The Alan Killigrew years

1958 - The journey with Alan Killigrew continues.

By Allan Grant.

The 1957 season was over and the Saints had finished the season 9th on the ladder.

Brian Gleeson polled votes from the umpires in ten rounds and won the Brownlow medal, Bill Young again kicked 56 goals and finished second in the goal kicking and Harold Davies polled 14 votes in the Brownlow in a stellar year. St Kilda Under 19s coached by Saints legend Bob Wilkie won the premiership and was seen as the training ground for future stars. The Saints were on the march and season 1958 was seen as the Saints year to move into the final four.

Alan Killigrew had worked his magic and the Saints faithful downtrodden for so many years were alive again. This was to be our year!!

At the beginning of 1958 I was 8 yrs old and my faith in a Saints resurgence could not be shaken. At the St Kilda Town Hall at the 1957 end of season gala I had sat on Alan Killigrew’s knee and he signed my autograph book “To the next Bill Young”. I was over the moon and to top it off I had met Bill Young several times. He knew me by sight so was happy to sign my book next to Killa’s unfortunately less than prophetic lines. Neil Roberts my other hero also knew me after a meeting engineered by my great neighbour and Saints stalwart Len Stephenson for reasons I will explain later. Brian Gleeson my nearly all time hero had held my hand as he led the side out in the ‘57 night series so this little boys life was just about the best when it came to the Saints- my relationship with the Nuns (or should I say one particular Nun) at St Colemans Balaclava was by no means idyllic however, but, that’s another story.

During 1957 I had managed to contract measles so in round 2 of 1957 I was confined to the house and unable to join my parents at the Western oval for the clash with the Dogs. I wasn’t a great fan of Charlie Sutton who seemed at most times to deal with Saints players with brutal intent. This day was to be no exception and as the Radio commentator (probably Norman Banks)explained with some excitement, “Charlie Sutton has struck Neil Roberts and broken his nose”. I was at home being looked after by my Grand Pa, Col (Kelly) Mansell who although he was a professed Footscray supporter somehow always seemed to happily join in any rare Saints festivities, perhaps he was just partial to the convivial ale or two. My parents had just purchased this lovely AWA radiogram with the glass front for the tuner and the space on top for playing their 78 records. Once Charlie Sutton smashed Neil’s nose I proceeded to even up and with a glorious straight right managed to smash the glass at the front of the radiogram. Protected somehow by my Pa on my parents arrival home, I was then taken to the Saints rooms at the next training night by Len Stephenson to meet Neil Roberts and be introduced as the boy who stood up for him punching Charlie Sutton square on the radiogram. I had never been a bigger celebrity- and the Saints were on the march in 1958, and I felt I was a great integral part of it. I was the club mascot, or one of them anyway and I felt almost as important as the players. If my confidence in winning a flag was any guide we were home and hosed.

As is the case in all years players come and go, so from 1957 the Saints had said farewell to a number of players and welcomed a few recruits.
The complete list was as follows .

