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Sensational Seventies: Graeme Anderson

Graeme Anderson had an uncanny knack of simply knowing where the goals are - Collingwood Magpies
Graeme Anderson had an uncanny knack of simply knowing where the goals are

It was the decade where football took its first faint steps towards professionalism.

Players chased a greater financial return, Waverley rose from the paddocks, colour television beamed into our living rooms for the first time and the game endured through a turbulent decade.

The ‘Sensational Seventies, as they would become known, proved a tantalising, yet ultimately unfulfilled period for Collingwood.

It was bookended by heartbreaking Grand Final losses to Carlton. The first came when the Magpies lost from what had previously been considered an unlosable situation; the second when Collingwood almost pinched the premiership in the dying moments of a dour struggle.

Through it all, the goings on at Collingwood – and at Victoria Park - was like a soap opera you couldn’t switch off, and the audience was spellbound.

For those who lived through it, it was a period they will never forget and it produced heroes and characters alike forever etched into our consciousness.

For those who didn’t,Collingwood Forever will transport you back in time each week this season for a blast from the ‘70s past, profiling a player who made an impact for one reason or another.

Some footballers have an uncanny knack of simply knowing where the goals are.

Even though he played only 71 games for Collingwood across six seasons at Victoria Park, the highly-talented, neatly-balanced Graeme Anderson always looked dangerous with the ball in his hands.

A superb kick and a dynamic player when his confidence was sky high, Anderson could be almost unstoppable on occasions, like the day he dominated with eight goals against Essendon in 1977.

He had a rare talent of finding space when others couldn't. That capacity to get out on his own at times led to criticism outside of the club, about whether he was physical enough in the heat of battle.

But whether he played as a half-forward, or a ruck rover, or even as a wingman as he did early in his Magpie career, Anderson played his best when given a free hand and he could punish teams with pinpoint accuracy and a cool and composed manner.

He stood at 185cm but weighed only a slight 79kg, making his goal-kicking prowess more noteworthy at times.

Sadly, Anderson wouldn't get to play in a premiership with the Magpies, though he came so closely. He would, at least, taste team success with the club that launched him and that he returned home to after his Collingwood days finished prematurely before his 28th birthday.

Anderson had been "born and bred less than a mile from the Port (Melbourne) Oval”, with a strong residential connection and a rich football pedigree.

He lived only "four doors" away from Port Melbourne's famous administrator Norm Goss Sr.

His father, Claude, played two games for South Melbourne in 1947. His brother, Syd, represented the Swans in four games in 1976 - one against his sibling.

His uncle, Syd, had been a triple premiership player for Melbourne, playing 52 games from 1939-41. His career was tragically short, with the Flying Officer being killed in action on May 20, 1944 when his plane was shot down off Wewak, in New Guinea.

Anderson played his first game for Port Melbourne as a 17-year-old, and soon became known as a player who had the capacity to find the football and find the goals.

One early article said of him: “Graeme Anderson grabbed the ball in the centre of the ground, took one step and then calmly slammed it through the goals - about 65 metres away. Anderson, 20, Port's elusive rover, is regarded as the best torpedo punt kick in the VFA."

He was "Port through-and-through".

The Sun's Stephen Phillips described Anderson as: "an adept handler of the ball, he can take a hand pass, bounce the ball three or four times while sprinting over 40 metres and then punt kick a magnificent 65-metre goal. Anderson is the type of player who stands by himself on a wing and looks totally uninterested until he takes a pass and then bursts into action."

He wasn't keen on playing for the club he was residentially bound to South Melbourne - as his father and his brother had. "South Melbourne rang me and asked me to train at the start of the (1973) season, but I must admit I wasn’t really interested," he said.

Anderson won the club's best and fairest - as a 20-year-old - in 1973, and was a member of Port Melbourne's 1974 premiership side.

He ended up training with South Melbourne during the 1974 and 1975 preseasons, but didn't stand out.

In a radio interview years later, for SEN, Anderson said: "Neither the coaching or committee at South Melbourne sat me down either year to discuss playing … so Norm Goss just got me back.”

“I worked at Ansett and a couple of people at Ansett came to see me one day and took me to (lawyer) Frank Galbally (who had played six games for Collingwood in 1942). I explained the situation to him and within two weeks I had a clearance via Port Melbourne and South Melbourne to Collingwood."

It created the opportunity that his talented warranted. He wasted little time in making an impression for the club he barracked for as a kid, thanks to his mum Phyllis.

Tom Hafey, who was Richmond coach at the time, actively chased him and was frustrated that he missed out on recruiting the highly-skilled young footballer.

Anderson made his Collingwood debut in Round 9, 1975, having 14 disposals and kicking a goal. It was the first of 11 games in the second half of the season, but he followed it up with 20 games in a wooden spoon side the following year, as had a more permanent presence within the team.

"The first couple of years I played mainly on the wing," he recalled.

But Hafey's arrival as Collingwood coach in 1977 not only washed away the stain of underachieving at the club, it also provided Anderson with a new licence.

"When Tom Hafey arrived in 1977, I played half forward changing on the ball," he said. "He gave me a bit more freedom and on-ball activity."

