Ken Mansell, January 2019.


John Haygarth 1958
John Haygarth 1958

One day in early May last year I happened to notice, at the very bottom of one of my articles about Geelong Football Club in the 1950’s, an interesting comment, written by one ‘Bill Haygarth’, complimenting me on the accuracy of my research. ‘No, surely not’, I thought, ‘not the son of John Haygarth’. As a young Cats fan in the fifties, poring over my football cards and statistics book, John Haygarth was my favourite Geelong footballer. Significantly, the only memory I retain in my mind’s eye from the epic 1956 First Semi Final between Geelong and Footscray is one (admittedly vague) image of ‘little Johnny Haygarth’ dashing off the half-back flank at the Ponsford Stand end of the MCG and bombing the ball long into the Geelong forward line. Not even a memory of the disastrous third-quarter collision between Bob Davis and Norm Sharp is retained. I eventually located the whereabouts of Bill Haygarth in outback New South Wales and wrote to him. I had to check whether I was dreaming when Bill Haygarth rang and urged me to contact his father. I did so and the article that follows is the result.

John Haygarth was a very good footballer and anything but ‘unpredictable’. 1 At the height of his career he was clearly one of Geelong’s best players and polled high in the Brownlow Medal. In 1959, in enigmatic circumstances, he fell out of favour with Geelong and signed with Ballarat League club Maryborough, coaching his new club to its first premiership in 29 years. John played over 350 games of football and with six clubs, starting in 1948 as a 14-year-old and continuing through to 1967 (with another brief spurt in 1974). The football biography of John Haygarth offers more than just a glimpse of the football culture of Victoria in the immediate post-war era, so different to today. My article traces John’s career in detail and investigates the reasons for his disturbing departure from Geelong in 1959, sweeping from under the carpet the material ignored by polite journalism and sanitised history. 2

John Haygarth lives today in western Victoria, a physically healthy and mentally alert gentleman in his mid-eighties - but not looking a day older than 70 –who has enthralled me with the story of his life. He shares the ownership of this article with myself, his son Bill Haygarth, and my associate Michael Riley. 3

John Haygarth – octogenarian (2018)
John Haygarth – octogenarian (2018)
John Haygarth – 2007
John Haygarth – 2007

(click on images to enlarge)
Geelong selected team positions – read (top to bottom) backs, half backs, centres, half forwards, forwards, followers.


Chapter One - Inverleigh
Chapter Two - Apprenticeship (Geelong Thirds 1949-51)
Chapter Three - Perseverance (Geelong Seconds 1952-54)
Chapter Four - Breakthrough (Geelong Firsts 1955-56)
Chapter Five - Stardom (Geelong Firsts 1957-58)

Chapter One: Inverleigh

Inverleigh is a picturesque and historic township situated on the Hamilton Highway in western Victoria - only half-an-hour’s drive from Geelong. Formally proclaimed in 1854, the town sits astride, and takes its name from, the Leigh River, a stream flowing into the larger Barwon River nearby. One would estimate the Inverleigh district population today as somewhere near 700 human souls, less numerous than when Australia ‘lived on the sheep’s back’ and Inverleigh itself was a thriving local centre for the Western District wool industry.

Our story begins in the middle-thirties, when the inhabitants of Inverleigh had begun to recover from the worst years of the Great Depression and fresh new buds of life were sprouting. William Montgomery Haygarth and Mary Ellen Haygarth (nee Bourke), returned proudly to their modest family home at 34 Mercer Street with a baby son - John Montgomery Haygarth, born 13th July in 1934 at a Private Hospital in Geelong, and before long the older brother of three sisters.

William, the eldest of six children whose great-grandparents had migrated from Scotland and England in the 1850’s, was a ‘gun’ shearer known for his strength, stamina and work ethic. Mary, the third eldest of seven children whose great-grandparents had migrated from Tipperary and Edinburgh in the 1850’s, had run fast as a schoolgirl athlete. It would seem, and it is hardly surprising, the young Inverleigh couple provided their first baby with an enviable genetic inheritance. John Montgomery Haygarth proved to be a strong physical specimen, an all-round sportsman with a strong claim to be Inverleigh’s finest-ever Australian Rules footballer.

John's great-grandfather George Montgomery Haygarth, Vet and blacksmith, Secretary Inverleigh Mechanics Institute 1880's
John's great-grandfather George Montgomery Haygarth, Vet and blacksmith, Secretary Inverleigh Mechanics Institute 1880's

Parents - Mary Haygarth/William Haygarth
Parents - Mary Haygarth/William Haygarth

Marriage of Mary and William 1933
Marriage of Mary and William 1933

The boyhood home – 34 Mercer Street
The boyhood home – 34 Mercer Street

John Haygarth - raring to go
John Haygarth - raring to go

John with poultry
John with poultry

John - still raring to go
John - still raring to go

John Haygarth started school at 4 ½ - at the single-teacher Inverleigh (state) school. During World War Two William was taken on at Geelong’s Ford Motor Company, building jeeps and four-wheel drives for the Army. The Haygarths had no transport, so the family moved to Geelong. John attended South Geelong (state) school for several years, and then when the family moved to East Geelong near the beach, he attended Swanston Street school.

Inverleigh school 1940 (John third from left in front row)
Inverleigh school 1940 (John third from left in front row)

Swanston Street school football team 1944 (John fourth from right in front row)
Swanston Street school football team 1944 (John fourth from right in front row)

After World War Two the Haygarths moved back to Inverleigh. John travelled into Geelong to attend classes at the Technical College. When he eventually turned fourteen he started at his first paid job, as a clerk at Richardson’s Stock and Station Agency in Geelong.

John’s own reminiscences of his youth suggest a life of simplicity and self-reliant resourcefulness. Given the lack of resources available to him as an aspiring footballer, John’s development of sublime kicking and marking skills is indeed remarkable:

I was sport-minded and fitness minded – there was nothing else out there in the country. You had to make your own fun. There were no picture theatres or that sort of thing, like in the City. You went rabbiting, fishing, swimming in the river. I had no brothers to kick the footy with. I would go to the footy ground to kick by myself or with other kids. Rubber and bladders were hard to get after the war and we didn’t have the money to buy them. We’d kick an old leather footy cover stuffed with paper. There was no chance of drop kicking – and they landed pretty flat.

Like many other Victorian country towns, no matter how small or distant, Inverleigh was steeped in football tradition. It is recorded that in 1879 a combined Inverleigh/Winchelsea team even defeated the Geelong Football Club, then undisputed ‘champions of the colony’ who in 1879 won the second of their three successive premierships in the Victorian Football Association. Inverleigh competed in the Leigh District Football Association from 1914-1925 before entering the Polwarth District Football Association from 1926-1935. Later the club played in the Elliott Association from 1939-1952, and in the Geelong and District Football League from 1954-69. 4
John Haygarth’s grandfather, also John Haygarth, captained the Inverleigh premiership team which triumphed over Bannockburn in the 1919 Grand Final. John takes up the story:

Grandfather was Inverleigh captain-coach in the earlier years. I never saw Grandfather play – he played (as captain-coach) in the twenties or thirties. Later Dad played with Inverleigh, and my two uncles played. They were Norm, Dad’s youngest brother, and Sidney, the second oldest brother. It would have been the Elliott Cup when Dad and the two uncles played. The ground at Inverleigh was opposite our house, over the railway line about 200 metres away, so it was quite close. I watched Dad play, and the two uncles also. A lot of them came back after the war and played for Inverleigh. I don’t think they played during the war. I think the competition was in recess.

Young John Haygarth was soon circling in the orbit of his local football club, absorbing the tradition and refining it:

I was boundary umpire at Inverleigh. We did one side of the ground. I started off when I was about twelve or thirteen and started off on 2/6 in those days I think – it was like being a millionaire! Then I graduated to five ‘bob’. That was roughly two years (1946-47). We did the whole boundary, one side. Elaine was out on an open field and with a west wind blowing at 100 miles per hour the ball might finish 200 metres down the paddock – you’d have to go and find the ball in the tussocks. I kept pretty fit. I played a lot of tennis in those days too. I played in a senior tennis competition when I was 13 or 14. 5 The second year (1947) I’d get an odd game with Inverleigh if they were short. In the seniors. I think I was thirteen. That would be 1947, yes. They only had seniors in those days - one team. I never played junior sport because there wasn’t any in those days and if there was you had to go to the bigger cities, and we never had a vehicle in those days – it was only bus or push-bike. I started in the Elliott League (Elliott Cup). I played in 1948 beside my father, Bill Haygarth. I was about fourteen. Not for the whole season – only a portion of it. And the two uncles were in the same team, so four Haygarths in the team. A few other families were in the team too. The other teams were Bannockburn, Meredith, Lethbridge, Elaine, Modewarre, and Anakie might have been in it one year. Mum was interested in the footy too and knitted my first Inverleigh jumper, the one I used when playing at Inverleigh. It was cheaper, and more convenient – otherwise it would mean shopping in Geelong or Melbourne. Inverleigh’s colours were brown and gold – the Hawks. They are still the ‘brown and gold’. Brown with gold collar and gold band around the chest.

The Elliott Association comprised seven teams competing for the Elliott Cup – Inverleigh, Lethbridge, Meredith, Stonehaven, Modewarre, Bannockburn, and Elaine. By the end of the 1949 season young John, still only 15, had become a star of the competition. He dominated in both the 1949 Grand Final, in which Inverleigh defeated Modewarre (8.12 to 5.8), and the 1950 Grand Final in which Inverleigh again triumphed, defeating Bannockburn 7.13 to 4.3. According to football historian John Stoward (Cat Country, p. 176), John was named second-best-on-ground in both matches and kicked three of his side’s seven goals in the 1950 encounter.

Inverleigh were premiers in 1949 and 1950 and I played both those two seasons - mainly wing or half-forward flank. I was shorter and lighter than when playing for Geelong. I was a regular with Inverleigh even at age fifteen or sixteen. Inverleigh’s captain was Rob Wishart, a ruckman. There were three Witcombe brothers in the team – Alan (a full-forward and father of Murray Witcombe who played for Geelong), Jock (a rugged centre-half back) and Ivan. Ivan Witcombe was one of the best country footballers I’ve ever seen. He’d had a few games in the Geelong Reserves and kicked nineteen goals in two matches. I owe a lot of my success to him. He played on the backline and as soon as he got it, I knew where to go, headed for the wing and bang, straight, he hit you every time with it. 6

Inverleigh premiers 1919. John's grandfather Jack Haygarth (captain-coach) with vertical stripes and holding ball (his brother George Haygarth on right of him)
Inverleigh premiers 1919. John's grandfather Jack Haygarth (captain-coach) with vertical stripes and holding ball (his brother George Haygarth on right of him)

Inverleigh premiers 1919 (Leigh Association).  Photo by Bill Haygarth/Inverleigh Mechanics Institute Hall
Inverleigh premiers 1919 (Leigh Association). Photo by Bill Haygarth/Inverleigh Mechanics Institute Hall

John's grandfather Jack Haygarth Snr was 32 when he captain-coached Inverleigh to 1919 premiership
John's grandfather Jack Haygarth Snr was 32 when he captain-coached Inverleigh to 1919 premiership

Inverleigh premiers (Mathieson Cup Association) 1927. Photo by Bill Haygarth /Inverleigh Mechanics Institute Hall
Inverleigh premiers (Mathieson Cup Association) 1927. Photo by Bill Haygarth /Inverleigh Mechanics Institute Hall

Bill Haygarth Snr, John's father, was 15 when he played in the 1927 Inverleigh premiership team
Bill Haygarth Snr, John's father, was 15 when he played in the 1927 Inverleigh premiership team

Inverleigh 1949 premiers (John fourth from left in middle row). Captain Rob Wishart with ball. Ivan Witcombe (fourth from right in back row). (Inverleigh Mechanics Institute Hall)
Inverleigh 1949 premiers (John fourth from left in middle row). Captain Rob Wishart with ball. Ivan Witcombe (fourth from right in back row). (Inverleigh Mechanics Institute Hall)

Inverleigh 1949 premiers (John fourth from left in middle row)
Inverleigh 1949 premiers (John fourth from left in middle row)

Inverleigh 1950 premiers (John extreme left front row).  Captain Rob Wishart with ball.  Ivan Witcombe (third from left in back row)
Inverleigh 1950 premiers (John extreme left front row). Captain Rob Wishart with ball. Ivan Witcombe (third from left in back row)

Inverleigh premiership team circa 1954-61
Inverleigh premiership team circa 1954-61

As a ten-year-old schoolboy playing for Swanston Street in Geelong John often found himself competing on the field against boys twelve-years-old or older. He developed a reputation for courage. As John’s son Bill Haygarth recalls:

During the 1949 season John suffered a smashed nose against Elaine. He was probably still only 14 or maybe just 15. He was obviously targeted by the opposition because of his ability and age. This was a rugged era for country football as there were many returned men playing.

John’s ability to play unfazed against older opponents was to remain with him – for a number of years with Inverleigh, and then for a number of years playing for Geelong Thirds.

John and sisters (Lorraine and Joan) 1950
John and sisters (Lorraine and Joan) 1950

Chapter Two: Apprenticeship (Geelong Thirds 1949-51)


Not surprisingly, Inverleigh footballers who wanted to make the grade in VFL football tended to turn out with Geelong, only a short train trip or drive down the highway. Harold Allen, who played 20 games for Geelong (then called the ‘Pivotonians’) in 1914-15 and 1919, appears to have been the first of them. There is then a long chronological gap to the second – John Haygarth. John was to be followed by a rush of players from Inverleigh wearing the blue and white hoops: Rod Blake (176 games 1971-83), Malcolm Reed (81 games 1975-85), Murray Witcombe (121 games 1976-86), Alan Woodman (58 games 1975-79), and Dale Smyth (7 games 1980 and 1982).

John’s own initiation to Geelong Football Club and the rigours of VFL football was not pre-ordained and his contact with the club was initially quite minimal:

I saw a few Geelong (League) games when I was very young. Dad took me down there a few times. I saw a few of the older……Tommy Quinn and those fellows playing. But not very often. Sometimes we were not able to listen to the radio (3GL) either because we only had a six-volt battery radio, and we had to get the batteries charged.

John credits Lindsay White – the brilliant Geelong full-forward of the forties – for being instrumental in helping him launch his career at Geelong:

Lindsay put in a word for me, because he used to come out around Inverleigh – fishing, shooting, rabbiting, those sort of things – and he saw me I think at Inverleigh. Away back in those early days before I started playing for the Thirds. When I was still only at Inverleigh. Still only about 16 or 17. Lindsay was a great footballer too. He’s probably the best kick I’ve ever seen. Drop kick. I had a bit to do with him. He had the hotel at Bannockburn for a while. And I think he either played or coached Winchelsea at one stage back in the early days. And my son Bill, who was a wool-classer, had a bit to do with Lindsay junior up around Hay and Wilcannia.

Geelong’s Under-Nineteen team (‘The Thirds’) performed admirably in 1949 and advanced to the Finals series, winning the Second Semi Final against South Melbourne but losing to Carlton in the Grand Final (7.9 to 9.8). Future Geelong senior players Ron Hovey, Terry Fulton and Noel Rayson (the first two of whom played in premiership teams) were members of the 1949 Geelong ‘Thirds’ side. I have been unable to find a shred of evidence that John Haygarth played an actual premiership match with Geelong ‘Thirds’ in 1949. John insists however that he trained with the ‘Thirds’ in 1949:

I went down there training. I went in there just to train. I never played or anything. Teddy Field had the shop and Post Office at Inverleigh when I was a kid and he used to deal with Les Laver who was coach of the Under 19’s, the Thirds, and he was in a wholesale grocery business, and Teddy Field at Inverleigh would go in there and get supplies and that from him. He mentioned to him apparently that I was going alright at Inverleigh – so that’s how he introduced me, told me to go in and meet Les Laver. So I went down training a few nights, see. That’s how it started. When I turned fourteen I started work in Geelong, at Richardson’s. After work the boss would let me off at 4.30 and I’d go down and train. I walked down to Kardinia Park from Richardson’s. I’d then go back to Inverleigh at night. I’d often hitch-hike on the way home or get a ride somehow. The bus (back to Inverleigh) went at 5 o’clock, or 5.30, or 6.00 – it was too late after footy training. I got a ride home the best way I could, friends or hitch-hike. It’d be all hours of the night sometimes, getting home. I went to Geelong every day on the bus. The bus to Geelong from Inverleigh (for Secondary kids and workers) left every day at 7.45 in the morning.


John was selected to play in Geelong ‘Thirds’ practice matches at the start of the 1950 season – on a half-forward flank for the ‘Rainbows’ team against the ‘Blue and White’ team on April 1, and at full-forward for the ‘Blue and White’ team against the ‘Rainbows’ team in the final ‘Thirds’ practice match on April 15 - but was overlooked by the selectors for the first two matches of the ‘home and away’ season. He made his debut for the ‘Thirds’ – and therefore as a Geelong footballer – in the Round Three curtain-raiser (to the senior game) against Essendon at Kardinia Park on Saturday May 6. Interestingly, the jumper number he wore on this day was No. 10 – the same number he was to eventually wear in all his games for Geelong seniors. The Geelong line-up on this auspicious occasion was:

BackBell Hawking Meyrick
HBackMcIntyre Trewin Stanway
CHolloway Steele Dean
HFwdFeatherston Hovey Haygarth
FwdCrowe Trebilcock Edwards
FollMills Maher Richmond
19/20 – Thorley J.Barker

Emergencies: Hussey Morwood 7

Geelong were no match for the Dons and lost 4.6 to 12.17. John scored a goal and was named among Geelong’s best players, along with Stanway, Dean, Hovey and Mills. 8

John was selected to play for the ‘Thirds’ in the next four matches, this time wearing No. 14 jumper. For the Round Four (May 13) curtain-raiser against Melbourne at the MCG he was selected at centre-half forward. Geelong lost 5.10 to 6.11 but John again impressed, kicking two goals and being named as Geelong’s second-best player, behind Ron Hovey. For the Round Five (May 20) match against Richmond Juniors (curtain-raiser to Geelong-Collingwood at Kardinia Park) John was selected in the centre. The Cats won 6.12 to 5.8 and John was named as Geelong’s best player (and therefore presumably best-on-ground). He again started in the centre on Saturday May 27 in the Round Six curtain-raiser against St. Kilda at Kardinia Park, won by Geelong (match details obscured on SLV film), and in the June 3 Round Seven curtain-raiser against Richmond at Punt Road, lost by Geelong.

Possibly because the Geelong ‘Thirds’ selectors’ policy of rotating players was still being applied, John was not selected for the June 10 Round Eight curtain-raiser against North Melbourne at Arden Street. He did however play for Inverleigh on this Saturday and was named among the best players (along with Rob Wishart and Ivan Witcombe) in the team’s 10.10-11.9 loss to Bannockburn. (It is worth noting that Ron Hovey, who had stood beside John Haygarth on the half-forward line when John made his debut as a Cat, was promoted to the Second Eighteen for June 10. Only a little over one year later Hovey was to occupy a spot on the reserves bench in Geelong’s 1951 VFL premiership triumph).

The Geelong Advertiser edition of Monday June 19 makes for interesting reading. It reveals that John Haygarth in fact played two football matches on the one day (June 17). Selected as 20th man for the Round Nine curtain-raiser against Carlton at Kardinia Park, John replaced an injured player in the last quarter as the Cats went down 2.10-6.12. He then miraculously turned up at Inverleigh to help his team defeat Lethbridge (9.17-4.5), kicking one goal. If John was capable of playing two matches in one day on one occasion there is no reason to doubt the super-fit and enthusiastic youth may have done so on other occasions also:

I played with Geelong Thirds and someone would drive me back up to Inverleigh to play in the afternoon. Yes, I played in the ‘Under 19’, or the Thirds as they called them in those days. We started about 9-ish and we were finished by lunchtime. I was picked up in a motor bike by one of the players out there who worked in Geelong, Eddie Field, who had a motor bike – he was of age – and he worked in Geelong. He picked me up at 12 o’clock at Kardinia Park and I’d shoot out there and strip for Inverleigh. He picked me up after the game and whipped me straight out to Inverleigh to play with them in the afternoon. I’d only have to change jumpers. I kept my boots on. I had the boots and everything on. I was all ready to go. All I had to do was change jumpers. I kept pretty fit and I could run like a rabbit in those days. It didn’t worry me much. I loved it. I just loved the sport. I had some horror rides going from Geelong to Inverleigh in the wet weather. He was only young. His father had the store at Inverleigh and he was working in Geelong. He’d pick me up on this red Triumph - he’d just got it –it was a bit of a horror ride at times in the wet….and slippery roads. If I wasn’t playing with the Under-19’s in Geelong I was playing with Inverleigh. I’d go back on a ‘Pink Permit’ – they called it in those days. I’d go back to Inverleigh. I played on what they called then was a ‘Pink Permit’ – you could go back to your previous club, and I’d play in the Under 19 and go back to Inverleigh in the afternoon and play. 9

For Rounds Ten (June 24), Eleven (July 1) and Twelve (July 8) of the ‘Thirds’ season, John was selected on the half-forward flank, not the centre. In the ‘away’ curtain-raiser match against Fitzroy John kicked one goal and was named as Geelong’s third-best in a losing side (5.10-10.8). In the Kardinia Park loss against South Melbourne (8.4-9.12) John again scored a goal but was not named among the best. Against Hawthorn, again at Geelong, John was the third-best Geelong player and contributed a goal to the winning side (10.10-6.8).

John (apparently not injured or ‘dropped’) was not selected for the Round Thirteen (July 15) ‘away’ game against Footscray, nor for the (final) Round Sixteen (August 12) ‘away’ match against Richmond Juniors. He was selected in the centre for Round Fourteen (July 22) at Essendon, and on the wing for the Round Fifteen (August 5) ‘home’ game against Melbourne. 10

Young John Haygarth, still only sixteen and playing with and against players one or two years older, had hit the ground running in his first season of VFL football. He played in eleven of Geelong ‘Thirds’ sixteen matches and was named among the team’s best players on at least five occasions. Talent scouts from other clubs were already showing an interest. John recalls:

When I was at Inverleigh (and breaking into Geelong and only sort of started in there), Geelong West came out to see me, and they promised me to be in the seniors on the Saturday at full-forward. They wanted me to go there back in the early days when I first started going into Geelong. They came out and wanted me to play at full-forward. No, there was a McKee coach at the time – and Bill Adams, who was a big figure in Geelong, had Western District Timber Company and a hotel in Geelong, he was the President of Geelong West – and they came out and made me an offer, but I wanted to go to Geelong first and see how…I was in and out of Geelong……I just wanted to get into Geelong at that stage… I was in the Under-19 and was on the verge of playing in the Seconds probably. 11

The selectors’ habit of shifting John from pillar to post, from one position on the ground to another – at the selection table if not during the actual matches – was already evident in 1950. Whether as the outcome of experimentation or substitution, the positional merry-go-round would become an inherent and repetitive element of his football career, not just with the ‘Thirds’ but with the Seconds and Senior team also. In time John acquired the (perhaps ambiguous) tag ‘utility’ – and it is not hard to see why. In the end he could play, and play well, anywhere.


 Geelong Thirds 1951 (John extreme left top row)
Geelong Thirds 1951 (John extreme left top row)

Geelong Thirds 1951 (John extreme left top row)
Top row: J.Haygarth, R.Robinson, A.Featherston, R.Stein, D.Carroll, D.Dower
Second top row: M.Gear, P.Beggs, R.Aisbett, D.O’Hara, B.Barmby, R.Holloway, K.Pullin, R.Matthews
Third top row: W.Getsom (Trainer), H.Herbert, A.Dawson, L.Ferguson (vice-captain), C.Schaller (captain), B.Crowe, J.Ward, W.Holohan (Trainer)
Second bottom row: C.Ledgerwood (Match Committee), J.Lucas (Coach), D.Huon (Manager), J.Salter (Assistant Manager), I.Southern (First Aid Officer), J.Edmonds (Property)
Front row: J.Trewin, L.Conolan, M.Kent, I.Priddle

 Geelong Thirds 1951 (John extreme left top row)
Geelong Thirds 1951 (John extreme left top row)

John turned out again for the Geelong Third Eighteen in 1951. The impression gained is that his form in this second season was not as eye-catching. It might be too harsh to say his football went backwards, although, for no obvious reason, his name does not appear regularly in the Geelong Advertiser weekly list of best players. John played in the last two Geelong Seconds practice matches – as a half-back flanker for the ‘Rainbows’ team (versus ‘Red and White’ team) on April 7, and as a half-forward flanker (for ‘Red and White’ team) on April 14. The Geelong Advertiser (April 16) reported:

‘The most noteworthy performances in the game on Saturday was (sic) given by McKee, D.Worland, Mathews, Haygarth, Mills, Hodgson, Warren, Vanderfeen, Spivey and Walsh’.

