THE publication in 2005 of the book The Sandover Medal Men revealed a comprehensive coverage of every Medallist since its inception in 1921.

Fourteen of the 78 Medal winners profiled in the magnificent 470-page hard-cover book were wearing the royal blue-and-black colours of East Perth in their triumphant season.

Written and produced by football journalist (and East Perth Life Member) Alan East, the book offers an amazing insight to the thoughts, feelings and achievements of the game's stars.

The Sandover Medal Men is available at the East Perth club office for $52 a copy.

 

Alan Quartermaine

East Perth - 1975

Fact File

Born: November 23, 1951, at Katanning, WA

Games played: East Perth 108; WA 3

Guernsey No.: 14

Position: Half-forward/centre

Won Medal at age: 23

 

Footy wasn't always the main focus

IT'S obviously been a pretty interesting season when three players from the same team occupy three of the top four places in a Sandover Medal count.

There are just two cases of this happening in the WA Football League and the first was 1975 when Alan Quartermaine topped the poll with 16 votes, two clear of Peter Spencer and Ross Glendinning, with Stan Nowotny (Swan Districts) also receiving 14 votes. (The second time was in 2002 when fledgling WAFL club Peel Thunder had Allistair Pickett (33); Daniel Wells (27) and Darren Bolton (23) in the top four, with Ryan Turnbull (EP) also on 27).

But while Spencer claimed most of the 1975 media awards, the winner was the 15/1 outsider ... and even Quartermaine failed to take note of some last-minute happenings that would have given him an indication of the result.

Certainly former football journalist Bob Cribb, who was doing some marketing work for East Perth in 1975, admits to being a little slow on the uptake when he was dispatched to organise a dinner suit for Quartermaine and make sure he was at the Channel 7 studios in Tuart Hill for the Monday night count.

Quartermaine was a last-minute inclusion in the Royals group for the function, but he recalls the late invitation being extended the day before the count.

"Certainly I wasn't thinking about going to the presentation until I got the last-minute call," recalls Quartermaine. "But the penny didn't drop even when I got there. I had played some good games, but Peter Spencer, Ross Glendinning and myself would always share the best-player honours.

"I remember sitting with coach Ray Giblett, Peter and Ross and club President Hec Strempel. I polled in six games, but got four 3s, while Peter got votes in seven games and Ross in eight, but they were 2s and 1s.

"The games when I didn't get a three, the other two would split the top votes. We just robbed each other all year, but I didn't get a one vote.

"It basically came down to the last card when we played East Fremantle. Doug Green (East Fremantle captain) tells the story of how I got towelled up by David Hollins in the centre in the first half and was shifted to a half-forward flank. I really cut up and everything went right in the second half and I got the votes.

"Poor old Peter got switched into the middle, where Hollins was hot."

Quartermaine had come up through the junior ranks at Katanning, in the southern Wheatbelt, where his father Ross was a more-than-handy footballer, winning the Caris Medal for the fairest and best player in a country carnival at 19.

Quartermaine started in juniors aged about six and was in the Katanning Wanderers Great Southern League side at 15.

His coach was famed East Fremantle and State defender Con Regan, who later described Quartermaine as the best 17-year-old he had seen, while champion rover Barry Cable told him in 1978, when coaching East Perth, that he was the most talented player he had coached, "but also the slackest."

"I didn't have any affiliation with WAFL clubs; I didn't really support anyone," he says. "There was no television, but I suppose I supported East Perth if anyone mainly because Hec Strempel had been after me for a few years. Then Kevin Murray (Royals coach) came down and presented me with his jumper and I signed with them."

Quartermaine's focus on moving to the city in 1969 was for study, not football, but in his first year he played four games for the Royals.

"It usually came down to the pre-season; if I did one, I was serious about playing that year, but it wasn't whole thing," he said.

With his economics studies at the University of WA taking up his attention, Quartermaine played two years of amateurs, 1970 and '71, earning All Australian honours both seasons and playing in two grand finals, winning one and losing the other, with former East Perth player and later WA Football Commission chairman Peter Tannock as coach.

"East Perth did keep tabs on me in those two years, but they didn't push me to return," he says. "I was always going back to the club when my studies finished and I returned in 1972."

However, while that proved to be a Royals premiership year under Mal Brown, Quartermaine wasn't there on grand final day.

"I missed the grand final through suspension," he laments. "I got three weeks for undue rough play on Tractor (Wayne) Reynolds. It was a joke. The goal umpire reported me from 100 metres away. John Fuhrmann was the central umpire and he just shook his head and stood up at the Tribunal and said it was only a free kick.

"It was my first report and it came in the second semi-final and cost me the grand final and I couldn't play in Adelaide in the club carnival where Brownie had the famous fight.

"Even The West wrote an article saying the suspension was a bit harsh"

Quartermaine earned selection in the 1974 State side, leading to invitations from VFL clubs Geelong, Richmond and North Melbourne.

"But I had growing business interests in Perth and with my wife finishing a Masters degree that wasn't available in Melbourne, I decided to stay here," says Quartermaine. "The money in the WAFL was good then and Victoria didn't offer much more."

The 1975 season curtain came down with Quartermaine troubled by a groin ailment that has stopped many players.

"I played with osteo pubitis for my last four years and they didn't have operations to fix it then," he says. "Footy wasn't my main driver, as I was already in business, but I was a yard slower, where my speed had been a factor in those early years."

Quartermaine took the 1978 season off as he returned to University to do an honours degree in economics and didn't play any footy - missing out on a premiership year at East Perth.

He returned to the Royals in 1979, but only played two games before retiring with his injury ... but he wasn't out of football for long, being appointed General Manager of the struggling Subiaco Football Club.

After two years Subiaco, Quartermaine went back into the financial world, having previously been with Custom Credit, but now as a broker, dealing mainly in heavy equipment. He is currently a director of a group of companies that includes a finance broking arm, a mortgage broking company and an insurance funding firm.

Quartermaine's first wife Ann passed away leaving a daughter, Jessica and he has two children, Joel and Ellie, with his second wife, Erica, since divorced.

 

Ryan Turnbull

East Perth - 2001

Fact File

Born: September 23, 1971, at Mt Lawley, WA

Games played: Claremont 23, East Perth 155, West Coast 129, WA 6

Guernsey No. 50

Position: Ruck

Age when won Medal: 29

 

Lessons learnt at Medal counts

THERE is one thing that being a beaten favourite at a Sandover Medal count teaches you - simply don't expect too much in subsequent seasons.

Such is the case with Ryan Turnbull, the 2001 Sandover Medallist who had twice endured the pain of going to a Medal count as favourite, only to be disappointed, although he was a one-vote runner-up in 1999 to Perth ruckman Gus Seebeck.

Turnbull's 2001 win made history as he was the first East Perth player to claim a Sandover Medal, a grand final Simpson Medal and a premiership medallion in the same season - and that eclipsed some bygone champions such as Graham Farmer and Ted Kilmurray in the club's 1950s Golden Era.

There were plenty of other firsts for Turnbull, who finished with 313 games at three clubs ... and premierships at them all.

A teenage debutant and premiership player with Claremont in 1989, he was in the 1994 West Coast premiership side and then, when he thought he was "past it", he added two more flags with the Royals.

But back to his Sandover Medal triumph.

"I went to the 2001 dinner not thinking I was a contender," recalls Turnbull. "I made that mistake at previous Sandover counts when I was rated a chance to win. I was favourite in 1993 when Robbie West won (finished seventh) and again in '99 when Gus Seebeck took it out. But at least I was only just beaten. It's hard not to get influenced about being a favourite. You get phone calls from media people saying you're going to win and you build your hopes up.

"But in 2001, I had a lot more happening - we had the grand final coming up and I was more focused on team goals than individual rewards. Therefore, it was a shock because I really didn't think I was a chance. We'd had a good year with a top spread of players and I thought we'd all be taking votes off each other. And when I didn't poll a vote in the last round I thought I'd get rolled. But I held on."

Turnbull certainly dispelled any doubts about taking Sandover Medal celebrations into the grand final, winning the Simpson Medal for best-afield, keeping a ‘lid on things' as he put the Sandover victory into perspective.

When you examine the football pedigree of Turnbull, it's no surprise he became a much-decorated player - the only moot point maybe is that it wasn't for Swan Districts, the club where father John played 209 games, including that historic hat-trick of premierships in 1961-62-63.

Add the fact that mother Kaye was a daughter of Ted Holdsworth, a great goal-kicker for Swans and it's easy to see why Turnbull was a consistent player at two levels over 13 years.

Turnbull was tempted to take advantage of the father-son rule and play at Bassendean, despite living in Karrinyup. But he had played football at Christ Church Grammar School and with the Karrinyup Junior Football Club - often playing Alcock Cup and club football on the one weekend - and opted to follow his mates to Claremont.

While the tall Turnbull didn't represent WA at State Schoolboys or Teal Cup level, he did have a meteoric rise once he joined Claremont in 1989. Plucked out of a University of WA team mid-season, he played a handful of colts games before being promoted for a couple of reserves matches and finishing the season in league ranks, playing in a premiership side under Gerard Neesham.

"I turned 18 on the day of the WAFL grand final and there I was playing against Sandover Medallist Craig Edwards," recalls Turnbull. "We won by 81 points or whatever, so it was hard not to be satisfied with my first year."

That debut earned him an Eagles call-up in the 1989 AFL draft, only to fluctuate between the two levels. A difference of opinion between Neesham and West Coast coach Mick Malthouse about where Turnbull should be used at WAFL level led to his transfer to East Perth in a bid to boost his AFL chances and that resulted in 1994 AFL grand final glory.

"While I regard the Eagles premiership as the pinnacle of my career, I certainly treasure the Claremont flag and two at East Perth," says Turnbull, who has enjoyed tremendous support from his family, especially his father.

"He didn't pressure me to go to Swans, far from it," says Turnbull. "He was probably glad that I didn't; if I had gone to Swans there would have been that constant comparison."

Ironically, it was only his last two seasons that he was officially a Royal, having been "on loan" from Claremont via the Eagles. When he was de-listed at the end of 2001, he reverted back to being a Tiger and had to apply for a clearance to East Perth - even though he had already played 100-plus games.

