Claremont Football Club
Navy blue and gold
WAFL (WA) 1926-2015
1938-39-40, 1964, 1981, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2011-12 (12 total)
WAFA: 1907-8-9-10 (4 total); 2nd Rate Junior Football Association: 1906 (1 total); R.P. Rodriguez Shield: 1972, 1979, 1981-2, 1987-88-89-90-1, 1993-4, 2007, 2010 (13 total)
274 - Darrell Panizza (1979-1995)
564 - Warren Ralph (1979-1983; 1987-89)
League Top Goalkickers
G.Moloney (129) 1940; R.Farmer (97) 1943; N.Uncle (91) 1976; W.Ralph (127) 1981, (115) 1982 & (128) 1983; J.Hutton (100) 1991; P.Medhurst (78) 2001; C.Jones (77) 2009 & (85) 2010 (10 total)
Keith Hough 1932; 'Sammy' Clarke 1933 & 1934; George Moloney 1936; Gordon Maffina 1949; John Parkinson 1967; Steve Malaxos 1984; Michael Mitchell 1984; Jaxon Crabb 2005; Anthony Jones 2007; Luke Blackwell 2011
PO Box 59, Claremont, WA, 6910
For much of its history, if Dave Warner is to be believed:
“Claremont’s supporters would arrive at the outer of other clubs, erect their deckchairs and then complain when other fans stood in front. Prior to the 1980s Claremont were cream-puff, card-carrying nancy boys, but that has all changed and nowadays Claremont are rarely seen down the puce end of town.” (see footnote 1)
This quasi-mythological view of Claremont as ineffectual weaklings might arguably be said, in part, to have a geographical basis: the suburb of Claremont is one of the most tranquil and outwardly genteel in Perth. Moreover, Claremont was, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of very few genuine soccer strongholds in the colony/state of Western Australia, so that many of the young men of the district were, from an early age, presumably encouraged to believe that sporting success could be achieved by deliberately kicking one’s opponents or, if that failed, or indeed if one was the apparent victim of such behaviour, by convincingly feigning injury. Whatever the reason for the ‘cream-puff’ theory, the fact that it was essentially mythological in nature needs to be stressed. Premiership pennants in elite Australian football competitions such as the Western Australian Football League quite simply do not end up in the possession of ineffectual weaklings, and Claremont produced a number of flag-winning combinations well before the 1980s.
The earliest recorded mention of a Claremont Football Club came in 1897, but no detail of the club’s activity survives. As for the origins of today’s club, one needs to go back to 1906 when a group of men living in the Cottesloe-Claremont district formulated a desire to play competitive football during the winter months. The result of this aspiration was the establishment of the Cottesloe Beach Football Club, which was almost immediately admitted to the Perth metropolitan area’s third tier of organised football, the Second Rate Junior Football Association (the term ‘junior’ meaning ‘of lower standing than senior’, rather than implying anything about the participants’ ages).
After taking several weeks to find its feet the new team improved steadily, eventually finishing in fourth place at the conclusion of the minor round, with 7 wins and 7 losses, before - presumably to the surprise of almost everyone - improving still further to go on to secure the flag. Promotion to the Western Australian Football Association followed and over the course of the next four seasons Cottesloe Beach established itself as probably the best team in Western Australia outside of league ranks (see footnote 2). Indeed, a case could be made out for it being a bona fide league standard club, for not only did it win four consecutive WAFA premierships from 1907-1910, in 1908 it comprehensively overcame WAFL wooden spooner Subiaco in a pre-season challenge match. Despite this, admission to the top flight was not forthcoming, and in the years leading up to the outbreak of the first world war on field fortunes declined.
Along with the majority of other sporting clubs in Western Australia Cottesloe Beach Football Club went into voluntary recess for most of the war years. After the war, the continued popularity of soccer in the district was a key factor in limiting the club’s development, not to mention its on field success. Despite this, there remained a solid groundswell of passion for the sport of Australian football in Claremont, not all of it directly associated with the Cottesloe Beach Football Club. Indeed, the primary impetus which eventually led to the admission to the WAFL of a side based in the Claremont-Cottesloe region, and comprised almost entirely of Cottesloe Beach footballers, came from outside the club. As the 1919 football season drew to a close a group of local football supporters not connected with the Cottesloe Beach organisation sought, and received, permission from the WAFL to attend a meeting to consider whether or not the admission of a seventh league club, based in the Claremont-Cottesloe district, was both desirable and feasible. The main ‘carrot’ which the group dangled before the league was that it claimed to have procured the use of the Claremont Showgrounds as a home ground for its team. The Claremont Showgrounds was, by the standards of the time, a high quality venue which would have enhanced the WAFL’s status as Western Australia’s primary sporting organisation. The only thing the consortium needed in order to obtain WAFL approval was a team.
