David Williams – a coaching legacy

David Williams is a name synonymous with country footy. Although he had an outstanding playing career where he played 67 games of VFL/AFL for the Melbourne FC, 260 games for Rochester, two best and fairest awards and 2 premierships, it is his coaching career that has created his legacy. ‘Dirty’, as he is universally known, started coaching senior footy in 1992 and lead the Tigers to premiership glory over a star-studded Tatura side, which were coached by the fearsome Greg Dax.

In those early days, those who played under him speak highly of his ability to extract the best out of the playing group and demand commitment from them more in line with what a professional player would expect, rather than a country footballer. Fresh out of the AFL, where injury curtailed his ability to compete at the highest level, the knowledge he gained throughout his playing days seemingly held him in good stead for his venture into coaching and he was able to implement training regimes not seen at Rochester before. The imposing and powerfully built Williams liked to lead by example on the field, well known for his fierce attack on the ball and penchant for testing out the opposition’s mental and physical fragility. This passion carried over into his quarter and half time addresses and he demanded no less from his players than he gave himself.

For one of the smallest towns in the highly regarded Goulburn Valley Football League (GVL) in Victoria, Dirty did a fantastic job in leading the Rochester FC through a very successful decade, where the only year they didn’t contest finals was 1996. Throughout this period the Tigers were envied by the rest of the league, a fearsome side that had a win at all costs mantra, a number of players whose attack on the ball was peerless and an ability to develop and retain local talent. This latter point is clearly not mentioned nearly enough in discussions involving William’s coaching credentials; yes, players like Anthony ‘Tank’ McPhee, Simon McCarty, Robbie Miller and Tim Rasmussen are clearly GVL champions that will be revered for decades and were integral to Rochester’s successful era, but there’s little doubting that Dirty got the best out of these players and was able to manufacture game plans that exploited their obvious talents and strengths. By instilling leadership qualities and an overly competitive culture into these players, Rochester were then also able to develop, and maintain, other excellent local players such as Jeremy Campbell, Chris McCarty, Steve Rasmussen, Dean Moon, Heath Aitken, Ben Anderson and Sam Brennan; all of whom played junior football at the club.

In 1993 Rochester was unlucky not to win back-to-back premierships, being in front at the final siren before Adam Houlihan sealed a Shepparton Bears Premiership with a goal after full-time.  They were also good enough to contest the 1997 & 1998 grand finals but were unsuccessful in their attempts at claiming the ultimate prize, ultimately losing to Echuca and Tatura. Rochester contested its 5th grand final of the 90’s in 1999 and Dirty savoured a Premiership victory yet again. Incredibly the 1999 premiership side contained only three recruited players in Nathan Gemmill, Glenn Hawker and Brad Sparks. Sixteen players that day had developed through the junior ranks of the Rochester FC and 5 players had played over 200 senior games. It is surely one of the most ‘local’ premiership sides in GVL history and credit to the way Dirty demanded loyalty from the players and created an environment where team success was more highly valued than individual accolades. Amazingly, they also had four local players kick over 50 goals for the season in Dirty, Tank McPhee, Tim Rasmussen and Robbie Miller, a feat I’m not sure has been equalled in local football.

Throughout the 90’s Rochester was well served by recruits such as ex-VFL player Gavin Exell, Morrison medal winner Phillip ‘Toot’ Morgan and the aforementioned Brad Sparks. In 2000 the club recruited the prize scalps of VFL players John McNamara, Matt Halpin and Craig Lazarro. In some players minds they had a better line-up than 1999, but they were eliminated in the first semi-final that year, going down to Shepparton United in a match at Kyabram, where, ironically, McNamara was to kick 2.7 and arguably cost them the game.

Following the loss Rochester off-loaded John McNamara and stuck with the local players, which again had outstanding results, taking them to repeated grand finals against Echuca in 2001 and 2002, losing both to their arch enemy in fierce contests. During this six year period they competed in five grand finals, which is only bettered in the past 50 years by Shepparton United’s effort of six straight from 1984-89, and a clear indication of Rochester’s remarkable consistency and Dirty’s ability to continually find the enthusiasm and motivation necessary, for not only himself, but his players, to compete on the last day of September.

In 2003, the Tigers were again near the top of the table, finally making their way to the preliminary final, before bowing out in the 2004 first semi & 2005 elimination finals. In 2006 Rochester missed finals altogether for the first time since 1996. Although recovering slightly in 2007 to finish just outside the final six with an 8-10 record, a massive decision was made by the Rochester FC committee and after 16 years, two premierships, seven grand final appearances and 13 finals campaigns, Dirty parted ways with the club.

