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Story by By former V.F.A. Boundary Umpire Kraig Krieger

Back in the Seventies & early Eighties in Melbourne ( Victoria ), most footy fans supported both a V.F.L. (now A.F.L.) team, as well as a V.F.A. (now V.F.L.) team. And for a large percentage of those fans, the weekend was made up of going to one of the six V.F.L. games held in the suburbs of Melbourne , or taking the long trip down to Kardinia Park at Geelong . This was followed up on the Sunday by either watching ‘World Of Sport’ on HSV-7, followed by A.T.V-O broadcasting their live coverage of the V.F.A. ‘Match of the Day’, or even venturing off to watch a V.F.A. match live at one of the grounds.
The V.F.A. was a great competition back then…big fights, big scores and even bigger personalities such as Fred Cook, Harold Martin, ‘Big’ Bob Johnson, Phil Cleary and Umpires such as Ric Casey, Roy Groom and Frank ‘The Latin’ Vergona, who wore even smaller shorts than Sydney’s glamour Full Forward of the Eighties, Warwick Capper.

One of the biggest names of the day was legendary Dandenong Full Forward, Jim ‘Frosty’ Miller. He, along with Fred Cook (Port Melbourne & Moorabbin) was as well known to all footy fans as V.F.L. spearheads Peter McKenna, Peter Hudson & Doug Wade.

As was the case with most of the great Full Forwards of the time, ‘Frosty’ Miller was skillful, deadly accurate and extremely fair. He was that good that the V.F.L. award for the leading goalkicker each season is named in his honor.

ABOVE: Dandenong champion spearhead Jim 'Frosty' Miller
(Image from www.fullpointsfooty.net)

But on V.F.A. Grand Final day (26th of September, 1971) he, along with experienced Umpire Jim McMaster, would become the focus of intense hatred from every Preston supporter in existence.

The source of this outpouring of hatred would have been missed by anybody who arrived late for the first bounce in the Grand Final, played between two of the power teams of the day – the Preston Bullants and the Dandenong Dandies (or as they were more popularly known, the Redlegs).

This transcript from the ATV-O live telecast tells the story…

“He’s gone right down the field and given a free kick to ‘Frosty’ Miller.
Well, I have never seen anything like this before in my life.
I’ve seen it at the start of a quarter, but not at the start of a Grand Final. There it is, a goal kicked by ‘Frosty’ Miller.
What a sensational opening!!
The umpire hasn’t even signaled to the timekeepers!”

When Field Umpire McMaster spotted a scuffle between Preston Full Back, Barry Leslie, and ‘Frosty’ in the goal square, he awarded the free kick (and subsequent goal) to ‘Frosty’, even though the game had not even started. But what made this particular decision even more controversial was the fact that Dandenong went on to win the game (and Premiership) by the margin of…ONE GOAL (13.14 to 14.14)!

The Preston fans were absolutely livid, and nearly every one of them would have gladly volunteered to slip a noose around the necks of both ‘Frosty’ and McMaster, and hang them from the Junction Oval Grandstand roof!

Officially though, Preston had no option but to make a protest to the V.F.A.

And the very next day, the Bullant Secretary, Alf Rowe, did just that.

His letter to the V.F.A. read…

“Dear Sir,
In connection with the V.F.A. 1st Division Grand Final held on Sunday, 26th September, 1971, my Club has directed me to lodge a protest against the result on the grounds that Rule No. 6 of the Australian National Game of Football was breached.
Rule 6(a) was violated in that the Field Umpire did not consult Preston Football Club captain player L. Hill. As stated in the rules, this procedure is necessary before the field umpire blows his whistle and bounces the ball to accord with Rule 6(b).
In addition, Rule 6(b) itself was breached in that the field umpire awarded a free kick to a Dandenong player before bouncing the ball as required.
The effect of the umpire’s action was that the Dandenong player kicked a goal and the Dandenong team was awarded six points. This means that the final scores of the match should now read – Preston 13.14-92, Dandenong 13.14-92.
Therefore, to accord with the rules of the game, the match should be declared a draw and a replay ordered by the V.F.A.
An unbiased assessment of the evidence as presented above will establish that in fact the match had not begun when the Dandenong player was awarded the free kick.
We are aware of the provisions of Rule 17, but believe that this rule has application only after the match itself has commenced.
The matter is now in your hands.
A.J. Rowe – Secretary.”

