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During its twenty-seven season stint in the SANFL Woodville's record was second to none - in terms of its mediocrity. Of a total of 575 matches played during that period the side managed just 160 wins and 4 draws. It contested the finals just three times, with third place in 1986 being its best ever effort. On the individual front, it did provide a Magarey Medallist in the shape of Malcolm Blight in 1972, while Woodville players topped the season's goalkicking on no fewer than four occasions. Woodville's only premiership successes came in the 1972 Coca Cola Cup, in which not all SANFL clubs competed, and the 1988 Escort Cup.

Woodville's first incarnations

A club known as Woodville existed as long ago as 1869 when it was recorded as playing a scratch match against Adelaide on 30th July and losing by 3 goals to 1.[1] Further sporadic references to Woodville followed up to and including 1877 when a club bearing that name participated in the debut season of the South Australian Football Association, finishing fifth out of eight. A Woodville Football Club, about which hardly anything is known, also existed as late as 1910 but thereafter references cease for more than two decades.

In 1938, a new Woodville Football Club was formed and admitted to the Port Adelaide District Football Association in which, wearing red and white playing uniforms, it competed without success for the final two seasons of that competition's existence. In 1940 it changed its colours to purple and white and was admitted to section A2 of the South Australian Amateur Football League. Straight away, it performed with greater credibility, reaching a premiership play off in its debut season after winning 15 out of 18 minor round matches and overcoming YMCA by 15 points in a semi final. [2] However, Walkerville were too strong in the final, winning 13.13 (91) to 8.11 (59) at SANFL club North Adelaide's home ground of Prospect Oval.

Because of the exigencies of war the number of clubs in A2 of the SAAFL was reduced from ten to six in 1941. Woodville, which played at Woodville Oval for the first time that year, won 13 out of 15 minor round matches to win the minor premiership. It then comfortably accounted for Collegians 14.10 (94) to 6.10 (46) in a semi final. In the final, played at Mortlock Oval, Woodville had to battle all the way to shake off a determined Goodwood, but steadiness under pressure ultimately paid off with a 12.7 (79) to 10.14 (74) win. Success in attaining the A2 premiership earned Woodville automatic promotion to A1, but the club had to wait until 1946 to savour the benefits of this privilege, as the SAAFL went into recess for the next four seasons owing to the war.

In 1946 the Woodville Football Club managed something which they would never achieve in twenty-seven seasons as a member of the SANFL: earned the right to call themselves the best team in an entire competition. They did it the hard way, too. After finishing the minor round in second place behind University they had to overturn Semaphore Central (12.18 to 10.15) in a semi final and Colonel Light Gardens (13.15 to 11.9) in the final before responding to the challenge which University, as minor premiers, had the right to throw down. The challenge final was a dour affair, played at SANFL side Port Adelaide's home ground of Alberton Oval, but Woodville, with Skelley, Hickman and Burns especially to the fore, did just enough to triumph. Final scores were Woodville 8.13 (61); University 9.5 (59).

Woodville remain one of only two SAAFL clubs to have won successive A2 and A1 premierships (allowing for the four year break for the war in Woodville's case). West Adelaide United, in 1935-6, were the only other club to achieve the feat.

The 1947 season saw Woodville change its colours to green and gold and go close to repeating its premiership triumph of a year earlier. However, after overcoming minor premiers Exeter at the semi final stage and Payneham in the final it was unable to overcome Exeter again in the challenge final. This was to prove to be the last ever time that Woodville would play off for the A1 premiership prior to the club's elevation to SANFL B grade status in 1959. [3]

Woodville served a five season probationary period in B grade, reaching the finals once, in 1960, for a third place finish. The twin highlights of this apprenticeship were arguably Bob Simunsen's successive Seconds Magarey Medal wins in 1961 and 1962.

into the big time

In 1964, when the Woodpeckers embarked on their fully fledged SANFL career, it was Simunsen who was both their first skipper and their first interstate representative, while the coaching duties were handled by former Port Adelaide wingman Harold McDonald. Central District were admitted to the league at the same time and, in 1964, it was Woodville's ability to account for their Cinderella rivals which enabled them to avoid the wooden spoon. The Peckers' only three victories for the season were all gained at the expense of the winless Bulldogs by 10, 28 and 35 points.

