|Applecross JFC stalwarts Roy "The Spoon" George (centre) and Doug "Dougie" Stirling (right), 23 years on.|
Did the spirit of football die when Roy George moved from Applecross JFC to Karoonda?
|Karoonda Reserve, Booragoon.|
Back in the 1970s, Perth was still a traditional and very much mono-cultural city. Each primary-school had a local junior football club which was independent of the school but, in most cases, used the primary-school oval for training. It was almost compulsory for boys to play Aussie Rules football in the winter and cricket in the summer (as well as possibly Little Athletics). However, even then, times were beginning to change and a few junior football clubs, namely the smallest ones attached to the smallest primary-schools, were beginning to struggle for numbers. As a result, in East Fremantle Football Club heartland, just to the west of the Canning River, Ardross JFC (with its red-and-white South Fremantle jerseys) merged with Brentwood (with its red, blue, and white jerseys similar to the Footscray jerseys of the early-1970s with one red and one white horizontal stripe against a royal blue background). This merger created an early junior mega- or super-club which lacked the same connection to district as the other junior clubs and the two original merged clubs had. This merged entity was called Karoonda JFC, and it kept the red, blue, and white of the two merged clubs in a new and trendy jersey design. It was called Karoonda JFC because its home ground was Karoonda Reserve, located on Karoonda Road, Booragoon. Although its players and officials might deny this, it became something of a yuppie or upper middle-class club because that part of Booragoon had opened up for housing only a few years before and was home to upwardly mobile upper middle-class families. The section of Booragoon on the western side of Riseley Street was even newer, having mostly opened up in the early-1980s. By 1983-84, Karoonda had begun to attract the more serious footballers who were aiming at a professional career, including, most notably, Mike Broadbridge (although it was also his local junior club).
I played for Mount Pleasant JFC (the Mounties) Under-14s in 1982 under the legendary coach Craig “Craigo” Campbell, who was a charismatic and flamboyant Malcolm Brown type personality. He would do unheard-of things, at junior level, like host rowdy and fun players’ teas at his home in Mount Pleasant, a few blocks from the river. I think he needed that male-bonding environment especially because he had two daughters and no sons. However, by Year 10 of high-school (1983), Mount Pleasant could no longer field a team. They may have had an Under-16s in 1983, I can’t recall.
Applecross JFC was going to field an Under-15s team, so I joined up, perhaps recruited by my high-school friend, Roy “The Spoon” George. Applecross JFC, with its red, black, and white St. Kilda jerseys, was also a small club catering only to the small suburb of Applecross which, even then, boasted an aging population and was showing the first signs of gentrification. Under-15s was different from primary-school football, which was relatively even and egalitarian with most players not being too dissimilar to one another in playing skill and fitness; most young people then lived active outdoor lives at least in the primary-school age-brackets. At the primary-school level, all clubs were roughly equal in strength (just as in sprints racing) and any club could pretty much beat any other club on any given day.
By contrast, by Under-15s, a big gap had emerged between those footballers who were fit and saw football as a possible career path and those who were regular smokers and casual drinkers and who were just in it for mate-ship and enjoyment. Players of the first type tended to be attracted to Karoonda while players of the second type were recruited that year to play for Applecross. As a result, there was a massive gap between the quality and ability of these two teams although Applecross had five or six reasonable footballers and everyone who pulled on that underdog St. Kilda jersey (a poor-performing VFL/AFL club at the time) tried their very hardest every single minute of action. There was one game, Applecross versus Karoonda, at our home ground of Gairloch Reserve (named after an obscure Scottish lake), when the home ground advantage counted for nothing, and Karoonda beat us by about 40 goals to one point (say 40.25 to 0.1 or similar). The great Mike Broadbridge played on the half-back flank and still kicked ten goals against me that day. Years later, I was surprised Mike never made it to the VFL/AFL; I guess a VFL/AFL player would have scored more goals against me! We had just enough players to field a team each week, but we struggled for numbers and so we had to accept even the very weakest of players (and I include myself in that category). We might have gone one or two men short for certain games.
|Gairloch Reserve, looking south to Macrae Road.|
We had Scott “The Fish” Herring as first ruck-man, and I knew him well from primary-school days at Mount Pleasant; in those days he lived in Davenport Road, Booragoon, and I lived nearby in Hewitt Way, and we would sometimes play cricket and football at the local Layman Park at the foot of my street. In high-school, Fish was one of the tough guys, and a heavy smoker, but he always maintained a good heart and he did not forget primary-school friendships. He had charisma but he also had a good set of values. He was short for a ruck-man at Unde-15s level and I remember him struggling manfully against taller, fitter, and faster opponents all season. Scott grew up in Booragoon and attended Mount Pleasant Primary School so he was one of the very few Applecross JFC players (I was another) who lived outside of Applecross proper and had not gone to Applecross Primary School.