Given the situation, a merger between the Claremont-Cottesloe consortium (the club without a team) and Cottesloe Beach Football Club (the team devoid of political influence) seemed the logical way forward, and so it proved. In 1921 this newly merged entity, known as the Claremont-Cottesloe Football Club, and boasting the same blue and gold colours as the local swimming club, was admitted to the WAFL ‘B’ grade where it was intended that it should serve a brief probation in order to build up its strength as well as have its viability assessed. However, the club found it hard to develop its strength for the simple and obvious reason that few players of real talent were content to play seconds football for Claremont-Cottesloe when they could be embarking on league careers elsewhere. Consequently, the club’s probationary period kept being extended. It was not until 1925, after the WAFL had been re-organised along district lines, that Claremont-Cottesloe was finally given permission to participate in ‘A’ grade from the following year, presumably in order to ensure that its sizeable catchment area had a discernible and active league presence.
Coached by former South Fremantle and Richmond player Norm McIntosh (the only player with previous senior league experience in the side) Claremont-Cottesloe Football Club made its senior bows against East Perth in 1926. Not surprisingly, given that the Royals were one of the strongest teams in Australia at the time, a substantial defeat was sustained, and this set the pattern for most of the fledgling club’s debut season. Claremont-Cottesloe’s only win in that debut season came against South Fremantle at Fremantle when the margin was the narrowest possible.
Between 1926 and 1935 the ‘babies’, as they were often patronisingly described, won just 40 and drew 2 of 183 games for an overall success rate of 22.4%. The nearest they came to qualifying for the finals was in 1929 when, with 8 wins and 10 defeats, they finished just 4 points plus percentage behind fourth placed Subiaco. Even when Swan Districts was admitted to the competition in 1934 Claremont-Cottesloe continued to underachieve, ending up with the wooden spoon for the seventh time in nine seasons. The club was close to being a laughing stock.
That said, there had been a number of high points, mainly relating to individual performances. Between 1932 and 1934 the club had provided a notable hat trick of Sandover Medallists in the shape of Keith Hough (1932) and Sidney (usually referred to as ‘Sammy’) Clarke (1933-4). Hough was a half back whose rebounding style was arguably ahead of its time, while Clarke was a slightly built former champion junior footballer who possessed abundant skill and excelled as an aerialist. Perhaps even more noteworthy than both, however, was George Michael Moloney, who during a 278 game league career with Claremont(-Cottesloe) and Geelong proved to be equally adept as a goalsneak and a centreman, positions requiring significantly different abilities and approaches. Sandover Medallist in 1936 Moloney topped the league goalkicking in two states and was best and fairest at Geelong in 1932 and Claremont in 1936 and 1938. Despite his comparatively small stature (174cm and 72.5kg) Moloney was an excellent high mark and this, combined with his pace, elusiveness and uncanny ability to kick goals from all kinds of seemingly impossible angles and positions made him a genuine champion in one of the game’s true golden eras.
During Moloney’s first stint at Claremont (1926-30) the club was perennially unsuccessful but by the time of his return in 1936 things were at last beginning to improve. In 1935 the club officially dropped the ‘Cottesloe’ from its name, becoming simply ‘Claremont’, and although it would be difficult to argue persuasively that this particular change, in and of itself, produced an improvement in on field fortunes, what cannot be debated is that it did in fact coincide with such an improvement. As for the reasons, George Moloney’s return home in 1936 was undoubtedly a significant factor, his five seasons with Geelong in Australian football’s ‘big league’ having quite obviously taught him much, a fact he immediately emphasised by winning the Sandover Medal.
Claremont enjoyed its best WANFL season to date in 1936, winning 12 and losing 8 of its home and away matches to qualify for the finals in second place. A 5 point second semi final defeat of minor premier East Fremantle then earned the Monts premiership favouritism, a state of affairs which intensified still further when it was learned that their grand final opponents would not be Old Easts, but the previously unheralded East Perth, which had finished the minor round in fourth place, but had surprisingly overturned the blue and whites in the preliminary final by a solitary point.
