FOOTBALL is a big part of life in the Mid West and always has been – that much is clear from match reports written way back in the 19th century.
That intertwining became even more closer with the founding of the highly successful Great Northern Football League in 1961.
And it has been a big part of my life since I moved to Geraldton in 1984. When I say football, I mean of course Australian Rules, the best form of football there is.
I think I have some authority on this as I grew up in Sydney when rugby league was undisputed king and rugby union and soccer were also popular.
League was better back then. Rule changes have made it predictable and the players - let’s be blunt - are usually inarticulate boofheads. League is now run-the-ball up from the play-the-ball five or six times to barge into better field position and then kick the ball into the air and hope it lands favourably and you score.
Scrums are now so meaningless I wonder why they bother but as a result there’s little difference between backs or forwards. These days they’re all big, mobile men willing to run into a brick wall of flesh time and time again.
Union was a game for the sons of lawyers, doctors and managers and therefore treated with disdain by working class suburbanites such as me.
Every now and then a union player would switch to league for the money but few succeeded. Playing a contact sport against a banker’s son who also played for fun was painfully different to facing a labourer who knew he had limited time to make money before age and injury caught up. Such men don’t play for fun.
Union is a better game now but its complex rules and mad scoring system can make it frustrating. It is now played by working class stock though generally they’re young men from New Zealand, usually Maoris, or various Pacific islands.
Of course there is soccer and given my background I should love it but frankly it leaves me cold. I know it’s the world game and that the World Cup is bigger than the Olympics but there’s something, well - unmanly - about it.
The game’s blatant yet tolerated cheating, the disrespect shown to referees and the long passages of boring play, cut no ice with me. Perhaps one reason the game is followed with such passion is supporters can always blame the referee if their team loses a close one. That must be a comfort but to me it’s whinging.
Aussie Rules is different. It’s fast, exciting, takes courage to play and requires precise hand and foot skills. It is a game where little things count such as shepherds, manning up, creating options by running into space and talk.
The first game of Aussie Rules I saw live was between Towns and Northampton at Wonthella. I only went because a girl I fancied was going but ended up entranced by the on-field action instead. (I never got anywhere with the girl).
I had seen Aussie Rules on TV but as the camera follows the ball, you don’t see the little things I mentioned. For the first time, I began to understand, the game’s mechanics. Aerial ping pong was wrong, aerial chess was more like it.
I was a convert and for good. And here I am, over 25 years later, still following the game, having written God knows how many words about it and, in this case, introducing a statistical history.
To start, there are many people I would like to thank for their encouragement and assistance in preparing these records.
First and foremost is Gary Clark. Though he made a bigger name for himself as a quality runner, even into his 50s and 60s, Gary was once a fine footballer who as a 17-year-old kicked a record 12 goals for Brigades on debut.
That has since been equalled three times by other Brigades players, but in almost 40 years, never bettered.
Gary was also an outstanding manager of the Geraldton branch of the Department of Sport and Recreation for many years. I’ve never heard a bad word about him and he was a great help to me when I was at the Guardian.
There were times when I took a break from compiling my records. The longest was after I was forced to leave the paper. These records were meant to be a tool to help me and anyone else who wrote about the GNFL and as I no longer worked there, it seemed pointless.
But Gary would encourage me to persevere without being pushy. I had completed my records up to 1980 and Gary told me that was enough but that he would support me if I wanted to finish the rest. I did and he did.
When I decided to resume, I needed to speed the process up so I hit on the idea of hiring a team from India to assist. I was inspired by a show on the ABC that dealt with telemarketers.
I figured if these people were willing to call legions of strangers with the same sales pitch for 10 hours a day, then collating stats from some game they didn’t know existed might appeal. I contacted the Australia/India Business Council and they put me in touch with a man named Shyam Rajamani. After discussions on method, I sent him photocopied results in batches of three or four years a time.
Shyam’s people would transcribe the details to computer, adding up goal scorers and best player listings, and then email them to me. It sped up the process immeasurably and the cost was minimal. Everybody was happy.
There are also many people at the clubs I wish to thank and though I’ll miss naming too many, I would like to mention some. I’ll run through the clubs in order.
At Brigades, there was Bob Bryant. Bob played in the early ‘60s and though not a star, was a great club man and kept the club’s records. He still does which is why Brigades’ records are the best of all as Bob is faultless.
Chapman Valley proved the hardest of the clubs as they have neglected their own history and few of the older generation were around. But Bernie Knight, Bob Cope, Ian Elliott and Derek Farrell came to the party and we got there.
Irwin was tricky as the club disappeared so long ago but I had help from Barry Caulfield and Clive Cross. Cross remains a legend at Railways but many have forgotten he did play and coach at Irwin in its last three years.
At Dongara there is only one person to thank – Jock Patten. He worked so hard to make Dongara a success in the GNFL. With just a few like-minded people around him, Dongara would have made it. I remember how hurt Jock was when Dongara pulled out. He gave his heart and soul to the club and had huge quantities of each.
I thought Mullewa would be the toughest of all but thanks to Mick Wall, it turned out to be easiest aside from Brigades. More than any other club, Mullewa has strong family links with Tunbridges, Simpsons, Comegains, Walls and others and to make matters worse, many players were better known by their nicknames.
For instance Graeme Taylor was always called Crummy and could be listed as either G or C Taylor. Trouble is, there was also a C Taylor, Crummy’s brother Claude. Thanks to Mick, I was able to sort those anomalies out. Clem Keeffe was also a help, especially with names from the ’60s.
At Northampton, I had help from Ross Drage and Bob Johnston but the deepest well I drew from was Haydn Teakle’s memory. Haydn also gave a me a list of players’ nicknames, many of which were wonderfully inventive.
To Railways, which I have always thought of, rightly or wrongly, as the league’s flagship club, and Ron O’Malley gave me a lot of time. He is a remarkable man and as our oldest surviving Clune Medalist, is to me at least, the GNFL’s patron. He was a great player true but has given as much to the Blues off the field.
With Rovers, I am greatly indebted to Alf Fiorenza. He also gave up much of his time to assist and thankfully, also has a fine memory. The records he kept were an excellent cross-reference.
With Towns, Graham (Podge) Jackson was a big help and I appreciated it as he was gravely ill at the time. I wish he’d lived long enough to see the finished result.
While Podge was handy with later Bulldogs history, I would have been lost with a lot of earlier information were it not for Trevor Monger. I rang Trevor and asked for his help and he invited me to his house. I had tea with Trevor and his lovely wife and we worked our way through my list.
Thankfully his memory is faultless (perhaps his wife would not agree) and I think Trevor is one of Towns’ five greatest ever players because Towns were strugglers throughout most of his career. But he never lost his desire to see Towns prosper. The club’s success over the past 15 years must thrill him.
I would also like to note Courtney Keeffe. He was Mullewa president when I attended a GNFL president’s meeting and asked for money to offset the cost of the above mentioned Indians. (Gary Clark had already sourced other funding).
I showed the presidents what I had done to that stage and though they seemed interested, I didn’t really seem to be getting my message across that the end product would be a resource of lasting value.
Now Courtney was also a cricketer and knew I had produced detailed records for A-Grade cricket and promised I would deliver for football. He committed some money from Mullewa FC but I appreciated even more that he put his own credibility on the line for me. One or two other presidents, trusting Courtney’s word, did too. I remember Haydn was one of them.
Finally, I would like to thank Barry Mitchell for getting these records out into cyberspace. Barry does a lot of work for football behind the scenes and his electronic wizardry at the JJ Clune night is just one example.
To conclude, I hope you enjoy these records and if you spot any errors or think you have something of interest, please contact me at