Interestingly, John had initially been named on the Geelong Thirds ‘training list’ (Geelong Advertiser, April 9) but after his ‘noteworthy’ April 14 performance he was elevated from the Thirds ‘Final List’ to the Seconds ‘Final List’. Despite this raise in status, John did not play for Geelong Seconds in 1951.

The ‘Thirds’ selectors’ unpredictability was again evident. John was selected on the half-back flank for Round One against South Melbourne at Geelong (April 21), for Round Five against Essendon at Geelong (May 19), for the Round Six defeat (7.4-13.10) against North Melbourne at North Melbourne (June 2), and for Round Seven against Hawthorn at Geelong (June 9). He was selected on the half-forward flank for the Round Two victory (11.6-8.13) against Fitzroy at Fitzroy (April 28), for Round Four against Carlton at Geelong (May 12), and for Round Eight against Footscray at Footscray (June 16). He was selected on the wing for Round Three against Collingwood at Collingwood (May 5).

Not only the selections were unpredictable – spectators arriving early to watch the curtain-raiser to the main League game would find Geelong players wearing different numbers from week to week. (John Haygarth, for instance, wore No. 22 in Round Five and No. 14 in Rounds Six and Seven). In response to a letter appearing in the Geelong Advertiser complaining that Geelong ‘Thirds’ jumper numbers were missing in ‘The (VFL) Football Record’, the Manager of Geelong ‘Thirds’, D.B. Huon, had a ready explanation: a lack of guernseys and constant changes in personnel:

‘It is impossible to allocate to each player a definite number. When the training list becomes stabilised and sufficient guernseys are available the club will allocate one guernsey to each player – resulting in a reliable list of numbers’. 12

Playing on a half-back flank in the Round Six (June 2) match against North Melbourne at Arden Street, John was Geelong’s best player, with Harry Herbert not far behind. However, just when John seemed to be riding the crest of a wave, calamity struck - in Round Eight, at Footscray on June 16:

In 1951, in the ‘Thirds’ at Footscray, I busted a collarbone and missed a few weeks. I raced out and crunched somebody, or somebody crunched me. It was just a head-on collision that day. They carted me off to a doctor in Melbourne somewhere and he strapped up my shoulder. The collarbone heals pretty quickly apparently. It didn’t take long – you were back in business in a few weeks. I was back playing for Inverleigh in a few weeks.

It seems John did play again that season, but for Inverleigh, not Geelong ‘Thirds’. He was not selected for the ‘Thirds’ after Round Eight. Two other future Geelong senior players to take the field for the ‘Thirds’ in 1951 were centre-half forward Harry Herbert from Warrnambool, and centre player Don O’Hara.

Chapter Three: Perseverance (Geelong Seconds 1952-54)


John Haygarth would have scratched himself in disbelief in 1949 if he had known he was destined to play in the same Geelong team as Lindsay White. In an early-season League match against South Melbourne in 1950, White, the Geelong captain, tore his Achilles tendon and retired from football – temporarily as it turned out. At the start of the following season (1951) White was named on the Geelong Seconds ‘Final List’, not the Geelong senior ‘Final List’, and, perhaps aggrieved, signed with Ballarat Football Club, captain-coached by his old Geelong team mate Percy Hunt. White kicked 64 goals for the season, including three goals to help steer Ballarat to its Grand Final win over East Ballarat. 13 But White was not done with Geelong and returned in season 1952 as captain-coach of the club’s Second Eighteen, replacing 1951 Seconds coach Bob Walker, described by John as ‘a very astute coach’.

In Round One (1952) against Melbourne at Kardinia Park, White played in the centre. When John Haygarth first broke into the Seconds, for the Round Four encounter against Fitzroy at Kardinia Park on May 10, 1952, he started on the half forward flank, thus joining Lindsay White (at full-forward) on the Geelong forward line – and would have been picking him out whenever he got the ball.

John was selected on the half-forward flank (‘Red and Black’ versus ‘Red and White’) in the Geelong practice match (curtain-raiser to main Geelong practice match) on April 5. This match would have been considered a trial for Geelong Seconds. John was not named on the Geelong ‘Thirds’ ‘Training List’ for 1952, even though, at 17, he was still eligible to play for them. John did in fact play the first three matches of the season for the ‘Thirds’, all of them on a half-forward flank (against Melbourne at the MCG on April 19, against Footscray at Geelong on April 26, and against St. Kilda at Geelong on May 3).

The morning of (Friday) May 9 would have been a very exciting one for the Haygarth family – if, of course, they had happened to check the Geelong Advertiser. John was selected for his first-ever game in open-age VFL competition – the Round Four (May 10) Seconds match against Fitzroy at Kardinia Park. Fitzroy won a ‘dull scrambling game’ by two goals (14.9-11.15), John contributing one goal from his flank. The ‘Seconds’ line-up was:

BackMoore Smith Ian Priddle
HBackNorm Scott Bob McDonald Ivan Baumgartner
CJim Roberts Les Reed Tony Bliss
HFwdStephens Harry Herbert John Haygarth
FwdLeo O’Halloran Lindsay White Ray Mathews
FollGeorge Swarbrick Jim Tuckwell Don Scott
19/20 G.McGeeA.Clarke

Emergency: Graeme Stanway 14

John had to wait until Round Eight to play for the Seconds again. He was back with the Third Eighteen for Rounds Five, Six, and Seven, and played all three matches on the half-back flank. Against North Melbourne at Geelong on May 17 he was best-on-ground in the Cats’ 9.7-3.5 victory. John was also named among the best players in Geelong’s 8.15-4.8 win at Richmond on May 31 (resuming after the VFL Lightning Premiership on May 24) and in the June 7 loss (6.13-8.11) at Carlton. 15

Geelong players of 1952-53 era – record-breakers
Geelong players of 1952-53 era – record-breakers

VFL football resumed after the Victoria-Western Australia interstate match at the MCG on June 14. John was elevated again to the Seconds for the next three Rounds (8,9,10) – the June 21 game against South Melbourne at South, the June 28 fixture against Hawthorn at Geelong (won 8.12-3.6), and the July 5 match against Essendon at Geelong (lost 4.3-6.16). The respective line-ups for these three matches were:

Back Loy Stewart Richard Phillips Don O’Hara
HBackIvan Baumgartner Bob McDonald Bert Worner
CJim Roberts Lindsay White Peter West
HFwdLes Ferguson Ian Priddle Holloway
FwdLeo O’Halloran Bob Gazzard Bowden
FollJim Tuckwell G.McGee Maurie Gear
19/20 John Haygarth A.Clarke

Emergency: Moore

Back Loy Stewart Ron Stein Don O’Hara
HBackA.Clarke Bob McDonaldBert Worner
CJim Roberts Lindsay White Peter West
HFwdLes Ferguson Ian Priddle John Haygarth
FwdG.McGee Harry Herbert Jack Stevens
FollLeo O’Halloran J.Mills Maurie Gear
19/20Russell RobinsonGraeme Stanway

Emergency: Tony Bliss

Back Loy Stewart Richard Phillips Don O’Hara
HBackA.Clarke Bob McDonald Ivan Baumgartner
CJim Roberts Lindsay White Norm Scott
HFwdRay Mathews Harry Herbert Merv Richardson
FwdG.McGee Tony Walsh Maurie Gear
FollLeo O’Halloran J.Mills Doug Davies
19/20 Ron Stein John Haygarth

Emergency: Graeme Stanway

The only stable element in John’s situation at this point of his career with Geelong was the stability of the number on his back. He appears to have worn No. 14 throughout the 1952 season, at least with the ‘Thirds’. Otherwise he still hung by a thread to the Seconds, and his relegation to the ‘Thirds’ for their last six matches (Rounds 11-16) was not a huge surprise. For each of these six matches John was selected to play half-back flank. He was named among the best players in the close loss (5.6-5.8) against Melbourne at Geelong on July 19, and named as Geelong’s overall best player in the close loss (6.6-7.8) to Fitzroy at Geelong on August 9. 16

With the ‘Under-Nineteen’ season ‘done and dusted’ John was back in the Seconds – 20th man in their thrashing (7.6-14.20) by Richmond at Richmond (August 23) and half-back flank against Carlton at Carlton (August 30). The latter game marked a significant milestone in John’s career. He was named among Geelong’s best players in their close loss (8.12-8.18) to the Blues, signifying he was now perhaps only one step from senior selection. 17 The Seconds’ teams for Rounds Seventeen and Eighteen were:

Back Don O’Hara Merv Richardson Jim Tuckwell
HBackIvan Baumgartner Bob McDonald A.Clarke
CJim Roberts Tony Walsh Jack Stevens
HFwdMaurie Gear Noel Rayson Ken Cameron
FwdBrian Barmby Bob Gazzard Ray Mathews
FollLeo O’Halloran Graeme Stanway Doug Davies
19/20Ian Priddle John Haygarth

Emergency: Russell Robinson

Back Don O’Hara Merv Richardson Graeme Stanway
HBackRichard Phillips Bob McDonald John Haygarth
CJim Roberts Ivan Baumgartner Peter West
HFwdScott Noel Rayson Ken Cameron
FwdGeorge Swarbrick Bob Gazzard Ray Mathews
FollJim Tuckwell Ian Priddle Jack Stevens
19/20 G.McGee A.Clarke

Emergency: Maurie Gear

After 1952 Lindsay White continued to fashion his own legend in Geelong district football. As captain-coach of Bannockburn in the Geelong District Association’s 1953 season he kicked 23 goals (!) on the afternoon of May 2, 1953 in a match against North Shore. Appointed captain-coach of Winchelsea in the Polwarth League for 1954 and 1955, he kicked 115 goals in 1954, and again dominated in 1955, kicking 20 goals in a match against Birregurra and winning Winchelsea’s best and fairest award. 18


Against the background of Cold War, Communist insurgency in South-East Asia, and the declaration of war in Korea, the Menzies government sponsored the National Service Act 1951. The legislation provided for the compulsory call-up of males turning 18 on or after 1 November 1950, for service training of 176 days. Between 1951 and 1959 over 500,000 men registered, 52 intakes were organised, and some 227,000 men were trained.

John Haygarth turned 18 on July 13, 1952. He must have known his 1953 football season was at risk, yet turned out for all of the pre-season Geelong practice matches as if the situation he faced was normal. John played in three Seconds (curtain-raiser) practice matches - on the half-back flank (March 21), the wing (March 28), and half-forward flank (April 11).

One can presume John caught the selectors’ eyes because for the Easter Weekend (Friday April 3-Monday April 6) he lined up in both main (‘Firsts’) practice matches, held on the Saturday and Monday. For the Easter Monday game John was selected on a half-forward flank in the ‘Red and Black’ team (captained by Russell Renfrey) against the ‘Blue and White’ team (captained by Bernie Smith). Renfrey’s team boasted talent on every line - Noel Rayson, Syd Smith, Bob Wiltshire, Don O’Hara, Howard Hawking, Terry Fulton, Doug Palmer, Jim Roberts, Maurie Gear, George Swarbrick and Norm Scott (possibly) - and walloped the opposition (13.19-6.7), John Haygarth adding two goals. The Geelong Advertiser mentioned John as one of the Second Eighteen players who were ‘prominent’ in the Saturday game, but the newspaper was even more complimentary about his performance on the Monday, reporting the ‘prominent junior player sometimes showed good judgment and leading out ability to get above taller men in marking duels’.

John made the Geelong Seconds ‘Training List’ for season 1953 and was named as one of four reserves for the Round One (April 18) Seconds match against Hawthorn at Glenferrie. The victorious (12.21-10.9) Geelong team (captain-coached by Syd Tate) was:

Back Bob Watson Richard Phillips Brian Barmby
HBackLes Reed Ivan Baumgartner A.Clarke
CJim Roberts Ken Cameron Bill Dalziel
HFwdSyd Tate Bob Gazzard Holloway
FwdBob Wiltshire Ritchie Johns Ray Mathews
FollGeorge Swarbrick Don Worland Maurie Gear

Reserves: John Haygarth Brian Shelley Merv Richardson J.Mills

After April 18, John was selected for Geelong Seconds on two further occasions during the 1953 season, but only as an emergency – for the Round 5 (May 23) match against Richmond at Geelong, and the Round 17 (August 15) match against Richmond at Punt Road. (This is odd. I would have presumed he was in camp at Puckapunyal, at least on the latter occasion).

Round Five:
BackDon O’Hara Richard Phillips Brian Barmby
HBackBrian Shelley Merv Richardson A.Clarke
CJim Roberts Ken Cameron Bill Dalziel
HFwdSyd Tate Ritchie Johns Holloway
FwdDon Worland Frank Carew Maurie Gear
FollGeorge Swarbrick Bob Wiltshire Keith Wayth

Emergencies: John Haygarth J.Mills Tony Bliss Howard Hawking

Round Seventeen:
BackRichard Phillips Bob Gazzard Merv Richardson
HBackSyd Tate Ivan Baumgartner A.Clarke
CBill Dalziel Terry Fulton Duff
HFwdMaurie Gear Ron Hovey Holloway
FwdJack Stevens Bruce Murray Doug Davies
FollJohn McMahon Graeme Stanway Ray Mathews
19/20 Ken Cameron O’Brien

Emergency:John Haygarth

John was not selected to play again in 1953, in any Geelong team, the obvious and overriding reason being his National Service stint. One can therefore conclude he may not have taken the field in any capacity for Geelong Football Club during the 1953 premiership season, although it is conceivable he may have done so if picked as 19th or 20th on April 18 at Glenferrie (and/or on May 23 at Geelong). 19 As John recalls:

I was playing for Geelong Seconds at that stage. I was on the verge of probably cracking into the Seniors and I missed most of the 1953 season going to Puckapunyal. I was captain-coach of a football side at Puckapunyal – the ‘Fox Company’ (Twenty-Second Battalion) team. Laurie Conolan was playing in the ‘Under-19’ with me in Geelong and he was drafted too, at the same time. Our Sergeant was a mad Geelong supporter. When this Sergeant Hayes knew that we played, he got us into the team and I finished up captain-coach, and Laurie was vice-captain.

 Puckapunyal 1953 (John third from right second top row)
Puckapunyal 1953 (John third from right second top row)

 John at ’Pucka’
John at ’Pucka’

John Haygarth was born to the country life, and his working life, including his football, has always been intimately linked to country life. At Richardson’s Market, the Estate Agents and Stock Market firm in Geelong where John started in his first job as a fourteen-year-old in 1949, the young footballer developed skills that were to serve him for the rest of his life:

I was in the office most of the week and Thursdays was Market Day. Sheep, cattle and pigs and all those things. I did the poultry side of it. I had to book in all the poultry, and pen them, and number them, and book them.

John left Richardson’s when he was called up for three-months National Service in 1953. When he got out of Puckapunyal, the football season more or less over, he was looking for a local job:

When I got back out of the Army, I started back at Inverleigh on a farm. I went out to the shearing shed for starters, as a roustabout. Dad was a shearer, and Grandfather had a shearing contract. The reason I went out in the shearing sheds when I got out of National Service was to buy a car. I bought an old second-hand A-Model Ford.

John also found a wife, a young local woman - Barbara Gray. John met Barbara at one of the country dances held in the hamlet of Teesdale every Friday and Saturday night. Her mother and step-father were working on ‘Woolbrook’, a wool station at Teesdale. Romance bloomed and on October 31, 1953, John and Barbara tied the knot. John was only 19½.

 Marriage John/Barbara October 31, 1953.
Marriage John/Barbara October 31, 1953.

Soon after the wedding, a farm labouring job became available on (Bannockburn) Councillor Jim Harvey’s merino stud property (‘Poplars Farm’) at Murgheboluc, twenty kilometres west of Geelong on the Hamilton Highway. John worked as a labourer on Harvey’s property for six years, until he moved to Maryborough near the end of 1959. An article in the (Melbourne) Herald (circa August 1957) offers a glimpse of the Geelong footballer’s everyday working life, one still intimately associated with animals. The article does however trivialise the nature of John’s labour, neglecting to mention that sheer hard (and heavy) physical work was the secret to John’s supreme fitness and strength, not the chasing of lambs:

‘From a keen greyhound racing family, John spends several hours each day exercising his greyhounds and chasing his household pets. The lambs will come if offered a bottle of milk but otherwise they lead him a merry dance.’ 20

John/Cr Harvey’s daughter 1959
John/Cr Harvey’s daughter 1959

John – shearer
John – shearer

Feeding time Murgheboluc 1957
Feeding time Murgheboluc 1957

 Feeding time Murgheboluc (John, Barbara, Bill) 1956
Feeding time Murgheboluc (John, Barbara, Bill) 1956

Feeding time Murgheboluc (John, Barbara, Bill) 1957
Feeding time Murgheboluc (John, Barbara, Bill) 1957

John/Bill Murgheboluc 1957
John/Bill Murgheboluc 1957


The Geelong Advertiser edition of Friday August 28 in 1953 held a shock in store for Geelong fans. Full-forward George Goninon was dropped from the senior team for the final (Round 18) ‘home and away’ match against Melbourne and picked at full-forward for Geelong Seconds. (Fred Flanagan took his place at full-forward for the seniors). Goninon kicked three goals (and was judged ‘best-on-ground’) in the Seconds match but, controversially, did not regain his senior position for the 1953 Finals. Goninon was still on the outer in 1954. Ominously, for the Round One (1954) match (Monday April 19), Goninon, picked in the Seconds, was 'unavailable'. Even as far into the 1954 season as Round Six, he was bogged down at full-forward in Geelong Seconds. In 1955 the VFL’s champion goal-kicker of 1951 joined Lindsay White at Winchelsea and had a similar impact, kicking 10 of Winchelsea’s 15 goals in a Polwarth League match against Apollo Bay on April 23, 1955. 21


John resumed his career at Kardinia Park after his interrupted 1953 season. He was selected on a half-forward flank for the ‘Red’ team in the Seconds (curtain-raiser) practice match of March 27. In the curtain-raiser match on April 3, John, initially only one of three ‘Reserves’ for the ‘Red and Black’ team, played as a rover and was praised (Geelong Advertiser, April 5) as one of seven ‘outstanding’ players. John was included in the list of Geelong Seconds players to continue training under Syd Tate, and after again playing as (first) rover in the final Seconds practice match (April 10), was named on the Seconds final ‘Training List’ of 38 players.

Given his good form, and his enforced sacrifice for the nation, John’s exclusion from the Round One (April 19) Geelong Seconds team must have been disappointing, and possibly even rankled. He did not take the field for Geelong again that season and spent the entire year dominating for his original country club Inverleigh.

Geelong Seconds (Round One) versus Fitzroy at Geelong, Monday, April 19:

BackMaurie Gear Bob Gazzard Ivan Baumgartner
HBackRussell Middlemiss Howard Hawking Syd Smith
CJim Roberts Syd Tate Geoff Umbers
HFwdRon Hovey Don O’Hara Doug Palmer
FwdW.Burge George Goninon Bruce Murray
FollBob Wiltshire Glen Bow D.Donohue
19/20Les May N.Robertson

Emergencies: Ray Mathews J.Shelley John Haygarth W.Clarke
(Goninon ‘unavailable’ replaced by May in selected team. Mathews 20th man).

John was not selected in the Geelong Seconds team for Round Two (Saturday April 24) against North Melbourne (and nor was he selected for Round Three). It is difficult to know whether this was because he had already notified the club he intended to play for Inverleigh, or whether contrariwise, he had decided to play for Inverleigh because he had for some reason been totally excluded from the Seconds, not even named as an emergency.

Geelong Seconds Round Two:
BackMaurie Gear ClarkeStephens
HBackDon O’Hara Howard Hawking Ken Cameron
CDuff Matt Goggin O’Brien
HFwdSyd Tate Merv Richardson Les May
FwdGlen Bow Max Sutcliffe I.Smith
FollJohn McMahon Don Worland Ray Mathews
19/20 Richard Phillips Shelley

Emergency: Tony Bliss

Geelong Seconds Round Three:
BackRichard Phillips Bob Gazzard Stephens
HBack Don O’Hara Howard Hawking N.Robertson
C Duff Matt Goggin Les May
HFwd Syd Tate Glen Bow Geoff Umbers
Fwd Ivan Baumgartner Max Sutcliffe I.Smith
Foll Don Worland Merv Richardson Ron Hovey
19/20 O’Brien Tony Bliss

Emerg: Shelley

John’s shift sideways to a lesser competition in 1954 probably benefited his career in the longer term – ‘one step backward two steps forward’ – because on his local grounds and ensured of a regular game, John showed off his talents and the Geelong selectors could not help but notice.

In 1954, Inverleigh was one of nine clubs competing in the Woolworth Cup. The others were North Geelong, Lara, Geelong West YCW, Bannockburn, Stonehaven, Little River, Freshwater Creek, and St. Albans.

John’s brilliant record in 1954 is best laid out in tabular form (as per information in the Geelong Advertiser) –

Round One - Inverleigh 9.18 d Stonehaven 3.15 (one goal; best on ground).
Round Two - Inverleigh d Geelong West YCW 16.19-6.6 (6 goals; best on ground).
Round Three - Inverleigh d by North Geelong 4.4-13.14 (one goal; best for Inverleigh).
Round Four - Inverleigh d Bannockburn 13.26-5.5 (3 goals; third best for Inverleigh).
Round Five - Inverleigh d by Lara 6.19-12.21 (3 goals; third best for Inverleigh).
Round Six - Inverleigh d by St Albans 10.7-11.3 (4 goals; best for Inverleigh).
Round Seven - Inverleigh versus Freshwater Creek (2 goals).
Round Eight - Inverleigh d Little River 10.18-11.9 (8 goals; best on ground).
Round Nine - Inverleigh bye.
Round Ten - Inverleigh d Stonehaven 7.10-7.8 (2 goals – not named in best players).
Round Eleven - Inverleigh d Geelong West YCW (3 goals).
Round Twelve - Inverleigh d by North Geelong 4.12-8.7 (one goal; not named in best players).
Round Thirteen - Inverleigh d Bannockburn 14.16-2.2 (8 goals; best on ground).
Round Fourteen - Inverleigh d Lara 8.12-7.7 (5 goals; second best for Inverleigh).
Round Fifteen - Inverleigh d by St Albans 11.9-14.17 (3 goals; best for Inverleigh).
Round Sixteen - Inverleigh d Freshwater Creek 7.8-4.11 (2 goals; fifth best for Inverleigh).
Round Seventeen - Geelong Advertiser, Monday August 16 – no Inverleigh result published – three other matches detailed.
Round Eighteen – Inverleigh bye.

John Haygarth won Inverleigh’s ‘best and fairest’ award for 1954 by a country mile. He had kicked 52 goals after sixteen Rounds. St Albans won the Woolworth Cup premiership, defeating North Geelong 14.16-6.3 in the Grand Final.

Chapter Four: Breakthrough (Geelong Firsts 1955-56)


John was missing from the first two Geelong practice matches of 1955 (March 19 and March 26) – possibly because his intention at that point was to continue with Inverleigh. However, for the third Saturday (April 2) he was named as one of seven reserves for the ‘Red’ team (versus the ‘Red and Black’) in the Seconds practice match. On the fourth weekend – Easter – John in fact played two practice matches in three days, firstly on the Saturday (April 9) at centre-half forward for the Seconds’ ‘Red’ team, and secondly on the Monday – on the half-back flank for the ‘Blue and White’ team (versus the ‘Red and Black’). It is possible this Easter Monday occasion, the final practice match, was the first time the Geelong senior selectors sat up and took notice of the young man from Inverleigh. The line-up for the match featured a significant number of players who were either regular seniors, or on the verge of regular senior selection – Harry Herbert, Clive Brown, Ivan Baumgartner, Geoff Umbers, Max Sutcliffe, Glen Bow, Ken Cameron, Les May, Jim Roberts, Doug Davies, Fred Wooller, Russell Renfrey, Bob Wiltshire, Les Borrack and Peter Pianto. The Geelong Advertiser commented:

‘Two local half-backs were among the most consistent. John Haygarth (Inverleigh) and Alf Featherstone (St. Mary’s), both of whom have had experience with the Seconds, made few mistakes, marked well and defended strongly.’

