The Priest’s Family Footy Dynasty Goes Back Over A Century

by Dr Rod Gillett

There’s been a Priest playing footy in the Riverina spanning five generations for over a century.

The focus of this piece was going to be on Wagga Tigers legend and former South Melbourne player Doug Priest – “one of the most highly regarded footballers, coach, and later non-playing coaches in Riverina football” – according to the history of the Ariah Park-Mirrol Football Club 1953-1983 – but then it became apparent that the Priest family football dynasty in the area stretched back over a century.

It all began with Norman Priest in the early part of the 20th century when he started having a kick with Methul in the Ariah Park & District Football Association.

Since then the roll-call of Priests playing football has been Norman’s sons Bob (Betric), Mervyn (Rannock, Ganmain, Wagga), Lionel (Rannock, Wagga) and Warwick (Turvey Park) , grandson Doug (Holbrook, South Melbourne, Wagga Tigers), grandsons Steven and Andrew (both Wagga Tigers), and, now great grandson, Kobe (Wagga Tigers).

The first evidence of Norman playing is in a team photo of 1912 when he was aged 22; it is almost certain that he started playing earlier than that. He later played with Rannock along with his brothers when that team was formed after the First World War

A highlight of Norman’s career was playing in a combined Ariah Park and District team that beat a Sydney representative team at Erskineville Oval in 1913. He was later a league and club official.

Doug’s father, Merv began playing footy aged 14 for Rannock in the district league of the same name in 1932. He won the competition best and fairest in 1938 aged 19. In 1939 & 1940 he played for Rannock on Saturdays and Coolamon on Sundays in the South West League. Then he went off to serve his country in the AIF 29th battalion as a sergeant in WWII; while stationed in Melbourne in 1941 he played Seconds for Footscray in the VFL.

After the war Merv returned home in 1946 and began playing for Ganmain on Saturdays and Wagga on Sundays till Ganmain found out and he had to settle for just playing for Ganmain. He played in the Maroons’ premiership team win over Narrandera and was named best player.

He joined the Wagga club then playing in the Wagga and District Football League as captain-coach 1947-48. His brother Lionel joined him at Wagga from 1947-54.

He stayed on as player at Wagga Tigers as they became known in 1950 and transferred to the Albury and District competition (now known as the Farrer league) until he retired in 1954. In between he squeezed a season as coach of Collingullie, then in the Central Riverina League, to runner-up to Boree Creek in 1953.

Merv captained the Wagga and District league against North Melbourne in Wagga in 1951 and the Albury and District league against North Melbourne in 1952 also at Robertson Oval, Wagga.

Merv and family moved to Holbrook in 1959 to take up a position at the Pastures Protection Board and was instrumental in setting up the Holbrook junior football teams which he then coached for a few years (therefore he was Doug’s first coach). He was also a selector for the Holbrook Football Club.

Doug began playing senior football for Holbrook in 1962 and was a member of the 1964 premiership team under ex Footscray defender Brian Prior that beat Temora.

After stints at South Melbourne in the VFL (1966-69) where he played 26 games, and coaching Ariah Park- Mirrool in the South West League (1970-71) he went to Wagga Tigers in 1972 as coach from till 1976 leading Tigers to a premiership in 1975 over Henty.

Doug played a leading role in the 1977 premiership victory over archrivals North Wagga under the illustrious Laurie Pendrick, with whom Doug shared the competition best and fairest award, the Baz medal.

He retired after playing in the 1978 premiership under ex Melbourne and Glenelg player Colin Anderson, who had taken over as coach from him. He played in four premierships: one more than his father.

Then he begun a highly successful involvement in representative football as a coach and selector at the representative level while continuing involvement at Wagga Tigers in all manner of off-field roles (including president 2008-09) that continue to this day with the club’s history project.

Doug was a State selector in 1979-80 when NSW played in the national Escort championships under Allan Jeans narrowly lost to Fitzroy at the Sydney Showgrounds after leading at half-time. The next season the Sky Blues beat the ACT but lost to eventual premier Richmond by a narrow margin in the next round.

Doug also coached the Farrer league to great success during this period including three State Championship victories, the most notable being in 1980 at Deniliquin when the bush boys beat a star-studded Sydney team coached by ex VFL star Sam Kekovich, then coaching Newtown.

Down by 8 goals at half-time, the Farrer team showed enormous spirit and courage to prevail over their more fancied opponent. This followed previous coaching triumphs in 1976 and 1978.

Following the restructure of the leagues in the Riverina in 1982, Doug took on the task of coaching the Riverina Football league (RFL) rep team in the Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) championships.

