It was appropriate in many ways that Alan Morrow took the final mark in the 1966 Grand Final just as the siren sounded.
He was the oldest and longest serving member of the team, playing in his last game for the Saints, and had been robbed of glory in the previous year’s Grand Final.
Alan Morrow passed way on July 13 at the age of 86.
Bob Murray had taken the mark in defence hat thwarted Collingwood’s last charge in that ’66 Grand Final and recounted later that when he saw Morrow and Darrel Baldock on the wing he aimed the kick in that direction because he knew Morrow could take the mark and if it happened to spill free Baldock would beat anyone at ground level. Like every St Kilda person Murray knew that Alan Morrow could be depended upon in every situation.
More than that, he was a fine person who always had a friendly smile for Saints fans young and old. A heart and soul player.
The fairytale of 1966 was vastly different to the situation 12 months earlier.
Morrow had always dreamed of playing in a Grand Final as a kid when he would come down from the country and queue for hours to get a seat at the MCG in the days before pre-booked tickets. The 1965 September day was meant to be the moment when his dream came true, but the adrenaline-pumped thrill of playing in a Grand Final was shattered in the first 10 minutes when Essendon’s Charlie Payne landed on his foot in a marking contest.
Morrow wasn’t going to concede so early in the match and he battled on, but the injury to his instep was obviously serious, as he recalled in the book Heroes with Haloes.
“Every time I ran there was a clicking noise. I thought it was the steel shank in the boot, but it was a bone in the foot. It was the second quarter and we were a couple of goals up so I thought do you get selfish and wait for a needle at half time or go off and let an able bodied bloke on the bench have a go. You’d hate to be the bloke who let the side down.”
And Alan Morrow was never a man to let the side down.
As he trudged off, Morrow heard the cutting jibes from the crowd that added to his misery. In the rooms he was treated by the doctor until half time when the rest of the side filed in and the medico had to treat other ailments.
After Morrow had a shower he emerged in the room to find it totally empty – “ I didn’t even know where to go and sit” - and when he hobbled up the stairs there was insult to add to his injury.
“The bloke said you can’t sit here without a ticket! And I had to explain I was a player”. It was only the intervention of Saints official Jessie Perkins which saved the situation – “I’d gone from chocolates to boiled lollies in the space of an hour”.
In his mind, Morrow had decided he would retire , but thankfully was persuaded by chairman of selectors Des Nisbet to continue in 1966.
Coach Allan Jeans was aware that Morrow had carried the Saints’ ruck for years and wanted to ease him into a permanent defensive role, but rather than be pleased about a lesser workload Morrow was upset about being taken out of the action.
A fine game in defence in the opening round against Melbourne seemed to seal the issue of Morrow’s role - “The ball followed me and I thought I’ll be stuck here now”.
But the season would unfold differently. Morrow missed a couple of games with knee problems and on his return played on the forward line which was more suitable . Then Ditterich was suspended on the eve of the finals and Morrow was given more work on the ball which he relished.
Morrow had mentored Ditterich on the field from the time the blonde teenager made a stunning debut. In later years he would laugh as he recalled the day when he gave the 17 year -old a lift before his first game.
“When he came out, his mother said “Mr Morrow, can I speak to you for a minute?” He jumped in the car and she said “He won’t get hurt will he?” I’m thinking gee, how can I guarantee that? When we were driving in, I said “If anything happens, just keep out of the way and I’ll be there to help you.
“I reckon the game had only been going 10 minutes and there was a bit of a jostling pack and I can see this blond head bobbing around and arms going everywhere. I thought I had better get across and I grabbed him by the shoulder. He swung around and before he could do anything I said “Hang on, I’m on your side!” He was like a young colt – he bounced around everywhere and had bundles of energy. I thought how good is this, he’s going to be very helpful.”
Morrow was just six foot (183 cms) tall, so he had to concede height to every opponent, but was blessed with a great spring, despite a knee problem which had started in a practice match when he was 15. Throughout his career the perennially grey knee bandage became a trademark, and in one interview The Herald’s Alf Brown asked if the club would get him a new one for the finals . Oddly enough when he played his final year of football with Dandenong in the VFA he discarded the bandage and got through the season OK.
One of his teammates at St Kilda was a battling ruckman named Lindsay Fox who had a profound impact on Morrow’s life .
Morrow recalled “ I am very grateful to have met him. He was a pretty hard-nosed guy and a bit of a ruffian. We were both short six-footers and struck a rapport with each other. I was working in a foundry in South Melbourne and he used to call by in his truck when he was delivering. He said “You’ve got to get out of there. It’s too dangerous,” and all this sort of thing. I said “This is my trade and it is all I know.” In the end Fox talked him around to a life-changing move.
Morrow worked for him for 38 years from 1963 to 2011 – “The thing that I was always taught was that honesty and loyalty were important.”
Those principles echoed his style as a player. Tough as nails, iron-willed and lionhearted, he was a regular selection in Victorian sides and terribly unlucky not to have won a best and fairest . He ran second in 1959 (to that year’s Brownlow Medallist Verdun Howell) second in 1962 and 1963 (to Darrel Baldock both times) and had a third placing in 1960.
It is important to note Morrow’s memories of St Kilda’s greatest moment:
“I remember Bob Murray taking the mark and I thought that I had to get out as deep as I could . When I marked it I wasn’t even sure that the siren had gone. Then Coop and Doc ran over and said we had won.”
ALAN GARNER MORROW
St Kilda Team of The Century, St Kilda Hall of Fame Member
Captain Coach VFA Premiers Dandenong 1967