The VAFA history lists West Brunswick as being a member club from 1932- 36 and continuously since 1959. Very little is known about that club between the war years, and there is no connection between the club of that day and current, but the club since 1959 is very much a great football story.
With the soldiers coming home from WWII the inner northern suburbs were being developed and expanded and football competitions rekindled to provide an avenue for young men to play the game. The N.D.J.F.A. was the competition for young players from the Carlton, North Melbourne, Coburg and Brunswick areas, and it was decided in 1946 to enter West Brunswick teams into the Under 17 and Under 21 competitions.
Lance Erwin was an established player in the North Melbourne Cricket Club and a VFL umpire. Mr Fred Faust was a scout for North Melbourne, was involved in junior football, and accepted the role as president of West Brunswick. Upon retiring from umpiring in 1955, Lance Erwin was approached by North Melbourne to coach the U17 and U21 teams using Western and Ryder Ovals. The teams enjoyed considerable success, wining the Under 17 Grand final in 1956 and Runners Up in the Under 21 in 1957.
With the considerable assistance of Fred Faust, an association developed between West Brunswick and Paramount Football Clubs with the respective club stalwarts Lance Erwin from West Brunswick and Neville Silitoe of Paramount deciding that an aspirational move should be made to a more prestigious competition, which would allow an avenue for a transition for under age players to senior ranks. The decision was made to enter West Brunswick into the VAFA for the 1959 season.
It was with the assistance from both North Melbourne and Carlton football clubs that West Brunswick were allocated the Royal Park Ransford and McAllister Ovals by the MCC in their first season in the VAFA.
The junior team first represented the club on the McAllister Oval, (with a baseball match providing a ‘curtain raiser’) whilst the Senior team played on Ransford Oval with the ‘dungeons’ being the only clubrooms available. The Melbourne City Council manages the Royal Park North grounds, surrounding areas and the sporting facilities including the change rooms. The MCC dungeons were by today’s standards only very moderate, with small concrete and chicken wire rooms separating the teams, and a shared general shower area. There was plenty of hot water flowing from huge overhead shower roses but the rooms were usually cold, the wind usually colder and of course there were no facilities for post match socialisation.
In conjunction with another VAFA club, Assumption Old Collegians, who were playing on the Western Oval, West Brunswick put a proposal to the Melbourne City Council to rebuild the derelict toilet block on Park Street, with the two VAFA clubs sharing one third of the cost with the remaining one third being the MCC who were to build a pavilion adjoining the new toilets. In 1965 building commenced, and in 1966 West Brunswick moved in. From that point onwards, club games were played on Ransford Oval.
In 1977 the season was extremely wet, with muddy grounds quite common. The Ransford Oval was used by the Seniors and reserves one weekend and by the U19’s on alternate weekends. Due to the deteriorating condition of the ground the MCC decided to play the junior team on Ryder Oval for their games.
In 1982 a car crashed through the walls of the Park Street pavilion requiring a rebuild. Since the MCC did not insure its buildings, the club faced a dilemma. To rebuild, extend or relocate. Assumption Old Collegians had folded in 1980 so cost sharing was with the Royal Park/Brunswick Cricket Club. The clubrooms were extended with a kitchen, bar and storage areas added. Whilst the MCC did not allow ‘sole lease’ of the facilities, a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was struck with the staff of the Parks and Gardens that West Brunswick could have singular usage of the facility if we played our games on the Western Oval. From 1982 till 2003 all games were played on that oval.
In 2004 the MCC bulldozed the dungeons and replaced them with the rooms we use today. The club moved back to McAllister Oval and took tenancy in conjunction with other users of the facility, Brunswick Zebras soccer club and the Youlden Parkville Cricket club. At no time has West Brunswick played VAFA games on the Ryder Oval.
There were no training lights at the Royal Park grounds until 1980, and no Council provided lights until 2001. In 1980 West Brunswick installed one light on the Ransford Oval, and Country Colleges (amalgamation of Assumption and St Pats clubs) installed two lights on the Western Oval. In both cases at the clubs funded the purchase, installation and connection of the lights. The single training light may have been the beginning of a quiet revolution in the club’s playing personnel. In the 1960’s and 70’s the club was predominately tradesmen, factory workers, banking staff, policemen and university students. Training commenced at 5:00pm and went until dark. Some of the coaches had the players run laps of Princes Park as a part of training, and others would have some ball ‘dribbling’ under the street lights. Otherwise training was all over at dark.