Doug bought together the players from old rivals Farrer and South West to defeat the Wimmera league, but to lost by 7 points to eventual champion, the Ovens and Murray league. It galvanized the new competition. He enjoyed enormous respect from the players and coaches in the new RFL.

When asked about his great record as a coach, Doug told me that Norm Smith had given him a copy of his coaching notes when he went from South Melbourne to coach Ariah Park-Mirrool but that working closely with Allan Jeans had taught him about “man-management”.

“Jeansie really knew how to get the best out of individual players while Norm (Smith) was more old school, strong on discipline and values. I learn a lot from both”, Doug told me.

Doug’s sons, Steven and Andrew, have followed in the footsteps of their forebears. Both have played nearly all their football with Wagga Tigers, and between them have won a staggering fifteen premierships!

Steven played in eight premierships, while Andrew played in seven flag-winning teams for Tigers.

Andrew (aka Horse) is the games record-holder at Wagga Tigers having played 423 games; Steven amassed 360 games. Steven also played twenty-two games for the Sydney Swans Reserves in 1995.

Steven won the club best and fairest five times and represented NSW on five occasions including against the VFA on the MCG in 1995. He was vice-captain of the State team that won the Australian Country Championships in 2002.

Just like their great grandfather, grandfather, and father they have served their clubs in various capacities as officials and junior or senior coaches.

Now the baton has been passed to Steven’s son, Kobe, who played in Tigers’ Under 18 team last season. He has big boots to fill, but all the Priests that have come before him have all had the ability and character to be successful as players and contribute significantly to

to the game.

Image: (l to r) – Doug, Steven, Dad (Merv) & Kobe with the football.

Riverina’s Mr Football – Bert Schmidt MBE

By Dr Rodney Gillett

“Wherever you are listening to this game don’t tune out this is one of the best games of football I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed 2WG Farrer League football commentator Bert Schmidt at a Culcairn v The Rock Yerong Creek game circa 1964.

“I couldn’t always go to away games so I used to listen to Bert’s call of The Rock’s games on the local radio” recalls former long-time Riverina Australian Football player and leading official Greg Verdon. “He knew all the player’s names and he used to call the games with great clarity and accuracy”, he added.

Bert called the Farrer League match-of-the-day for just on twenty years starting in 1958 and continuing until 1978. He never missed a game according to Cr Yvonne Braid who spent her working life at radio station 2WG in Wagga.

That was the “hay-day” of the league when it stretched from Temora in the north down to Holbrook in the south and west to Lockhart and was based on country clubs rather than clubs in Wagga.

He used to call games from the back of a truck or farm ute backed up to the fence at most grounds from a portable table and chair with the landline connected to the phone in the club secretary’s office or a neighbouring house. The only grounds with press boxes were at Wagga’s Robertson Oval and the Yerong Creek Recreation Ground where the grand final was played.

“Bert was always immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit or woollen cardigan and he always carried an umbrella” recalls Cr Braid. “He was always fully prepared”.

“He was a perfect gentleman”, she added.

Bert Schmidt’s active role in football was not just confined to broadcasting he also produced the weekly football match programs for the South West and Farrer Leagues, served on the Wagga promotions committee, provided hospitality to the Melbourne umpires for the finals, and his lasting legacy, founding the licensed Riverina Australian Football Club.

“The Rules Club was his love child” Cr Braid told me.

Bert Schmidt was the instigator of a licensed club for Australian Football in Wagga. The main purpose was to provide a headquarters for the code in the region and to generate funds to promote the game, particularly at the junior and school level. The club’s ground Maher Oval has hosted AFL practice matches, interstate fixtures and local representative games; it is still Turvey Park’s home ground is used for Farrer League finals and junior fixtures.

He was the inaugural chairman of the club in 1973 after doing all the hard yards to get it up and going. He stayed on the board until 1978. After initially struggling in the early years of its existence the club has now prospered mainly as a result of its location in the southern suburbs of Wagga. Meanwhile, the downtown Wagga Leagues Club shuts its doors in 2004.

Bert identified the need for match day programs for the two major leagues in the Riverina  and subsequently developed and produced The Aussie Ruler (later called the South-Wester) for the South West District Football League and The Crier for the Farrer Football League from 1961.

He funded the project and recouped costs through advertising. He initially wrote the editorials for both: always positive, constructive and based on facts and his deep and intimate knowledge of the game, its officials, players, and supporters in the area.

The distribution of the programs for match day in the region involved an intricate network of trains, taxi trucks, delivery vans, and was sometimes even carried by the umpires driven to games in taxis.

