THERE is no week of football quite like round one.
Every club goes in to the first week full of optimism about the year ahead while fans are excited about all the new faces and ideas that greet them at the start of the season.
Many St Kilda stars went on to long careers in the red, white and black after playing their first games in round one but it is doubtful any of them had a bigger impact in their first game than ruckman Carl Ditterich.
The prodigious blond talent from East Brighton was said to be disappointed he had missed out on a game with the Saints’ reserves in the first game of 1963, only to find he had been put into the club’s senior team to take on Melbourne – the most impressive club of the era.
Opposed to Ron Barassi, who was the VFL’s highest profile player at the time, 17-year-old Ditterich did as he pleased at the Junction Oval finishing best on ground in an upset win over a team that had contested the previous nine finals series.
With Ditterich too young to have his driver’s license, teammate Alan Morrow took it upon himself to be his chauffer off the field and his protector on the field.
But, recalling the game 50 years on, Morrow said he quickly realised his young teammate was more than capable of looking after himself.
“When I was driving him in I told him ‘Don’t worry about anything and just play your football. Don’t get sucked in because you’re a rising star and there will be plenty of blokes trying to get into your ear. Just ignore it and I’ll handle that other stuff because I’ve been around for a while,’” Morrow told saints.com.au.
“Anyway the game had been going about 10 minutes and there was a bit of a melee. I looked over and saw the blond bloke in the middle of it all. I’ve ripped across and came in from behind to grab him on the shoulder. The next minute he’s brought the arm back and I had to remind him I was on his side.”
Years later, Ditterich recalled the first of his 285 VFL games with great joy in Heroes with Haloes – St Kilda’s One Hundred Greatest.
“In many respects it was a day out for me. The crowd, the loud cheering, the ground was packed,” Ditterich said.
“I remember the thrill of winning and being part of a successful side and to win it and win it well was great. Melbourne had been in quite a few finals at that stage.”
The start of 1963 was seen as a time of transition for the Saints, with three of the club’s best players – Neil Roberts, Eric Guy and Bud Annand finishing their careers at the end of 1962.
Morrow said there was a period of uncertainty at St Kilda after the three experienced heads left at once.
“They were stalwarts of the club and it’s hard to replace those types of people overnight. Eric Guy was a very tough player, “Coconut” (Roberts) had won a Brownlow medal and had been captain of the club,” he said.
“Bud Annand had been a ruckman with me during those years so they were all important.”
Ditterich was one of four St Kilda debutants in round one, 1963 along with Ian Stewart, Bob Murray and Jim Wallis.
Ditterich, Stewart and Murray all went on to have long and distinguished careers with St Kilda. All three won club best and fairests and were named in the club’s team of the century as well as the Hall of Fame. Stewart and Murray were both part of the 1966 premiership team that Ditterich famously missed due to suspension.
Wallis’ career wasn’t quite as decorated, but he was originally considered to be in the same bracket as his contemporaries.
A ruckman with a knack of presenting well at the end of tight games, Wallis played 39 games in three years before his career came to an end at just 23 years of age with a knee injury.
Morrow said Wallis could easily have gone down in St Kilda history with his contemporaries if it wasn’t for his misfortune.
“You couldn’t have got a better four players to debut at once. We never saw the best of Jimmy because he ended up with a knee injury at a young age,” he said.
“The other blokes all had tremendous careers and you’d be rapt if you could unearth a crop like that every year.”