Inside Story on how Plugger got to the Swans

   Plugger reported for striking Peter Caven at the SCG 1994

Former Swans star defender and media man Neil Cordy believes that the recruitment of Tony Lockett was transformational for the Swans in the Sydney market. Tony Lockett’s 1995 arrival in Sydney from St Kilda was a game changer for both parties”, Cordy wrote in a piece on “The Big 3 at the SCG” earlier this year on the Society’s website

“Lockett’s physique, nickname and robust playing style appealed to Sydneysiders, particularly during rugby league’s ‘Super Wars’. The conversion even included the crusty old newspaper seller down at Wynyard station who dumped his Souths’ beanie for a Swans one in the lead-up to the 96 AFL grand final”, Cords told me in a recent telephone conversation.

So just how did the Swans snare Plugger when AFL heavyweights, Collingwood and Richmond had him squarely in their sights?

Footy, races, the William Farrer Hotel – a trinity of factors that came together post-season in Wagga in 1994 when then-Swans match committee chairman Greg Harris was in town on a local recruiting mission that would instead land the greatest goal-kicker in the history of VFL/AFL football.

Harris, known universally as “Huey”, in his role with the Swans as Ron Barassi’s right-hand man had witnessed first-hand Lockett single-handedly complete one of the greatest comebacks in footy history when he led St Kilda from 41 points down with nine minutes to go against the Swans on 8 May 1994 with “Plugger” sealing the 1-point victory with 3 goals in the final three minutes to bring his total for the match to eleven.                                                                                

    Ron Barassi with Greg Harris
                 in the background

At the post-season review when asked who the club should recruit, “Huey” was unequivocal in his response, “Tony Lockett!”.

Just how that happened will be teased out by seasoned Sydney football observer Simon Kelly when he interviews Greg Harris, along with fellow Easts’ legend Ray Millington at the History Society’s annual lunch and publication awards function at the Magpies Sports Club (Hampden St Croydon Park) on Tuesday 14 December from 12 noon.

The luncheon will be held upstairs in the function room overlooking Picken Oval.

There is no charge and no booking required. Non-members are welcome to attend.

Traditional club fare and beverages are available at the Club.

Please feel free to share news of this event with former team-mates and supporters. 

(Drop us a line at: admin@nswfootballhistory.com.au if you and/or friends are coming so we can inform the club’s bistro with regards numbers for the day)

ROSS HENSHAW – AFL NSW HoF Nominee

Champion defender Ross Henshaw has been nominated for induction into the NSWAFL Hall of Fame. Neil Cordy looks back at Ross’s formative years in Albury and his key role in North Melbourne’s 1970s revival. 

 

Dual premiership player Ross Henshaw has some encouraging advice for the current North Melbourne team who are starting to turn the corner after a horror 1-10 start. Things can change very quickly.

 

Henshaw played in the last Kangaroos team to claim the wooden spoon in 1972. But three years later they won their first ever premiership beating Hawthorn by 55 points.

 

Henshaw isn’t promising an instant turnaround for David Noble’s team but it’s worth remembering just how far back North came from to claim their first premiership.

 

“North aren’t travelling well at the moment but we were in the same spot in 72’,” Henshaw said. “Barassi came in 73’ and we won nine games, we lost the 74’ grand final to Richmond and then beat Hawthorn in the grand final the following year. Thirteen of those players who were part of the 1972 wooden spoon were in the 75’ Premiership team.”

 

When Henshaw arrived at the club in 1971 he could have been forgiven for thinking grand finals and premierships weren’t going to be part of his footy journey. In his first two seasons at Arden Street he played in just two winning games.

 

It was a shock to the system for the teenager from North Albury who wasn’t used to losing on this scale. Henshaw loved growing up in Albury where he enjoyed the benefits of a big extended family and a strong junior club at the Hoppers (North Albury). The footy club brought good coaching and great friendships as did Albury High School which provided a strong academic and sporting culture.

 

It stood him in good stead for a difficult start at the Kangaroos who at the time were perennial cellar dwellers. The 72’ wooden spoon was their third in five seasons and their last finals appearance was 1958.

 

But in 1973 all that all changed with the arrival of Ronald Dale Barassi from Carlton along with three of the best players of their generation Doug Wade (Geelong), John Rantall (South Melbourne) and Barry Davis (Essendon).

 

Of the quartet it was the Bombers champion who had the greatest impact on Henshaw.

 

“Barry Davis was the biggest influence in my career,” Henshaw said. “Barry was sensational for me, he was a real mentor. He taught me the art of defence. We analysed opponents and the biggest thing was how to train properly. He helped me truly understand the phrase, ‘You train as you play.” He did a lot of extras and I followed him. I loved training, it was good for your mental health and it was just healthy in every way.”