The 1936 WANFL grand final attracted 20,874 spectators to Subiaco Oval, the majority of whom would doubtless have been extremely disappointed to witness the Royals eking out a scratchy 11.5 (71) to 9.6 (60) victory. However, if Claremont had not exactly ‘arrived’ as a premiership winning combination they had at least, and at last, earned the respect of the rest of the Western Australian football community.
Claremont again finished runners-up a year later after raising hopes, first by finishing the home and away rounds with a 13-5-1 record to qualify for the finals as minor premiers, and then by overcoming East Fremantle in the second semi final by 14 points. However, when the stakes were raised a fortnight later against the same opponent the Monts were found lacking, eventually going under by 10 points.
The Claremont hierarchy reacted to this disappointment with surprising ruthlessness and incisive, proactive determination, dismissing coach Dick Lawn and, when applications of sufficiently high quality were not forthcoming, actively - and ultimately successfully - pursuing the individual they regarded as the most appropriate replacement, John Leonard. Clearly it was believed that the team had come as far as it could under Lawn and that a fresh approach was needed if the players were to take that all important, often elusive ‘final step’.
Johnny Leonard, a former Sandover Medallist (and later to be awarded another retrospectively), had already coached successfully in country Victoria and at West Perth. If it can ever truly be said that the arrival at an organisation of a single person represents the ‘final piece of the jig-saw’, then this, arguably, was it. Almost from the outset, Leonard seemed to imbue his players with an elevated steeliness, fortitude and mental rigour. After comfortably qualifying for the finals in second place Claremont scored its by now traditional second semi final victory over East Fremantle, winning this time - somewhat ominously - with comparative ease, 17.19 (121) to 13.18 (96). It looked to be well on the way to repeating the dose a fortnight later when it led the same opposition by 19 points late on only to succumb to a sudden, intense bout of stage fright and, after squandering a number of opportunities to put the result beyond doubt, allow the legendary Old East resolve to kick in and go within an ace of stealing the game. As it was, the final siren sounded with - for only the second time in WA(N)FL history - the scores deadlocked, albeit that the Monts had, overall, seemed to enjoy rather more of the play, managing 5 more scoring shots than their opponents.
It was at this point that the Claremont sides of previous seasons might conceivably have wilted. However, under Leonard the team’s undoubted talent was reinforced with formidable mental toughness, a quality which, perhaps more than any other, is needed in abundance in order to transform potential into achievement. In the grand final replay East Fremantle provided stern and spirited opposition, but it was always Claremont which appeared to be in control. In the end the Monts won well by 22 points, 14.17 (111) to 11.13 (79), with George Moloney, Jack Reeves, Jim Reid and Harold Lovegrove especially prominent. It was a classic case of ‘third time lucky’. As far as Claremont’s long suffering supporters were concerned, the ice had been broken, credibility had finally been achieved, and - dare one hope? - prolonged success was just around the corner.
The 1939 season brought another minor premiership for Claremont, but any kudos deriving from this achievement was sullied by the onset of a second global conflagration. Nevertheless, top level sport continued in Australia, at least for the time being, and large crowds attended major round senior football matches throughout the country (see footnote 3). For Claremont the 1939 major round began in quite a novel way - with a 37 point second semi final loss to East Fremantle, the club’s first ever finals defeat other than in a grand final. More worrying than the defeat, however, was its manner: Claremont had been out-hustled, outmaneuvered, and outplayed, a state of affairs which - potentially, at any rate - created a formidable mental barrier to be overcome by the players on the next occasion that the two sides met.
First, though, there was a preliminary final to be won, and the fact that this was not a foregone conclusion was quickly emphasised as a resolute, determined East Perth side made all the early running. In the end, Claremont managed to edge home by a single straight kick, albeit that its players had seemingly done their utmost to kick themselves out of contention. The final scores of a tempestuous, sometimes spiteful encounter were Claremont 10.17 (77) to East Perth 11.5 (71); Australia may have been at war with Germany, but apparently this did not prevent her citizens from engaging in sometimes acrimonious physical combat with each other.
The fiery nature of the preliminary final arguably provided the Claremont players with the kind of wake up call they needed. In the grand final re-match with East Fremantle - another torrid affair - the blue and golds always appeared to have their opponents’ measure, finally pulling away after a closely fought first half to win by 19 points, 14.11 (95) to 11.10 (76). Half backs ‘Sammy’ Clarke and Bill O’Neill vied as best for the Monts. Despite, or perhaps partly because of, the war the match was watched by 19,193 spectators, the biggest grand final crowd since 1936.
