Bryan Clements (born 1942) played 23 senior games of VFL football for Fitzroy between the years 1961 and 1964. In that time he played in only two winning teams for Fitzroy. However, one of those wins was the most memorable victory of the 1963 season and one of the biggest upsets in that decade of VFL football. This is Bryan’s story.
WONTHAGGI ROVERS & JACK CONNELLY.
At the time of being recruited to Fitzroy, Bryan was playing with Wonthaggi Rovers FC in the Bass Valley & Wonthaggi District FL. Bryan’s coach at that time was former Preston and St Kilda forward Jack ‘Bonny’Connelly.
Jack first played for the Saints in 1942 and , in the first round of the 1943 season, he kicked six goals against Hawthorn. The game was played at Toorak Park which was St. Kilda’s home ground in 1942-43. Jack played a total of 28 VFL games and kicked 40 goals for the Saints. In later years, he established a strong reputation as a coach in South Gippsland football. Bryan profited from Jack’s coaching and came under notice in local football as a player of some potential.
CITY BOUND & FITZROY FC.
Bryan left Wonthaggi for Melbourne Teachers’ College in 1959 and in the strong inter-college football competition, that existed in those days, he created interest among VFL scouts who monitored the mid week matches.
Fitzroy was one of several clubs that pressed hard for his signature. No sooner had Bryan signed to play with the ‘Roys than Melbourne’s most-famous secretary Jim Cardwell arrived with the hope of luring Bryan to Melbourne FC. It was bad luck for the Demons as the ‘deal was done’.
In the early practice games at Fitzroy Bryan made an impression…
"Ruckman Bryan Clements from Wonthaggi Rovers and David Sykes from the Commonwealth Bank were the best of the new big men." (‘The Age’ Mar. 20 1961.)
Bryan has never forgotten his first season at Fitzroy with the architect of modern football Len Smith at the helm. Len is regarded by Ron Barassi as the man who changed the face of football. Len’s emphasis upon ball speed, possession football and, most of all, his ability to recognise talent and develop footballers to their full potential is still referred today in football circles. Len coached Fitzroy from 1958 until 1962 and won 53 of 107 games as coach.
From the moment of his arrival at Fitzroy, Bryan had no doubt that he was in esteemed company…
“I felt an instant respect and admiration for Len Smith. Players such as Butch Gale, Wally Clark, Kevin Wright, Kevin Murray, Owen Abrahams, Brian Pert and others made me welcome”.
Bryan played his first senior game in the ruck for Fitzroy against North Melbourne in Round: 6 of the 1961 season. He was aged only 18 years of age when he crossed swords with some of North’s greatest footballers such as Allan Aylett, Noel Teasdale, John Dugdale and Don Palmer.
To a young boy from Wonthaggi it must have been like a dream come true.
The Fitzroy team that day included some notable names in VFL history including Kevin Murray, Wally Clark, Rod Vernon, Bob Henderson, Kevin Wright, Alan Gale, Owen Abrahams and Graham Campbell. Fitzroy defeated North by 18 points with Owen Abrahams (5) and Kevin Wright (4) kicking 9 of the team’s 14 goals. Fitzroy won 10 games in 1961 and finished just outside the Final Four.
The Lion’s fortunes waned in 1962 and the club slumped to tenth place. Len Smith stepped down as coach at the end of the 1962 season. In the period 1962-64, the Lions languished at the bottom of the VFL Ladder and won only 5 games in those three seasons.
Note: This was a difficult time in Fitzroy FC’s history. The Lions were not only fighting to be competitive on the field but FFC was desperately trying to find a new home ground. VFL records show that Fitzroy FC relocated to Princes Park in the late 60’s and again to the Junction Oval in 1970. It was a club that was on the move in the ‘fight for survival’.
Bryan played six senior games in 1962 and was again back at Fitzroy in 1963.Kevin Murray was appointed to the position of playing-coach that season. The season unfolded in dramatic but dreadful fashion for the club. Fitzroy lost the first nine games and was sitting at the bottom of the ladder with a percentage of 64.3%.
ROUND: 10 1963~ A REMARKABLE VICTORY AGAINST THE ODDS.
