By Dr Rod Gillett
Danny Wilson, one of the leading goalkickers in Sydney football in the 1950s, led Sydney Naval to a grand final win over Newtown for the Sydney AFL 1960 premiership this time from the back pocket!
Playing in his 250th game, Wilson was named best player for Naval. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (9 September 1960) report of the game Wilson was “…Newtown’s biggest stumbling block. He repeatedly saved in the backline and made many clearing dashes which turned back the Newtown attacks”.
It was a stunning victory by Sydney Naval who trailed by 8 points at ¾ time but forged to the front at the start of the last term and despite a late comeback by the Blood-stained Angels to draw level with a goal with ten minutes to go; but Naval kicked the last two goals of the match to win by seven points.
It was Sydney Naval’s first premiership since 1944 when it beat RAAF in the grand final. At that time both teams were laden with active servicemen with VFL backgrounds who were stationed in Sydney during the war.
It was prior to the start of the 1944 season that the ‘Sydney’ Football Club received permission to add the title ‘Naval’ to its title. The club was the first one formed in Sydney in 1880. Playing in Melbourne colours, Naval was runner-up to North Shore in 1961, and then won the flag again in 1962, by again beating Newtown at Trumper Park.
Sadly, the club folded in 1971 after forfeiting both grades due to a player shortage in July; Naval had languished at the foot of the table from the late 1960s. The club had no juniors and were heavily reliant on navy personnel.
The captain-coach Sydney Naval in 1960 was, believe it or not, local product Jack Harding, who had returned from Fitzroy in 1956 to coach the club. Harding played 27 games for Fitzroy from 1952-54. He had started playing footy quite by chance. He went to a junior game at Moore Park in 1949 to watch a friend play but was coerced to play.
He went on to play seniors for Sydney Naval the next year and represented the league against Newcastle. Harding was captain-coach of the NSW team at the 1960 ANFC second division carnival in Sydney.
Jack who worked for the Sydney City Council, married Dorothy, the sister of team-mate Danny Wilson’s wife, Iris, better known as “Bubby”.
Danny had come to Sydney in 1946 and while serving in the navy and started playing for Sydney Naval in 1947 alongside legendary cricketer Keith Miller (later the first Chief Commissioner for the NSW AFL)
He served on the HMAS Shropshire until 1949 when he was discharged. Originally from Melbourne where he had played with South Melbourne Districts, he meet Bubby on shore-leave, married and settled in Sydney.
After leaving the navy Danny Wilson worked for Ron Bennett’s menswear, and in the sixties ran the store in King Street Newtown. Naval’s best player each week used to receive a shirt as a trophy from the store when Danny was club president from 1964-1970.
Wilson had a distinguished football career in Sydney. He played 340 games for Naval and kicked over 600 goals in a career spanning 1947-62 including two premierships. He captained Naval in 1953-54. He booted 87 goals in 1956 to win the league goal-kicking and won four club best and fairest awards.
He represented NSW on ten occasions including against Victoria at the SCG in 1949 and at the 1950 ANFC Carnival in Brisbane. He was named in the best players against Victoria on both occasions.
Danny Wilson was inducted into the Sydney Hall of Fame in 2006.
His son Brad (pictured left), who played junior football for Peakhurst and then rugby league for St George 1981-82 recalls very happy days with the whole family going to Trumper Park when his father was involved with Sydney Naval,
“My brother Ken (who had an illustrious rugby league career at Newtown including playing in the Bluebags grand final team in 1981) and I used to play kick-to-kick on the ground. We loved the atmosphere, it was so alive”.
“Then after the game the partition in the change rooms under the grandstand would be moved, and the players and their families would join together for food and drinks and a sing-a-long. Dad’s signature tune was That Old Black Magic. Mum and dad made so many friends through Aussie Rules. Jacky Dean and dad were great mates”.
Danny, Brad and Ken all kicked with their left-foot. Danny’s sons were famed in rugby league for their kicking and ball-handling skills. Ken once kicked the only point for a game in NSWRL history when he slotted a field goal for Newtown to win 1-0 against St George in 1973. Danny taught them how to kick drop kicks in the backyard of the family home in Bexley.
The left-foot Wilson kicking tradition continues with Brad’s son Matthew now on Sydney University’s NEAFL list. However, as a Norths junior product, he will ply his trade with North Shore in the Premier League this season.
Much of the information for this article was gained the Sydney competition match day programs going back to 1927. These are accessible from the Society’s website: click here