Claremont was now indisputably the team to beat but, in 1940, took the situation in its stride, once again heading the list going into the finals (this time with a 15-5 record). South Fremantle, however, which had proved to be the surprise packet of the home and away season, enhanced its growing reputation with a hard fought 15 point win over the Monts in a high scoring second semi final, effectively winning the game in the second term with a devastating burst of 9 goals to 1. From the Claremont perspective, such a dramatic lapse in concentration was highly uncharacteristic, and therefore somewhat worrying; however, at least it had the virtue of rendering the defeat explicable, and hence of giving the club’s ‘brains trust’ a readily accessible fulcrum for improvement.
The preliminary final brought a comfortable six-goal win over East Fremantle, after Claremont had trailed by a similar margin at the long break. For the grand final, war time restrictions notwithstanding, a sizeable crowd of 19,876 turned up hoping to witness another closely fought tussle. They were not disappointed. In a tense, often vigorous encounter which saw Claremont enforcer Johnny Compton - just back from a five week suspension - reported early on for striking (see footnote 4), the blue and golds were never headed and, although South Fremantle remained within striking distance for most of the game, there was an element of seeming inevitability about Claremont’s eventual 17 point win.
After serving an extended apprenticeship in the big time Claremont’s future now looked distinctly rosy. Its recent premiership teams had arguably been as good as any so far to grace the WANFL, and given normal conditions there is no reason to suppose that the club’s dominance would not have been maintained. Sadly, the exigencies of war were making greater and greater inroads into clubs’ playing resources; between 1942 and 1944 the WANFL would operate on a limited, under age only basis, and Claremont’s fourth place finish in 1941 would prove to be one of only two occasions during a twenty-one year period that the side would even so much as contest the finals, let alone challenge for the flag. Most of the highlights of the next two decades, as far as the Claremont Football Club was concerned, related to the exploits and achievements of individual players. Notable among such achievements were Les McClements’ Tassie Medal at the 1947 Hobart Carnival, and George Maffina’s Sandover - the club’s fifth - in 1949. Moreover, players of the calibre of Les Mumme, Ken Caporn, Bill O’Neill, John O’Connell, Lorne Cook, John McIntosh, Denis Marshall and Kevin Clune were all regular, and often noteworthy, interstate representatives, and the equal of almost any players anywhere.
The eleven-year period between 1953 and 1963 was particularly inauspicious for Claremont as the side never finished higher than sixth, never won more games in a season than it lost, and finished irrevocably last on three occasions. As far as most, if not all, of the WANFL’s other seven clubs were concerned Claremont was, not to put too fine a point on it, something of a soft touch, and it was no doubt during this period in the club’s history that the ‘ineffectual, gentrified, chardonnay sipping image’ so beloved of opposition supporters originally came to the fore.
The improvement in fortunes, when it came, was hardly seismic at first, but ultimately the club’s achievements in 1964 probably exceeded even the wildest expectations of the most optimistic of its supporters. After claiming the wooden spoon in 1962 and 1963 Claremont undertook the apparently desperate measure of appointing a complete outsider as coach in the shape of former East Fremantle rover Jim Conway. The move was far from universally popular, but Conway soon had his charges playing competitive, if hardly spectacular or even consistent, football. By the end of the minor round the Tigers had scraped into the finals in fourth place (see footnote 5) but it would have taken a very brave person indeed to wage money on their going on to lift the flag, or even progressing any further. In this context Claremont’s hard fought 10.13 (73) to 8.13 (61) first semi final defeat of Subiaco was probably perceived as little more than an unexpected, if gratifying, bonus by most of the club’s supporters. However, when the club followed this up a fortnight later with a 9 point win over Perth in the preliminary final expectations among the Tiger faithful soared.