When the program production was taken over by Gary Allen in 1983 he paid tribute to Bert Schmidt for his work over twenty-one years in the first edition for the season:

“Producing a programme nowadays still requires much hard work hut the problems with starting from scratch would have been countless. But thanks, to his dedication and love for the game, he stuck to the task. Bert had to give up most of his holidays, year in and year out, to keep in touch with his advertisers at the start of each season. (Riverina Australian Football Record, 10 April 1983).

Bert Schmidt was also a member of the Wagga Australian Rules Promotions Committee  that was formed in 1968 “ to promote and foster the Australian Football code in Wagga and surrounding districts and to extend Australian Football into all primary and secondary schools” (Wagga Daily Advertiser, 13 February, 1968).

The promotions committee was initially very successful in getting the game going in all primary schools. They arranged for 16 sets of jumpers, 24 footballs and 15 sets of goalposts as well as suitable playing areas for the primary schools in their first year.

The establishment of football in the high schools proved more challenging as rugby league was firmly entrenched largely as a result of schoolteachers coming from the Sydney. Also the Catholic secondary schools were reticent despite the assistance on offer.

Bert, who was the driving force behind the schools’ push, came up with the idea of naming the cup after the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Wagga Wagga, Most Reverend Francis Carroll, who was a Carroll from Ganmain. “Father Frank” had played football for both Ganmain as a youth and for Griffith when he served as priest at the Sacred Heart Church.

With the Bishop’s “blessing” the Carroll Cup for open age schoolboy football commenced in 1969 along with the Robb Cup (named after highly successful Riverina coach Tim Robb) for Year 9 and below.

The Carroll Cup is now firmly established as the premier secondary schools’ competition in Wagga and attracts strong media interest and crowds of up to 2,000 at the final played under lights at Robertson Oval.

Bert did not play footy; but after returning from military service in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupational Force and as a Lieutenant in the Australian Army Ordinance Unit in the Korean War in 1952-53 he gravitated to the Wagga Tigers football club which was closest to his work place at the council-owned Wagga Gas Centre in Bayliss St.

Wagga Tiger’s club legend Doug Priest recalls going to games out-of-town on the team bus in the mid-50s with his father Merv, who was the coach, and Bert leading the sing-along playing on the ukulele on the trip home.

He had a marvellous party trick – he could scull a beer while standing on his head!

Bert Schmidt was highly respected throughout the Riverina for his dedication and service to the game and he has been duly recognized by the Farrer League and the Victorian Country Football league (VCFL).

The reserve grade best and fairest in the Farrer League was named in his honour until the VCFL investigation in 1981 created the Riverina Football League and the Riverina District FL.

Upon the renaming of the RDFL as the Farrer Football League in 1985 the best player in the grand final was named the Schmidt-Nitschke medal in honour of Bert and his long-time friend prominent Wagga solicitor Galva Nitschke, who did so much legal work for football on an honorary basis. Bert and Galva were the duo who did all the work behind the scenes to establish the Rules Club.

He received the VCFL Recognition of Service award in 1973.

Bert Stanley Schmidt was awarded an MBE for military service in 1953.

“Bert got everyone involved. He didn’t leave anybody out”, recalls Cr Braid.

 

AKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Cr Yvonne Braid (Wagga City Council), Major-General (ret.) Brian Dawson (Australian War Memorial), Doug Priest (Wagga Tigers), Greg Verdon (ex MVAFA president), Garry Allen (former Riverina Australian Football Record publisher), and Allan Hull (2WG)

 

 

The Make-Up of the NSW’s Greatest Team Ever

When Jack Fleming made his debut for South Melbourne in the newly-formed VFL in 1897 he became the first player from NSW to play at what was to become, the highest-level. Fleming was born in Inverell in northern NSW but went to South Melbourne from the South Broken Hill club.

Nick Blakey

Nick Blakey aged 18 and fresh out of Waverly College in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, became the 453rd player from NSW to play VFL/AFL football when he debuted for the Sydney Swans against the Western Bulldogs in round one of the 2019 season. He continued the rich tradition of players from NSW playing at the highest level that had begun with Jack Fleming 122 years ago.

The list of NSW’s Greatest Players provided the basis for the selection of the NSW Greatest Team Ever at the Carbine Club’s function in May this year.  You can view the entire list here, however to facilitate the list in its entirety, it has been reduced in size.  (You can enlarge the document for easier viewing by holding down your CONTROL button and press the + button at the same time.  To reverse this, hold down the CONTROL button and press the minus [ – ] button.)

