North by North West – Lenton Bros starring roles

Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in NSW this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney in 1880.
Dr Rod Gillett profile the nomination of Brian Lenton to the Hall of Fame:

Gunnedah Inaugural Premiers North West Football Association 1978

“The women playing is the best thing that has happened for footy up here. The fellas are now running the canteen while the girls play!” Brian Lenton told me in an interview for this piece.

Brian was reflecting on over 50 years of active involvement in football in NSW after having done it all in the north west as a player, coach and official since his arrival in the area in 1976.

“I’m just as proud of my daughter Natasha who played in the Bulldogs’ women’s premiership team this season as my son Nathan, who played top-grade football in Sydney and Canberra. And my grandsons, Chad and Jake. They played together in the Under 14s grand final this year”.

Back row: (l-r) T. Seach, S. Spence, P. Harris, S. Seckold, P. Quinell, M. Harris (selector), B. Kyan, D. Harper, D, Mclaren
4th row:  S. Dunn, C Sanderson, B. Ackland. B. Gibson. J. Seach, J. Foran, G. Fuss
3rd row: R. Lucas, F. Robson (vice capt ), P. Dickie, J. Ackland, W. Millard, D. Catford, C. McIntosh
2nd row:  R. Rodway, D. Hatch, B. Murphy, I. Ormiston, C. Wakefield (treasurer)
1st row: J. Rodway. B, Lenton (capt-coach), P. Jaeger, I. Kingwell, L. Kmon, B Kmon (son)
Mascot N Lenton

After a promising start and then a rocky period in the mid-1990s footy has really gained traction in the north west of the state with the Moree Suns coming back in 2015, and both Gunnedah and the Tamworth teams now playing on the main ovals in their respective towns as do the Inverell Saints while the New England Nomads play on the university’s premier oval in Armidale.

Brian attributes the stability of the footy competition to the introduction of the women’s competition a few years back and efforts to establish junior competitions finally being successful.

Brian Lenton started his football at Whitton in the South West league in the mid-1960s but due to employment opportunities moved to Sydney and lined with Western Suburbs and played in the club’s 1969 and 1972 premiership teams. He was named full-back in Wests team of the century.

He moved to Gunnedah in his employment in 1976 and initially played with Tamworth in the University of New England competition in Armidale. The formation of a football club in Tamworth in 1975 to play in the UNE competition in Armidale was the catalyst for the expansion of the game all over northern NSW.

Together with a couple of Tamworth team-mates based in Gunnedah Brian founded the Gunnedah Bulldogs in 1977 and were admitted to the Uni competition and developed a strong rivalry with Tamworth that continues to this day. He was the inaugural president and captain-coach.

Expansion of the game was unprecedented. Through 1977 clubs were formed at Coonabarabran, Wee Waa, Inverell and Moree. And so, the North West Australian Football Association came into being in 1978.

Brian became the inaugural captain-coach of Gunnedah and led the Bulldogs to the first premiership in the new competition when they beat the Tamworth Magpies at No 2 Oval Tamworth in 1978.“It all started with Tamworth, but we wouldn’t have been able to get going without the support of the students at the Uni in Armidale. They had four teams, so we had a decent competition to start with”, said Brian.

Brian Lenton   (right)  chairs   Wests premiership coach John Northey off Trumper Park in 1972

He coached 1977-82 1985-88, and 1990-91 winning five premierships in 78,79, 86, 87and 91. He won the competition best player award in 1979 and was runner-up in 1978. He was the competition leading goal scorer 1978-1982.

“The 1978 premiership win gives me the most satisfaction. We were down by 40 points at half-time and got up to win by a goal! It was the new league’s first-ever premiership. And we beat Tamworth”, Brian told me.

“Ian Kingwell was a great player for us as were Peter Jaeger, John Acland and John Rodway from Temora. We really gelled together and had great team spirit. We really wanted to win the first premiership”.

This season the Bulldogs beat the Tamworth Swans in the grand final in Gunnedah; the Bulldogs also beat the Swans in the women’s grade but lost to a combined Tamworth team in the Under 14s.

Brian Lenton was match day time-keeper for the Gunnedah Bulldogs this season, a job he has performed since 2000. He has been a club committee member since 1977 and was the Gunnedah club president from 1977-84.

He was made a North-West AFL life member in 1982 and received a National Football League Merit Award in 1988.

Meanwhile Brian’s older brother Allen Lenton was getting the game going on the mid north coast over at Taree where he was instrumental in the formation of the Taree club in 1985.

Allen was a strong supporter of the burgeoning Country Football League that in this period admitted leagues from the Summerland, North Coast, Mid-North Coast, North West, Central West and Sapphire Coast football leagues. He was the inaugural president of the Mid North Coast AFL.

         Allen Lenton

Allen played a pivotal role as the president of the Whitton football club’s successful transition from the South West to the Central Riverina football league in 1979.

The Whitton Tigers narrowly missed grand final appearances in 79-80 but finally won through for the club’s first flag since 1946 with three premierships in a row 1985-87 in the Farrer league division two.

He fondly recalls growing up in Whitton and the arrival of football teams on steam trains on the south west line in the early 1950s, “The driver used to start blowing his whistle a few miles out of town to warn the Whitton people that they’d come to play”.