Moorabbin Football Club
Royal blue and white
FFL (VIC) 1909-1950; VFA (VIC) 1951-1963; VFA (VIC) 1983-1987
217 - Len Gilder (1951-1963)
Moorabbin had two comparatively brief but contrasting stints in the VFA. During the first stint, between 1951 and 1963, the club was successful, winning premierships in 1957 and 1963, and managing a highly impressive overall success rate of 62.5%. However, there was a sensational aftermath to the 1963 flag as Moorabbin fell foul of the VFA after agreeing to sell its ground to VFL club St Kilda. After a bitter wrangle the eventual upshot was that the Moorabbin committee voted 19-2 to disaffiliate from the Association.
The Kangaroos’ second stint in the VFA began twenty years later in 1983 (in second division) and proved to be nowhere near as successful, culminating in suspension from the competition early in the 1987 season after internal disagreements had led to the club being forced to forfeit three consecutive games.
Before joining the VFA Moorabbin had spent four highly successful decades as a member of the Federal Football League and its precursor the Federal Football Association. During its debut season in the VFA the club played its home matches at Cheltenham, but the development of a new ground in Moorabbin had been a condition of entry. By 1952 that new ground, Moorabbin Oval, was ready, and over the ensuing eleven seasons it would become one of the most difficult grounds in the VFA for visiting teams to win at.
An important factor in Moorabbin’s rapid rise to prominence was the strong local support the team attracted. Conversely, when the club’s second incarnation in the 1980s failed to rekindle that support it became clear that its days were numbered.
Under the coaching of first Keith McKenzie and then Kevin Dynon, Moorabbin qualified for consecutive finals series in 1954-5, only to bow out of premiership contention at the first hurdle both times. The arrival in 1957 of much-travelled West Australian coach Billy Faul was perhaps the principal catalyst in transforming the club from bridesmaid to bride. Under Faul, the Kangaroos developed into a steely, miserly combination that was extremely hard to beat. Nevertheless, they were not supposed to get within goals of Williamstown in the second semi final given that the Seagulls had headed the ladder with a 100% record while the Kangas had won 5 games fewer. In the event, Moorabbin’s 2 point margin of victory rather flattered Williamstown, which had 9 fewer scoring shots. Obviously deflated by this loss, the Seagulls went down to Port Melbourne in the following week’s preliminary final by the massive margin of 12 goals.
The magnitude of The Borough’s victory would probably have made them warm favourites to win the grand final anyway, but that favouritism was intensified by the fact that the Kangaroos had never beaten Port since joining the VFA. This time was different, however. Playing with great vim, and combining superbly, Moorabbin never looked like losing this time. With ruckmen Brian Manie and Alan Trezise joining forces to blanket Port danger man Frank Johnson, the defensive trio of Len Gilder, Bert Stanley and Bill Green repelling virtually everything that was thrown at them, and rover Tony Bull gathering telling possessions seemingly at will, the underdogs remained consummately in the ascendancy for all bar a ten minute spell midway through the second term. Had Port taken their chances then, the ultimate outcome might conceivably have been different, but they managed just 1 goal from half a dozen scoring shots. The Moorabbin players went into the changing rooms at half time enjoying a 12 point advantage, and with a spring in their step, and over the remaining two quarters of the game they ran Port ragged, adding 8 goals to 3 to win in the end by 40 points, 15.12 (102) to 7.20 (62).
Moorabbin reached a second straight grand final in 1958, but lost to Williamstown in a replay. There were no grounds for complaints as the Seagulls had been the better side in both games.
The Kangaroos continued to perform solidly in each of the next four seasons, and should have added a second VFA flag in 1962. Top of the ladder going into the finals, they comfortably overcame Sandringham in the second semi final, and at three quarter time of the grand final a fortnight later led the same opponent by 44 points. In one of the most sensational turnarounds ever witnessed in the VFA, the Zebras rattled on 8.3 (51) to 1.0 (6) in the final quarter to win by a point.
A year later, despite a mid-season coaching re-shuffle that saw Bob Wilkie replaced by Graham Dunscombe, Moorabbin made amends, downing Sandringham in both the second semi final, by 8 points, and grand final, by 64 points. It was at once a noteworthy, and a hollow, triumph. One is left to wonder what the club might have achieved had it not elected to cross swords with the VFA.
Among the Kangaroos’ more notable players over the years were Len Gilder, who, besides representing the VFA in a record four carnivals, was the only player to endure throughout the club’s initial thirteen season stint in the competition, Les Moroney, Moorabbin’s only ever Liston Trophy winner, former North Melbourne great Keith McKenzie, smooth running centreman Bob Perry, and prominent spearhead of the 1950s, Peter Schofield.