In 1952, the VFL competition consisted of twelve teams of 18 on-the-field players each, plus two substitute players, known as the 19th man and the 20th man. A player could be substituted for any reason; however, once substituted, a player could not return to the field of play under any circumstances.
Teams played each other in a home-and-away season of 19 rounds.
There was an extra round (round 8), in addition to 1951's 18 rounds, promoted as a "National Day Round", and held on the Saturday (14 June) of the Queen's Birthday weekend while the Victorian State side played against the West Australian State side at Melbourne Cricket Ground (also on 14 June).
The season was constructed as follows: in matches 1 to 7 and 9 to 12 the teams played each other. Round 8, the "National Day Round", was the reverse of round 11 (and the designated round 8 "home team" was the reverse of that in round 11). Rounds 13 to 19 were the "home-and-way reverse" of matches 1 to 7.
Once the 19 round home-and-away season had finished, the 1952 VFL Premiers were determined by the specific format and conventions of the Page–McIntyre system.
Essendon winger Lance Mann won the 1952, 130-yard Stawell Gift in eleven and fourteen-sixteenths seconds, off a handicap of 7¼yards; his teammate, half-back flanker Norm McDonald, running off a handicap of 5 yards, came second.
Bowing to pressure from its players and supporters, Fitzroy abandoned "The Gorillas" as its emblem. Originally intended to signify strength, tenacity, aggression, power, etc. the symbol had become somewhat devalued when opposition supporters started referring to the team as "The Apes". "The Lions" was not introduced until 1957; in the interim they were known as either "The Maroons" or "The Roys".
As part of an effort by the Australian National Football Council to promote the game, a special round of VFL premiership matches was held in different cities around Australia on Queen's Birthday weekend: Brisbane, Sydney, Euroa, Yallourn, Albury and Hobart. Wet weather across much of eastern Australia affected crowds at Yallourn and Sydney, and forced the postponement of the match at Brisbane from Saturday afternoon to Monday evening after the RNA feared the match would damage the rain-sodden turf; but matches not affected by rain drew huge crowds, including:
The crowd of 28,000 between Geelong and Essendon at the postponed match in Brisbane was unable to be accommodated by the venue, and a further 2,000 spectators entered without paying after breaking through a perimeter fence.
The National Day Round was played in addition to the standard eighteen games, so that the people of Melbourne and Geelong would still have nine home matches. An interstate match between Victoria and Western Australia was played in Melbourne during that weekend. The endeavour was financed by the ANFC, which turned a small profit on the event after having insured the gate against rain.
In the First Semi-Final, Carlton's high marking centreman Keith Warburton received a heavy knock to his abdomen early in the match, but thought little of it. Later that evening he collapsed at the Carlton Club dance. He was rushed to hospital where it was discovered that he was suffering from a severed artery leading to his bowel. He hovered near death for some days, requiring almost continuous transfusions of blood. It was said that his physical fitness was the only reason he survived that time.
Overall, the season was the wettest season for more than 20 years. Many matches were played in deep sticky mud on grounds that were covered in sheets of water. Mud was ankle deep at the Brunswick Street Oval in Round 11. White balls were introduced in July to help players see the ball in all of the mud.
The overall bad weather and the atrocious condition of the grounds throughout the season, and the effect that had on the condition of the ball, especially in relation to hand-passing, marking and kicking, as well as the physical problems of leading and being unable to spring from muddy ground, highlights the significance of John Coleman's 103 goals in 18 matches.
^Frank Walsh (18 June 1952). "Yallourn says "come again"". Sporting Globe. Melbourne. p. 12.
^ ab"Profit on football". Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW. 19 June 1952. p. 11.
^"Postponement costing £1200". Sunday Mail. Brisbane, QLD. 15 June 1952. p. 20.
^"V.F.L. game "good for Tasmania"". The Mercury. Hobart, TAS. 16 June 1952. p. 20.
^"Big crowd at Aust. rules at Albury". Daily Advertiser. Wagga Wagga, NSW. 16 June 1952. p. 2.
^"2000 storm football game". The Courier Mail. Brisbane, QLD. 17 June 1952. p. 1.
Maplestone, M., Flying Higher: History of the Essendon Football Club 1872–1996, Essendon Football Club, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN0-9591740-2-8
Rogers, S. & Brown, A., Every Game Ever Played: VFL/AFL Results 1897–1997 (Sixth Edition), Viking Books, (Ringwood), 1998. ISBN0-670-90809-6
Ross, J. (ed), 100 Years of Australian Football 1897–1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported, Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN0-670-86814-0