Initially, a list of 423 players was provided by the AFL. Former Sydney Swans and inaugural NSW/ACT AFL Commission chairman Richard Colless, the convener of the selection panel for the NSW Greatest Team, was convinced that there were more players than this and asked the NSW Football History Society representatives on the panel, Ian Granland and Rod Gillett, to investigate.

Between them they boosted the number on the list to 453.

Using his geographical and football knowledge of southern NSW particularly along the border region, Gillett was able to add a substantial number to the list that had been overlooked by the AFL’s historians.

This included the likes of former Carlton and Richmond ruckman David Honybun from Coleambly who was recruited by the Blues from Scotch College, ex-St Kilda defender Jon Lilley (Hay) who went to Xavier College, dual Richmond premiership rover Bill Brown also from Hay who went to work for the State Savings Bank in Melbourne;  he also plaPaul Kelly, Bill Mohr, yed for the bank team in the amateurs.  then there was Damian Sexton (St Kilda) from Finley who was recruited from Ovens and Murray league club, Yarrawonga.

A gem of a find was the late Sir Doug Nichols, who grew up and played football at the Cummeragunja aboriginal mission on the NSW side of the Murray River opposite Barmah, near Echuca. Sir Doug played for the mission in the district competition before making his mark with Fitzroy in the VFL. Ironically, he played for Victoria against NSW in the 1933 ANFC Carnival in Sydney.

They also came up with the names of some outstanding SANFL players that had originally been recruited from Broken Hill. Two of these players, West Adelaide’s Bruce McGregor and Neil Davies from Glenelg, were subsequently selected in the Greatest Team. Both captained South Australia in interstate matches and were selected in ANFC All-Australian teams.

Broken Hill has been a rich source of players for both the VFL and the SANFL competitions. Forty-eight players on the list came from Broken Hill’s four clubs: Norths (13), Centrals (9), Souths (11), and Wests (15).

The Albury Football Club provided the most number of players on the list with 49 including five from the Strang family starting with Bill Strang (South Melbourne) in 1904, his three sons Doug (Richmond), Gordon (Richmond) and Alan (South Melbourne) and Doug’s son Geoff, who played in Richmond’s 1967 and 1969 premiership sides.

Rival Ovens & Murray League club Corowa, that merged with Rutherglen for the 1979 season, provided twenty players including current Sydney Swans coach John Longmire (North Melbourne), 1975 North Melbourne premiership star Peter Chisnall and Swans 2005 premiership player Ben Matthews.

The Sydney clubs have supplied 106 players on the list with Eastern Suburbs providing the highest number with twenty-four, the most notable being Carlton champion Mark “Sellers” McClure; Newtown with eleven including Footscray’s 1954 premiership player Roger Duffy, ten from North Shore, nine from Pennant Hills which included the former St Kilda champion Lenny Hayes.

The Riverina was also a fertile area for the list. The highest number of players came from the Wagga Tigers which provided 20 players including 1995 Brownlow medalist Paul Kelly (Swans), the sublimely skilled John Pitura (South Melbourne/Richmond), and the NSW Greatest Team full forward, Bill Mohr (St Kilda) who topped the VFL goal-kicking in 1936 with 101 goals.

Leeton (12), Ganmain (10) and Narranderra (9) also supplied high numbers of players for the list.

South Melbourne/Sydney Swans have been the main beneficiary of players from NSW. One hundred and seventeen players have turned out for the Swans since 1897.

Under zoning by the VFL of Victorian Country/Southern NSW from 1967-1986 the Riverina was allocated to South Melbourne. In this period Rick Quade (Ariah Park-Mirrool), Doug Priest (Holbrook), Ross Elwin (Leeton), Colin Hounsell (Collingullie), Brett Scott (The Rock-Yerong Creek), Paul Hawke (Wagga Tigers), Dennis Carroll (Lockhart) and Jim Prentice (Ariah Park-Mirrool) were recruited from the Swans’ zone.

When the club moved to Sydney in 1982, the number of players from the local competition increased. This included Terry Thripp (Pennant Hills), Lewis Roberts-Thomson (North Shore), Nick Davis (St George), Kieran Jack (Pennant Hills), Arthur Chilcott (Western Suburbs), and Neil Brunton (Holroyd-Parramatta) and many more.

The Greater Western Sydney Giants have also recruited players from NSW since their entry into the AFL in 2012. Their number of players from NSW currently stands at eighteen following the debut of Penrith local and national decathlon champion, Jake Stein in round 12 against North Melbourne.

Stein became the 454th player to play in the VFL/AFL. The list was boosted to over 500 highly skilled players to recognise those from the city and the bush that didn’t go to the big leagues and the players from Broken Hill that represented the SANFL.