The 1964 grand final presented the Australian public, which traditionally identifies with and affirms the underdog, with a classic ‘David and Goliath’ scenario. Claremont, which had not participated in a senior grand final since 1940, was given little serious chance of upsetting minor premier and perennial finalist East Fremantle, which was aiming to secure the twenty-second senior flag in its history. Old East had contemptuously brushed aside Perth’s challenge in the second semi final to the tune of 43 points, having earlier vanquished Claremont by a similar margin on the teams’ last meeting in the minor round. A near record crowd of 45,120 turned up at Subiaco Oval on grand final day and many would have derived enormous satisfaction from witnessing the underdogs, whose skipper Kevin Clune had won the toss and elected to kick with the aid of an appreciable breeze, dominate early proceedings. Indeed, had the Tigers players managed to kick straighter the match might have been virtually over by quarter time. As it was, Claremont led by 25 points, 4.9 to 1.2, but by half time East Fremantle had edged into a 2 point lead and things were beginning to look ominous. The third term - so often the decisive phase of a match - did not on this occasion prove conclusive, and at three quarter time there were only 5 points in it as Claremont led 10.13 (73) to 10.8 (68).
The final quarter saw the two sides matching one another stride for stride and score for score. Twenty-three years on George Grljusich recalled the closing moments of a game with one of the most dramatic climaxes in history:
“I’ll never forget that game. I was covering the game for ABC television and (former Claremont and Geelong champion) George Moloney was my expert comments man. It was well into the time-on period and Claremont were down by 8 points. They needed 2 goals to win and at that point Moloney conceded defeat. But (East Fremantle’s) Norm Rogers who had been a tower of strength at centre half back suddenly cramped up and Claremont centre half forward Ian Brewer broke loose to kick two angled goals which gave Claremont victory. Claremont had fought back gallantly ......... When Moloney had conceded defeat I, too, was sure that it was going to be East Fremantle’s victory.” (see footnote 6)
Claremont won 14.18 (102) to 15.8 (98) with the only marginally sour point being that it was East Fremantle’s Norm Rogers who claimed the Simpson Medal for best afield. Claremont was best served by 5 goal full forward Wayne Harvey, centreman Dale Edwards, wingman Brian Fairclough, and the redoubtable and versatile John McIntosh. The Claremont Football Club, which around this time became known as ‘the Tigers’, seemed on the verge of a second era of pre-eminence.
Claremont was again a genuine contender for the flag in 1965, finishing the home and away rounds in second spot on the ladder before, depressingly, bowing out in straight sets to Swan Districts and East Fremantle in the finals. Thereafter, however, it was ‘business as normal’ for the remainder of the decade as the Tigers failed to contest the finals in 1966 (fifth), 1967 (fifth), 1968 (sixth), 1969 (seventh) and 1970 (fifth) before briefly returning to the September action in 1971 for a 47 point first semi final defeat at the hands of East Fremantle.
October 9-11 1971 saw the staging in Perth of a mini carnival, the Channel 7 Rothmans Cup, to commemorate the career of one of Australian football’s all time greats, Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer. Claremont was one of eight clubs to participate in the carnival where it was successful in defeating North Adelaide and Port Adelaide to qualify for the grand final where it lost to Hawthorn. Matches were played over two thirty minute halves.
Former St Kilda player Verdun Howell was appointed senior coach in 1972 and it was widely felt that, with the wealth of talent available to him, he should prove eminently capable of overseeing a genuine premiership assault. Among the large number of highly talented players at Howell’s disposal were: Graham Moss, arguably Australia’s finest ruckman of the ‘70s; Bruce Duperouzel, a highly talented rover; Russell Reynolds, a muscular utility player; and former Victorians Colin Tully (92 games with Collingwood - perhaps best remembered for his prodigious kicking which, on one occasion, saw him claim the national champion kick title), Daryl Griffiths (123 games with St Kilda), Robert Greenwood (Essendon - 62 games), Peter Hines (12 games with Footscray), and John Evans (St Kilda - 14 games). This combination of local skill and Victorian grit inspired a superlative home-and-away season which brought 18 wins from 21 games and firm premiership favouritism going into the finals.
During the run up to September Howell allegedly intensified the players’ training routine in a bid to augment fitness; however, in the view of some the actual effect of the change was the exact opposite of what was desired in that the team succumbed to fatigue whilst hard earned skills were diluted. Whatever the actual cause, the Tigers’ displays in the major round, when faced by the power, vigour and conviction of Mal Brown’s East Perth, were, by the standards set earlier in the year, anaemic and disordered. They succumbed to the Royals in both the second semi final (by 17 points) and grand final (by - given that they managed only 16 scoring shots to the opposition’s 26 - a somewhat flattering 15 points) causing many supporters to question Howell’s coaching methods. Such criticism seems a mite unfair when you consider that Howell had inherited a talented but notoriously inconsistent team and transformed it into a genuine, if ultimately unsuccessful, flag contender.
