A BENDIGO league grand final pitting Sandhurst against Golden Square on Saturday.
For those who have been around long enough, those two clubs facing off for the premiership on the QEO will no doubt evoke memories back to the 1970s.
While the rivalry has always been strong between the two iconic Bendigo league clubs, it exploded throughout the ’70s.
Between 1973 and ’79 Golden Square and Sandhurst clashed in five of the Bendigo league’s six grand finals.
The ledger was 3-2 in favour of the Dragons during those five flag battles.
Front and centre in the rivalry was champion full-forward Ron Best, who had a successful foot in both camps during the ’70s.
Best is a premiership coach at both clubs.
He coached Sandhurst’s 1973 and 1977 premierships, which were both won against Golden Square, and in 1979 coached the Bulldogs’ flag at the expense of the Dragons.
Best arrived at Golden Square in 1968 from West Heidelberg and in his first outing for the Bulldogs in a practice match kicked 8.8 in what was the birth of a legendary Bendigo league career.
He played with Golden Square until 1971 before heading to Charlton in 1972 and subsequently missing out on a Bulldogs’ premiership that year.
In 1973 Best returned to the Bendigo league, but much to the ire of the Bulldogs, it wasn’t with Golden Square.
Instead, he took on the vacant coaching position at Sandhurst as a 23-year-old and with the appointment, stoked the fire in the Bulldogs-Dragons rivalry that dominated the Bendigo league in the ensuring years.
“It was purely the coaching opportunity why I went to Sandhurst,” Best recalled this week from Copenhagen.
“It has changed today in that there’s a lot more player movement, but I think back in those days it wasn’t considered good form. But I wanted to coach and there was no opportunity at Golden Square and Sandhurst was looking for a new one.”
Best coached the Dragons until 1977, before a return back to the Bulldogs in 1978 as coach to play alongside his then-brother-in-law Tony Southcombe.
Southcombe recalls Best as being central to the rivalry between the Dragons and Bulldogs being heightened throughout the ’70s.
“More was definitely made of it because we felt Besty deserted us when we needed him in 1972, although we still won the flag, and then he turned his back on us when he went to Sandhurst,” Southcombe said.
“The rivalry was always there when you played Sandhurst, but for a lot of the older guys who had been around Golden Square and played with Besty from when he first came in 1968, there was certainly a lot of ill feeling when he left.”
Best is an iconic figure in the history of the Bendigo league, and while he hasn’t played in the competition for more than 30 years, his legacy lives on with the Ron Best Medal awarded to the senior leading goalkicker.
Now aged 66, Best holds the record for the most goals in the history of the Bendigo league with 1624, which includes topping the 100-goal mark 12 times – seven with Golden Square, four with Sandhurst and once at Northern United.
Both Best and Southcombe are BFNL Hall of Fame members and were superstars of the ’70s.
Ruckman Southcombe coached Golden Square to back-to-back flags in 1975 and 1976, and holds the distinction of being the only player to twice win the Michelsen Medal and a premiership in the same year.
He did that in both 1972 when Bill Bonney’s Bulldogs beat South Bendigo in the grand final, and ’75 when Golden Square defeated Sandhurst by 11 points.
Southcombe describes the rivalry between the Bulldogs and Dragons during the ‘70s as one of hatred.
“It was a fierce rivalry, there’s no doubt about that, and whenever we ran across the line there was a real hatred between the two clubs,” Southcombe said.
“Hatred may sound a bit harsh, but it was to the extent that even when we were running around warming up before a game, the mouthing off and the banter that would go on between the two sides was just unbelievable.
“A fair bit of it stemmed back to Besty leaving Golden Square and then coming back to Bendigo and joining Sandhurst in 1973.”
Of the five grand finals the two clubs fought out between 1973 and 1979, the 1978 battle is remembered as one of the greatest in league history.
In a shootout in which 37 goals were kicked, Sandhurst prevailed by three points, 19.10 (124) to 18.13 (121).
The 1975 clash was also tight as the Bulldogs – on the back of a six-goal to none second quarter – downed the Dragons by 11 points.
The five grand finals in the ’70s are among eight the Dragons and Bulldogs have contested overall.
They first met for the flag in 1947 when the Dragons won the first of a hat-trick of premierships with a 18.19 (127) to 11.8 (74) victory.
They wouldn’t meet again until Best’s Dragons trumped the Bulldogs 14.14 (98) to 7.10 (52) in 1973.
There was one grand final meeting in the ’80s when the Dragons won what would be their last flag for 21 years with a 17.16 (118) to 17.9 (111) victory in 1983.
The most recent grand final showdown between the clubs was in 2001 and is a watershed result given Golden Square’s 14.11 (95) to 12.9 (81) victory remains the only time since the top five was introduced in 1983 that a team has won the premiership from the elimination final.