quarter time. However, by three quarter time West Adelaide had worked back into the match and scores were level.
The game was broken open by Port in the last quarter as coach Sampson “Shine” Hosking moved Dayman to centre half forward and Logan to goalsneak. This was remarked upon in the press as on-ground tactical moves were normally made by the captain and not considered province of the coach. This move enabled Dayman to shake the close attention of West’s goalkeeper (full back) John Church. Logan kicked two last quarter goals and assisted another as Port put on four goals to three behinds to win by 21 points and qualify for the challenge match against Norwood.
West Adelaide did not leave empty handed, however, as their 1929 Magarey Medallist Bob Snell was presented with the medal and a framed caricature on the ground to celebrate his award.
In the lead up to the challenge match, Port Adelaide entered firm favourites with the journalists. “Oldtimer” of Sport (it was common practice for columns to be written under a pseudonym) suggested “And it looks as if the Ports, after all, will be able to swank around as the season’s champions. Their toeball barrackers will be able to sit down quietly and be told that there is a Federal election on tap.”
“Rover” of The Advertiser went on “In my opinion, the advantage accruing to Port Adelaide as a result of superiority in the two key positions mentioned (the combination of Dayman and Logan as goalsneak and centre half forward) will be too great for Norwood to overcome.”
Norwood’s worries were further amplified as state half back, John Siggins, was confined to bed with influenza and the club was not sure if leading goalkicker, Lyall Mutton, would be back from his honeymoon in time for the final. Worries eased however as Siggins staged a sufficient recovery to play. Meanwhile on Grand Final eve, Club Secretary Hill was at the Adelaide railway station to meet Mutton’s train on his return from Victoria.
If 31,343 was a big crowd for Adelaide Oval, the Grand Final drew a massive crowd of 35,504 for the season decider between the league’s two powerhouses and traditional rivals. On a warm day featuring a howling northerly, a quick and hard Norwood was able to establish a 15 point lead into the wind in the first quarter. Their direct method of play proved superior to the Magpies’ shorter kicking game as the Redlegs were able to break down the Magpie system. The Norwoods used the long kick to build their lead through the second quarter and when Albert Moyle ran into an open goal late in the half, the lead was out to 34 points.
After halftime Port moved its players around to great effect. Goals to Logan (who as per the previous week had swapped positions with Dayman), Lawrence Hodge and Johnson narrowed the margin. The Redlegs were forced to contain Port Adelaide for the remainder of the quarter but when Dayman successfully converted a place kick (another difference to today’s football. While still potentially legal the place kick left the game completely in the 1950s), the margin was reduced to eight points. The Redlegs surged again, however, and just before three quarter time kicked goals through Eric Johnson and Krome, taking a 20 point lead into the last quarter.
With the strong breeze Norwood wasted no time in icing the game in the final quarter. A quick goal to Wait and two more to Johnson put the Redlegs out by 40 points and out of reach. Norwood and Port traded goals for the remainder of the match, including Johnson kicking his third of the quarter. Dayman could only narrow the margin to 41 points, kicking a goal after the siren as fans streamed onto the ground.
Port Adelaide gave their trophy (each team awarded a trophy to the opposing player they considered best on ground) to the other Norwood star of the day, wingman Charles Daly (son of Redlegs royalty John “Bunny” Daly), while Norwood considered back pocket Clifford Keal the Magpies’ best. Centre half back Sydney Ween was the journalists’ pick.
Times have changed as they are wont to do. The SANFL is no longer the major game in town and Port Adelaide has graduated to the big league (its final exam a masterclass in treachery). Nonetheless, in season 2017 the 1460th league player for Norwood will run out onto the Parade… and she’ll be a woman! It’s not all bad, this world at the moment.
Postscript – Seven days later James Scullin’s Labor Party defeated Stanley Bruce’s Nationalist/Country Coalition in a landslide. The large influx of soil apparently did not prevent votes from being counted. On the back of an 8.3% swing, Labor won 46 of the 75 lower house seats. In losing so horribly, Bruce became the first serving Prime Minister to lose his seat at an election, a feat only emulated once since by John Howard in 2007.
12 days later the New York stock market crashed, taking the rest of the world with it into the Great Depression (although, penguins in Antarctica were mostly unaffected). While this event is most strongly associated with 1929, reading the year’s events through this lens would be like considering the Western Bulldogs’ flag in the context of Trump’s election – entirely unrelated but, as the years progress, one will always cast a dark shadow on the other.