Eaglehawk Football Club was formed in 1880 and since then more than forty local players have graduated to VFL/AFL ranks including such well-known names as Rod Ashman, Alf Baud, Charlie Clymo, Des English, Ted Esposito, Bill Evely, Jarryn Geary, Ted Jinks, Damian Lock, Doug Palmer and Peter Pianto. This story, for Boyles Football Photos, is about Geelong’s dynamic rover of the 1950’s- Peter Pianto.
Table of contents
- THE NAME ‘PIANTO’ AND THE EAGLEHAWK CONNECTION
- A STAR IN THE MAKING
- PETER BUILDS A REPUTATION IN BENDIGO FOOTBALL
- 1950 PETER PIANTO POLLS WELL IN BFL AWARDS
- HARRY HICKEY ANOTHER FORGOTTEN CHAMPION
- PETER PIANTO HEADS TO GEELONG
- PETER LINES UP AGAINST SOUTH AUSTRALIA
- PETER PIANTO’S VFL DEBUT
- AN AMAZING SEASON
- A PREMIERSHIP AFTER JUST A DOZEN GAMES
- REG HICKEY THE MASTER TACTICIAN
- 1952- ANOTHER RECRUIT FROM EAGLEHAWK
- 1952 –THE NATIONAL ROUND
- PETER PIANTO GOES DOWN FIGHTING
- ANOTHER PREMIERSHIP
- A WILD NIGHT AT KARDINIA PARK
- PETER COMES FOURTH IN THE BROWNLOW MEDAL
- 1953- COLLINGWOOD TURN THE TABLES ON GEELONG
- 1954 - SIX DEFINITE VOICES OF APPROVAL
- THE SUN SETS ON CORIO BAY
- 1956 RUNNER–UP IN THE BROWNLOW MEDAL
- ALL AUSTRALIAN TEAM SELECTION
- 1957 PETER PIANTO WINS THE MCCLELLAND TROPHY
- PETER’S LAST GAME OF VFL FOOTBALL
- COACHING AT CORAGULAC
- CLAREMONT CALLING
- PETER PIANTO MEETS DENIS MARSHALL
- A CLUB IN TRANSITION
- PETER PIANTO RETURNS TO GEELONG
- FURTHER HONOURS FOR ‘PETER THE GREAT’
- THE MEMORY OF PETER PIANTO LIVES ON
- PETER PIANTO -A ROLE MODEL FOR ALL FOOTBALLERS
- THE END
- Boyles Website Newsletter
- End Notes
INTRODUCTIONEaglehawk Football Club was formed in 1880 and since then more than forty local players have graduated to VFL/AFL ranks including such well-known names as Rod Ashman, Alf Baud, Charlie Clymo, Des English, Ted Esposito, Bill Evely, Jarryn Geary, Ted Jinks, Damian Lock, Doug Palmer and Peter Pianto. This story, for Boyles Football Photos, is about Geelong’s dynamic rover of the 1950’s- Peter Pianto.
Renowned for his courage in the packs, blistering pace and intelligent crumbing around stoppages, Peter Pianto was a revered footballer throughout VFL ranks and he starred in the Geelong premiership teams of 1951 and 1952. He also went on to a successful career as a country league and VFL coach. This is the story of Peter Pianto- the champion from Canterbury Park.
THE NAME ‘PIANTO’ AND THE EAGLEHAWK CONNECTIONPeter’s grandfather, Giovanni Pianto, arrived in Melbourne on the sailing ship the ‘Morning Star’ in June 1862…
“Giovanni hailed from Villa di Tirano, a municipality in the Italian region of Lombardy, about 110 kilometres north-east of Milan and about 20 kilometres east of Sondrio, on the border of Switzerland. … Giovanni was 20 years old and intoxicated by the smell of gold at the time he stepped from the deck of the Morning Star. Soon after his arrival, he made his way to the gold mining town of Eaglehawk, 157 kilometres north-west of the city. Eaglehawk, once occupied by the Neangar Aboriginal tribe, first attracted prospectors in 1852 ….” Tony De Bolfo- ‘Italian Team of the Century’ July 2010.
Giovanni married Jane Fisher and they raised their family in Eaglehawk and the ‘Pianto’ name can be found quite often in local newspapers as far back as 1892. In 1915, the ‘Bendigo Advertiser’ carried a report of a football match between Rochester and Eaglehawk at Canterbury Park (Eaglehawk’s famous oval ) and Pianto (first name unknown) was selected on the wing that day. Although Rochester won by 21 points, ‘Pianto’ was one of several ‘serviceable players’ listed for the ‘Borough.
Note: For a comprehensive account of the background of Giovanni Pianto, his family and their time in Eaglehawk, readers are encouraged to refer to Tony De Bolfo’s 2010 article regarding the Italian Team of the Century celebrations.
A STAR IN THE MAKINGPeter Pianto was born to Peter (Senior) and Mary in 1929. Peter was one of twelve children and naturally he was never lonely or without a playmate. From a young age, he displayed above-average ability in games and it is documented that he trained with the Eaglehawk senior club when he was just fifteen years of age…
“His mother didn’t want him to play (football), thinking he’d be hurt. She became suspicious when a neighbour asked if the ‘Pianto’ named in the paper among the best players was in fact her son. She checked his school shoes and found nail holes from the studs…Pianto had Eaglehawk’s boot-studder insert and the remove after training and games.” Ken Piesse ‘Football Legends of the Bush.’
Historically, the Bendigo region was the ‘cradle’ of Victorian Football and Peter’s love of football flourished by living in a community that embraced football with unbridled enthusiasm. In the period 1880- 1945, Eaglehawk FC won eighteen BFL premierships; and the Pianto family had football ‘in their blood.’
It is believed that Peter’s brothers (James, Frank, Joseph and Bernard) had all donned the ‘Two Blues’ jumper at some time in their lives. Note: There is evidence that a certain ‘F.J. Pianto, from Eaglehawk’ (probably Frank), signed with Hawthorn in 1945…
“Burke trained at Hawthorn after a knee injury, but is not likely to play on Saturday… All the others are fit, and Cleary and Whelan, two 6ft boys, did well with the seconds. Pianto (Eaglehawk) was signed up.” ‘The Argus’ May 30th 1945.