"I did speak to Claremont out of respect," he says. "I met with coach Mark Riley and there was a slight temptation to go back. But I had some strong bonds at East Perth, especially with Tony Micale. And I know the way the boys play against guys who leave the club - they would have belted me from pillar to post! It was easier to play with them than against them."

There were several times during his loan period to East Perth when Malthouse wanted Turnbull to return to Claremont, especially when the Tigers were aligned to the Eagles. Malthouse's rationale was that Turnbull would be under the Eagles eye a lot more.

While Turnbull was in the East Perth camp in 2000 when they broke a 22-year premiership drought, he was a fairly regular Eagle and not eligible for the grand final.

An emerging young ruckman in Dean Cox was carrying the Royals big-man division and coach Micale - who doubled as an assistant to Eagles coach Ken Judge - involved Turnbull in the finals preparation, especially helping the young man who would soon advance to AFL ranks.

"I thought I'd missed the boat of any more premierships," says Turnbull. "Late in the last quarter I remember thinking I was ecstatic for East Perth, but I'd missed my opportunity; I would have given everything to be out there, but I wasn't qualified."

That opportunity presented itself the next season, when Turnbull played mainly at East Perth ... and shared the 2001 flag with brother Justin, who was a team runner.

Turnbull continued into 2004, but an eye injury received in the 2003 finals was to curtail his career.

"The eye was a big factor in retiring," he says. "I wasn't able to focus properly. Every-day viewing was fine, but it took time to pick things up such as a fast-moving football."

Married to Joanna with young Jack into his second year, Turnbull didn't miss playing football on his retirement and enjoyed some media commentary work for ABC Television on WAFL matches.

He looks back on his East Perth days with a lot of affection.

"They were an incredible group of blokes," he says. "There was a hard core of six or seven guys who had gone through some lean periods, especially the two-point loss to Claremont in 1996 and then they had watched the side slip away and flounder back to the bottom.

"I was ecstatic to win those two premierships and to collect a couple of individual awards along the way was just a bonus>'

 

William (Billy) Thomas

East Perth - 1929

Fact File

Born: February 20, 1903, at North Fremantle, WA

Died: April 28, 1968, at South Perth, WA

Games played: East Perth 114, WA 9

Guernsey No. 7

Position: Rover

Won Medal at age: 26

 

WCG tackled all aspects of football

PLAYER, coach, administrator ... there's not a lot in football that William Charles Gordon Thomas didn't do ... and it all involved the East Perth Football Club.

Known generally as WCG, or Billy, he had the right breeding, having been born into a Fremantle football family when the Port town was the hub of the game in the West. He learnt the sport in Geraldton and the Goldfields before joining the Royals to make his mark in the WAFL.

The son of prominent North Fremantle Football Club administrator Jack Thomas, who was reportedly a captain of one of the early Fremantle football teams around the late 1890s, Thomas jnr went to Geraldton as a six-year-old with his family, where he played football at school and in junior ranks.

In 1922, aged 19, he graduated to the Geraldton Railways Club, captaining the side in 1924 before being transferred as a Post Office telegraphist to Coolgardie, where he played in 1925 and part of 1926 with Kalgoorlie City.

When he was transferred to work at the Perth GPO in 1926, the East Perth officials spirited him away from the eyes of rival clubs, as it was too late in the season to obtain a clearance. He accepted the club's hospitality and attended training and it was a waiting game until the next season.

But when the 1927 season opened, the Royals had quality rovers in Larry Duffy and Val Sparrow filling the on-ball positions and Thomas had to be patient. However, two games into the season, injuries and illness saw that pair unavailable and the vacancy opened up for Thomas to make his league debut. Legendary captain-coach Phil Matson was ‘quite impressed' and the lightly-built rover was never dropped again,

Thomas quickly justified that promotion and was in the East Perth team that won its seventh flag under Matson.

Thomas won the Guthrie Gold Medal for the fairest and best player in 1928 and again in '29, the year he achieved the ultimate honour in WA football with a Sandover Medal.

In the era of single vote-casting by the umpire, Thomas and Subiaco great John Leonard each received five votes, but because the Lions rover had previously won the Medal in 1926, League President A.A. (Alf) Moffat declared that the award should go to the East Perth player - a decision reportedly conveyed to the Post Office telegraphist by telegram!

Thomas was a proud Sandover Medallist.

However, he often played down his Medal win, believing the fact that East Perth was down the ladder in 1929 and a relatively weak side helped him.

A right-footer, Thomas was an expert at the stab pass and was renowned for pin-pointing his kicks. He even used the place kick in a game.

"Young Easts have several champions in the team, but none has shone as brightly and consistently this season as Thomas," read one report.

Standing just 167cms, or a relatively small 5ft. 6in. in the old language, Thomas weighed in at 66kgs (10st 4lbs), but compensated for a lack of size with brilliant speed and great courage. His daring excursions into the scrimmages were nearly always capped by an accurate right-foot stab kick to an unmarked man. Brains and ability made him a valuable team-mate and a dangerous opponent.

In 1929, further successes awaited him.

Thomas was selected to represent Western Australia against Victoria and South Australia, named as the first rover and media reports indicate that he acquitted ‘himself with honour'. He was the only WA player to appear in every match at the 1920 Carnival in Adelaide, but in his typical modest manner, he only recalled his interstate games for the mistakes he made.

Thomas played through to the 1934 and '35 seasons, but only when needed in an emergency and then added just one game in 1936, which ultimately was a premiership year.

Son Keith Thomas remembers his last match:

"It was against South Fremantle, at Fremantle Oval. He always went to training, but he was 33 years old and hadn't been playing. One week they were short, so he filled in for the game and he paid for it; he was pretty sore for a few days."

Thomas coached the Royals in the 1942 under-age season and went on to serve for many years in administrative posts, as Treasurer from 1932-41 (after Fred Book took on the role of Honorary Secretary and Thomas volunteered while still playing) and President from 1951-55 and he also served as a League delegate for one season.

Team-mate and later league coach Val Sparrow described Thomas as a man of great integrity. "He was always ready to give a helping hand to those who needed it. He was a fine man."

 

Peter Spencer

East Perth - 1976, 1984

Fact File

Born: January 11, 1956, at Subiaco, WA

Games played: East Perth 185, North Melbourne 24, Subiaco 21, Claremont 2, WA 7.

Guernsey No. 3

Position: Rover

Won Medals at age: 20 and 28

 

Slice of history for ‘Spanna'

MANY Sandover Medallists have carved a slice of history with their victory ... and East Perth's Peter Spencer has a notch all of his own.

The affable ‘Spanna' won his two Medals eight years apart, creating the longest gap of any dual Medallist and while triple champion Barry Cable had his third victory nine years after his first, he did have one in between, with gaps of three and four years.

As a warm favourite in 1976, Spencer justified that status, but his victory in 1984 was not only part of a unique triple dead-heat, but was also a reward for a player thwarted by injuries.

After joining East Perth under the father-son regulation in 1974, straight from Aquinas College football, Spencer h ad a career with some remarkable highs and lows, finishing on 185 games for the Royals - the same tally as father Jim.

It seems Spencer was always destined to win a Sandover Medal as he captured the attention of the umpires from the outset.

In just the fifth game of his debut season, Spencer received a fractured jaw from a sickening clash against Swan Districts. He returned to add eight games before the season finished and still polled 14 votes in the Sandover, finishing equal fourth on 14 behind winner Graham Melrose on 20.

The 1975 season saw the Royals dominate the Medal leader's board as dashing half-forward Alan Quartermaine won with 16 votes, with Spencer and a third Royal in Ross Glendinning sharing second place (with Stan Nowotny) on 14.

So the 1976 season opened - and closed - with Spencer a Medal favourite, especially after scooping many media rewards, including The Weekend News and The Sunday Times footballer-of-the-year awards for a second successive season; the Tatt's Gold Cup and the Radio 6IX best player honours.

"I remember going to the Channel 7 studios for the vote count," recalls Spencer. "At the end of the first round, I was pretty well sitting where I thought I'd be, just off the pace with five votes. But it was the second round that did it for me.

"During the season Polly Farmer (coach) had me doing some additional running, as he felt I needed an extra edge against the blokes I was playing on in the centre. It obviously helped, because I got nine votes and then finished with seven in the final round of matches."

It was a low-key celebration after the Sandover victory, with team-mate Glendinning dropping Spencer off at his Manning home, where a few people had joined his parents, Jim and Betty.

"We were playing South Fremantle in the second semi-final that weekend and I was focused on the finals," says Spencer. "I started in the centre on Stan Magro and kicked two goals before copping a knock on the bum. We won, but it took a fair bit to recover, even though I did play OK in the grand final. But we were down to 17 men by the final siren and Perth were too good."

The low-key approach to the 1976 Medal count was in stark contrast to Spencer's 1984 win, with the function held in the Perth Entertainment Centre, then owned by Channel 7.

After an enormous build-up to the first Medal count open to the public, the event turned into a shambles, with a disappointing crowd, both in numbers and behaviour.

"What was disappointing was the crowd booing players," says Spencer. "It's a prestigious award and it didn't matter who was getting the three votes, they were booing all the time. The cheering and jeering was totally out of place for that night."

Despite the crowd reaction, the count itself was an amazing one as, for the first time, a three-way tie resulted ... and Spencer actually went home without a Medal.

Donor Robin Sandover always went prepared for a dead-heat, with a spare Medal in his pocket. However, when Spencer tied with Claremont pair Michael Mitchell and Steve Malaxos on 17 votes, Sandover was caught out and asked the Royal star would he mind waiting a few days, especially considering he already had a Medal at home.

"I had no qualms about not receiving it on the night," says Spencer. "I picked it up at the League later."

While Spencer agrees that 1976 was his best season and the first Medal remains his No. 1 highlight, he also rates his 1984 victory highly because it came after a sequence of injuries that would have stopped many a player.

A broken jaw, a fractured cheekbone, a number of concussions, a devastating pubic synthesis operation and right knee problems cost him more than a season in total games missed, including two matches out with concussion in 1984.

Those injuries changed Spencer's style of play, slowing him down and forcing greater use of handball to compensate, especially after the 1979 season when he also had his right leg in a brace after an operation for roughening behind the knee cap.

"I only had the brace on for 10 days, but the muscles wasted so much I never really regained power in that leg and subsequently lost pace," says Spencer. "That forced me to use handball as a weapon."

Spencer's two seasons with Victorian power-house North Melbourne (1981-82) saw him finish a promising eighth in the club's fairest and best first-up, but then injuries, coupled with the arrival of champion Claremont pair Jim and Phil Krakouer, limited his opportunities.

A further sequence of disappointing factors affected the culmination of Spencer's career.

A contract dispute at East Perth saw a move to Subiaco, where he played in the 1985 grand final side (losing to East Fremantle by five points), but he then fell out with coach Haydn Bunton over his playing style.

Spencer moved to Claremont, but received concussion in his second game and after missing the rest of that season, he returned to East Perth in 1987.

"After missing most of 1986, the neurosurgeon recommended that I retire. But I wanted to finish on my terms and also back at East Perth and Trish and the family supported me."

Spencer was runner-up in East Perth's 1987 fairest and best award; seemingly an apt justification of his decision to play on. In fact, the courageous on-baller finished first or second in the club's FD Book Medal in eight of his 11 seasons at East Perth.

"I was very satisfied with the comebacks and after that up-and-down journey to finish on the same number of games as dad was incredible," he says. "He had helped me all the way through my footy from under-10s and to finish together was unbelievable."

The 1978 season at East Perth was among the Spencer disappointments as he missed the grand final with injury.

"I just wasn't quite ready," he says. "I was Barry Cable's runner on the day, but really, I felt as much a part of the team as the bloke serving hot dogs on the hill. The premiership belongs to the players and the coach."

With father Jim a former Royals captain, there was never any doubt about Spencer joining East Perth.

Spencer, one of three brothers with Terry and David, played his junior football in Perth's district at Manning - which produced Wiley for Perth and Peake for East Fremantle at the same time, with renowned juniors mentor Jack Ivankovich as coach.

After an outstanding career with Aquinas College, in the Public Schools Alcock Cup competition, Spencer went straight into the league side in 1974.

 

Brady Anderson

East Perth - 1997

Fact File

Born: June 12, 1975, at Mt Lawley, WA

Games played: East Perth 33, Kangaroos 27, Swan Districts 31, WA 1

Guernsey No.: 3

Position: Wing, half-forward

Won medal at age: 22

 

Proving a point paid off

WHEN a footballer wins a Sandover Medal, the question is asked as to why he played so well in that particular season to attract the attention of the umpires.

In the case of Brady Anderson in 1997, his superb form can be traced back to what happened at Geelong the previous year - or rather, what didn't happen. After not getting a senior game and being de-listed, Anderson was determined to show he did have something to offer.

Anderson was hoping for another chance with Geelong, but after a shoulder reconstruction, the best they could offer was a spot on the Rookie List. Anderson decided that coming back to East Perth was his best option and he worked hard to get in good shape.

"I felt like I had been kicked in the guts by being de-listed, that's what made me a better player the next season," says Anderson. "After my shoulder reconstruction and the surgeon's news that it wasn't too great, Geelong said they would cut me.

Leading up to the 1997 Sandover Medal count, rumours were circulating about a leak in the voting, but Anderson was the last to know about the speculation. In fact, he was not even invited to the count originally, with a restricted number from each club. But he was a late addition to the Royals table - and even then he didn't react to the situation.

"When I got to the count, I was in the toilet and someone said I'd already won it and I just had a laugh. But as it turned out there had been a leak and some people did know, which resulted in a bit of an inquiry."

The rumours of victory put plenty of attention on Anderson early in the count, especially when he didn't poll a vote in the first six rounds.

"It was a bit embarrassing," he recalls. "I had a few beers to calm my nerves and then it just went so fast. It was a great night."

Even as the count progressed, Anderson never believed he could win. But when he received five votes in the final round and his name was announced, the victory finally sunk in.

"In the last round I needed five votes to win," he said. "Everyone was so pumped, my mum, dad, my friends, my Nan, they all came onto the stage and it was such a special night. My best memory was seeing Nan standing on a chair in the Casino later that night leading the guys in singing the East Perth song."

Anderson's win was also significant for another reason - 1997 was the year the WA Football Commission awarded Medals retrospectively to players beaten on a countback in bygone years. He still cherishes a photograph taken on the night of him standing between two other Royals - Frank Allen, who lost the 1950 Medal and the legendary Graham Farmer, who received a third Medal for his 1957 loss.

As a youngster, Anderson honed his football talents firstly with the Belmont juniors and then at Mazenod College, a strong Hills football school. Joining East Perth through zoning, Anderson quickly went through from colts to reserves and seniors.

"I started playing for the Belmont footy club at the age of four and when I was 13, I went to Mazenod, where I played until I was 17," he says. "I joined East Perth's colts in '91 and stayed until the end of '95, when I was drafted by Geelong."

Anderson's football dream took shape when he was selected at No. 68, but it was to be a tough road ahead.

"All I wanted to do was play AFL footy, so it didn't really matter who picked me up," he said. "It was good at Geelong, with Gary Ablett still playing and stars like Billy Brownless and Paul Couch. I was an emergency four times and one of those was after I'd had 42 possessions in the twos. After that, I thought I might not get a crack at it and once I did my shoulder that was it."

Anderson was determined to get back into the AFL and his Medal-winning effort earned that second chance - this time with North Melbourne, the club he barracked for as a kid.

"I had talked to a few clubs, but didn't get picked up in the draft, but got the call-up in the pre-season draft from North Melbourne," says Anderson.

"I was pumped as they were the best team of the 1990s. It was unbelievable with Wayne Carey, Anthony Stevens, Glenn Archer and so many more. It was great to be there, but because they were such an amazing side it was hard to break into."

In his first year at the Kangaroos (1998) Anderson played in the Ansett Cup (pre-season) premiership side and then made his AFL debut. However, despite a solid season, he missed a spot in the team for the finals and a subsequent grand final loss to Adelaide.

Even though Anderson's opportunities were restricted over the next two seasons, he was grateful to play in such a good side - alongside Carey; who he rates as the best player he's seen - and under coach Denis Pagan; whom he learnt so much from.

"I feel lucky that I got the opportunity to play AFL footy," he says. "There are so many guys in football a lot better than me who never got the chance."

After leaving North in 2000, Anderson and his future wife Annette moved to London for two years, where they started up a personal training business - and got married.

The break helped Anderson rekindle his desire to play football and on returning to WA, he was attracted to Swan Districts, who were looking to rise from the bottom of the ladder.

Anderson had a great 2003 season, averaging 25 possessions a game and formed a potent partnership with Sandover Medallist Shane Beros. However, the 2004 season saw Anderson hampered by injuries and with work commitments increasing, he decided it was time to retire for good.

"I really enjoyed my footy at Swans and we just missed the finals after winning only one game the year before," he says. "Then in 2004 I got sciatica and had bad hamstring problems. I found it hard sitting on the sidelines."

Most footballers have certain people who influence their careers and for Anderson it was his parents, his colts coach and most of all, Wayne Stevens.

"My parents, Pete and Lin, had a big influence," he says. "Ross Nash was a coach at the East Perth colts and he stayed as my mentor. Wayne Stevens rehabbed my shoulder the year I won the Sandover and he got me ready to play AFL the next year; he's been my best mate for years as well."

 

David Bain

East Perth - 1988

Fact File

Born: May 2, 1966, at Albany, WA

Games played: East Perth 72, Brisbane 86, Fitzroy 12; WA 2

Guernsey No. 3

Position: Rover

Won Medal at age: 22

 

Magical season for mighty midget

DAVID Bain's fourth and final year in the WA Football League reads like a football fairy-tale ... a nail-biting Sandover Medal win; an East Perth Fairest and Best and an AFL contract.

What's even more striking about his stellar 1988 year, however, was the rather unorthodox pre-season.

Born in Albany, in southern Western Australia and in a strong Claremont zone, Bain played junior football with Maylands when his family moved to the city - and that was East Perth territory, the WAFL club he supported.

After graduating through East Perth's under-age and colts ranks, the lightly-framed small man made his league debut in 1985, but felt like a change at the end of the 1987 season, so he played the summer in the tough Darwin competition and while he obviously missed East Perth's pre-season, he returned fitter and stronger.

That led to a solid year playing as a rover and the tenacious on-baller arrived at the Burswood Resort as one of the favourites for the 1988 Medal count.

Bain recounts his special night with great humility and though he celebrated in fine style, courtesy of East Perth's seventh position on the ladder, the memories remain vivid.

"It was an amazing night," recalls Bain.

"I was a pretty warm favourite, not that favourites had done all that well in recent years and a few team-mates such as Butch Baroni, George Giannakis and Gavin Hawkins had good seasons.

"It was a thrilling count, beating Craig Edwards by one vote. He went on to win the next season, so when we sit down now at Sandover Medal nights, we talk about the two counts.

"East Perth's season was over so we had a good celebration at the Burswood. We got home about 6am and the television crews were there at 7! Some team-mates were still there and we were all a little incoherent. One of the guys played the interview tapes at my 40th birthday recently and that was rather funny."

While that night was memorable and clearly sticks in Bain's mind, it did help to erase one of his more painful football memories.

Having established himself in the Royals team in his first two seasons, he was chosen in the initial West Coast Eagles squad at the end of 1986 to play in the expanded Victorian Football League (later the AFL). But as WA's entry into national football excited everyone, Bain was the last player cut before the final team was announced.

Despite the disappointment, Bain put in a solid 1987 season, after which he decided to tackle Darwin.

"t was an amazing experience playing with all the indigenous guys; they are so quick and really dominate and the white guys playing there were called cream puffs! It certainly was an initiation into a different brand of footy," he recalls.

This wasn't the last time Bain would face a change of script as he played top-flight football in three States over 10 years, compiling 172 senior games.

Bain's 1988 season influenced the Brisbane Bears, also new to the national league, to draft him as they collected players from around the country.

