In the Beginning – 1956. Allen Killigrew and the rebirth of the Saints

In the Beginning – 1956.   by Allan Grant

Alan Killigrew, born 27th January 1919, was a student at CBC St Kilda when he was recruited to the Saints in 1938. He won St Kilda’s best and fairest in 1940 and represented Victoria in that same year. In all, he represented the Saints in 78 games. After World War 2 he contracted tuberculosis, which affected his spine and put an end to his football career. Coaching then became his passion and in 1956, Alan Killigrew arrived at St Kilda after a coaching stint in Ballarat, and set about laying the foundations for the Saints re-entry into the finals in 1961.

One of the driving influences behind his move to the Saints was Bob Wilkie, who played 117 games between 1940-42, and then after the war, between 1945-1951. Everyone knows Alan Killigrew’s contribution to St Kilda, but few outside the club would understand the enormous contribution Bob Wilkie made to the club as a player, administrator, past player and passionate supporter. Bob Wilkie was truly a Saint for life.

Upon arriving at the club in 1956, Alan Killigrew instantly turned the Saints upside down. Players were sent on their way and a number of new players were recruited. Those kept from the 1955 list were Brian Gleeson, Neil Roberts, Harold Davies, Keith Drinan, Ron Fountain, Allan Jeans, Neville Linney, Graham Minahan, Jack McDonald, Max Stephenson, Allan Mennie, Bill Gleeson, Bob Watt, Geoff Jones and Allan Callow. Milne McCooke was kept on the list, but failed to play a game in 1956. Other than a couple of notable exceptions, the players omitted from the list were those who had played just a handful of games and had only been at the club for a season or two.

Les Foote had captain-coached the Saints for two seasons but had been unable to lift the club from the bottom of the ladder. His time had come, despite adding the Saints best and fairest to his long list of football honors.

Bruce Phillips had been recruited from Camden way back in 1947. Like Bob Murray, he had failed to impress over a couple of years, until in late 1949 when he was tried at full back. In 1950 he was the Saint’s best and fairest, represented the State and came third in the Brownlow. He continued this fine form as the best full back in the league, until in a practice match in 1956, he injured his knee and never played again. He was just 26. This blow devastated new coach Killigrew on the eve of his first season. Keith Drinan was called upon to fill the void at full back and although he was near the end of his great career, he gave his all in the key post throughout 1956 and ’57.

Of the 20 plus players to leave the Saints at the end of 1955, beside Foote and Phillips, only 3 had played more than a handful of games. These three were Ray Houston, a ruckman who had played 33 games in 4yrs, Bruce McLennan, who played 46 games between 1950 and 1955, and Don Howell, a 29 game red haired winger who was cleared to Collingwood. We hated the thought of a Saint going to the Pies. Although I was just 6 yrs old, I was certainly taught to dislike the Magpies at an early age. I remember my Uncles Jack and Leo Kennedy trying to bribe me to switch allegiance to the Pies. Substantial sums of money were involved, but I was having none of it. Of course Howell who was to return to the Saint’s later as a sponsor, and very active past player, proved to be a very good player at the Pies much to my disappointment.

1956 saw the recruitment of some key players in the campaign to play finals football again. Although more were to arrive in 1957 and 1958, key players were to join those left from 1955 to form the nucleus of the Saints drive to the 1961 finals. Recruits included:

Bud Annand: Recruited from Castlemaine. A great bloke who made up for a lack of skill with a great big heart. He played 106 games from 1956 till 1962.

Paul Dodd: A great little rover from East Ballarat. He played only 57 games from 1956 till 1962. He represented Victoria and was another St Kilda tragedy. Serious injuries restricted the number of games he played.

Brian McCarthy: From Yarrawonga played 74 Games from 1956-1961.

Bill Young: Bill was recruited from Stratford and played 94 games from 1956 – 1961 and I saw every one of them. People today have no idea how idolised he was by Saints supporters. He was small for a full forward, but knew where the goals were. He was leading goal kicker for the Saints from 1956 till 1960, and is still credited as the inventor of the banana kick.

Brian Walsh: A reliable back pocket, Brian played 131 games from 1956 – 1964. He was recruited from Ormond Amateurs, and in 1956, had the honour of representing the VFL/VFA at the Olympic Games in the Australian Rules exhibition sport, VFL/VFA versus the VAFA. In the same side as Brian was Lindsay Gaze, (VFA) Australian Basketball Olympian, and interestingly the VAFA side was captained by Geoff Hibbins who played 32 games with the Saints between 1952-1954.