The Round: 10 fixture (6-Jul-1963 at Brunswick Street Oval) against the talented and fast moving Geelong team looked like a tough ordeal for Fitzroy. Kevin Murray and Graham Campbell were unavailable because of inter-state selection and Geoff Doubleday and Ted Lovett and were also among those on the ‘injured list.’ The selectors ‘threw the dice’ and made eight changes that Thursday evening.
Promising midfielder John Bahen and Ian McCrae were brought into the team and Bryan was named as first ruck. Seven teenagers were selected in the team that day including Gary Lazarus (who was 17 years of age), Colin Sleep (18), Ian McCrae (19), John Bahen (19), Tony Hirst (19), Norm Brown (19) and Bob Beattie ( 19) The average age of the team was just 22.4 years.
A measure of Fitzroy’s inexperience was the fact that 14 players had played less than 20 VFL senior games. The stand-in coach for Fitzroy for the match was Wally Clark. He was only 27 years of age.
The Fitzroy line- up was as follows:-
The Geelong team list included… John Devine, Polly Farmer, Bill Goggin, Peter Walker, Fred Wooller, Roy West, Stewart Lord, Tony Polinelli, Bill Ryan, John Yeates, Paul Vinar and Bill Miller.
The Cats’ coach was Neil Trezise who had played 185 games for Geelong between 1949-59. Neil was also a stand-in coach for Bob Davis who, like Kevin Murray, was on VFL inter-state duty in Adelaide.
The odds were clearly stacked in Geelong’s favour and Wally Clark faced a herculean task in replacing Kevin Murray that day. However, the 16,222 fans who attended the Brunswick Street Oval on that bleak winter’s afternoon witnessed one of the most remarkable victories in Fitzroy’s history.
BRYAN CLEMENTS REMEMBERS.
From the very first bounce, the Lions grabbed the initiative and with slick handball, controlled aggression and hard running, Fitzroy led at half time by 13 points. The Lions then kicked five goals in the third term and extended the margin to 38 points at three quarter time.
The Cats rallied in the last quarter but the Fitzroy defence stood firm and held on to record a spirited, unexpected and historic 38 point victory. In summary, it appears that Fitzroy shocked Geelong early in the game, took charge, maintained momentum and held nerve under pressure. Geelong failed to respond to the unforeseen challenge and left its charge too late in the game.
Fitzroy’s teenager forward Gary Lazarus was the star of the day with 4 goals while Brian Pert and John Bahen set up many forward attacks for Fitzroy. John Hayes was influential with his courageous attack on the ball throughout the game.
Bryan has vivid memories of the great win…
“Wally Clark coached us on that day. His instruction to me was to keep on Polly’s right hand side. Being a right hander I naturally preferred to keep my opponent on my left (his right) using my left hand to fend off the opponent and freeing up the right hand to tap the ball, so this advice was simply business as usual. This made it easier for me to focus on one key strategy – keeping away from Polly Farmer until the point of contest”.
“Kevin Murray, like the great Len Smith before him, always had pre-match and half time addresses behind closed doors or with a very restricted audience. Wally Clark opened the doors and filled the clubrooms with supporters. This was a winning move. Probably 400 or more packed into the rooms with huge numbers milling around outside the open doors. He gave a great speech and continually referred to the crowd for a response. You can imagine how we felt. I cannot remember running onto the ground.”
“By half time we were several goals in front on a wintery day which promised fairly low scores. Once again the doors were open and the crowd was even more vocal, sensing our first victory for the season AND against Geelong. In his pre-match Wally had highlighted the importance of Polly Farmer to the Geelong team and made me responsible for him. He opened his halftime address with “Polly Farmer – the high priced star ruckman from the West and (shouting) ...and Bryan Clements is killing him.” Can you imagine how I felt when the Fitzroy fans roared. I nearly passed out. My eyes instantly filled with tears and I shook all over. I will never forget that instant. In the second half I jumped even higher than the first. The power of adrenalin. Thanks Wally.”
Other reports from the match indicate that Bryan (196cm) out-reached Polly (191cm) continually throughout the game. Bryan’s height and long arms gave him a clear advantage and first use of the ball in the heavy conditions. Consequently, Bryan was able to direct the ball to the Fitzroy smaller men at centre bounces and stoppages. His natural athletic spring and brilliant team work with Ron Fry gave the Fitzroy ruck division the winning edge. It was a major factor in Fitzroy setting up a lead of 38 points by three-quarter time.