The following day ‘The Argus’ (31st May 1945) stated that F.J. Pianto had been granted a permit to play with Hawthorn.
PETER BUILDS A REPUTATION IN BENDIGO FOOTBALLPeter made his debut in BFL senior football with Eaglehawk in 1947 and steadily built a reputation as a slick and skilled small man. He played with EFC for four seasons and, in that time, the VFL scouts ‘trod a well-worn path to his door’ in the hope of gaining his signature. It is known that at least three, VFL clubs (Hawthorn, Collingwood and Geelong) sought his services.
1950 PETER PIANTO POLLS WELL IN BFL AWARDS
Tony De Bolfo wrote that Peter won Eaglehawk’s Best and Fairest trophy in 1948; and according to Frank Walsh of the ‘Sporting Globe’, Peter won the EFC club award in 1950 and was…
“…runner-up to Harry Hickey (ex-Footscray) as Bendigo League best and fairest. “ September 2nd 1953.
Frank was a little ‘off the mark’ in his research because Harry Hickey actually won the RSL (not the BFL) trophy that season and polled only 12 votes in the BFL count. Harry finished well behind Rochester’s star centre man, Herb Zegelin, who polled 24 votes; and Peter Pianto finished third with 16 votes.
According to the ‘Riverine Herald’, in the 1950 RSL award voting (the award Harry Hickey actually won), Peter Pianto finished in fifth position…
“Harry Hickey, Rochester's captain, won the R.S.L. award for the best and fairest in the League for the second year in succession… Final voting was: H. Hickey (Rochester ) 23, H. Zegelin (Rochester ) 20, R. Alexander (Castlemaine ) 20, A. Daly (Eaglehawk ) 18, P. Pianto (Eaglehawk) 16…” September 11th 1950.
HARRY HICKEY ANOTHER FORGOTTEN CHAMPIONWhile Frank Walsh got the details of the two major BFL trophies a little mixed up, there was no doubt about Peter Pianto’s great ability. His rankings in such awards earmarked him as a player who could step up to the next level of football.
As for Harry Hickey, during his time at Rochester he dominated proceedings and, in those years, was rarely out of the news. The fact that Harry never won the BFL medal should not diminish the huge impact that he made upon football in the region. He won two RSL awards and, from reading the match reports of that era, Harry appeared to dominate proceedings…
“Rochester skipper, Harry Hickey, has been adjudged best afield on the last four Saturdays, and has a commanding lead in the R.S.L. Trophy voting for best and fairest in the League. The consistent winger from Eaglehawk, Pianto, is in second place…” ‘Riverine Herald’ June 1st 1950.
Time marches on; and sadly Harry Hickey has become another forgotten name in VFL/AFL football but he was quite a VFL star in his day. Harry played with Footscray from 1937-48 and was described as one of the first ‘nomadic’ centre men in the VFL (i.e. he ‘roamed far and wide’ during a match to ‘rack-up’ kicks).
Harry won three Best & Fairest trophies at the Western Oval, was runner-up in the 1939 Brownlow Medal to Collingwood’s Marcus Whelan, skippered the club (1947) and also represented Victoria. After 175 games and 169 goals for Footscray, Harry shocked supporters and officials when he stepped down from VFL football and departed for Rochester in 1949.
PETER PIANTO HEADS TO GEELONGWhile Peter played in finals for Eaglehawk, he never played in a premiership team and left the club he loved without any silverware. It is known that Peter received a VFL permit to play with Geelong on the 18th April 1951…
“ To GEELONG: H G Herbert (Warrnambool) P Pianto (Eaglehawk) D G Scott (Geelong Thirds)” ‘The Argus’ April 19th 1951 .
Younger readers may not be aware that in those days a VFL permit allowed a country footballer to play VFL football but he was not irrevocably tied to that club. There are many instances where recruits returned ‘home’ to the bush and gave up the idea of a VFL career.
Geelong won the ‘tug-o-war’ for Peter’s services and he finally signed with the Cats in 1951. It is said, that he chose Geelong because of its rural ‘ambience’ and that probably makes sense. It was well known that many country footballers had/have difficulty in adjusting to the ‘big smoke’, bright lights and hustle and bustle of Melbourne.
In any journey in sport there are ‘potholes’ along the way and Peter made a hesitant start at Geelong. Frank Walsh (‘Sporting Globe’) wrote that …
“A severe leg injury in the 1951 practice games, allied with lack of confidence in; his ability to make league, football, found Pete anxious to return to Bendigo. He was persuaded to have a game with the Seconds before leaving, and did so well that he earned immediate promotion… “
PETER LINES UP AGAINST SOUTH AUSTRALIAIt is not widely known that Peter Pianto’s first senior match for Geelong was against a South Australian 2nd XVIII team in an exhibition game in Adelaide on May 26th 1951. On that same weekend, the interstate clash between South Australia and Victoria took place at the MCG.
“Peter Pianto will play his first game for Geelong, roving to the second ruck. He replaces Trezise, now roving to the first ruck. D. Scott, first rover last week, and McMaster take the vacant half-forward positions.” ‘News’ (South Australia) May 25th 1951.
Although Peter kicked inaccurately (3 behinds) that day, he attracted the attention of one of the most famous scribes in Australian football, Hayden Bunton. Hayden, who was working for ‘The Mail’, heaped praise on Peter for his fine game at Adelaide …
“Peter Pianto, a rover from Eaglehawk (Bendigo), playing his first game, turned in a slashing performance, while D. Scott played well in the centre.” ‘The Mail’ 26th May 1951.
Geelong won the game by 39 points. George Goninon (5 goals), Ron Hovey (4 goals) and Cyril (aka Bill) McMaster at centre half forward (3 goals) blew the South Australian defence wide open that day.
Geelong’s best players, according to Hayden Bunton, were: Bill McMaster (ex-Lake Bolac) Loy Stewart (ex-Albury), Peter Pianto (ex- Eaglehawk), George Goninon (ex-Burnie, Tasmania), Neil Trezise (ex- Redan), Russell Renfrey (ex-Drysdale) and Jim Norman (ex-Horsham).