One of our best players was Roy “The Spoon” George, a strong and aggressive key-position player who could play at centre-half-forward or in the ruck. He was a Malcolm Brown / Jason Dunstall / Tony Lockett / Dermott Brereton / Stephen Kernahan type footballer. He was one of our very few players who could have held down a regular spot at a club like Karoonda (which is exactly what did happen mid-season, as we will see).
The other Applecross JFC players I can remember are Craig Wright (full-back), Doug Stirling (wing), and David “Blackie” Black. Blackie was probably my best friend in the team, along with Roy, as we had sat next to each other for a few weeks in Science class in Year 9 and I think we were in Photography class together in Year 10.
Craig was a good full-back; reliable, and a strong mark and kick. However, he could not do much to stop the tide of opposition goals as these would be initiated in the midfield and the ball would always be sailing over his head. He was a great kick out from goal; he had a majestic and righteous drop-punt which was accurate and deadly in flight. It would drop suddenly, like an expert’s volleyball serve, and his teammates knew about this and could often mark his kick outs from the goal-square. I remember taking at least one mark from one of his kicks; it was on the half-back flank at Gairloch Reserve in the south-west corner of the ground (the Gairloch Street side but at the Macrae Road end). Maybe that was my only mark for the year! Craig’s kicks could deceive the opposition as they would float magnificently, in the usual textbook way, and then drop suddenly as if shot by a pistol. Wrightie had the integrity of being a guy who had come up through Applecross Primary School, Applecross JFC, and Applecross Senior High School.
Then we had Douglas “Dougie” Stirling on the wing who was one of our top six players without a shadow of doubt. Looking back, I guess we were stacking the back-line which was a common sense thing to do given our team’s shortcomings. There was no-one of quality forward of the wing and especially after Roy left. Doug was slim, fast, and agile; he had pace and was a thinking person’s footballer. It seemed like he was running on tiptoes as he had no presence and could move quickly into empty space without seemingly making any noise. A good comparison would be the Carlton wingman, David Glascott, who was at his peak during the Carlton back-to-back premiership years of 1981-82. The soccer player, Shunsuke Nakamura, who played for Glasgow Celtic, was similar in that, if you watch videos of his goal-scoring efforts, you will see him silently and quickly moving into just the right positions to outwit the defence and score often with a single touch from a teammate’s pass. Doug was in the unenviable position of often getting the ball and not knowing what to do with it as he was always under pressure and we had no-one of any talent forward of the wing.
Roy “The Spoon” George’s departure from Applecross JFC to join Karoonda mid-season 1983 was massive news among our group of mates in high-school and beyond. It caused almost as much of a sensation as when Maurice “Mo” Johnston became the first high-profile Roman Catholic player to join Glasgow Rangers in 1989 (well, perhaps not). It felt, deep down, like a betrayal of sorts. It shook my faith in the spirit of football and the goodness of the world. No wonder that Metallica released an album called …And Justice for All. Applecross needed all the good players it could get whereas Karoonda was already spoiled for choice. Imagine the legendary Doug “Dougie” Hawkins leaving struggling Footscray in the mid-season of 1981 to join a premiership-quality team at Carlton or Tony Lockett leaving St Kilda in mid-season 1985 for Essendon. It felt like that. There was something very depressing, if not morally questionable, about the whole sad affair. It shook your faith in humanity. I played one year for Karoonda Under-16s in 1984 as Applecross didn’t field a team. It wasn’t very enjoyable. Applecross should have demanded a transfer fee from Karoonda for Roy’s services in 1983 and shared the cash out among the players! A free pie and chips and a free ticket to a WAFL game would have been very much appreciated! [By Jack Frost, 5 October 2018.]
|Gairloch Reserve looking south towards Macrae Road from Gairloch Street. The view would have been very similar in 1983.|