|Name||Haydn Bunton Jnr|
|WAFL Clubs||Swan Districts, Subiaco|
|SANFL Clubs||North Adelaide, Norwood|
Following in the footsteps of a famous father is never easy, even at the best of times, but Haydn Bunton junior, son of the player whom some regard as the most audaciously gifted of all time, had more obstacles to overcome than most. As a boy he suffered from Perthe’s disease, and spent six years trapped within leg-irons or a frame before gradually re-acquiring the ability to walk by using crutches. By the time he was fifteen he was not only playing high school football with and against boys who were, on average, two or three years older than he was, he had also made some telling adaptations to his style of play in order to compensate for his perhaps understandable lack of leg speed. Chief among these adaptations was his uncanny proficiency at handball, which in terms of its accuracy and the speed with which it could be implemented was ahead of its time. Quick to note its effectiveness, Bunton would later, when coaching, accord intelligent use of handball pride of place among his arsenal of attacking weaponry. He was also one of the first coaches in Australia to discourage and eventually ban completely the use of the erratic and unreliable drop kick by his players.
Bunton commenced his league career as a seventeen year old with North Adelaide in 1954 and two years later was one of South Australia’s best players at the interstate carnival in Perth, earning All Australian selection and the plaudits of team mates and opponents alike. At the end of the season he finished first in North’s best and fairest voting, but was controversially stripped of the honour when he asked for a clearance to Norwood - a club which, ironically, he had loathed as a Port Adelaide-loving youngster. Although still aged only nineteen, Bunton already had coaching aspirations, and aware of this the Redlegs had offered him the job of senior coach for 1957.
Bunton coached Norwood for two years, the first in a strictly non-playing capacity after North refused to clear him, and in 1958 he steered the side to a losing grand final against Port Adelaide. In 1959 he moved to Tasmania as coach of Launceston, but after suffering horrendous injuries in a car accident prior to the start of the season it was feared he might never walk again. However, the same determination that had helped him shrug off the effects of Perthe’s disease returned to the fore again, and Bunton not only walked once more, he returned to the football field. In that season’s final series he picked himself at centre against City-South and managed over 30 disposals, all but 4 of them handpasses.
After spending the 1960 season back with Norwood, Bunton embraced the greatest challenge of his career to date by accepting an offer to coach WANFL club Swan Districts, which at that point in time had yet to win a senior flag. Bunton’s achievement in lifting Swans from last place in 1960 to an odds-defying grand final defeat of East Perth in 1961 seems, if anything, even more miraculous in hindsight than it probably did at the time. Further premierships followed in 1962 and 1963, and Haydn Bunton’s reputation as a master coach was born. Perhaps even more miraculously, the man who just three and a half years earlier had been groaning semi-conscious in a crushed vehicle, with shattered ribs, mangled kneecap, and profuse internal bleeding, was in 1962 awarded the Sandover Medal as Western Australia’s pre-eminent footballer.
The 1965 season saw Bunton back at Norwood where, although he failed to achieve success in premiership terms, he played a major part in establishing the youth policy that would prove to be the foundation of the club’s eventual return to greatness in the 1970s. It was a similar story at Bunton’s next port of call, Subiaco, where he remained from 1968 to 1972, the last two years of which saw him coaching from the sidelines. In 1973, with Bunton’s replacement Ross Smith at the helm, the Lions broke through for their first flag in almost half a century, but few people were in any doubt that it was the man affectionately dubbed ‘the little master’ who was in actual fact the prime architect of the victory.
Haydn Bunton’s coaching reputation was further enhanced by stints at South Adelaide (from 1975 to 1982) and back again at Subiaco, where he masterminded premierships in 1986 and 1988. Only at Sturt, where he failed to lift the club off the bottom in 1993 and ‘94, could he be said to have under-achieved. In many ways the antithesis of his flamboyant, some would even say egotistical father, Haydn Bunton junior was like him in one respect: his contribution to the game he loved was significant, unique and enduring.
Author - John Devaney
Full Points Footy's SA Football Companion