If, as some contend, Tasmania has become the forgotten or neglected jewel in Australian football’s crown then it is arguable that few clubs exemplify this state of affairs better than Scottsdale.
In 1973, as Australian football was fumbling blindly in the dark for a doorway through which it could escape from the stymieing effects of more than a century of obsessively localised, parochial preoccupation, Scottsdale shared top billing on the putative national stage at the Australian club championships in Adelaide. Examined logically, the concept of a competition which pitted the might of Richmond (VFL), Glenelg (SANFL) and Subiaco (WANFL) against a club representing a town of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants in northern Tasmania was seriously flawed; little wonder, you might infer, that the game swiftly moved on to other means of broadening its horizons and appeal. However, there is also a school of thought which holds that the game lost something integral to its true nature when it ‘evolved’ from being an activity rooted in enjoyment, direct active involvement and community pride to one governed principally by dollars, cents and the incessant urge to make a profit.
The homogenous world of the modern AFL certainly boasts many attractive and exciting features, but it is quintessentially - in keeping with most of the rest of the sporting world, to be fair - devoid of variation, romance, and the capacity to astonish. Scottsdale qualified to contest the 1973 Australian club championships after a superb season in which it failed to win just 1 of its 20 roster matches (a draw against North Launceston), beat North Launceston twice to secure the Northern Tasmanian Football Association flag, annihilated TFL premiers Hobart by 65 points in the state preliminary final, and scored a heart stopping 11 point win over Cooee (NWFU) to clinch the state premiership in front of a predominantly hostile crowd of 8,269 at Burnie. Scottsdale had dominated the NTFA for much of the preceding decade, but this was the club’s first state premiership. Trailing by 32 points at the final change of the state grand final the side looked set for another disappointment. However, the move of key defender Ron Hall to centre half forward altered the game completely, as he provided the Magpies with a much needed focal point in attack, enabling them to secure victory by adding 5.9 to 0.2 in a barn-storming last quarter performance.
Scottsdale’s ‘day in the sun’ at Adelaide was brief and, measured by objective standards, unimposing, as losses were predictably sustained against both Subiaco and Glenelg. However, the side was competitive, especially in its opening game against the Lions, and for a brief time at least, the tiny Tasmanian town of Scottsdale was indefatigably ‘on the map’, a state of affairs unlikely ever to be repeated. (In 2005, Scottsdale’s 1973 combination was immortalised when it became the first team to be inducted into AFL Tasmania’s ‘Hall of Fame’.)
All of which brings us back to the point made in the opening sentence, for in 2000 Scottsdale was compelled, because of financial constraints, to withdraw from northern Tasmania’s premier competition, the NTFL, and compete instead in the amateur NTFA. Instead of Glenelg and Subiaco, or even Hobart and North Launceston, the club now competes each week against the likes of Hillwood, Rocherlea and Bracknell. Of course, there are many who would argue that all this means is that Scottsdale has finally gravitated to its logical position in the modern market place, but for those who still find the association of the words ‘football’ and ‘market place’ irksome it is difficult to escape the impression that the club has - to hijack the frame of reference - been short-changed.
Comparative obscurity is by no means new to Scottsdale, however. The club was originally formed as long ago as 1889, but it spent its first sixty years competing, with modest success, in a variety of junior competitions. The club’s profile was raised significantly in 1948, however, when it gained admission to one of Tasmanian football’s three main senior competitions, the NTFA. After a prolonged ‘bedding in’ period which yielded just one (losing) grand final appearance in sixteen seasons the club, which had changed its colours from red and white to black and white on entry to the NTFA, and was known as the Magpies, emerged as a fully-fledged force in 1964 with a breakthrough premiership. Moreover, it was no flash in the pan, as the side emphatically proved over the ensuing decade which spawned five further flags from seven grand final appearances, and a reputation as one of Tasmanian football’s strongest ever combinations.
Although the Magpies boasted many fine players during this era, including Bob Taylor, Stan Wilson, Greg and Rex Lethborg, Steve Nicholls, Danny and Ron Hall, Jim Leitch, Kevin Egan and John Dekkers, they were essentially a team without stars which relied on the quintessential old fashioned values of grit, determination and persistence, coupled with teamwork of the highest order, to succeed.
Scottsdale continued to meet with intermittent success until the NTFA was dissolved at the end of the 1986 season in the wake of the introduction of statewide football. For those northern-based clubs not involved in the statewide league the 1987 season saw the inception of another new competition, the NTFL, which was essentially an amalgamation between the old NTFA and NWFU.
Scottsdale’s thirteen season involvement in the NTFL was by no means inglorious, with a premiership in 1989 and losing grand finals in 1990 and 1993, and an overall success rate of 62%. However, as has been repeatedly noted elsewhere on this site, on field achievements are no longer the principal determinant of a club’s viability nor, indeed, its ‘success’, and in 2000 the Magpies were forced to ‘jump ship’ when they were no longer capable of meeting the basic running costs necessary to function in the relatively high profile, semi professional NTFL.
Life in the NTFA is considerably less complicated as well as less expensive, but the Scottsdale tradition continues. A losing grand final in the club’s debut season in the competition was followed by a premiership in 2001 thanks to a 14.6 (90) to 5.25 (55) grand final defeat of a wayward George Town, whereupon the Magpies began to make noises to the effect that they would like to resume participation in the NTFL. Perhaps predictably, the NTFL authorities did not respond all that enthusiastically to this idea, but Scottsdale remain committed to it as a long term objective. There is also a feeling at the club, as indeed there is among large sections of northern Tasmania’s football loving community, that a return to the old NTFA-NWFU geographical split would be in the best interests of senior football in the area. Inter-regional rivalry is extraordinarily intense in Tasmania, and perhaps football needs to exploit and tap into this if it is to maintain its pre-eminence in the hearts and minds of the average Tasmanian.
Recent seasons have generally been something of a struggle for the Magpies but they did contest a grand final in 2010 when they went down by 64 points to Bridgenorth. More recently they have experienced mixed fortunes with the highlights being finals involvement in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and the twin nadirs being wooden spoons in 2013 and 2014. Their most recent campaign in 2018 saw them getting as far as the preliminary final in which they suffered defeat to Bracknell by 77 points.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications