‘Whorouly boy maintains lifetime bond with the Swans…’ by KB Hill

Clem Goonan’s attachment to his old VFL club stretches back sixty years.


He’s remained true to them through good times and bad, and admits that only once has he seriously considered turning his back on the mighty Red and White………..


“I wasn’t too happy when South Melbourne was pressured into moving to Sydney…… I went lukewarm there for a year or so,” he says.


“I was part of the ‘Keep South at South’ brigade when things started to unravel in the early eighties, and went to a few pretty hostile meetings…….They weren’t good times…..But you eventually get over it….. I soon got back on the Swans bandwagon……”




Clem’s love affair with footy has consumed most of his 82 years.


He’s a Whorouly boy, born and bred, and spent much of his childhood gallivanting to and from the town’s Memorial Oval. The Goonan property was a three mile jaunt on his bike. He’d watch (and take part in) training, then throw the bike in the back of the family Ute for the trip home.


His dad (Alan), a Club diehard, was at various times President, Secretary and committeeman, so Clem found himself saddled with the Boundary Umpire’s job in 1952.


It was a historic year for the Maroons. After being runners-up to Beechworth for the previous two seasons, they outlasted the Bombers in a hard, slogging Grand Final, to win their first flag in 27 years, by two points.



Whorouly’s 1952 O & K PremiershipTeam.
13 year-old Boundary Umpire Clem Goonn is far right, front row.


Clem can still reel off most of the members of that side, like Silas McInnes, Mick Jess, Bill and Alan Newton, Bill Power, Tony Harrington, Kevin Mauger, and the coach, Rex Bennett, who played a starring role in the win.


The following season he made his senior debut at the tender age of 14. Several members of the Premiership side had gone their seperate ways and Whorouly spent a few years among the lower echelons of the O & K ladder.


But it was a ‘no brainer’ to punt on this talented, well-proportioned stripling, and he rapidly became one of the team’s stars. He blossomed under the coaching of the brilliant left-footer Billy Dalziel, and took out successive Club B & F’s in 1957 and ‘58.


His outstanding season in 1958 also saw him land the League Medal, as well as sharing the Chronicle Trophy with Bogong’s Eric Tye and Bright champ Tony Quirk.


For a mere 19 year-old, already with 90 senior games under his belt, that was the ‘green light’ to attract the attention of talent scouts far and wide.


“You received a letter in the mail those days,” Clem recalls…….. “Jim Cardwell, the Melbourne Secretary, wrote, asking me to come down. I thought : ‘They’re way too strong. I’ll never get a game there.’…. I knocked Geelong back because I reckoned they were too far away…….And St. Kilda were having a few internal problems. That put the kybosh on them……..So I decided to sign a Form Four with South Melbourne.”




In the meantime, Bill Dalziel had decided to move over to Myrtleford, and helped entice Clem to have a run with the Saints, to enhance his footy education


“I joined the Police Force on the 1st of May, 1959, and was stationed at Fitzroy. It meant travelling back to play with the Saints each week.”


“ I did a lot of my training at the Police Gym, and had a few runs with Fitzroy because their ground was close handy. They knew I could play a bit, and talked me into putting in for a clearance from South, with whom I was tied. But, of course South said: ‘No way known.’ “


Myrtleford, under the inspiring leadership of dual Magarey and Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, were loaded with talent in Clem’s two years with them.


His last game still sticks in his mind.


The Saints held a 21-point lead over defending premiers, Yarrawonga, going into the last quarter of the 1960 First Semi. But the game turned on its head, and the Pigeons, with all the momentum, led by 3 points, with just seconds remaining.


With one last desperate thrust, Myrtleford attacked again, and half forward Wally Hodgkin marked 45 yards out, right on the final siren……It was a dead accurate kick and just about everyone at the Benalla Showgrounds deemed it a major – except the goal-umpire – who signalled that it was touched on the line.


“A few of the wealthy tobacco-farmers had given the players a ‘sling’ before the game, in appreciation of our efforts during the year. Some of the senior players rated our chances so highly they suggested we use the money to back ourselves,” Clem says.


“You wouldn’t believe it, but the Yarra supporters handed the money back to us because of the conjecture over that disputed goal.”




Clem Goonan’s VFL debut, at the Junction Oval.
St. Kilda’s Alan Morrow reaches over South’s Peter Rice. Clem awaits the crumbs.


Clem’s senior debut with South Melbourne came on Queen’s Birthday weekend 1961, in front of 30,000 fans at St.Kilda’s Junction Oval.


“I felt pretty much at home; my opponent was Brian McCarthy, a Yarrawonga boy. And one of my old Myrtleford team-mates, Frank Hodgkin, was in his first season with St. Kilda.”