The move to Queensland was a challenge, not only leaving a State steeped in Australian Rules history, but moving to a new culture, complete with a glitzy corporate world in a State void of football tradition.

"I was thrilled to move to Brisbane after missing the Eagles," says Bain. "I didn't care where I played, I just wanted to be part of the new league."

Despite the big cultural shift, Bain was flanked by close friends, including his wife-to-be Janine and a host of WA footballers.

"Janine got into teaching and we ended up staying for quite a few years," says Bain. "We really loved Queensland and it was good having blokes like Alex Ishchenko, John Gastev, Mark Zanotti and Brad Hardie around. I was living with Alex for a while and being a former East Perth player and Maylands junior we knocked around a fair bit."

Amidst all the glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast, Bain continued his good form, winning Brisbane's Fairest and Best in his second season and polling well in the Brownlow Medal, finishing fourth, three votes behind winner Tony Liberatore.

In the era when AFL players were on the cusp of receiving handsome salaries, Bain balanced football with an off-field career, working in marketing after obtaining a degree at Edith Cowan University, in Perth.

"I had a day job, as the footy money wasn't enough to justify going full-time and most players were working at other things," he says. "The club encouraged this, which was good as there was certainly a holiday atmosphere on the Gold Coast. It was fairly easy to get swept away and plenty of guys didn't let footy stop a good time."

After 86 games and five seasons with the Bears, Bain found himself on the road to Fitzroy.

"I was drafted to Fitzroy in 1994 as part of a pre-season deal involving a few players," he says. "I was starting to play a few reserves games and I guess Brisbane were happy to get a trade for me. Fitzroy was certainly a change! They were struggling financially, but it was great to play in Melbourne and with a club that had a long VFL history and a real ‘playing-for-the-jumper mentality.'

"I had a mixed season, 12 senior games and 10 in the twos, but surprisingly I won the Gardiner Medal for the fairest and best player in the reserves competition."

Having etched his name into the Fitzroy records books, Bain hung up his AFL boots and returned to Queensland to wind down his playing days in the State league.

"It was a lifestyle decision to return to Queensland, with football not the main priority, although it was great playing for Southport, in the QAFL," says Bain.

Bain is now settled in Perth, working as a licensed real estate conveyancer in his own company, Kings Park Settlements, while wife Janine and young son Thomas, rising four, enjoy the easy-paced life of Perth.

Bain occasionally wonders where football might have taken him if the family had stayed in Albany.

"It was great when we came up, especially living in Maylands, because my grandparents barracked for East Perth," he says. "I went through to under 18s and then East Perth colts, when we finished runners-up under coach Greg Henderson."

Bain has certainly completed the full football circle - from under-10s with Maylands; into WAFL ranks with East Perth; to a Sandover Medal in the local league; then the national competition with two clubs and, finally, premierships in the Queensland State league.

"I have some great memories," says Bain. "I have strong ties with East Perth, having barracked for them all my life and developing through their ranks was special. However, I do have fond memories from the other clubs. Southport and the four premierships were particularly memorable; plus I enjoyed State-of-Origin football and just being a part of the newly-formed national league was tremendous.

"I played one State game at the WACA Ground and another at the MCG and running around with basically an Eagles premiership side was a real buzz."

Bain's selection in the 1990 Australian team under legendary coach David Parkin to play the hybrid Gaelic game against Ireland in Australia was another reward for his great season, with matches in Perth and Canberra.

While Bain obviously treasures all his football achievements, there is no doubting where the Sandover Medal ranks.

"The Sandover is right at the top of the tree," declares Bain.

"It's something as a kid you know about, but don't think you'll ever get close to it."

 

William (Digger) Thomas

East Perth - 1923

Fact File

Born: June 3, 1890, at Broken Hill, NSW

Died: October 6, 1953, at Perth

Games played: Subiaco 32, East Fremantle 17, East Perth 177, WA 6

Guernsey No. 1

Position: Centre

Age when won Medal: 33

 

Name synonymous with the game

THE name Thomas features twice in the first nine years of Sandover Medal history - but while the two winners were East Perth premiership team-mates, they were not related.

However, the football pedigree of William Alfred Benjamin Thomas - better known as Digger - is pretty impressive in its own right.

He had a Goldfields upbringing to mold his football foundation; he had a contemporary Medallist in George (Staunch) Owens as a cousin and he sired a 207-game league footballer himself - yet another East Perth star in Ritchie Thomas carrying on the name.

Thomas snr won the Medal in its third year, 1923, with Owens following in 1925 and then William Charles Gordon (Billy) Thomas claiming his Sandover in 1929.

That third Sandover Medal, in itself, has a slice of history attached to it. Historians have failed to find any reference as who he beat or how many votes he received.

The old East Perth Power House played an important role in the history of the East Perth Football Club's early years, with inaugural president Tom Guthrie helping organise employment for many players.

So it was somewhat fitting in a way that one of the early employees in Thomas passed away there when working as the caretaker in his latter years.

Thomas lived in the caretaker's cottage and had gone to the Power House at 9 o'clock one evening to do his regular checks and was found collapsed from a heart attack when the early-morning workers arrived, including son Ritchie.

Even in his early working life Thomas maintained the East Perth link.

Before joining the Power House as a fireman, he worked at the old Premier Theatre, in Bulwer Street, just near Perth Oval, which was owned by East Perth official Cyril Norton for many years.

Thomas was something of a football wunderlust even though he is one of only three players to feature in that historic run of five consecutive premierships, from 1919 to 1923. Cousin Owens was another, along with Larry Duffy.

Thomas had already notched a premiership with Subiaco, in 1913, before joining East Perth in 1915 - but even then he didn't settle at Perth Oval, having a one-year stint with East Fremantle (1917). He returned to be a part of that wonderful premiership era under legendary coach Phil Matson - who had been a team-mate in that Subiaco premiership line-up and then a rival centreman before linking up again at East Perth.

After his run of five premierships, Thomas ventured to Sydney in 1924 and coached the Paddington Aussie Rules team and then journeyed to Melbourne to play with Richmond - but when he couldn't get a clearance (as was common in those years) he rejoined East Perth.

He was back in time to add the 1927 premiership to his glowing record, although in his absence Matson's Royals had also claimed the 1926 flag.

Thomas rates renowned Victorian centreman Ivor Warne-Smith as the best he played against - at the 1924 Sydney Carnival. On the home front, Thomas liked the style of latter-day midfielders in West Perth's champion wingman Stan (Pops) Heal and Clive Lewington, the South Fremantle fellow-Medallist and a centreman of class.

Thomas also had many classic battles in the centre with William (Nipper) Truscott, the legendary Goldfields player who joined East Fremantle in the 1920s. While Thomas was judged to have won the duel on some occasions and been shaded on others, Truscott had the superior disposal skills, but the East Perth star possessed greater pace and was stronger in the air.

Thomas married Myrtle and had two children, both of whom are deceased. Son Ritchie's widow Doreen lives in a retirement village north of Perth, while daughter Muriel's surviving husband, Roy Avins, lives south of Perth, near Mandurah. Thomas' second wife Maude had one child by a previous marriage.

Ritchie Thomas inherited his father's dedication towards physical fitness and after his 1946 retirement following his long career with the Royals, he often featured in the club's pre-season preparation. Together with wife Doreen, he ran the popular Lancelin Hotel, at the coastal resort north of Perth, where the many sandhills provided the menu for a hearty physical fitness challenge for the players.

A fitness guru with an Army background, Ritchie played four games with Essendon during World War II - something that his father had been prevented from doing.

Some 30 years after his Sandover Medal victory, the Mirror newspaper had this interview with Digger Thomas on June 6, 1953:

Down at the East Perth Power House, the bright, chirpy boiler cleaner, toils.

W. (Digger) Thomas, one of the greatest centremen to pull on a jersey, is a hale and hearty 63 and treasures among his football souvenirs the 1923 Sandover Medal, the third-ever presented and the first won by a centreman. He was 34 when he won it!

He started his football with Warriors, at Kalgoorlie, in 1908 at the centre and specialised in that position almost exclusively until he put away his togs about 1928. In later years, he was at half-back and half-forward.

Digger came to Perth in 1911 and started with Subiaco and was in their premiership team of 1913.

Few people know that Digger then played a season with Old Easts, being their centreman in 1917, having crossed from East Perth and transferred back to the Royals in 1918.

In 1915 he started with the club with which history links him most - East Perth and participated in the famous five premierships of 1919-23.

Digger played in the Carnivals of 1914, '21 and '24 and played at the pivot in all of them, sharing that position and the wing with Nipper Truscott at Sydney in 1914.

In the 1921 Carnival at Subiaco he was in such sparkling form that Victoria tried six men on him at various stages. They all took a shellacking.

Digger says that some of the hardest players he found to beat in club football were Truscott, Subiaco's Jack (Snowy) Hamilton and South's Norman (Snowy) McIntosh.

He played against his subsequent coach and close friend Phil Matson at the centre when Matson originally played for Subiaco and says of him: "Now, there was a footballer!"

He rates Mick Cronin as the best player he has seen of the moderns and places him among the best of all time.

The game he enjoyed the most? The 1921 clash with Victoria.

"I wouldn't have minded getting killed in that", he said.

The main attribute of a centreman? Brains.

 

Frank Allen

East Perth - 1950

Fact File

Born: December 5, 1926, at East Perth

Games played: East Perth 190, WA 11

Guernsey No.: 2

Position: Wing

Won Medal at age: 23

 

 

Celebrations a long time coming

IT'S not often someone has to wait nearly 50 years to celebrate an important personal achievement ... but East Perth wingman Frank Allen was a patient man.

After enjoying the elation of sharing top votes in the 1950 Sandover Medal count with East Fremantle's Jim Conway and then suffering the immediate disappointment of losing on a count-back, it was 1997 before Allen finally received a Medal of his own.

When the WA Football Commission awarded retrospective Sandover Medals to the seven people who had missed out on a count-back or - as was the custom in the early years - on the casting vote of the League president, Allen was delighted to dust off his dinner jacket and finally attend the Sandover Medal dinner in 1997.