As John Lawrence of ‘The Age’ wrote….
“…Farmer’s eclipse made hard work for Geelong rovers Bill Goggin and Tony Polinelli.”
Not only did Bryan assist in curbing the brilliance of Geelong’s champion Polly Farmer that day but he instilled confidence into Fitzroy’s small men. Bryan’s accurate palming of the ball gave the rovers every chance to obtain a clean possession and break clear. First use of the ball is everything in football.
Bryan received some glowing tributes for his performance that day. Percy Beames, an authoritative football writer for ‘The Age’ (July 9th 1963), made it quite clear to readers….
“Geelong’s biggest asset ‘Polly Farmer’ was kept out of the game by… Bryan Clements”.
It is fair to say that Fitzroy’s quest was greatly aided by Geelong’s inaccuracy in front of goal. Tony Polinelli kicked four behinds and John Sharrock failed to convert several vital chances.
‘The Age’ newspaper described the win as a ….
“…triumph for stand-in coach Wally Clark and a tribute to the Lion’s new look team.”
As can be imagined, the young and inexperienced Fitzroy team received a thunderous ovation from the club’s highly animated fans on the ‘final bell.’ Bryan has never forgotten those moments when the siren sounded and the jubilation that followed. Fitzroy players and supporters were euphoric.
“When the siren sounded at the end of the game it was like Grand Final day. At last the Fitzroy supporters had a win and they let us know how they felt. They all went home with very muddy shoes that night.”
Bryan has fond memories of the supporters at Fitzroy and he grew to understand and appreciate their love of the players and commitment to the club. Bryan learnt a great deal about supporter commitment, loyalty and passion when the club battled against the odds in that tough era.
It was a brave and fighting win and the Fitzroy’s theme song was sung with great gusto around the suburbs and that night.
THE FINAL SCORES & WASH UP.
The Quarter by Quarter scores…
|Fitzroy:||3.4 (22)||3.7 (25)||8.11 (59)||9.13 (67)|
|Geelong:||0.6 (6)||1.6 (12)||2.9 (21)||3.13 (31)|
Goals for Fitzroy: Lazarus 4 Hayes 2 Hirst 1 McCrae 1 Miers 1
Goals for Geelong: Miller 1 Vinar 1 Wooller 1
Best for Fitzroy: Pert Bahen Sykes Hayes Lazarus Carroll Miers Beers
Best for Geelong: Callan Wooller Devine Goodland
(Note: The umpire was Charlie Gaudion and the gate receipts were £1402.0.0. pounds).
In Chris Donald’s book (page 169) ‘For the Love of the Jumper: 100 Players Who Made the Lions Roar’ there is a wonderful photo of Bryan and Wally Cark with John Hayes, Gary Lazarus, Ron Harvey and other teammates celebrating the upset win.
In the context of that season, it was a stunning win by Fitzroy. Geelong went on to defeat Hawthorn by 49 points in the Grand Final and win the 1963 VFL premiership flag.
On the other hand, Fitzroy lost the next 27 matches. The Lions would have to wait until Round: 2 of the 1965 season to record its next win against Footscray in a ‘nail-biter’ at the Western Oval.
Kevin Murray coached Fitzroy again in 1964. It is hard to believe that Kevin never coached a winning team in his 34 games at Fitzroy. In 1965, Fitzroy stalwart Bill Stephen was appointed coach.
Wally Clark never coached again at VFL level. His perfect win-loss ratio of 100% stands today and his one coaching triumph will live forever in the record books and in the hearts of the 'Fitzroy faithful.’
INJURY STRIKES AT FOOTSCRAY.
In 1964, in the absence of Kevin Murray, Bryan briefly played at centre half back ….an indication that he was regarded highly for his defensive skills.
However, Bryan's season was cut short when he sustained a broken collar bone against Footscray in Round:10. Bryan still remembers the episode as if it were yesterday…
“That incident at Footscray when I dislocated my collarbone was recalled to me several times by Dr Frank Costigan (a past player and committeeman). I had a good approach and marked a kick-off from Footscray fullback David Darcy (Luke’s father). I came to the ground fairly heavily with John Hoiles (Footscray CHB) and, I think, the rest of the Footscray side on top of me. In those days if a player was unable to take his kick the ball was bounced. No way were they going to take that ball from me so I tucked my right hand in my shorts and, to the amazement of all, including me, I kicked a goal. About 20 years later John Hoiles’s daughter and my daughter were in the same basketball team. He did not remember the incident (why should he) but I gave him heaps whenever the opportunity arose”.
