Book Review by Dr Rod Gillett – PURPLE REIGN

Paul Daffey, On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football, Daffey Publications, Melbourne, 2020. ISBN: 978-0-646-82660. RRP $35.00

Book review by Dr Rod Gillett

When the Nathalia footy team win the premiership on the Monday morning they take the cup to the aged care retirement village in town to share with the residents; that’s how much it means to this small community (pop. 1902) in the heart of the Murray Valley.

And the Mighty Purples, the “Purps”, know how to find the retirement home, they’ve won ten of the last 15 premierships in the Murray Football League. A stunning record for a competition that currently numbers fourteen clubs.

In his latest book on country football, On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football, Paul Daffey goes inside two of the most recent successful country clubs, Nathalia and Kyabram, to find out why.

Daffey finds that there’s nothing in the water at the Broken Creek at Nathalia or the Waranga Mallee Channel at Kyabram; it’s all about the “culture” of the respective footy clubs based on deep community ties and genuine leadership on and off the paddock.

In the change rooms before the 2019 grand final at Finley Daffey finds five former premiership coaches of Nathalia working harmoniously together in various capacities to assist the first-time captain-coach Mal Barnes plot victory over Tongala.

As Daffey notes, “No one appears to have an ego that demands singular attention to his own mighty deeds. All the old coaches pour their memories and experiences into the Purple Pot of Knowledge. They are willing to contribute to the greater good”

Nathalia win to make it five flags in a row to set a new record for the Murray league, which they entered in 1933; they only won four premierships in the 20th century. Daffey, who trained as a football reporter at the Bendigo Advertiser, provides an excellent report in the final chapter as he does for all the other grand finals he attended.

I went on part of the premiership trail with Paul Daffey when I met him in Shepparton on the Sunday the day after the Purps’ historic win for the Goulburn Valley grand final between Kyabram, known simply as Ky, and Echuca.

As an old Ky boy I was keen to see if they could win their 83rd game out of 84 for three premierships in four years, the only loss being to Shepp, (Shepparton, Victoria) in 2018, Ky’s nemesis in the 60s when Tommy Hafey led the Maroons to three successive premierships, 1963-65, which I witnessed, before going to Richmond.

Paul Daffey’s quest to find the formula for Ky’s success which included a visit for several days during the previous season revealed that it was mostly down to the coach, Paul Newman, known as “Paulo”, who “… showed true loyalty and humility throughout his long and illustrious career. As a coach, those same qualities have proved vital in gelling together the best playing list in the club’s history”.

Daffey’s findings show that, “Every player at Kyabram wants to play for Paulo. Every official loves him. Every supporter loves him. It is rare that I have been at a footy club and noted such a clear fulcrum in the fortunes of his club”.

When he quizzed “Paulo” about Ky’s success, he was told to go and talk to “Dirty”.

So Daffey went to see “Dirty” David Williams, the Melbourne 1988 grand final full-forward, who returned home to coach Rochester for sixteen seasons including two premierships.

Williams had been lured to coach Kyabram for the 2008 season after Rochy (Rochester) wanted the euphemistic ‘change of direction’ – even though as the club’s major sponsor (Hotel Rochester), he tipped more money into the club than he was paid to coach! Nonetheless Rochester went onto to dramatically beat Seymour for the GVL premiership while “Dirty” set about building the platform for Ky’s sustained success including a flag in 2013.

The chapter written about Daffey’s interview with David Williams is enthralling. “Dirty” is renowned for being “tetchy” and he had a blow-up with Daffey over a piece in The Age back in 2003. I was fastened to my chair reading this chapter as they worked through the issues. Williams is highly-regarded in Rochester, not just for his football prowess, but for his generosity of spirit and material assistance.

It is a shame that Daffey was not able to include Maffra and Koroit on his premiership trail. Just like Nathalia they are minnows in their respective competitions and been equally as successful over the past decade and won premierships in 2019.