Talk about ‘country cousins’…Peter would have felt right at home with so many of his team mates from ‘the sticks.’
PETER PIANTO’S VFL DEBUTPeter Pianto played his first game of VFL football against North Melbourne at the Arden Street Oval in Round: 6 in 1951. Geelong was coached by the legendary Reg Hickey that year and the team included such match-winners as Bob Davis (57 games), Fred Flanagan (88 games), Tom Morrow (94 games), Russell Renfrey (92 games), Norm Scott (87 games), Syd Tate (71 games) and Leo Turner (64 games). Peter Pianto was 21 years of age when he took the field that day; the youngest player in Geelong’s line-up was Ron Hovey who was 18 years of age.
Geelong 12.16.88 defeated North Melbourne 11.8. 74; and, according to the match review in ‘The Argus’, the star of the match was North’s big-hearted ruckman Colin Thornton. However, Peter Pianto made a ‘very big splash’ on his first VFL outing…
“Highlight of the game was Col Thornton's outstanding game for North. It was no fault of his that his team just couldn't make it. Another was the brilliant debut of new recruit Peter Pianto (Geelong). He played more like a veteran. We will hear a lot of him before he is much older. Tremendous interest focussed on the duels on the centre line. They were a credit to all players concerned…” ‘The Argus’
The match details were:
• Best: Geelong: Hyde Davis Trezise Flanagan Morrison Pianto.
• Best for North Melbourne: Thornton Smith J. Reeves McMahon Mogg McKenzie.
• Goals for Geelong: Goninon 4 Pianto 2 Trezise 2 Hovey 2 Renfrey Flanagan.
• Goals for North Melbourne : Smith 6 Spencer 3 Robb Bahen.
Note: A little-known rover, who got ‘under the guard’ of the Cat’s defenders and kicked six goals that day, was Kevin Smith. Kevin joined North Melbourne FC from a small, local club known as the Happy Valley Rovers. He also played with Footscray in 1955-56.
AN AMAZING SEASONPeter had started VFL football in magnificent style but it was just a taste of things to come. Some men wait a ‘lifetime’ to play in a premiership team; but Peter was in the ‘right place (Kardinia Park) at the right time.’
In 1951 Geelong swept all before it and, after finishing second on the VFL ladder at the end of the home and way series, the Cats demolished Collingwood by 82 points in the Second Semi-Final. George Goninon booted 11 goals, including six in the final term. The scores were: Geelong 22.20.152 to Collingwood 10.10.70.
Leo Turner, Syd Tate and Bernie Smith starred for the Cats while the Richards brothers (Lou and Ron) were valiant for the ill-fated Magpies. In his first final, Peter Pianto kicked two goals and, along with a brilliant display by skipper Fred Flanagan, provided plenty of opportunities for George Goninon to go on a goal-kicking spree.
Lou Richards was later to write in his book entitled ‘The Kiss of Death’…
“ …Geelong was a side built on class. The Cats were fast, balanced and extremely cocky…They had great rovers in Peter Pianto and Neil Tresize and, of course, there was Bob Davis.” Page: 69.
A PREMIERSHIP AFTER JUST A DOZEN GAMESSo after just eleven games with Geelong, Peter was chosen in the forward pocket for the Grand Final clash against Essendon. The Dons, coached by Dick Reynolds, were at a severe disadvantage as the greatest full forward in the club’s history, John Coleman, had been dealt a four week suspension for an incident involving Carlton’s Harry Caspar prior to the finals.
A massive crowd of 85,000 squeezed into the MCG to witness the contest. It was a thrilling, hard fought battle and Essendon, not to be denied, hung onto a narrow lead of four points at half time.
The Cats rallied in the third quarter, with a five goal burst, while restricting the Bombers to just two behinds. Geelong’s two key defenders Bruce Morrison and John Hyde can claim much credit for holding the determined Bombers at bay during that stanza.
The stakes were high and the last quarter was desperate football as the Cats clawed their way to well-deserved victory by 11 points.
“ Essendon made a grand effort in the final quarter to pull the game out of the fire. It attacked almost constantly and four goals brought it with in measurable distance of the Geelong score. However, the task was too great, and Geelong took the honours.” ‘The Mercury’ (Hobart) October 1st 1951.
Peter Pianto was listed among the better players in the match and his left foot snap goal in the third term was important in the context of the game. That Grand Final was the ‘icing on the cake’ for Peter who, in his first year of VFL football, had kicked 14 goals and polled five votes in the Brownlow Medal.
Geelong swept the pool that season. George Goninon (86 goals) won the VFL goal kicking award; and the back pocket specialist Bernie Smith won the Brownlow Medal with 23 votes from Ron Clegg (South Melbourne). There was a lot to celebrate at Kardinia Park that month.
REG HICKEY THE MASTER TACTICIANPeter Pianto met two men named ‘Hickey’ in his early days. One was the Rochester’s champion Harry Hickey (see above) while the other being Reg Hickey.
Reg would loom large throughout Peter’s life firstly as his coach and then later his mentor. Reg Hickey was/is a giant at the Geelong FC and it would be possible to write a tome about his contribution to VFL football as player, coach and commentator.
Reg (born 1906) originally came from Cressy (another country town) and played for the Cats from 1926 to1940. He played 245 games and made his name as an inspirational defender. He was the recipient of many awards throughout his long career and is the most illustrious footballer in the club’s history.
Reg coached Geelong in three stints (1932; 1936-40 and then from 1940-1959) for a total 304 games with a win/loss ratio of 61%. He coached the Cats to three flags in 1937, 1951 and 1952.
The 1951 flag was one of finest examples of Reg’s creative and strategic coaching …
“Speed and sensational ball handling were Geelong’s secret weapons in 1951. The Geelong team was no fluke. Reg Hickey had planned it, step by step. Geelong sides were traditionally fast. This was the answer but it was not blind speed. Hickey carefully chose his speedsters and then drilled them. Every kick and every move were part of the pattern. Mobile rucks and along striding half back line…and the forward fanned out to provide a host of opportunities.” ‘The Clubs’ Page: 192.