The Saints side of Round 12, 1956 read as follows:

Backs: Bruce Murray, Keith Drinan, Bill Waldron.
H.Backs: Brian Walsh, Neil Roberts, Harold Davies.
Centres: Graham Minihan, Alan Dale, Ivan Baumgartner.
H Forwards: Alan Jeans, Brian Gleeson, Jack McDonald.
Forwards: Bud Annand, Bill Young, Peter Clancy.

Rucks Brian Muir, Neville Linney.
Rover Paul Dodd.

19th and 20th: Brian (Muncher) Molony, Norm Thompson.

1956 was a turning point not in wins on the board, but respect!

The Saints had finished last in 1955 with one win. Apart from Neil Robert’s sensational 3rd place in the Brownlow, we were a laughing stock. Losses were by huge margins and the Saints were regarded as a club with no heart. Bob Wilkie and others convinced the committee to go after Alan Killigrew, and armed with a tape of a Killigrew’s half time address at a Ballarat grand final , they were able to convince the committee Killigrew was the man for the job. It is folklore that Bob Wilkie, Graham Huggins and Alec Peak visited Ballarat with this new fangled tape machine to record Killigrew’s pre game address, but they were unable to work it, and finally got it operating in time for the half time rev up. This tape was played on Channel 9 when Alan Killigrew died some years ago. It is a legendary piece of Saint’s history and a copy transferred to CD is now in the Saints heritage museum. This was donated to the Saints by Bob Wilkie jnr.

Alan Killigrew refused to accept defeat, he hated it and set out to instill pride in the players through 1956. Although they only won 4 games for the year, there were no walkovers, the side fought out all the games and they gained a new respect.
A newspaper article of the era described in some detail St Kilda’s improved performance for the season. It pointed out they were no longer being annihilated week after week, but led Collingwood into time on, gave Geelong a huge fright at Kardinia Park and then unexpectedly broke through for a huge win against Nth Melbourne in Round 12. Bill Young starred kicking 8 goals and then booted 6 more in a thrilling win against the “Dogs” at Western Oval, in Round 13.

The Saints had gained some long lost respect. Supporters who braved the terraces week after week had been given new hope. There was a little spring in the step of this 7 yr old as he looked forward to the next season. As he went home to paste the images of his 1956 heroes into his scrap book he looked forward to 1957. It was indeed a new beginning!

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Allan I had the absolute privilege tp play under Killers coaching at Norwood High in 79 he was a remarkable man you were ready to run thru brick walls I loved him.Killer organised Bob Skilton to present our trophies at the end of the season he introduced me to Bob saying this guy has the best football brain I have ever coached ( Skilts thinks he is being introduced to a future champion) Killer follows up with pity he can’t play,Skilts had this horrified look on his face I burst out laughing and as far as I was concerned it was a huge compliment.Allan was the hot gospeler was razor sharp about footballers and sport he was caring and I am proud to say he was a fantastic friend and mentor.

  2. G’day Allan,

    Welcome to the Almanac!

    I am a Japanese St Kilda supporter barracking for three years. So I have no idea what VFL in old days was. When I listen to GBU Crew segment on SEN every Wednesday night, I have no idea what they talk about. But it is interesting to read your writing.

    It is surprising for me to hear our beloved Saints went through tough time back in 1950s. I feel sad that not many footballers played many games in these days.

    I reckon the club rose up well after passing through such tough times and won the flag in 1966. Even if the mighty Saints played Grand Final in 2009 and 2010, the club went down and reached at the bottom very sadly in 2014.

    As the club recruited good young blokes in recent years, the Saints will go up the ladders year by year and this time will reach to the very top. The mighty Saints will win the flag by 2018, I strongly believe.

    I hope our boys have strong passion like these past players had to gain efforts to win the second flag.

    Go SAINTS!!

    Yoshi from Kyoto, Japan

  3. Killigrew coached Subiaco in the WAFL in 1967. They finished last.

    That sounds a bit blunt but I’m just adding to the record. And it’s a reminder of how many Victorians have headed west over the years… this is my latest project.

    The Brothers at CBC Kalgoorlie used to carry on about Killigrew so I guessed there would be a CBC connection.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Killer is 1 of the few to have coached at the top level in Victoria,Wa and Norwooc in South Australis
    Graham Campbell did and I think Dennis Jones any others knackery ? Haydyn Bunton ? Any 1 coach at the top level in more than 3 states ?

  5. Haydn Bunton snr didn’t coach in WA.
    Haydn Bunton jnr didn’t coach in Victoria.

    But they qualify under the father-son rule.

  6. Warwick Nolan says

    Love your work Alan. The only Alan Killagrew story ever written that did not use the cliche ” Hot Gospeller”. God bless you. I think you are the same Alan I met at an MCG photo shoot in 2010. A very active contributor in gathering and protecting St.Kilda FC history. Thanks Alan. Look forward to some more.