Alan Killigrew Coach

1. John Coffey
2. Brian (Muncher) Molony
3. Robert Kupsch
4. Geoff Feehan. From Number 37 in 1957. Geoff took over number 4 from Ken (Chesty) Mulhall who retired at the end of 1957. Chesty played 134 games with the Saints over 12 seasons and was Vice Captain in his final year. A great servant of the club, Chesty was extremely popular with supporters who valued his endeavour and accountability.
5. Barry McIntyre. A 6ft 1, 20 yr old recruit forward from Rochester. Barry replaces Ian Letcher who played 4 games in 1957 but is now delisted.
6. Paul Dodd
7. Brian Walsh
8. Alan Morrow
9. John Mulrooney
10. Neil Roberts
11. William (Bill) Stephenson
12. Harold Davies
13. We were too superstitious to contemplate 13 in that era.
14. Alan Jeans
15. William (Bill) Young
16. Verdun Howell. The Saints recruited 21-year-old Verdun Howell in 1958 after several seasons trying to convince him to leave Tasmania. Clearance issues then further delayed Verdun’s start in 1958 but he eventually played a handful of games late in the ‘58 season.
17. Frank Hanrahan. From number 43 in 1957
18. Ray Walton
19. Eric Guy
20. Bud Annand
21. Brian McCarthy from number 33 in 1957
22. Bruce (Tassie) Andrews. Recruited from Sth Bendigo, Bruce is a 21 yr old 6 footer who is reputed to be very fast.
23. Brian Muir
24. Lance Oswald. A 21 yr old Centre man from Wangaratta Lance takes over the 24 jumper from Max Stephenson who departs the club
25. D Talbot- A recruit which all records indicate failed to debut at VFL level. The great Keith Drinan retires at the end of 1957 after 134 games over 14 seasons 5 of them as Captain. In my mind it is a pity his famous jumper was not handed on appropriately at the time. The modern example of Loewe to Koschitzke is a case in point.
26. Lindsay Cooke- recruited from Hamilton Imperials
27. Jimmy Guyatt
28. Jimmy O’Brien
29. William (Buffalo Bill) Coady. Up from the Under 19s Bill is listed for his first season in senior football. Bryant Hocking leaves the saints after 13 games in 1957.
30. Brian Gleeson. Brian is named Captain for 1958 but after injuring his knee in a practice match plays no part in 1958 or subsequent years. See Brian Gleeson “The Boy from Berrigan” Memorable moments.
31. Phil Stephens. A recruit from Nth Launceston. Bruce Murray moves on after 16 games.
32. K Wood- Listed recruit who does not debut at VFL level
33. Lindsay Fox. Listed in the 1958 team after being Captain of the thirds under the tutelage of the great Bob Wilkie. Spends most of the year at Golden Point gaining experience at the behest of Alan Killigrew.
34. Max Nowlan. 18 yr old Nowlan is added to the list from the Under 19s. Bill Waldron is delisted after 9 games in 2 yrs.
35. Graham Minihan
36. Jack Roberts
37. Peter Clancy is moved from 21 to 37.
38. Milne McCooke
39. Ian Synman. Moves up from the Under 19s after Captaining the under age team to the flag in 1957.
40. Ron Taylor. Is recruited by the Saints after playing 22 games with the Swans over 4 seasons. A good size player at around 6ft 2 it is hoped that he can bolster the defence after the loss of Keith Drinan and Bruce Phillips.
41. Ron Kee. A 19 yr old from Leongatha he is added to the list but he is expected to take time to develop. Neville Linney moves on. The troubled Linney has played his last game of football. He had the ability to be a superstar but was unable to focus on football preferring to become involved in other distractions that brought about his downfall.
42. John R Hayes. A 6ft 3 recruit from University Blues. Rob Watt moves on after 46 games from 1952.
43. Brian Bowe. 22 yr old wingman recruited from Kyneton.
44. Ken Kupsch. 19 yr old recruit from Edithvale

From the team of 1957, significantly the Saints had lost Vice Captain Chesty Mulhall, Captain Keith Drinan, Bryant Hocking who had played 13 games in ’57 and Captain elect and Brownlow medallist Brian Gleeson.

Recruits to replace these dreadful losses included Verdun Howell who was to play only 6 games later in the season, Lance Oswald who although he was to become a champion needed time to establish himself, Ian Synman who took more than two years to establish himself in the team and Ron Taylor who was seen as a stop gap back man at best. Killigrew had his work cut out for him. The loss of Brian Gleeson was a crucial blow to a side already weakened by the loss of so much experience. 1958 was suddenly a bigger challenge than had previously been thought.

The Season.
We opened the season at Glenferrie Oval against the Hawks who had finished third the previous season. We were confident but realistic about the confines of the tight Glenferrie Oval. We led them all day and after being 21 points in front at the last change we were pipped by a point in time on.

Round 2 saw us knock the Dons off by 38 points at the junction. They were thought to be a fair benchmark so the club was pretty excited about the year ahead. Feehan, Annand and Bill Stephenson seemed to be covering for the injured Gleeson and Neil Roberts was impassable across halfback.

Round 3 and the Tigers beat us at Punt Rd by 15 points but we bounced back to beat the Blues at the Junction by 38 points in round 4. We were ok at home but couldn’t produce the goods away.

Down at South for the Lake Premiership in Round 5 Jeansie kicked a point in the dying minutes to give the Saints a point win and in round 6 at the Junction we knocked over Melbourne by a point , the Red legs first loss for the season. We were looking good, but the lowly Cats gave us a hiding at the cattery the next week. Once more we came back at the Junction to beat the Roys by 39 points so the side was well in the hunt. Roberts was playing better than ever and all talk was about the Brownlow even at this early stage.

Round 9 and eventual premiers the Pies gave us a bath by 46 points at Victoria Park followed by another loss to the Bulldogs this time at the junction.

Round 11 was a crucial game against the Shinboners at Arden St but in a low scoring terrible game they beat us by 25 points. Our score of 5 goals 5 behinds 35 was a shocker.

We needed to lift against the Hawks in Round 12 but even though we were at home we failed by 3 goals.

The side picked for Round 13 against the Bombers at Windy Hill was,

Backs: Bob Kupsch, Ron Taylor, Bud Annand

H Backs: Brian Walsh, Neil Roberts, Harold Davies

Centres: G Minihan, R Walton, J Coffey

H. Forwards: J Mulrooney, Alan Morrow, Alan Jeans

Forwards: Lance Oswald, Bill Young, Bill Stephenson

Rucks: G Feehan, B Molony

Rover: Paul Dodd

19th and 20th to be named on the day.