Not surprisingly John was named on the Seconds ‘list’ to train under captain-coach Doug Davies. Bill Haygarth remembers John talking about his relationship with Davies:

John told me that at the start of the 1955 season he was not selected in the intra-club practice match. The club had advised in the Geelong Advertiser the day before that players who were not named in the two sides would be given a run after half time. At half-time John was not advised that he would get a run so he protested and handed the paper to Doug Davies, the Seconds coach. After protesting, he did get a run and obviously impressed. The week before this he badly injured a finger at work - he caught it in the combine seeder while sowing crop. He went to Dr MacGregor the morning before the game to get it drained and strapped. John and Davies were selected in the VFL Seconds team to play South Australia. John was possibly best-on-ground.

In 1955 Geelong’s premiership squad of 1951-52 had started to thin out. Bruce Morrison, John Hyde, Bill McMaster, George Goninon, Terry Fulton, Leo Turner, and Tom Morrow had all departed, and Fred Flanagan was soon to follow. Geelong performed surprisingly well in 1955, finishing third with a side that included a significant number of very young players, some of them teenagers. John Haygarth would have pinched himself if he had known he too would break into the senior side before season’s end, but this he did – though not before once again jumping through all the hoops.

John had by now secured a regular position with Geelong Seconds. He was selected for the first eleven Seconds matches of the season - Rounds One, Two and Four on a half-forward flank and the other eight matches on a half-back flank. In Round One (April 16), a tight Geelong win (11.12-10.13) against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval, John, one of Geelong’s best players on the day, booted four goals, all four in the second quarter:

‘Haygarth goaled after receiving the benefit of a 15-yard penalty and this player repeated the effort when he took a handpass from McGannon – it was all Geelong now, with the little men shining and Haygarth, Sutcliffe and McGannon finishing off the good work…….Haygarth got his third goal for the term when he drove home a glorious 60-yard drop kick after marking the kick-off……Haygarth got his fourth for the quarter as the siren sounded to leave Geelong in a commanding position at the long interval’ (Geelong Advertiser).

In the first half of his 1955 season with Geelong Seconds, John was on fire. He was rated Geelong’s third-best player in the loss (7.13-7.17) to Melbourne on April 23 at Geelong, best afield in the Round Four (May 7) win (11.13-7.4) against Fitzroy at Kardinia Park, second best-on-ground in the Round Six (May 21) win (15.18-6.6) against St. Kilda at Geelong; and one of Geelong’s best in the Round Seven (May 28) win (8.16-7.15) against Carlton at Geelong, the Round Ten (June 25) win (7.15-6.12) against Essendon at Essendon, and the Round Eleven (July 2) loss to Hawthorn (9.6-11.12) at Hawthorn. The Geelong Advertiser was running out of superlatives:

Versus Fitzroy (first half) - ‘Haygarth, on the Geelong half-back flank, was still getting more kicks than any other player afield, and was a constant barrier to most Fitzroy advances.’
Versus Fitzroy (second half) - ‘Fitzroy, trying the opposite flank in an effort to avoid Haygarth, found Middlemiss almost impassable.’
Versus St. Kilda - ‘…a dashing Haygarth….’……
‘It was attacking defence at its best when Haygarth’s mighty drop was marked high by Featherston who passed to Davies for a cool second major’.
Versus Essendon - ‘…the powerful defensive work of May, Haygarth and O’Hara who formed an almost inpenetrable defensive line.’
Versus Hawthorn (third quarter) - ‘Geelong came back into the play for Haygarth, on the half-forward flank, to goal nicely.’
Versus Hawthorn (fourth quarter) - ‘Geelong were first away for Haygarth to send forward with a long shot, which bounced through’.

John appeared on only one further occasion with Geelong Seconds in 1955 – the Round 15 (July 30) clash with Fitzroy at Fitzroy. Playing on a half-back flank, he was named as Geelong’s fourth-best player in their (10.15-7.12) win.

John was rewarded for his scintillating form with selection in the VFL Seconds team to play the SANFL Seconds in Adelaide on July 16. Very soon after this he received another pleasant surprise – selection on July 8 for his first-ever game with the Geelong senior team, Round Twelve (July 9) against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval. The Geelong Advertiser (July 8) commented:

‘John Haygarth, from Inverleigh, came to the Third Eighteen and played with that team for two years before graduating to the Second Eighteen. He was promoted to the senior list last week. He has played every game with the Seconds this season, and with the exception of the first match, when he played at half-forward, has been at half-back’.

Geelong’s line-up on July 9 (1955):
BackRon Hovey Harry Herbert Russell Renfrey
HBackBernie Smith Howard Hawking Ken Cameron
CClive Brown Jim Roberts John O’Neill
HFwdMatt Goggin Bob Davis Ken Beardsley
FwdJohn McMahon Noel Rayson Neil Trezise
FollNorm Sharp Max Sutcliffe Peter Pianto
19/20 Glen Bow John Haygarth

Emergency: John Helmer
In: Hawking Roberts Goggin Beardsley
Out (all injured): John O’Connell Bruce Ferrari Roger Bullen Les Borrack

Geelong got home in a close game (15.9-13.10), with Trezise (5), Rayson (4) and Pianto (3) all among the goals. It would appear, however, that John Haygarth did not take the field.

On Saturday July 16, a VFL Seconds team played SANFL Seconds on the Adelaide Oval as the curtain-raiser to the main Victoria versus South Australia clash. John Haygarth and Doug Davies were the two Geelong representatives. 22 The VFL triumphed 14.15 (99) to 8.13 (61), and John won a Heinz ‘hamper’ as one of the three best players on the ground:

‘During the recent Second Eighteen football match played in Adelaide the H.J.Heinz Company made available three Heinz hampers for the best three players on the ground. You have been selected as one of the three best players and within the next few days the Heinz hamper will be delivered to you addressed to the Geelong Football Club. Congratulations on a mighty personal effort and on a good team win. Yours truly, H.J.Heinz Co. Pty Ltd’. 23

 VFL Seconds Adelaide 1955 (John extreme left top row)
VFL Seconds Adelaide 1955 (John extreme left top row)

 VFL Seconds Adelaide 1955 (John extreme left top row)
VFL Seconds Adelaide 1955 (John extreme left top row)

 Letter from Heinz Co. 1955
Letter from Heinz Co. 1955

John Haygarth, on duty in Adelaide, was not able to participate in Geelong’s great (Round Thirteen) victory (10.11-6.16) against eventual 1955 premiers Melbourne at Kardinia Park.

At some point in early July, presumably before July 8, John was elevated to the Geelong senior ‘Training List’, but it is not entirely clear whether this occurred before or after the announcement (before July 8) he had been selected in the VFL Seconds team. John, however is of the view his elevation only happened after, and because of, his Adelaide performance:

I got selected in the Seconds interstate, the interstate trip to Adelaide, which we won. The interstate match was against South Australia. We played a (Seconds) curtain-raiser to the League First’s interstate game. It was on Adelaide Oval. I played most of that game on the half back flank. I happened to get best-on-ground and after that Geelong made me on the list and I got Fred Flanagan’s jumper (No. 10) when he retired mid-season. That’s why Geelong put me on the list straight after. I must say that Col Austen was the best coach that I’ve probably played under and the best speaker I’ve ever heard. He was a great man Col and I wasn’t surprised that they handed him the Brownlow medal after that period of time. 24

John’s recollection of this period is that he was in ‘competition’ with Ken Cameron and Colin Barton for one of the senior team’s half-back flank positions (Bernie Smith having a stranglehold on the other):

‘Ken Cameron beat me to the Seniors because I was in that Adelaide game. If I hadn’t been in that Adelaide game I would have been selected the next week (in the Firsts) but he was selected in my……he was my opposition. But I was in when I came back. Previous to going it was a contest between Kenny Cameron, or Col Barton, and I as to who got the…. half-back flank – and I think I was probably favourite to get it. I was picked in the Adelaide game instead, and being one of the best over there, Geelong put me on the list as soon as I got back, and I got Fred Flanagan’s No. 10’.

John’s memory does not tally with the facts. Ken Cameron established himself as the regular half-back flanker with the seniors well before Round Twelve and was not displaced by John in that position. Cameron played in that position in all sixteen Geelong matches after Round Five. Cameron suffered concussion twice in 1955 - against Collingwood at Collingwood (Round 8) and against Fitzroy at Geelong (Round 15) – but was still picked.

After Adelaide, John retained his connection to the senior side, but only just. He was on standby as an emergency in Geelong’s Round Fourteen (July 23) loss (14.13-14.16) at Punt Road, dropped to the Seconds for Round Fifteen, and brought back to the ‘Firsts’ for Round Sixteen (August 6) at Footscray. The match at the Western Oval thrilled the 33,000 spectators. Noel Rayson kicked five of his side’s ten goals and the Cats sneaked home by three points (10.16-10.13), despite losing Bob Davis (dislocated collarbone) at three-quarter time. John Haygarth replaced Harry Herbert (cramp) in the ‘time-on’ period of the last quarter and managed to kick a behind. It was John’s first appearance in League (senior) football:

I remember Footscray. I was bowling in the goal, ready to kick this goal, and I was skittled by big Herb Henderson the full back.

Round Fourteen versus Richmond at Richmond:
BackHovey Herbert Renfrey
HBackSmith Sharp Cameron
CBrown Borrack O’Neill
HFwdBeardsley Bullen Davis
FwdMcMahon Rayson Trezise
FollSutcliffe Wiltshire Pianto
19/20 Goggin Ferrari

Emergency: Haygarth
In: Beardsley Hovey Pianto Wiltshire
Out: Williams Goggin Ferrari Worner

Round Sixteen versus Footscray at Footscray:
BackHovey Gazzard Renfrey
HBackSmith Williams Cameron
CBrown Borrack Goggin
HFwdBeardsley Davis Sutcliffe
FwdWiltshire Rayson O’Neill
FollSharp Herbert Trezise
19/20 Haygarth Worner

Emergency: Barton
In: Gazzard Williams
Out: McMahon Ferrari

Finally, after a very long apprenticeship, a full five years after he had first turned out in the blue-and-white hoops of the Geelong Football Club, John Haygarth of Inverleigh achieved his ambition. The Geelong selectors on August 11 at last found a place for him and he was named as second rover (forward pocket) for his first full senior game, the Round Seventeen (August 13) match against St. Kilda at Kardinia Park. The team was:

BackHovey Gazzard Renfrey
HBackSmith Williams Cameron
CBrown Borrack Goggin
HFwdBeardsley O’Connell Worner
FwdWiltshire Rayson Haygarth
FollSharp Herbert Trezise
19/20 Sutcliffe Barton

Emergency: Umbers
In: O’Connell Worner Haygarth
Out: Davis (injured) O’Neill (injured) Sutcliffe

John recalls his selection:

I think I was roving, forward pocket maybe. I switched a bit – half forward flank, roving and forward pocket. I got picked as a rover with Neil Trezise when Peter Pianto was out. It was pretty hard to break into roving with Pianto and Trezise who were an established pair of rovers. I had to go to another position.

The Cats made short work of the Saints and romped home by 79 points, Noel Rayson kicking eight. 25
No doubt Peter Pianto’s injured thigh and John O’Neill’s ankle cleared the way for John’s selection, but he proved to be a more than adequate replacement, kicking two goals and impressing all with a solid debut performance. The Age reported that Geelong’s ‘dashing rovers Neil Trezise and newcomer John Haygarth’ had taken advantage of the ruck supremacy of Norm Sharp and Harry Herbert. The Geelong Advertiser reported:

‘Haygarth soon earned distinction in his first full League game with two goals……..the displays given by John O’Connell, after an absence of five weeks, and John Haygarth, playing his first full League game, were two of the outstanding aspects of the game. Their form brightened the already hopeful outlook for the remainder of the season’.

Nevertheless, with Pianto and O’Neill fit again, the selectors omitted John for the final (Round Eighteen, August 20) ‘home and away’ game of the season against Carlton at Carlton. John Helmer and John Haygarth were named as the two emergencies. Interestingly, the selectors were still not willing to try John on the half-back flank. For this match Colin Barton was chosen in this position, replacing Cameron, ‘dropped’ to 19th man. At the last minute, John was elevated to 19th man when Matt Goggin became unavailable (in camp), but he apparently did not take the field. Ken Cameron replaced Goggin in the selected eighteen. Geelong went away from the Carlton match licking their wounds, after losing a close game by six points (8.12-10.6) and losing Harry Herbert with a broken leg in the first quarter. 26 The loss was very costly. After seventeen rounds Geelong had occupied second place (to Melbourne) on the VFL ladder with 14 wins, just clear of Collingwood on 13 wins. But Collingwood’s percentage had been superior to Geelong’s (127.8% to 124.6%). By losing against Carlton, Geelong finished third (122.8%) and gave up the coveted ‘double chance’ in the Finals to the Magpies (127.5%).

 Mitts cartoon Geelong 1955
Mitts cartoon Geelong 1955

For the First Semi Final against Essendon at the MCG on August 27, John (21, 5.10, 11.5), chosen as 20th man beside 19th man Colin Barton, maintained his precarious foothold in the seniors. Geelong’s team was:

19/20 BartonHaygarth

Emergencies: Hawking Roberts
In: Bullen Goggin McMahon Sutcliffe
Out: Herbert (injured) Wiltshire (injured) O’Connell (injured) Barton.

A crowd of 68,109 saw the young Geelong team record a well-deserved victory - 9.7 (61) to 7.11 (53). John replaced John O’Neill (bruised hip) in the last quarter and added to the Cats’ tally with a behind.

The behind was John’s last hurrah for season 1955 as he was (cruelly?) dropped for the Preliminary Final against Collingwood on September 10. In the only change, John O’Connell took John’s place as a reserve beside Colin Barton. Bert Worner and Bob Wiltshire were the emergencies - and Ken Cameron was still on the half-back flank.

In his debut season (1955) with the Geelong VFL senior team John Haygarth was selected five times altogether, but in only one of those games (Round Seventeen) did he start on the field rather than the reserves bench. As a reserve (19th or 20th) he appears to have taken the field only twice.

Below are John Haygarth’s positions in Geelong Seconds teams 1955:

Round One v South Melbourne at South Melbourne:
HBackN.RobertsonH.Hawking C.Barton
FwdP.De Jong C.McGannonR.Merriman
19/20 M.BourkeL.May

Emergencies: B.Whelan A.Featherston

Round Two v Melbourne at Kardinia Park:
BackM.Gear N.Robertson A.G.West
HBackD.O’HaraK.Cameron K.Sizer
CG.Umbers B.Ferrari C.Barton
19/20 L.MayB.Whelan

Emergencies: A.Featherston K.Matthews

Round Three v Richmond at Richmond:
HBackJ.Haygarth D.O’HaraC.Barton
CC.BrownB.Ferrari G.Umbers
HFwdC.McGannon A.Featherston L.May
FwdA.G.West M.SutcliffeD.Davies
FollH.Hawking P.De JongJ.Helmer
19/20 K.MatthewsR.Merriman

Emergency: R.Stephens

Round Four v Fitzroy at Kardinia Park:
CG.Umbers B.Ferrari J.Roberts
HFwdC.McGannon A.FeatherstonJ.Haygarth
FwdJ.FeatherstonL.May D.Davies
FollN.Robertson B.AllanJ.Helmer
19/20 R.MerrimanW.Allan

Emergency: B.Whelan

Round Five v Footscray at Footscray:
BackK.Sizer H.Hawking J.Featherston
HBackJ.Haygarth N.Robertson C.Barton
CG.Umbers J.RobertsM.Connelly
HFwdL.May D.O’HaraJ.Helmer
19/20 R.StephensB.Whelan

Emergency: R.Merriman

Round Six v St. Kilda at Kardinia Park:
CM.GogginJ.Roberts M.Connelly

Emergencies: R.Merriman W.Allan

Round Seven v Carlton at Kardinia Park:
!9/20 T.HughesM.Connelly

Emergency: A.G.West

Round Eight v Collingwood at Collingwood:
19/20 I.Duniam B.Whelan

Round Nine v North Melbourne at Kardinia Park:
19/20 I.DuniamK.Glenister

Emergencies: J.Featherston W.Allan

Round Ten v Essendon at Essendon:
HBackJ.Haygarth D.O’HaraL.May
FwdB.AllanM.Johnson R.McLeod
19/20 B.WhelanJ.Featherston

Emergency: T.Hughes

Round Eleven v Hawthorn at Hawthorn:
HBackJ.Haygarth C.BartonN.Robertson
FollH.Hawking G.Bow R.McLeod
19/20 M.JohnsonM.Smart

Emergencies: W.Allan T.Hughes

Round Fifteen v Fitzroy at Fitzroy:
HBackL.May H.Hawking J.Haygarth
19/20 J.CopeW.Allan

Emergencies: B.Jones M.Beath


In the course of the 1956 season John once again hovered on the fringe of the senior team – as a selected player in Rounds Five, Six, Ten, Eleven, Fifteen, and Sixteen – until a sensational performance in the Round Eighteen match against Essendon consolidated his position once and for all.

John’s first practice match appearance in 1955 was in a Seconds practice match. He had come a long way since then. John was a certain starter in the senior team’s pre-season try-outs for 1956 – as 19th man for the ‘Red and Black’ team on March 24, and as ‘back pocket’ for the ‘Blue and White’ team on April 7 – and was named on the seniors ‘Final List’. But automatic selection in the senior team still eluded him. John’s predicament contrasted sharply with the meteoric rise of Bacchus Marsh recruit, 18-year-old centre-half-forward Fred Wooller, who had played five games for Geelong Thirds in 1955 (finishing third in the ‘best and fairest’). Wooller leap-frogged straight into the senior team for the opening match against South Melbourne and kicked four goals on debut.

John Haygarth was to bide his time in the Seconds for a while. He was selected in the back pocket for the Round One (April 14) match against South Melbourne at Kardinia Park:

FwdF.Le DeuxB.DelmastroD.Davies
19/20 T.HughesL.Fairfoot

Emergencies: I.Collins G.Fitzgerald K.Sizer B.Whelan

The Geelong Advertiser reported ‘pocket players John Haygarth and Glen Bow, playing determined football, continually repulsed South thrusts’ and named John as Geelong’s second-best player, but South (kicking six goals to nil in the last quarter) easily prevailed (12.19-4.14).

John was named as the senior team’s emergency for the (Round Two) match against North Melbourne at Geelong and watched as the Cats thrashed the visitors 16.14 (110)-2.10 (22). He was back in the Seconds for the Round Three loss (7.16-12.17) against Hawthorn at Geelong, and for his work on a half-back flank (‘barring the way’ on multiple occasions, according to the Geelong Advertiser) was once again named in the ‘best’. At Punt Road in Round Four (May 5), the Seconds nudged home 17.18-17.17 and John, again on a half-back flank and again in the ‘best’, was up to his usual tricks:

‘Haygarth relieved a strong attack with dash and a glorious drop kick to go over the hands of the pack for a behind only’.

John was 20th man in the senior team’s Round Five (6.12-6.20) loss to Melbourne (watched by 47,130 at the MCG) on May 12 but apparently remained on the bench. (Ken Cameron missed selection through injury but was replaced by George McGrath). For Round Six (May 19) against Collingwood John was selected on a half-back flank for Geelong Seconds (to play at home) but a knee injury to Peter Pianto forced a late-minute change (Ken Beardsley in as second rover) and John found himself elevated to the senior bench at Victoria Park. John replaced Hovey in the closing stages of the game, after watching the Cats post a lamentable 1.13 (at three-quarter time) before going down 2.14-10.7.

John then played three matches in a row in the Seconds, all of them on a half-back flank. He was among Geelong’s best players in the Round Seven loss (7.16-9.8) at Essendon, and in the Round Nine win (12.22-10.8) over Carlton at Kardinia Park.

The selection of Peter Pianto and John O’Neill in the Victorian team forced the Geelong selectors to make compulsory changes for the Round Ten (June 16) ‘away’ encounter against Footscray and they called on John to fill the second rover/forward pocket position:

BackHovey Gazzard Renfrey
HBackSmith Williams Goldsmith
CGogginBorrack Nicholls
19/20 Beardsley Bullen

Emergency: Sexton
In: Goldsmith Goggin Nicholls Haygarth.
Out: Pianto (interstate) O’Neill (interstate) Brown (injured) McGrath (unavailable). 27

It was John Haygarth’s first full senior game for the 1956 season, and despite the team’s 10.8-13.12 loss, he stood out:

‘John Haygarth, playing his first full game for the season, impressed with spirited play on the forward line’ (Geelong Advertiser)

‘Haygarth, playing his first full game for Geelong, was impressive for his tenacity in the first half of the game’ (Geelong Advertiser)

‘Haygarth, filling in for the absent Pianto, proved lively and enthusiastic in the scoring area but lacked the penetrative power of his contemporary’ (Tom Morrow, Geelong Advertiser)

‘Haygarth showed plenty of promise. He shone at times’ (‘E.J.T’, The Star, Geelong, Friday June 22, 1956)

‘Rugged John Haygarth in his first senior match this season did exceptionally well, and while his breakaways and disposal were not of the Pianto standard, he was one of the Cats’ best and battled ruggedly all day’ (‘Half-back’ (author), The Star, Geelong, Friday June 22, 1956)

With Pianto and O’Neill returning, John was relegated to 19th man for the Round Eleven (June 30) match against St Kilda at Geelong. The Cats won narrowly (9.8-8.9). Neither reserve went on to the field, despite the terrible conditions.

John was back in the Seconds for Rounds Twelve (versus South Melbourne) and Fourteen (versus Hawthorn). (He appears not to have played in either Firsts or Seconds in Round Thirteen versus North Melbourne). In the 10.7-11.15 loss at Lake Oval John started at half-back flank but was moved to full-forward after half-time. In the team loss (6.8-11.9) to Hawthorn, John, selected at full-back, was named Geelong’s best player. The Geelong Advertiser described a first-quarter incident:

‘Haygarth with a long kick from the defence line found Nicholls who landed play with the forwards and Sexton raced in for a goal.’

John played only one further Seconds match in season 1956 – as a half-forward flanker in the Round Seventeen (August 11) loss (8.8-13.13) to Collingwood at Victoria Park, and, monotonously, he was again among the ‘best’. Forty-five rounds of VFL football would be played before he once again appeared for Geelong’s Reserve Grade side.

John Haygarth and Fred Wooller, in their dressing gowns, sat beside one another on the reserve bench at Punt Road (Round 15, July 28) and Kardinia Park (Round 16, August 4). Geelong won both games, defeating Richmond 11.13-9.11 and Melbourne 8.10-8.8. The match against the Demons was memorable for a number of reasons. The Geelong selectors shocked all by dropping Noel Rayson, the leading VFL goal-kicker of 1955. The 29,687 fans who squeezed into Kardinia Park roared through the frantic last quarter of a ‘great game’. John Haygarth replaced Pianto (leg) in the ‘breathless last few minutes’:

I remember that day. I was sitting on the bench with Hickey and somebody came off. He dragged somebody, or somebody went off injured. Hickey said ‘Right, you’re on’, and I stood up on the boundary line – the coaches sat right on the boundary line in the little humpy – and he gave me a bit of a shove over. I went out over the boundary - and I got cleaned up by the full-back of Melbourne. I didn’t see what was coming. I cannoned straight into Noel McMahon. McMahon happened to be following down the ground….and bang…straight into me. He didn’t nail me right out. He shook me up for a bit and I continued on.

John Haygarth was shaken but not forsaken. Two weeks later, faced with the problem of replacing Bernie Smith, the selectors at long last found a place for John on the half-back flank in the senior team. The Geelong team for the Round Eighteen (August 18) match at Essendon was:

BackHoveyGazzardLe Deux
HBackHaygarth Davis Williams
HFwdRaysonBullen Ferrari
19/20 SutcliffeUmbers

Emergency: Bartle.
In: Sharp Wooller Le Deux Haygarth
Out: Smith (injured) Herbert Bartle Sutcliffe.

