Explore the History of australian football

In 1963, top level football in Tasmania was played in three different competitions: the Hobart-based Tasmanian Australian National Football League; the Northern Tasmanian Football Association, centred in and around Launceston; and the North West Football Union, which took in the north west coastal area including    towns like Devonport, Burnie and Ulverstone.   Teams representative of the three competitions engaged in an annual triangular series to find the state champion, while the three grand final winners also rounded off each season by contesting the state championship. Inter-regional rivalry was, and is, a major feature of Tasmanian life, embracing numerous spheres of interest of which sport remains one of the most prominent.

Of the three competitions, the TANFL was arguably the strongest, and certainly the best attended. Indeed, on a per capita basis, in 1963 it attracted the highest attendances in Australia, exceeding even those of the VFL. It would retain this position of pre- eminence until 1975, when the perpetual loss of the league’s best players to Victoria finally began to deter spectators. The league comprised just half a dozen clubs: Clarence, Glenorchy, Hobart, North Hobart, New Norfolk and Sandy Bay, which collectively attracted an average of more than 10,000 spectators each Saturday afternoon,  or  roughly  8% of  the population  of  Hobart.​ It  was  an extremely competitive league with all clubs except Clarence having claimed at least one senior grade premiership since the war.

Formally established in  1944, Hobart had entered the league the following year, when the competition had recommenced  after the war. The club had since enjoyed a steady if unspectacular record, qualifying for the senior grade grand final on eight occasions, with a 50%  success rate. The Tigers’ two most recent premierships had been won in succession, in 1959 and 1960, but they had missed the finals completely in 1961 and only finished fourth in 1962. Captain- coached since 1960 by former Essendon player, Mal Pascoe, who had joined the club merely as a player twelve months earlier, when he won the William Leitch Medal as the best and fairest player in the league, the Tigers did not exactly set the world on fire during the  1963 roster matches either, but came good when it mattered.

Hobart qualified for the first semi-final in 1963 but faced a stern challenge from Clarence. Clearly beaten in several key positions,  and enjoying a lot less possession than their opponents, they won because they used the ball better when they did have it and their kicking for goal was immeasurably more reliable – final scores were Hobart 13.9 (87) defeated Clarence 10.20 (80). Pascoe led from the front and was capably assisted by Sullivan, Commane, Williams and Legro, while for Clarence ex-Melbourne star Stuart Spencer was probably the best player afield. The match attracted a highly respectable crowd of 11, 827.

The preliminary final clash with New Norfolk was also closely and hotly contested, but in contrast to the first semi it was the Tigers who seemed incapable of finding the central uprights, and they ultimately scraped over the line by the narrowest margin possible, 12.19  (91)  to  13.12  (90).  Powell, Pascoe, Bryan, Appleton and Faull were best for the victors, while for New Norfolk 1961 and 1962 Leitch Medallist Roger Browning put up the sternest resistance.

The grand final between Hobart and Sandy Bay was played on the only wet Saturday of the finals, and as a result the football was tough, slogging and unkempt. With little to separate the sides in terms of general play it was left to Hobart’s greater steadiness and superior eye for goal to bring home the club’s fifth senior grade flag. The Tigers ultimately triumphed by 15 points, 10.4 (64) to the Seagulls 6.13 (49). Captain-coach Mal Pascoe was best-on-ground , while Powell, Commane, Appleton, and Payne were also prominent. Sandy Bay gave an even team display but proved incapable of turning pressure into major scores.

In the post-season state championships Hobart visited NWFU premier Burnie in the preliminary final and sustained a somewhat surprising 23 point reversal.

Sandy Bay had last qualified for a grand final in 1958, and had last won a senior grade  premiership as long ago as 1952. The Seagulls’ halcyon days would eventually arrive in the 1970s with eight consecutive grand final appearances for five successes. In 1963, newly-appointed coach Rex Geard, in the first of his two successive seasons at the helm, had moulded a powerful all-round combination with a strong team ethic, and in the second semi-final the side confidently and comfortably overcame New Norfolk by 32 points, 15.11 (101) to 10.9 (69). A fortnight later, however, the normally slick Seagulls arguably found the highly inclement weather conditions as difficult to deal with as the opposition.  Chapman, Lahey, Flint, Pelham and Whitton were among their most prominent performers, but no-one could really argue that the better team on the day did not emerge victorious. 

