With the light towers turned off at the G on Tuesday night for an Anzac eve spectacle, we thought it was important to consider lights in football’s past.
For younger readers who don’t remember, oil and gas lighting was first seen on Melbourne streets from the mid-19C. In 1915 Melbourne had 285km of streets with electric lights, and by this time lighting had become ‘an integral feature of urban capitalist consumption’ (Andy May, ‘Street Lighting’, Encyclopedia of Melbourne).
Football hadn’t quite joined the capitalist league yet. It was exclusively a daytime sport. But short days in winter proved difficult – and some cartoonists addressed the issues head-on.
The need for lamps and lighting was noted in 1911 if ‘games are run into night hours’. The cartoon (which looks to be signed by Ambrose Dyson (1876-1913)) considers that ‘a bye-law compelling all players to carry lighted lamps’ would be necessary and a search light helpful to ‘assist spectators in picking out interesting bits of play’.
The case is made for the early starting of games otherwise calamities such as inadvertently ‘out-pointing’ (aka punching) a teamate could occur (‘Football in the Dark’, Herald, 5 May 1911, p2).
In June 1913 ‘Dark Time Football’ championed the importance of enhancing footy as spectacle: ‘Why not have a fireworks display?’ The proposal continued: ‘The high maker could be shot up after the ball in the shape of a rocket.’ Infrastructure improvements of lights on the goal posts were suggested. And changes to equipment with an ‘extra large luminous ball so that the players and public could see it occasionally’ were proposed (Herald, 27 June 1913, p3).
These technological developments don’t seem to be have been realised – but novel night time photography was created and put to front page use. The evening edition of Melbourne’s Herald on Friday 27 May 1938 had two photographs, with the same headline as the 1911 cartoon, ‘Football in the Dark’. Richmond players Jack Titus and Jack Cotter, were snapped at an evening training session by the papers’ ‘special camera and synchronized flashlight’. Both were in action – Titus ‘[flying] for a high mark’ and Cotter ‘[punting] hard into the darkness’.
We took this cue to see what was happening in the Round 6 Footy Record of 1938.
1938 was declared ‘a Year of sensations!’ Chatterer was focused on the competition overall – it seems the evenness of it was to be celebrated: ‘The weak clubs of the past few years are coming into their own, and the topliners are getting quite a succession of shocks.’ ‘The most pleasing feature’ to all footy followers ‘irrespective of which club they support’ was declared to be the ‘rapid advance of Footscray, Hawthorn and North (who had joined the VFL in 1925) and the ‘great promise shown by Carlton, St. Kilda and Essendon’ (p3).
Currently this trio aren’t living up to 1938 expectations – so for the sake of Blues, Saints & Bombers’ fans – let’s take a quick look back to that happier moment.
Carlton had ‘conquered the mighty Collinwood’ on the previous Saturday – the game has been ‘packed with thrills, vigour, high-marking duels, dashing exchanges’ including a 9 goal last quarter which ‘literally brought down the house!’ (pp 3-4). The house, at Victoria Park, was composed of 38,000 spectators who’d paid 1,173 pounds ‘to witness this great spectacle’ – record figures for the ground (p4).
The Saints beat North, which gave them four wins in a row – but Chatterer did concede that ‘the manner of their success was not altogether convincing’ and Essendon were ‘quietly and unobtrusively totting up a series of wins’ and were ‘a tougher proposition than many teams imagine’ (p8).
Chatterer concluded the address to readers: ‘And so we pass on to the sixth round of matches, which, we hope, will be packed with as many thrills as on previous Saturdays this season’ (p8).
We too hope that there’s some thrilling footy to be seen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – in the daylight and the darkness!