Garth Burkett – Champion Footballer

            Garth Burkett

When researching football in NSW I came across a player who we would term today, as a “real gun”.

He is Garth Burkett who represented New South Wales against Victoria on the SCG in 1949 where he was named one of the best. He was chosen as vice-captain of the state side in the 1950 Carnival in Brisbane where again he was one of the best in the three games he played.

Garth Burkett was the coach of West Broken Hill between 1949 to 1951. As a 22 year old he came from the West Adelaide Club where he had won their best and fairest as a youngster in 1945 & 46. At the age of 17 was a regular member of the West Adelaide team.

What prompted him to apply for the coach’s job in Broken Hill is a mystery, although, it may well have been money. He was one of 15 applicants from South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania for the position and was joined at WBH with fellow West Adelaide player, Bob Lee.

He began work as a fitter and turner at the Zinc Corporation in Broken Hill in March 1949.

Burkett had already represented South Australia against Victoria and Western Australia as well as in the South Australian team that contested the ANFC Carnival in Hobart in 1947. At the time of his appointment at WBH he was regarded as the best player in the state of South Australia.

In his first season with West Broken Hill he took them to their first premiership in ten years and during his time at Broken Hill represented the league on a number of occasions. He won the league B&F Medal in 1949 and his club’s best and fairest award in 1949-50 & 51.

In 1952 at 24 and still in his prime, Burkett then accepted playing position at the Stansbury Club on the York Peninsular and together with former West Adelaide team mate and coach, Jack Broadstock, was instrumental in making the club one of the most powerful in the area.

Then in 1954 Burkett returned to West Adelaide and represented South Australia against Victoria in July of that year yet again being named as one of the team’s best in a losing match. He was again identified as one of West’s best in their grand final defeat against Port Adelaide.

In 1956 Burkett, still only 29 was signed as captain coach of the Myponga Club (south of Adelaide) in the then Southern Football Association (now Great Southern) at a reputed fee of two hundred and twenty five pounds (in excess of $7,300 today) , taking them to a flag in 1957. Ironically Burkett is not in the club’s best team 1946-66.

Unfortunately we can find no further information on Garth following the 1957 season.

He was a true champion who perhaps should have played in the VFL.

Don Roach Passes

Don Roach, a former commissioner with the NSW AFL and Chief Executive Officer with the Sydney Swans, died on Sunday.  He was 71 and is survived by his wife Shirley.

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.