With the installation of the bright boundary light, training was extended to 7:30pm. Footballs could be seen, so there was no excuse for players to miss their training nights. The club was now attracting players from the ‘professions’ who worked until later in the day and who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to training in time for any ball work.
In 2001 the Melbourne City Council decided to put full ground training lights onto McAllister Oval and Ransford Oval. West Brunswick was the only club using Royal Park for playing and training and we were fixtured onto Western Oval. Between the ensuing seasons West Brunswick were invited by the MCC to move to the improved facilities, including the full ground lights, where the move was completed in 2004. Training now runs from 6:15pm until 8:30 pm, with many players being able to integrate their professional working times with their football.
Great Teams and Premierships
In 1932 West Brunswick won the D Section premiership in its first season of VAFA football. The club as it was then folded in 1936 and a different West Brunswick re entered the competition in 1959.
The team was entered into E Section, the lowest level of the VAFA at the time and following the flag in 1960 defeating Elsternwick in the grand final, played in successive grand finals in D and C Section. By achieving promotion through four grades in four years, this team set the bar very high for a proud achievement. Competing in B section in 1963 required the recruitment of more players of higher calibre which was difficult for the club as there were many local district clubs in the Brunswick / Coburg area involved in non amateur competitions, willing to pay players for their Saturday afternoon football games.
The club moved back through the grades and at the end of 1975 found itself relegated to F Section. In 1976 the club appointed a new coach, Trevor Dawson, and with the talent coming through from the U19’s, combining with some of the older brigade, were Premiers and Champions that season, defeating Beverly Hills in the last game in September. The team played in the E Section grand final the following year, and competed in D Section in 1978. Three grades in three years, not quite the level of the early years but a great achievement nonetheless.
In 1980 Rick Brockwell was appointed as Captain Coach of the senior team that won the 1980 E section premiership, defeating St Pius with many of the same players who had won the flag four years earlier. This team stayed together for a few more seasons and played in the D Section grand final in 1981 and played the next two years in ‘C Section. In 1987 the club played State Bank in the E Section grand final and gained promotion to D Section for 1988.
Up until 2000 the club was in the wilderness, unable to attract the calibre of players to contend in finals. However in 2002, with the recruitment of a new coach Julian Siebrand and assisted by Angus Hamilton and retaining a solid playing list from the previous year, West Brunswick defeated Hawthorn Amateurs to win the premiership and gain promotion to D2. The following season West made it to the preliminary final, losing to Peninsula in a very close encounter. West Brunswick managed to play in the finals over the next few years but was unable to achieve promotion.
The next senior premiership was achieved in the club’s fiftieth year, 2008, in D4. Senior coach Richard Peoples was in his second season as coach and was retained even though we were relegated in his inaugural year. The playing list was a combination of existing brilliant players and a group of new younger talent, who defeated St Francis Xavier in the final match of the season.
In 2012 West Brunswick appointed joint senior coaches Matthew Drain and Angus Hamilton. They worked together for the next two years in developing and teaching a game plan to existing players as well as worked hard on recruiting new players. The establishment of a link with RMIT provided a source for new players.
In 2014 Angus Hamilton was joined by Scott Hulm as senior coaches. Still in D4, West Brunswick’s senior team finished the home and away season in second place and the reserves completed the season undefeated. Hawthorn Amateurs senior team remained undefeated on top and the reserves finished second. Both teams played off in the grand final with West Brunswick seniors upsetting Hawthorn to win the flag by 36 points and Hawthorn reserves beating West by 3 points to inflict their only loss for the season
Over the seasons West Brunswick has managed to win the competition best and fairest award on 16 occasions, a remarkable achievement. During that time however there have been four players who have won the B&F on multiple occasions.
Renowned sports people
Neville Silitoe was one of Victoria’s leading athletics coaches in the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s and trained the footballers in the off season to retain their fitness throughout the year.
Peter Norman played 57 games for the club following his athletics career. Peter won the silver medal in the 200 metres sprint for Australia in the 1968 Mexico Olympics and later coached the U19’s in the late 1970’s.
Allan Clelland was the world croquet champion in 1984 and played 53 games for the club.
Greg Fyffe played in the 1980 premiership team as a 17 year old and played senior game for the Collingwood Football Club in 1984, other West Brunswick players to achieve VFL/AFL games were Ian Hughes, North Melbourne 1961 & 62 (11 games, 7 goals) and John Price, Hawthorn 1965 (4 games).
In addition to the tremendous sports people and teams associated with the club, there have been some special moments of significance.