In all, Bryan had played 23 senior VFL games and kicked 6 goals for the Lions.
Bryan suffered several injuries during his VFL career. It is a sad fact that injury cannot and will never be avoided in such an impact sport. However it is galling that so many promising football careers are cruelly cut short by injury.
Looking back, Bryan ranks Jeff Leek (Essendon), John Nicholls (Carlton), Neville Crowe (Richmond), Alan Morrow (St. Kilda) and John Schultz (Footscray), as the best players he rucked against in his short VFL career.
John Schultz is often compared to Roy (‘the Gentle Giant’) Wright because of his sense of fair play and sportsmanship. John Schultz represented Victoria in 24 interstate matches. He won the Brownlow Medal in 1960 and was selected in the All-Australian team in 1961. Bryan was only 19 years of age when he played against John at the Western Oval in 1962. Although Fitzroy went down by 19 points that day, it must have been a privilege for Bryan to have rucked against one of the ‘true champions’ of Australian football.
When playing as a half forward, Bryan regarded Carlton’s dynamo John James as his hardest opponent. John James is one of the most decorated Carlton footballers of all time and in 1961 he won the Brownlow Medal. He played for Victoria on 15 occasions. John, like Bryan was a school teacher, and in 1963 retired from VFL football and headed north to teach and to coach at Robinvale.
TO THE COUNTRY~ EAST LODDON & EAGLEHAWK FC.
Bryan never played football VFL football again and turned his attention to his university studies and career as a teacher. He married Marcia (also a teacher) in 1965 and their respective teaching appointments took them from the city to the country. Bryan took up a teaching position at the East Loddon Consolidated School.
All the clubs in the area knew of Bryan’s prowess on the football field and major VCFL clubs Eaglehawk, Kyneton and Sandhurst ( coached by ex- North Melbourne star Don Palmer~ see above ) ‘beat a path’ to the door.
The offers to play football were both attractive and tempting. Bryan and Marcia discussed the possibility of a comeback at length and finally Bryan decided to sign with Eaglehawk FC…
“….because I was teaching with the sister of the Secretary of Eaglehawk Football Club two car loads of players and officials invaded our small apartment the day before the newspaper listings were published. Marcia and I were both impressed not only with their numbers but with their enthusiasm and honesty. I didn’t sign at that point but did so within a week”.
Despite a serious accident in early 1967 with a circular saw and consequent major surgery and rehabilitation, Bryan relished his return to football in April. Bryan was forced to wear a protective glove which somewhat limited his high marking and hindered palming the ball in ruck contests.
Bryan was an instant hit with the Eaglehawk fans and his arrival at Canterbury Park lifted the club spirits and fortunes in the next few seasons. Bryan was a popular personality around town and won a reputation a gentleman ‘on and off’ the ground. While his football skill was widely acknowledged throughout the Bendigo FL, he was also regarded as a footballer of great integrity.
Bryan played 115 games in a marvellous career with Eaglehawk. His honours included winning a club Best & Fairest Award (1968). He also played in two BFL premierships and coached Eaglehawk FC to the BFL Grand Final against South Bendigo in 1968.
A CLEARANCE TO SANDHURST.
There is a story, for others to tell, regarding Bryan’s clearance to Sandhurst in 1973. He departed Canterbury Park and, as BFL records illustrate, he was instrumental in Sandhurst winning the BFL flag with his superlative aerial display at the Queen Elizabeth Oval on that memorable day.
In the club’s history pages, it is recorded that …
“Minor premier Golden Square, chasing back-to-back flags, carried the favourites tag into the grand Final but it was the Maroons who prevailed by 46 points, 14.14 (98) to 7.10.52), in their best performance of the season. To add salt to the wound of Golden Square, on of the match-winners was their coach-superstar forward Ron Best. Best had crossed to Sandhurst from Golden square in 1973 …….but it was Bryan Clements who was rated best on the ground by the media.”
The ‘Bendigo Advertiser’ said of Bryan…..
“His marking and long kicking were highlights of this game and set Sandhurst on the road to win.”