One can state categorically that this particular (Round Eighteen) match at ‘Windy Hill’ was John Haygarth’s ‘break-out’ game. Geelong lost the match (9.15-14.13) but it was not Haygarth’s fault. He played a blinder, proving himself more than ready to assume a regular spot in the Geelong line-up:

‘John Haygarth who gave a most encouraging display of pace, determination and keen anticipation in Geelong’s re-organised defence’……. ‘……Haygarth, after waiting patiently to show his prowess, seized the opportunity to impress and did so in no uncertain manner. His pace, anticipation and courage made him Geelong’s best defender’ (Tom Morrow, Geelong Advertiser)

‘There were early indications that Haygarth was well on his game as he was one of the dominating factors in the Geelong defence…’ (‘Pivot’, Geelong Advertiser)

In the Geelong Advertiser both Morrow and ‘Pivot’ nominated John as Geelong’s third-best player, behind Norm Sharp and Peter Pianto. The Argus too had him among the ‘best’. The Age, however, went even further, naming John as Geelong’s best player, ahead of Pianto and Sharp.

John was understandably retained for the First Semi Final against Footscray. The fractured hand sustained by Geoff Williams against Essendon meant that John lined up on the half-back line again, with two ‘greats’ - Smith and Davis.

Geelong’s First Semi Final team:
BackHoveyGazzard Sutcliffe
HBackSmithDavisHaygarth (22, 5.10, 11.5)
HFwdRaysonFerrari Bullen
FollSharpBartle Pianto
19/20 GogginBow

Emergencies: Wiltshire Nicholls
In: Sutcliffe Smith Bartle
Out: Williams (injured) Wiltshire Le Deux.

In a tense, low-scoring encounter, in which only one solitary goal was scored in the second half, the Bulldogs scraped home by two points - 5.13 (43) to 6.5 (41). In the Geelong Advertiser’s report of the match there are several references to John’s efforts frustrating Footscray attacks. The pundits, without exception, had John down as one of Geelong’s ‘best’. Tom Morrow described his play as ‘outstanding’, Percy Taylor in The Argus had him as Geelong’s fourth-best player, and in The Sun both Kevin Hogan (‘steady and purposeful in defence’) and Lloyd Hagger (‘always prominent’) also had nice things to say. (According to The Sporting Globe, John had fourteen kicks, three handpasses, four marks, three free kicks, and only one free against. The Argus gave him fifteen kicks).

The highlight (lowlight for Geelong) of the 1956 First Semi Final was the disastrous collision between Geelong stars Norm Sharp and Bob Davis late in the third quarter. John remembers it well:

I was on the half-back flank, and Davis and Sharp collided. I was yelling and yelling. I could see what was going to happen. Davis was storming down the side, and Sharp was there, and I knew they were going to hit. Sharp didn’t see Davis. Sharp was more or less stationary. He was stationary most of the time, big Norm. Big Norm wasn’t the fastest conveyance. With his weight, about 17-and-a-half stone. He was a good footballer but he wasn’t the fastest man. Of course, Davis used to run even time – and about 14-and-a-half stone – and bang – that was it – that was the finish of our Semi Final. We went down. They were two of our top players. I think it went through the whole side because Norm Sharp was a great ruckman, and Davis was a pretty fair footballer too. It was a low-scoring game – but I think with those two on the ground it would have been a different story. I played on Roger Duffy who was a half-forward flanker, a left-footer. I got third vote that day. I got a trophy, an Akubra hat, for being third best player.

John Haygarth comfortably won the Geelong Seconds ‘Best and Fairest’ in 1956 after having played only half the season. This was a fitting reward for a player who had persevered for so long, and given so much to his club, at Reserve Grade level. Now, however, he had firmly established himself as a regular in the Geelong senior team. John would play continuously, for over two seasons, in the senior half-back flank position, and with some authority stamp his name on it.

Geelong Adelaide Oval 1956 (John third from right in front row)
Geelong Adelaide Oval 1956 (John third from right in front row)

Geelong Adelaide Oval 1956 (John second from right in second top row)
Geelong Adelaide Oval 1956 (John second from right in second top row)

Top row: Roger Bullen, Fred Le Deux, Bruce Bartle, John O’Connell, Glen Bow, Fred Wooller, Max Sutcliffe, Geoff Williams
Second top row: Len Metherell, Eric Nicholls, Ken Beardsley, Geoff Umbers, Bernie Ryan, John Goldsmith, Matt Goggin, John Haygarth, Cliff Rankin
Second front row: Bruce Ferrari, George McGrath, Jack Jennings, Bob Davis, Bernie Smith, David Pescott, John Helmer, Ron Hovey
Front row: Les May, Bob Gazzard, Norm Sharp, Noel Rayson, Les Borrack, Neil Trezise

Geelong Adelaide Oval 1956
Geelong Adelaide Oval 1956

Chapter Five: Stardom (Geelong Firsts 1957-58)


Geelong plummeted from fourth place to last in 1957 – the first of two consecutive ‘wooden spoon’ seasons – and the year will always be remembered as one of the club’s worst years. The Cats finished with only five-and-a-half wins (including a draw against Footscray in Round One) but there were some close games and the team could quite easily have won nine matches. The winning of the ‘wooden spoon’ is therefore somewhat misleading. Geelong was probably not the worst team.

‘1957’ was undoubtedly John Haygarth’s best season with the Geelong Football Club. Along with Bernie Smith and Neil ‘Nipper’ Trezise, John played the entire season of eighteen games with the senior team. He lined-up in every one of them on the half-back flank, his now well-established position. More than just a regular, John had become a star. He finished third in Geelong’s 1957 ‘Best and Fairest’ award (behind Bob Davis and Peter Pianto) and received an impressive seven votes in the Brownlow Medal (second only to Peter Pianto among Geelong players). Pianto received 12 votes. 28

 John Haygarth – Coca-Cola football card 1957
John Haygarth – Coca-Cola football card 1957

In this Chapter I will sketch only a summarised version of John’s (and Geelong’s) 1957 and 1958 seasons because I have already dealt with them in a detailed fashion elsewhere on this website, and duplication here seems to be unnecessary. (For seasons 1957 and 1958 in this article, I have not consulted the Geelong Advertiser, as I did meticulously for the 1949-1956, 1959 period).

Readers are referred to the following articles, all based on the statistical notebooks I maintained in Geelong’s 1957, 1958 and 1959 seasons. All are available on this website:

Geelong – Season 1956
Raymond Morris – National Museum of Australia
Catapult – On Top and Loving it (1950-1956)
Catastrophe – Winning the Wooden Spoon (1957-58)
Catacomb – Struggling Along in the Gloom (1959)
Statistician Extraordinaire (Eat your heart out Ted Hopkins!)

In the 1957 pre-season John Haygarth began where he left off – taking on all-comers. Even as early as February The Age was predicting:

‘The availability of a natural half-back in John Haygarth – who played in the concluding two games of the 1956 season but impressed greatly – makes Davis’s switch (from half-back to half-forward – KM) possible’. 29

In Geelong’s third practice match John played on the same side as Bob Davis (captain of the ‘Red and Black’ team), but in the final (April 13) practice match John was given the unenviable task of countering the speedster. Judging by the report in The Age he seems to have succeeded:

‘The duel between Bob Davis and John Haygarth was full of interest. Although Haygarth conceded Davis a lot of weight and experience, his close play, pace and determination made Davis work hard for his kicks’.

As an eleven-year-old I attended one of Geelong’s 1957 practice matches and rushed to the three-quarter time huddle to get autographs. I went away with several, including ‘J.M.Haygarth’. John explains the middle initial:

My normal signature. John Montgomery. It’s a family name – it goes through the family. My grandfather was John Montgomery. My father was William Montgomery. I was John Montgomery. I have a son William Montgomery. Just a family name.

Signatures  1957 Practice Match
Signatures 1957 Practice Match

Senior players: Ray Harrip, Bob Gazzard, Ron Hovey, Ken Beardsley, Reg Fisher, John Haygarth, Eric Nicholls.

Geelong’s opening match of the 1957 season, against Footscray at Kardinia Park (Easter Monday, April 22), was a re-run of the previous season’s First Semi Final. John was an automatic selection on the half-back flank, beside two champions in Geoff Williams and Bernie Smith. Doug Long, Ian O’Halloran and Ray Harrip were new names; Ken Cameron was displaced.

The Geelong line-up (Round One 1957):
BackHovey Gazzard Wiltshire
FwdO’Connell Wooller Pianto
FollHerbert LongTrezise
19/20 Harrip Ryan

Emergency: Cameron

The match, the last quarter of which was televised, was an exciting draw (Geelong 11.11-Footscray 10.17). Fred Wooller kicked seven goals and, in The Age, John Haygarth was named Geelong’s fifth best player. The naming of John Haygarth among Geelong’s best players in newspaper reports was a recurring, and eventually predictable, pattern in season 1957.

John played a blinder in Round Three against Collingwood at Kardinia Park. The Cats lost narrowly (12.5-12.15) but John was arguably Geelong’s best player. According to my perfectly infallible system (listening to 3GL) he had 28 kicks and took 5 marks.

1957 exercise book R3 1957
1957 exercise book R3 1957

1957 exercise book R3 1957
1957 exercise book R3 1957

I judged John among Geelong’s best players in Round Four against Carlton at Carlton (20 kicks, 3 marks), in Round Five against Hawthorn at Geelong, and in Round Six against St. Kilda.

John Haygarth and Bill Haygarth have both told me about an incident that they say occurred in Geelong’s exciting Round Four match against Carlton in 1957. John apparently had a mild altercation with coach Reg Hickey when ‘Hickey got stuck into the backline for being loose’. According to Bill, John told Hickey that the rovers (in this case Peter Pianto and Neil Trezise) should follow their men (presumably Jack Mills and Jack Sullivan) down the ground to eliminate loose men in Geelong’s backline – and this advice (‘I can’t stop them all’) from a player who had notched up only sixteen senior games did not go down well. The story has the ring of authenticity. I gave Haygarth 20 kicks that day, 19 of them in the second half. One can imagine him, without Bernie Smith, desperately holding the besieged fort. (I gave Pianto twenty-nine kicks). This might possibly have been the first occasion that John stood up to Reg Hickey. It would not be the last.

I selected John as Geelong’s best player against Essendon in the Round Eight match at ‘Windy Hill’. (The Age nominated him as fourth-best). It was a terrible day for the Cats. Essendon kicked 9.3 in the last quarter to romp home by 36 points (21.12-15.12), but the worst part of it was the extraordinary Coleman-like performance of Essendon full-forward Fred Gallagher who finished with 12 goals. The Geelong full-back, Max Hetherington, a recruit from Eaglehawk, was playing his first game. Standing behind the outer goals I became so frustrated at one point I yelled ‘You’re hopeless Hetherington!’, nicely alliterate but hardly fair as a succession of Geelong defenders proved equally hopeless at containing the rampant Bomber.

I remember that. Amazing day. We had probably as good a side as we could get – with all the top players in, and Essendon I thought were pretty ordinary – and here’s this fellow kicked twelve goals. Never been heard of. Well Hickey said to me that day ‘How would you go at full-back?’ and I said ‘Well, I couldn’t go any worse than all the other blokes, could I?’ But I never got a crack at him. He said ‘How’d you go?’ and I said ‘I couldn’t do any worse’.

John was again among my ‘best’ Geelong players in the Round Nine loss (14.10-23.16) to Melbourne at the MCG (19 kicks, 7 marks), the Round Thirteen 26-point win against North Melbourne at Kardinia Park, the Round Fourteen loss to Collingwood at Collingwood (6.9-13.14), and the Round Eighteen clash with Fitzroy.

In Round Fifteen (August 3) Geelong (11.19) had possibly their best win of the year - against Carlton (6.7) at Geelong. John Haygarth, outclassing Laurie Kerr, was universally judged as best player on the ground, ahead of even Smith, Pianto and Davis. Including John among the weekend’s ‘League Stars’, The Age commented:

‘The magnificent judgment, safe marking and speed of half-back John Haygarth foiled countless Carlton attacking moves and made him best afield at Geelong’.

'League Stars' The Age August 5, 1957
'League Stars' The Age August 5, 1957

 Dressing room scene (includes Bob Gazzard, George McGrath, John O’Neill, John Helmer, Eric Nicholls), n.d
Dressing room scene (includes Bob Gazzard, George McGrath, John O’Neill, John Helmer, Eric Nicholls), n.d

Before the game at Glenferrie the following Saturday (August 10), The Age predicted ‘Geelong will almost certainly give star half-back flanker John Haygarth the task of curbing Graham Arthur.’ In atrocious conditions, The Cats were subjected to a 48-point drubbing (8.7-14.19). John, the senior member of an unorthodox back-line (Haygarth, Hetherington, Gazzard), was again not far from being Geelong’s best player, accumulating 23 kicks to three-quarter time. 30

The VFL’s ‘Night Premiership’, involving the eight clubs who had missed the VFL Finals, was first held at the Lake Oval at the conclusion of the 1956 ‘home and away’ season. Geelong was not expected to perform well in the 1957 series because the club’s only previous experience of playing under the lights was in a 1956 exhibition match against Footscray. The Geelong team for the Night match against Richmond at South Melbourne (Tuesday September 3), was:

CBrownRayson Nicholls
FollDavis Long Pianto
!9/20 BullenBourke

A crowd of 14,000 saw the Cats register an upset win – 13.13 (91) to 9.12 (66) – with Pianto, Haygarth and Trezise starring for Geelong. The Cats continued on their merry way, first defeating North Melbourne (by twelve points) and then Footscray. John was again praised in The Age - ‘Geelong half-backs Haygarth and Borrack got on top to drive North out on many occasions.’ The brave Cats were nevertheless outclassed (8.4-15.13) by 1956 Night premiers South Melbourne in the Grand Final (October 7), watched by a healthy crowd of 25,000. John remembers:

Playing in the dark was alright as long as you didn’t look up at the lights. It would take your vision away for a while – like looking into a strong light. I did alright in those games. I remember one night, I think we played North Melbourne in one of them – it might have been South in the other one – anyway, I won the trophy and it was a Heinz ’57 Varieties’. I had this cardboard box over my shoulder walking across the ground to get to the team bus after the game – carting this off the ground on my shoulder – ’57 Variety’ big box of soup – that was the trophy for, I don’t know – I was B.O.G. or in the top three, or whatever. They told me in the broadcast Lou Richards said ‘Here he is again, Salt and Pepper Haygarth’. Salt and Pepper was in everything.

I followed Geelong as a 3GL listener in season 1957. Each Saturday I recorded the Geelong players’ kicks and marks in an exercise book and maintained three separate voting systems to determine the ‘best player’ of the year. I recorded John Haygarth coming fourth for the total number of kicks in 1957, behind Trezise, Pianto and Davis, but in front of Bernie Smith. I voted Haygarth as Geelong’s best player in three matches (Round Three v Collingwood, Round Eight v Essendon, Round Sixteen v Hawthorn). Out of eighteen matches, he made my list of ‘best players’ a total of eleven times. In my 6-5-4-3-2-1 voting system Haygarth finished third with 41 votes, behind Pianto 50 and Smith 42, but in front of Davis 37. In my 3-2-1 voting system Haygarth again finished third with 12 votes, behind Davis and Pianto (both 16) and equal with Smith. In the system that I cannot fathom sixty years on, Haygarth finished second (585) behind only Pianto (630).


After his stellar season in 1957, John Haygarth had a lot to live up to - a hard-won reputation to maintain. His performances in 1958 did not quite measure up to 1957 but he was still regularly among Geelong’s best players. He would again have played every match if not for a bout of influenza in early August which caused him to miss the Round Sixteen (August 9) game against Richmond at Punt Road. (Ironically, the only Geelong player to play every game in 1958 was Swan Hill recruit ruckman Neville Martin who returned to the farm at the end of the season and never played for the Cats again. Neil Trezise and John Haygarth were next, on 17 games).

John once again figured prominently in Brownlow Medal voting, polling six votes (three lots of ‘2’ votes), behind only Peter Falconer (11) and Geoff Williams (8) among Geelong players. John gave his team a consistent season in 1958, but three of his performances stand out. He was Geelong’s best player in the Round Two loss (6.6-17.8) to Melbourne at Kardinia Park; he was close to being the ‘best’ in the home-ground win (9.16-6.8) against St. Kilda in Round Seven; and he was best-on-ground in the Round Nine loss (6.15-8.18) at Fitzroy. The Sun journalist Rex Pullen nominated John as ‘match-winner’ and ‘best-on-ground’ in the St. Kilda match, ‘for a superb performance on his half-back flank’. The Age of June 9 was lyrical after the Fitzroy game:

‘No defensive play could have surpassed that produced by Geelong’s half-back flanker John Haygarth at Fitzroy. His pace, marking and anticipation thwarted many attacks’.

'Star Players' The Age June 9, 1958
'Star Players' The Age June 9, 1958

John Haygarth 1958
John Haygarth 1958

Geelong 1958 (Robert Pockley photo)
Geelong 1958 (Robert Pockley photo)

Back row: John O’Connell, Neville Martin, Doug Long, Geoff Williams, Bruce Bartle, Bob Gazzard, Colin Barton.
Middle row: John O’Neill, Bill Goggin, John Haygarth, Bob Davis, Neil Trezise, Ron Hovey, Bill Cook.
Front row: Peter Falconer, Les Borrack, Matt Goggin, George McGrath.

John was still regularly positioned on the half-back flank, and playing well, at season’s end. The Age had him as Geelong’s third-best player in the Round Seventeen (August 16) win (13.14-12.13) against Footscray.

Geelong’s season ended ingloriously, with a 5.8-16.15 loss at St. Kilda – and a second successive ‘wooden spoon’.

In my own idiosyncratic ‘Ken Mansell Geelong Best and Fairest Award 1958’, based on my impressions from listening intently to 3GL, John Haygarth finished fourth with 655 votes, behind only Neil Trezise (1153), Bob Davis (1101) and Ron Hovey (723). It is therefore difficult to understand how a Geelong Advertiser ‘expert’ could arrive at the view Haygarth ‘did not enjoy a particularly good season on a half back flank’ (The Geelong Advertiser, Saturday March 28 (Easter), 1959).

According to Bill Haygarth, John did not participate in the 1958 Geelong Football Club end-of-season trip to Adelaide because he had been to Adelaide three or four times before on footy trips and was busy at work. Bill Haygarth also recounts the following amusing story. If one looks closely at the photo of the Geelong party at Norwood Oval one can discern a dark-skinned gentleman wearing a Geelong blazer. Geelong had no aboriginal footballers in 1958, in fact not until Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer arrived at the club in 1962. The dark-skinned gentleman was champion boxer George Bracken, a Geelong resident, wearing the blazer loaned to him by John Haygarth.

Geelong Annual Report 1958 - Geelong end-of-season trip Norwood Oval Adelaide 1958 (George Bracken third from right – third row from front)
Geelong Annual Report 1958 - Geelong end-of-season trip Norwood Oval Adelaide 1958 (George Bracken third from right – third row from front)

Meanwhile the hero of this biography was busy, innocently preparing for the tennis season, as captain of the Teesdale team chasing its second successive premiership in ‘A Grade’ of the Bannockburn District Tennis Association.


Chapter Six – Crisis (Geelong Firsts 1959)
Chapter Seven – Why?
Chapter Eight – Transition
Chapter Nine – Captain-Coach 1960-67 (Maryborough, Avoca, Winchelsea, Inverleigh)
Chapter Ten – A Geelong Man and Still Kicking
Appendix One – Geelong players remembered
Appendix Two – John Haygarth’s Five Greatest Ever

Chapter Six: Crisis (Geelong Firsts 1959)

As he prepared for Geelong’s 1959 VFL season John Haygarth might have imagined, with a good deal of reason, that after two solid years with the senior team, he had finally cemented his place. He may also have assumed he had finally secured his position on the half-back flank. As it turned out he would have been wrong on both counts.

When the teams for Geelong’s first practice match of the season (March 14) were announced, John’s name was missing. He was not injured. On the contrary, he was very fit, and raring to go – as captain of the Teesdale team playing Maude in an ‘A Grade’ Semi Final of the Bannockburn District Tennis Association at Bannockburn. John himself might not have attached a huge amount of significance to his decision to bypass the football, but one can bet a few Geelong officials (and the coach) did.

Bannockburn Tennis Association representative team City Oval (Ballarat) circa January/February 1955 (John in GFC blazer)
Bannockburn Tennis Association representative team City Oval (Ballarat) circa January/February 1955 (John in GFC blazer)

Teesdale team March 1956 (John left front row)
Teesdale team March 1956 (John left front row)

Teesdale team A Grade premiers 1957-58/1958-59 (John second from left back row)
Teesdale team A Grade premiers 1957-58/1958-59 (John second from left back row)

The first sign that the Geelong selectors were considering an alternative field position for John was his selection as second rover (‘Blue and White’ team) in the second practice match (March 21). Playing in 91 degrees heat, John performed beyond expectations. The Geelong Advertiser was mild in its praise (‘John Haygarth occasionally played good football’) but The Age waxed lyrical:

‘Geelong selectors believe they have found the answer to the roving weakness - which has plagued the club since the loss of Peter Pianto – in dashing John Haygarth. Haygarth, at times brilliant on a half-back flank in the last two seasons, was tried as a rover in Saturday’s game and his pace, sure ball-handling, sound marking and sure kicking stamped him as a natural for the role……Haygarth is now expected to share the roving with Neil Trezise and Colin Rice’. 31

‘Former Defender stars as Rover’, The Age, March 23, 1959
‘Former Defender stars as Rover’, The Age, March 23, 1959

As first rover for the ‘Blue and Whites’ in the third practice game (Easter Saturday-March 28) John again dominated. The Geelong Advertiser reported:

‘Supporters were delighted with the form displayed by John Haygarth who did not enjoy a particularly good season on a half back flank last year. Opposed to experienced Neil Trezise, Haygarth starred with excellent position play and good disposal. Hopes are high that he may be able to fill the roving berth left open by Peter Falconer…’

The Sporting Globe expressed a similar opinion:

‘A brilliant display of roving by last year’s half-back flanker John Haygarth delighted fans at Geelong’s practice match this afternoon. Haygarth was always in position and wasn’t afraid to sink his boot into the ball, often sending it fifty yards up the ground with raking drop kicks. He could easily fill the roving berth left vacant when Peter Falconer announced that he would go overseas this month’. 32

The teams for Geelong’s fourth practice match (April 4) were published, and again John’s name was missing. Perhaps he had been lulled into a false sense of complacency. His decision to play tennis (as captain of Teesdale in the ‘A Grade’ Grand Final against Maude) and spurn the football, while no doubt admirable, was not a safe one. This time, unlike the first time perhaps, John was obviously in open conflict with Reg Hickey:

Ken: You had an argument with him, or a disagreement with him, about whether you should play in a practice match when you wanted to play in a tennis Grand Final.
John: Yes, they told me that I would have to play on the Saturday in a practice match and I said ‘No, I can’t, I’m not letting a little country team down, after playing all the year and making the Grand Final, and they rely on me’, and I said ‘Well, I’ll be playing in the tennis Grand Final’.
Ken: Weren’t you the Captain?
John: Of the tennis, yes. I was, yes. Tennis kept me fit for the football – that was the reason I played.
Ken: Well, you had an obligation as the captain anyway, didn’t you?
John: Well, that’s true, but numbers were short too and you don’t sort of…..I didn’t want to let them down. I thought it was only the principal of it, so…….
Ken: You disobeyed Hickey. He insisted you play in the practice match.
John: I told him.
Ken: In the end you disobeyed him. You stood up to him and you disobeyed him, and yet they didn’t drop you – you were in the first game (seniors). Do you think that might have caused a lingering resentment on Hickey’s part towards you?
John: I’d say so. 33

John was back on a half-back flank (for the ‘Red and Black’ team) in the fifth and final practice match (April 11). The Geelong Advertiser commented:

‘John Haygarth had the better of Cougle in the first half but Cougle countered Haygarth’s pace with good marking’.