Claremont’s days of challenging seriously for flags were over, however, at least for the time being. The loss in 1974 of Graham Moss (to Essendon) and Stephen Reynolds (to St Kilda) was scarcely compensated for by the recruitment of a willowy, bespectacled full forward in the shape of ex-Essendon star Geoff Blethyn. Although, viewed from a personal standpoint, Blethyn enjoyed a relatively successful season, kicking 71 goals from comparatively limited opportunities, what Claremont needed more were players capable of bringing the ball efficiently and regularly into the forward lines. With a dearth of such players the Tigers plummeted down the list to finish bottom with just 4 wins, the club’s first wooden spoon in over a decade.
The return of 1976 Brownlow Medallist Graham Moss to coach the club was hailed as a major coup by everyone associated with Claremont. Aged just twenty-five, Moss was still very much at the apex of his abilities as a player, while lessons learned during four seasons and 88 games in Australian football’s ‘big league’ could reasonably be expected to provide formidable fuel for his coaching endeavours. Moss coached Claremont for ten seasons, during which time the club fielded some of the most star-studded line ups in Western Australian football history. Among the bona fide ‘greats’ to don the navy and gold, besides Moss, were the mercurial Ken Hunter, the explosively talented Krakouer brothers, Phil and Jim, Warren Ralph, an exceptionally gifted goalsneak, and an array of talented midfielders including Steve Malaxos, Allen Daniels, John Annear and Wayne Blackwell.
Despite having such a galaxy of talent at his disposal only once, in 1981, was Moss successful in steering Claremont to a premiership. That year the Tigers went on a scoring spree, accumulating an Australian record 3,352 points during the minor round, and in the process producing some of the most spectacular football ever seen in Western Australia. No fewer than five Claremont players managed 50 or more goals for the season, and for once the dazzling skills and formidable scoring did not abate once September arrived. The Tigers needed to play just two finals to secure the flag, downing Swan Districts by 27 points in the second semi, and edging out South Fremantle by 15 points in a free-flowing roller coaster of a grand final which saw the southerners effectively kick themselves out of contention with a 6.12 second term. Claremont’s Gary Shaw, a Queenslander, won the Simpson Medal for best afield, with Graham Moss, Phil Krakouer and Steve Malaxos also prominent.
For much of the last half century the WAFL has consistently been the most evenly contested of Australia’s three major football competitions (see footnote 7).
One of the few sides to seriously buck that trend was Claremont during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a period which coincided with a massive overhaul of Western Australian football in the wake of West Coast’s formation and admission to the VFL. The prime architect of Claremont’s success at this time was Gerard Neesham, who was appointed coach in succession to Graham Moss in 1987. At first the appointment of Neesham was, to put it mildly, somewhat controversial; a former East Fremantle, Swan Districts and Sydney player his approach to the game was not exactly what could be described as genteel, and among Claremont supporters in particular he was almost universally regarded with distaste, if not indeed disdain.
Opposition to Neesham’s appointment soon evaporated, however, as the Tigers followed up a victory in the WAFL’s pre-season competition with a display of awe-inspiring consistency during the home and away season during which they compiled a hitherto unequalled 19-1-1 record. Neesham was hardly the sort to allow things to slip in the finals either, and Claremont were seldom troubled in securing the flag in straight sets after comfortable wins over Subiaco in both the second semi final and the grand final.
Winning a state league premiership has, since the 1980s, been something of a two-edged sword, as along with the premiership cup and all the attendant glory of winning a flag goes an inevitable and almost immediate exodus of key players to the V/AFL. Thus it was that the Tigers in 1988 embarked on their premiership defence without a nucleus of half a dozen of their most noteworthy performers from the previous year, but despite this they remained very much the team to beat, finishing the minor round atop the ladder once again, and overwhelming Subiaco in the second semi final by 25 points. Such a performance emphasised the depth of talent at Claremont Oval and bore testimony to the effectiveness of Neesham’s coaching methods, and the innovative ‘chip and draw’ style of football on which it was based (and which Neesham himself, allegedly, had pioneered) - (see footnote 8). Unfortunately, the Achilles heel of this particular style of football was its occasional tendency to come undone under pressure, a tendency which, unfortunately for Claremont, was all too graphically illustrated in the 1988 grand final which Subiaco won with ease.