  7. Hi Warwick. Yes I remember our conversation prior to the 2010 GF. I enjoyed that conversation not the two Grand Finals. Another totally unsatisfactory milestone in our sometimes painful journey as Saints supporters. I will be posting a series from 1956 to 1966 if I can get it all done which I hope in some way can mirror the current journey to the next Saints flag. Just replace the names Huggins and Drake with Finnis and Bains because in the end great administration brings flags. They have a few minefields to cross yet but lets hope they can get it all done.
    I laughed about the hot gospeller comment . I might get into the difficulties of religion mixed with politics when I get to the end of 1958 and the furore that engulfed the Saints ending in Killigrews departure from the club. Thanks for your comments much appreciated. watch out for the next in this series 1957.

  8. Hello Allan Grant – thank you for your wonderful tribute to my father Alan Killigrew; I was born whilst dad was coaching at Norwood Football Club 1961 it was wonderful reading the comments too. I grew up with these names in our home on many a Sunday afternoon and reliving the game kick by kick.

  9. Singers Rocket says

    Thanks Allan for sharing these wonderful memories.

    A couple of points:

    What club did Killa coach in Ballarat before he returned to the Saints, and were they successful?

    I reckon Brian Walsh is the only player in that 1956 team that played in the 1963 finals team? Later, of course, he went to coach Cobram in the Murray league. Saw the Saints play a combined Tatura coached by Bill Coady, Strathmerton (Lance Oswald) and Cobram (Brian Walsh) in a practice match at Tat in 1965

    And was Bob Wilkie, a close confidant of Alan Jeans when Yabby took over as coach? Reckon he was always with Jeans even after he finished coaching the Saints, and was with him when Jeans coached NSW teams.

  10. Allan Grant says

    Thanks to Mezmuir. Like you I once sat on your Dads knee when I was 6 yrs old and he told me I would be the next Bill Young. A young boys dream. It never happened of course.
    i went to school with your brother John and I know that Bob Wilkie Jnr keeps in touch with him in WA. I am really pleased you liked that article. I hope to do more depending on who is interested. I wrote for the Saints for a while but after a while I sent a few things and they were not published so guessed they were not interested.
    Hi Singers rocket. You make a couple of points which I will try to answer.
    Killa coached East Ballarat first and then Golden Point. It was a tape of his address at half time to the Golden Point team that influenced St Kilda to select him as coach. I know Bob Wilkie was one of the three Saints officials who taped the address and a copy of it is in the Saints museum if it has been reestablished at Moorabbin. Unfortunately Golden Point lost that Grand Final.
    Brian Walsh played from 1956 to 11964. So your assumption is correct. I can’t think of another 1956 player who played in the 63 finals. I could look it up but I will guess you are right. Interestingly Brian Walsh played in the 1956 Olympic VFL team against the combined VFA and VAFA. He could only have done that if he was playing as an amateur for the Saints. Quite a few players played as amateurs in the VFL in that era.
    BobWilkie Allan Killigrew and Alan Jeans were best mates and continued to be all their lives. I have seen photos of them together at BBQs at their houses arm in arm and surrounded by family. They were a strong friendship unit and thus was complimented by many players of that era. The cultivation of lasting friendships was important to the players of that era.
    Thanks for your comments. It’s nice that people are reading my posts some years later. Very gratifying.

  11. Singers Rocket says

    Thanks Allan,

    Great to learn of that friendship bond between Bob Wilkie, Killa and Allan Jeans.

    Just on Lance Oswald – won best and fairests in 60-61 plus State centreman. Ian Stewart comes to the club in 1963 and goes straight into the centre and makes it his own! Oswald confined to the wing and/or half-forward flank still played very well.

    Oswald goes to Strathmerton the next year as captain-coach and wins the flag! Coached them for a long time. In fact, I believe he still lives there.

    He was named on the wing in St Kilda’s Team of the Century. Stewart, was in the centre, of course.

    Reckon Oswald was also an outstanding cricketer as well. Used to regularly play against touring sides for Victorian Country teams in the north-east.

    Your hero Bill Young was also very good. Scored 50-odd against the English in 54-55 in a match in Gippsland.

  12. Allan Grant says

    Yep Lance Oswald #24 one of our greats and yes a very good cricketer. I used to go down to Bill Youngs sports store and as Was a pretty good cricketer as a kid talk more about cricket than footy. Coached me a bit with my defence out the back of the shop

  13. Allan – I’m hoping your readers can help me I have a small silver cup with the Saints emblem on it with the name ‘Mike Williamson’ on it don’t really know the history behind it but would love to pass it on to his family.

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