As an added bonus, that year produced another East Perth Medal victory with Brady Anderson claiming the honour and so Allen took his place on stage with a current-day star and a legendary club champion, with Graham Farmer also receiving a Medal retrospectively.

And Allen hasn't stopped smiling since!

"I was absolutely delighted when the retrospective Medals were presented," says Allen, a sprightly, lively character into his 80s. "I was at my daughter's place in New South Wales when I received a telephone call from Jeff Ovens, the CEO at the Football Commission.

"We had plenty of time to get home from Sydney before the presentation night, which was absolutely terrific; I was on cloud nine. All the retrospective winners were well-accepted by the other Medallists and we really felt part of the club, especially spending time on stage for the presentations.

"I got my first phone call at 6 o'clock the next morning; it was from a kid in my class at school, who hadn't played football because he had a club foot. But he rang and said he'd never been so proud in all his life knowing he had been at school with a Sandover Medal winner. I had four days of phone calls - it never stopped ringing, especially people from other sports."

That was certainly a different scenario to 47 years earlier when Allen, the young accountancy graduate, was at a friend's house doing his books after hours when they gathered around the radio to hear the 9 o'clock news, which traditionally gave the result of the Medal count.

"We heard the newsreader say that Jim Conway had won the Medal on a count-back from Frank Allen," recalls the Royals star. "I was a little shattered; it was strange to hear your name read out in a situation like that. I read more about it in the paper the next day. I felt as though I'd won it, but didn't win it - people were congratulating and consoling me. The first thing I did was send a telegram to Jim Conway, saying ‘heartiest congratulations, well-deserved and I was proud to be runner-up.' He responded with a note of thanks."

Both players had polled 23 votes - seven ahead of West Perth's Stan Heal - and with each receiving four first votes, the count-back went to second votes, with Conway receiving five and Allen three.

Like many footballers in his era, Allen's career was affected by the years of World War II - delaying his start in seniors after playing his junior footy with North Perth in the Temperance League.

Born in Bulwer Street, opposite Perth Oval, Allen was always going to be a Royal and he debuted with East Perth in the under-age War years, playing 38 games, which included a premiership with the unbeaten team of 1944.

"After those War years I was in the Navy and didn't play for two seasons, resuming in 1947," says Allen. "In 1948, I had a pretty good season, but '49 wasn't such a good year. However, I played the 1950 season on a wing, missing one game when the Australian Carnival was held and another when my brother got married."

After graduating through the under-age years, Allen went on to be a solid performer when open-age football resumed and when Jack Sheedy arrived at Perth Oval in 1956 to launch the golden era of the Royals, he was there waiting.

However, while Sheedy and Co. achieved a first-up premiership in 1956, Allen wasn't in the victorious side - a knee injury forced his retirement before the finals, finishing his senior career on 152 games.

But that wasn't the end of Allen's football days.

He went coaching in the Sunday League with Hellenics and then returned to Perth Oval to coach the East Perth reserves in 1954 and the thirds in '57.

The speedy wingman enjoyed his latter playing years, especially watching some of those young stars develop into real champions.

"Polly Farmer was 16-years-old when he came down to Perth Oval; he was still growing, but blossomed by '56 as an established ruckman," recalls Allen. "He was a real dedicated player and always said that if anything interfered with his football, he would give whatever it was away - he had a footy in his hands every moment of the day and trained continually, perfecting kicks and handballs.

"We had plenty of real tough characters in that era - blokes like Jack Hunt, who was hard, playing on the ball or in a back pocket; Colin Pestell was nicknamed ‘rubber chest' because he was a converted rugby player and had trouble marking the ball, but he was so big and stopped plenty of blokes. Charlie Walker was a log chopper and could certainly swing a mean elbow or two.

"We had some handy forwards as well, especially in the 1950s. Billy Roe came down from Darwin and while he couldn't handle the cold weather, he was beautifully skilled and when the warmer weather - and the finals - arrived he was a star. But he later had a terrible car accident and busted his leg.

"We had key forwards like Jack Smith, Billy Mose and Neil Hawke who were all stars. Mose was an outstanding kick at goal with his drop-kicks, while Hawke introduced the drop punt to local footy."

Allen worked all his life as an accountant, mainly in his father's electrical business in Mt Lawley, where he finished in a management role. He also worked at the WA Cricket Association as an accountant - and in his retirement, he's still involved with the home of cricket, working as a volunteer tour guide at the world-famous ground.

Allen also found himself involved in another ‘football battle' in his retirement days as he lobbied long and strong to persuade WAFL and East Perth administrators to include those under-age games in the official tallies of players - a factor that later helped the Royals star to be eligible to join the 200 Club, with his 38 under-age games added to his 152 senior matches and 11 State games putting him on a much-deserved 201.

Married to Margaret, a brother of another Royal in Ken Haley, in 1953, the couple has two sons and a daughter, adding six grandchildren to the family.

 

Graham (Polly) Farmer

East Perth - 1956, '57, '60

Fact File

Born: March 10, 1935, at North Fremantle, WA

Games played: East Perth 176, Geelong 101, West Perth 79. WA 31, Victoria 5.

Guernsey No.: 25

Position: Ruck

Won Medals at age: 21, 22 and 25

 

The legend spread across the nation

THE Graham Farmer mantelpiece is over-laden with silver and gold trophies, ranging from 10 fairest and best medals at three clubs, three Simpson Medals - two in the interstate arena, one in a winning grand final side - a Tassie Medal for the best player in an Australian Carnival ... and, of course, a hat-trick of Sandover Medals.

While Farmer left an incredible - and indelible - mark on Australian football as he progressed from a raw ruckman to a master of the craft, it was four years into his career before the first Sandover Medal arrived. The 1956 year was the first with former East Fremantle star Jack Sheedy in the coaching seat at East Perth and it was a great season for Farmer.

The Australian Carnival was staged at Subiaco Oval between June 14 and 23, when he won a Simpson Medal against South Australia and capped off the series with a Tassie Medal for the best player overall. He went on to collect his first Sandover leading into the finals, with the Royals winning the first of three premierships in six grand finals.

Universally nicknamed "Polly", Farmer has often said that he didn't consider individual honours as important as his premiership achievements; he sees football as a team game and, therefore, things like Sandover Medals should not be rated higher than team achievements.

"I have never considered individual awards as a major part of my career," says Farmer. "They are individual rewards and if you start thinking individual, what's the point of playing a team game. I was playing in a team comprising 20 players and everything was a team effort."

Subsequently, Farmer's memory of where he was on Sandover Medal night and how he felt are vague - but wife Marlene certainly recalls the night of the 1956 Medal triumph.

"We weren't married then, but we had gone out together, giving a friend a lift into town," she recalls. "We were going to the Canterbury Court dance hall in Beaufort Street and we stopped off at a nearby delicatessen, which was run by a player Pol knew pretty well.

"He told us the result, so we went straight back to my parents place in Cottesloe, where Geoff Christian, from The West Australian, was waiting to interview him."

While Farmer had been a contender for the 1956 honour, he wasn't favourite and it was one of the lowest and closest counts in years. With one envelope to open, Farmer was on 12 votes, with team-mate Tom Everett and Perth's Reg Zeuner two ahead and Cliff Hillier (South Fremantle) and Frank Walker (Perth) one in front.

"I had not listened to the count because I didn't think I could win it," Farmer said at the time. "I didn't think I had played consistently enough and or played enough good games to warrant the award."

The 1957 Medal was the year Farmer tied with arch-rival Jack Clarke and lost on a countback and had to wait 40 years before he received his award retrospectively.

In 1960, Farmer's 26 votes was the highest for 16 years under the old 3-2-1 system and his only recollection of the night was that "I was expected to win the Medal because I had won most of the other media awards."

It's common knowledge that Farmer doesn't hold a high opinion of league umpires - the men who award the Sandover Medal votes - and, therefore, he is generally reluctant to comment on Medal victories.

But despite Farmer's personal feelings, countless other awards and accolades have gone his way, including the Queen's honour of an MBE for services to football; Legend status at both the AFL and WA Halls of Fame; an inaugural inductee at the West Australian Hall of Champions; All Australian selection three times; six premierships (two as a coach) and coach of the WA team to beat Victoria in the inaugural State-of-Origin interstate clash.

While that 1977 match changed the direction of interstate football and, subsequently, led to the national AFL competition, Farmer himself changed the face of football with his destructive use of handball.

A young man emerging from the Sister Kate's Orphanage in suburban Queen's Park, Farmer was always determined to become a performer of excellence in the football arena, certainly seeing the sport as a way to overcome any handicaps his Aboriginal ancestry might impose on his life.

He is dismissive of his early football days, especially at the John Forrest High School - ironically near East Perth's headquarters at that time, Perth Oval - and with suburban Kenwick. But he was tall and therefore handy and was enticed to Perth Oval as a raw 18-year-old in 1953 - and that was after training with Perth, at the WACA Ground, for much of the 1952 year as Demons stalwart Jack O'Dea transported the youngster from his city workplace, only to see the man emerge as a champion with arch rivals East Perth.

His handball was moulded by Sheedy, who saw it as an attacking weapon, rather than a defensive tactic. He exploited the art in East Perth's run of grand finals and then went to Victoria and conquered the old VFL (now the AFL) with Geelong. He was the instigator of the club winning its first premiership for 14 years.

Farmer went to Melbourne because he wanted to play at the highest level of football and he trained with a relentless purpose.

His work certainly paid off - 1963 saw him dominate the VFL competition, winning three cars in various media awards and guiding Geelong to grand final glory.

Farmer's handball and leaping ability were two major factors in his football, but there was another equally important component - consistency.

The ability to perform week-in week-out regardless of the conditions was important to Farmer; he saw mental preparation as the grounding for his consistency and he developed motivational tactics well in advance of today's more-modern football coaches.

There were certainly some hiccups on the Farmer road to success, especially a couple of close shaves with death as a young man.

Firstly, he narrowly escaped death by electrocution as he did some handyman work around his Perth suburban house and then two blocked arteries caused concern, but he fortunately got to hospital quickly for treatment.