 

After 218 games at Essendon Davis was the right player at the right time for Henshaw who had just turned 20. Davis was in his 11th season when he arrived at Arden Street but he was a long way from done.

 

 “Barry had three seasons at North Melbourne, he won two best and fairests and was the 75’premiership captain,” Henshaw said. “He played most of his career as a half back flanker and he came to North and re-invented himself as a ruck rover.”

 

Despite the dramatic improvement in 73’ and 74’ a 0-4 start to 75’ sparked rumours of a mutiny among the players. Club president Alan Aylett wasn’t having a bar of it. “Alan held a meeting with the playing group and said he’d heard rumblings about Barassi’s aggressive style of coaching,” Henshaw said. “Alan said while he was president Barassi will always be our coach so shape up.”

 

While Barassi’s verbal barrages didn’t sit well with everybody, Henshaw says they had a galvanising effect among the playing group.

 

“He had an uncanny coaching ability to unite us as a group,” Henshaw said. “We all cared about each other and had a strong connection. We had loads of trust in each other as team mates which was all generated by Barass.”

 

After the horror 0-4 start to slow start to 75’ North kicked into gear in round five. They beat Geelong at Kardinia Park and won 14 of the last 18 games to finish third. They lost to Hawthorn for the third time that season in the second semi-final but would get their revenge in the game that mattered the most.

 

 “We played the Hawks four times in 75’,” Henshaw said. “The only time we beat them that year was the grand final. The playing group thought it was our time. We had unbelievable support from the crowd. The footy public were on our side. John Rantall played an amazing game on Leigh Matthews. Matthews was a huge influence and John kept him quiet. When you are young and have an experience like that it stays with you for life.”

 

Henshaw played in five grand finals in a row winning another in 1977. He was part of one of the great defensive units the game has seen alongside David Dench, Frank Gumbleton, John Rantall, Brent Crosswell, Daryl Sutton and Gary Cowton.

 

“We had a great backline and some great players everywhere like Keith Greig and Wayne Schimmelbusch, they were great team mates and super blokes as were Xavier Tanner and John Byrne who were there for the second premiership.

 

“The best thing about my career was being a one club player and sitting around with your mates after the game and looking each other in the eye and saying this is what we achieved together.”

 

Henshaw also paid tribute to the contribution of players from the Ovens and Murray League and the Riverina. “It was a big influence on the history of the club,” Henshaw said

 

“In the first premiership there were five players from that part of the world. Mick Nolan (Wangaratta Rovers), Frank Gumbleton (Ganmain), Peter Chisnell (Corowa) Sam Kekovich (Myrtleford), Gary Cowton (Benalla) plus Paul Feltham who spent time in Sydney (Balmain). Nowadays there’s a lot of North Supporters in the North-East and Riverina.”

Ricky Quade – “Loyal Son leading the Swans to Victory”

Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in NSW this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney in 1880.
Neil Cordy profile the nomination of Ricky Quade to the Hall of Fame.

Rick Quade

Footy is full of sliding door moments. If the great Norm Smith didn’t make the move to coach the Swans in 1969, Ricky Quade probably wouldn’t have worn the red and white.

It would have been a terrible loss for footy in New South Wales.

Not only would they have missed out on one of state’s greatest talents they would also have lost a lifetime of service at multiple levels.

After starting out at the Lake Oval in 1970 Quade went on to play 164 games and lead the club as captain (1977-79), coach (1982’-84’), chairman of selectors (1980-81, 1989-93) and as a director (1995-2011).

All that may never have happened if it wasn’t for the arrival of the ‘Red Fox’ (Smith) who came knocking on the Quade’s door at the family farm at Ariah Park.

The 17-year-old Quade was hot property after kicking 101 goals for Ariah Park-Mirrool in 1968 and then following it up with 131 the next year. He even played against John Longmire’s dad Fred in an inter-league match between the South West League and the Ovens and Murray League who Longmire senior was playing for.

These feats were remarkable considering he spent most of his teens playing Rugby Union for St Patricks College in Goulburn where he boarded.

But Rick’s dad Leo needed some convincing he should go to the VFL after the experience of his two elder brothers Tom and Mick who played at North Melbourne. Both brothers VFL careers were plagued by injury and Leo wasn’t impressed by the player welfare at the time.

“I was set to go to North,” Quade said. Frank Gumbleton came from Ganmain and had spoken to me but dad reckoned I was too young to go so he held me back, then Norm Smith became coach. It was only because Norm Smith was coach that dad let me go, so I went to South Melbourne.”

Leo was no pushover, Smith and South’s recruiting manager Brian “Wrecker” Leahy had to make seven trips from Melbourne before they could convince Leo the Swans were the right team for Rick.

“It was little wonder dad and Norm became friends,” Quade said. “They drove up from Melbourne in the same red Falcon and got to know the road pretty well.”

