Country Footy: Coaches who stamped their mark on the BFL

By Richard Jones

JOURNALISTS and senior coaches often form prickly relationships, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no dialogue between the two parties.

Here in the Bendigo league there’s been some remarkable figures.

Clearly success is measured by the number of premierships a senior coach garners for his club yet I have found some mentors, without a single flag to their names, who have stamped lasting impressions with me.

Here are a few for footy fans to consider.

Derrick Filo (Kyneton, Kangaroo Flat, Eaglehawk): when he was a playing captain at Castlemaine I never thought of Dekka as a coach. Admittedly, he had captained the Magpies to their 1992 premiership, but it wasn’t until he had returned to central Victoria from Balranald to coach Kyneton that Filo’s leadership really blossomed. He took the Tigers to the 1995 and 1997 flags – and a narrow six-point loss to Kangaroo Flat in 1996 – and then revitalized the Roos as the Noughties dawned.

Unable to counter powerful Gisborne sides in his early years at Eaglehawk, Filo galvanized the Two Blues to their dramatic two-point grand final win over the Graveyard Dogs in 2007 (12.12 to 12.10), following up with a one-goal win over the Square a year later. He has gathered together another powerful list for the 2010 season and evergreen Filo, one of the greatest players this region has seen, is set for another big year.

Brian Walsh (Sandhurst, Golden Square): another returning central Victorian with experience at VFL/AFL level (Carton and Essendon: 115 total games, 211 goals) Walsh racked up outstanding success as a senior coach. In 1985 Walsh coached Sandhurst to the BFL grand final, only to see the Dragons succumb to the rampaging Northern United by five goals. Walsh had the last laugh, though. His Golden Square side of 1988 ended the Swallows’ run of four flags with a 14-point play-off win. Then Walsh backed up the Bulldogs with a three-goal victory over the Peter Bradbury-coached South Bendigo in 1989. But perhaps his greatest moment was yet to come.

In 2001 Walsh’s Square side emerged victorious from the elimination final and then won their next three matches — including the 14-point grand final victory over Sandhurst — to become the only BFL side of the modern era to win a premiership from the first weekend’s sudden death elimination final.

Tony Southcombe (Golden Square, Northern United): a dual winner of the Michelsen Medal in 1972 and 1975 Bluey played in the Square premiership teams of those seasons, as well.  But it was as a playing coach he stamped an enduring mark on BFL history. After going down to Sandhurst by three points in the 1978 grand final [19.10 (124) to Square’s 18.13 (121)], Southcombe’s ‘79 side was never going to lose. I watched hardened Dragons’ supporters walk out of the QEO in September, 1979 as Bluey’s Bulldogs crushed Sandhurst 21.14 to 8.15.

His crowning achievements were still to come as he took fledgling major league club Northern United to three, successive flags in 1984-85-86 (Brendan Mason coached the Swallows in 1987).  Along with recruiting whizzes Terry Mangan and John Mulqueen Southcombe assembled a crack United side: Ron Best, Garry Mountjoy, Gavin Exell, Ron Couchman, Rod Lea, Murray Osborne, Leon Holt and Dave “The Painter” Wharton were in his top bracket of players. In more recent seasons, Bluey has taken Elmore to the Heathcote District Football League premiership.

Denis Higgins (Eaglehawk): there’s been some thrilling grand final battles in the BFL but none perhaps as nerve-jangling as the 1980 play-off. Higgins was the playing coach as the Two Blues triumphed by two points over Golden Square: 17.20 (122) to 19.6 (120). Higgins wasn’t too impressed by the media’s anointing of the Dogs’ Darryl Salmon as best afield in the pulsating grand final. At the after-match presentations, Higgins made it quite clear he thought Eaglehawk ruckman Gary Addlem should have snared the award.

Nevertheless Higgins and his players had the last laugh — they had the premiership cup in their keeping.

Like a lot of other leading players in the BFL, Higgins was also a consummate inter-league performer. He kicked the winning goal for the Blue and Golds in a Division 1 Country Championships semi-final. Bendigo downed Wimmera by less than a kick on the back of Higgins’ major.

Billy Barham (Kyneton): now although Billy didn’t lead the Tigers to a flag he’s in that category I mentioned in the introduction: a memorable coach. Perhaps more so to the outsider than the club’s insiders. He might not have been the first to do so, but Billy instilled the “us and them” frame of mind in Kyneton’s senior list. An enduring memory is of Billy huddled with his players at three-quarter time in the freezing cold, with sleet coming in sideways, waving his arms to explain which side of the Kyneton Showgrounds to bring the ball down.