However, he does write a section on Koroit’s triple premiership coach, the intriguing Adam Dowie, who also landed flags at Terang-Mortlake and Warrnambool in the Hampden league and led North Warrnambool into the 2019 grand final which they lost to Koroit.

Daffey interviewed Dowie in the coach’s room, a tin shed at Bushfield oval before training, when Dowie cited the example of coaches who demand that every player must run around a particular goalpost during a training drill.

Dowie told him that rather than waste energy on demanding that every player must make his way around a particular post, he demands that every player must perform the role expected of him each and every time he takes the field.

One of the revelations of Daffey’s book is how he saw the future of country football at an outer suburban oval in Bendigo at Maiden Gully, when they took on Loddon Valley powerhouse the Mitiamo Superoos in the opening round of 2019.

YCW Maiden Gully are now the largest football-netball club in central Victoria while Mitiamo’s senior team contained no local players, not one. As Daffey points out, the growing regional centres like Bendigo, Ballarat, Albury, Mildura, and Warrnambool provide the pool of players for so many of the outlying country clubs.

Paul Daffey is an acute observer of the game and its people, and the trends in country football, he is also a wonderful storyteller with an innate ability to craft a body of work with telling insight that makes compelling reading.


On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football is available from the Collins bookstores in Albury and Echuca from the author  





The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy

Review by Dr Rodney GillettVice President NSW Aust Football History Society

As Paul Daffey demonstrates in his latest book on country football, The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy, that sadly, the number of football clubs in country areas are declining, but this is not a recent phenomenon but an on-going process that started with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The recurring theme in Daffey’s book is that the demographics determine the continuity and sustainability of football in a small town or district, and a diminishing population, particularly of the youth, leads to the decline of active football clubs and either their amalgamation with neighbouring clubs or extinction.

As Daffey show most clubs choose to “bury the hatchet” with a fierce local rival and agree on a new name, new colours, and where the new entity will play its games. This is perfectly illustrated in his case study of footy in the Mallee. In a stunning example Daffey’s research shows that thirty-two football clubs have folded into the Ouyen United Football Club.

The same scene is being played out in the southern region of New South Wales in the farming districts where the Australian game has been pre-eminent for more than a century.

The most merged club is Coreen Daysdale Hopefield Buraja United (CDHBU) that was formed on the eve of the demise of the Coreen and District Football League after ninety-nine years of existence in 2007. CDHBU and the remaining Coreen league clubs then went to play the next season in the neighbouring Hume Football League.

All had started as individual clubs but Hopefield and Burraja had merged as early as 1950 while fierce rivals Coreen and Daysdale came together in 1995, but the continuing difficulties to field teams led to the amalgamation of both these clubs in 2006.

CDHBU won the last ever premiership in the Coreen league when they beat the Billabong Crows (a merger of Urana and Oaklands in 2004). Ironically, this meant that six of the foundation clubs of the competition, albeit in merged entities, played in the last-ever game in 2007.

Daffey cites many similar cases in the Mallee, that is now down to just three clubs – Ouyen United (Sunraysia league), Sea Lake-Nandaly Tigers (North Central league), and the Southern Mallee Giants (Wimmera league).

The Mallee is much more than a name of a region, like the Riverina it’s locality and characteristics are captured in the Australian psychic. It conjures up images of red soil, blue sky, blazing sunsets, and a dry, arid landscape. “It is a tough place, demanding sweat and toil” (p.35). And so are its people and this is encapsulated in their footballers and their football grounds.

The boundaries for the Mallee set by the Victorian colonial government in 1883 was “all unalienated crown land in the north-western district wholly or partly covered with the Mallee plant” (Pickard, 2019). And just as Henry Lawson proclaimed that everyone knew where the Riverina was, so do country folk know where the Mallee is, and where its roots are.