"Hafey had us fitter that year. He helped me a lot. He gave me some (personal) goals each game to aspire to ... that really kicked me on."

Anderson didn't play in the opening two rounds, but turned in a career-best performance in Round 3, 1977, booting 8.2 from his 26 disposals against Essendon on a day when "everything went right".

"I just had one of those days," he would say. "Everywhere I went the ball seemed to go my way. ’Jerker' (Jenkin) was at Essendon then and he (even) handballed to be at one stage."

It developed a benchmark from which fans would judge him - rightly or wrongly - deep into the future, one that he couldn't hope to live up to.

The attention he gained from that breakout game - his 32nd overall - brought about a feature interview with Lou Richards, where the Sun columnist said he was "the best man on the ground by a mile, turning on a classical display of ruck rover."

Richards questioned Anderson about his "reputation as a slightly timid fringe player." The player answered honestly, saying: "I'm a bit of a receiver. I prefer to put myself in the position for the handball or a tap-out. (But) I don't think I could ever be called a scared footballer”.

"I suppose I am more of an opportunist than anything else. I don't fly for the big marks. I leave that for the big guys and I wait for the crumbs."

There were plenty of crumbs - and goals - in 1977, as he and Collingwood stormed towards the finals. He played in the club’s three finals that season - including the drawn Grand Final and the replay, kicking a goal in each while being shadowed by Ken Montgomery.

Leading into the game, the Football Record said of him: "He reads the game exceptionally well and gets away on his own to swoop downfield and deliver a great long kick goalwards (usually through the middle). One of the finds of the year."

Anderson said: "I actually lined up at full forward in both Grand Finals. Tommy's instructions were to start 15 metres out, run out a bit then let 'Moorey' (Peter Moore) have more of the goal square."

Anderson's nickname was 'Arms', which some believed came from his penchant for long sleeves. "I was more comfortable in long sleeves than in short sleeves," he said. But he would explain the nickname started at Melbourne High School, and had nothing to do with footy.

"We were mucking around in the corridors and pushing people around and waving our arms up and down," he recounted. "A few of my mates nicknamed me 'Arms' and it has stuck ever since."

But after his strong 1977 season, he would have to wait a full season before playing another senior VFL game.

A talented cricketer, who played at district level, Anderson would often miss the early Collingwood practice matches, which sometimes resulted him in starting the year in the reserves. He did that in 1978, but suffered a medial ligament strain in the first quarter of the first reserves game.

"I had my leg in plaster for six weeks and made it back for the last couple of games for the reserves," Anderson said in what was a wipe-out season for him.

The 1979 season threatened to be the same. He broke his hand in the opening VFL game of the season - against Fitzroy at Victoria Park - which cost him almost three months on the sidelines before he returned in stunning form with six goals and 22 disposals in Round 13 against Hawthorn.

He would counter criticism that year, saying: "Old Jack Dyer says I'm a 'fringe player' and 'goal hungry'. But I'm not built to knock anyone down and it is not much use being carried off on a stretcher."

Anderson kicked 29 goals from his 13 games in 1979. He didn't play in the qualifying final loss to North Melbourne, but kicked five goals against Fitzroy in the first semi-final and three goals (opposed to Keith Greig) in the preliminary final win over the Kangaroos.

He had 16 disposals but was held goal-less in the five-point Grand Final loss to Carlton.

But he lamented an umpiring decision paid against him in the last quarter that almost certainly should have been in his favour. He was held without the ball in the Magpies' attack, but the free was awarded to Peter Francis.

Francis' kick started the chain that ended up in Wayne Harmes' kick off the side of his boot, then Harmes' amazing tap back to Ken Sheldon for a crucial goal.

"I was the start of the actual (Harmes) incident," he said in a radio interview. "I was at half forward and got tackled. I thought I should have got a free kick. (Umpire Kevin) Smith gave a free kick against me. That kick went out to Harmes on the wing and then to Harmes in the forward line for a (Sheldon) goal."

Even then, Anderson thought there was still time when he looked at the scoreboard and saw 26 minutes had elapsed. He couldn't believe it when the siren sounded soon after.

By 1980, he "felt like a bit on the outer" at Collingwood.

He could manage only four games in what turned out to his final season for Collingwood, kicking only three goals.

"I played three out of the four games on the bench and was only getting five minutes game-time per week," he recalled.

Confirmation came when he was not invited back to Victoria Park for the start of the preseason leading into 1981. So he “fronted" the club and was told "we have a coaching job for you at Ararat, if you want?” He flatly rejected it.

Anderson’s career in black and white was over after 71 games and 91 goals.

He trained with Essendon for a period, but Collingwood requested a $20,000 transfer fee that the Bombers were unwilling to pay.

Instead, the 28-year-old went back to where it started - Port Melbourne. He would go on to play in two more VFA premierships for 'the Borough', kicking five goals in the 1981 and 1982 Grand Finals.

Anderson's uncanny knack of knowing where the goals were never wavered at whatever level he played, but Magpie fans wish they had been able to see it for longer.