John was named on a half-back flank for the Round One (April 18) encounter against North Melbourne at Geelong. Geelong were no match for the Northerners, losing 8.15 (63)-12.14 (86). ‘The Pivot’ had John as one of Geelong’s best players. (Listening to 3GL, I had him eleven kicks/handpasses - including the first kick of the season - and three marks, but not one of the ‘best’). This was the last time the ‘proved flanker’ (Geelong Advertiser April 17) would ever be selected in this role for Geelong seniors.

For the Round Two (May 2) match against Hawthorn at Glenferrie, Haygarth was selected as second rover to cover the loss of Neil Trezise (out injured) and Bill Goggin. The selections for this match might have seemed strange – John Helmer as first rover; and a half-back line of ‘Rice, Borrack, Cougle’, with Geoff Williams dropped to the Seconds. Were the Geelong selectors panicking, terrified of a third ‘wooden-spoon’? A small crowd of 12,000 saw the Hawks win 18.15-12.12. Wooller contributed five goals, Haygarth one. Again ‘Pivot’ had Haygarth as one of Geelong’s best. (I concurred, naming him my third best).

John was selected as second rover-forward pocket (changing with his captain, Neil Trezise) for the next five matches.

In the Round Three (May 9) win (14.12-10.11) at Punt Road, John kicked one goal and earned mentions (‘Saddington’s kick was taken by Haygarth whose long punt sailed through/’a drive forward by Haygarth was cleared in the goal square’) but nothing to suggest he was among Geelong’s best players.

That John was settling into his new role and making a good fist of it became clear in the Round Four (May 16) match against Fitzroy at Geelong, when Trezise and Haygarth set the Cats on a winning course (a 35-point lead) in the first quarter. Geelong won 13.12 (90)-12.8 (80). John kicked three first quarter goals, and a fourth late in the game, to earn ‘best-on-ground’ status from ‘The Pivot’ (Geelong Advertiser) and The Football Record. (John was replaced by Clive Brown in the last quarter but his leg injury was apparently minor). Listening to 3GL, I had John as ‘best-on-ground’, with 19 kicks/handpasses and 7 marks. (‘The Age’ was more circumspect, naming John as Geelong’s fourth-best.) ‘Post-mortem’ comments were as follows:

‘Then Haygarth flashed into the picture with two wonderful goals and a behind……the Trezise-Haygarth combination operated again for Haygarth to add his third and the team’s fifth.’ (‘The Pivot’, Geelong Advertiser)
‘Trezise and Haygarth, in the forefront with intelligent play, especially up forward, were soon amongst the goals.’ (Bernie Smith, Geelong Advertiser)
‘Haygarth and Trezise were responsible for Geelong’s big first-quarter lead. Scouting cleverly, they picked up ‘crumbs’ around goal and made no mistake about scoring…….Haygarth, who had been playing brilliantly, had the next Geelong miss. He marked straight in front, was pushed, and ran into the goal without giving himself a chance to settle.’ (The Age)
‘John Haygarth capped a grand roving effort with four goals’ (The Football Record, May 23, 1959, p. 9)

‘The Pivot’ (Geelong Advertiser) had John as Geelong’s third-best player in the Round Five loss (11.18 (84)-7.12 (54) to Essendon at ‘Windy Hill’ on May 23. 34 In the Round Six (May 30) match against Melbourne at Kardinia Park John was seemingly quiet, having (according to my statistics) only 8 kicks. He was moved to the half-back flank late in the game to stop Melbourne’s goal spree, as the Demons raced to an easy (19.15-11.10) win. For the second week in a row, John kicked a single goal, this time in the first quarter (‘Geelong swept forward from the centre of the field and Wooller’s long kick was marked by Haygarth who opened Geelong’s scoring account with a nice goal’ commented the Geelong Advertiser). The Geelong paper added:

‘Geelong must find another way of getting goals without relying on the rovers. Trezise and Haygarth were blanketed in the second half, and the weaknesses on the half-forward and forward lines were pin-pointed.’ 35

John was back among the goals at Collingwood in Round Seven (June 6), kicking 3.3. The Magpies however were too good, winning 12.22-9.7. John scored first goal for the match when Bartle’s ‘wobbly kick fell into his arms more than five minutes after the start.’ The Geelong Advertiser reported a third quarter incident where ‘Haygarth was floored with a stadium punch.’ 36 It might not have compensated for John’s sore head but both the Geelong Advertiser and The Age had him among Geelong best players. (I had John with 13 kicks and 5 marks, but did not have him as one of Geelong’s ‘best’).

1959 Exercise Book -  Geelong v Collingwood
1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v Collingwood

1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v Collingwood
1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v Collingwood

The Geelong teams for Round Five, Six and Seven were:

Round Five
19/20 WilliamsRon Smith

Emergency: M.Goggin
In: O’Connell Brown
Out: R.Smith M.Goggin

Round Six
Back HoveyGazzardO’Connell
HBack RiceMcGrathBorrack
C ThomasNichollsBrown
HFwd O’NeillWoollerCook
Fwd YeatesBartleHaygarth
Foll LongHelmerTrezise
19/20Ron SmithHarrison

In: Bartle O’Neill
Out: Cougle (injured) S.Lord (unavailable)

Round Seven
Back RiceGazzardO’Connell
HBack M.GogginMcGrathBorrack
C ThomasHoveyBrown
HFwd O’NeillWoollerEarnshaw
Fwd YeatesBartleHaygarth
Foll Long PomeroyTrezise
19/20Helmer Mundy

Emergency: Boulton
In: M.Goggin Earnshaw Pomeroy
Out: Nicholls Cook Helmer

For the Round Eight (Queen’s Birthday-Monday June 15) clash against Carlton at Kardinia Park the Geelong selectors tossed the dice and gambled on four new players – Dale Mather, Greg Major, Paul Vinar and Fred Mundy. A possible further sign of frustration and instability was the replacement of Haygarth as second rover, by Colin Rice. But at least John still held his position in the team, albeit in the ‘graveyard’ position of half-forward flank:

Back MatherGazzardMajor
HBack M.GogginMcGrathBorrack
C ThomasHoveyBrown
HFwd HaygarthVinarHelmer
Fwd BartleWoollerRice
Foll YeatesMundyO’Neill
19/20 EarnshawNicholls

In: Mather Major Vinar Mundy Helmer
Out: O’Connell (injured) Long (injured) Tresise (ill) Earnshaw Pomeroy

Bernie Smith, in his regular Friday Geelong Advertiser column, optimistically suggested:

‘With John O’Neill reaching his top form, Geelong will not be wanting around the packs. John Haygarth can also be used in the roving position.’

Geelong stormed home in the last quarter against the Blues, kicking 5.3 to 1.6, and failed by only 9 points (11.13-12.16). For the second time in three weeks John was moved to defence during the course of the game. It was clear the club was using him as a stop-gap (or, to use the more euphemistic term, ‘utility’) to cope with the inadequacies of other players. It was also becoming apparent the constant shifting was having a detrimental effect on John’s own performance. This Round Eight match was John’s second-last full senior game with the Geelong Football Club. It is a pity we don’t have documentary or video evidence of his play in this match, because the evidence we do have is contradictory. Listening to 3GL I had him having only nine kicks in the match, whereas the Geelong Advertiser had him as Geelong’s seventh best player (‘Hovey, Yeates, Borrack, Rice, Gazzard, O’Neill, Haygarth, Wooller’).

1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v Carlton
1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v Carlton

1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v Carlton
1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v Carlton

In the meantime, certainly some time before the Carlton match, John heard he had been selected in the Victorian team to play Tasmania in Devonport on June 20. (Another Victorian team, perhaps somewhat superior, were to play on the same day, against Western Australia on the MCG). ‘The North-West Football Union (NWFU) Record’ (souvenir program) described John (24, 5.9½, 11.4) thus:

‘Fine utility player who has performed splendidly in a back pocket, half back, centre or roving. A brilliant mark for his inches’.

‘Hovey and Haygarth for interstate matches’, Geelong Advertiser, n.d, circa June 1959
‘Hovey and Haygarth for interstate matches’, Geelong Advertiser, n.d, circa June 1959

Victoria team Devonport June 1959 (John first player on left top row)
Victoria team Devonport June 1959 (John first player on left top row)

Victoria team Devonport June 1959 (John first player on left top row)
Victoria team Devonport June 1959 (John first player on left top row)

Unfortunately, when it came to picking the twenty players from the squad of twenty-one, John was the one who missed out – the sole emergency destined not to take the field. The Victorian team, captained by Fitzroy’s Alan Gale (with North’s John Brady as vice-captain) was no second-rate team. It included two (eventual) Brownlow Medallists (John James and Noel Teasdale) and several others who could easily have won the award. (The Tasmanian team was no second-rate side either and included legendary Tasmanians John Leedham, Daryl Baldock, Trevor Leo, and Don Gale, plus former Victorians Peter Marquis, Mal Pascoe, and Jim Ross).

The Victorian line-up (from the back-line):
Ron Reeves (Collingwood) Bob Henderson (Fitzroy) John Nicholls (Carlton)
Bill Gunn (South Melbourne) John Brady (North Melbourne) John James (Carlton)
Colin Youren (Hawthorn) Dave Cuzens (Richmond) Brian Dixon (Melbourne)
Frank Adams (Melbourne) Ken Fraser (Essendon) Bill Young (St. Kilda)
Hugh Mitchell (Essendon) Ray Baxter (Footscray) Gerald Eastmure (North Melbourne)
Alan Gale (Fitzroy) Noel Teasdale (North Melbourne) Brian McGowan (South Melbourne)
19/20 - Alan Jeans (St. Kilda) Albert Mantello (North Melbourne)
Emergency: John Haygarth (Geelong)

In Devonport Victoria won 17.17 (119)-9.10 (64), a slightly closer outcome than the slaughter inflicted on the ‘Sandgropers’ at the MCG: 31.21 (207)-3.11 (29).

The Geelong Advertiser editorialised about the similar fate of John Haygarth and Ron Hovey, the ‘Geelong player in each instance named as the emergency’:

‘It will go down in League records that Hovey and Haygarth were in the panel of players from which the victorious teams were selected. They will get all the honour associated with that selection but they have to carry the disappointment of not having taken part in the games’. 37

This, however, was nothing compared to the disappointment carried by John Haygarth when told on the evening of June 25 he had been dropped by Geelong, only five days after representing his state. The Geelong Advertiser, which only days before had gnashed its teeth over John’s omission from the Victorian twenty, appeared to show no interest in (the reasons for) John’s omission from the Round Nine Geelong team, merely noting his supposedly injured finger. 38

John took his place for Geelong Seconds, playing in the centre against St. Kilda at St. Kilda. The Seconds, apparently ‘lifeless’, were thrashed 5.11 (41)-17.19 (121) and John was not mentioned among the best players. (At the start of the 1959 VFL season, VFL ‘Second Eighteen’ matches took over from VFL ‘Third Eighteen’ (‘Under-19’) matches as ‘curtain-raisers’ to VFL ‘Firsts’ games.)

The Geelong Seconds team for Round Nine was:
Back H.RoutleyA.BoultonJ.Helmer
HBack T.GilmoreJ.O’ConnellK.Middleton
HFwd R. Van T’HagK.GoodlandP.Trebilcock
Fwd M.BourkeB.BartleH.Earnshaw
Foll R.MurrayR.HaberetchN.Trezise
19/20 G.GrossF.Murphy

Emergencies: G.Vautier L.Wiffen

The Geelong senior team for Round Nine was:
Back MatherGazzardVinar
HBack M.GogginMcGrathMajor
HFwd NichollsBorrackCook
Fwd PomeroyCougleRice
Foll YeatesMundyO’Neill
19/20 BartonW.Goggin

Emergency: Harrison
In: Nicholls Cook Pomeroy Cougle
Out: Wooller (injured) Haygarth Helmer Bartle

There was no explanation forthcoming from the Geelong selectors for John’s omission and he found himself in the Seconds again – this time on a half-back flank - for the Round Ten (July 4) Kardinia Park clash against Footscray. The Cats won 15.12-13.12. The only mention of John in the Geelong Advertiser report was not complimentary (‘Trusler, leading Haygarth a dance again.’). Yet, in my exercise book (presumably copying The Age), I have Ferrari and Haygarth as Geelong’s two best players in this match.

The July 3 edition of the Geelong Advertiser reported Ballarat League club Geelong West had made a bid for John Haygarth and Bruce Bartle, along with two former Geelong players - Noel Rayson (now with South Melbourne) and Bob Wiltshire (now with North Melbourne). 39 The Geelong Advertiser of July 27, after John had resigned July 24, stated ‘A few weeks ago Haygarth sought a clearance to Geelong West (Ballarat League) but it was refused by Geelong committee’. I find it difficult to believe John would have encouraged Geelong West. At that stage of affairs, as he contemplated a fightback into the Geelong senior team, why would he?

John was selected as 20th man for the senior team in Rounds Eleven (July 11) and Twelve (July 18). Elsewhere I have written (see 'Catacomb - Struggling Along in the Gloom') ‘John Haygarth was chosen to sit on the bench – the selectors apparently having forgiven him for whatever ‘sins’ he (allegedly) committed’. In the former match, a 12.12-17.16 loss to South Melbourne at Lake Oval, John came on in the last quarter, as the Geelong Advertiser recorded - ‘Haygarth went straight into play and a snappy piece of teamwork with Trezise and Goodland allowed Cook to punt Geelong’s eleventh goal.’ Prior to the Round Twelve match against North Melbourne at Arden Street – another Geelong loss (8.15-11.10) – the Geelong Advertiser commented:

‘John Haygarth is still unable to gain a place in the side. Unfortunately for him, the half-back flank positions have been filled too capably by Matt Goggin and Major to allow him to displace either of them. He has been named as 20th man.’

The comment was seemingly premature because it appears John did in fact gain a place in the side. My 1959 exercise book records a last-minute change in the selected eighteen – Haygarth replacing Wooller, with Helmer coming in as 19th man. The notes in the exercise book record Haygarth moving to the back pocket in a positional change during the game (which suggests he started on the forward line) and finishing with 7 kicks, one mark, 2 free kicks. 40

1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v North Melbourne
1959 Exercise Book - Geelong v North Melbourne

Round Eleven
Back Borrack Gazzard Vinar
HBack M.GogginMcGrathMajor
!9/20 W.GogginHaygarth

In: Ferrari Goodland Long
Out: Wooller (injured) O’Neill (injured) Mather

Round Twelve
Back BorrackGazzardBarton
HBack M.Goggin McGrathMajor
HFwd FerrariVinarYeates
Fwd Wooller Goodland Rice
FollLong Pomeroy Trezise
19/20Mather Haygarth

In: Wooller Harrison Barton W.Goggin
Out: Hovey Thomas Cook Helmer

Reg Hickey addressing Geelong players 1959 (John fourth from right)
Reg Hickey addressing Geelong players 1959 (John fourth from right)

'Wells' cartoon (The Age) - Geelong 1959
'Wells' cartoon (The Age) - Geelong 1959

It is not difficult to appreciate how John Haygarth might have felt when he was dropped to the Seconds for the Round Thirteen (July 25) curtain-raiser against Hawthorn at Kardinia Park. 41 It was becoming a familiar feeling. Geelong officials became aware their half-back flanker had not turned up to play and replaced him in the selected side. John had apparently handed in his resignation the previous day (late on Friday). According to the Geelong Advertiser (July 27; July 28) John tendered his resignation as a player for the remainder of the 1959 season, gave no indication whether he considered himself available for the next season, and gave no reason for the resignation. However, there were reasons, as the following article made clear:

‘John Haygarth resigned at the weekend. He was chosen to play with Geelong Seconds but failed to arrive at the ground in time. He arrived later and watched the senior game. He said he had decided to stand out of football for the rest of the year. ‘I am just wasting my time training. Week after week I beat other players in match practice but can’t get back into the side. It’s ridiculous. I was in the state side one week, then dropped by Geelong the next. I have let them push me around for six weeks, but things don’t look like changing now, so I will give it away’. Haygarth’s resignation will be considered by the Geelong committee on Monday night.’ 42

'"Cutting from 'The Sun' 27-Jul-1959 - 1959 Geelong exercise book"

The Monday (July 27) meeting of the Geelong Committee decided not to accept John’s resignation and agreed to inform him his services were still required:

‘The meeting divided on the question but a motion to accept the resignation was lost. The general feeling among members of the Committee was that Haygarth should come back and earn a place in the senior team.’ 43

‘Geelong Committee refuses to accept Haygarth’s resignation’ (Geelong Advertiser July 28, 1959)
‘Geelong Committee refuses to accept Haygarth’s resignation’ (Geelong Advertiser July 28, 1959)

‘Geelong holds John Haygarth’, n.d, circa July 1959
‘Geelong holds John Haygarth’, n.d, circa July 1959

John’s initial response, when informed of the club’s decision, was guarded: ‘I will have to think it over and probably see some officials tomorrow. I can’t say yet whether I’ll reconsider or whether I’ll train tomorrow night’. 44

On the Thursday (July 30) John made the decision to withdraw his resignation, resume training and play with the Seconds. No doubt the intervention of Geelong President Jack Jennings, who ‘interviewed’ John early Thursday afternoon, influenced John to resume training, but John credits the late Russell Renfrey for really turning his head:

It was Russell Renfrey who rang me up, and he said ‘Come on, come back in’. ‘Hooker’ rang me and said ‘Oh come in – don’t take any notice of them’ he said. ‘Come back and…..’ I said ‘Well, the way I’m being treated’, I said, ‘I don’t know whether….’. He said ‘No, come in’. And, anyway, for his sake I did go back.

Just how ridiculously formal and impersonal (and how different from Renfrey’s personal approach) the processes of the Geelong Committee were in those days can be gleaned from the following extract in the Geelong Advertiser:

‘Haygarth informed the President that up until midday yesterday (Thursday – KM) he had not received the letter conveying the Committee’s decision, but the President said the letter had been posted on Wednesday. There was no discussion between Haygarth and the match committee after training yesterday, as the decision of the general committee did not call for a conference.’ 45

John resumed with the Seconds in Round Fourteen (August 1st) against Richmond at Kardinia Park and played a big part in Geelong’s 10.10-7.12 victory. Playing on a half-back flank, John, ‘well in the play and weathering the storm’, was the most dominant player on the field.

Those unpredictable selectors were at it again, picking John in the centre (replacing an injured Ron Hovey) for the senior side’s Round Fifteen (August 8) clash with Fitzroy at Brunswick Street. Bernie Smith commented:

‘John Haygarth has been given the centre position and I can see no reason why he should not make a success of it. He is a renowned footballer and will be endeavouring to hold his place for the remainder of the season now that he has been recalled.’

Fitzroy won the match comfortably (11.15-6.11). John was not mentioned in the Geelong Advertiser’s match report, although curiously I had him as one of Geelong’s best players (18 kicks, two marks, three frees). This match would prove to be John Haygarth’s very last senior game for the Geelong Football Club. The selected team was:

HBackM.Goggin McGrathBorrack
CRon Van T’HagHaygarthO’Neill
HFwdHelmer GoodlandCook
19/20 Cougle Perry

In: Van T’Hag Haygarth O’Neill Goodland
Out: Brown (injured) Hovey (injured) Thomas (influenza) Cougle

John was dropped yet again, for the third time, and played with the Seconds in Rounds Sixteen (August 15) and Seventeen (August 22). The Geelong selectors wielded the axe when picking the senior side to play Essendon. John was not the only casualty - Van T’Hag, Barton, Goodland and Bartle were also dropped, making way for Brown, Hovey, Thomas, Peake and Wooller. Playing on the half-back flank in the Seconds John was not mentioned in the Geelong Advertiser report (of Geelong’s 10.17-10.16 win) and may have still been recovering from the influenza he suffered earlier in the week. Geelong Seconds lost their Round Seventeen match against Melbourne at the MCG (5.14-9.21). John, playing in the centre, was not named in the Geelong Advertiser list of best players, but was named Geelong’s second best (behind Colin Barton) in mine (presumably based on The Age). This match on the MCG might have been John’s last appearance for the Geelong Football Club.

These two signatures were collected at MCG Round Seventeen 1959 (Geelong versus Melbourne).  Ken Goodland played in senior game, John Haygarth played in Seconds curtain-raiser. This was John's very last appearance for Geelong Football Club.  Note missing 'M'
These two signatures were collected at MCG Round Seventeen 1959 (Geelong versus Melbourne). Ken Goodland played in senior game, John Haygarth played in Seconds curtain-raiser. This was John's very last appearance for Geelong Football Club. Note missing 'M'

John was named (in the centre) in the Geelong Seconds team for the Round Eighteen (August 29) match against Collingwood at Kardinia Park, but I have been unable to determine whether he actually took the field. (The match report in the Geelong Advertiser is inconclusive). Geelong Seconds put on a good show, losing 8.7-8.17. 46 The senior team however was thrashed by 83 points - 5.8-17.19. They could have done with John Haygarth.

John Haygarth’s last Geelong team (Round 18, 1959):
BackMather Smith Cougle
CWilliamsHaygarth Wiffen
HFwdVan T’Hag CookHarrison

Reserves from – Lever Zaitz Southern Vautier Gilmore

Geelong team Round Eighteen 1959 versus Collingwood at Kardinia Park.
Geelong team Round Eighteen 1959 versus Collingwood at Kardinia Park.

Back row: John Yeates, Ron Murray, John Thomas, Tony Boulton, Frank Pomeroy, Paul Vinar, Ken Goodland, Brian Sharp, George McGrath
Middle row: Les Borrack, Bill Goggin, Neil Trezise, Ron Hovey, Fred Wooller, Hugh Routley
Front row: Bob Gazzard, Alex Perry, Clive Brown, Colin Rice, Matt Goggin
Bill’s email 13/1/19

In my own ‘Geelong Best and Fairest Award’ for the 1959 season, registering 6-5-4-3-2-1 votes based on my weekly statistical records, John Haygarth received 13 votes (four votes Round 2, six votes Round 4, one vote Round 5, two votes Round 15), somewhat further back behind Rice 59, Hovey 45, Trezise 40, and Borrack 40. John played eleven senior games in 1959 (Rounds 1-8, then Rounds 11, 12, and 15) and kicked eleven goals. The eleven senior appearances brought his overall Geelong senior games total to 59.

Ken: Do you remember whether you played in the very last game of the season?
John: No, I think I might have pulled out for that one because I’d been promised…after the interstate game they dropped me. I don’t know – as you said – nobody knows – oh well, I have had a little altercation probably, but I was dropped – and as your record shows, that I did play very well in the Reserves, but I was promised that if I went back and played well in the Reserves I would be reinstated in the seniors – but this went on for a few weeks. I played very well, so then I said ‘ta-ta’.
Ken: They kept dropping you. Most players would have felt the way you felt, because they weren’t really giving you a proper explanation, which made it worse. If they’d been giving you an explanation, you might have been able to accept it. But you were just kept in the dark. Am I right in saying that? You were kept in the dark?
John: Yes. No, the only explanation I got was – the Seconds, the Reserves I think had a chance of getting into the Four and the seniors didn’t, and I also think that year Pianto finished and I was second roving, or roving, with Neil Trezise – I think that was another reason…but when they dropped me after the state game I was promised if I played well in the Reserves I would be back, but that didn’t happen. I did my part, and played well in the Reserves but I still didn’t get reinstated, so I…….

Chapter Seven: Why?

‘Bob Davis occasionally mentioned John’s relegation to the Seconds directly after State selection on the radio in the sixties and seventies under the heading of ‘Strange things happen at Geelong.’ Lou Richards said on radio at the time ‘I don’t know what Johnny Haygarth has done to upset Geelong.’ Jack Dyer said ‘I can’t see how they can drop Haygarth.’ During this saga John received many letters and calls of support from prominent business men, sponsors, supporters and past players such as Russ Renfrey. Even when he went to Maryborough, Bernie Smith would attend finals. During the Cat fight of the 1980’s, a former Geelong premiership (1963) player referred to John as a ‘star player’ who had departed the club under uncertain circumstances’. 47

I was one Geelong supporter in 1959 who asked ‘why’ and sixty years later, like John Haygarth’s son Bill, I ask the question again.