Reg Hickey was greatly admired; but in 1951 Brownlow Medallist, Bernie Smith, paid Reg one of the finest compliments ever bestowed upon him as a coach….
“Anything I have achieved in football is due to Hickey. He is a great coach and a gentleman.” ‘100 Years of Australian Football’
Peter Pianto played his role in ‘Reg’s blueprint’ to perfection and, working in tandem with Neil Trezise, caused ‘double trouble’ for opposing rovers and defenders. Peter was the prototype ‘weapon’ for Reg Hickey’s battle plans and football journalist, Howard Kotton described Peter as…
“…fast and small, enabling him to weave in and out of packs with ease. His preferred option was the drop kick using it to great effect on the run and driving his team into attack.” ‘We are Geelong’ (GFC publication).
1952- ANOTHER RECRUIT FROM EAGLEHAWKThe bonds between the Geelong and Eaglehawk clubs were drawn even tighter with the arrival of Doug Palmer at the start of the 1952 season. Doug was an accomplished midfielder with a good turn of speed and the ‘Riverine Herald’ claimed that he was the equal of Peter Pianto…
“Eaglehawk centreman Doug Palmer, star of last year's grand final, is considered Geelong's best recruit although he may have difficulty in securing the position of centre, the one place where he has been able to reveal his best. Most B.F.L. followers consider that he had always been the equal of Peter Pianto, also of Eaglehawk, who was a member of the Geelong pennant side in his first year.” April 8th 1952.
Doug lived up to expectations and throughout the 1952 season he received numerous compliments for his dashing style of play. In an article in ‘The Argus’ that year, Norm Smith stated …
“The ruck weakness was finally and definitely overcome when rovers Tresize and Pianto struck such sizzling form. Besides the two young ruckmen recruits gained, Geelong also picked up two potential champions in Geoff Williams (Warragul) and Doug Palmer (Eaglehawk).” July 23rd 1952.
Doug is rarely mentioned in football discussions today, but he was an effective and spirited centreman for Geelong. He played 57 games with the Cats before being appointed as the coach of Myrtleford (Ovens & Murray FL) in 1955. One newspaper openly reported that Doug was paid the handsome sum of £20 (pounds) per week for his coaching services.
Note: Doug Palmer is not to be confused with Don Palmer (ex- North Melbourne) who coached Sandhurst FC (also in the Bendigo FL) in the mid 1960’s.
1952 –THE NATIONAL ROUNDThere was no ‘premiership hangover’ at Geelong as the Cats started the 1952 season in fine fettle and won the first six matches. Carlton toppled the reigning premiers by 27 points at Princes Park in Round:7; but the Cats sat in second position on the ladder and looked to have every chance to play finals football again.
Round: 8 in 1952 was known as National Day (often called the Propaganda Round); and all the VFL teams travelled far beyond ‘home’ in an ambitious attempt to promote the game in other states and country regions. Matches were played at North Hobart, Sydney, Albury, Euroa, and Yallourn. It was a creative idea but was never fully realized as the weather, in most places where the matches were played, was not conducive to good football or large attendances.
The fixture between Essendon and Geelong was highly significant for two reasons…
- The match was played at the Brisbane Exhibition Oval.
- It was played under lights; and was the first game in VFL history played for match points at night. Such a concept was indicative of the increasing money that the VFL was willing to spend to market the game outside city limits. It was also a sign of the developing technology and the changing nature of leisure and recreation.
Note: Those readers who would like to know more about the VFL National Round can visit the details on this website.
PETER PIANTO GOES DOWN FIGHTINGAlthough the Essendon-Geelong clash, in Brisbane, was postponed (from Saturday until Monday evening) because of inclement weather, some 28,000 fans still attended the match.
Geelong had a ‘shocking weekend’ in Brisbane because John Coleman put on a ‘master-class’ and booted thirteen goals in a most exhilarating individual performance. The Bombers kicked twenty three goals that night and won in canter.
The scores were: Essendon 23.17. 155 defeated Geelong 12.14.86.
Although facing ‘fearful odds’, Peter Pianto kicked two goals and received a glowing tribute in ‘The Courier-Mail’ the following morning…
“Geelong rover, Peter Pianto, was his side's outstanding player. Although his ruckmen let him down, Pianto snapped up most of the loose balls and attempted to get his forwards in action. Bob Davis and Bill McMaster were the only other Geelong players to produce top form.” June 17th 1952.
Of course, John Coleman was the ‘talk of the town’ after such a sterling performance but it wasn’t the only occasion that season that he would kick the ‘Devil’s number.’ In Round: 18 against Hawthorn, John kicked 13 again; and with nine goals in the last game of the season he took his season tally to 103. It was the third time that the ‘Wonderboy from Hastings’ had kicked a ‘ton’ in VFL football.
Note: In 1949 John kicked 100 and then followed that effort in 1950 with 120 goals.
It is virtually impossible for young readers to imagine John’s brilliance in the air but his high-‘one touch’ marking was superlative…
“Opposing coaches and full-backs were hard put to curb Coleman's brilliance. Close-checking, spoiling players fared best; but few could outrun, and none out mark him.” Greame Douglas-‘ADB’ Volume:13 MUP 1993.
ANOTHER PREMIERSHIPIn July that year Alan Fitcher, who was then writing for the ‘Sporting Globe’, likened Peter Pianto’s style to Geelong’s champion rover of the 1930’s Tom Quinn… Little did Alan Fitcher know that his comparison of Peter with Tom would resonate in years to come …
“Peter Pianto reminds me of Tommy Quinn, another great Geelong rover of a few years ago. He has the same slightly bowed legs and goes fearlessly into the packs for the ball. Picking it up, he makes a flashing 10 yards and stabs it low to a team-mate. I can see Quinn's movements in this lad. What a windfall for Geelong Pianto has proved! With Trezise, he makes a strong bracket of rovers.” ‘Sporting Globe’ July 5th 1952.
