Dr Rod Gillett profiles the nomination of Jim and Jill Woodlock to the inaugural AFL NSW Hall of Fame.
When Jim and Jill Woodlock moved to Emerald Beach just north of Coffs Harbour in 1986 from Mornington in Victoria to run a service station they’d both already spent most of their lives together in football, and they were expecting to devote much of their time and energy to their new business.
However, their involvement went up another notch with both of them playing key leadership roles in the consolidation of the game in the area after the North Coast AFL had kicked off in 1982.
After thirty years the Woodlock legacy is a sustainable senior competition, a thriving junior competition, a strong and vibrant umpires’ association, and grand finals at the Coffs Harbour International Sports Stadium every year since it opened in 1994, even in 2020.
When Jim answered the call to take on the presidency of the North Coast league for the 1987 season, he begun a period of leadership that continued in different roles until 2013 when responsibility of the management of the game was turned over to the AFL NSW/ACT.
And for most of the period he had his greatest supporter, wife Jill, also performing executive roles as secretary, treasurer and registrar as well as secretary of the tribunal from 1995 to 2012.
This freed up club delegates to focus on running their clubs and not taking on league executive positions. It provided for independence and integrity of the league.
However, over this period the couple had to deal with some difficult issues particularly the bitter internal feud at South Coffs in 1992 that led to the dissolution of the club and its subsequent reformation as the Coffs Swans. As a result, the Swans did not miss a season of football.
They provided a stable administration for the game in the mid-90s especially with the departure of Grafton to the Lismore-based Summerland league in 1996 that left only four clubs: North Coffs, Coffs Swans, Sawtell-Toormina, and Port Macquarie following the earlier demise of Nambucca Valley.
The re-build had started in 1988 when Jill was highly involved in the start-up of junior football with umpire Brett Upfield and South Coffs stalwarts Steve and Denise Lavis with 27 boys and girls ranging in age from 4 to 15 on Sunday mornings at Fitzroy Oval.
The junior competition has been the platform for the sustainability of the game in the area instead of over reliance on players from the southern States coming into the area.
There is now a strong junior competition consisting of ten clubs in five age groups for boys and girls stretching from the South West Rock Dockers to the Northern Beaches Blues at Woolgoolga.
One of Jim’s greatest achievements was to ensure that the International Sports Stadium built by the Coffs City Council had an oval with the dimensions to host AFL football. This year’s grand final, won by Grafton, ensured that every grand final since 1994 has been played on the region’s showpiece sports ground.
Jim was a key member of the Council’s steering committee that established the ground. In addition to local footy finals, AFL pre-season games and NSW representative trials have been played at the venue. He is currently the vice-president of the Stadium’s members’ association.
However, it’s the establishment of the Umpires Association in 2009 that gives Jim and Jill the most joy and source of continuing involvement in the game.
“When I was first president of the league I had bought the umpires together as a group, but it went to another level when I instigated the incorporation of the AFLNC Umpires’ Association in 2009 with the strong support of ‘Rocket’ (Rod McPherson), who was the leading umpire in the senior competition”, Jim told me in an interview for this piece.
There are 43 members of the Association that provides all the field, goal and boundary umpires for the AFL North Coast senior and junior competitions as well as training programs for new umpires and mentoring support.
Jill was awarded life membership of the AFL North Coast Umpires’ Association at the recent grand final function for over 20 years of active involvement in the association. She joins Jim, who was awarded life membership in 2009. Jim is still the public officer for the association. Both are also life members of the North Coast AFL.
The Woodlock Medal is awarded each year to the best player in the senior grand final.
According to former NSW AFL CEO Craig Davis, “Jim and Jill have been the A Team in North Coast football for such a long time. They have both made an enormous contribution to the growth of the game on so many levels. They worked hard together to keep the game going up there when things got tough. They both care so much about football and its people”.