There may have been a perception in 1959 that John had lost form. The strange Geelong Advertiser opinion (March 30, 1959) that John Haygarth ‘did not enjoy a particularly good season on a half back flank last year’, was perhaps an expression of a wider view, but is contradicted by the evidence – in particular his six Brownlow votes in the weak 1958 side. In the first half of the 1959 season John was moved, literally, from goalpost to goalpost. He was shifted from his customary half-back flank and asked to fill the gaps in Geelong’s roving division and forward line. (In answer to the suggestion that John had a tendency to be ‘unpredictable’, let me say - if anything was ‘unpredictable’ about Geelong in 1959 it was the unpredictability of the Geelong selectors and their chess board, not John’s own form). It is simply incomprehensible that John would have been selected as one of only two Geelong players to represent Victoria in 1959 if he had been playing poorly in 1959, poorly enough to be dropped unceremoniously from the Geelong senior team. Why would the souvenir program sold in Devonport say he had been performing ‘splendidly’? I confidently agree with John Haygarth:

It wasn’t form. The state side thought I was good enough to play and Geelong drop me the next week – there’s something wrong somewhere.

We can also dismiss any suggestion John was dropped from the senior side because of fall-out from the June 1959 Tasmanian trip. It is very unlikely VFL Secretary Eric McCutcheon would have thanked John for his ‘outstanding contribution’ to the game if John had committed a breach of conduct in Tasmania. The rumours of a broken finger sustained in Tasmania were also untrue.

When I first asked John why he thought he had been kept out of the senior team in 1959 he pointed to the Geelong Seconds:

John: Well, the trouble was, with Geelong, I think I was dropped the next week. After the interstate game.
Ken: Did you have any idea of why they did it?
John: No, no. I was a little dirty on it, because I’d been playing alright and went over there…..and there was no reason why, and the next week I was dropped from Geelong, so, you know, those League selectors must have thought I was good enough to be in there, and yet Geelong didn’t, so……I was told by Geelong when I did say something that if I played well in the Reserves I’d be back in the next week or two. Well, I played the next week in the Reserves, I think I was best on ground. I think I played another week, I was best on ground. I think I did that for about three weeks, and then I got a bit sick of it. But I think another reason was because the Reserves were in the Finals and I think I was still eligible at that stage to go back to the Seconds – and I think that was another reason.
Ken: They wanted to strengthen the Seconds?
John: I think so, yes.
Ken: Because the Firsts didn’t have much…..
John: No, we were out of it. I think there was push from the Reserves coach for me to……because I was told if I played well there……I think there was a bit of a push, because I’d proved myself in the Reserves.
Ken: So were you upset, emotionally upset, after all that I mean?
John: Oh I was. After being selected……the Victorian selectors thought I was good enough to…..and then to come to Geelong and be dropped, and then told that if I performed well in the Reserves – which I did. I proved that again and still nothing happened, so……

I found that explanation unsatisfactory, even far-fetched. In a later interview with John (November 14, 2018) he agreed there is no evidence that Tom Morrow (Geelong Seconds coach 1959) wanted to keep him in the Seconds, and that he (John) had been ‘only surmising’.

Difficult though it may be to accept, and write about, I believe the basic explanation for John’s fall from favour in 1959 lies in his relationship with the senior coach, legendary Geelong figure Reg Hickey. Let me state at the outset that I am not apportioning blame in discussing John’s relationship with Hickey, just stating the facts. I will let the reader make up his or her own mind. I accept that Hickey is an icon and have no wish to detract from his reputation, but when it is obvious something was amiss in the relationship between player and coach it should not be swept under the carpet.

Hickey’s relationship with his players was the subject of an early chapter (see pages 29-35) in James Button’s well-received 2016 book on Geelong Football Club history – Comeback: The Fall and Rise of Geelong. Button considered the view expressed by some of his interviewees (specifically ‘three fringe players from the late 1950s’) that ‘there was a prejudice that made it hard for non-Catholics to get a game.’ He also considered the suggestion Hickey was a ‘dogmatic Catholic’. Button alluded to an already well-known fact – two former Geelong stars who were key members of Geelong’s premiership teams of 1951 and 1952, full-forward George Goninon and captain Fred Flanagan, had blamed Hickey for Goninon being dropped for the 1953 Grand Final (the implication being this had cost Geelong the premiership). Goninon said he was axed because of his infidelity. Flanagan said in 2009 that Hickey dropped Goninon for ‘moral reasons’ (to do with Hickey’s Catholic faith). Button admitted ‘Hickey’s fierce moral code’ but, after considering alternative views, in particular Bill McMaster’s opinion that Goninon was ‘dropped for poor form’, concluded ‘there is almost no evidence that religious tensions touched the football club.’ 48

John’s problematic relationship with Reg Hickey in the fifties has been public knowledge for thirty years, at the very least. In the midst of John’s election campaign for the Geelong Committee in 1986, an article in the Geelong Advertiser reminded its readers ‘he left the club when he was 24 after a ‘blue’ with the coach Reg Hickey, and went to coach Maryborough in the Ballarat League.’ 49 An article in The Maryborough Advertiser in 2007, harking back to John’s 1960 premiership victory, carried the same message:

‘John, who says he had a falling out with the Geelong coach at the time and despite having played for his state in 1959, decided to leave the big-time for a country coaching role’. 50

According to Bill Haygarth, John has said, when quizzed about this matter over the years, ‘I can’t say much because Hickey is not here to defend himself.’ In my first interview with John, when Hickey’s name initially came up (three separate times), John said very little and then deflected the subject, preferring to attribute blame to the Seconds coach:

Ken: Can we talk about the coach – Reg Hickey? Not about what happened between the two of you later on. Just what it was like in 1955. Were you getting along pretty well with Reg in ’55?
John: Oh yes, I got along reasonably well with him ‘til……..
Ken: ‘Til later.
John: ……later years we had a few little niggles.
Ken: When you weren’t picked for Round Nine and Round Ten, had you been dropped? Or were you injured?
John: Well I don’t know – the story was out at one stage, they said I was injured in Geelong, but I doubt it. I think I had an altercation with a gentleman in there and……
Ken: What, Reg Hickey?
John: Reg Hickey, and I think I was on the outer for a little while. I don’t think I was injured, but there was a story round I’d broken fingers or something, but I don’t think that was quite true.
Ken: When was the altercation with Hickey that you’ve just mentioned? Before the Tassie trip, or…….
John: Oh, we’d had probably a discussion I would think. I can’t go into too deep a detail, but…….
Ken: You don’t have to…..

The ‘altercation’ John is referring to here is not the ‘shoving’ incident on the boundary line in Round 16 of the 1956 season, nor his animated discussion with Hickey about Geelong rovers not following their men in the 1957 Round Four clash against Carlton, nor their 1959 conflict over whether he should play in the Bannockburn tennis Grand Final. Rather he is referring to a Hickey habit that even Button mentions. Button quotes Russell Renfrey saying Hickey was ‘a grumpy bugger, rough as hell’ and mentions Hickey’s habit of greeting – men at least – with ‘a hard punch on the arm’.

In my first interview with John, he gradually opened up:

Ken: The incident where Hickey gave you a little bit of a punch in the ribs - was it at training, where he gave you a little punch in the ribs?
John: No, it was at a game actually. Reg had a great habit of coming around to stir you up. He’d give you a belt in the ribs while you were lacing up your boots or something, and it got a bit annoying in the finish, and I sort of gave him a little touch up, and I think from then on it was……
Ken: When you say ‘a touch up’, you said ‘Don’t do that Reg’. You politely said ‘Don’t do that Reg’.
John: Yes, it was a little short jab to the midriff I think.
Ken: It’s just possible that’s the cause of this whole business…but we can’t be sure. Who knows? We might never know.

In the second interview (November 14) John was more explicit, largely because I was more assertive in my questioning:

Ken: I want to pin you down on the Hickey business. You talked about an ‘altercation’, and by the way Billy sent me a cutting ‘Haygarth had a blue with Hickey’ so that’s in the public domain, the public knows about the fact you had a blue with Hickey……
John: And most of the players did too.
Ken: When we were talking about the Hickey thing you were a little bit evasive and you were also tending to suggest it was more to do, or as much to do, with Tom Morrow wanting to keep you in the Seconds for the sake of the Seconds playing in the Finals…
John: Well, that was my opinion….and a few others I think.
Ken: It was generally widely known at the footy club that you’d had a blue with Hickey. Was the 1959 tennis Grand Final the first time you ever ran foul of him or sort of had an argument with him?
John: I think that was, until when we had a dust-up – at the MCG I think against Melbourne…I’m pretty sure it was at the MCG…..getting ready prior to the game, in the rooms. 51
Ken: Well, what happened then?
John: Well, I was……he had a habit of – which was good tactics – of going around and stir everybody up and give them a bit of a smack – a bit of a shove and a smack….and….which he always did, and everybody knew but….this day I was lacing up the boots, ready to, sort of, before we went out, and he came around and…anyway he give me a whack and I turned round and I let him have one.
Ken: When you say you gave him a whack, where did you get him?
John: Fair in the mid-section.
Ken: Hard?
John: Yes, it was.
Ken: And how did he react to that?
John: He bent over a bit, give a bit of a belch.
Ken: Was that soon before you got dropped, the first time, after Tassie?
John: It was, yes.
Ken: I reckon that’s probably the reason why they dropped you, because he resented you for what you’d done.
John: Well, he would. Well, I would if anybody did that to me. I wouldn’t like it very much. His dignity might have been dropped a little. He always wanted to be, you know……
Ken: You go to Tassie in the Vic team – you’d been dominating, playing well. You were in the Vic team.
John: It would have had a lot to do with it.
Ken: You go to Tassie, you come back, and they bloody well drop you. The coincidence of those three things suggests to me that Hickey wanted to discipline you. To show you who was boss.
John: Hickey was the boss down there. Hickey ruled the Committee and everybody. I stood on my dignity. I wouldn’t bow to Hickey, but they all would. I’m sure his dignity was a little hurt and naturally it would have consequences.
Ken: He was putting you down and you hit back.
John: Well, I’ve always stood up for what I think is right, and the tennis episode was the same. I couldn’t leave them in the lurch. He was very annoyed. Hickey never said a word to me afterwards.

Of course, if we were to follow the fashionable tendency to sweep contentious matters under the proverbial carpet, we would probably just say it was all a matter of clashing personalities. Bill Haygarth makes the interesting point that the Geelong Committee may have refused to accept John’s resignation because they knew Hickey was going and John would be right to play in 1960 under Davis. Let us therefore give Bob Davis, referring to his forerunner Reg Hickey, the very last word on the matter:

‘…..there were a couple who got on his wrong side that probably paid the penalty’. 52

Geelong Annual Report 1958 - Reg Hickey
Geelong Annual Report 1958 - Reg Hickey

Chapter Eight: Transition

As the 1959 season drew to a close John Haygarth was fed up. He wanted to leave Geelong:

Ken: Did you approach anyone on the club Committee or on the coaching staff – or anyone indeed – to ask them why you weren’t getting back into the Firsts?
John: Well, I couldn’t get an answer. All I was told, from the selectors or the Committee, whoever it was, that if I played well in the Reserves I would be back in the Seniors, but as it happened I played those two, three games in the Reserves and never looked like getting back in the Seniors, so I said ‘Well, look, I’m sick of this, I’ll move on’, and I wanted a clearance to Collingwood and they wouldn’t clear me.
Ken: You wanted a clearance to Collingwood?
John: I wanted to go to Collingwood, and that was another reason – because Geelong and Collingwood don’t see eye to eye.
Ken: After that they wouldn’t have trusted you, would they?
John: Well, I did alright against Collingwood too. I think that day I kicked three goals in that game, previous at Collingwood, and they were probably interested too.
Ken: Why Collingwood?
John: Oh well, I just fancied a team that sort of look after you – I had an uncle that was a mad Collingwood supporter and a little help from him too.
Ken: Did Collingwood show any interest?
John: Oh yes, they were, yes, yes. I’d had a couple of good days and I think, as you said, I’d kicked three goals against them in the previous game. I’d had a reasonable day against Collingwood.
Ken: The Committee wouldn’t accept your resignation, would they?
John: No, they wouldn’t accept it – they wouldn’t give me reasons. All they said was I was needed, but I thought ‘well, if this is how ….what’s the good of going on if I can stay in the Reserves forever’. I knew that I possibly could have been up higher but they were the selectors, they were in charge.
Ken: So it was your initiative to resign, or to say that you wanted to resign. It wasn’t as if they had kicked you out of the club.
John: No, no, no.
Ken: I’ve seen a cutting somewhere where the majority on the Committee said he should play in the Seconds until he’s picked in the Firsts – well that’s not really an answer to you.
John: No.
Ken: Did you later have regrets about resigning?
John: Oh, I did, but……if I’d have only known later, but…something I was going to say about….
Ken: About Bob Davis and the coaching?
John: Oh no, they got me back. I did go back. So I finished up, went back to training, and the same thing happened – I was in the Reserves, and, you know, no sign of being reinstated in the Seniors, so I said, ‘Well, that’s it and…..
Ken: Okay, so you went back for a second go and nothing happened.
John: Nothing happened, no.
Ken: So when you really resigned was right at the end of the season.
John: Yes, it was. I did go back to training and play in the Reserves, I think, but the same understanding and nothing happened. Then Maryborough came to me. Maryborough found out from St. Kilda. Maryborough had tried to get a coach from St. Kilda. St. Kilda said ‘No, try Haygarth at Geelong’……because they must have heard on the grapevine that things weren’t going well. So Maryborough approached me and that’s when I resigned and moved to Maryborough – and Geelong refused to let me go….and I put in for a clearance to Collingwood too, before that ……
Ken: And Geelong wouldn’t give it to you.
John: And they rejected that.
Ken: And they didn’t give you a clearance to Maryborough?
John: Not straight off, either.
Ken: Eventually?
John: Yes, I think they had another meeting and I said ‘Well, look, I’m not coming back, I’ve moved and I’m not coming back.
Ken: You had moved to Maryborough?
John: Yes, I moved. I said ‘I’m not coming back’.
Ken: Because you had been appointed captain-coach of Maryborough?
John: Yes, yes. Well, it was only me and a matter of signing, you know – I’d moved though. 53

When the Geelong Advertiser first announced John’s appointment as captain-coach of Maryborough, it couched its report in qualified terms reflecting a Geelong-centric view: the appointment was subject to a clearance from Geelong; Maryborough had permission to interview Haygarth but Geelong had made no decision about a clearance; if granted a clearance by Geelong, Haygarth would reside in Maryborough early in the new year. 54

In the end Geelong did grant John his clearance. For Geelong fans the departure of John Haygarth was disturbing but not unexpected. His inexplicable omission for Round Nine, his abrupt mid-season resignation, the unsuccessful Geelong West poaching attempt, all pointed to unresolved issues. Few, however, apart from perhaps the Geelong officials, knew John had ‘fallen out with the coach.’ 55

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and with the advantage of hindsight, John now regrets leaving Geelong at the end of 1959:

Unfortunately, if I’d have known that Hickey was resigning and Davis was taking over I would never have left the club.

John could not have known it then, but he was leaving a club on the verge of success. Under the coaching of Bob Davis, and with astute recruiting, the Cats began their gradual rise up the ladder to premiership success in 1963. John is not being vain or egotistical (just a little dreamy) in believing he may have lodged a strong claim to the Geelong captaincy by 1963, if he had stayed after 1959. He had a rapport with Bob Davis, he had leadership skills (proven at Maryborough) and he was more senior than Fred Wooller:

Ken: So you were leaving a team that was on the verge of success – took them a couple more years but of course they were on the rise right from that moment. Got off the bottom of the ladder. You were saying to me before that you thought maybe there was a chance that by ’63 you might have been the captain.
John: Well, I was only in my prime at 24 and going alright and I knew most of the fellows there and everything and Davis taking over as coach.
Ken: You got along well with Bob Davis?
John: Yes, yes, I only had that presumption I could have been – I’m not saying….but it’s…..only…I’m not being…
Ken: No. You don’t have to worry about me interpreting it as ego.
John: No, I’m not being egotistical.
Ken: There was a strong chance you could have been, because you’re obviously – had leadership – you were a good leader – you proved that at Maryborough, but, who knows, I mean…
John: Well, just sizing up against the team that was there, I think I had as much chance as anybody else, put it that way.
Ken: Without denigrating….
John: Sago…
Ken: Without putting Fred Wooller out….
John: Oh Wooller….that’s right, Wooller was, yes. I’d sort of been there just a fraction before then possibly but I’d proved that……
Ken: You were more senior than Wooller.
John: I was only young – it’s not an ego trip or anything but I just thought I had as much chance as anybody. I could have been…..but that’s long gone.

Chapter Nine: Captain-Coach 1960-67 (Maryborough, Avoca, Winchelsea, Inverleigh)

Maryborough 1960

John’s two-year appointment at Maryborough gave him 20 pounds per week and a house rent-free. 56 He brought with him a young family – his wife Barbara, and three children, Billy (5), Annette (2) and Cheryl (nine months). 57 John gave up his job on Cr Harvey’s farm property at Murgheboluc and worked for a time behind the bar of the McIvor Hotel, and also at Patience and Nicholson. For a while he ran his own (‘24-hour’) taxi service – ‘John Haygarth’s Taxi Truck Maryborough Phone 745.’ 58

 Pivot, ‘Maryborough FC Appoints Geelong Man as Coach’, Geelong Advertiser December 8, 1959
Pivot, ‘Maryborough FC Appoints Geelong Man as Coach’, Geelong Advertiser December 8, 1959

 John and Barbara with their three children on arrival in Maryborough January 1960
John and Barbara with their three children on arrival in Maryborough January 1960

 Taxi - Maryborough
Taxi - Maryborough

 Taxi - Maryborough
Taxi - Maryborough

John Haygarth had moved to a town with a strong football tradition. Some very fine VFL footballers had come from Maryborough – Fitzroy’s Colin Niven, Richmond’s Ron Branton, Hawthorn’s Ron Nalder, and Carlton’s John Nicholls. John was following in the footsteps of Geelong ‘Team of the Century’ full-back George ‘Jocka’ Todd who coached Maryborough in 1935. The Magpies had been coached in the Fifties by former Fitzroy full-back Vic Chanter (1953-55) and former Collingwood 1953 premiership player Jack Parker (1956-59).

Maryborough Football Club re-joined the Ballarat Football League in 1946, losing the Grand Final to Redan in that season. When John Haygarth took the reins in 1960, Maryborough had yet to win a premiership in the BFL since 1946 and had not won a premiership in any competition since 1931 (Ballarat League). The BFL competition had been dominated in the fifties by Geelong West who, under former Geelong premiership speedster Terry Fulton, had won four flags in a row (1956-59), the last in 1959 against North Ballarat (16.19-2.9). Maryborough finished fourth in 1959 – with ten wins and eight losses – but lost the First Semi Final to North Ballarat (6.9-10.13). The most dominant player in the Ballarat Football League when John Haygarth entered the fray was Daylesford’s goal-kicking supremo Jim Gull (91 goals in 1959). The on-field battles between Haygarth and Gull were to assume legendary proportions. Coincidentally, John Haygarth’s arrival at Maryborough coincided with the VFL’s decision to discontinue television coverage of (the last quarter) of VFL matches. This would have encouraged more people to attend local country games.

The opening round of the 1960 season pitted Maryborough against Daylesford at Daylesford, with new captain-coach Haygarth starting in the centre. Maryborough were without Kevin Connell, the club’s top goal-kicker in 1959 (35 goals) who had transferred to Hawthorn. Unfortunately for John, the home side was too good, winning comfortably 13-13 (91)-9.8 (62). 59

John seems to have played most of the rest of the 1960 ‘home and away’ season as Maryborough’s first rover. In this role he managed to have an impact on the scoreboard, kicking four goals at home against Ballarat on May 28, 3.6 against Golden Point on Queen’s Birthday (June 13), and, ‘playing havoc with the East defence’, six goals against East Ballarat on June 18.

John was clearly best on ground, not for the first or last time this season, in the extraordinary match against Redan at Maryborough’s Princes Park on July 9. Maryborough triumphed in a game that produced the amazing score-line 2.14-2.2. John, who kicked almost half his team’s score (1.4), was lauded for his ‘lion-hearted play’ and ‘inspiring and courageous’ leadership in abysmal conditions:

Yes, it was Princes Park and that was black heavy ground like the turf wickets for the cricket are - the heaviest and worst day ever – you could kick it and it would go two feet, and you’d miss a lot of times – there was a lot of trying to kick it off the ground. It was hard to kick a goal. You had to be about two metres out to kick a goal, the ball was that heavy, and your legs – you’d put your leg down, and by the time you got your leg out, the other one would be going down with your weight. In the mud. It was that deep – it was a shocker.

Maryborough v North City-Wendouree August 27, 1960 (courtesy Stanley Roberts)
Maryborough v North City-Wendouree August 27, 1960 (courtesy Stanley Roberts)

After the ‘home and away’ matches Daylesford, benefiting from Gull’s efforts at full-forward (87 goals to that point), sat on top of the ladder (14.3.1 - 156.5%) with John Haygarth’s Maryborough in second spot (12.5.1 - 132.8%). Maryborough however defeated Daylesford (9.11-4.13) in the Second Semi Final to enter the Grand Final two weeks ahead of their arch-rivals.

Maryborough’s team for the 1960 Ballarat League Grand Final was:
BackDenis BowenGraeme Bell Ian Webb
HBackBob Lovett Doug Rowe Barry Everitt
CNev Olver Ken Ratcliff Eddie Rich
HFwdBruce Hutchinson Kevin Ryan Bernie Dowling
FwdOssie Nelson Brian HoldenDino Munari
FollRay Marshall Dave ChamberlainJohn Haygarth
19/20 Jim Rogan Peter Thomas

Emergency: George Fergus

 Telegrams - 1960 Grand Final
Telegrams - 1960 Grand Final

A record crowd of 12,000 at Ballarat’s Eastern Oval witnessed Haygarth’s Magpies move 17 points ahead in the second quarter after trailing by 9 points at the first change. Maryborough maintained its advantage in the third, and a late surge by the Demons was not enough to give victory. The final score: Maryborough 8.12 to Daylesford 6.14. Maryborough’s best player on the day was Nev Olver, a small player with a propensity for spectacular marks. John, who had the first kick in the match, played his usual courageous game. Merv Hobbs kicked two goals for the beaten side and was also their best player. Daylesford’s other star Jim Gull was well held by Graeme Bell and notched only one goal.

I knew that Bell could keep Gull under lock and key mainly. It was a wet day and you’ve got to play wet weather football, wet weather tactics, and I instilled that into them. I had a few fellows that I allotted to tag some of Daylesford’s better players. Ratcliffe was one – he was the greatest tagger I’ve ever seen. I could tell him what to do, he’d run through a brick wall. I said to him ‘One of the Daylesford fellows, he was a good footballer, speedy and smart, but he lacked a bit of vigour’ and I said to him ‘Give him a rough time’ and I said ‘Where he goes, you go, if he jumps the fence, you jump the fence’. So he was off the ground in less than……I think he was off by half-time, I think. So he was one out of the way.

Quarter by quarter scores in the Grand Final were:
Maryborough 1.0, 5.4, 7.6, 8.12
Daylesford 2.3, 2.5, 3.11, 6.14

Best for Maryborough (as per The Maryborough Advertiser) – Olver, Bell, Webb, Haygarth, Ratcliffe, Everitt, Rich. (Others deserving a mention were Dowling and Bowen). Goals (Maryborough): Holden 2, Munari 2, Dowling, Marshall, Haygarth, Rich.

 John carried off after 1960 premiership win
John carried off after 1960 premiership win

1960 Grand Final Eastern Oval
1960 Grand Final Eastern Oval

With the beautiful sound of the final siren still ringing in his ears John Haygarth was lifted up onto the shoulders of excited supporters and carried off the ground.60 That evening his players marched in procession down the main street of Maryborough, accompanied by the town’s pipe bands and brass bands. Over 2000 people packed into the Town Hall, and as John stood up proudly to address them, the Citizens Brass Band launched into a rousing rendition of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. Sitting at the Mayor’s table, decked out in the Mayoral robes and with gavel in hand, John, honoured for bringing home the town’s first football premiership in 29 years, was the town’s Mayor for a night. 61

 John with gavel Maryborough Town Hall October 8 1960
John with gavel Maryborough Town Hall October 8 1960

 Maryborough premiership team 1960
Maryborough premiership team 1960

Back row: Jim Rogan, Ossie Nelson, Kevin Ryan, Graeme Bell (VC), Dave Chamberlain, Bruce Hutchinson.
Centre row: Charlie Williams (selector), Rupe Craigie (Chairman of Selectors), Ray Marshall, Bob Lovett, Bernie Dowling, Ian Webb, George Gollop (Selector).
Second front row: Barry Everitt, Ken Ratcliff, John Haygarth, Dino Munari, Denis Bowen, Doug Rowe.
Front row: Jack Looney (Secretary), Brian Holden, Nev Olver, Ian Sinclair (mascot), Peter Thomas, Eddie Rich, Frank Bartlett (President).