Peter also received the ‘blessing’ of Melbourne’s Norm Smith in July that season…
“Geelong stand out, the best team we've met and better than last season." Melbourne captain, Denis Cordner said: "Geelong have stolen Collingwood's thunder. They have the best small men in the League. I'd say Peter Pianto was the game's top rover today.” ‘Sporting Globe’ July 23rd 1952.
There are many twists in life and football. Following the thumping that Geelong received, in Brisbane, things improved in the most dramatic fashion. However, the Bombers went into a tail spin, crashed out of the finals race, and dropped to eighth position on the ladder.
Geelong dispensed with Collingwood by 54 points in the Second Semi-Final; Bill McMaster (4 goals) was listed as BOG (Best on Ground) and a youngster from Warragul, named Geoff Williams, starred across half back. The Geelong rovers reaped havoc on the Magpie defence that day as Neil Trezise kicked three goals and Peter Pianto kicked a goal. In a team score of 14 goals both small men had ‘earned their salt.’
Collingwood bounced back to beat Fitzroy in the Preliminary Final and then ‘shaped up’ to Geelong which had enjoyed the one week lay-off.
In ‘The Courage Book of Finals’ Graeme Atkinson wrote that …
“Geelong saddled up as the hottest favourite in the Grand Final”
Once again the Geelong backline including Bernie Smith, Bruce Morrison, Geoff Williams and Norm Sharp was virtually impassable. Collingwood was kept goalless in the second half while Geelong rattled on eight majors and it was ‘all over’ at three-quarter time.
In the knowledge that their heroes had won back-to-back premiership flags, the Geelong supporters thoroughly enjoyed the action in the last quarter.
The final scores were: Geelong 13.8. 86 defeated Collingwood 5.10.30.
George Goninon (5 goals) and Neil Trezise (4 goals ) starred while Geoff Williams was regarded as the best player afield for the Cats. Geoff’s mature display in defence etched his name into Geelong folklore that day.
A WILD NIGHT AT KARDINIA PARKWhen the final siren rang the celebrations began and the revelry continued unabated for some time…
“The celebrations at Geelong on Saturday night taxed even the hardiest of the Geelong men. Heavy knocks taken in the grand final - were only the beginning of a long series of buffeting the players had to endure. The players had dinner quietly at a Melbourne hotel after the game, but had a torrid time from the moment they reached Geelong at 9.30 p.m.
Thousands crowded the streets around the city hall, and the team had to run the gauntlet of hundreds of hands thumping them on the back before ' reaching the hall. After the reception players were taken to Kardinia Park clubrooms for a dance. This was another tough hurdle for the players. Hundreds of uninvited well-wishers tried to get into the dance, and police had to bring the team into the rooms.” ‘The Argus’ September 29th 1952.
PETER COMES FOURTH IN THE BROWNLOW MEDALFor Peter Pianto, that Grand Final victory sweetened a season of outstanding achievements. Peter had finished fourth in the Brownlow Medal; and considering he was a second year player with just thirty three games ‘under his belt’ it was a stunning result. The top five place-getters in the poll that season were:
• 21 votes: Bill Hutchison (Essendon) and Roy Wright (Richmond).
• 19 votes: Harold Bray (St Kilda).
• 17 votes: Peter Pianto (Geelong).
• 15 votes: Bill Wilson (Richmond).
Note: In 1952, Roy Wright was awarded the Brownlow on ‘count back’. However, the system was changed in 1989 and replaced with the concept of ‘joint medal winner(s)’. Bill Hutchison was declared a retrospective/joint winner of the 1952 Brownlow Medal in 1989. Unfortunately, for Bill, it was hardly a case of ‘better late than never’ as, sadly, he had passed away in 1982. The other ‘retrospective winners’ of Brownlow Medals in VFL football are: Alan Hopkins, Harry Collier, Colin Austen, Verdun Howell and Noel Teasdale.
Peter Pianto also finished in second place in the club’s Best and Fairest award in 1952*(see below). First year defender Geoff Williams took out the honours by one vote and Peter’s roving partner, Neil Trezise came third that season.
For being runner-up in the GFC count, Peter received the ‘George Bradley Trophy’ and a monetary award of £15/15/- (fifteen guineas -which would equate to about $545 dollars today).
- Note: Peter also finished runner-up in Geelong’s Best and Fairest award in 1954, 56 and 57.
1953- COLLINGWOOD TURN THE TABLES ON GEELONGThe results of the 1953 season tend to suggest that Geelong probably should have won another premiership. Winning a premiership, in any grade of football, is ‘easier said than done’ and, as Lawrence of Arabia once proved, ‘nothing is written.’
In 1953, Geelong broke a VFL record when it extended its winning streak to 23 matches and the club was perched on top of the table at the end of the home and away series. Peter played in 22 of the 23 games of the extraordinary series of GFC victories.
Note: A story about Geelong’s winning streak in 1951-5, written by Michael Riley, was posted on this website in August 2013…
“This article (by Michael Riley) attempts to describe the streak, demonstrate that it was more than a random fluke never to be repeated and finally fits the streak into a wider context within Australian football outside the VFL/AFL.” Boyles website 2013.
Strong opinions abounded about the Cats’ prospects and Peter Pianto received a good deal of column space; Collingwood’s champion, Bob Rose, (a guest columnist for the ‘Sporting Globe’ ) was very honest about the huge task that the Magpie’s on-ballers faced in checking Peter Pianto in that Grand Final …
“Pianto's a great player: make no error about that. We'll have to try to check him but, because he's ball chasing most of the time it isn't as easy to stop a rover as a man playing a fixed position, Therefore, despite our best efforts. I reckon Pianto will get a fair number of kicks.” September 23rd 1953.
However, Collingwood turned the tables on the Cats in that Grand Final and won its first flag under the stewardship of Phonse Kyne. Hugh Buggy of ‘The Argus’ wrote…
“Playing with unflinching courage and steadiness in a crisis, Collingwood smashed a dangerous late challenge by Geelong to win the 1953 premiership on Saturday… Five goals down at the last change and looking a baffled and beaten side, Geelong launched a desperate onslaught to try to wrest the game from the Magpies….” ‘The Argus’ September 28th 1953.
