COLIN CHURCHETT

Sport creates legends and mythologies and one of South Australia’s went gently with the recent passing of Colin Churchett. He was 86 and had been ill for many years.

In his day “Churchy” was an undersized full forward for Glenelg in the post war years who twice kicked more than one hundred goals in a season.

While spearheads of the time (especially the indefatigable Ken Farmer) relied on leading, marking and a steady kick – Churchett was a quick and clever. His ability to seize an opportunity prompted Port Adelaide captain-coach Fos Williams to write “the opposition never knew when they had Colin Churchett under control … he could look so completely cornered with no chance of reaching the goals or even getting a kick in that direction. Yet suddenly the ball would fly over his shoulder for a major.”

That Colin Churchett could kick a goal from almost anywhere was not an accident. He had for years honed a skill – this is where the mythology begins – that may have made him the first player to regularly use what became known as the “check-side” punt.

It began with a kid kicking the ball for hours in the backyard pretending to be Glenelg’s Jack Owens. Then at Black Forest Primary School the sports master posed a question to the kid that if it is possible to kick the screw punt one way it must be possible to make it screw back the other way. He suggested holding the ball as if the clock hands were at two and eight. When dropped onto the right boot at that angle, the ball would curl around to the right thus opening up a range of goal scoring opportunities previously unavailable with regular punt kicks. The kid took the idea and honed it in his backyard for hours and hours.

Colin Churchett’s league career spluttered due to the war. He enlisted in the navy seeing active service and walking through the ashes of Hiroshima. When he returned to Adelaide he asked for a game at Glenelg and was played on a forward flank. One day in 1947 he was sent to full forward to cover an injured player and it was time to unpack the backyard tricks.

If Saturday afternoons were the matinee then his team-mates received an advance showing during the week. To start training sessions, Churchett would start on the boundary line and kick for goal. After each successful shot he would move further around the line until he has slotted one from the full arc. Training would stop when he reached a tight angle and unleash his reverse screw punts. As they tailed through the goal posts his team mates would applaud and laugh at the skill and audacity.

In the opening round of the 1949 season against South Adelaide Churchett kicked 13.7 after which he was described in The Football Budget as “essentially a ground player and relies upon his uncanny shooting for goal with either foot.”

While Churchett’s skills remained a solo performance at the Bay, a contemporary was taking it to a team level. Norwood captain-coach Jack Oatey had a strong belief that skill rather than conditioning or strength ultimately wins games. First at Norwood then West Adelaide but most famously at Sturt, he spent training sessions turning his players into football artisans.

Oatey taught all his players the same kick Churchett had. In the late 1960s the Double Blues won five premierships in a row with a blend of speed and skill. In the 1968 grand final Peter Endersbee set the win up in the first quarter with two goals from kicks the television commentators called “backscrew punts”.

Somewhere along the line the kick became known as a “check side” and was eventually listed by the National Trust as a South Australian icon alongside Stobie poles and frog cakes. Victorian commentators simplified the name to a “banana kick” and it now flourishes with AFL players regularly spinning balls like Shane Warne leg breaks for goals.

Colin Churchett followed the development of the game and the kick throughout his life. Several years ago we met in his modest home and after a cup of tea he produced this photograph of a match against Norwood. Churchett is on the run and dropping the ball “check-side” onto his boot.

“I kicked a lot of goals from it in my time,” he said softly tapping the photo with his finger. “Now everyone is doing it.”

Colin Churchett, Glenelg 1943, 46 – 54 186 games, 556 goals

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a journo working for the ABC in SA. His scribblings include “1964”, “Fos Wiliams on Football” and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. Thanks Michael.
    Churchett’s name was imprinted on my young mind as my brother and I memorised lists from the back of the Miller’s Guide.
    His prominence as a goalkicking hero was reinforced a decade later as we stood in Bay Disco queues in front of Glenelg’s honour boards!
    Owens, Churchett, D.K. Phillis….
    R.I.P. another Tiger great.

  2. Footnote:
    At Colin Churchett’s memorial (and wake at the Bay) it was pointed out by club historian Peter Cornwall that in the years 1946-67 the century of goals in an SANFL season was kicked by only one player – Colin Churchett who did it twice (1950,51). During the same period in the VFL the ton was topped by only one player – John Coleman who did it three times (1949,50,52).
    However I respectfully note that while kicking 100 in a season seemed difficlut in Adelaide and Melbourne in the post war years it was a doddle in Perth where 12 times it was topped in that period including 5 times by Bernie Naylor at South Fremantle

  3. Michael – Do you know what guernsey number he was?

  4. John Welch says:

    iwas always miffed that the Croweaters laid claim to the ‘Boomerang’ as it was known in the VFL in the 60’s. Landy/Roberts types termed it a banana later on but it was perfected by Blair Campbell, #35 for the Tigers and then 42 for the Dees. While only playing a handful of games for both, could not kick further than about 40 m straight but could kick a boomerang from anywhere. Kicked 5 v Carlton at Princes Park one day…He passed this skill onto ‘Roast’ [Robert Lamb] who had a successful Career at Punt Road and also to a lad called David Morgan, who starred in the old TV show the ‘Magic Boomerang’ [funny that]. Morgan played in the Canberra comp I think as a successful full forward kicking plenty when he outgrew the small screen. All were small forwards just like Churchett who augmented their game with this audacious skill as termed by the Budget. Campbell also played for Victoria and Tassy in the Sheffield Shield as a spin bowler with a penchant for cold pies, long hair when it was out of fashion and cropped when out of fashion. A strange unit who also went into the church, everything he did had a spin or a twist to it…round the bend I think.

  5. Churchett was the best No 5 the Tigers ever had … until Peter Carey came along.

  6. Sounds fair!

  7. Alovesupreme says:

    JW,
    Your comment may be fair (I have no special knowledge and no dog in this fight, as prior to reading the post, I confess I hadn’t heard of Colin Churchett). However, given that Churchett was playing in the forties, and Blair Campbell was in the 60s, the origins of the banana/boomerang/check-side will ned to be further teased out to establish your implicit claim that its origins were in Victoria rather than in SA.

    Since the Encylopedia of VFL/AFL Players suggests that Campbell was “credited with inventing the banana kick”, it seems that chronology favours the Glenelg claimant. Is this another case of Victorian imperialism?

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    While too young to have seen Colin Churchett play have heard many stories about his skills and ability to pinch a goal especially with a check side Thanks Mike
    ( more old SANFL stories please )

  9. v.j.miller says:

    At Adelaide High School in 1942, in winter, Colin Churchett pitched for the baseball team in the saturday morning, played in the football team in the afternoon. In summer, Colin played in the tennis team in the saturday morning,, in the cricket team in the afternoon.
    He was one of those rare people who can do anything in any ball game,
    The baseball team was a real pickup gang, none left from the previous year’s team. Colin had never played baseball before but he naturally took on the pitcher’s role without trouble. I, a boy from the bush, had done some catching there and now did my best to match up to Colin.
    We won every game during the season, except, would you believe it ? the final.

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