‘Magpies win BFL premiership’, Maryborough Advertiser October 10, 1960
‘Magpies win BFL premiership’, Maryborough Advertiser October 10, 1960

 Alan Fitcher, ‘Maryborough Too Strong’, The Sporting Globe, October 8, 1960
Alan Fitcher, ‘Maryborough Too Strong’, The Sporting Globe, October 8, 1960

John performed superbly in his first season with Maryborough, topping the goal-kicking (along with veteran Ossie Nelson) with 24 goals and finishing second to Graeme Bell in the club’s ‘Best and Fairest’ award. He quickly built a reputation for his physical fitness and physical courage. 62 However, it was John’s leadership in handling his young team that drew the most plaudits. Praise for his coaching skills (‘forthright speaker, astute tactician’) was universal. 63 Maryborough won the 1960 premiership because its players were committed to the jumper, rather than motivated by personal reward. (It was later revealed that only John among the Magpie players had been paid in 1960. The officials were ‘honorary’ too.) In the premiership team, all except five players (Haygarth, Ryan, Munari, Chamberlain, and Nelson) were Maryborough ‘locals’. On this foundation stone of tribal loyalty, John Haygarth built a strong and resilient football team. John, super-fit himself and setting the example, asserted his authority over the players and brooked no Committee interference in selection issues:

The first thing I did was show who was boss. I trained them hard – I ran the hell out of them and got them fit. I never had any champions but they’d do anything for me and they were battlers, but they gave everything.

It would be stretching a point to say that John’s influence percolated down into Maryborough’s Seconds team, but it might not have been entirely coincidental that in his first year at the club, the Seconds also triumphed, defeating Golden Point in their Grand Final. (Maryborough Seconds were runners-up in 1961).

 Maryborough Football Club Premiers 1960 (Firsts and Seconds) (card)
Maryborough Football Club Premiers 1960 (Firsts and Seconds) (card)

In November 1960, John received a pleasant letter from VFL Secretary Eric McCutcheon responding to his ‘retirement as a player of the League’. The letter enclosed a cheque for 205 pounds (from the VFL Players Provident Fund) and ‘our warm appreciation of your outstanding contribution to the presentation of the game in this state and extend every good wish for your future welfare’. 64

 Letter from Eric McCutcheon (VFL) November 3, 1960
Letter from Eric McCutcheon (VFL) November 3, 1960

Maryborough 1961

In 1961 the town of Maryborough was officially proclaimed a City, a happy occasion adding to the joy of its long-awaited football premiership. Only a temporary disturbance in John Haygarth’s relationship with the Maryborough committee dampened the celebratory mood. John asked the Committee for a raise – from 22 pounds ten shillings per week to 30 pounds per week tax-free – and was knocked back. He appears to have taken this on the chin and got on with the job. 65

John was instrumental in luring two star Dunolly footballers to play for Maryborough in season 1961, starting in Round One – speedy rover Tony Polinelli and former Essendon player Brian Coleman. Polinelli was not with Maryborough for long. He transferred to Geelong and played his first VFL match in Round Six 1961, kicking three goals. (Polinelli wanted to go to Carlton but John talked him into signing with the Cats. He was a member of Geelong’s 1963 VFL premiership team). Coleman was to perform brilliantly for the Magpies in 1961 and won the Ballarat League’s Henderson Medal for competition ‘Best and Fairest’.

Maryborough got off to a flying start, thrashing Ballarat (20.29-7.13) in the opening round and beating Golden Point (11.13-8.4) in Round Two, despite John’s absence with an ankle injury. The Round Three (May 6) encounter with Daylesford at Princes Park loomed as a grudge match. Maryborough lost the game in a tight finish (11.7-10.15). John started on the half-forward flank but took over the back pocket shortly before half time to mind Merv Hobbs. Late in the last quarter he copped a nasty knock and sustained a depressed cheekbone. It was first thought John would miss six weeks, but the brave skipper returned in only two, as a last-minute inclusion for the match against Redan on May 20. John’s injury concerns did not end there – in June he was troubled with an eye injury.

John finished the ‘home and away’ season playing as first rover, and kicked 5.4 in the (September 9) final round of the ‘home and away’ season as his team trounced North Ballarat 26.34 (190)-4.6 (30). It was Maryborough’s highest post-war score in Ballarat League matches. Daylesford, on the other hand, seemed to have Maryborough’s measure. In their July 1 return encounter at Daylesford, the Demons scraped home again (13.11-12.13), Jim Gull this time kicking ten goals.

A Ballarat League convention rewarded the coach of the previous season’s premiership team with automatic selection as coach of the League’s representative team, so there was never any question John Haygarth would captain-coach the Ballarat League team in the (Caltex) Country Championship of 1961. In the Zone semi-final of the Championship, Ballarat League hosted Western District League on June 10. Ballarat’s ‘The Footballer’ profiled 26-year-old John as ‘an astute tactician and forthright speaker’ and mentioned his role as one of the four selectors. 66 The Ballarat League team included Geelong West’s Les Borrack (ex-Geelong), North Ballarat’s Howard ‘Plugger’ Lockett (father of Tony Lockett), Jim Gull, and three players from Maryborough – John Haygarth (first rover), Graeme Bell and Kevin Ryan. (Golden Point’s Bruce Ferrari, formerly of Geelong, was selected but pulled out). The Western District League team, captained by Casterton’s Reg Burgess (formerly Essendon), included Hamilton Imperials veteran Denis Zeunert (formerly Carlton), Portland coach Max Hetherington (ex-Geelong), and star Heywood full-forward Kevin Malseed. Ballarat sneaked home, winning 9.15 (69)-8.13 (61), despite Malseed kicking three goals on Graeme Bell. In his report in The Sporting Globe Alan Fitcher nominated John Haygarth as one of the three best players on the ground: ‘roved with skill and judgement. Won the ball cleverly and always used it to full advantage.’

The Zone Final of the 1961 Country Championship was fought out between Ballarat League and Wimmera League at Ararat on Saturday June 15. Ballarat’s team included Borrack, Lockett, Gull (vice-captain), Geelong West’s Ron Smith (ex-Geelong), Ballarat’s Len Templar (ex-North Melbourne), and the three Maryborough representatives – John Haygarth (forward pocket), Kevin Ryan (centre-half back) and Graeme Bell (full-back). Wimmera’s team included captain Ken Smale (ex-Collingwood), ruckman Don Keyter (ex-South Melbourne), Graham Gross (ex-Geelong), Ken Beck (ex-Hawthorn), and Rupanyup’s 18-year-old full-forward Ian Morgan. Wimmera were too good on the day and won 13.5 (83)-10.17 (77). Morgan and Gull both kicked four goals. John Haygarth was again among the best players for his team. 67

The ‘home and away’ matches concluded, Maryborough sat third (15.5), below second-placed Geelong West (15.4.1) and top team Daylesford (17.3 - and a whopping percentage of 160.1%). The Magpies accounted for Redan in the First Semi Final at Maryborough (September 16), winning 14.9-6.7. The Maryborough Advertiser nominated John as clearly best-on-ground – for an ‘excellent captain’s game’ (‘brainy football’; ‘a brilliant first-quarter effort‘). In the First Semi Final John sustained a torn muscle behind his knee which was to limit his effectiveness for the rest of the Finals series. Restricted in his movements, he was unable to train before the Preliminary Final against Geelong West at the City Oval (September 30). Maryborough won convincingly (6.10-3.9) although, predictably, John was not among the ‘best’ or the goals.

Maryborough advanced to the Grand Final. Only Daylesford now stood in their way. But luck was running against the Magpies. Two top players, Ken Ratcliff and 1961 Henderson Medallist Brian Coleman, were both injured and unable play in the big game. During the week John travelled to Ballarat to have a cortisone jab in his knee, enough pain-killer to enable him to at least take his place on the field.

1961 Grand Final Saturday October 7 City Oval
Maryborough team:
BackB.Everitt G.Bell R.Marshall
HBackB.Wanlace D.Rowe E.Rich
CN.Olver I.Goodchild R.Britten
HFwdB.Hutchinson K.Ryan D.Munari
FwdD.Chamberlain O.Nelson G.Gibbs
FollI.Webb G.Fergus J.Haygarth

Reserves: J.Wilks R.Haeberle T.Long

John Haygarth was fired up. The Maryborough Advertiser post-mortem Grand Final report (October 9) mentioned that play had been held up for some time in the first quarter ‘as Haygarth and Daylesford trainers tangled.’ Daylesford led early but Maryborough fought back with a spirited second quarter to lead by ten points at half-time. Unfortunately, from then on it was all Daylesford and the Demons raced away to capture their first flag in the Ballarat League by 27 points. The Magpies this time were unable to contain Jim Gull who kicked seven goals, to bring his 1961 season tally to 159.
Daylesford 13.10 (88) d Maryborough 8.13 (61).
Daylesford 5.3, 5.5, 9.9, 13.10
Maryborough 3.3, 6.9, 6.12, 8.13.

Best for Maryborough: Wanlace, Goodchild, Olver, Everitt, Chamberlain, Ryan, Hutchinson.
Maryborough goals – Goodchild 4, Ryan, Fergus, Nelson, Hutchinson.

Bill Haygarth recalls:

John didn’t train the week prior to the 1961 Grand Final due to a torn calf muscle. He was needled the morning before the game and kicked 1.6 for the day. After the game Mum and I went on to the City Oval to console him. He could barely walk from the ground.

 Maryborough Football Club Runners-up 1961 (card)
Maryborough Football Club Runners-up 1961 (card)

Maryborough 1962

John Haygarth’s Magpies were again in contention for the premiership in 1962, his third season. John performed his usual role as a ‘utility’, willing and able to play in a variety of positions on the field. No matter where - rover, centre, half-back flank, or half-forward flank – he could be relied upon to (as The Maryborough Advertiser put it) ‘throw himself into the fray regardless’. The highlight of the ‘home and away’ season was the Round Six ‘Queen’s Birthday’ (Monday June 4) clash at Princes Park when John, playing in the centre, and Daylesford’s Jim Gull tangled. A melee quickly developed around them in the centre of the ground and brought police onto the field. Maryborough won the match (if not the fight) 12.18-10.9. (Gull, who booted four goals, was reported for striking Haygarth but cleared at the Tribunal). 68

Maryborough finished third in the ‘home and away’ season behind Geelong West and Ballarat. John took his place in the First Semi Final against Redan at Princes Park, despite missing the previous two games with an ankle injury. The Magpies defeated Redan narrowly (9.8-8.9) in the Semi but lost the Preliminary Final to eventual premiers Ballarat 5.10-15.9. 69

John’s coaching philosophy was not simple, but it could be summed up in his oft-repeated phrase: ‘Give me eighteen battlers before eighteen stars any day’. The high regard in which he was held is clear. Commenting on John’s performance against arch-rival Daylesford on June 4, the writer of ‘Maryborough Notes’ opined: ‘Handicapped by injury, John Haygarth directed operations to perfection and was an inspiration in the vital last quarter.’ 70 The scribe was even more complimentary a fortnight later, after Maryborough’s close June 23 win (11.9-9.7) against Golden Point: ‘John Haygarth handled his side superbly, not only did he bob up in the right places with telling effect throughout the game, he also revitalised the team at half-time with a sensible inspiring address’. 71 At the Maryborough Football Club Annual Dinner on the evening of October 13, President Frank Bartlett took the opportunity to praise John’s ability to inculcate a ‘will-to-win spirit’ and overcome ‘the loss of twelve good players’ at the start of the season. 72

Maryborough Football Club 1962 (Firsts and Seconds) (card)
Maryborough Football Club 1962 (Firsts and Seconds) (card)

Maryborough 1963

The departure of Geelong West to the VFA reduced the Ballarat League to seven teams, necessitating a weekly bye. Maryborough finished fourth in the ‘home and away’ season with 11 wins and 7 losses. John’s Magpies lost the First Semi Final to Redan (10.11-11.19). North Ballarat won its first Ballarat League premiership, defeating Ballarat (Geoff Tunbridge and John Northey on board) in the Grand Final. Ted Lovett of North Ballarat won the Henderson Medal. Jim Gull finished on 71 goals. 73

The Country Championship continued in 1963. Ballarat League again defeated Western District League in the first Zone match. The Ballarat League team included captain and rover Paul Dodd (formerly of St. Kilda), Geoff Tunbridge (formerly of Melbourne), Bob Spargo (formerly of Footscray), Ian Aston (formerly of Fitzroy), John Trethowan (formerly of South Melbourne), Ted Lovett, Jim Gull, and Howard Lockett. The team was coached by Ballarat’s Len Templar (ex-North Melbourne). Ballarat League were defeated however by Hampden League (7.9-11.18) in the Zone Final. John Haygarth appears to have played in the Final, if not in both matches.

John Haygarth’s coaching contract, initiated in 1960 and renewed for a further two years in 1962, was not renewed for a third two-year period. John applied for the job but lost the position to former St. Kilda VFL player Max Nolan. There were apparently no reasons given for the termination, but John left the club as its 1963 ‘Best and Fairest’ (F.Bartlett Trophy) winner, and, one assumes, with its best wishes. The playing list John had built and bequeathed to the club stood it in good stead - in season 1964 Maryborough finished on top of the ‘home-and-away’ ladder (12-6, 128%) and only missed out on the premiership by three points, losing the Grand Final to East Ballarat (9.12 to 9.15). The following year (1965) the Magpies did win the flag and followed up with another in 1968. 74

 Maryborough Football Club 1963 (card)
Maryborough Football Club 1963 (card)

 Maryborough v Daylesford at Daylesford (John No. 10)
Maryborough v Daylesford at Daylesford (John No. 10)

 Maryborough v Daylesford at Daylesford (John No. 10)
Maryborough v Daylesford at Daylesford (John No. 10)

 John in action v Geelong West at Princes Park
John in action v Geelong West at Princes Park

 John in action v Geelong West at Princes Park
John in action v Geelong West at Princes Park

 John in action Maryborough v East Ballarat
John in action Maryborough v East Ballarat

 John in action v Geelong West at Princes Park
John in action v Geelong West at Princes Park

 John swoops on the ball at Daylesford
John swoops on the ball at Daylesford

 John and Billy take the field
John and Billy take the field

 John in action for Maryborough
John in action for Maryborough

As a champion player in a champion team John came in for his share of attention from opposition players on the field. The Maryborough Advertiser, in its retrospective interview with John in 2007, claimed he had suffered four broken noses and a broken collarbone in his time at Maryborough – and was known by his team mates as ‘Crocs’. 75 John does not recall the nickname and the collar-bone:

I had the nose busted up there but I didn’t have a broken collarbone. I had a busted cheek bone up there. I had a busted collar bone in Geelong, but at Maryborough one of the Daylesford gentlemen gave me an elbow in the eye socket and busted my jaw. (I had two or three busted noses). But I saw the game out. My face was all twisted and everything. I saw the game out and they took me off to hospital. I didn’t play. I went off the ground. This particular gentleman at Daylesford…..we played each other in a few weeks’ time up there, and I came back in about a fortnight after I’d broken my jaw to even the score – but he was missing. I had the nose busted. I used to get that busted pretty regularly – which isn’t a serious thing – you can be out there again the next week, but I did go to hospital up there after one night to have it reset but I think it was busted again the next week. But I didn’t miss any games over it…..only the busted jaw – I missed a couple of weeks. 76

John - busted nose again (Maryborough 1960)
John - busted nose again (Maryborough 1960)

John was also sometimes targeted by opposition supporters:

I got whacked with an umbrella at Maryborough, after we beat Geelong West. We beat Geelong West in a Semi-Final and I was coming off the ground and I got this whack on the back of the head – and turned around and I had a fist already cocked to splatter whoever it was, and it was a female.

Avoca 1964

John recalls the next phase of his coaching career, with Avoca in the Lexton League:

I was packing up to go back down to where I came from, down Inverleigh-Bannockburn area, and Avoca heard that I was finishing. I signed up with them for twelve months.

The Haygarth family stayed in Maryborough and John travelled the 36 kilometres to Avoca for training, and on match days. Avoca finished third in the Lexton League in 1964, behind eventual premiers Beaufort. Needless to say, John won his club’s ‘Best and Fairest’.

Winchelsea 1965-66

John was appointed captain-coach of Winchelsea in the Polwarth League for seasons 1965 and 1966, with former Geelong wingman John Thomas as his vice-captain.

I’d moved back to Inverleigh, back to the old home town, and as soon as they found out I was back, they were over.

The Polwarth League comprised Queenscliff, Winchelsea, Forrest, Apollo Bay, Birregurra, Leopold, Lorne, Portarlington, Torquay. Winchelsea were premiership favourites in 1965. They entered the finals undefeated, and even on the eve of the Grand Final were firm favourites, having beaten challengers Queenscliff in the Second Semi Final. The return match, played at Birregurra on September 27, turned out to be a major upset, with Queenscliff, the underdogs, winning comfortably 9.13 (67)-6.8 (44). The match was a ‘tough, bone-jarring’ affair that nullified Winchelsea’s speed. Winchelsea’s best were D.Stephenson, J.Haygarth, W.Lowery, P.Lowery, J.Thomas, and N.Thomas. Former Fitzroy defender Arnie Bench and former Geelong Seconds player Kevin Coltish starred for the premiers.

Winchelsea were again undefeated in 1966 but this time did not progress to the Grand Final. 77

 Winchelsea 1965 (John centre middle row)
Winchelsea 1965 (John centre middle row)

 Winchelsea 1965 (John centre middle row)
Winchelsea 1965 (John centre middle row)

 John Haygarth and John Thomas with fans
John Haygarth and John Thomas with fans

Inverleigh 1967

In 1967, after two ultimately frustrating years with Winchelsea, 32-year-old John Haygarth returned, in every sense of the word, to his roots. John and his family moved back to Inverleigh in 1965 but since then he had been coaching out of town. Now, in 1967, he was the captain-coach of the club he had first played for in 1948, and who he had last played for (as a raw 20-year-old ‘best and fairest’) thirteen years previous. Inverleigh in 1967 competed in the Geelong District League. John Haygarth too competed, and then, probably when it was least expected and no doubt without fanfare, hung up his boots and retired.

At the MCG in Melbourne on September 23 (1967) the Geelong Football Club came very close to winning the VFL premiership, going down by only nine points to Richmond. Only one player in that 1967 Geelong Grand Final team – Bill Goggin – was a Geelong contemporary of John Haygarth. One ventures to say very few of his Geelong contemporaries lasted as long as John Haygarth in Victorian football, and they had not started in 1948.

Offers declined

I am grateful to both John Haygarth and Bill Haygarth for information about John’s numerous coaching offers. John coached four Victorian country clubs (Maryborough, Avoca, Winchelsea and Inverleigh) but the figure could easily have been more. John apparently declined coaching job offers from Euroa in 1959, Warracknabeal in 1961, Shepparton in 1966, Geelong Seconds in 1971, North Ballarat in 1974, and South Barwon in 1986. Shepparton Football Club in 1966 were looking for a coach after the departure of Tom Hafey to Richmond. They approached John, who made the trip and was interviewed. John was offered the position and would have accepted it, except there was no house attached.

John’s decline of the Geelong Seconds offer is the cause for some regret. In 1971, after the retirement of Peter Pianto, John was interviewed for the senior coaching position at Geelong:

I went in before McMaster and I was interviewed and I thought I had a fair chance of getting it. McMaster was out in the hallway waiting to be next in – and next morning I got a phone call from Les Tyack, who was the Secretary, and he said ‘Unfortunately’, he said, ‘you didn’t get the Geelong coaching position but we’ve appointed you as Reserves coach’. I said ‘Well, no you didn’t’, I said ‘because I didn’t apply for it’. I said ‘I’ll give that one a miss’. I was sorry later – it may have been a leg in because McMaster had two years and that was it. I may have been…..if I’d coached the Reserves and got somewhere, but anyway.

In 1974, as a 40-year-old, John played two games with the Bannockburn team on a half-back flank. He claims he was best on ground in both games - and I have no evidence to the contrary. His career as a Bannockburn ‘Tigers’ star was cut short however:

I was living in Bannockburn and managing a farm out of Bannockburn. They made the Grand Final and I went through the bridge and that was the finish. We had a function on that night and I was going home after the game to get changed and come back – and I went through the bridge, this old wooden bridge on a little bend. I hit the only tree out in the creek that was there, smacked head on. Broke my left knee cap and I was carted off to Geelong hospital and was in there for a week and came out with plaster up to the hip. They played in the Grand Final and got beaten on Kardinia Park. I saw them but I was standing in there on crutches.

Chapter Ten: A Geelong Man and Still Kicking

After returning to Inverleigh with his family in November 1964 John worked as a labourer for a year, on a property adjacent to Harvey’s, between Bannockburn and Inverleigh. He was then asked by the owner to become farm manager. John fulfilled this responsibility for twenty years, until 1983.

 John Haygarth’s training session with the Magpies 1983
John Haygarth’s training session with the Magpies 1983

John’s last job was as a ‘pick and shovel’ man with the Road Construction Authority. It was while working on the roads John made the decision to enter football politics. In 1986, and again in 1987, John stood for election to the Geelong Football Club Committee. In 1986, as a member of the Geelong Past Players Association, his campaign platform emphasised the need for greater past-player involvement in administration (‘football brains and football administration knowledge’). He declined an offer to be included on Dr Kevin Threlfall’s ticket composed of four businessmen, and stood unsuccessfully as part of a four-man opposition ticket. Nevertheless 919 Geelong members voted for him. 78

In the 1987 campaign John confidently decided to go it alone, offering himself as a ‘successful coach and football administrator’ (‘for strength and dedication vote 1 John Haygarth’). Against a background of growing corporate involvement in football life, John’s campaign was brave and unconventional. One can imagine eyebrows everywhere were raised when the working bloke from Inverleigh, now endorsed by the Geelong Trades and Labour Council, slammed the Geelong Committee for becoming ‘overburdened with too many business and marketing people’. An article in the Geelong Advertiser depicted John - Patrolman with the Road Construction Authority – ‘hoping to shovel businessmen off a new streamlined board’. 79

Election campaign 1987
Election campaign 1987

After retiring from football in 1967 John continued to play competitive tennis. He captained Bannockburn to its ‘A Grade’ (Ballarat) Country Week tennis premiership in February 1971, and also played for Gheringhap Tennis Club in the seventies. Later in his sporting life, John was one of six Bannockburn identities who successfully owned and raced the gelding ‘Gembrook’.

John has never completely lost contact with the Geelong Football Club, or the club’s Past Players Association, and every year receives a thoughtful birthday greetings card from Bob Gartland, Geelong Football Club Vice-President and Chair of the Geelong Football Club History Society.

 Geelong locker No 10
Geelong locker No 10

 Geelong Under-15 team 1970 (Bill Haygarth extreme left top row; John Helmer at right).
Geelong Under-15 team 1970 (Bill Haygarth extreme left top row; John Helmer at right).

 Inverleigh Under-15 champions 1970 (Bill Haygarth third from left front row; Alan Woodman fifth from left back row)
Inverleigh Under-15 champions 1970 (Bill Haygarth third from left front row; Alan Woodman fifth from left back row)

 Geelong’s new Inverleigh recruit
Geelong’s new Inverleigh recruit

Appendix One: Geelong players remembered

‘Bernie Smith and Matty Goggin were probably the two best pals I had in Geelong’ – John Haygarth, May 2018.