Peter Pianto was listed among the Cats’ best that day as he worked overtime to lift his team. Bill Hutchison wrote in his column that…
“Pianto appeared to rove the whole of the third quarter. I thought it was too much for him.”
The statistics of that game indicate that Peter Pianto amassed 18 kicks and 3 marks while the other leading players possession winners were: Jack Finck (28), Bob Rose (28), Bernie Smith (22) and Des Healey (20).
A panel of ‘Sun’ newspaper experts voted that Collingwood’s fleet-footed wingman Des Healey was the best player afield.
Despite all the predictions, Geelong missed out on the ‘hat trick’ and Phonse Kyne was the hero of ‘black and white army’ that night! Losing a Grand Final hurts; but Peter found some solace in the fact that he had won the club’s Best and Fairest award that season.
1954 - SIX DEFINITE VOICES OF APPROVALIn 1954 Geelong lost the Preliminary Final to Melbourne at the MCG by 17 points. Although on the losing side, Peter Pianto won the plaudits of the ‘Globe’s’ select panel of writers and, it was generally agreed, that Peter Pianto was the best rover on the ground that day.
Football is a game of opinions and it is interesting to read how the various scribes, in the press box, saw Peter’s performance in the match. The following comments of six football writers serve as a strong reminder of the fighting qualities that set Peter Pianto apart from the other rovers who played in that final.
These observations about Peter’s performance were published in the ‘Sporting Globe’ on September 22nd 1954…
- Hec De Lacy… Peter Pianto…battled to keep a beaten ruck and a beaten team alive with his spirited, purposeful roving. In the final show-down there was little between Pianto and Denis Cordner for pride of place but Pianto had sustained effort longer.
- Ted Bolwell …Peter Pianto …for a great exhibition of roving. Fast and revealing great determination. He gave his side many chances to gain the initiative.
- Ben Kerville …Peter Pianto…roved "amphibiously" in bad conditions and battled magnificently to keep his side in the picture.
- Alan Fitcher …Peter Pianto…gave a grand display of courageous roving. He tackled big and small alike, and at times carried his team forward with sheer determination. A splendid performance by a class rover.
- Sam Loxton…Peter Pianto…A tireless rover for Geelong all day. He was in everything and as usual was an obvious danger to Melbourne, whenever he got possession. It wasn't his fault that Geelong failed to reach the Grand Final.
- Jack Hale …Peter Pianto…battled effectively against great odds. His persistency was amazing and tenacity an example. Pianto not only scouted the packs, he went into them fearlessly.
THE SUN SETS ON CORIO BAYThe Cats played in the finals again in 1955 and 1956 but could not recapture the scintillating form of 1952. The ‘sun was going down’ at Kardinia Park and, although the club was competitive and combative, it was in transition. Melbourne, on the other hand under the shrewd leadership of Norm Smith, was setting new standards in football excellence.
Peter brought up his 100th game milestone for Geelong against North Melbourne at the Arden Street in Round: 13 in 1956. On that day, Geelong won by 82 points; Noel Rayson played a ‘blinder’ and booted 9 goals and Peter chipped in with two goals.
The club finished third that year but was defeated by Footscray in a ‘nail biter’ in the First Semi-Final at the MCG. The Cats were unlucky in the dying moments of the game but football is played across four quarters and every second counts. Peter was named among Geelong’s best.
1956 RUNNER–UP IN THE BROWNLOW MEDALPeter had always polled consistently well in the Brownlow Medal and in 1956, the Olympic Year in Melbourne, he almost won a ‘medal.’ Footscray’s centre man Peter Box took the title with 22 votes from 17 games while Peter Pianto finished second with 16 votes (16 games). Other players who polled well were Jim Dorgan (South Melbourne-15), Roy Simmonds (Hawthorn -13), John Beckwith (Melbourne-13) and Melbourne’s brilliant young ruck-rover, Ron Barassi also scored 13 votes…
“MELBOURNE, Wednesday.—Peter Box, champion Footscray centreman, was to-night awarded the Brownlow Medal for best' and fairest player in the Victorian Football League during the 1956 season. Peter Pianto, of Geelong, was second in the voting and Jim Dorgan, of South Melbourne, third. ‘The Canberra Times’ August 23rd 1956.
An interesting aspect of the count was that Roy Simmonds, Jim Dorgan and John Beckwith ‘made their names’ in VFL football as back pocket specialists for their respective clubs.
Peter Box was a most deserving winner of the medal and his battle to overcome injury, which he sustained in a serious motor cycle accident in March 1952, is an inspiring story.
During his seven year VFL career, Peter Pianto gathered a total of 78 votes and, on four occasions (1952, 54, 56 and 1957), polled more than ten votes. Even in his last season, he finished equal seventh with 12 votes and recorded more votes than any other Geelong player.
ALL AUSTRALIAN TEAM SELECTIONPeter represented Victoria on nine occasions and, considering the bevy of exceptional rovers in that era of VFL football, it was a good measure of his ability.
Peter played in the 1956 ANFC Carnival in Perth. Victoria dominated the carnival and, in the final and crucial play-off for the ‘crown’, Victoria defeated West Australia by 64points. Ted Whitten kicked four goals; and Jock Spencer (the surprise packet of the week-long series) booted three to bring his tally to 17 goals in four outings.
Eight Victorians were selected in the All-Australian team that was announced at the conclusion of the championships :- Ron Barassi (Melbourne), Jack Clarke (Essendon), John Chick (Carlton ), Bill Hutchison (Essendon), Des Rowe (Richmond), Ted Whitten (Footscray), Roy Wright (Richmond) and Peter Pianto...a galaxy of stars that shone brightly in Australian football that year.
The ‘Tassie Medallist’, for the best player in that national series, was awarded to a West Australian ruck man named Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer. At that point in time, ‘Polly’ was playing with East Perth FC in the WAFL and had won that club’s Best and Fairest award on seven occasions. As is well known, ‘Polly’ crossed to Geelong in 1962 and took VFL football ‘by storm’ when revolutionized the game with the use of handball as an offensive weapon.
