2 July 1903
15 August 1986 (aged 83)
Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 21y 311d
Last game: 32y 67d
Height and weight
Height: 175 cm
Weight: 80 kg
Pre 1965 stats are for selected matches only
AFL: 3,011th player to appear, 889th most games played, 504th most goals kickedCollingwood: 294th player to appear, 121st most games played, 48th most goals kickedMelbourne: 514th player to appear, 401st most games played, 260th most goals kicked
Despite scarcely showing any interest in football until he was almost twenty years of age, Bill Libbis developed into one of the most damaging and highly regarded rovers of his day. Having played only a handful of scratch matches while at school, he decided to join Fairfield Football Club in 1923 and before long was making his presence known as a speedy and tenacious footballer whose skills, particularly his kicking, were surprisingly polished and effectual.
In 1924, at the behest of Collingwood defender Ernie Wilson, Libbis ventured to Victoria Park where he he was put through his paces by legendary Magpies coach Jock McHale. Few coaches down the years have had a better eye for talent than McHale, and whilst recognising that Libbis was still a long way adrift of VFL standard, he nevertheless sensed - rightly, as it turned out - that the player had the necessary mental qualities to make the most of his undoubted natural ability. By the time the 1925 season rolled around, Libbis was deemed ready, and in round two of that year he was handed his senior debut against Melbourne. He performed serviceably, and although he was initially unable to hold down a regular place in the side, by 1926 he was acquiring a reputation as one of the most promising small men in the game.
Selected as first rover for that season's Challenge Final clash with Melbourne he overcame a slow start to produce an effective performance, but could not prevent the 'Woods being humbled by 57 points. He did, however, have the minor satisfaction of kicking the final goal of the game, for which achievement he was awarded the extravagant prize of a box of chocolates.
Between 1927 and 1930 Collingwood was the pre-eminent force in the VFL, and Libbis - by this stage glorying in the nickname 'Pickles' - was a major factor in that dominance. First rover in each of the Magpies' four straight premiership wins, he was also a regular member of the state side. Energetic, pacy and amply skilled, his trademark crisp, low stab passes to Gordon Coventry were a major factor in the champion full forward's perennial dominance of the VFL's goal kicking stakes. Mind you, Libbis was no slouch near goal himself, as his tally of 150 goals in 138 games for the Magpies makes clear.
Normally regarded as one of the most quietly spoken members of the Collingwood team, Libbis made the mistake in 1933 of protesting openly when the club elected to reduce weekly match payments by 10 shillings. Dissension of any kind was seldom tolerated at Collingwood, least of all when it had to do with money, and Libbis promptly found himself offloaded to Melbourne, where he continued to perform to good effect for another 39 senior games over three seasons. He also made the VFL's 1933 Sydney carnival team. After leaving the VFL he was a useful player in the VFA with Northcote for a time.
When the AFL implemented its official Hall of Fame in 1996, one of the first inductees was Bill Libbis's fellow rover throughout his time at Collingwood, Harry Collier. It says much for the comparatively unsung Libbis's playing prowess that it was he, and not Collier, who earned the premier roving berth for the Magpies in five consecutive Grand Finals. In later years, Collier himself provided a succinct and telling analysis: "Somehow I ended up with the name," he observed, "but Billy Libbis .......well, he was the player."
Author - John Devaney