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Footy scandal exposed: The game that never was

Eighty-eight-year-old Alan Arnold comes clean on the match that never was
I was kicking into the breeze, about 70 yards out, up to my knees in water and I couldn't even swim
Alan Arnold
LATE in the 1945 season the Geelong Advertiser ran a story about a dramatic seconds match between Geelong and St Kilda. 

It was the day before Japan surrendered, ending World War II, and the Cats' and Saints' senior teams were battling for the wooden spoon at Geelong. Meanwhile, their struggling seconds sides were to play at Ross Gregory Oval, near St Kilda's then headquarters at Junction Oval.

The game ended in a thrilling draw, thanks to a monster point kicked after the siren by Geelong's Alan Arnold. Well, that's according to the report in the Advertiser.

"I was kicking into the breeze, about 70 yards out, up to my knees in water and I couldn't even swim," Arnold recently told AFL Media

Inspiring, yes … if only it were true. 

Arnold was perhaps the youngest player on either side at just 18. Now 88, he lives just a few kilometres from Simonds Stadium.

When we spoke to Arnold about the bogus game, he asked: "I'm not going to get anyone into trouble, am I?

"It would be pretty rough if the AFL punished us now, 70 years later. But if we did it these days, we'd be strung up." 

It was a dead rubber - Geelong was 10th, St Kilda 11th (second last) - which, combined with the icy temperature, driving rain and the ground resembling "a lake", made both teams question the point of it all.

Arnold insists the game was scheduled at St Kilda's Ross Gregory Oval but, curiously, the Advertiser article mentions Burnley Oval (Richmond). Perhaps it was part of the ruse.
 
Arnold explained the game could easily have been abandoned due to the "awful" conditions. 

"The two coaches got together, probably with the umpire, too, and decided, 'Bugger this, let's give it a miss.' She was a non-event. But no harm done," he said. 

"They didn't give us much money in those days - not enough to play in that, anyway."

Secrecy was important to avoid potential disciplinary reaction from the League. 

Arnold said: "Bob Walker (the 33-year-old captain-coach of the Cats' seconds) told us, 'We need you to keep it quiet.' And we did. Until now."

There is a theory the umpires and the Advertiser reporter were bribed for their complicity and silenced with liquor when the teams adjourned to a local hotel for the afternoon. 

Arnold said: "I wouldn't have put it past a few blokes in that side to do something like that."

However, it's unclear whether the reporter was an unwitting victim or a willing participant. 

The Age, The Argus and The Football Record were also conned into publishing the bogus scoreline. In any case, it seems the sham story appeared in the Advertiser on the Monday - complete with quarter-by-quarter scores, best players, goalkickers and specific match scenarios - was concocted over a few ales. It's hard not to giggle when reading it, right from the first fictitious sentence: 

"The condition of the Burnley Oval made the ball hard to handle but both teams made the game worth watching."

Of course, diplomacy dictated the result should be a draw - Geelong 12.6 to St Kilda 11.12. 

A Geelong player named Toleman was said to have left the field with an ankle injury "and as Geelong had no 19th man they carried on with 17 men". The phantom hero was teenager Arnold, who was credited with kicking the behind that drew the match - from a "difficult shot" after the final siren no less.

Arnold is happy to claim the credit. "I played a great game. It said so in the paper, so it must've been true," he quipped. 

"Crikey, it was a dramatic finish. It was a real effort to kick that point that levelled the scores."

Captain-coach Bob Walker - second row, fourth from left - with the Geelong seconds team






Arnold was a teetotaller so, instead of going to the pub, he and a couple of teammates made a night of it by catching a show at the Tivoli Theatre in the city, before catching "the drunks' train" home around 11pm.
 
Arnold won the Geelong seconds' best and fairest in his only season at the club before pursuing his dream job as a wool classer. 

He recalls: "I just played country footy after that. I played on some pretty rough grounds in the bush - some even worse than that day at Ross Gregory Oval - but we never called the game off. That was a one-off."