Diesel: From Golden Square to gold in Sydney

By Richard Jones

Greg “Diesel” Williams, Golden Square’s former champion young centreman, was a senior Geelong player when he spent a busy off-season during the summer of 1985-86.
When Geelong dumped Tommy Hafey and Sydney snapped Hafey up, the canny coach knew which leading Cats’ players were coming out of contract.
So he had a word in the ear of Swans boss Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, who was prepared to use money — heaps of it — to mould a team that could win its way into the finals.
Williams hadn’t had any luck in the early 1980s convincing the Carlton brains trust he was a league footballer. But after leaving the Square and getting those knockbacks from the Blues he actually got his start in the then VFL at Kardinia Park.
In his book Diesel: The Greg Williams Story, the dual Michelsen medallist for best and fairest in the Bendigo Football League tells how Edelsten nurtured the grand plan of VFL bosses Allen Aylett and Jack Hamilton once South Melbourne had been shifted to the Harbour City.
And Williams was one of the marquee players involved in Edelsten’s build-up during those early Sydney days.

AS SOON as Edelsten appointed Hafey, Williams writes, Hafey’s manager Danny Finley contacted him along with three other out-of-contract Geelong players, Andrew Bews, David Bolton and Bernard Toohey.
“Andrew was a local bloke from North Geelong and not really interested. But the rest of us were keen to know more.
“I was particularly interested because I was having trouble negotiating a new contract with Bill Goggin, Geelong’s former champion rover and later coach. He’d become football director and was the real power around the place.
“I had just won the club’s best-and-fairest award but was being paid considerably less than several other players — Gary Ablett, Brian Peake, John Mossop, the South Australian Bruce Lindner and even my old mate, Mick Turner.
“I felt I was entitled to a better deal.’’

So Williams contacted another old teammate,  former champion Golden Square full-forward Ron Best, to find out how he thought Williams, Toohey and Bolton should proceed.
“Ron suggested that David Bolton and I drive up to Bendigo on the Friday night, discuss the matter at his place and maybe give the Doc a call.”
Best ended up making the call and it was arranged for Bolton, Toohey, Williams and their wives to meet Edelsten at the Menzies at Rialto Hotel in Melbourne.
“At the meeting the Doc was very frank, very open. He said yes to all our inquiries — money, accommodation, everything.”
Then came the quandary, Williams says. The offer was in the region of $100,000 a year — more than double the money Geelong was paying him.
“But I really wanted to stay at Geelong. All I asked was to raise my pay from $45,000 a year to $50,000 but Goggin wouldn’t have it, so they let a lousy $5000 take me away.”
Ron Best arranged for his friend Andrew Fairlie, a solicitor in Rochester and also a Richmond Football Club director, to tie up the legal side of things with Sydney. Fairlie clinched a four-year contract for Williams and three-year deals for Toohey and Bolton.
“Of course Geelong expected to profit handsomely in transfer fees for the three of us — fees which disappeared in the VFL/AFL once the draft system of player transfers was introduced.
“The Geelong brains trust was disappointed when Dr Edelsten offered just $300,000. Geelong had expected more than half-a-million,” Williams wrote.
“They put a price of $200,000 (the VFL ceiling then current on transfers) on me and something like $180,000 each on the other two.”
What actually happened, says Williams, was that after an appeal Geelong received $120,000 for Williams himself, $80,000 for Toohey and $40,000 for Bolton.
The Cats ended up something like $320,000 — on their calculations —down the gurgler. And they actually ended up pocketing less than the Doc’s original $300,000 offer, receiving just $240,000.
Williams lists other top players lured by Sydney in that frantic period before the 1986 season:
Gerard Healy, then 24, Melbourne’s best and fairest in 1984 and a talented, thinking player. He was the only new Swan to be paid more than Williams;
Merv Neagle, 27, a country boy, from Dimboola, he was an Essendon wingman and runner-up in the Brownlow medal in 1980;
Paul Morwood, 26, the oldest of three brothers who starred for South Melbourne. Morwood had switched to St Kilda when the Swans originally moved north;
Jim Edmond, 27, Footscray’s captain for three years and the Dogs’ leading goalkicker in 1981, and;
Glenn Coleman, 24, the tallest of all the recruits, at 193 centimetres, who moved home to South Sydney after five years with Fitzroy.
But not all of those on Edelsten’s shopping list moved to Sydney. Simon Madden, Essendon’s No. 1 ruckman, decided to play out his career at Windy Hill. Melville Islander Maurice Rioli was blocked by Richmond, which refused to clear him at any price. And Madden’s brother Justin, who hadn’t long moved from Essendon to Carlton, didn’t travel north either.
“There was plenty of talk which came to nothing about Essendon’s Terry Daniher, Richmond’s Michael Roach and Hawthorn’s Michael Byrne,’’ Williams noted.

Excerpts from Diesel: The Greg Williams Story. Ironbark Press, Pan Macmillan Australia, 1995.

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