Brian Gleeson in a recent note to me recalls:
“The team listed as selected against the Dons in round 13 was amended on the day, because Verdun Howell became available. I was one of the selectors (part of the non-playing captain role) and we took 'the punt' and put him at Full Back to cover a weakness there. I can't recall exactly, but I think that Ron Taylor was ill, adding to our grief. The rest is history as Verdun turned in a BOG performance, or certainly the best St Kilda player on the day.”

Although a solid side on paper Essendon belted us by 75 points and the wind had been knocked out of the collective Saints club, players, officials and supporters, sails.

A fighting 8 points win against the Tigers in Round 14 lifted the pride of the team. We were not out of it yet but in Round 15 at that hoodoo ground Princess Park Carlton accounted for us by 5 points. Any chance of making the finals was over and we played like it, Round 16 the ordinary Swans beat us by 22 points and then the excellent Melbourne combination slaughtered us by 50 points at the MCG. The final round was a game for pride alone as we smashed wooden spooners Geelong by 73 points.

1958 the third year of the Killa reign had proved to be disappointing. Eighth on the ladder with 7 wins and 11 losses was far below expectations. Neil Roberts won the Brownlow and Billy Young again booted 56 goals for the third year in succession but the year had been a disaster.

We ventured to the Lake Oval to play off in the night premiership and proved we were the best team outside the finals beating Carlton for the night premiership by 8 points but it was small consolation. We knew we were better than that and the majority of Saints supporters were looking forward to 1959. Killa had worked wonders in 56 and 57 but in 1958 he had been dealt some cruel cards, however the new recruits looked good and who knows what the Killa magic would contrive in the next year or so- but the storm clouds were building.

As a now 9 yr old I had no idea of the politics of the club and I report this as my memory allows. My father and Len Stephenson both 3rds committeeman were heard to say over hushed meetings over our kitchen table some of the committee and Killa were at odds. Dad told me Killigrew was going to resign unless two elected committeemen who he felt were against him stood down. Killigrew even stood for election as a St Kilda committeeman or threatened to my memory is not precise. My young mind struggled to take it all in. My memory had the situation culminating with two committeemen agreeing to stand down but the divisions and acrimony had won and the great Alan Killigrew resigned as coach of the Saints. We kids couldn’t understand it, he was a God to us. It was a crippling blow to the Saints faithful and 1959 loomed with a rudderless St Kilda and a demoralised group of supporters and dare I say players

Brian Gleeson in his recent note recalls the happenings as they took place. It is an historical accurate perspective of the issues and is far clearer in fact than a nine year olds recollections. It is a fascinating part of Saints history.

Brian Gleeson recalls:
“In regards to the conflict, which was a shame, the two people who Killigrew wanted to step down (for disloyality to him as he perceived it) were Laurie Hallam and John Reilly, who was President. In hindsight, I think Killa was out of line in making such demands. But, at the time I stood by him and asked the players to sign a petition asking the Committee to 'Keep Killigrew as Coach'. I also resigned as a player and stood for Committee alongside Killa. We lead one ticket and Reilly and Hallam lead the other and all four of us were elected. There were no resignations, but the Committee had the numbers to depose John Reilly and elect Graham Huggins as President.

John Reilly then resigned, but Hallam would not. Killigrew put it to the Committee that if Hallam does not resign, he will leave. Hallam stayed put. Several of us tried to cool Killa and explained how the conflict was now over; everyone supported him; our man was president; and all would be well.

We thought he had accepted our counsel. But, then Killigrew suprised us all (Graham Huggins and myself in particular) by carrying out his threat. He resigned and took a coaching offer with Sturt in South Australia. Needless to say there were many disappointedpeople left behind, unable to understand his action. That's how it went.”

Killigrew had turned an ordinary team into a respected football club in 3 short years. He had attracted great players to the club and had developed a team spirit at St Kilda not seen for years. His team, although experiencing a hiccup in it’s preparation in 1958 was poised for a run at the Finals for the first time in nearly 30 yrs and the interminable St Kilda football club inner circle disputes had put a sudden stop to that impetus. The next Coach would have to be a miracle worker. Even as a 9 yr old I saw we had two chances of success, Buckleys and Nunn.

A bitter wrangle had also broken out at Carlton over the coaching role with many of the Blues committee pushing for Captain Ken Hands to take over the coaching. This led to the sacking of Carlton Coach Jim Francis who had coached the Blues with moderate success from 1956 to 1958. Jim Francis was immediately appointed Coach of the Saints following his sacking by the Blues.

As loyal Saints we were all hopeful as Jim came to us with a good reputation, but it was with heavy heart we prepared for the 1959 season.

Allan Grant
Next: 1959-1960, The Jim Francis years.