At New Norfolk, arguably the season’s highlight was the introduction to top level football of seventeen year old Peter Hudson who, in both Tasmania and  Victoria, would go on to become undeniably one of the greatest full forwards in the history of the game. He burst onto the scene spectacularly, bagging 69 goals to top the league list. He also added 6 goals in the finals and 10 in intrastate matches for an overall tally of 85. Prior to his departure for VFL club Hawthorn in 1967 Hudson topped the TANFL goalkicking list four consecutive times besides registering 20 goals at the 1966 Hobart carnival to be the competition’s leading goalkicker. His reward was selection at full forward in the All Australian team.

In 1963, the ability of opposition sides Sandy Bay and Hobart to keep Hudson pretty firmly under wraps under wraps during the finals was a major contributory factor to New Norfolk’s straight sets elimination from finals contention.

Since the war, Clarence had probably struggled more than any other TANFL club, but in 1963 they were just on the threshold of an improvement in fortune which would eventually yield a first ever senior grade premiership in 1970. The 1962 season had seen them make their first ever grand final appearance, but North Hobart had proved marginally too strong to the tune of 15 points. The fact that Clarence had a promising future was hinted at by the club’s feat in procuring the 1963 under nineteens premiership.

The TANFL’s most successful club overall, North Hobart, could only manage fifth place in 1963, while Glenorchy slumped to the wooden spoon. Both clubs were on the verge of significant improvement, however. Glenorchy would go on to defeat North Hobart in the 1965 grand final, whilst North Hobart would themselves enjoy premiership success in both 1967 and 1969.

Sandy Bay’s Geoff Whitton won the 1963 William Leitch Medal for the best and fairest player in the league. He polled 18 votes, two more than Ron Marney of Glenorchy.

In the triangular intrastate series the TANFL comfortably defeated the NTFA but lost to a strong NWFU side, which ultimately won the championship. TANFL representative sides also engaged in fixtures against the Queenstown Football Association, winning 17.24 (126) to 7.7 (49), and the Huon Football Association, which scored an upset victory by 16 points.

Like the TANFL, the NTFA  in 1963 comprised half a dozen clubs. Perennial power side North Launceston, formed as long ago as 1893 under the name of the Railway Football Club, overcame Longford in the grand final by 2 points, 7.17 (59) to 8.9 (57). It was the Robins eleventh senior grade grand final appearance since the war, and their seventh flag.

After the 1963 NTFA roster matches Longford headed the ladder, followed by North Launceston, City-South and Launceston. City-South scored a resounding 99 point triumph over Launceston in the first semi-final, winning 19.21 (135) to 4.12 (36). The Blues’ miserly tally equalled Longford’s all time low score for a first semi-final, which had been set in 1952.

Longford had narrowly lost the grand finals of both 1961 and 1962 but were widely favoured to go one better this time. The Tigers duly reinforced this favouritism with a comfortable 14.7 (91) to 8.11 (59) second semi-final triumph over North Launceston. Given the fact that they had already won the three roster match encounters between the sides by similarly emphatic margins they were almost unbackable for the flag when the Robins again confronted them  three weeks later in the grand final. The delay had been brought about because the preliminary final had to be postponed for a week in the wake of torrential rain. The delay might well have helped North Launceston by robbing the Redlegs of their momentum. Whatever the reason, the Robins ultimately won easily by 29 points, thereby ending City-South’s hopes of procuring back to back premierships.

The grand final attracted a large crowd of 10,000 and was tight, tense and low-scoring. The Robins appeared to have the edge in the first half and went in at the long break 19 points to the good after accumulating fifteen scoring shots to six. However, in the third term the Tigers came roaring back and the teams changed ends at the last change with scores deadlocked, 22 points apiece. The third term could scarcely have been more riveting and hard fought, but in the end, according to Ron Williams:

North scrambled home by just two points after losing the lead three times in the final quarter. A major factor in North’s win was the  brilliance of its centre line  where Lerrel Sharp , on the pivot, was best afield. North’s rucks and rovers were winners all day. Neither side flinched in the heavy clashes in the final term and there was nothing between them in courage,  but in skill and teamwork North were superior.