Whatever the perspective on the decision and whether it was for the betterment of the club, or not, if there was ever a question on whether Dirty still had the passion, motivation and ability to coach at senior level was quickly answered. He took the reigns at neighbouring Goulburn Valley club, the Kyabram Bombers, who won only two games in 2007 and finished second last that year. Desperate for success and suffering from being unable to retain their local talent, they hadn’t competed in a grand final since their premiership victory in 1996. Dirty’s appointment had an immediate and tangible impact on the club, going from second last in 2007 to an elimination final in 2008. Well respected and admired Kyabram champion Chris Atkins said that after being coached by Dirty at GV interleague level, he’d always hoped to be able to play under him and was in awe of how accountable and honest the teams coached by Dirty were. Unsurprisingly, Dirty was unwavering in the commitment he demanded from players, which undoubtedly ruffled a few feathers of some players at the club, but after finishing second last in 2007, the Bombers played off for the 2009 grand final, going down by 21 points to Mansfield. In 2010 they finished on top of the ladder and competed again for the grand final, this time going down to Shepparton United by four goals.

These grand final losses have lead Dirty to the painful statistic of coaching in nine grand finals for ‘only’ two wins. Critics see this stat as a ‘flaw’ in his coaching; the inability to deliver on the big stage, yet this criticism is laughable when you consider that to win the premiership you’ve got to get to the grand final to do so. Experienced football people will consistently tell you that grand final days are the most pure 50/50 contests, where errors are magnified, near misses crucial and the bounce of the ball life changing (ask Steven Milne and St Kilda about that one). Making a grand final is every club’s goal. WINNING a grand final only becomes a goal at the end of the September, when the hard work from October culminates to make this goal a reality. Dirty Williams has delivered this opportunity an average of almost once every 2 years over the duration of his 300 game coaching career. Show me a club or player who wouldn’t take those odds and I’ll show you a liar.

Dirty’s winning ratio stands at just under 70% in his time at Kyabram, a staggering statistic especially where the club was situated when he took over. His winning percentage is similarly impressive from his time at Rochester, meaning he’s coached over 210 victories in the GVFL. After speaking with Dirty, the motivation he gets to continually improve his coaching and put his hand up for what can be a heavily criticised role include his love of the club atmosphere, the struggle of competition and most of all the great people he’s met along the way. His future goal is simple, to coach Kyabram to a GVFL premiership; with their list in 2013 a potential reality. For a coach who continually leaves no stone unturned in his preparation and has done so for more than 20 years it would be a justified reward.


  1. Dr Rocket says

    This is a terrific piece Tav.

    You are able to provide a wonderful insight into an egnimatic character.

    I would like to know more about your own personal experience playing under Dirty.

    I reckon you are so right about Dirty being able to get the best out of his teams at both Rochy and Ky. How he got Rochy into so many grand finals is a tribute to his coaching. Rochy were robbed by a shocking decision by a show pony umpire (Freer) in the 93 GF against Shepp. Never to be forgiven. So it should be 3 flags.

    Those GF defeats in 2001 and 2002 by Echuca really hurt – because, of course, it wasby the hated Echuca. Rochy’s defeat of the star-studded Echuca in the 2nd semi is held by up locals as one of the Rochy footy club’s greatest wins. Alas it could not be repeated in the GF.

    What I don’t think you have captured is how much Dirty operates on the us-against-them factor. He used this to great effect with Rochy – smallest town in the league/media and league based in Shepp always against Rochy/everybody out to put us down, etc.

    He was a massive supporter of the Rochy footy club. When he was in the pub and then with the tyre business he was the club’s major sponsor! This may have meant that in essence he returned his coaching fees to the club!!!

  2. Paul Daffey says

    I agree with Rocket (more common than you might think).

    David Williams has been one of the biggest personalities – you might even say the biggest personality – in country footy for the past two decades.

    Tavis, you’ve given a great indication of the man.

    I realise he’s a man of passion, and would give himself fully to whatever pursuit he chose, but I reckon his frustration at having a blossoming AFL career cut short short by injury would have fuelled him as a coach.

  3. Tavis Perry says

    Hey Rocket & Daff,

    Thanks for your comments. Your right, rocket, in that there were many other impressive facets I could’ve added about Dirty & his commitment to coaching; it was rumoured that he coached for nothing at least one season AND was the clubs major sponsor! Wouldn’t happen at many places I don’t think.

    I just personally felt him impossible to say ‘no’ to, if there was an extra training session that he wanted us to do there was no way I’d miss it! I also felt I concentrated more when I played under him, extra careful not to make a simple mistake.. I didn’t like his wrath!

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