There are probably few in the Sydney football scene today who knew Don. His time as a real dominant influence was in South Australia. Don played 158 games for West Adelaide and was the team’s captain and coach in 1966 and 1967; 42 games for Norwood, 33 games for Hawthorn and nine for the South Australian representative team.
Roach was a Life Member of the SANFL and inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2002. He was named in the All Australian AFL team in 1961 and was life member of the South Australian National Football League. He was inducted into the SA Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
Don moved to Sydney to become chief executive of the Sydney Swans in 1985 and 1986.
His involvement in Sydney football was not always confined to the office. In the August 1973, while working for the SANFL as a promotions officer, Don Roach, along with Norwood FC vice captain, Ross Porritt, visited NSW as part of the Rothmans National Sports Foundation. The two conducted coaching clinics for young boys in Sydney, Newcastle and on the South Coast.
Don said of the talent in Sydney ” I was very please and surprised at the high standard of many of the boys attending these Rothmans Clinics. All of the boys exhibited a great desire to learn and these young players will assure NSW a most promising future growth of the code.”
In 1974 Don was appointed the General Manager of the SANFL and, in the ten odd years at the helm of SA football, was one of a band of South Australians who, at the time, loathed the VFL’s (as they were then) self given attitude as pseudo controllers of the game throughout Australia. It was Roach who was a continual thorn in the side of the VFL and thwarted many of their moves to impose their ideas at the expense of other national affiliates and in most cases these were what were regarded ‘minor states’. Of which, NSW was one. It was this attitude towards the VFL that eventually was to prove his downfall.
Roach always said that the National Football League (ANFC) should be the recognized controlling body of the game and at times he went to great lengths to reinforce that stance.
However the VFL won the day. In a astute move, the VFL’s Assistant General Manager, Alan Schwab, organised for Roach to be appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney Swans in 1985. A job he held for just over 12 months but it brought him to Sydney, and removed a persistent thorn from the VFL’s side. Sydney is where he remained.
A little known fact that Roach’s exhibited a fantastic foresight for the game when he started what what he believed became the most successful bi-product of Australian Football: Auskick. “I wrote the rules on the back of a cigarette packet in 1968” Roach said “and called it ‘Mod Football’.”
This was the first and the start to Australia’s and possibly the world’s adoption of modified versions of open age sporting games particularly for young children.
It is a legacy that Don Roach will be remembered for for many years.