Woodville's first win against a club other than Centrals came in the opening round of the 1965 season against Norwood. This proved to be a false dawn, however, as the side recorded only 2 further wins for the year - one of which was against Central District - to finish in a position which was to become familiar: last. True, the side did manage to win 4 and draw 1 of its 20 minor round matches in 1966 to finish in the dizzy heights of eighth position, but overall it was rapidly becoming clear that both Woodville and fellow newcomers Central District were little better than competition makeweights.

The highlights of Woodville's SANFL career during the 1960s were arguably its draw in 1967 and its win two years later against Jack Oatey's all-conquering Sturt side. Both matches took place at Woodville Oval. The 1967 performance was especially noteworthy in that, besides the draw, the Peckers managed only a solitary win for the year en route to their second wooden spoon.

In 1968, Woodville avoided another wooden spoon by just half a game, but the following year, under the energetic coaching of former North Melbourne stalwart Noel Teasdale, the side seemed to be at last on the verge of establishing itself. A total of 8 wins from 20 starts earned the comparative respectability of seventh place on the ladder and over the final few games of the season in particular, inspired by Teasdale, and with players like carnival ruckman Craig McKellar, experienced stalwarts Simunsen and Barrie Barbary, and exciting youngsters such as Ray Huppatz, Colin MacVicar, Malcolm Blight and Ralph Sewer, all of whom would be automatic inclusions in any Woodville 'Hall of Fame', they looked capable of matching it with the very best. Sadly, however, 1970 did not see the club build on this platform. Despite winning 5 of its first its first 10 games to be in with an outside chance of finals contention it wilted during the second half of the season, managing just 1 further win to finish in ninth place.

it is "the men inside the guernseys that count"

Things deteriorated still further in 1971 as the 'Peckers plummeted to the wooden spoon, and although this particular indignity was avoided during the rest of the 1970s it was only towards the end of the decade that the club began to give serious on field indications that it could be anything other than an also ran. In the meantime, a succession of home grown champions - McKellar, Huppatz and Blight - went off across the border in search of the mythological VFL pot of gold.

In 1978. for the first ever time, Woodville made a realistic bid to participate in the finals, ultimately missing out by just one game plus percentage. The following year, however, finally brought the long awaited breakthrough as the 'Peckers won 10 out of 22 minor round matches to snatch fifth spot from North Adelaide on percentage. However, having qualified for the elimination final the Woodville players may have subconsciously decided that they had achieved enough for one season; in any event, they were never in the contest against reigning premier Norwood and went down by 11 goals. Nevertheless, there was always next season.

Except that, as so often appears to be the case, 'next season' after a season of apparent promise proved to be an enormous disappointment. The 'Peckers managed only 4 wins for the year and sustained some of the biggest hidings in their history to slump to the bottom of the ladder once more. Between 1980 and 1985 Woodville collected an unenviable six successive wooden spoons to create a new SANFL record (subsequently surpassed by Sturt). Not even a change of emblem in 1982 from the admittedly whimpish 'Woodpeckers' to the ostensibly more macho Warriors could arrest the decline; after all, it is "the men inside the guernseys that count". [4]

Similarly, the return to the Woodville fold as playing coach a year later of 'favourite son' Malcolm Blight did not immediately succeed in turning things 'round. Initially at least, Blight's impact was greater on the playing side than it was as a tactician and man motivator. In 1985, his final season as a player, Blight was named as an All Australian for the second time (the first had been 'way back in 1972) and topped the SANFL goalkicking list with 126 goals for the year. He was also one of the pre-count favourites for the Magarey Medal, but finished a somewhat disappointing tenth.