"I could have gone down the tube on both of those occasions," says a now-retired Farmer, who spent many of his latter years running a suburban motel with his wife Marlene before airline troubles and the SARS virus rendered the business unviable.

"My whole attitude to life changed, I became a day-to-day person, with my main interest in playing footy. I became a husband and father and had responsibilities, but footy came first."

In Farmer's era footballers had to work for a living and after training as a mechanic, he switched to the sales industry and worked assiduously at the task of learning the ropes with an auto parts company. In fact, he once invested the princely sum of 300 pounds on a specialised training and motivational course.

He then moved into the motor vehicle industry as a salesman and it was in the car yard that a Farmer folklore story emerged. When times were slack, he would bring out the footy and practice his handball through open windows of cars on the lot - gradually closing the window as he honed the art.

When Farmer returned to WA he wanted to coach, but East Perth still had Sheedy in control, so the big ruckman accepted the playing-coach role at arch rivals West Perth. He didn't see the move as anything other than a career decision.

"I didn't have a problem going to West Perth because I knew they had a strong board and if the team wasn't going well, they would go out and get the players," says Farmer. "We won two premierships in three years, beating East Perth in both grand finals."

Farmer's 18 years of football was only seriously disrupted by injury once - in 1962, his first season with Geelong, when he dislocated a knee and only played five games.

He retired aged 36, with the 1971 grand final victory his last match - a feat seldom achieved by any sports person.

"That was something of a fairy tale finish for me," says Farmer, who certainly left his stamp on the sport, especially with sons Brett and Dean playing the game at WAFL level and daughter Kim being a devout fan of all three.

 

John Ironmonger

East Perth - 1983

Fact File

Born: February 16, 1961, at Perth

Games played: East Perth 76; Sydney 45; Fitzroy 43. WA 4, NSW 1

Guernsey No.: 1

Position: Ruck

Won Medal at age: 22

 

Big John survived a big surprise

WINNING a Sandover Medal has created many different reactions and emotions for the victors over the years and East Perth giant John Ironmonger was certainly the most surprised person at the Sheraton Perth Hotel when the 1983 count was conducted.

Standing an imposing 200cms (6ft 7in) tall, Ironmonger was far from a favourite going into the count and though he polled impressively in the early stages, he was never considered a serious contender.

Until the end, of course, when he found his name on top of the leader board, sharing the honour with Perth's Bryan Cousins on 16 votes under the old 3-2-1 system.

It was a remarkable Medal count, with Ironmonger bolting out to an early lead after 10 rounds, with four best-on-grounds making him look a likely upset winner. He didn't receive any further votes, but hung on in grim style as the packing field chased him home.

With the count being telecast live, Channel 7 compere Peter Waltham had the full house in the Sheraton's Golden Ballroom sitting stunned and silent and a big TV audience at home wondering what was to come as a quick check of the records revealed that two second votes obtained by Ironmonger were decisive.

There was more than the honour and glory of the Sandover Medal at stake.

It was during a rich era of football sponsorship, with Channel 7 offering $25,000 in prizemoney for the Sandover Medal, with the winner receiving $20,000. Runner-up Cousins claimed $3000 and South Fremantle pair Stephen Michael and Brad Hardie shared third place, with the latter taking the $2000 prize on a count-back.

It was a huge night for the young Margaret River footballer in just his third season in the big city league.

"East Perth weren't in the finals and the players had enjoyed a pretty big wake the previous day as our season had finished," recalls Ironmonger, who now lives and works in the United States, but still pays attention to local football.

Ironmonger, who was a typical developing big man whose body and physique was still emerging from a lanky frame, didn't rate his Medal prospects and certainly wasn't tempted by the 50/1 odds on offer before the count - in the days when Sandover Medal betting was readily available, if not entirely legal.

"Certainly on the night I didn't think too much about the count-back rules that were in place at the time. That's just how it was in that era. I had won the Medal and wasn't thinking too much about the "what ifs". When the League changed the rules later and award Medals retrospectively, it didn't change what had happened at the time.

"I'm certainly very happy that Bryan Cousins received a Medal and it is recorded as another piece of football history. He deserves it."

As a young man from the country, the whole WAFL scenario was mind-boggling for Ironmonger and certainly winning $20,000 was hard to comprehend for the university student.

"Even though I had a cheque in my pocket, it didn't sink in for a few days," recalls Ironmonger. "I ended up using the money as a down-payment on a house.

"The whole experience seemed quite unreal. I couldn't get a grip on how a country kid like myself could be at functions where my football idols were gathered. I can remember being on the Fat Cat show on TV and doing the Lotto draw. It was a busy month."

Winning the Medal certainly put Ironmonger in the focus of AFL talent scouts and he was recruited by the Sydney Swans in 1985, moving to the Harbour City and notching 45 games in three seasons during a time when the former South Melbourne club rose from 10th to finish second and third. Coached by the legendary Tom Hafey, the Swans bowed out in straight sets, losing the qualifying and first semi in their finals encounters.

"Playing at the Swans during the Geoffrey Edelsten years was fun. A winning team and living in Sydney was a tremendous combination, but we experienced disappointing finals series in 1986 and '87.

"When I moved to Fitzroy, it was a whole new thing. The Melbourne footy scene was awesome; the fanaticism of the supporters was amazing. We had a lot of enthusiasm at Fitzroy, but not much success.

"I played football because I enjoyed the game. While the interest in my football from the VFL clubs had given me a belief that I could play at that level, I can't say that it had been a boyhood ambition. I'm sure an award like the Medal makes people more aware of a player and adds credibility to your story. However, it doesn't change the way you play or make it any easier to perform in subsequent years."

Ironmonger played junior football for Augusta, the deepest point on the south coast and he came up through the local Augusta-Margaret River competition. While he was often the tallest player in the team, he wasn't the heaviest, growing at lot around 13 or 14, but not filling out with any real physical strength until he was about 24 - as he made his move to the VFL.

"I started playing when I was about eight years old and in those days there was only under-13s and under-16s, so I played out of my age group for a while," says Ironmonger.

"I played full-back for a lot of those early years and once, when I was about 14, I started in the ruck. I had to go to Bunbury to finish high school and played under-18s for Carey Park in the stronger South West League.

"I moved to Perth in 1979 to attend the University of WA and started training with East Perth and playing reserves. Eddie Pitter was coaching the under-18s at the time and had a significant influence on me over these early years. When travelling to Perth in the 1978 season I stayed at Eddie's place most of the time. Grant Dorrington was coaching the reserves when I moved to Perth and then the seniors when I started playing in 1981."

Ironmonger has worked in computers since graduating from UWA, joining the customer support group at NEC when he moved to Sydney. After a stint at writing and teaching computer classes, he joined IT group Novell after his Fitzroy days, as manager for Australia and Asia Pacific. He transferred to San Jose, California in 1996, managing a group who designed and built their world-wide network of internal office communications.

Height and basketball or netball certainly run in the family, with sister Sally Ironmonger a long-term Australian netball player and Ironmonger's 15-year-old daughter Ellyce, who is 190cms tall (6ft 3in), has been a State basketballer for three years.

Chloe (13) is also a keen basketballer, while Ben (9) is a football fanatic and Abbie (9) "is into anything she can get her hands on."

 

Malcolm Brown

East Perth - 1969

Fact File

Born: October 26, 1946, at Mt Lawley, WA

Games played: East Perth 166; Richmond 14; Claremont 12; South Fremantle 10; WA 16

Guernsey No. 1

Position: Ruck

Won Medal at age: 22

 

Long story with many highlights

MALCOLM Gregory Brown surely ranks as one of football's most colourful characters with a controversial past that gives him media mileage 40 years after his debut as a WAFL teenager.

The achievement of being a young Sandover Medallist in 1969 and a triumphant premiership captain-coach of East Perth three years later are two highlights ... but there's more!

"Premierships are what you play for; especially as a coach," says Brown. "But winning the Sandover Medal is important individually. It's certainly my biggest award, but I also value being named All Australian captain in 1972; the first player from outside Victoria to receive that honour after we won the Carnival in Perth."

There are many football followers who claim Brown would have won multiple Sandovers if he had avoided the umpires ... and Tribunal chairman Bernie O'Sullivan, with whom he later forged a genial friendship.

Victorian football legend Kevin Murray was captain-coach when the precocious Brown arrived from Scotch College as yet another recruiting coup for Royals secretary (and later President) Hec Strempel.

"When you are young and playing footy you don't go out deliberately to get reported or get involved with umpires," says Brown. "All you think about is your team winning first and then how you play. A lot of people said that if I settled down I could win the Medal and certainly Jack Sheedy drummed that into me."

Sheedy, the Royals captain-coach who orchestrated the club's golden era of the 1950s-60s, returned for a one-year stint in 1969 and threw the challenge out to Brown. He used him mainly on the ball, but often at centre half-forward, where many critics rated him one of the cleverest in the game.

"I was nervous about the Sandover Medal, particularly on that Monday," recalls Brown. "The papers had me 6/4 favourite, one of the shortest ever. I had won all the media awards, including The Weekend News, the TVW7 and ABC awards; the Tatts Gold Cup and a couple of radio station player-of-the-year honours.

"I kept wondering whether the umpires saw it the same way; if I'd get any votes or not. I thought how embarrassing it would be if I didn't poll; after all, I didn't really have a good relationship with the umpires. All I wanted to do was at least get some votes. Everyone built me up and I just wanted to do OK.

"While my '69 season was obviously good, most people and myself included felt my best year was 1972, when I also won most of the media awards, but finished second to Ian Miller in the Sandover.

"In one year, 1969 I think, I won a pink Valiant from a radio station, 6IX or 6PM. I was a bit shocked and don't think I ever drove it; would you?"

It was somewhat ironic that Brown didn't add the 1972 Sandover to his spoils because he wasn't at the ceremony anyway.

As the 25-year-old captain-coach of the Royals, he was focused on winning the premiership, with Claremont hot favourites. He had planned a pre-grand final build-up for the players that included seeing the movie The Godfather and when it clashed with the Medal count, he wasn't budging.

"That caused some controversy," says the unflappable Brown. "But it had been planned well in advance. I wanted to win the grand final."