Bill’s sons, Marcus and Jordan, are senior premiership players with Gisborne. In addition playing coach Marcus took the Graveyard Dogs to the 2005 and 2006 BFL flags, while Jordan Barham won the BFL Ron Best senior goalkicking medal with 75 goals in 2008.


  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Saw the Great Tony Southcombe coaching Elmore just a few years ago against another one of my old teams, Colbinabbin. Pretty sure the Bloods went onto beat Colbo in the grand final, 2007.

    Will never forget Rochy beating Square at home in 1971 – it rained, and poor old Tony’s glasses were fogged up all game! They had Ron Best at full-forward but his old team-mate Jeff Kalms kept him pretty quiet. Not too many got away from Kalmsie. A famous victory.

    Southcombe was a great player – and like Best has been a successful coach. Why is he absent from your list Comrade Dick?

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    I recall Tony Southcombe wearing those thick heavy glasses- and kicking bags of goals. Likewise Ron Best – I would love to see some figures for those two,They are the two names I most remember from the Bendigo league

  3. Richard Jones says

    WHEN I got to Bendy, Sultan Rocket, Besty had finished coaching and was a player. His final game was an 11-goal one, for Northern United in the ’84 grannie.

    He had played in the North Central F.L. for Boort in the very early 80s when bro.-in-law Bluey Southcombe was coaching there. Apparently Bluey said to Besty it was time for them to play TOGETHER — not as opponents when S. was at the Square and Besty was at the Hurst.
    So they did. In the NCFL and then back in the BFL with the Swallows out at Raywood/Kamarooka.

    Incidentally those 2 grounds alternated as home venues for United matches altho’ Raywood was by far the more favoured of the 2.

    Pamela: if you look at the yarn on the Best Ten I’ve seen I think it’s mentioned Besty slotted more than 1600 goals in the BFL. Then there’s the ones he booted in the NCFL in 2 separate stints to add on.
    Bluey won 2 Michelsen Medals and 4 premierships with the Square, 3 more flags as playing coach at United. Also coached Boort to the NCFL flag when he and Besty were there.
    Later (noted by the Abu Dhabi Sheikh) as non-playing coach at Elmore Southcombe added another premiership, this time in the Heathcote District F.L.

    He wore those thick, heavy glasses all his football playing career and still wears a pair. On-field ‘Bluey’ had thick rubber bands attached to the ear pieces which went around the back of his head to keep them on.

    In one memorable grand final, might have been 1988 or ’89, big Square CHB Phil McEvoy tore off Bluey’s glasses, stomped on them and as they were in pieces rendered them useless.

    The McEvoys are from Rocket’s beloved Colbinabbin territory.

  4. A couple of things that readers need to be aware of. Ron Best coached Sandhurst to a win in the 1977 Grand final and said they were the greatest group he had the pleasure to coach and then went back to G square. The then seconds coach, Pete Crosley, took over in 1978 and with a team of mostly teenagers beat the square in the 2nd semi and the Grand Final, an understated and very in your mind coach. he got 110% from all. Besty was a great player, a very good player and a good coach, but he gathered high quality forwards around him. i am not sure what greatness or stamped your mark means. The great D Higgins stamped his mark by using others to stamp their mark, those who played against and with him will know what I mean.

  5. HEY, Kanga: just back from 2 and a bit weeks in N.T. and outback South Oz so have only just switched on the laptop.

    Couldn’t be bothered typing in a response on the iPhone. Screen is too bloody small.

    Not sure if I wrote the headline indicating ‘stamping the mark on Bendy footy’. As you’d be aware people called sub-editors prepare pages and write headlines and even ‘kicker’ heads.
    But then again I may have suggested it. Don’t recall.

    I remember Crossley. Not great on inter-personal relationships I seem to recall. Altho’ to give him credit he did grudgingly acknowledge I was one of the only media persons to correctly tip the Hurst to beat C’maine in the 981 grannie.

    Only a few years ago he was renting a property across the back lane from the central Bendigo house we’ve lived in since 1980. A few waves from us went un-remarked or un-responded by him. Sort of confirmed my views!

    This year I’m serving on the Sandhurst 150th celebrations committee. Will keep readers posted about what’s coming up and who will be named in the Dragons/Cardinals Hall of Fame.

    They’ve already named their Team of the Century, or similar. That will appear in the media very shortly.

  6. Stephen Kalms says

    My dad is jeff kalms probably a bit late looking at dates of post but if anyone knows him what was he like as a football player

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