The following year, with Blight the player now history, Blight the coach finally came into his own. Indeed, 1986 was to prove to be the single most successful season in the entire history of the Woodville Football Club. In hindsight it is possible to suggest that Blight expected such success. Prior to the start of the season he observed:

"I'm comfortable, but there are a lot of reasons for that. Off the ground things have certainly sharpened up at Woodville. I've always believed and hammered home at Woodville that you have got to get your act in order off the ground first - that means from administration down to players.........In the past three years I've been hoping like hell that things would go well. There's been a lot more planning and preparation this year so I'm not hoping as much this time because I know things are going to be better." [5]

Such confidence appeared grossly misplaced early on as the side won only 2 out of 5 Escort Cup pre-season games. Then, after commencing the season proper promisingly with a hard fought 5 point win over West Torrens at Football Park, old habits promptly resurfaced and 7 of the next 9 matches were lost.

The turning point came in round eleven against Centrals, again at Football Park. Since entering the league together the two clubs had enjoyed an intense and unique rivalry; it hardly seemed to matter what the respective positions of the sides on the ladder were, their confrontations over a season almost invariably tended to be closely fought. Not so this time. The Warriors simply overwhelmed their opposition to win with consummate ease, 27.20 (182) to 11.15 (81). The following week saw Woodville do the unimaginable: down ladder leaders and firm flag favourites North Adelaide by 3 points at Woodville Oval. South Adelaide were the next side to succumb to the new-found wrath of the Warriors, going down by 37 points at Football Park, only for Glenelg to throw a temporary spanner into the works in round fourteen with a 39 point triumph at the Bay.

This setback only served to spark the Warriors into renewed resolve. The next seven minor round matches represented one of the pinnacles of Woodville's twenty-seven season involvement in the SANFL at senior level, with victories over Sturt (31 points), Norwood (21 points), West Adelaide (23 points), Port Adelaide (6 points), West Torrens (45 points), Central District (22 points) and North Adelaide (18 points).

All Woodville needed to do now in order to clinch the double chance in the finals was defeat wooden spoon contender South Adelaide in the final minor round match of the season. Inexplicably, however - or should that be predictably? - the players effectively 'froze', putting in a woeful performance to lose by 15 points and slump to fourth, which meant an elimination final meeting with finals-hardened Norwood.

"Woodville's Acid Test"

"Woodville's Acid Test" ran the headline to Mike Rucci's story in the prefinals issue of South Australia's weekly football newspaper 'Football Times'. Rucci then proceeded to sit fairly and squarely on the fence when analysing Woodville's prospects:

Woodville, which has qualified for the finals for the second time since it was re-admitted (sic.) to the league series in 1964, enters the finals series far better prepared than its previous major round appearance in 1979 - ironically against Norwood in an elimination final. But one thing hasn't changed - Woodville still lack finals experience. And there lies the tragedy of the 'form' side of the competition missing the double chance. Had the young Woodville players been given the chance to play in a final - just to get the feel of playing in the big time - they would be a better proposition for the grand final. That is Woodville's penalty for starting the season so poorly.......... Woodville - and the tactics of Blight and assistant coach John Reid - can beat Norwood. Whether it does win is in the hands of the 20 men Blight chooses to determine his destiny. [6]

Given the nature of their brief, the five official tipsters in 'Football Times' had no choice but to be less non-committal: all predicted a narrow win to the Redlegs. They had reckoned without the Warriors' intense desperation and desire, however, coupled with the pace of players like Colin McDonald, Ron Fuller and Kevin Harris, and the aerial ability of Michael Templeton and Andrew Taylor. All these factors were to the fore as Woodville led at every change in compiling a resounding 43 point win. Full forward Stephen Nichols booted 5 goals, with Templeton and Taylor bagging 3 apiece, while Kevin Harris, with 21 possessions, was best on ground.

The 'Football Times' tipsters had changed their tune prior to Woodville's first semi final meeting with Port Adelaide, with four of the five favouring the Warriors. At quarter time their confidence appeared to be seriously mis-placed. Watched by a crowd of 39,086, the biggest to witness a first semi final since 1967, and indeed the largest crowd that Woodville was ever to appear in front of, Port opened with all guns blazing to register 9 opening term goals to 3 and seemingly have one foot firmly in the preliminary final. [7] Blight's charges refused to lie down, however, and by half time, incredibly, they had closed to within just 5 points.

