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On This Day: The miracle of the disappearing footy

An atrocious winter's day and a disappearing footy formed the recipe for a famous St Kilda win against South Melbourne. - St Kilda Saints,South Melbourne
An atrocious winter's day and a disappearing footy formed the recipe for a famous St Kilda win against South Melbourne.

An atrocious winter’s day, a disappearing footy, a coach’s brilliant move and the fluctuating fortunes of two Brownlow medallists were part of the recipe for a famous St Kilda win at South Melbourne’s Lake Oval on 21 July, 1962.

57 years ago today, the rival neighbours from opposite sides of Albert Park Lake did not enter the game in great shape.

South was sitting in last place on the ladder and St Kilda, having made the finals in 1961 following a 22-year drought, had won just five games out of 12 and was one of the most disappointing teams of the year.

The local derbies between these two had a history of bringing surprise results, and when they met earlier in the year at the sodden Junction Oval, South had pulled off a shock win by 12 points thanks largely to the Saints scoring 0.7 in a frustrating final quarter. In the intervening 10 weeks, they had failed to win another game.

The Saints’ frustration would reach even greater heights in the Lake Oval encounter. By three-quarter time, they had a pitiful scoreline of 3.9 (27) against the home side’s 9.9 (63). The crowd of 14,380 was the smallest for a Saints game in 1962 and many of the red, white and black fans headed home at three-quarter time, convinced that the day wasn’t going to end well.

South’s brilliant and inspiring leader Bob Skilton had been the engine at the heart of their performance in the first three quarters. When his opponent Ross Smith scored St Kilda’s third goal after a 45-minute goalless spell, it was the dynamic Skilton who instantly responded with a major at the other end. To confirm his stamp on the game, he kicked two more just before the final change and blew his side’s advantage out to 36 points.

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Skilton the Brownlow medallist had four goals on the board, but would not add to his tally as he limped to a forward pocket with a leg injury. South hearts dropped as the star rover’s match-winning impact was blunted.

The man who had finished level with Skilton in the 1959 Brownlow count – St Kilda’s Verdun Howell – now stepped in to turn the tide of the match. Saints coach Allan Jeans moved the VFL’s top full-back to the opposite end of the ground to lift his flagging attack. Howell instantly reacted with a delightful goal. Minutes later he booted another after marking a shot at goal by Smith.

The two goals in three minutes had not just given the Saints a lift on the scoreboard. Howell’s second goal from close range had sent the ball out of the ground at the grandstand end. It was either lost or had been nicked by enterprising youngster, but the result was that the heavy, water-logged football was replaced by a brand new one.

In those days, the same ball was used throughout a game, but the fresh, lighter ball helped make things easier for a St Kilda side trying to stage a comeback.

South was close to exhaustion after having bottled up the visitors all day. The Saints were building a full head of steam as Jim Guyatt zoomed in to score another goal. Champion centreman Lance Oswald had rarely been sighted until this stage, and when he chimed in with another major, the Saints were within striking distance. By the time Howell kicked his third for the quarter, St Kilda had seized a two-point lead and the inexperienced Bloods were flagging badly.

Darrel Baldock finished them off with a final goal that capped an 8.5 to nil quarter. Between the two sides, 15 of the 20 goals had been kicked at the grandstand end.

After the game, Allan Jeans said: “I didn’t like our chances at three-quarter time, but everything we tried came off in the last term. Moving Verdun Howell to full-forward was a gamble, but I felt it was better to try to pull the game out of the fire than take the risk of being beaten by 12 goals.”

57 years later, Verdun Howell still remembers that day well: “We were a long way down at three-quarter time. I remember Lance Oswald playing really well in that last quarter.”

And what of that goal which sent the heavy ball out of the ground? “To me it wouldn’t have mattered if it was a bag of potatoes...as long as I sent it through!”

While Howell achieved his greatest fame as a full-back, he had come from Tasmania as a forward. Occasionally the St Kilda his coaches in his early years had thrown him into attack.

In later years he would play more regularly in the forward half.

“I remember one really windy day when we played North out at Coburg. Yabby (Jeans ) had me at full-back when we were kicking against the wind and full-forward when we kicked with it. So I had four quarters at the one end”.

ST KILDA           2.4       2.9       3.9       11.14 (80)
SOUTH             4.4       6.6       9.9       9.9 (63)

B: Brian Walsh, Tom McKay, Ian Synman
HB: Jim Guyatt, Verdun Howell, Eric Guy
C: Graeme Lee, Lance Oswald, Ross Oakley
HF: Bill Coady, Darrel Baldock, Bob Morton
F: Paul Dodd, Ray McHugh, Alan Morrow
RUCKS: John McMillan, Bob Ilsley
ROVER: Ross Smith
RESERVES: Brian McMahon, Bud Annand

GOALS: Howell 3, Baldock 3, Oswald 2, Smith 2, Guyatt, McMillan
BEST: Baldock, Howell, Oswald, Oakley, Morrow