Not so long ago we wrote a story about John Leber, former player, umpire and junior organiser who unceremoniously passed away early in the year at Coffs Harbour aged 91.
We used the information we had at hand in writing the article and at the same time publishing a sub standard photograph of John, given that’s all that was available.
In the process of re-cataloguing material we have in the Society’s rooms at Wests licensed club, Croydon Park, we came across a whole plethora of information about the man which had been misfiled and, considering his contribution to the game in Sydney and what we had found, we felt he deserved another run. Its a good story.
A red-head, John learned his football when he attended Gardiners Road Public School between 1933-36. During this and earlier periods in Sydney there were only three or four public schools who were sympathetic to Australian Football:
There was Rupert Browne at Gardiners Road, Tas Carroll at Hurstville Tech and another at Double Bay School. Gardiners Road churned out many state and players who went on to play first grade football in Sydney.
John represented NSW at the All Australian Schoolboys carnival held in Canberra in 1935 where the NSW team was under the management of H G (Bunny) Shepherd.
When he left school he played with the Rosebery Club in the Metropolitan Aust National Football Assn., which was virtually a second division in Sydney. Rosebery was quite a strong club and at the time, coached to their 1938 premiership by Jack Hayes, a local, who had played with Footscray and only a few years previous to this coached the St George Club.
Leber then chose to join the very strong Newtown Club where he played both first and reserve grade until 1942 when he enlisted in the AIF and immediately began playing and umpiring services football.
In this year he represented a combined services team which defeated NSW 16.18 (104) to 13.21 (99) at Trumper Park.
In 1943, whilst undergoing a course in Seymour Victoria, Leber approached the Fitzroy Football Club to ascertain if he could get a game. The club’s secretary, Perc Mitchell wrote back inviting him to play in the seconds for the club against Melbourne on August 14. Click here to read the letter.
The literature we have supports the fact that he did play with the Lions but, from further research, and despite suggestions to the contrary, we have been been unable to confirm that he played in the senior side.
Upon his return to civilian life in 1946 John again signed on with Newtown but failed to gain a permanent place in their very strong outfit. During this time he sustained a severe leg injury, dislocating his knee resulting in medical advice that should not continue to play football.
Still with a love of the game, John took up umpiring in 1949. He went on to umpire 147 first grade games in Sydney. Additionally he umpired Illawarra v Williamstown in Wollongong in 1948, Combined Sydney v Newcastle game 1951 and NSW FL v Broken Hill in 1952, besides the NSW v Tasmania game we have already mentioned in 1955.
As we also said in our previous article, John umpired two Sydney first grade grand finals and we are fortunate to have his Umpires’ Appointment Card for the 1955 decider between Eastern Suburbs and North Shore. Tas Carroll, Rupert He was awarded Best Umpire by the Umpires’ Assn in 1951 & 1955.
It has been a long time since umpire appointments have been notified in this manner and the card itself is certainly a find.
John was one of the founders of Boys Town (Engadine) Football Club as well as the St George Junior Football Association. He also helped in the formation of the Engadine and Heathcote junior football clubs and umpired school and junior games in these areas as well as coaching junior umpires conducting lectures at least twice a week to umpires and junior clubs in the St George District. Interestingly John was one of the founders of the now Southern Power Football Club.
John Leber was appointed coach of the NSW Under 17 Teal Cup side in 1958 and the NSW Under 15 Shell Cup teams in 1961 & 62.
His last game was in the NSW v Tasmania Schoolboys game at Picken Oval in 1973. Together with his NSWAFL games, John umpired 261 junior matches which total 408 games, certainly a great service to Australian Football.
In our last article we mentioned that John assisted the league with good rates for interstate teams travelling on the airline, TAA. To our embarrassment we have found that John worked for Ansett Airlines of Australia where he helped in the movement of state teams from round Australia co-operating with the then league Secretary, Lionel Beale and later General Manager, Russell Hopper.
For a period of five years it was John who arranged for the winner of the Phelan Medal to receive a free airline trip, firstly to Hayman Island then the Gold Coast in the late 1960s to the early 1970s.
As well as all this, John was always only too happy to help Sydney and other clubs with their end of season trips.
A great Australian and a great ambassador for our code in Sydney.