It was also the start of a remarkable relationship between Quade and one of the giants of the game. Sadly it lasted only a handful of years due to Smith’s premature death in 1973 at the age of 57.

                               Norm Smith

At his funeral a 23 year old Rick was one of the pall bearers along with Norm and Marjorie’s son Peter, their “adopted son” Ron Barassi and former Melbourne player Ross Dillon, another country boy, from Kyabram, who had tragically lost his father.

“It was a great honour,” Quade said.

“It was one of his wishes (that Rick be a pall bearer), his wife Marj rang me the day after he died. He was a legend, I was really fortunate to play under him. I didn’t realise it at the time because I was only 19, but he was a tremendous figure. Everyone says he was a great coach but he was a great man as well.”

There is no doubting Norm Smith’s position in the game. He was named the coach of the AFL’s Team of the Century in 1996 was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame as a Legend in 2007.

But Quade believes he missed out on an accolade which went to his “adopted son” Ron Barassi after the 1970 grand final.

Barassi’s half-time instructions to Carlton players “handball, handball, handball,” have been described as the “Birth of Modern Football” after it inspired a 44-point comeback to beat Collingwood. But Quade believes Norm Smith started the tactic well before this with the Swans.

“Everyone attributes the handballing game to Barassi but it was Norm who created it,” Quade said.

“He started using handball as a tactic in 1969 and ramped it up in 1970. Skilful players like Skilton, Bedford and Hoffman thrived on that. He was also big on quick ball movement. In those days players would take a mark and go back and take their time, hold the ball in the air and take five minutes to kick it.

“To get South into the top four in 1970 was a huge achievement. That year South beat the eventual premiers Carlton by 12 goals”.

Smith was also big on work ethic and doing the right thing which he often communicated to the young Quade.

“He was in my ear about life and it was often about working harder,” Quade said. “His view was if you didn’t have a job you didn’t get a game.”

Those with life lessons came in handy through the challenging early days of the Swans in Sydney. “We were lucky to survive,” Quade said.

“We were well led on the field by Roundy, Mark Browning, Denis Carroll and those guys. They were offered big money to leave and they stuck fat. We were unwanted and unloved but it galvanised us.” 

TRUMPER PARK – why it is Australian Football’s prime piece of real estate in Sydney

Submitted by Miles Wilks author of Australian Football Clubs in NSW

Trumper Park can lay claim to being the most enduring and important Australian football oval in Sydney. Whilst the SCG has only been consistently used for football in the last thirty years,

Trumper Park has been used as a football oval for approximately 110 years. Other inner-city football grounds, such as Erskineville Oval, Kensington Oval and Drummoyne Oval, have all seen their time, come and go, yet Paddington’s Trumper Park has endured. Trumper Park Oval is the one constant for a sport that has struggled to have continuity and hold its place in the crowded Sydney
marketplace.

For many, Erskineville Oval is the only oval that could rival Trumper in Sydney as a long-term venue for the game. I can remember as a youngster seeing a grand final match in the early 1980s and it was full of life, yet now when you go there it seems as if all traces of previous football action has been erased.

Football ovals have a soul to them, a life, when they are in use, but empty ovals that are past their use-by date have a melancholy quality about them. And this is the case with the former Newtown FC home ground of Erskineville Oval.

The game ceased to be played there in the early 1990s, and today one would never know that the oval was once the home of a proud football club, the Newtown Angels. There is not a skerrick of evidence (not even a plaque on the grandstand) that confirms that Australian football was once played there.

In contrast, Trumper Park has endured and it is the only Australian football ground in Sydney that has been used more or less continuously for more than 100 years.

The first documented match I could find reference to occurred in 1903, and there is perhaps some chance that football was even played there prior to this date. Colossal figures in Australian history have links to Trumper Park, including the cricketer and sporting hero Keith Miller and the Prime Minister and war leader John Curtin was a visitor to the ground. On top of this, footballers of exceptional quality have played at Trumper including the AFL legend Jack Dyer, as well as the Brownlow medalists Bill Morris and Kevin Murray amongst many other star players.

KEITH MILLER- cricketer.
Undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest sportsmen and a hero to many, Keith Miller is someone whose life is linked to Trumper Park.  Yet before his link to Trumper is discussed, one should know more about the Keith Miller story and why he is an important figure in Australian history.

Whilst our most iconic Australian cricketer Don Bradman was described as a “clean-skin”, Keith Miller was described by some at the opposite side of the spectrum “a rogue, a big drinker, a womaniser.” There were even persistent and “unsubstantiated rumours of an affair with a member of royalty.”

Don Bradman and Keith Miller had an ongoing battle over the years due to their clash of personalities and different lifestyles and this conflect had some role in Miller not being selected as the Australian team captain towards the end of his career.  This though should not override the fact that Keith Miller was a hero to many.