The third term had the huge crowd at fever pitch as the two sides went goal for goal with the Magpies hanging on to a 6 point advantage at the final change. The fourth quarter was just as thrilling, but gradually it was the Warriors who appeared to be getting on top. In the end, only inaccuracy in front of goal prevented Woodville from winning with comparative comfort, but margins mean little in finals; there are only winners and losers. On this occasion, the scoreboard clearly showed the green and golds as winners. Final scores were 18.20 (128) to 18.13 (121), with Ron Fuller the best player on view.

"When assessing Woodville it is difficult to know where you might be able to exploit a weakness in its game," suggested Sturt coach Merv Keane in his post match analysis. "At the moment, it hasn't got an obvious one for any length of time. For example, if Stephen Nichols is getting beaten at full forward for a quarter, Ralph Sewer or Michael Templeton will bob up with a goal or two. Or if Ron Fuller is down, Colin McDonald or John Martin will rise to the occasion and tear through the centre to open up the forward line again." [8]

Woodville's preliminary final opponents Glenelg, by contrast, were looking distinctly out of sorts, having lost badly to North Adelaide in the second semi final. In the event, after a hard fought first half, the Bays proved to be just a little too accomplished for Blight's men and won by 21 points in front of another big finals crowd of 30,744. The Warriors were far from disgraced, however, and there appeared to be every reason for those connected with the club to feel optimistic about prospects for 1987.

Woodville began the following season strongly, reaching the Escort Cup grand final only to lose narrowly to West Adelaide. Once the season proper got underway the side continued much as it had left off in 1986 and by the time it downed South Adelaide by a couple of goals in round seventeen finals participation was virtually assured. Thereafter, however, the 'old' Woodville inexplicably resurfaced: the Warriors lost every one of their last five minor round matches before being consummately bundled out of the premiership race by Glenelg to the embarrassing tune of 102 points.

a premiership at last! - then demise...

Malcolm Blight left at the end of the 1987 season and was replaced as coach by another South Australian football legend in the shape of the only four time Magarey Medallist, Russell Ebert. Although the club was to undergo a gradual overall decline during Ebert's three years in charge it did achieve one significant feat: in 1988 it achieved the first and only senior SANFL premiership in its history after downing Ebert's former club Port Adelaide in the Escort Cup grand final by 45 points. As far as the serious business of winning league matches was concerned, however, the club went steadily backwards, winning 9 of its 22 games in 1988 for seventh position, 8 in 1989 (eighth), and 7 in 1990 (eighth again).

For most of this three year period it was clear that the club was living on borrowed time, and while the formation of the Adelaide Crows at the end of the 1990 season may have precipitated matters, the merger with West Torrens which produced the Woodville West Torrens Eagles in 1991 may, in hindsight, be viewed as having been almost inevitable. The merger effectively marked the death knell of the Woodville Football Club as an autonomous organisation, and from that point of view was probably regarded in a negative light by many of the club's supporters, at least initially. However, given that the merged entity took only three seasons to etch its name on the SANFL roll of honour by winning a senior flag, such negativity soon appeared to be misplaced. Moreover, and without at all wanting to seem unkind, it is hard to imagine any alternative set of circumstances which would have given rise to the word 'Woodville' being engraved on the Thomas Seymour Hill Trophy.


1. See The South Australian Football Story by Bernard Whimpress, p.199.

2. The SAAFL still operated a challenge system of playing finals at this point.

3. The chief source for the entire section on Woodville's SAAFL career was A History of the South Australian Amateur Football League 1911-1994 by Fred Bloch.

4. Observation made at the time of the emblem switch by Whimpress, op cit, p.202.

5. Quoted in Football Times Yearbook 1986, pages 6-7.

6. 'Football Times', volume 11, number 26, 11/9/86, page 2.

7. Discounting grand final curtain raisers played by reserves sides.

8. 'Football Times', volume 11, number 28, 25/9/86, page 6.


Full Points Footy's Encyclopedia of Australian Football Clubs, Volume 1.


* Behinds calculated from the 1965 season on.
+ Score at the end of extra time.