While Brown is proud of his Sandover achievement, it is his coaching - especially premierships, firstly as a young player with East Perth and then as a non-playing coach with his original love, South Fremantle - that satisfies him the most.

"My coaching just evolved, it wasn't planned," says Brown. "I played because I loved the game; I probably got fined more than I ever received as a player. I looked at it like the money was for training, not playing. I didn't enjoy training, running through sand-hills and all that, getting blisters, vomiting ...

"I was very lucky with East Perth; we had an excellent group. Chaddy (Derek Chadwick) was marvellous; blokes like Jack Sheedy, Brian Macgregor, Laurie Kennedy and so forth were terrific."

The 1972 premiership was a major triumph for Brown.

He formed an alliance with football journalist Geoff Christian as they orchestrated one of the game's most successful ‘con-tricks' leading up to the grand final.

With a little media deception, the propaganda was fed to their rivals about how the Royals were tackling a sand-hills training programme when, in fact, they were working secretly on the firm grounds of Hale School.

"East Perth had been training on the muddy Perth Oval and the players' legs were tired," says Brown. "So we opted for firm grounds while telling a few porkies and other clubs fell for it and tried to match us. Subsequently, they had weary legs in the finals."

The ultimate 15-point victory over Claremont led to yet another chapter in the Brown book of controversies.

In an era when club presidents reigned supreme over after-match celebrations for VIPs, Brown fronted up with his victorious team ... but was refused admission to the crowded room.

"Old Fred Book told me I could come in, but no-one else," says Brown, who had a marvellous relationship with the legendary Royals President. "So I took the team and a few supporters up to the nearby Norwood Hotel and celebrated before going back to the members."

Born in Mt Lawley, in the heart of East Perth territory, Brown grew up in the Wheatbelt town of Dowerin, where his parents Archie and Eileen ran the local store and he was a devout follower of South Fremantle, mainly because of charismatic forward John Gerovich.

While boarding at Scotch College in the early 1960s, Brown often snuck out to play football with Cockburn, spirited into the team under an assumed name by his mentor Lewington.

But it was the recruiting talents of Strempel that snared his signature for East Perth; a decision that gave Brown split emotions given his feelings about Souths.

"I still remember being a guest at a South Fremantle lunch and seeing committee blokes getting stuck into the drink and that didn't impress me," says the blunt Brown.

These days Brown and wife Kaye are well-settled in Melbourne, where his football loyalties are with Hawthorn as he watches son Campbell develop into a class AFL player.

He does have feelings for Richmond, where he played a controversial 1974 season, notching 14 games, only to miss their premiership when suspended for throwing the football at an umpire ... even though he reckons he missed!

Brown works as a business consultant to the Concord Park transport company, looking after their financial needs, real estate and insurances. With a background in commercial insurance and under-writing, Brown has plenty of contacts in the financial world.

 

Phil Kelly

East Perth - 1978, 1979

Fact File

Born: August 26, 1957, at Pemberton, WA

Games played: East Perth 109; North Melbourne 61; WA 6

Guernsey No.: 5

Position: Wing

Won Medals at age: 21 and 22

 

Big win had some drawbacks

TIMING, they say, is everything. Or is it?

When Channel 7 announced a major sponsorship of WA football's premier individual award for the 1978 season, the financial inducement merely added some gold to the already revered Sandover Medal.

For brilliant young East Perth wingman Phil Kelly, who won the distinction as WA's outstanding footballer in the first two years of the cash incentive, the $20,000 first prize did provide some unique problems.

No one had given the tax implications much thought until Kelly received the cheque - which was promptly followed by a letter from the Australian Taxation Office seeking its share of the spoils.

With a little persuasion from others within the industry, Kelly decided to fight the ATO claim.

"Effectively I was made to pay all the tax and there were penalties because I didn't pay on time," recalls Kelly, who now lives in Melbourne. "Some of those were negotiated at the time, but there were a number of people keen to test the system and I was happy to go along with it."

Kelly started playing junior football at Busselton as an eight-year-old, going through to the under-18s and playing one reserves game in the South West League before moving to the city to study physical education at the University of WA.

"I came up with the intention of playing for the University team because I didn't see a career in footy," he said. "But then I was told that first year students had to play in the under-20 team and they always flogged everyone else by 20 goals, I thought that wasn't for me.

"I approached East Perth to see if I could have a kick with them and I played 10 games of colts in my first year, one or two in the reserves and nine or 10 in the seniors.

"I went to East Perth simply because Busselton was in their zone."

Kelly, a smooth-moving wingman who was also versatile enough to play forward or back, made a strong impression in 109 games with the Royals and won successive Medals - a remarkable effort considering his intentions when he first journeyed from Busselton.

"We made the finals in that first year, but lost the first semi to South Fremantle," he says. "A year later we lost the grand final to Perth. I don't remember a lot about it, but I do recall being on the ground as the Perth players celebrated."

For Kelly, football was not his sole focus and perhaps because of that, his memories are a little vague. But that shouldn't under-value his ability or the recognition that came his way by virtue of his Sandover Medals, which now sit in a wardrobe of his Brighton home.

"My recollection of footy in Perth is that it was a relatively short period of time," Kelly reflected. "I came in and had a few strong years as a junior, had two really good years... well, even in my view, one very good year. In my first season I had some really good games in which I polled votes, but I wasn't that consistent. My second year was far more consistent.

"My recollection of my footy times over there are pretty limited, but the 1978 grand final I remember well. I must have played in a second semi-final, after I had won the Medal, I had a pretty ordinary game and hurt my shoulder, the clavicular joint.

"I didn't play in the preliminary final because I was crook. I played the grand final with a pain-killer before the game and again at half-time and it got me through. I started on a half-forward flank and went to centre half-forward after half-time for a while. I remember kicking a goal in the last quarter, kicking it over Barry Cable's head, who was sitting alone in the goal square.

"I certainly remember the deluge and Peter Bosustow kicking seven goals. In the last few minutes there must have been five guys on Bosustow. I remember getting cramp and when the game was over, just being swamped by people.

"There was this mass of people, it was wet and I would have loved to have played the game where we could have enjoyed the post-match and presentations on the ground and done a lap of the oval.

"As it was, that was impossible. We did the presentation in the grandstand and to me that lost it a little bit. But it was a sensational day. I've got the tape at home and have probably watched it half a dozen times. Most of the time I watch it with my son, to show him the passion of the game. He laughs at the shorts and the hair and that sort of thing."

Kelly was one of those quiet and unobtrusive players who says that he had a ‘compartment' for footy and liked to put his sport on one side.

"In broad terms, it was a relatively small part of my life," he says. "I had my university life and friends and that was separate and for whatever reason, I always felt that was more important.

"It all came reasonably easy for me and I was not as passionate about it as I could have been. If I had injuries I didn't always give them the amount of time they needed."

Kelly joined an exodus of WA players to Melbourne, particularly North Melbourne, in 1981. Arden Street was like a little East Perth with fellow Royals Brad Smith, Kevin Bryant, Ross Glendinning, Richard Michalczyk, John Burns and Peter Spencer, all stars of the 1970s, spending time with the Roos.

Kelly played 61 games for the Kangaroos and had it not been for a string of injuries, would surely have played many more.

Kelly completed his training as a teacher, but soon switched to join the IT arena, working in communications after doing some further studies while in Melbourne.

Married to Tricia, he lives in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton with son Josh (11) and daughter Laine (6) and his only involvement in football is coaching his son's team.

 

Ted (Square)Kilmurray

East Perth - 1958

Fact File

Born: August 18, 1934, at Wiluna, WA

Games played: East Perth 257; WA 3

Guernsey No.: 24

Position: Half-forward, ruck-rover

Won Medal at age: 24

 

Star Royal forced rule change

IT'S not often in any sport that rules are changed to combat a participant's exploitation of a particular tactic. Of course, West Australian legend Walter Lindrum forced the billiards world to change the rules regarding scoring points with a "cannon" shot as he developed an unbeatable tactic.

In the world of football, another West Australian in Ted (Square) Kilmurray forced officials to change the rules regarding a handball tactic known as the flick pass.

East Perth's "Square" - as he was universally called, despite not knowing where he got the nickname from - perfected the flick pass, where he palmed the ball off one hand, rather than punch it with a closed fist.

Kilmurray says he used the flick pass because he wasn't able to master the normal handball with his non-preferred left hand - a skill captain-coach Jack Sheedy drilled into all his players.

"I could handball with my right hand," says Kilmurray. "But not left-handed, I had to stop and think about it, so I started flicking if off my palm, which proved a lot quicker. A few other players tried, but they banned it two years later. It wasn't good over a distance and I did get pinged a few times by the umpires later when I did it without thinking."

So while Kilmurray saw his little piece of football history pass into the archives, another of his achievements certainly hasn't disappeared from the game's history book - his 1958 Sandover Medal victory.

In an era where ruckmen such as teammate Graham (Polly) Farmer, Jack Clarke (East Fremantle) and West Perth's Brian Foley shared the Medals, Kilmurray had a season that blitzed the opposition, polling 20 votes to win by five from Alan Preen (East Fremantle) under the 3-2-1 voting system.

A modest champion, Kilmurray came from the Sister Kate's Orphanage for young Aborigines - where he forged a lasting friendship with Farmer - and regards himself as very fortunate to have won a Sandover.

"To win a Sandover Medal in the 1950s to mid-60s you had to be lucky," says Kilmurray. "Especially with the side we had and the competition from other teams. Pol (Farmer) was a real champion, but East Perth had other great players as well."

But 1958 was Kilmurray's year and he certainly enjoyed the Medal victory with his mates - and shared a second premiership medallion a couple of weeks later.

"In 1958 I was among a dozen or so players rated a chance to win the Medal," he recalls. "I had been sharing a flat in Scarborough with Pol and Jack Hunt, but Pol had recently got married and moved into a house with Marlene. A few of us were sitting at home listening to the actual count and about half-way through I thought I was going alright and might have a chance.

