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.

 

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.