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NMFC Archives: 10-year rule

Barry Davis (l) and John Rantall (r) arrived at North Melbourne through the 10-year rule.

Four decades before the AFL established its free agency rule at the end of the 2012 season lived the then VFL’s 10-year rule.

Just like the League’s current free agency model, the 10-year rule was introduced to give players another avenue to switch clubs.

It was a short-lived ruling and ran during the 10-month period from August, 1972 to May, 1973.

As its name suggests, players with 10 years’ continuous service were permitted to transfer from one club to another, with 22 players eligible to exercise this option.

The VFL brought in the scheme after becoming concerned about ‘restraint of trade’ threats that occurred within the Rugby League in New South Wales around that time.

The Roos, under then-president Allen Aylett and the club’s VFL delegate Albert Mantello, took advantage of the rule when they were lagging towards the bottom of the ladder.

Interestingly, North voted against the rule being brought in, but within the space of 48 hours after its introduction had approached several short listed players.

North lured big-name recruits – and current or former captains – Barry Davis (Essendon), John Rantall (South Melbourne) and Doug Wade (Geelong).

In essence, they helped propel North from wooden spooners to premiers in the space of just over two years.

Davis and Rantall were both 29 years of age when they joined Arden Street, while Wade was 31.

In approximate figures, the club offered the trio $10,000 each to sign plus $5,000 a season for two and three years.

The club also approached St Kilda’s Carl Ditterich, but negotiations between both parties stalled and he eventually joined Melbourne.

Wade was a champion Geelong full-forward, registering 90 goals for the Cats in 1972. In that year, North’s leading goalkickers – Sam Kekovich and Vin Doolan – managed just 19 goals apiece for the season.

The Roos leaped from last place in ‘72 to sixth position in ‘73, missing out on the finals by just half a game.

Wade registered 73 goals to finish second on the VFL goalkicking table in his first season at Arden Street, while Davis claimed the Syd Barker Medal.

In ‘74, the club finished second with 16 wins and six losses, before losing to Richmond in the Grand Final. Wade became the first North player to top the VFL goalkicking table in that year.

In ‘75, North finished in third place with 14 wins and eight losses, culminating in its first premiership.

Davis captained the Roos to their 1975 flag, Rantall was among the team’s best players and Wade contributed with four goals in the 55-point Grand Final triumph over Hawthorn.

Other players to utilise the 10-year rule were George Bissett (Footscray to Collingwood) and Adrian Gallagher (Carlton to Footscray).

But North benefited most, with each of the three acquisitions – Davis, Rantall and Wade – making an enormous impact.

Davis finished with 71 games (54 goals), Rantall played 70 games (two goals) and Wade featured in 59 games (223 goals) during their two-year stint at Arden Street between ‘73 and ‘75.

The 10-year experiment was controversial, with many arguing that it had created a two-tiered system in the VFL competition.

The rule was rescinded by the VFL board in 1973 after the 11 other clubs complained about North’s three additions and the club’s quick change of fortunes.

Fast forward 40 years and the 10-year rule, you could say, was ahead of its time.

North's free agency acquisitions Nick Dal Santo, Jarrad Waite and Shaun Higgins have strengthened the team's depth and will give the club every chance of replicating the feats of Ron Barassi’s 1975 premiership-winning side.

Like the early 70s, the club has taken advantage of the free agency system with the additions of the experienced trio over the past two seasons.

These inclusions were not out of character for a club that prides itself on being a pioneer in the competition and it’s this innovative approach that continues to be a driving force at North – 40 years since it won its first premiership flag.