Local Footy: Great recruiting coups of the bush

Rarely have there ever been any secrets in football and when the recruiters from the Big Smoke came to town, it was always big news.

Brendan Edwards, best afield in Hawthorn’s first-ever premiership in 1961, was creating a stir in Sandhurst in the mid-50s, North Melbourne and Hawthorn among his many suitors.

In those days before set zones, the hardest-working secretaries would pair up with his senior coach and spend all Sundays out on the hustings, acting on tip-offs, often from former players coaching and playing in the country.

Word got through to ex-Hawk Kevin Curran that the recruiters from North Melbourne were in Bendigo and keen to sign Edwards, a readymade star.

He knew that Edwards was catching the tram back into Bendigo from his teaching round and he met the tram, cornered young Brendan and said: “I’ve got 50 pounds for you to sign this form (four) in case you ever decide to play League football.”

Fifty quid was serious money back then, the equivalent of a month’s work. Curran could talk underwater with a mouth of marbles and he soon convinced Edwards  to sign and back the kid floated to the hostel he was staying at find Les Foote and the North Melbourne boys waiting for him … “with 200 pounds for me!” he said. “ ‘Gentleman,’ I said. ‘I’m very sorry but you’re half an hour too late!’ ”

Graham Richmond would take  the iconic Jack Dyer with him on recruiting trips, the pair assembling  most of the stars of the Richmond teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s which won four flags under Tommy Hafey.

Richmond was as cunning as they came.  Decimal currency had just come in and he’d crumple up one dollar bills and have them in a big Gladstone bag and in mid-sentence while juggling a cuppa with the potential recruit’s Mum or Dad, somehow the bag would accidentally fall open and some of the bills would tumble out onto the floor. If he didn’t have them already, the sight of the cash was invariably the clincher!

Hawthorn secretary Bill Newton would always leave a double-decker box of big-name chocolates with the mother of the teenage prospect. Stashed under the first row would be a five pound note! He won the signature of another Sandhurst boy, Graham Arthur, that way ahead of  Melbourne and Essendon where Graham’s father had played.

The previous week Arthur, one of the ultimate bush stars, had trained at Melbourne and afterwards  coach Norm Smith sat in the bath with  the young country kid, highlighting the virtues of Melbourne, its cricket membership and how he was walking into a  ready-made premiership team.

Hawthorn had been down and out for years but had just signed interstate ruckman Clayton “Candles” Thompson and Arthur felt the club was going places and he’d have a better chance of getting a game at Glenferrie, rather than at star-studded Melbourne. In 1961, he was the club’s first premiership captain.

St Kilda’s recruiters in the 1960s were coach Allan Jeans, president Graham Huggins and secretary Ian Drake. “Every club used to do a lot of miles  back then,” said Jeans, who worked closely beside Huggins and Drake in lifting the Saints to back-to-back League Grand Finals in 1965-66.

“You’d hear about a player and you’d go and talk to ’em. Once we got to Darryl Griffiths’ place (at Terang) and we had to wait in line. There were already two or three clubs ahead of us!

“His Dad was a tough old shearer and Drakey talked for years of his Dad wanting to wrestle him for the kid’s signature!”

Jeans says another of the funniest and most successful recruiting missions was at the end of 1957 when the club took two buses to the Gold Coast for its trip away.

“Lance Oswald had come down and played in the opening game of the year before going back home,” said Jeans. “We wanted him to come back and play so we picked him up at Wangaratta. Like most country boys he liked a drink, got on all with all of us and made a commitment. He ended up winning a couple of best and fairests and playing for Victoria.”

Many a time  Jeans and Huggins would do their business before setting up Huggins’ portable barbecue on the side of a road and having a snag and a few beers, leaving Graham’s wife June to drive them home!

Bob Davis was another coach who regarded Sundays as a working day. Thanks to the club’s long-time sponsor, Ford, the Cats had access to  some prestige limousines and out Davis and Co. would go into the west and the north-west seeking the best footballers from the Wimmera and beyond.

Famous for signing the great Polly Farmer, one of the game’s immortals, Davis said he only ever missed two big-names he really wanted, the champion South Australian Barrie Robran and a kid from Rupunyap named Ian Morgan, who preferred to stay in the bush and kick goals by the 100 and 1000 while working on his Dad’s farm.

As the hottest property in country football in the early ’60s, Morgan met representatives from all 12 League clubs. Davis was his most persistent suitor, seeing Morgan play “seven or eight times”.

“Every time I saw him play he’d turn it on. We got him down for a fortnight and a couple of practice matches but that was it.

“Still, the trips up there weren’t in vain. One year on the way back we stopped in at Horsham and signed Doug Wade and at Stawell we signed Roy West and John Brown. All three were part of the ‘63 premiership side!”

Next Week: KEN PIESSE on 10 favorites from the OVENS & MURRAY LEAGUE

About Ken Piesse

I am a journalist, commentator and the author of almost 50 cricket and football books. I also sell the new Wisden and cricket and football books and cricket cards and ephemera on the internet via my website www.cricketbooks.com.au


  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    I always recall as a young boy in Kyabram in the mid-60s doing the breakfast dishes before school one morning and looking out the kitchen window and spotting a new Holden car in Clay’s drive-way… The next thing Dick snr walks outside and looks befuddled, goes inside and comes out with young Richard – they walked together around the car and looked totally mystified at its appearance.

    As it turns out officials of the Richmond Football Club had placed the car in the drive-way overnight. At the time Dick jnr was signed to North Melbourne, but once the agreement expired – and he had ran the car in – he signed with the Tigers. By then Shepparton coach Tom Hafey had agreed to coach Richmond – and despite the fierce rivalry between Ky & Shep at the time (Ky beaten in 64 & 65 GFs by the dreaded Maroons), Dick joined Tommy at Richmond.

    Four boys from the Ky GF team in 65 made their debuts with VFL clubs in the opening round of the 1966 season: Dick Clay (Richmond), Ross Dillon (Melbourne), Maurie Fowler (Carlton), and Frank Fanning (Footscray).

    I don’t think that can be bettered by any country, suburban or amateur club; however, I think it is equalled by four members of Sandhurst’s losing 1970 GF team all making their playing first games for Carlton in 1971 – Geoff Southby, Trevor Keogh, Paul Hurst & Brian Walsh – not sure if they all started in round one…

  2. Was that “sitting in the bath with him” bit a misprint? Sure it wasn’t sitting in the bar?

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