Code 3: Huey’s Rare SCG Treble

 

“Baby Huey” in hot pursuit of the ball for East Sydney in 1981

As the game celebrates 140 years at the SCG, Dr Rodney Gillett looks back at a larger-than-life character with a unique record at the famous old ground.

As Greg Harris, the coach of the newly assembled Sydney Swans Under-19 squad, strode out on to the SCG in late Spring 1988 to conduct training, he turned to me, and said: “You know I’ve played three different codes of football on this ground.”

I said: “Yes, Huey. I remember you taking eighteen marks out here for Easts in a match against North Shore a few years back.”

“Yeah, plus I played rugby and rugby leagues games here too …,” he added, leaving that last comment to hang in the warm air. “Now, put the cones out for the boys to do the handball drill!”

Greg Harris was known throughout his sporting career as “Huey”, shortened as Aussies are want to do from “Baby Huey”, the oversized baby duckling in the Harvey comics in the 1960s. The nickname was bestowed on him by his Sydney Uni rugby team-mates after he wrestled a sumo wrestler on a tour of Japan.

Huey and another former East Sydney champion, Ray Millington (to be featured in Part 2), are believed to be the only two players to have played three codes of football on the SCG.

In Huey ’s case, his father, Col Harris, an original inductee into the AFL Sydney Hall of Fame in 2003, also played on the famous ground when he represented NSW in 1949 against Queensland.  Huey coached NSW state teams in matches against Queensland in 1983 and 1990.

He started playing junior football with the Penshurst Panthers in the St George district competition, and then graduated to the St George seniors at age 15 in 1970.

Following an impressive debut in a Sydney representative team while still at school he received an invitation to train with Richmond but chose to take up a scholarship to study at Sydney University.

Greg Harris playing for St George v South Sydney at Trumper Park [10]
Greg Harris playing for
St George v South
Sydney at Trumper
Park
His first experience of playing any code of football on the SCG came in 1972 when the rugby league team from his school, Kogarah High, played against Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School, from Tamworth, in the final of the state-wide University Shield, which Farrer won.

At Sydney University, Harris quickly adapted to rugby union. “I found it easier to play than footy as it was a 180-degree game,” he told me in an interview for this article.

In his second season for in Sydney’s rugby union competition, in 1975, he was a regular in Sydney University’s first-grade team and he played at No.8 for a combined Sydney team in its defeat of an England XV at the old Sydney Sportsground.

A fortnight later, he played for the NSW Under 23 team against the Queensland Under 23 team in a curtain-raiser to the Wallabies v England Test match at the SCG.

Following graduation, Huey returned to rugby league. He signed with Cronulla-Sutherland, where he mainly played reserve grade, but this included a final on the SCG in 1978.

“It was a great thrill to play at the SCG”, Huey said. “I usually played fairly well in games there. The atmosphere is special, and you were conscious of the crowd noise even in a curtain-raiser”.

Harris returned to Australian Football the next year, in 1979, with East Sydney, which turned out to be the ill-fated “flag’s-in-the-bag” season in which the Bulldogs, under former Fitzroy star Alex Ruscuklic, went through the roster matches undefeated, only to lose both finals – out in straight sets – as the saying goes.

However, in the club’s much-celebrated centenary season in 1980, Huey sustained a knee injury during the opening rounds which ruled him out for the rest of the year including the grand final at the SCG.

Legendary Easts president Jack Dean, a contemporary of Harris’s father, Col, in state teams, recognised Huey’s astute leadership skills. He arranged for Huey to take over from Austin Robertson as the playing-coach in 1981, and took Easts to a premiership with a victory over the Sam Kekovich-led Newtown, in the Grand Final.

Harris added further premierships to his record when he coached Easts to victory over Pennant Hills and Balmain respectively in the 1982 and 1983 grand finals, cementing his place among the best all-time coaches in Sydney football.

“Huey could mix with and understand many diverse types: aspiring young sportsmen, musicians, plumbers, stock-brokers and garbos.

While he is university educated, Greg could slide easily from one group to another and was able to unify diverse people into one team with a common goal”, Easts’ premiership and State back pocket player Ted Pleming reiterated when we discussed this story.

During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, the local Sydney clubs played against each other in curtain-raisers to the Sydney Swans matches on the SCG.

East Sydney often featured in these curtain-raisers, and the smaller ground suited the hulk-like physique of Harris, whose ability to read the play enabled him to win a pile of possessions.

The Swans Reserves hosted their matches in Melbourne until the end of 1985. The following year, in 1986, they too were finally brought to Sydney.

When the Swans decided to base an Under 19s team in Sydney for the 1988 season, Harris was a logical choice to coach the squad, given his teaching background at Sydney Boys’ High School and his success with NSW development squads. The Under 19s played home games at the SCG and away matches in Melbourne.

Huey’s connection with the SCG was deepened when he took on the role of senior chairman of selectors for Swans coaches Ron Barassi and Rodney Eade from 1994 to 1996.

It was in 1996, that the Swans made their first grand final appearance since 1945 after famously beating Essendon by one point kicked by Tony” Plugger” Lockett after the siren in the preliminary final also at the SCG.

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.