Maintaining a full head of steam in the new, VFL-dominated football environment of the 1980s and ‘90s was a virtual impossibility for state league clubs like Claremont. Nevertheless, the Tigers’ record since the admission of West Coast to the ‘big league’ is unsurpassed (see footnote 9). In 1989, they again annexed a premiership after annihilating South Fremantle by 67 points in an anti-climactic grand final. Poor kicking for goal undermined the 1990 flag bid as Swan Districts with 4 fewer scoring shots won by a flattering 26 points. The Tigers were back were they felt they belonged in 1991, however, overturning Subiaco by 77 points in an exemplary display of modern, relentless, hard running football. As Gary Stocks observed:
“Like bees around a honey pot, the Claremont midfield players swarmed on Subiaco Oval yesterday and then firmly planted the sting into the tails of grand final opponents Subiaco. Every time the football hit the sandy surface at League headquarters a squadron of Claremont players zeroed in, shared it around and worked it purposefully in attack. It was like a feeding frenzy, with all the Claremont players anxious to make a contribution - and Subiaco crumbled in the face of the onslaught.” (see footnote 10)
An uncharacteristic slump to seventh place in 1992 was only a temporary hiccup as Claremont surged back to pre-eminence the following year with a solid 13.14 (92) to 8.14 (62) grand final defeat of East Perth. The player drain did not abate, but neither did Claremont’s dominance, or at any rate not quite yet. The club contested the grand finals of both 1994 (lost narrowly to East Fremantle) and 1996 (won a thriller by 2 points over East Perth), before the attrition of talent finally started to have an impact. From 1997 to 2003 the Tigers tended to struggle somewhat, both on and off the field of play, and there was even intermittent talk of a merger with Subiaco, a prospect which only the most soulless among football supporters could regard with anything other than extreme unease.
Thankfully the 2004 season brought a modicum of long overdue improvement as the Tigers mounted a legitimate challenge for the flag. The fact that that challenge was ultimately de-railed in somewhat conclusive fashion on grand final day was arguably attributable almost entirely to the fact that Claremont’s opponents, Subiaco, had enjoyed a substantially richer recent finals pedigree. The same could not be said a year later, however, and the Tigers’ 56 point capitulation to South Fremantle in the 2005 grand final could not really be regarded as anything other than a major disappointment.
In 2006, the Tigers’ bid to reach a third successive grand final was scuppered in heart-breaking fashion by their 2005 nemesis, South Fremantle, who edged home in the preliminary final by 3 points, 16.13 (109) to 16.10 (106). A year later, the Tigers seemed well on course to claim an eleventh senior flag when they topped the ladder after the home and away rounds and proceeded straight to the grand final on the strength of an impressive 16.13 (109) to 14.10 (94) defeat of reigning premiers Subiaco in the second semi final. However, when the same two sides fronted up a fortnight later it was the Lions who proved to have all the answers as they led at every change en route to a comfortable 15.13 (103) to 9.8 (62) success.
Over recent seasons only Subiaco had displayed greater consistency than Claremont, but in 2008 the wheels fell off in quite spectacular fashion for the Tigers, who managed just 6 wins from 20 games for the year to avoid the wooden spoon only on percentage. The 2009 season was only marginally better, with the Tigers again finishing second from bottom after winning 1 game more than in 2008. Improvement when it came was dramatic, and many associated with the club will feel it ought to have produced a premiership. As it was, the Tigers fell short in the 2010 grand final by the narrowest margin possible, 14.15 (99) to Swan Districts' 14.16 (100).
Claremont had gone into the match as a warm favourite on the strength of a ladder-topping 17 wins and a draw from 20 home and away matches followed by a 17.17 (119) to 10.9 (69) demolition of Swans in the second semi final. When it mattered most, however, the Tigers found themselves bested by an opponent which, on the day, was marginally more desperate and used the ball more efficiently, amassing its tally by means of 324 disposals compared with Claremont's 346.
The club were once again the dominant side in the competition completing the season at the top of the league ladder winning 14 from 19 games and this time - after four Grand Final defeats since its 1996 triumph - were successful in claiming the premiership. In the Grand Final, Claremont defeated Subiaco by 56 points, 19.13 (127) to 10.11 (71), with Beau Wilkes of Claremont winning the Simpson Medal as best on ground. The 2011 Sandover Medal was won by Luke Blackwell.