1957 PETER PIANTO WINS THE MCCLELLAND TROPHYAs with a balloon, football clubs cannot ‘stay up’ forever and by 1957 the Cats were virtually in ‘free fall’ with little or no hope of a soft landing (see below). Although the Cats struggled against all-comers in 1957, Peter Pianto had a moment of glory.
One of Peter’s most memorable interstate performances was against South Australia in July 1957 in front of a crowd of 27,736. The Victorian line-up was a powerful combination that comprised five (past or future) Brownlow Medal winners in Brian Gleeson, John James, Roy Wright, Fred Goldsmith and Kevin Murray.
Percy Beames reported in ‘The Age’, that the Victorians coasted to an ‘easy’ win by six goals. The margin would have been far greater except for the inaccuracy of key forwards Jack Collins and Bob Johnson. Peter Pianto dominated that game and was awarded the McClelland Medal for his superb display of roving…
“Geelong rover Peter Pianto produced his best form of the season to win the McClelland trophy for the best Victorian player in the inter-state game against South Australia at the MCG on Saturday. The trophy, donated by the South Australian Football League, was a silver tea set. South Australia selectors names Pianto as the winner.” July 23rd 1957.
The match details were:
|South Australia:||3.2||6.6||11.6||13.10 (88)|
• Goals for Victoria: Collins 5 Johnson 3 Pianto 2 Hands 2 Aylett Whitten Tunbridge Duffy Clarke
• Goals for South Australia; Johns 4 head 3 Deane 2 Walker 2 Williams Livesey
• Best for Victoria: Pianto Murray Hands Gleeson Collins Johnson
• Best for South Australia: Kerley Deane Head Williams Whelan Ashley
Note: Peter was also selected in the ‘Sporting Life Magazine Team’ of the Year 1953, 1954 and 1955). The full details of these teams can be found on this website at: http://boylesfootballphotos.net.au/Reference_+1954+Sporting+Life+Magazine+-+Team+
PETER’S LAST GAME OF VFL FOOTBALLIn 1957 Peter Pianto saddled up for another season under the tutelage of Reg Hickey. It is interesting that Reg was the only senior coach Peter had played under in VFL football. Such longevity in the coaching , at one club, is not as common in modern AFL football.
Peter’s last VFL appearance was against Fitzroy at the Brunswick Street Oval; and Fitzroy kicked eight goals in the second quarter to set up a stirring victory by 24 points. With that win, Fitzroy ‘leap-frogged’ to eleventh place on the ladder and, as mentioned above, Geelong sank to ‘rock bottom.’
Peter Pianto had won ‘silver’ in his first season and a ‘wooden spoon’ in his last season…. the vagaries of football never cease to amaze.
Peter was 27 years of age and had played 121 games (including 12 finals) and kicked 144 goals on the day of his farewell from league football.
It would have been fascinating to have been a ‘fly on the wall’ when Peter and Reg Hickey chatted after that game at Brunswick Street Oval. Some of the worst moments in any footballer’s life are when he has to say goodbye to his coach, team mates and the game that he loves.
COACHING AT CORAGULACThe pressure for Peter to coach intensified in the period 1956-58. Few people may be aware that in 1956, Peter was sought by two Tasmanian clubs to coach; apparently both clubs (Launceston and East Devonport) were more than anxious to ‘gain his signature’…
“Each club is prepared to pay Pianto £40 (pounds) a week and set him up in either a news agency business or a milk bar. ‘The Age’ October 9th 1956.
Peter rejected those attractive offers and played on with the Cats; but by the end of 1957 his circumstances had changed.
In every player’s decision to retire from the ‘great game’ there are ‘ public utterances’ and ‘private thoughts’ and Peter’s decision to leave Geelong and coach Coragulac, in the Polwarth FL, would have stunned Geelong supporters…
“Peter admitted that he probably retired early at the age of 28 to coach Coragulac” ‘Holmesby and Main’ Page:680.
It is known that Peter was also offered £40 (pounds) per week to play with Coragulac. It was a great deal of money at that time and would have assured Peter and his wife (Bev) of some security of income. In his time at Coragulac, Peter Pianto brought great success to the club as stated by football historian Tony De Bolfo…
“Peter served Coragulac in the then Polwarth League with distinction, commandeering the team to back-to-back premierships in 1958 and ’59 and a close second to Winchelsea in the Grand Final of ’60. In that time he built his house at Colac, ran a local sports store in partnership with an old Geelong premiership teammate, Jim Norman, and became a father for the first time.”
CLAREMONT CALLINGPeter was a ‘coach in hot demand’ and, following earnest negotiations, he was appointed as the playing coach of Claremont FC in the WAFL.
In the period 1961-63, Peter played 43 games but had little luck in lifting Claremont out of the doldrums. In 1961 Claremont finished 7th and in following two seasons sank to the bottom of the WAFL Ladder.
It must have been a despairing time for Peter. However, ‘adversity can be a fine teacher’ and Peter’s disappointing experiences at Claremont FC were ‘food for thought’ in later years.
PETER PIANTO MEETS DENIS MARSHALLWhile Peter was at Claremont FC, he came across a highly gifted young player utility player named Deniston (aka Denis) Marshall. Denis had won Claremont’s Best and Fairest award(s) in 1959 and 1961. As time would show, Denis was cleared to Geelong and his impact in Victorian football would prove to be dramatic.
We will never know the influence that Peter Pianto had upon Denis Marshall, but the ‘Geelong connection’ may have been a significant factor in Denis signing with Geelong in 1964. Denis was one of the finest players to cross the Nullabor to play VFL football….
“ Bob Davis, said he was the most accomplished player he had ever seen. Marshall’s kicking was perfect with either foot, he had good pace and was unflappable on the field.” ‘Holmesby & Main’ Page 534.
In 1964, Claremont appointed Jim Conway as the club coach and Peter and his family packed up and headed back to Victoria. The coaching position at Coragulac was available and it seems that Peter renewed old acquaintances with CFC with great enthusiasm.