In order to pay homage to the antecedent football clubs of the Ouyen United Football Club the Year 9 students at the Ouyen P-12 College in 2009 decided to paint totem poles that had been erected at the entrance to the club’s home ground, Blackburn Park. The students painted nine poles in the colours of the clubs that had folded into one another over the years to form Ouyen United.

The totem poles provided the inspiration for the title to Daffey’s book and also the stunning cover designed by Megan Ellis based on a painting by Swan Hill dentist John Harrison.

Paul Daffey stated at the outset that the main purpose of the book was to focus on football in the Mallee in order to provide a snapshoot of footy in the country. What is occurring in the Mallee is being replicated in country areas all around Australia but his story reveals that has been on-going for decades in line with the rural-urban drift.

The book also includes chapters about Daffey’s travels in country footy taking in Wedderburn in the North Central League, the old gold-mining town of Inglewood, Boolara in the Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland, Horsham in the Wimmera and the Mornington Penisula. The chapter on the Pines v Sorrento grand final is highly captivating and the match report exhibits Daffey’s exquisite writing skills and social insights into the game.

The Appendices are most comprehensive and in addition to detailing all the statistical history of football in the Mallee there is a review of the season for country leagues in Victoria and southern NSW.

An added feature is a list of all the players that have played in six or more premierships since WW II. Brad Hartigan, who has played an “unfeasible” number of premierships – twelve for the Horsham Demons in the Wimmera Football League – is the subject of the final chapter.

There are three players from the Riverina on the list who have played in ten premierships: Stephen Clarke (Osborne 1991-92, 1998-2001, 2005; Albury 1995-97), Darren Howard (Osborne 1991-92, 1994,1998-2001, 2005-06; Albury 1995),and Gerald Pieper (Wagga Tigers 1977-78, 1980-81, 1985, 1993-95, 1997-98)

Other multiple premiership winners are Anthony Armstrong (Mangoplah-Cookardinia United & Osborne) 9, Hayden Gleeson (Osborne) 9, Brad Aitken (Collingullie) 8, Len Brill (Ganmain) 8, Bill Carroll (Ganmain) 8, John “Digger” Carroll (Ganmain) 8, Matt Fowler (Albury & Thurgoona) 8, Joel Mackie (Jindera & Albury) 8, Christen McPherson (Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong) 8, Steven Priest (Wagga Tigers) 8, Steven Schultz (Culcairn & Wagga Tigers 8, and Tim Robb (North Albury, Wagga Tigers & Collingullie) 8.

As Daffey says in the opening chapter he has a penchant for writing about local footy – amateur football, suburban football, but the best stories are in the country.

Paul Daffey, The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy (2019), Melbourne,
Daffey Publications, 2019, pp XIV +416 Paperback ISBN: 9780646804163.

To buy a copy of the book email with your address and he’ll email the bank details.  Books are $30 per book plus $10 postage.


FOOTY TOWN – the book

Footy Town image smallMelbourne media identities, Paul Daffey and John Harms of Footy Almanac fame, published a book about local football stories from throughout Australia.

These tales are robust, funny, poignant, witty and (occasionally) wise.  Some are memoirs that float through the years.  Others are deft pieces of football history: what was Roy Cazaly doing in Minyip in 1925?  Who were the champions of Gunbower:  Who was the Bush Barassi”  The stories offer a peep inito the vast mythology of Australia’s game.  They shine a light on the place of footy in the national culture.

Already the first issue of the book has sold out and the publisher is working on the second which should be available shortly.

By reading this site you must be a keen football enthusiast so this 382 page publication is a must for your collection.

Contributors include some recognized authors like Martin Flanagan and Patrick Keane, former players (well most are).  in Barry Richardson and Matt Zurbo (who?), even umpires right down to an article on some Sydney football experiences by the Society president, Ian Granland.

To find out where you can get your copy, contact Paul Daffey (0417 160 911) or John Harms (0417 635 030). You can look them up at

Sometimes footy gets a bit precious, which is why we recommend this book.