The iconic figure in Australian football, Ron Barassi, was one of the many who considered Keith Miller as a hero.

The Great Keith Miller- Ron Barassi’s hero
Ron Barassi stated:

“When I was a teenager, I began to idolise one special Australian sportsman. As far as I was concerned, he stood for everything that was important in playing sport. He was dashing. He was cavalier. He was handsome. And he could do anything.

“Apart from his marvellous cricketing skills, I was fully aware of his background as a footballer, and a war hero as a fighter pilot, his war exploits being by far the most intriguing to me.

“He was the hero of the common man. Above all else, Keith Miller taught me the importance of being your own man.”

It wasn’t just Australians who idolised Miller, even the English saw Miller as the hero of the common man. Michael Parkinson, the celebrated English journalist who had his own tv chat show for over two decades, stated:

“I mean here was this man who played cricket, hit big sixes, looked like Errol Flynn, broad-shouldered, dark hair, blue eyes, the ladies loved him, every man wanted to be him.”

MILLER – THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE PILOT in WWII.
Of all the quotes attributed to Miller, the one that has received the most recognition is his comment about his time as a fighter pilot flying against the Germans and their Messerchmitt planes in WWII. A few years after flying in fighter squadrons in England, Miller was asked about the pressure of playing cricket at the top level. He replied: “Pressure, mate. In cricket? You’ve got to be kidding. Pressure is turning around and seeing a Messerschmitt flying up your arse.”

Keith ‘Nugget’ Miller also had a target on his back when he settled in Sydney after the war and played football for the Sydney Naval football club, which had its home ground at Trumper Park.

Any high profile player in the Sydney league was a target, and Miller was a public figure who had represented Australia in cricket and was an ex-VFL player as well.  As a sportsman, one couldn’t get more high profile than that.

The newspaper reports from the time verified that Miller was the target for footballers who played the man and not the ball. A July 1947 report from the Sydney Morning Herald stated, “While on the umpire’s blind side a Newtown player picked up Miller from behind and dumped him heavily. Miller received undue attention from a few Newtown players until the final bell.” Suffice to say that Miller’s football career in Sydney was short-lived – one season, as he was then in his thirties and perhaps not prepared for the lawless nature of football in Sydney, but in later years he was a representative on various committees who had the aim of improving the standing of the game in Sydney.

John Curtin
For some, just mentioning the topic of politicians is enough to put them to sleep, yet every so often there are great politicians who do make a difference and this is the case with John Curtin – Australia’s leader during much of World War II.

His most important moment in history came about in February 1942 when he refused Churchill’s request to divert  Australian troops to Burma so as to shore up the collapsing British front in that region. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was furious that Curtin disobeyed him, but Curtin wanted those troops to defend Australia, and not Burma.

The early months of 1942, when the Japanese were bombing northern Australia and seemed likely to invade the continent, were the darkest hours of the war for Australia – and Britain certainly could not help.  Those troops were eventually used on the Kokoda Trail and were vital in the protection of Australia against the Japanese forces.

John Curtin, our wartime leader, was also a passionate supporter of Australian football, and was a regular visitor of matches held at Trumper during the war. In 1943, he was reported to have gone into the rooms after 0ne game to speak to both teams. Curtin’s sad passing towards the end of the war is also linked to Trumper Park as the newspaper report of the Sydney Morning Herald on the 9th of July, 1945 mentions. It states:

Six thousand people stood in silence yesterday at Trumper Park in memory of the late Mr Curtin. The ceremony arranged by the NSW Australian National Football League, of which Mr Curtin was patron, was held before the first grade Australian Rules game at Trumper.

“The Minister for Transport, Mr O’Sullivan said: “We pay our simple homage to a great sportsman and the man that did so much to keep this country free. The president of the League, Mr Norman Joseph, replied that Mr Curtin was one of the game’s greatest supporters.”

The future:
There is no doubt that the history to the ground is immense, but what of the future? The present football playing tenants of the oval, the UTS Bats FC, have been told to move some of their home matches to Waverley Oval by the Sydney AFL.  The future of the oval is in jeopardy as the Sydney AFL consider the ground too short. This transference of matches has occurred despite the fact that Trumper isn’t as short as two grounds that are still in full-time use in the league: the University of NSW’s Village Green and Sydney University’s home ground.

There is a legacy there. Australian cultural heroes, such as John Curtin and Keith Miller, have graced the ground and have an ongoing link to the ground. It would be a shame to let that heritage go by the wayside just for bureaucratic reasons. Perhaps in the years ahead the ground will be lengthened and another 100 years of football history will be added to what has gone before.

Note: In the second part to this article on Trumper Park I will look at some of the legends of the game who have played at the ground.