While 1973 was Bryan’s last season as a player, he returned twenty years later to assist former Carlton midfielder Brian Walsh in coaching the TAC Under: 18 team in Bendigo. Bryan was a brilliant choice as a skills coach as he brought his vast teaching and football experience and knowledge of ruck work to the training sessions.
“Brian invited me to join the coaching staff of the Bendigo Pioneers in the TAC Under:18 Competition. I was the ruck Coach for 8 years and thoroughly enjoyed it. My experience as a one handed ruckman ensured that the young ruckmen with whom I worked were well skilled with using either hand. These young athletes were great to work with because they were so keen, self disciplined, attentive and appreciative.”
Bryan was regarded as a strong and positive orator and he was often invited to address sporting and community groups in the Bendigo district…
“For many years while playing and for several years beyond my playing days I estimate giving 40 to 50 motivational talks. (I was even asked to speak to the Umpires’ Association.) I did enjoy those occasions but with so much travelling involved at times it became too demanding.”
BRYAN & MARCIA ~ LIVES DEDICATED TO TEACHING.
Bryan and Marcia have spent 47 years of their 49 years of married life in the Bendigo area. It is a long way from Wonthaggi but it is where they have lived, worked, socialised and raised their family. They have been happy and have felt blessed with what life has given.
While Bryan was acknowledged as a adept footballer, he was also regarded in the Bendigo region as a dedicated and conscientious teacher. His resume is most impressive and includes a wide range of educational settings, disciplines and responsibilities. Bryan has been an art &craft and classroom teacher in Primary Schools, a woodwork/metalwork teacher in Secondary Schools and a Primary School Principal.
His work in Tertiary Education included appointments Bendigo Teachers’ College and at La Trobe University. Some of his most interesting and challenging work was in the area of remedial education. He also was also highly regarded for his leadership in professional development programs for teachers.
Marcia loved teaching across a broad field of educational settings . She became well known and respected for her work in curriculum development and her later work as a lecturer in Special Education at Latrobe University. Marcia is most modest about her achievements particularly in tennis. She was a very accomplished tennis player and toured NSW tournaments and coaching camps with John Newcombe and Tony Roche.
Marcia won several titles but was, on most occasions, runner-up to one of her training partners – Margaret Smith (now Court).
MANDURANG VALLEY & HOME.
Marcia and Bryan have three children Nicole, Matthew and Emma. Like their parents they have found success in their studies at University and ensuing careers . Sport has played a large part in the Clements’ family and the children have achieved much in their recreational pursuits. Their success(es) in various sports such as running, triathlons and netball could be the topic for another story. Lack of space prevents further description but the children are ‘stars in their own right.’
Bryan and Marcia’s five grandchildren bring lots of fun, laughter and continual surprises. Naturally Bryan and Marcia are very proud of their grand children’s accomplishments in school and sport. It is obvious in talking to Bryan that Marcia, Nicole, Emma, Mathew and his grandchildren (with another on the way) are everything a man could wish for in life.
Bryan and Marcia now live in the Mandurang Valley where they own property including a small vineyard. Bryan believes he has mastered the age-old art of winemaking and his Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon provide everyone with a ‘nice drop’ and an excellent conversation topic at family gatherings.
Like his Shiraz, Bryan has ‘aged well’ and he looks back on a fortunate life-journey that included a short but eventful ‘stop-over’ at Brunswick Street Football Ground.
When you mention the name Bryan Clements to ‘die-hard’ Fitzroy supporters, all remember the day in 1963 when he ‘matched it’ with the legendary Polly Farmer and helped his team triumph.
However, there is so much more to Bryan. Those who have met him through sport, teaching and community activity appreciate his intellect, humility, sense of fair play and genuine kindness.
In all those years of VFL and country football, Bryan Clements was never reported by an umpire. He carried his ‘creed of life’ on to the playing field and set the example for others to follow. It was his quiet but persuasive style of leadership and control that made the game better for all.
FOOTNOTE:‘Well known football and cricket writer/historian Ken Piesse is currently writing a comprehensive story of this remarkable victory in his latest book entitled ‘The Miracle Match’. The book contains a detailed match report, interviews with Fitzroy players including of Bryan Clements, comments from the journalists of that era and some memorable photographs.
The book will be published in July 2014 .