Season Summary: 1953
By 1953 a downturn had crept into the VFA that was to seriously undermine the future of the competition by the end of the decade. Clubs such as Williamstown were better prepared to face such factors as a decline in memberships, falling attendances and the public perception that the Association was no longer a viable alternative to the then VFL. District players still aspired to play with Williamstown, which made recruitment easier, plus there was a feeling in the community that the Seagulls were as good as South Melbourne or Footscray. Unfortunately for the VFA, the clubs destined to struggle for most of the 1950’s, principally Brighton, Camberwell and Northcote, tended to drag the down the entire competition.
The patience of Williamstown's supporters was rewarded after several poor seasons when the team returned to a leading position in 1953. Whilst the two matches of the final series were lost, the year marked the start of the most successful chapter in the club's long history.
The annual general meeting was chaired by Harold Hosking, who was re-elected unopposed as president for a fourth term. Fred Arms and Len Bevis were granted life memberships for their work over a number of seasons.
Billy Williams was re-appointed captain and coach with Adrian Dullard as his deputy. Recruits included Frank Sims, Jack Curran, Gil Moloney, Brian Barmby, Jack Evans, Don Henderson and Alan Leigh, while Len Kent and Alby Linton, after 53 games since 1947, were acquired from Footscray. Reg Featherby returned for a few games but retired when he failed to re-capture his former brilliance. Murray McRae did likewise but re-injured his knee in the first match and spent the remainder of the season helping out on the training staff. The main departures were Noel Allanson, Jack Simpson and George Tozer.
The team got away to a bright start by winning the first four matches rather comfortably against Yarraville, Camberwell, Brighton and Preston until crashing at Brunswick, in the process kicking the worse score for years of 3.11.29. The team did well over the 20-match home-and-away round and the only other defeats occurred at Prahran and Northcote, the latter being surprising as at that time Northcote had won only four matches.
Otherwise the revival was sound with few anxious moments over the year, with the exception of the Coburg match at Williamstown in round 9. At three-quarter time the home team led 11.8 to 2.7 and victory seem assured, however Coburg played a great last term with the wind and added 7.13 to nil to tie the game. Otherwise, the Seagulls were unbeaten at home.
As in the previous season, the 'Town handed out Port Melbourne's first defeat of the season, by 23 points at Williamstown. This time Port had strung together twelve successive wins but were unable to blame the Governor for this upset. The last match at home against Sandringham was noted for the visitors roughhouse tactics with the former glamour team seeming to show that, although it had lost the skill of the mid-1940's, the players still knew how to use their brawn. Sandy finished 85 points behind at the final bell, with their only real achievement being a broken nose to Johnny Walker and a lot of sore Williamstown bodies.
Port headed the list at the end of the home-and-away games, just ahead of Williamstown with Yarraville third and Prahran fourth. This was only the second time that the 'Town and Yarraville both made the final four.
Once again Williamstown figured in a second semi-final at the Junction Oval and again failed, with Port winning by 10 points, 12.14.86 to 12.4.76, but it was only the 'Town's accuracy that kept the team within striking distance of the more efficient Port side, before a crowd of 12,000. The defeat was in no small way attributable to the rugged treatment in the Sandringham match a fortnight earlier as a number of players who played against Port were still suffering minor injuries. Max Munday had an injured finger and Bill Sheahan didn't play due to influenza, so Jack Curran went to full back, Ron Graham to centre half forward on debut, Henderson to the wing and Johnny Walker, playing against medical advice and still suffering the effects of his broken nose, managed only one goal before sustaining a leg injury early in the game and was replaced by back man Bill Moloney. This meant that Maloney, Curran and Graham were first-year players holding down key positions in a final. The Seagulls other regular wingman Jack Howat was forced off at half-time with an injured hand. Despite these setbacks, the ‘Town constantly challenged Port with strong ruck play from Simpson and great speed. Once Port’s Frank Johnson got on top of Simpson and its experienced wingers started to dominate, Port were able to overcome Williamstown’s gallant defence.
Johnny Martin and his Port opponent played wide of each other, which could not be said of the fierce contest between Port captain, the legendary Don ‘Mopsy’ Fraser at centre-half forward and ‘Monster’ Callahan. Press reports stated that in a tough game, no two players exchanged harder bumps.
Williamstown met the Gordon Ogden-coached Yarraville, which had finished last in the three seasons 1948-50 before he took over, in the preliminary final in front of a crowd of 20,000, without leading goalkicker Walker, who was ruled unfit. Munday was recalled, allowing Curran to resume at centre-half forward. Graham went to full-forward. Frank Sims moved to a wing from the half-forward flank at the expense of Don Henderson, while Bill Sheahan rejoined the side in place of the injured Howat on the other wing. Hughes was selected at half-forward.
Williamstown led narrowly at the first two breaks before a spirited burst in the third quarter took Yarraville out to a 31-point lead before Simpson rallied the Seagulls, who still trailed by 16 points at three-quarter time. Simpson continued his fine play in the last term and, with inspiring leadership from captain-coach Billy Williams, the ‘Town regained the lead in a thrilling comeback. The Eagles steadied to add two goals and were ahead by 10 points with five minutes remaining, before Williams slotted another major, his fifth for the game, but it wasn’t enough and shocking inaccuracy from point black range gave Yarraville's young team victory by 4 points, 12.11.83 to 11.13.79. The win was a triumph for Ogden, the coach of Williamstown's 1949 premiership team before being discarded, who was able to get more out of his men that he was entitled to, based on their ability. His incentive no doubt stemmed from a desire to show Williamstown's officials that they erred in not re-appointing him after the triumph of four year's previous. It was shortlived for Ogden, however, as Port went on to win the grand final the following week by 10 goals after being runners-up for three successive seasons, and he was soon back barracking for Williamstown, and Yarraville had resumed its usual spot near the bottom of the ladder. Best players for the Seagulls that day were Williams, Munday, Wookey, Martin, Rogers and Linton.
Johnny Walker passed the century of games for the club during 1953 and also won the Association goalkicking again but his total of 99 was just short of his 1952 figure. Billy Williams with 59 was fifth on the list. Gordon Williams also reached the century milestone during the season. Harry Simpson won the club best and fairest award, the Andy Taylor Memorial Trophy, and finished third in the JJ Liston Trophy, and Adrian Dullard reached 82 games with the distinction of the last 71 being consecutive.
Eighty year-old Walter Warren passed away during the season. He played for seventeen seasons and was captain five times, a record until the great Gerry Callahan came along. His brothers, Peter and Ernie, were also grand players around the same time. Walter won the club goalkicking in 1884.
The seconds, under captain-coach and best and fairest winner Lou Barker, scored fifteen wins from twenty matches to make the four but were well-beaten in the semi-final by Coburg 19.17.131 to 10.13.73. Yarraville won the flag.
The thirds, under coach Jack Vinall, finished fifth with twelve wins and five losses. Keith Stevenson took out the best and fairest, while Moorabbin won the flag in that competition.
From the Williamstown Chronicle May 22, 1953
Round 9 V. Coburg at Williamstown, June 20
Back Row: Jack Howat, Jack Evans, Harry Simpson, Adrian Dullard, Gerry Callahan, Sid Wookey, Len Kent, Max Munday, John Walker, Alby Linton, Gill Maloney, John Martin
Middle Row: Bill 'Leftfooter' Williams, Max Hughes, Alby Outen, Alan Cuff, Billy Williams, Don Rogers, Brian Lowry, Gordon Williams, Kevin Taylor
Front Row: Bill Sheahan, Frank Sims, Reg Harley, Ray Smith, Allan Leigh, George Taafe