The two NTFA teams to fail to qualify for the finals in 1963 were Scottsdale and East Launceston. Both clubs had struggled in the main since gaining admission o  the Association in 1948, but Scottsdale were only a season away from a breakthrough premiership. Opposed in the 1964 grand final by City-South the Magpies won ultimately with some comfort by 20 points, 8.15 (63) to 6.7 (43). A second straight flag followed in 1965 courtesy of a resounding  19.21 (135)  to 11.13 (79) grand final defeat of North Launceston, and after that there could be no doubt that the Magpies had finally emerged as a force.

Life for East Launceston  was somewhat more of a struggle, but the Demons did eventually break through to record a debut senior grade grand final in 1967, downing North Launceston in a nail-biting grand final by just a couple of points. A second grand final appearance followed in 1970, but Scottsdale proved comfortably too strong. East Launceston’s subsequent record was poor, and when a Tasmanian statewide competition was established in 1986 the Demons were somewhat surprising inclusions. Soon afterwards, they merged with City- South with the resultant club becoming known as South Launceston. Success still proved hard to come by, but when the statewide competition imploded in 1998 the Bulldogs as they were known affiliated with the Northern Tasmanian Football League and promptly won back to back premierships.

The Tasmans Shield Trophy for the NTFA’s best and fairest player of the season was won by Kevin McLean of North  Launceston, while the top goalkicker was his Robins team- mate Jack Hawksley.

The North West Football Union covered the largest area of Tasmania’s three principal governing bodies but in terms of population its catchment area was the smallest. Nevertheless, there was a wealth of football talent spread among its eight member clubs, and the level of competition lost nothing in comparison with the NTFA and TANFL. This fact was emphasised in 1963 as its premier club, Burnie, emphatically won the state title, overcoming Hobart convincingly at home in the preliminary final and then comprehensively defeating North Launceston in Launceston in the championship decider. Final scores were Burnie 8.25 (73);   North Launceston 6.13 (49), suggesting the Tigers could and perhaps should have won by more. The triumph was all the more meritorious and memorable in that Burnie had reached the state grand final on four previous occasions, only to lose each time. The 1963 state title decider at Launceston attracted a respectable crowd of 6,500 with the Tigers, coached by former Penguin and Carlton rover John Heathcote, always in the ascendancy. Other notable players for Burnie included Kevin Symons, Manny Goninon, Ron Cornish, Ian Batt, 1963 club best and fairest  Don "Logs" Carter, Terry Shadbolt and Graham Thorp.

The late 1950s and early 1960s proved to be the  greatest era in Burnie’s history. Grand final appearances every year between 1958 and 1963 produced   victories every season except 1961, when they slipped up by 5 points against local rivals Cooee. The 1963 grand final saw the Tigers opposed by Ulverstone, and winning a high standard match by 16 points, 15.15 (105) to 13.11 (89). They had set out their stall early in 1963 and in one match during April registered the  highest  score  of  the  season, 30.20 (200) to Latrobe’s 16.10 (106).

Following the club’s dual triumphs of 1963 the Tigers endured a few seasons of under- achievement before returning to the winners rostrum in 1966, when they downed Latrobe in the decisive match of the year by 8 points, 7.7 (49) to 5.11 (41).

Known as the Robins, Ulverstone had been the outstanding NWFU side of the 1950s, earning premierships in 1950-1,  1953  and  1955-6-7. They were also the first ever NWFU club to capture the state title, overcoming Longford in the grand final of 1955, the first season that the NWFU premier had taken part in the championships.

The 1960s proved to be a rather less noteworthy decade for the Robins although their 1963 grand final appearance was the  first of three in a row, all of which were lost. They would not again emerge victorious on grand final day until 1976, when they also won their second state championship.

Wynyard reached the preliminary final in 1963 but went down to Ulverstone by 49 points. The Cats had first joined the NWFU in 1925 but their overall record had been modest. Their first grand final appearance came in 1948, when they lost to East Devonport. Between 1952 and 1954 they qualified for three successive grand finals but only once, in 1952, were they successful, overcoming Ulverstone by 10 points, 9.10 (64) to 7.12 (54). Wynyard’s subsequent record has continued to be mediocre. The Cats have won a total of four senior grade flags, and since affiliating with the NTFL in 1987 they have qualified for three grand finals, winning that of 2012 against Latrobe by 13 points. The town of Wynyard only boats a population slightly in excess of 8,000, however, so any judgement of the club’s achievements must be tempered by awareness of that  fact.

