Sydney AFL Grand Final week brings back memories of Wests’ win in 1965

Again the Football History Society’s, Vice President, Dr Rod Gillett, has sought out a great period in NSW football:

Western Suburbs were the most successful club in Sydney football in the 1960s. The Magpies, which had been re-formed in 1948, played in seven grand finals winning four.

Under dual Melbourne premiership player Athol Webb, Wests convincingly beat St George in the 1965 grand final at Trumper Park, 17-15 (117) to 12-9 (81).

Wests had become a powerhouse through sound administration, access to its own ground  in Picken Oval and the establishment of the first licensed club for Australian football in NSW in 1962.

Club secretary Bill Hart, later to be president of the NSWANFL from 1966-1978, was instrumental in getting Webb to come to Sydney from Tasmania.  The previous year he had coached the East Launceston FC (1962-63) in the NTFA and prior, the New Norfolk FC (1960-61) after finishing up in the VFL where he played with the Melbourne club from 1955-59.

Webb was essentially a full-time coach with Wests.  In addition to coaching duties, he worked in the licensed club and ran school programs in the inner west. He resided in a house next to the club which they also owned.

Western Suburbs finished on top of the table with 15 wins in 1965 and only two losses in the home-and-away matches to St George and North Shore. Wests lost to St George under Col Harris in the second semi final but came back to comfortably beat Newtown in the preliminary final.

Statistics were provided in the NSWANFL Football Record (19 September 1965) that show the following:

Kicks Marks Hand Passes Free Kicks Hit Outs
Western Suburbs 181 63 13 12 53
Newtown 147 52 17 25 30

Wests ruckman Russ Lockett, later a long-term secretary-manager of the licensed club, led the ruck division to a decisive advantage over Newtown, 53 hit-outs to 30.

In an interview for this piece, Athol Webb, now aged 85 and living in The Rock where he went to coach after Wests, recalled it was a “very hot day, 97° F” but “we were pretty well set-up to win”.

The grand final victory which was described by the President Herb Conlon in the club’s annual report for 1965 as “an inspired performance to outplay St George in every position”.

Amongst the best players for Wests were “close-playing” full back Peter Burgess, “fearless rover” Cliff Hayes (later an umpire), key forward John Godwin “a former rugby player” and “versatile” vice-captain Roger Nobes (quotes from the Football Record for the Grand Final).

Western Suburbs FC contingent boarding the plane for NZ

Wests went on an end-of-season trip to Auckland to play an exhibition match. A party of 43 players, officials and committeemen journeyed to New Zealand. The match played at Cromwell Park attracted a crowd of 7000. The Kiwi team proved to good for Wests. The game covered on the national television news on the Sunday following the game.

 

The next year, Athol Webb was enticed to southern NSW to coach The Rock-Yerong Creek in the strong Farrer League. Webb coached TR-YC for three seasons and stayed on as a player for a further six years.

Athol told me that The Rock was a “terrific little spot” and a great place to raise a family.

Asked to name the highlights of his career, Athol modestly told me, “Kicking 5 goals in the 1956 VFL grand final against Collingwood, I suppose”, but then he lit up when he said “also winning the Tassie One Thousand (professional foot race) at Burnie”. When pressed about his share of the purse he said, “750 quid!”.

Athol Webb (pictured left in Tasmanian jumper) is described in the Encyclopedia of VFL/AFL Footballers Since 1897 (2003) as a “former Tasmanian forward whose speed and elusive style made him a constant menace to opposition sides”. He played 74 games and kicked 146 goals for Melbourne from 1955-59.

He told me that Norm Smith was a “master coach”, “…he knew how to get the best out of everyone, every week”

He was captain-coach of NSW in 1965 and also in 1964 in matches against North Melbourne and Hawthorn in Sydney.

He also represented Victoria and Tasmania and kicked the match-sealing goal when Tassie famously beat Victoria at York Park, Launceston in 1960.

Athol Webb has been nominated for a place in the inaugural AFL NSW Hall of Fame.

 

DOES SYDNEY FOOTBALL LACK HEROES?

Its been a long time since a player in Sydney football was identified as a cult hero?

Times when people actually went to see a particular Sydney club player and drag in the crowd with his talent and ability are quickly diminishing.  Today’s crowds are somewhat disappointing although the unique players might still be there amidst the couple of hundred running around each weekend during the winter.

Of course a contrary view is evidenced by Brendan Favola’s effort this year when he turned out for Corowra-Rutherglen in the O & M League.  Crowds in their thousands were a regular occurrence to watch the extraverted former AFL player.

But who was the last hero of Sydney footy?

Was it Peter Ruscuklic who booted over 100 goals in successive seasons for East Sydney between 1979-81, kicking a record 213 in the last of those years?

Or was it Stan Milton, after whom Sydney’s leading goalkicking award is named?  He kicked over 1200 goals for East Sydney and later Eastern Suburbs in his 15 or seasons from 1919?  In his 26 appearances for NSW during that time he also booted 151 goals.

Or maybe it was another Eastern Suburbs player, Jack Williamson, who won four Phelan Medals in 1933, 35, 37 & 38.

Sydney lost their heroes when football went national in 1982 and television overtook what used to be seen at  Trumper Park, the heart of Sydney footy, each Sunday afternoon when crowds of 2000 plus were not uncommon watching the titans of the competition compete against each other.

All these players named above are members of AFL Sydney’s Hall of Fame, but they were imports.  None were natives of our city, so it takes you back further to uncover a local born player who was a draw card, and there were a number.

Sydney had its share its share of them but none more outstanding than the diminutive South Sydney rover of the 1930s, Jimmy Stiff (pictured).  He was an outstanding sportsman and fortunately enough, Australian football had the use of his services for a period of his short adult life.

His family were market gardeners along O’Riordan Street at Mascot and young Jim worked his way through an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.  He had attended Gardeners Road Public School and thats where he learned his football.

At 17, Jimmy won the Sanders Medal, B & F in the competition’s reserve grade.  From then on he was consistently selected to represent NSW as the No. 1 rover.  At 1.6m and 64kg he was one tough nut and took no prisoners.  Stiff declined a number of offers to play in Melbourne.

In 1933 and representing NSW, Stiff won the best player trophy from all players in the All-States Carnival held in Sydney.  Wanting more, he later went on to play first grade for South Sydney rugby League Side.  Unfortunately this dare devil standout was killed in a motor cycle accident in 1938.

Reg Garvin was another local who could drag people to the football.  He played for Newtown and was outstanding in the ruck.  He was eventually recruited by St Kilda and went on to captain and later coach the side.  He was fourth in the 1941 Brownlow Medal, the same year as he won the Saints B & F,  a feat he repeated in 1944.

Wests had two great coaches who could also attract the crowds.  One was former Melbourne FC full forward, and a prodigious drop-kick, Athol Webb, who coached the Magpies in 1964-65 and John ‘Swoop’ Northey, who joined Wests in 1971 from Richmond FC where he had played in their 1967 & 69 premiership teams.

Yes, there probably were others who helped kicked the gate receipts along during their time in Sydney and if you think you know some, send us some names we will attempt to bring up their profile and time in Sydney.

Nevertheless with the advent of our national AFL competition and the leaning towards televised games it is not only Sydney who have lost their icons.  Many other local competitions throughout Australia have suffered the same fate.  It is a shame that the amount of young boys wearing the number of their favourite local club player is almost finished.