Lining up mostly on a half back flank, with an occasional stint as a ruck-rover, he had established himself in League football by the following season. He finished fourth in the Swans B & F, and was voted their Most Determined Player.


Melbourne premiership star Noel McMahon had been lured from a stint at Rochester to take over the coaching reins from Bill Faull. He was pronounced as the VFL’s first full-time coach. Clem immediately struck a chord with the likeable McMahon.


“He was a great coach, and a terrific guy, Noel. I loved playing for him. He’s coming up 95 this year……. I still pick him up and take him to South Past Players Functions.”


The South Melbourne sides of the early sixties contained stars such as Skilton, McGowan, Hughie McLaughlin, Jim Taylor, John Heriot, John ‘Mopsy’ Rantall and Graeme John.


But there weren’t nearly enough of them, and the Swans were never a major threat.


However, they always came into their own when the popular VFL Night Series was staged, between the non-finals combatants.


“The games were played at South’s Lakeside Oval, because ours was the only venue that had match-standard Lights,” Clem says.


“What an advantage it was for us ! There were a few dark spots in the pockets, which we were accustomed to. We had a fair bit of success….I enjoyed playing in them, and the crowds always flocked to the mid-week games because they were such a novelty……….”



Clem Goonan is second from right, third row.




After playing 50 senior games with the Swans Clem received a transfer to Wodonga in the Police Force.


“The locals said: ‘Seeing as you’re living and working in the town it’d be the right thing to play with us’. So I wasn’t too popular when I signed with Albury. (Murray) Weideman was coaching them and they were on their way to the 1966 flag.”


Unfortunately, Clem ‘did’ a cartilage in a mid-season Inter-League game against the Bendigo League, which laid him up for the rest of the season, and robbed him of his only chance to share in premiership glory.



Wang Rovers v Rutherglen 1970.
Clem Goonan about to clear the ball for the Redlegs.



He recovered, to play strongly over the next two seasons with the Tigers, before his old mate Frank Hodgkin talked him into helping him out with O & M rivals Rutherglen.


“They’d been a famous old club, of course, but were probably batting a bit out of their depth at this stage. I played two years under Frank, then took over the coaching job from him for ‘71 and ‘72. Despite their lack of success there was a wonderful spirit within the Club.”


His swansong as a player came in 1973 – as captain-coach of Burrumbuttock. Towards the end of the season he received notification of his promotion in the Police Force.


So he, Irene and their four kids made their way back to Melbourne.


“Graeme John, who was back coaching South Melbourne at this stage, got wind of it and rang me. He asked what I was up to and I said: ‘Dunno, I’m thinking about playing a bit of local footy.’ “


“He said: ‘Give it away, you silly old bugger. I want you to be my runner.’ “


“That was an experience; particularly when Ian Stewart took over from Graeme a couple of years later.”


“ ‘Stewie’ used to get so excited that it was impossible to understand a word he was saying……You’d be out there delivering a message…..The crowd would roar, and you didn’t know what had happened because you had your back to it………’Stewie’ would be there abusing me and mumbling something…….You’d ask him again and he’d almost go berserk, and grab you…push you….You daren’t ask him again, in case he went right off the air ! “


“I’m not sure if he was a good coach…..He expected everybody to be able to play to the standard that he did……He probably had good ideas…..if you could understand him !………. “





Clem did some Specialist, and Junior coaching with local clubs Norwood and Donvale, and got back to following South Melbourne, once his involvement as a Runner concluded.


He retired from the Police Force in 1989 with the rank of Sargeant.


In hindsight, he says, things worked out really well with the re-location of the Swans to Sydney.


“Feelings ran really high at the time, because of the pressure that the VFL were putting on the Club……. We were all pretty devastated with the way it was done, but there was no use remaining cranky about it……. At least the Swans have managed to maintain a presence in Melbourne.”


“They needed all the support they could get……. I’ve been on the Past Players’ Committee for the past 20 years or so………… Tony Morwood does a great job, along with one of my good mates, John Heriot.”


Clem’s been working part-time at the MCG, as a member of the Event Day Staff since 1999 which, he jokes: “has allowed me to have a sneak look at the action occasionally………”


Particularly when the Sydney Swans took out the flag in 2005 and 2012……..”Yeah….they were two of the most memorable days of my life………”


Ovens and King League Hall of Fame Inductees 2006. Richie Shanley, Clem Goonan, Ray Burns.



This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.


To read more of KB Hill’s great stories on the Almanac, click HERE.


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  1. Love this connection with Noel McMahen

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