THE FOOTBALL vernacular changes in the way the game itself changes over time.
Where once on the ground lived spearheads, half-back flankers and wingmen, those same types of players now exist as key talls, intercepting defenders and outside mids.
However, players are named across the game’s history, you can still quickly identify who the best ones are, once you watch a game for a quarter or two. Great players stand out very quickly.
Among the most valuable in any team is that player who can regularly win a clearance in the middle, has beautiful skills, can run all day around the ground until he exhausts his opponent and still chime in with key goals when he finds himself up forward.
In the 1970s, this rare combination of champion qualities was the ‘goalkicking rover’ and if your team had a great one, it was odds on that you had a very good team as a result.
Robert Wiley is now in the Hall of Fame – a master of all these facets and a champion - and Perth in the WAFL and Richmond in the VFL are thankful to this day for his exploits.
In his first five years for Perth from 1974, he claimed the best-and-fairest award every season, and was a key part of back-to-back flags in 1976-77, the last premierships to this day won by the Demons.
It was a long-term dream to try himself in the VFL, having grown up watching The Winners, and another flag followed in 1980 with the dominant Tigers. He returned home to WA to win three more best and fairests with Perth, for eight overall as an official club Legend, and, in his twilight, played the debut year with West Coast in 1987.
Across more than 300 games in the WAFL/VFL, state football and that single year of an emerging national competition as a veteran nearing retirement, he was a key midfielder who averaged nearly two goals a game.
Skilful, tireless and dangerous. Could never be left alone, lest he win a game, as South Australia found to its eternal disappointment in the centenary state game of 1977 at Football Park when he ruined home state celebrations by setting up the winning play for WA and a first victory in Adelaide for the Sandgropers for nearly 40 years.
Football has left him with a lifetime of memories.
“To get a call from Richard Goyder, I honestly nearly drove off the road,” he recounts on how he got the news.
“Football has been wonderful for me. The people you meet, the opportunities you receive, the friendships and memories that you carry with you.
“There’s just so much to be thankful for, and so many people to acknowledge among family and friends who have helped me so much across my life.”
As a boy, constant kick-to-kick in the street soon had him at local Manning Football Club, and admiring the heroes of the WAFL.
“Ray Marinko was my hero and dad arranging for me to go into the rooms and meet him was the biggest thing in my life as a young boy.
“As I was growing up, I was always kicking a ball, constantly trying to work on my game and always trying to kick a goal, be it in a competition at training, or just in the street, because you could always be more valuable if you could help your team score as a midfielder.”
There was a bit of financial incentive too, as mum promised 10 cents a goal, but being part of team success was the central driver.
"10 cents was big money at the time for a kid,” he laughs.
"Premierships and team success hold very dearly still, as it’s the reason you play.
"Separate to that, the support of so many people and the associations you get to have through the game, as well as after playing with my time in coaching and helping younger players, is incredibly rewarding."
Three elder sisters and three daughters have been the rock for a lifetime journey in the sport and the acknowledgment to sit among the game’s greats is gratefully received.
‘Many things in the game have changed across the years, in how it is played and how we watch it, but the values in what you need for success, and the values of what you need to be a good team mate, remain the same as the day I started playing as a boy,” Wiley says.
“My mother and father constantly stressed to me that you needed to be able to hold your head up, knowing you had given your best effort, and that was the expectation everyone should have of you for your role to support your team.
“Winning was important at the time when I was playing, but the important things over a lifetime has been to respect all those who have assisted you, and to be respected as someone who gave their best.”
Wiley is still working with young players now, after time at both the West Coast and Carlton in coaching roles, and a long association with his great friend Mick Malthouse.
“I played my time and I loved it.
“You don’t expect things such as this, even if I had always hoped it may come one day, but I’m I’m sure my father John, mother Gwen and late wife Marcia would be amazingly proud of this honour and I’m also thrilled for my sisters Sue, Jenny and Mandy as well my daughters Jessica, Emily and Kate and my partner Evangelea.”
ROBERT WILEY CAREER RECORD
- 179 games for Perth 1974-78, 1984-88, 415 goals
- 95 games for Richmond 1979-83, 127 goals
- 18 games for West Coast 1987, 24 goals
- 14 games for WA, 2 games for Victoria
- 3x Premierships 1976 (WAFL), 1977 (WAFL), 1980 (VFL)
- 8x Best and Fairest 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1984, 1985, 1986
- 2x All-Australian 1984, 1986
- 2x Leading Goalkicker 1976, 1977
- Captain 1985-86
- Perth Team of the Century
- Perth Captain Coach 1988
- Perth Coach 1989
- East Fremantle Coach 2016-18
- WAFL Hall of Fame
- Perth FC Hall of Fame, Legend
KEY OPPONENTS AND TEAMMATES
On a career that crossed the path of so many other Hall of Fame members, it was instructive to hear from Robert Wiley to discover too those he admired and respected up close as a star midfielder of his time:
Ruckman – Simon Madden. Amazing player with great ruck skills, a wonderful mark and could kick goals.
Teammates to play with – Maurice Rioli and Dale Weightman. They gave everything every time they played, and did everything they could to help you be a better player, both on game day and during the week.
Opponents as formidable foes – Stephen Curtis in the WAFL. A tough and excellent opponent.
In the VFL, Garry Wilson (onballer) and Ian Nankervis (defender). Garry just ran all day and his skills were superb. Ian was exactly like many modern defenders, in that he was prepared to attack and set up play for his team and force you to do what you didn’t want to do. He was way ahead of his time.