How a VB and a bumper sticker led West Coast to beat Geelong for their first flag win in 1992
When West Coast travelled to play Geelong in search of their first grand final win, they didn’t expect a friendly reception - but what transpired in the lead-up to the game motivated them more than anything, writes WILL SCHOFIELD.
This weekend, the West Coast Eagles will celebrate the 30 year reunion of their grand final win over Geelong in 1992.
But it wasn’t what happened on the field that decided each team‘s fate on that last Saturday in September.
There were many on-field miracles that happened that day. Peter Wilson’s infamous ‘cork in the ocean’ goal to put the Eagles within a goal midway through the third quarter. Shortly after, Peter Matera ‘set sail for home’ from outside 50 after a dashing run down the wing, giving the Eagles the lead – and they would never look back. There were big hits, players were sniping each other left right and centre. It has been described as a street fight by some who played in it.
You certainly had to have your wits about you to play in that era.
The unknown story of the day is how crucial moments in the morning of the grand final would set the Eagles up for the club’s first premiership.
After losing to Hawthorn in the 1991 grand final, the West Coast players woke early Saturday morning for the final game of 1992 with redemption on their minds.
A customary captain’s run at 8.30am was a routine the team had followed all year and this day was no different. Staying near the MCG, it was an easy walk to an oval at the top of the precinct.
Down the team strode to the oval, dressed in canary yellow jackets with bright Hungry Jacks burgers emblazoned on their backs. The group of 30 was hard to miss.
What would usually be an uneventful 30-minute light walk, jog and kick of the footy to loosen the legs turned into quite a session. It wasn’t just another game. It was the grand final.
John Worsfold’s customary steely gaze had a glint this particular morning. Even his own teammates were scared to cross him. Mick Malthouse, the fearless coach and leader was more bristly than usual and the players in general were on edge.
It didn’t help the oval was surrounded by BBQ gazebos and benches. The perfect starting point for a big day on the beers for travelling Geelong fans. It didn’t take long for the early starters to realise they had the perfect vantage point to land the first punch of the day.
As the Eagles started their first jogging lap, the verbal abuse began. By the second, Cats fans had edged closer to give some ‘feedback’ to the travelling side. By the third it was quite a scene featuring yelling, screaming and spitting. The group of canary yellows from the West had created a circling mob of passionate Cats fans. The Geelong fans wanted blood. And so did the players.
So on edge were the group that multiple players were held back from engaging with the blue and white ferals (yes I can call them that, I’m from Geelong). The tension was building. Not the mindset a team needs at 8.30 in the morning before playing in a grand final.
Enter Chris Mainwaring.
As the crowd and players alike reached a frenzied state, someone launched a can of VB into the playing group. It landed at Mainy’s feet. There was a moment of silence.
Known for his cool and calm nature, Mainy looked at the can, bent down, picked it up, looked at his teammates – who were like a pack of wild animals at this stage, ready for physical altercations with the Geelong fans – and he skolled it.
After another moment of silence, he finished the can, threw it in the bin and looked back at his teammates and said, “What? You blokes need to relax, we’ve got this!”
With that, they all erupted in laughter. It was the icebreaker the team needed. Malthouse laughed, rare for Mick at the time. Worsfold’s gaze softened. It was the pressure valve release they all needed. Without it the game may have ended before it even started for the Eagles.
So the first hurdle had been jumped, the group was relaxed and calm. Focused, not irate. Grand final day is a long day at the best of times, the last thing a travelling side needs is a fist fight in the early hours of the morning.
Back to their rooms the players went with a small spring in their step, preparing for the biggest game of their lives.
A video highlight montage from Malthouse in the hotel meeting room re-enforced to the players the belief of just how good they were. A reminder that they were good enough to beat a truly great Geelong side. A side without premierships, but one the Eagles had enormous respect for.
After a rough start, the day had played out nicely, preparation had gone well and the swift actions of Mainwaring in the park had the group where they needed to be mentally.
No security or buses to the front door in 1992.
A walk to the turnstiles of the MCG awaited the Eagles on their journey to their final destination in the bowels of the ground.
The path from the hotel to the ground was no more than 400 meters, a travelling party of around 40 players, coaches and support staff still dressed in the canary yellow tracksuits.
The group set out for the final walk.
At this point, it’s important to remember the small group of Cats fans who were there for the 8:30am warm up, were still in their positions. They were still in their blue and white stripes. They were still looking to land the first blow, after the mornings intimidation tactics, hadn’t gone as planned.
The only difference was, their eskies were empty. Four more hours on the cans and a small crowd of 100 had grown to 10,000. They were laying in wait for the unsuspecting Eagles.
In what can only be described as a rolling mob, the Eagles walked the length of the path under extreme abuse. By all accounts it was intimidating. One VB can thrown had become 100, people were swearing, spitting and the rest. The Eagles were outnumbered 100:1 and they had a game to play.
After making it all the way to the turnstiles the group was still intact, no one had strayed into the mob, although an experience to remember, the players had made it to their final destination a little shaken but ready.
In a true sliding doors moment, as the players walked through the turnstiles to the ground, they did so at the same time as another important group on the day. The Geelong Cats cheer-squad.
And after the galvanising morning the group had experienced, the next moment has been described by those that were there as “the moment that we won the grand final.”
The Cats cheer-squad had taken it upon itself to make stickers for the day. And they were handing them out to everybody in sight. Even the West Coast players and staff.
They were blue and yellow and read “West Coast Wankers.”
Even with all the abuse through the morning and walk to the ground, the players still saw that as part and parcel of playing an interstate grand final against a Victorian team. The fans were passionate and loved their team, although close to violent at times, they could understand the passion.
But the sticker in a lot of players minds crossed the line of passion and entered into disrespect. They could take a can or two to the head, but don’t take the eagles colours and use them as your own.
It was the true moment of us against them, some players kept the stickers and took them into the rooms. It acted as a line in the sand moment. It was the straw the broke the proverbial camels back. The players were now ready to unleash decades of disrespect back at the Victorians.
After all that was said and done in the lead up to the game, Mainy’s skol and the bumper sticker were true moment’s to centre the groups mindset.
They went on that day to win the club’s first premiership, victorious by 28 points and came back two years later in 1994 to beat the same Geelong side in a landslide 80 point victory.
All on the back of a skolled VB can and car bumper sticker.