Peter won the Best and Fairest award (at 35 years of age) in the Hampden Football League while playing with Coragulac. Note: A least two texts are confused about this part of Peter’s football career. This is understandable because Coragulac FC had affiliated with the Hampden FL and, in time, the club actually merged with Colac FC. Country league and team amalgamations occur regularly and such unions can ‘muddy the waters ‘of research.
A CLUB IN TRANSITION
The ‘Hickey Dynasty’ at Geelong came to an end with the club in shambles and trying to ‘get off the floor.’ In 1957-58 the Cats had finished on the bottom and in 1959 the team won five only matches.
Reg had coached Geelong in 304 games (in three stints) and won 184 matches with a win/loss ratio of 61%. He had taken the club to 18 finals and won three premierships; and all agree that Reg had been a Colossus as a player, coach and loyal member of GFC.
Bob Davis deserves great credit for the way he reconstructed the Cats with brilliant recruiting and passionate coaching.
The team was laden with stars such as Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer (see above), Bill Goggin, Doug Wade, the Lord twins, Fred Wooller, Denis Marshall (see above), Colin Rice , Roy West and John Sharrock. Bob’s last game at the helm was against Essendon in the first Semi-Final in 1965 and the Bombers doubled Geelong’s score and won easily by 52 points.
PETER PIANTO RETURNS TO GEELONG
Reg Hickey strongly encouraged Peter Pianto to consider taking on the coaching position at Geelong and, despite some reticence (perhaps self-doubt), Peter applied and was appointed to the position in 1966.
Peter had served long apprenticeships at the Coragulac and Claremont clubs and he was hardly ‘raw’ when he stepped in to the breach at Kardina Park.
Like Geelong’s former great rover Tom Quinn, who coached the club from 1946-48, Peter Pianto ‘rolled up his sleeves’ and ‘got on with the job.’
Note: Peter wouldn’t be the last rover to coach the Cats as Bill Goggin also took on the position in 1982.
In his five seasons as the Geelong coach, Peter’s record was impressive. The Cats played finals football on four occasions and Geelong was unlucky not to have won the premiership in 1967 against Richmond. The final moments of that match were controversial as Richmond’s full back Fred Swift was paid a mark on the goal line…
“With 28 minutes gone…Moments later, Marshall (G) shot the ball out to the unguarded Goggin. His running drop kick was marked right on the goal line by Swift, denying a certain goal. Despite noisy protest from Geelong fans behind the goals, the umpire allowed the mark.” George Handley ‘The Great Grand Finals.’
There were no video replays to aid goal umpires in those days; and Fred’s desperate grab was allowed to stand and the Tigers hung on to win one of most exciting Grand Finals of the decade.
In a press interview following the game, Peter Pianto was very gracious in defeat and, despite such a crushing loss, he complimented the Tigers on their narrow victory…
“Congratulations to Richmond-they worked hard for the premiership. But I am very proud of Geelong….and every player gave his most.” ‘The Great Grand Finals.’
Peter’s last season as coach was in 1970 and the Cats won 12 games but missed the finals and finished on the fifth rung of the ladder.
Peter should be deemed a successful coach as his win/loss ratio of 67% was slightly higher than that of his great friend and mentor Reg Hickey (61%). In 1971, Peter’s former team mate Bill McMaster was appointed to coach the Cats.
Peter’s interest in Geelong FC never waned and he continued to be active in the affairs of the club following his retirement from coaching.
Peter’s remained a popular (perhaps beloved) figure with Geelong fans long after his playing and coaching days were over.
Peter’s respectful and humble attitude to all people could serve as a salutary lesson to some modern-day sporting figures. He was a ‘man of the people’ and was held in the highest esteem by all.
FURTHER HONOURS FOR ‘PETER THE GREAT’
Peter Pianto won four ‘Carji’ Greeves Medals (for the highest number of club votes in the Brownlow Medal); and in 1958 Peter was awarded Life Membership of the Geelong Football Club for his services as a player.
In 2001, Peter Pianto was selected in the Geelong ‘Team of the Century.’ Five of his team mates from that successful era of GFC were also named in the team: Bernie Smith (183 games), Leo Turner (130 games), Fred Flanagan (163 games) , Bob Davis (189 games). The indomitable Reg Hickey was selected at centre half back.
Peter was picked in the forward pocket, Bill Goggin was selected as the first rover and Geelong’s other fine rover, Tom Quinn, was included in the team as an emergency.
In June 2007, another prestigious honour was bestowed upon Peter when he was chosen in the ‘Italian Team of the Century’ at a dinner function at the Crown Palladium in Melbourne.
Ronald Dale Barassi was named as coach and some of the famous family names included in that team were: Riccardi, Incigneri, Matera, Curcio, DiPerdeminico, Epis, Silvangi, Martello, Fevola, Libertore and Pianto.
Further information about the Italian Team of the Century can be found at:
THE MEMORY OF PETER PIANTO LIVES ON
After a long battle with illness, Peter slipped away in February 2008. He was aged 78.
It had been a marvellous journey from Eaglehawk to Geelong then to West Australia and back ‘home’ again; but his travelling days were over and Peter was laid to rest at St Mary’s of the Angels Basilica in Geelong.
On that day, the Pianto family and hundreds of friends and Geelong supporters gathered to celebrate his life. Peter’s nephew, Fr. Dennis Crameri, conducted the service and read the following words which had been written by Peter not long before his death…
“…. To the Geelong Football Club thank you for the opportunity you gave me to play…and the opportunity to coach the club.” From: ‘We are Geelong’ by Howard Kotton.
PETER PIANTO -A ROLE MODEL FOR ALL FOOTBALLERS
Giovanni Pianto would have been very proud of the achievements of his talented grandson and the town of Eaglehawk has never forgotten Peter Pianto.
Peter Pianto was an extraordinary footballer and human being. Grantland Rice once wrote…
For when the one great scorer comes,
To write against your name,
He writes not that you won or lost,
But how you played the game.
To write against your name,
He writes not that you won or lost,
But how you played the game.
Boyles Football Photos would like to sincerely thank Ian & Noelene Wilde, Aylene Kirkwood, Bev Hansen and the Eaglehawk Heritage Society for their kind assistance with this story about Peter Pianto.