By Doctor Rodney Gillett
Vice President of the NSW Australian Football Society Inc
Whitton Tigers topped the South West League ladder in 1960 but unfortunately missed out on playing in the grand final.
The match day programs for 1960 have been donated to the History Society and can now be accessed by members and friends (click) here, with hundreds more to comes shortly.
Whitton, is a small town in the MIA, just 25 kms from Leeton on the Irrigation Way. The major crop in the district is rice with the name of the local pub appropriately named: The Rice Bowl Hotel.
The town was established in 1881 when the south-west railway line was built from Junee to Griffith, and then on to Hay in 1882. It was named after the NSW Railways Chief Engineer, John Whitton.
The Whitton Football Club was established in 1892 and played scratch matches against district teams. The Reds, as they were known in the early years, started playing in district competitions just prior to World War I.
After winning the MIA Football league premiership in 1928, Whitton entered the South West competition the following year but could manage only two wins, finishing last. They returned to the Leeton district competition winning premierships in 1932, 1939 and 1946.
Whitton again returned to the South West league for the 1947 season and despite finishing second on the ladder after the home-and-away games did not make the grand final. The next year, now known as the Tigers, they did make the grand final but went down to Narrandera in a hard-fought game by 14 points.
The one that really got away was the 1951 grand final against Ganmain, “Just as Whitton seemed certain to win, Ganmain got the ball down to their forwards, Gumbleton collected it to get it through the tall posts as the siren sounded the end of an epic game” (Narrandera Argus, 21 September 1951). Final scores: 7-7 (49) to 5-14 (44).
There was another grand final appearance the following season but old rivals Griffith proved too strong.
After finishing on top of the ladder in 1960 it seemed as if the Tigers time had come. Whitton led Narrandera at half-time of the second semi, 8-2 to 4-8, but were kept score-less in the third quarter as the Imperials kick five goals to run out winners by 31 points. The following week Whitton were bundled out of the premiership race by Turvey Park, who in turn, were well beaten by Narrandera in the grand final.
Most of the Whitton players were sons of farmers, skipper Bernie “Rusty” Kelly and his brother Graham “Red” Kelly were off a wheat and sheep property, the Williams brothers Ian and Delwyn worked on the family orchard, while most of the others were from rice-growing families including twin brothers Edwin “Bruiser” and George Williams.
Whitton continued on the South West League until 1978. After round one of the 1979 season a player shortage forced the club to transfer to the Central Riverina League where it could compete against similar sized towns.
Former player and club president Alan Lenton recalls, “Our coach Tom Doolan was transferred to Albury in his work as a school teacher and star player Gary Tagliabue went to uni in Wagga so he transferred to The Rock. I’d have preferred to stay in the South West (League) but the players wanted to go to the CRL”
“We were fortunate to have local Jim Geltch, a Gammage medalist, agree to take on the coaching job. He did it for nothing. He just asked that the coaching fee be put into new sheds, which we did”.
The Tigers made the finals but went down to Barellan in the preliminary as they did again the next season.
Following the redistribution of the clubs in the Riverina into a two-tiered competition in 1982 by the VCFL, the Whitton Tigers were placed in the Riverina District league, which eventually became the Farrer League in 1984 fielding two divisions.
At long last Whitton enjoyed premiership success under former Bushpigs star Jamie “Fozzie” Robinson in 1985 followed by two more, in 1986 under Bruce Harrison, and in 1987 with club stalwart Errol Boots at the helm.
However, changing demographics in the district saw Whitton in 1992 merge with reformed Yanco, that had previously played in the Barellan League. Finally, Whitton bowed to the inevitable and buried the hatchet with long-time fierce rivals Leeton to become the Leeton-Whitton Crows.
The combined team finally won a premiership in the Riverina Football League in 2017.