Forty years on, our epic victory over the VFL deserves to be remembered

Tim Gavel 7 July 2020 20
ACT team photo

The ACT beating the VFL 40 years ago at Manuka Oval should be celebrated as one of the ACT’s great sporting moment. Photo: Supplied.

Keith Miller was 27 years of age on 6 July 1980. He remembers it well. It was the day he was part of one of the most memorable moments in Canberra’s sporting history.

The ACT team, featuring a mix of players who plied their trade in the local competition and former Canberra players recruited by VFL teams, beat the might of the VFL.

The scoreboard at Manuka Oval on that day remains etched in the memories of the 10,000 plus crowd: ACT 13-17 (95); VFL 11-16 (82).

It is something I have written and spoken about from the time I joined the ABC in Canberra in the late 1980s.

I remember interviewing VFL officials about that day. As the years progressed it became obvious they were doing their best to downplay the importance of the win to the ACT.

Sure the VFL had three teams playing games on 6 July 1980, but each team was laden with talent.

One of the Victorian representative teams played against Western Australia at VFL Park, now known as Waverley Park in Mulgrave, Victoria. The second played against Queensland at the Gabba, and the third was against the ACT at Manuka Oval. The Victorian team won by 21 points against Western Australia and the VFL side playing at the Gabba convincingly beat Queensland by 80 points. But this was not the story at Manuka Oval.

Those pushing the agenda for the VFL claimed the Victorian team playing against the ACT was the VFL’s third-string side that lost that day.

Yet the VFL fielded the likes of Frances Bourke, Malcolm Blight, Rene Kink and the list goes on.

Keith Miller, who had been in Canberra for two years prior to the 1980 game, having relocated to coach Eastlake, says the ACT side were very much the underdogs.

But as a team, the ACT gelled cohesively against a side of stars.

“The best on ground was John McEwen, he played the match of his life,” says Miller, “and Cowboy Neale was a great leader. His performance was memorable, particularly in the final quarter. But you can’t win a game without everybody contributing.”

Mind you, the ACT had plenty of big names, including Neale. There was also the legendary Alex Jesaulenko.

But the highlight was the contribution of the lesser-known players: McEwen who played on Burke, Miller on Kink.

“Cowboy told us before the game the key was to be competitive. By the final quarter, we realised that we could win it.”

Miller says while he remembers many aspects of that day 40 years ago. His most vivid recollection is of the after-match reception where VFL President Allen Aylett criticised the performance of the VFL team.

Legend has it that Aylett suggested a rematch, only to be told that the ACT team’s schedule was full and it wouldn’t be happening.

The result, therefore, is etched in history.

It is up there with the most significant sporting moments in the ACT. The Raiders 1989 Grand Final victory remains the most iconic followed by the Brumbies premiership victory in 2001. Then there are the championship wins by the Cannons and the Capitals.

The ACT beating the VFL is very much up there and should be celebrated as such, no matter how much those south of the border try to erase it from history by downplaying the strength of the team sent to Canberra 40 years ago.

If nothing else, it adds to the significance of the 13 point victory.


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20 Responses to Forty years on, our epic victory over the VFL deserves to be remembered
PaulWalshe1 PaulWalshe1 8:56 am 12 Jul 20

Great article Tim, it was a special day for AFL in Canberra. The ACT had only 3 VFL players – Jezza, Ian Low and Queanbeyan’s own Robert Anderson who was playing for Footscray at the time.

Sue Thurley Sue Thurley 2:17 pm 10 Jul 20

Was Martin Smith in that team?

John Mair John Mair 5:56 pm 09 Jul 20

I was there and celebrated that night. The VFL Pres. Allen Alyett declared that they would never have multi Rep teams again. They fully expected three easy wins. The media in Melbourne gave them a rough time. A memorable time for ACTAFL and fired up the prospect of having a team in the VFL.

Guy Hosking Guy Hosking 11:07 pm 08 Jul 20

I was there. Cowboy Neale was too big for Francis Bourke. The ACT kicked straighter than the VFL.

Matt Hellier Matt Hellier 7:07 pm 08 Jul 20

Mark Donaldson see Canberra can even beat the best of Victoria

Peter Cargill Peter Cargill 2:21 pm 08 Jul 20

Remember that game well, was there

Peter Scott Peter Scott 1:29 pm 08 Jul 20

At that game, what a great win.

Clare McGrath Clare McGrath 11:46 am 08 Jul 20

Those were the days. it was a great footy match.

Simon Mead Simon Mead 11:19 am 08 Jul 20

The VFL opps AFL like to think they’re unbeaten when it comes to Aussie Rules. Fun fact when the Vics first played SA in the late 1800s they were beat them too

    Sam Auld Sam Auld 11:35 am 08 Jul 20

    Simon Mead yup & SA beat ACT at Phillip Oval in 1997. Half the team was made of Norwood players.

JS9 JS9 10:44 am 08 Jul 20

Great story Tim. Not being old enough to have been around for that game, I didn’t even know of this great part of Canberra sporting history 🙂

Lorraine McEwan Lorraine McEwan 8:49 am 08 Jul 20

Kenneth John McEwan and Kyla McEwan

John Caldwell John Caldwell 8:27 am 08 Jul 20

A great game. I was there that day.

    Archie Mac Archie Mac 8:40 am 08 Jul 20

    John Caldwell me too! Jezza was so happy - he gave me a high five after the win

Hamish Wise Hamish Wise 8:14 am 08 Jul 20

Remy Martin is that you back right?

    Remy Martin Remy Martin 8:15 am 08 Jul 20

    Hamish Wise haha accurate

    Hamish Wise Hamish Wise 8:15 am 08 Jul 20

    Remy Martin “40

    Years ago” haha

    Rod Ferguson Rod Ferguson 4:59 pm 08 Jul 20

    Remy Martin was your dads name bob, and you lived in shepparton

    Remy Martin Remy Martin 7:13 pm 08 Jul 20

    Rod Ferguson absolutely Rod. I’ll drop you a message mate. Cheers

Dan Myles Dan Myles 7:35 am 08 Jul 20

What a great win

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