The five remaining NWFU clubs in 1963 were Burnie-based Cooee, which would go on to claim the 1964 and 1965 senior grade flags, perennial strugglers Penguin, East Devonport and  Devonport, and Latrobe, which had found life difficult since losing star player Darrel Baldock to the mainland. When Baldock returned to Latrobe as captain-coach in 1969 it heralded an immediate transformation in the club’s  fortunes and the Demons won the next four consecutive premierships, capped by a state flag in 1970.

Winner of the 1963 Wander Medal for the NWFU’s best and fairest player of the season was East Devonport’s John Bingley, while Lance Cox (Burnie) and R.London (Wynyard) were joint top goalkickers with 47 goals apiece.

The strength of NWFU football in 1963, evidenced by Burnie’s triumph in the state championships, was further emphasised by the resounding success of the Union’s representative side in that year’s intrastate series. It was the  NWFU’s second intrastate championship win in a row and its fourth in five seasons.

Tasmania’s interstate team undertook a mainland tour in 1963, losing heavily to South Australia in Adelaide before achieving a remarkable victory over reigning Australian champions Western Australia in Perth. Tasmania blew the game apart by rattling on 5 goals without reply in the opening term,  and  thereafter,  although the home side fought back desperately, the Tasmanians always kept their noses in front, and their eventual 15 point win was full of merit and thoroughly warranted. Tassie vice- captain Bob Withers of North Launceston was awarded the Lefroy Medal as the team’s best and fairest player over its two games.

Amateur football had been growing in popularity in Tasmania since the war and by 1963 was flourishing. The Tasmanian Amateur Football League was split into a southern and northern division, with the premiers of each division contesting the Conder Shield to determine the state champions. There was also an annual north versus south representative fixture, which tended to be dominated by the south, and which in 1963 emerged victorious for the ninth time in the past ten seasons.

For many years, the  standard of amateur football in Tasmania had lagged a long way behind that of the mainland states, but at the 1962 Australian Amateur Football Council championships in Melbourne the Tasmanian team proved it had come of age by defeating both South Australia and Western Australia to finish second behind the mighty Vics.

The 1963 TAFL southern division premiership went to Hutchins, who overcame Lindisfarne in the grand final. It was the club’s second grand final triumph in three years and it would succeed again in 1964. In the state final for the Conder Shield Hutchins proved much too strong for northern premier Brooks Old Boys and won by 88 points, 26.18 (174) to 13.8 (86). Other prominent southern-based clubs in 1963 included Friends, premiers in 1955- 6, 1958-9-60 and 1962, the aforementioned Lindisfarne, which had been there or thereabouts since capturing the 1957 flag, and Claremont and Old Hobartians Association, both of which would emerge as major forces later in the decade.

In the north, Brooks Old Boys’ 1963 premiership was the club’s second in three years, and also its last. More usually to be found contesting the grand final were the likes of Old Launcestonians, premiers in 1959- 60, 1962 and 1964, Mowbray, who would earn five successive flags between 1965 and 1969,  Old Scotch Collegians and St Patrick’s Old Collegians.

Tasmania was, and is, a football-obsessed state, and in 1963 the game was played on an organised basis throughout the island. The Queenstown Football Association and the Huon Football Association have already been mentioned, and the respective premiers in 1963 were City and Huonville.

Other competitions in Tasmania at this time included the Circular Head Football Association. Smithton won the premiership in 1963 having been the dominant force in the competition since the early 1950s. The premiership of the Darwin Football Association was won by Cam, for the third time in four seasons. Other premiers included Branxholm in the North Eastern Football Union, the club’s third of an eventual four flags in succession; Woodsdale, who overcame Mount Pleasant by 13 points in a replayed Oatlands District Football Association grand final; Currie in the King Island Football Association; and Ulverstone Thirds in the Leven Football Association.

Roger Browning

Bob Withers

A Review of the 1963 Tasmanian Football Season

Darrel Baldock