FOOTBALL FOLKLORE

 AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL RULES

I grew up in the small Tasmanian town of Ulverstone, where Australian Rules Football was the sport we were passionate about.  Ulverstone’s colours  have always been  black and red, hence their name, The Robins.

In the 1960’s football was untainted by the corporate sector and  big money. The players  were overwhelmingly  local boys.  Peter Fromberg, one of Ulverstone’s best,  worked with me at the Public Works Department.

Ulverstone Football

The mighty Robins

John Coughlan was a  rival footballer we loved to hate;  a  bit too brash, a bit too good!

Here is an excerpt from an essay by Pete Hay;

Coughlan had the agency in Tasmania for National Pies and as everyone knows, pies and football have a natural affinity.

 

Football and meat pies

An Aussie Tradition; football and meat  pies!

According to local legend he had a foolproof scheme for getting his pies into shops. He would send along a gang of hungry young footie players to ask for  National Pies. If the shop didn’t stock them they would march out.  A few days later Coughlan would call in and sign the proprietor up.

John Coughlan was the captain and coach of  Wynyard, a town further down the coast.   His team, The Cats,  were enjoying an annoyingly successful  period in the  mid sixties.  Their most passionate (and terrifying) fan was Una Parkinson, a true footy  warrior who would crack you over the head with her umbrella if you  were rash enough to goad her.

Wynyard Football Team

The wretched Cats

Now cats and robins have an age old  enmity, which translated easily to football. If we lost an encounter the local Advocate would run a cartoon of a cat smirking over a little pile of feathers. No doubt it is the same today.

Football John Coughlan

John Coughlan

In 1967 John Coughlan’s Cats won the local premiership in a canter. In fact they only lost one game all season, and that was to my Ulverstone Robins, by eight points.

The Cats went on to play  the state final against North Hobart, at West Park oval in Burnie. Oddly enough, they too were known as the Robins. In the dying stages of the game the Cats were ahead by one point. However, North Hobart’s  David (Dickie) Collins  marked  (caught) the ball right on the final siren….and that is where the trouble began. The umpire signaled it as being  taken while the game was still in progress.  Collins  was only  about fifteen yards out , so he was almost certain to score a goal, and thus win the title for North Hobart.  However, Coughlan and his men were sure they had heard the siren sound before the mark was taken.

ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND FOOTBALL?

Wynyard’s supporters were so incensed that they began to invade the ground, remonstrating with the umpire and trying to disrupt proceedings. It’s estimated that 3,000 of their 8,000 fans  ran on.

There’s a common  saying  that applies  not just to sport, but to every aspect of life;  ‘You can’t move the goalposts’.   It means it’s not fair to change the rules  midway through an argument or a competition in a manner that would disadvantage an opponent.  Well, Wynyard’s supporters certainly ignored that old maxim.  This was mob rules!

Meanwhile, Collins tucked the football under his jumper and simply refused to move until a large enough space was created for him to take the kick.

For Wynyard, there was only one way out of a desperate situation. Some of their supporters began to  push and pull  at one of the goalposts.  The aluminium  pole bent,  and then  snapped off a few feet above the ground. Then down went another one.

Ground invasion at Football final North Hobart and Wynyard 1967

All hell broke loose against the Demons.

 

Ground invasion at North Hobart v Wynyard Final 1967

The goal posts are down. Note arrows.

Dickie Collins was stymied; there was nothing for him to aim at. Eventually he wandered off the ground, the ball still under his jumper.

There was  much discussion as to whether the game should be replayed (Wynyard was in favour, North Hobart against) , or whether  Collins should be allowed to return for his kick once the posts were replaced.  In the end it was declared a ‘no result’.

I really can’t remember whether my loyalty as a northern Tasmanian over-rode my dislike of the Cats that day. I think I was just too astounded to form any opinion at all.

Twenty years later, Dickie Collins returned to Burnie to take his long delayed kick.  As  a pained John Coughlan watched on it sailed through the middle, but I’m afraid you can’t change history. Nobody took out the  1967 title and that’s that.

I know it’s wrong to condone vandalism, but it was all pretty funny.  Next day the police had to step in when  North Hobart fans tried to tie  one of the  goalposts to the side of the Tasman Limited train, and take it home with them.

The following year North Hobart changed their name to The Demons. I’m sure everyone in the town of Wynyard considered it  very apt!

 

North Hobart Football Team

The Demons, well named in the minds of Wynyard supporters.

John Coughlan went on to become a member of parliament. Why does this not surprise me? In 2012 a heritage match was played between  Wynyard and Ulverstone .  That stocky little fellow in the centre is Coughlan’s great-grandson,  Oakleigh. Odd name for a child….do you know where it came from?  It’s the name of that club  John Coughlan played for in Victoria.

 

Oh my, little Oakleigh looks like a chip of the old block!

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. I was at this match .I used to go to the football with Dad it was chaos. Just last weekend North Hobart old members as the no longer exist as a club . Actually charted a Train with old Tasman Limited carriages and stole a goalpost and took it back to Hobart, It was part of a push to get the the club back in action as they were shut down by the AFL taking everything football over.
    We have lost those local passions and traditions its very sad really and I believe a factor in the disconnection of our young men in the country.

    • Pauline

      Yes, I loved going to the football with Mum and Dad. Always had thermos flasks of hot drinks and a lovely packed lunch (still room for a saveloy though). That’s great about NH pinching the goalpost. I do think they deserved to win. I’ll add an update. I agree about the loss of local interest. Started to change years back with fly-in players. Never a true local comp after that. Do hope North Hobart get going again.

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