"Towards the end I was a couple of votes ahead of Laurie Kettlewell and before they announced the last votes I knew I was home. The next minute people started coming from everywhere. Pol knocked on the door five minutes after the count. Sheeds (Jack Sheedy) turned up and we moved on to Bomber Wylie's place in Scarborough until all hours. It was the Monday before the first semi-final and fortunately we didn't have to play that week because we were in the second semi. We trained on Tuesday as normal and it was a pretty good night, but I did look after myself, so there was no real hangover.

"I don't think it made much difference to my form in the finals even though everyone said it would. I was happy with way I played. I certainly feel quite pleased that I won it in that era because there were so many good players around me."

Kilmurray backed the Medal up with the club's fairest and best award and was often judged the Pelaco player-of-the-week winner.

"I ended up with about a dozen new shirts that season," laughs Kilmurray.

"When you were playing in a side like East Perth, if you didn't play well one week, you had to play better the next week because there were so many good players around; everyone helped you lift.

"While I was obviously happy with my 1958 season, I thought I played better in 1960, when I won the Daily News Footballer of the Year award." And he was runner-up to Farmer in the Sandover, but a clear 10 votes behind the champion ruckman.

Born in the outback township of Wiluna, one of five children and not knowing his father, Kilmurray went to Sister Kate's with two siblings, while the other two went to a mission at Mogumber, north of Perth.

"My mother Gennieve went to Sister Kate's as the cook, so that was really good for us; I was just six months old at the time, but I reckon I was one of the lucky ones."

Kilmurray, Farmer and Hunt all graduated from Sister Kate's and shared the Scarborough flat during their early football years. He can remember being called Square from about the age of seven at Sister Kate's, but as all the kids had nicknames, it didn't seem unusual to him.

His football beginnings were humble, just kicking the ball around the local paddock, in bare feet and dodging cow pads.

"We just loved playing sport," says Kilmurray. "We made an oval across the road from Sister Kate's for our first serious game; against kids from the next suburb, Kelmscott and half our side were from the home. I was 15, but the side had kids of all ages.

"Around 1952 a bloke named George Sweetapple suggested I join East Perth. He used to watch when we were playing for Maddington. I followed South Fremantle, who were the top side and had all the big name players, but I agreed to go to East Perth and played one game in the seconds in 1952 to qualify. Pol actually went to train with Perth the same year, but we both went to East Perth the next year. I played in a forward pocket for the whole season."

Kilmurray was an "in-between" sized player - too small for a ruckman, too big for a rover ... and before his time for a ruck-rover. So he naturally slotted into a forward pocket, but as his career unfolded, he blossomed into a dangerous half-forward and later a mobile on-baller - or ruck-rover.

Very much a mild-mannered and extremely fair player, Kilmurray remembers one game when he didn't quite display those virtues.

"It was against West Perth, when they really upset me," he recalls. "They were all saying things and I couldn't take it any more. I stopped in the middle of the ground and said ‘come on, if you want to make something of it I'll take the whole lot of you on.' It was probably a bit rash - but I did look around to see how close Hunty was!"

Kilmurray is a proud family man, marrying his childhood sweetheart Else in 1961 after meeting at the Kenwick High School. They have two boys - Rod, who played rugby and toured the United Kingdom with an under-20s State side and Dean.

Kilmurray worked as a truck driver with the Department of Supply for 40 years, going through to the official retirement age at 65.

"Footy was good for me," says Kilmurray. "It opened doors, especially with my job and it helped me meet and talk to people. I was in the heavy fleet section, but when privatisation took over and the department folded it was time to retire."

Living on some acreage in outer suburban Thornlie, with the Canning River running along one boundary, Kilmurray is never bored as he tends to his gardens and looks fit and active despite advancing the clock into his 70s.

"I like a bit of golf and tennis," he says. "I once played second-grade cricket with Scarborough, but Else gave me the ultimatum that if I wanted to take her out, I had to play tennis with her.

"I always seem to be busy in the yard keeping everything ship-shape. That's my domain and I love it."

 

George (Staunch) Owens

East Perth - 1925

Fact File

Born: August 2, 1900, at Kalgoorlie, WA

Died: October 7, 1986, at Mt Lawley

Games played: East Perth 195, WA 18

Guernsey No.: 10

Position: Ruck

Won Medal at age: 25

 

A right Royal ruck champion

PREMIERSHIPS were part and parcel of the football career of George Owens, the Kalgoorlie ruckman who dominated the city scene in the 1920s.

Nicknamed Staunch - for a reason that cannot be determined - the strong and fearsome big man played in East Perth's first premiership side in 1919 and continued through the Phil Matson coaching reign that saw more grand final glory in 1920, '21, '22, '23, '25 and '27 - with those initial five in succession still standing as a WA record. He was one of only three players who featured in all seven premierships.

There were losing grand finals in 1918 and at the end of his career, in 1928 and '32 and in between there were 17 appearances for Western Australia, including Australian Carnivals in Hobart (1924) and Melbourne (1927). He was judged best-afield in the 1926 clash with Victoria in Perth, but missed a third Carnival in Perth in 1921with a broken arm.

Owens won the 1925 Sandover Medal with four votes, one ahead of team-mate Jackie Guhl and the club's annual report saluted the triumph with the following tribute:

"This year we have the pleasure to record the fine play of Geo. Staunch Owens, who has been adjudged the fairest and best player for the season. He represented the State in many matches and during his participation on behalf of your club, has done yeoman service ... WAFL president Mr Moffat echoed the opinion that Mr Owens was one of the foremost footballers in the State and that his exhibitions were such that no-one would cavil at the decision."

While it was an era of football where East Perth was a "brilliant team" under the legendary Matson, there were many great individuals. Owens won East Perth's fairest and best award six times between 1917 and 1932 and was generally considered the man around whom Matson operated his slick team-work.

Standing 180cms tall (5ft. 11in), Owens played mostly as a ruckman and his Medal victory - in an era when you could only win the State's most prestigious award once - endorsed comments by the Melbourne Argus newspaper that he was the best footballer in Australia, while a 1946 poll in Perth's Daily News rated him the best of all time in the West.

Owens got his football grounding at the East Perth Primary School in 1910, aged 10. A year later he was in the combined schools' team to visit Kalgoorlie, managed by League secretary Billy Orr.

At 14 he entered junior ranks in the East Perth Ex-Scholars', where he mainly played as a rover and in 1917, aged 16, he was promoted to East Perth's league side as a half-forward.

Even when he retired in 1932 he wasn't finished with football, taking up the whistle as a league umpire. He officiated in 135 league games, including 20 finals and five grand finals - 1935-37-38-39 and '41.

Owens was a Medallist in a early era of champions and when asked to select some of the great players he had seen, it's no coincidence that most of them were fellow-winners of the Sandover.

He rated inaugural Medallist Tom Outridge as the hardest ruckman he had to compete against, dual Medallist Johnny Leonard and Royals team-mate Larry Duffy as equal to any rovers in the business - and the West Perth half-back line of Medal winners in Harold Boyd, Jim Gosnell and Jim Craig as good as you could get in defence.

 

Tributes aplenty

There have been some tremendous tributes to Staunch Owens over the years that capture just how good a footballer he was, including:

Paddy Hebbard, 1937:

Staunch Owens will go down in history as one of the greatest this State has produced. Whether as a half-forward or follower he was equally brilliant ... and had few peers as a mark and counted among his numerous assets an ability to handle the ball under wet conditions. When other players found the ball uncommonly difficult to control Owens was rarely in bother. It would be exceedingly difficult to name a greater all-rounder than this man.

Tom Outridge - 1939

Staunch Owens was the most outstanding player of his generation. His versatility and general ability in any position made him a champion of the highest degree. As an all-rounder, Owens stands out as the best footballer I've ever seen and I make no qualification in saying so, except the point that the late Phil Matson was regarded as a super-man.

Memories by nephew Len Owens

AS a nephew of the great George (Staunch) Owens, Len Owens he had a football pedigree that made it imperative he followed the Royals and he certainly did that after moving to the city from Bunbury around 1948

While he was just a youngster as the 195-game career of Staunch came to an end, Len Owens gathered many stories about his famous uncle over the years, which saw him work as a football journalist for the now-defunct Daily News and then serve as a director on the East Perth Board of Management.

The late Owens recalls "Uncle George" as a pretty reticient sort of fellow and one who would rather talk about others than himself.

Owens recalls how renowned football writer Charlie Ammon wrote in The West Australian about Staunch's fairest and best award against Victoria and that a number of prominent newspaper critics had declared him the best footballer in Australia.

"Staunch had a tremendous leap and while he played mainly in the ruck, he did fill positions all over the field," says Owens.

"He often talked about how awe-inspiring a speaker Matson was and even at the end of a match, the players would remember what he said at half-time and so on. Staunch recalled one game when Matson really got stuck into him at half-time and said he wasn't trying hard enough; in front of the other players, even though most felt Staunch had played well.

"Staunch told the story this way: ‘Bugger me, I thought I'd done alright, but I tried a lot harder in the second half and we won. When we went back to the pub I went up to Matty and said what the bloody hell was that half-time burst all about? He said you silly bastard Staunch, didn't you see the disgusted looks on the faces of the other guys. They were all ashamed of themselves at the way they were playing and they knew you were going OK, so they all lifted.'

Owens says that another popular story related by Staunch concerned a game against East Fremantle when Dick Buchanan, later of ABC radio broadcasting fame, was at centre half-back and dominating, absolutely killing East Perth and stopping everything.

"Matson put a small bloke at centre half-forward and told everyone to soccer the ball to keep it on the ground and out of Buchanan's hands," says Owens. "He told the players that everything forward of centre had to be soccered and anyone who kicked the ball into the air would lose his place next week.

"Staunch told how they all kept the ball on the ground, soccered it everywhere and the little bloke ran Buchanan all around the place. Twice Staunch got the ball in the goal square and had to soccer it through; probably the only two goals he ever got from soccers."

ROYALS NEXT GAME

Round 6
East Perth
v
Perth
Saturday, 26th Apr
2:05 PM @ Medibank Stadium
Game Preview
Round 7
East Fremantle
v
East Perth
Saturday, 3rd May
2:05 PM @ East Fremantle Oval
Game Preview
Sponsors