When the V.F.A. Board of Management decided to hear the protest, the Melbourne media, who were usually unenthusiastic in their reporting of the V.F.A., had a field day with the story. It became as big a story as Hawthorn’s win over St.Kilda in the V.F.L. Grand Final that same weekend. In fact, some would say an even bigger story.

T.V. and radio commentators and newspaper reporters could not get enough of this sensational result, creating a media circus outside the old V.F.A. headquarters in Jolimont Terrace.

Such pandemonium had never been seen before at the lovely old Terrace Building . This sort of reaction was always reserved for the big V.F.L. stories.

But this was bigger than almost anything that had happened in the V.F.L. Some say even bigger than the great John Coleman’s shock suspension from the entire 1951 Finals series.

Prior to the hearing Preston declared that they would keep training in anticipation of the rematch, while Dandenong players stated that they would refuse to play in the game.

V.F.A. delegates attending the hearing had trouble forcing their way into V.F.A. House, such was the enormous crowd of media that had gathered to report on this incredible story.

Dandenong officials were very worried about the possible outcome of the meeting, as the Preston case was one of pure logic, and also because the match was telecast live on the day to a large audience.

In fact, nearly every footy supporter from every team, except Dandenong, and most media experts, believed that the V.F.A. would declare the match a draw, and organize a replay of the Grand Final the next Sunday. Respected football identity, and then Secretary of the Australian National Football Council, Bruce Andrew, was quoted as saying in ‘The Herald’ (27/9/1971)
“Rule 6 states that the game starts when the umpire blows his whistle and bounces the ball. There has been some confusion in this matter over Rule 17, which says that an umpire can award a free kick whether the ball is dead or in play. But that only applies after the game has started. Otherwise an umpire could start giving free kicks at 12 o’clock or whenever he arrived at the ground.”

The meeting lasted for more than two and a half hours, and evidence was gathered from various players and officials from both clubs.

Preston captain, former Collingwood defender Laurie Hill, stated that umpire McMaster did not even ask him whether he was ready to start the match, a practice that is still performed even today. He stated in the hearing that
“He usually holds up the ball and signals to both Captains. He did not do this on Sunday.”

Preston Timekeeper, Len Herman, told the hearing that umpire McMaster did not even check with the timekeepers as to whether they were ready to start the game. In fact, both the Preston and Dandenong Timekeepers agreed that the whistle had not been blown.

The Preston club clearly established that the siren had not been sounded until the Umpire was well down the field signaling a free kick against Preston’s Barry Leslie to Dandenong’s ‘Frosty’ Miller.

It was also unanimously agreed by both clubs that the ball had not even been bounced to start play.

Surely this was enough evidence to make a ruling in favor of Preston.

Imagine the shock when a vote of 39 – 5 AGAINST the protest was revealed.

Dandenong fans were overjoyed, while the Preston faithful could not believe the result had gone against their club.

So what made the V.F.A. decide against such clear logic?

Was it the fact that, even though ATV-O had broadcast the match, those vital few minutes of video showing the entire incident was, according to those responsible, not available because of a ‘some technical hitch’? Regardless of this, the dialogue stated earlier in this story is 100% factual.

Or was the decision swayed because Dandenong Rover, David Sheehan, had marked the ball within an easy scoring distance seconds before the final siren, but instead of having a shot at goal, he had thrown the ball away in jubilation because his team were in front when the siren went? After all even a behind would have given the Premiership to Dandenong, regardless of the goal kicked by ‘Frosty’.

Then again, maybe the vote was influenced because Dandenong had thrashed Preston by 74 points when they had met in the Second Semi Final two weeks earlier.

Whatever the reason, the decision caused a bitter rivalry between the two clubs that never ended.

At least Umpire McMaster knew that he had one friend after the dust had settled…Jim ‘Frosty’ Miller, who was quoted in the Dandenong Journal (30/9/1971) as saying; “They’ve done the right thing by the umpire who’s a great man. If they hadn’t they’d lose many like him.”

One thing is for certain though. All Preston supporters agree that this really was
‘A Dirty Day in the V.F.A.’

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