Matt Goggin
Matty and I were very close. I played against his father, Matt Goggin. He was a great full forward for Williamstown in those days and then he came to a Soldier Settlement block at Lethbridge and played with Lethbridge. Matty was a bit taller than me. He could have been a bare six-footer. Very fast, very speedy, Matt. I thought Matty Goggin was just as good as Billy Goggin, but Matty didn’t play as long. He finished 1960, the same year as I did, I think. Matty was a great footballer. When we finished at Geelong, I went to Maryborough and coached them to a premiership, and Matt went to Cohuna – which was in the Murray League – and he won a premiership up there the first year. I’d say he had the biggest funeral in Geelong, and I actually cried that day. He was a linesman and got hit with the power on a windy day. He should never have been up there.

Bernie Smith
I played alongside Bernie and he was a great mentor for me. He told me to never take my eyes off the ball, even if it was up the other end of the ground. Bernie was great to play with. He was in the back pocket, and as soon as he got it, he knew where I’d be. He made it pretty easy for me because once Bernie got the ball I knew where to be. Probably made me look good when he’d get the ball and I knew where to be and I’d get it on the chest every time. He was only about my build I suppose – 5 foot 10-ish – and about the same weight but he was a brilliant mark and a pretty honest kick, like a pretty reliable kick. He was on the little bit slow side possibly if he had any fault, but he had a football brain though, especially on wet days. He’d be in and out, underneath, through their legs. He was an uncanny judge of a ball, Bernie. In dry weather he could bounce a football like a basketball. He was uncanny, great. Bernie played pretty well every week. And he could adapt to all conditions. He was a great mark for the size of him, and he could read the play. He probably was the best Geelong player in my opinion.

Reg Hickey
I got along reasonably well with him ‘til ………later years we had a few little niggles. I would say his coaching style never altered. Geelong were a pretty fast and skilful side. I don’t think the playing style changed. I think they kept that up for a few years and I don’t think it really……Hickey’s coaching methods didn’t change over those years. He was a great fitness coach but he lacked it with the technical side, the tactical side of it. Hickey was not a tactician. If I was on the bench during play, he would ask me what to do. That’s where I see him as – he was a great fitness coach.

John Haygarth
I had a bit of pace. I always kept pretty fit. There were very few who could outpace me at training. After we finished of a night there’d be a sprint off the ground. Matty Goggin and Johnny O’Neill were a little bit quicker but other than that I think I held my place with most of them.

Geoff Williams
Great man and great footballer. He was a great ball-getter Geoff but his inconsistency with his disposal was his main……he could kick it a long way…..he got the ball more than anybody else, but it was just the disposal part of it. He got a lot of the ball Geoff, but that was the only fault I could see with Geoff. I know, being on the half-forward flank, and he’s on the half-back flank, and leading out – it could go anywhere. Other than that, Geoff was a great ball-getter. I think he had all those skills, bar disposal. It’s the only thing I could see. He had everything except the disposal part – inconsistency with the disposal. Geoff was a believer and a little bit on the reserved side. He didn’t perhaps play up like a lot of we people did. I had great admiration for Geoff, but I know we didn’t sort of try to upset him in any way.

Bob Wiltshire
Anchor man in the Tug of War. They couldn’t get him out of the blocks. He’d just lie back there, talking away, having a beer or whatever, and they couldn’t move him. He was a champion at that, at the Fyansford Hotel. For years he won that World of Sport. There was a bit of a battle down at the club to see who the heaviest was - he or Sharpie. Wiltshire was a fit muscleman. Wiltshire was about 17-and-a-half stone, fit, run even time and do whatever, eat like a horse and he worked like it too – and Sharpie was just the opposite. Sharpie did everything wrong, didn’t train that hard or anything – and Sharpie got up to his weight about…Sharpie had to beat him in weight, so Sharpie got up to, I don’t know, 17 or 18 stone, but he wasn’t as fit as what Wiltshire was – there was a big difference in fitness.

John Helmer
I think it may have been Davis who nick-named him ‘Flash’ when he got to Geelong. He had his own way – he was very flashy in everything he did. Playing and everything. He was a good footballer, he had everything too, he had pace… he could do everything but he never took any notice of anybody – he wanted to do it his own way. He tried to invent something, something miracle. He would go out of his way to do something impossible. He was a great fellow ‘Flash’.

Ron Hovey
Ron and I came from out the country. I played against Ron’s brothers in Modewarre – they were in the Elliott Cup when I started as a kid. I didn’t play against Ron out there because I don’t think he played out there. Ron Hovey and I were the only two from the Under-19’s that made Geelong I think. I think it was only Ron Hovey and I that graduated to the seniors.

Billy Goggin
Billy had everything, pace, and he was a good kick. He had everything going for him. ‘Polly’ Farmer might have helped Billy a lot though. As soon as ‘Polly’ Farmer went up for the ball, you knew, well I think he hit Billy with it nine out of ten, you know? But Billy was a great footballer.

Harry Herbert
He was a great-looking bloke Harry, and a figure too, and he used to parade around like Mr Muscle too. He had everything, big enough, strong enough and everything.

Noel Rayson
Noel was a pretty handy, skilful player – a great left-footer. He was a natural left-footer but he never got onto the right foot very often. The only thing with Noel is that he may have been a fraction slow if anything.

Fred Wooller
Fred was a fast lead and a great kick. I got used to him because if I was coming down the half-back flank and he led I could bang it on his chest most times.

Russell Renfrey
The great man Russell Renfrey was probably the scallywag larrikin in the club and the loudest. Everything. He was the biggest eater, he was everything.

Colin Rice
Ricey was a funny man. Other than Renfrey, he might have been the jovial man of the team, ‘Sago’ – he had a smile on his face and you’d never know what he’d get up to.

Colin Barton
I had to vie with Colin. He was about my build and vigour and everything and we were battling to get the same position – half back flank – and so that battle went on for a while and I think another thing that persuaded Geelong was when I came back from Adelaide. Col got in the week I was away and then when I got back I took over, so we had a real battle for half-back flank, Col Barton and I.

Ken Cameron
Kenny was a handy player. We had quite a few vying for that position, half-back flank: Kenny Cameron, Col Barton and I were the three main ones.

Russell Middlemiss
Russell came from Rokewood way. He was a shearer, and very rugged. A solid half-back flanker. He was a very good footballer.

Bruce Ferrari
Bruce was a spectacular player on occasions. He’d come out and mark over a pack and do anything. He had the talent and skills.

Roger Bullen
Roger and I became pretty pally. Roger could move and kick either side and he was pretty smart.

Peter Falconer
Joey was a very slight little fellow - he was a handy little footballer.

Neville Martin
A pretty honest footballer, Neville.

Les Borrack
He was one of the best drop-kicks you’d see, Les Borrack.

Paul Vinar
Paul was a great footballer. Great kick – as good as you’d ever see.

Lance Prior
He had a short-sleeved jumper on and he was rugged. He had a bit of a reputation. I was Hickey’s measuring stick. I’d play on recruits in the practice game. Hickey whacked me on him. He’d run through everybody, he’d put the ball under his arm like rugby and go straight through everybody – and I fathomed him out. The only way I could stop him was to bear hug him and go down with him. He went to Geelong West and got outed for life in the Ballarat League. He went to Richmond and played in a practice match. Jack Dyer was on television and radio and everywhere – ‘We’ve got the greatest recruit we’ve ever had in the life of Richmond’ – that’s who it was: Lance Prior. They find out a week later he’s played under an assumed name. Lance worked as a bouncer in Geelong and Melbourne. 80

Appendix Two: John Haygarth’s five greatest ever

Ted Whitten
Whitten was the greatest-ever. Whitten played for Victoria and kicked ten goals at full-forward. He played full-back, centre, ruck. Whitten was the greatest, pound for pound, that’s ever played, in my opinion. He was tough. He was a beautiful build of a bloke, not over big, but he had a brilliant football mind, Whitten.

Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer
Farmer would be probably the greatest ruckman we’ve ever seen and perhaps will. He was a master of handball. They all learnt off him – how to play football. Farmer was unreal.

Bob Skilton
Skilton was a great footballer. Smart. Fast. Could stay all day.

Bernie Smith
(See above)

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End Notes

1. See Col Hutchinson, Cats Tales – The Geelong Football Club 1897-1983, The Geelong Advertiser, 1984, p. 153 – John Haygarth ‘tended to be unpredictable’.
2. The 1959 John Haygarth selection enigma was not mentioned in The Road to Kardinia, the first full-length history of the Geelong Football Club, published in 1996. See, Russell Stephens, The Road to Kardinia – the Story of the Geelong Football Club, Playright Publishing, 1996.
3. My 2018 interviews with John Haygarth were conducted on May 21 (89 minutes), May 30 (109 minutes) and November 14 (63 minutes). I am indebted to Bill Haygarth for his contribution of almost all of the images appearing in this article.
4. John Stoward, Cat Country – History of Football in the Geelong Region, 2008, pp. 176-178.
5. John also played two seasons for Inverleigh Cricket Club, as a fifteen-year-old batsman, before ‘retiring’ to take up tennis. The cricket club won premierships in both years.
6. Inverleigh also won the 1952 Grand Final, defeating Meredith 9.15-4.8. Other Inverleigh players in the 1949-50 era were - D.Wishart, D.Witcombe, A.Hart, W.Hart, E.Field, W.Field, J.Hogan, L.Hogan, R.Howard, A.Howard, C.Morgan, M.Broad, G.Smith, J.Bath, G.Smyth, C.Washbrook, J.Barr, F.McFarlane, W.Hamdorf.
7. The selectors had made nine changes, bringing in Meyrick, McIntyre, Dean, Haygarth, Crowe, Edwards, Richmond, Thorley, and J.Barker. ‘The reason for so many changes in the team is the furtherance of the policy of giving as many boys as possible the opportunity of playing Third Eighteen football’. Geelong Advertiser, Friday May 5, 1950.
8. Unless stated otherwise, Geelong’s ‘best players’ in Third Eighteen and Second Eighteen matches are those given by the Geelong Advertiser.
9. Bill Haygarth confirms: ‘John regularly played for Inverleigh after playing in the Thirds at Geelong. He would get picked up on the back of a motor bike at Kardinia Park by an Inverleigh official without time to change’. Bill Haygarth has also informed me that during the time John worked at Richardson’s in Geelong he would train in a professional boxing gym at lunchtime.
10. Saturday July 29 was a VFL ‘split round’ and Geelong Seniors played a Hampden League team, winning 22.19 to 10.12.
11. Bill Haygarth confirms: ‘When John was 16 or 17 the President of Geelong West drove to Inverleigh to persuade him to play seniors with Geelong West the following Saturday’.
12. Geelong Advertiser, Friday June 8, 1951. Huon noted that Geelong ‘Thirds’ numbers did appear in the Geelong Advertiser each week. For VFL ‘Thirds’ jumper numbers, see
13. Geelong Advertiser, Thursday April 19, 1951.
14. I have thus far been unable to provide some first names of Geelong Seconds players. Additional names (and any necessary corrections) will follow when available.
15. The Third Eighteen match at Richmond on May 31 was ‘curtain-raiser’ to the seniors’ match. Geelong seniors won by 24 points. Three weeks later Geelong notched the first of its record-breaking series of 23 consecutive wins (1952-53).
16. In the other four ‘Thirds’ games Geelong defeated Collingwood at Geelong (10.9-1.5) and St. Kilda at St. Kilda (8.13-4.2), and lost to Footscray at Footscray (6.5-8.9) and North Melbourne at North (4.12-4.13).
17. The Geelong Advertiser ‘best’ for the Carlton game were - Baumgartner, Cameron, Scott, Stevens, Priddle, Richardson, Haygarth. Bob McDonald captained Geelong in this match, in the absence of Leo O’Halloran. Geelong Seconds finished sixth, twelve points outside the ‘four’.
18. See Stoward, op. cit; Geelong Advertiser, Monday May 4 1953.
19. I was unable to read the Geelong Seconds line-up for Round Fifteen due to the poor quality of July 31 Geelong Advertiser image.
20. John Craven, Pets keep him fit for footy, The Herald, n.d, circa August 1957.
21. Geelong Advertiser, Monday April 25 1955.
22. The 1955 VFL Seconds team consisted of J.Haygarth, D.Davies vice-captain (Geelong); C.Austen captain-coach, J.Claxton, H.Sawatzky (Richmond); T.Mountain, F.Fraser, K.Hamilton (Melbourne); L.Jarman, G.Mason (Fitzroy); J.Ellis, O.Vincent, J.Baxter (Carlton); J.Woolley, W.Nolan (South Melbourne); I.Jones, P.Marchesi (North Melbourne); I.McCann, F.Considine (Hawthorn); J.Westacott, R.McCarthy, R.Dickson (Footscray).
23. Letter to John Haygarth (Geelong Football Club, Kardinia Park) from H.J.Heinz Company Pty Ltd, August 10, 1955. Interestingly, the Geelong Advertiser report (July 18) does not mention John as one of the VFL’s best players in this match.
24. Col Austen, then with Hawthorn, tied (on 23 votes) with Ron Clegg for the 1949 Brownlow Medal and was awarded his medal retrospectively. Geelong’s Doug Davies won the (VFL Seconds) Gardiner Medal in 1950 and 1955.
25. Geelong 19.17 defeated St. Kilda 7.10. Goals: Rayson 8, O’Connell 3, Herbert 2, Haygarth 2, Trezise, Worner, Beardsley, Wiltshire. Best: Sharp, Rayson, O’Connell, Trezise, Williams, Herbert, Cameron, Hovey.
26. Herbert was replaced by 20th man Bert Worner.
27. The Round Ten match of the 1956 season was the first game of senior football for young wingman Eric Nicholls.
28. John Haygarth’s Brownlow result was (1,1,2). John remembers Peter Pianto predicting he (John) would win the 1957 Geelong ‘Best and Fairest’.
29. The Age, February 12, 1957.
30. It would have been around this time in 1957 that Herald journalist John Craven made his journey to Inverleigh to interview the young Geelong star. (Craven wrote that Haygarth had played 30 matches). Craven got it wrong when he wrote that Haygarth ‘joined the club in 1955’. In fact, as we have seen, John joined the Geelong Football Club in 1950. John Craven, ‘Pets keep him fit for footy’, The Herald, n.d, circa August 1957 (‘He was first invited to train with the club after officials had seen him show good form in Inverleigh district matches’.)
31. ‘Former Defender Stars as Rover’, The Age, March 23, 1959.
32. The Sporting Globe, Saturday March 28, 1959.
33. John’s Teesdale team won their Grand Final, giving them two premierships in a row – 1957-58 and 1958-59. Reg Hickey had his hands full that Saturday, and John Haygarth was probably the least of his problems. The coach had to step in and admonish John O’Connell and Lance Prior after the two ruckmen traded blows in the practice match. Lance Prior was Doug Long’s partner in the first ruck for the ‘Red and Black’ team.
34. The Age did not have John as one of Geelong’s best against Essendon, and nor did I.
35. The Geelong Advertiser commented: ‘Haygarth scouted cleverly but kicked badly for a behind.’ (second quarter).
36. Bill Haygarth recalls: ‘John has told me the story many times over the years how he couldn’t remember much after the incident during that game’.
37. ‘Geelong not represented in interstate teams’, Geelong Advertiser, Monday June 22, p. 12.
38. ‘After training, doubt arose as to whether John Haygarth would be available owing to an injury to a little finger received during training. Later in the evening, the extent of the injury was further investigated and he was passed fit.’ Geelong Advertiser, Friday June 26, 1959.
39. ‘Geelong West fail in bid for four League players’, Geelong Advertiser, July 3, 1959, p. 14.
40. The Geelong Advertiser carelessly reported that Wooller was replaced in the selected side by Helmer, and also created the impression Haygarth did not take the field.
41. The Geelong Advertiser again failed to express an opinion on John’s omission, merely noting ‘Cook given preference over John Haygarth’. The Age (July 29, 1959) was also circumspect - ‘Haygarth disappointed at being dropped to the Seconds.’
42. ‘Haygarth resigns from Cats’, The Sun, Monday, July 27, p. 42.
43. ‘Geelong Committee Refuses to Accept Haygarth’s Resignation’, Geelong Advertiser, July 28, 1959.
44. ‘Geelong Holds John Haygarth’, The Age, July 29, 1959.
45. The Geelong Advertiser, Friday July 31, 1959. Postscript – Geelong Seconds were beaten in the Round Thirteen Seconds match (11.11-12.19). The 1959 Geelong match committee comprised Bob Troughton, Norm Sharp, Tom Morrow, Reg Hickey and Neil Trezise. Three new faces were elected to the 1960 match committee, which comprised Sharp, Trezise, Bob Davis, Percy Hunt, Joe Tucker. See ‘Football Club elects new Match Committee’, Geelong Advertiser, December 8, 1959, p. 16.
46. The overall record of Geelong Seconds in season 1959 – won 8, lost 10.
47. Bill Haygarth, correspondence with author, 2018.
48. James Button, Comeback – The Fall and Rise of Geelong, MUP, 2016. There was no mention of John Haygarth in Button’s book.
49. Peter Begg, ‘Ex-players need more say’: Haygarth’, Geelong Advertiser, November 8, 1986.
50. Shandelle Wood, The Man Behind the 1960 Premiership, The Maryborough Advertiser, Friday April 27, 2007, pp. 6-7.
51. John’s memory here, if he is referring to the 1959 early-season match against Melbourne, might not be correct. In Round Six 1959, Geelong played Melbourne at Geelong, not the MCG.
52. Geoff Davie et al, Cats on the Prowl, Harper Collins, 1994, p. 38.
53. Bill Haygarth has wryly observed: ‘John’s wanting to go to Collingwood might have only inflamed the situation. It would be similar to crossing the floor in Parliament given the hatred between them’. The version of events published in The Maryborough Advertiser in 2007 reflects John’s interpretation: ‘John heard from an official at St. Kilda that Maryborough was looking for a coach’. Shandelle Wood, ‘The Man Behind The 1960 Premiership’, The Maryborough Advertiser, Friday April 27, 2007, pp. 6-7.
54. ‘Pivot’, Maryborough Football Club appoints Geelong Man as Coach, Geelong Advertiser, Tuesday, December 8, 1959, p. 16. The same Geelong Advertiser article claimed John had made two unsuccessful applications in the latter part of the season for a clearance to Geelong West. John denies this:
Ken: You’re looking around for an alternative to the Geelong footy club to play at. Any interest from Geelong West at all? At the end of the 1959 season, before you were appointed at Maryborough, is it true you made two unsuccessful applications for a clearance to Geelong West? I think I got it from Bill that after the 1959 season, just before you went to Maryborough, you yourself wanted to get a clearance to Geelong West. That’s not true?
John: No, Billy’s got that wrong.
55. Shandelle Wood, The Man Behind the 1960 Premiership, The Maryborough Advertiser, Friday April 27, 2007 – John says he had a ‘falling out with the Geelong coach at the time’. John Haygarth’s resignation in July had been preceded by the resignation of Geoff Williams, another casualty of Geelong’s 1959 selection foibles. Williams, in his letter to the Geelong Committee explained his decision as one ‘making way for younger players’ rather than any ‘chip on the shoulder’ feeling. ‘Geoff Williams asked to reconsider his resignation’, Geelong Advertiser, Thursday June 4, 1959, p. 22.
56. The Maryborough Advertiser, February 22, 1961 claimed John signed a two-year contract at 22 pounds ten shillings per week.
57. According to Bill Haygarth, the Haygarth family moved to Maryborough on January 26, 1960. Barbara Haygarth eventually gave birth to two more children - John (1961), and Suzanne (1964).
58. The Maryborough Advertiser August 18, 1960.
59. John told me (in conversation November 29, 2018) that Bernie Smith was in the Maryborough rooms for the Maryborough-Daylesford clash (Round One 1960).
60. Melbourne newspaper The Sun carried a photo of John being carried off the field after the premiership win. The Sun, Monday October 10, 1960, p. 40.
61. ‘Magpies Win BFL Premiership’, The Maryborough Advertiser, Monday, October 10, 1960.
62. The Maryborough Advertiser, October 12, 1960. ‘The grounds in those days were often under water and John was always where the ball was.’ (Bill Haygarth, correspondence with author, 2018).
63. This included praise – for winning the premiership – from the President of the Bannockburn District Tennis Association, Cr K.R.Thompson. ‘Tennis President Praises Footballer’, Geelong Advertiser, n.d.
64. Letter to John Haygarth, 13 Logan Street, Maryborough Victoria, November 3, 1960 from Eric McCutcheon, VFL Secretary, Harrison House, 31 Spring Street, Melbourne.
65. ‘Will John Haygarth remain as coach of Magpies?’, The Maryborough Advertiser, February 13, 1961. See also The Maryborough Advertiser, February 22, 1961; The Maryborough Advertiser, November 1, 1961 – John Haygarth to get same salary in 1962 as in 1961.
66. ‘The Footballer’ gave John’s statistics as 26, 5.9, 11.7 – a sharp contrast with the figures given by The Maryborough Advertiser before the 1961 Grand Final: 26, 5.10, 12.0.
67. In conversation (November 29, 2018) John told me Geelong identities Bob Davis and John Hyde were in the rooms at Ararat, presumably, at least in part, to support John Haygarth.
68. Jim Gull kicked 90 goals in 1962, his fifth year in a row as top goal kicker for the Ballarat League.
69. In the Grand Final, Ballarat defeated Geelong West 11.17-7.18. It was Geelong West’s last year in the Ballarat League. The club affiliated to the VFA for the 1963 season.
70. Ballarat Football League Football Guide June 9, 1962, p. 6 (‘Maryborough Notes’).
71. Ballarat Football League Football Guide June 30, 1962, p. 15 (‘Maryborough Notes’). Other positive comments in 1962 issues of the BFL Football Guide referred to John’s ‘enthusiasm and keenness’ (April 28), his leadership (‘left little to be desired’ – May 26), and his training regime (‘has them very fit’ – April 28; ‘setting the pace on the training track’ – May 26).
72. John today has no recollection of the 1962 visit to Ballarat of the Carlton VFL team. Carlton played a Ballarat League side captained by Gary English of Redan.
73. Jim Gull kicked 74 goals in 1964.
74. At least five of the young players coached by John Haygarth at Maryborough went on to play VFL football - Tony Polinelli (Geelong), Bernie Dowling (Footscray), Noel Bishop (Carlton), Mike Hammond (Richmond) and Ron Haeberle (Melbourne Seconds only).
75. Shandelle Wood, ‘The Man Behind The 1960 Premiership’, The Maryborough Advertiser, Friday April 27, 2007, pp. 6-7.
76. ‘John had few injuries at Maryborough and missed only a few games in four years, the worst being a fractured cheek bone in 1960 as the result of an elbow from a Daylesford player. He would have copped a few in the nose but nothing as severe as the broken nose in 1949 at Inverleigh. The article in The Maryborough Advertiser regarding John’s injuries probably referred to his whole career, not just Maryborough’. (Bill Haygarth, correspondence with author, 2018.)
77. See Trevor Jennings, Polwarth Football (self-published) 2015, p. 131.
78. The 1986 Threlfall ticket comprised Threlfall, Haydn Spurling (Mayor of Geelong), John Loughnan, and Wayne Bannon. The opposition ticket comprised Graham Burnett (Solicitor), Terry Fulton, John Haygarth, and Ken Wragg. The four members of Threlfall’s ticket were returned. Threlfall received the highest vote – 1281. Haygarth was nominated for the Committee by Roy West. See Peter Begg, ‘Ex-players need more say’: Haygarth’, Geelong Advertiser, November 8, 1986 – front page and back page. The Begg article claimed John admitted he was one of the applicants for Geelong’s senior coaching job last year (1985). See also The Sun, December 10, 1986, p. 79.
79. Glen Quartermain, ‘Cats need football brains’, Geelong Advertiser, November 20, 1987. See also Geelong Advertiser, November 30, 1987, p. 21.
80. Lance Prior was recruited to Geelong from Geelong West at the start of the 1959 season but did not stay long. He was cleared back to Geelong West in June of 1959, presumably because of his on-field volatility. See Geelong Advertiser, Friday June 26, 1959. In Geelong West’s 1959 Grand Final victory (Ballarat League) Prior was escorted from the field by police. He received twelve weeks suspension on three separate offences. The ruckman was also suspended for the rest of the 1960 season and the whole 1961 season after (allegedly) striking two Ballarat players at City Oval (July 30, 1960). See Simon Townley, (‘Once Were Footy Warriors’), ‘Prior Convictions’, Geelong Advertiser, January 12, 2004.