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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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