St Kilda had just suffered its worst ever defeat at the hands of Footscray.
That 107-point belting, fired up by Kelvin Templeton’s 15 goals at Western Oval, had not been exceeded until last Saturday’s nightmare at Marvel Stadium when the Bulldogs improved its record tally by four points.
A dark day for the Saints was topped off when it seemed the final siren had sounded and some players headed for the dressing rooms before the end of the game.
Coming off that embarrassing loss 43 years ago, the Saints journeyed to North’s home ground at Arden Street hoping to break a run of six successive defeats. This was no ordinary North side – they were the reigning Premiers on their home patch.
In the end, it boiled down to a controversial and chaotic finish with the post siren shot from St Kilda ruck-rover Robert Elliott snatching a memorable victory.
Kangaroo diehards were certain that Elliott’s kick had been touched on the goal line, but this was a time long before video reviews and the goal umpiring decision stood.
Angry Roo fans mobbed goal umpire Eric Brewer as he was escorted from the ground. Later, Brewer, a chief inspector with Victoria Police would be escorted from the ground by 14 police on foot and horseback. Mobbed by players and spectators, Brewer had to wait for police to clear a path to field umpire Glenn James before he could signal a goal.
The kick from Elliott produced his second goal in the last five minutes of the game.
North defender Gary Cowton had to be restrained by the Kangas’ team manager John Curtin and a trainer as he remonstrated with Brewer for more than 30 metres as the besieged umpire headed to the race. North players believed the ball had been touched by ruckman Steve McCann. Not only that, they reckoned McCann had hit the ball through the behind scoring area.
North coach Ron Barassi was unusually quiet and philosophical when talking to reporters after the match saying that “we should not have been in that position anyway, we would have been lucky to win”.
Yet North had staged a massive comeback after being 37 points down and then hitting the front in time-on as youngster Stephen Easton booted his fourth goal.
The ball was taken from the bounce by St Kilda and marked on the half forward flank by Elliott on the half forward flank about 50 metres from goal. As he walked back to take his kick into a strong headwind the siren sounded and hundreds of fans ran onto the field.
"It was the highlight of my career I can tell you that’, Elliott recalled this week.
"I kicked through a V. The photo in The Age showed Steve McCann touching the ball and it was behind the goalpost. I shouldn’t say this, but one of my teammates said they were arguing the wrong thing about it being touched – it went through the wrong side (through for a point)."
While Barassi’s post-game press conference demeanour may have been calm, his ruckman Crackers Keenan recalls that the reaction was different behind closed doors.
"Barassi told everybody not to have a drink with Brewer after the game. But I went over and said 'you had better have a drink because everyone in here hates you!'.
"I was right next to the goals when it went through. I said to him 'you stuffed that up'.
St Kilda had gone into the game with five wins, a draw and seven losses. They went on to win five of their last eight games to narrowly miss a finals spot.
"We had a three-and-a-half hour meeting before the game at the Racecourse Hotel and watched motivational films," said Elliott.
Although there was no TV coverage of the game, there was some intriguing footage taken by a camera crew for the This Fabulous Century series which leaves no doubt about the anger of the Roos fans.
ST KILDA 4.7 6.8 15.13 18.16 (124)
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.2 6.5 10.6 19.7 (121)
St Kilda: Sidebottom, R. Elliott, Ditterich, Greene, Perovic, Gellie