Season Summary: 1954
The departure of captain-coach Billy Williams to a coaching position in the country with Pyramid Hill in the off-season was covered by the appointment of Wally Carter from North Melbourne as a non-playing coach. It was to prove a master stroke by the committee because many were of the opinion that Carter should never have been replaced at North and the Seagulls swooped.
Carter played 137 games with the Shinboners from 1929-1940 during a bleak era for the club. After Army service during World War II, he turned his hand to coaching and in 1947 guided North to the VFL seconds flag. He became senior coach the following season, and in 1950 became the first coach to get North into a VFL grand final. The team slipped back and, at the end of season 1953 Carter resigned due to a perceived lack of support from the Board. By November of that year he had a change of heart and applied for the coaching job but was passed over, so Williamstown got their man. Carter achieved great success with Williamstown because he viewed it as another VFL club and trained the players hard and expected high standards of discipline.
Clever ruckman Adrian Dullard retired after 82 games and 111 goals and Gordon Williams (106 games) moved on to Mornington as coach. The other Bill Williams also dropped out and John Molyneux, who played only four games in 1953, retired after 78 games and 80 goals in the Royal Blue and Gold.
Future Team of the Century member John Ramsay came across from Essendon and Bob Jones from Yarraville bolstered the ruck. Neil Whitaker and Dale Anderson transferred from Melbourne and Noel Alford came with Carter from North. Keith Abberton returned from Moe, Ray Martini came from Carlton and useful junior players Ian McLeod, J. Hall, J. McTaggart, P. Barnes and C. Woolstencroft were added to the list. Reg Fisher was another with experience who crossed over from Richmond.
Gerry Callahan was the logical player to take over the captaincy reigns, and he soon vindicated the committee's judgement as a loyal and competent understudy to Wally Carter. Callahan and his teammates had expected ruckman Harry Simpson to get the nod as he had been the side’s best player in 1953 and complemented this with outstanding form in the practice matches. However, Club officials believed Simpson did not possess the social skills of the more gregarious Callahan so gave him the job instead. Alby Linton was appointed vice-captain. Harold Hosking indicated when he accepted a fifth term as President at the annual meeting that it would be his last as head of the Club. Former President Alf Urban and Mrs E. Spicer were elected life members for long service to the Club, with the latter being only the second woman to receive the honour over the long period of the Club's existence.
The strong recovery from the 1951-52 slump carried through to a triumphant conclusion in 1954 with the winning of the premiership after one of the most consistent seasons in the club's history. Best of all this was not just a flash-in-the-pan but a return to another brilliant era during which the pennants of 1955 and 1956 were also captured. This performance lifted the club up amongst the records of Footscray, North Melbourne, Coburg and Northcote which also completed the VFA premiership hat trick.
The 1954 flag was the club's sixth and the third since the war recess which, when added to the high placements of other years of that period, offset Port Melbourne's consistency in the home and away rounds and made the club's record on and off the field hard to beat.
Victories in the first three games against Yarraville, Camberwell and Brighton created momentum that resulted in 16 victories and only four defeats over the 20 game home-and-away series. Box Hill and Moorabbin improved out of sight and the Hill men were the only club to defeat Williamstown twice. Whilst there was some excuse for the season’s heaviest loss, a 9-point defeat at Box Hill in round six, as the ground was a sea of mud, no such reason could be used for the 4-point upset at Pt Gellibrand in round 19 when the home side was playing well. Surprisingly Box Hill finished the season in eighth place with just nine wins. Northcote, the only finalist to beat the Seagulls during the season, nearly achieved the same feat with a 5-point win at home and a one point loss at Williamstown, and a narrow loss at Preston (4 points) and victories against Moorabbin and Brighton (both 5 points) meant the Seagull supporters were treated to plenty of heart-stoppers.
The final four comprised Port Melbourne, one match ahead of Williamstown, followed by Moorabbin and Northcote, which had finished twelfth the previous season. Moorabbin had made the finals for the first time, which was excellent considering the short time it had been in the Association and kicked its highest score (31.12.198) against Sandringham late in the season.
Once more Williamstown met Port in a second-semi, which was Port's seventh such appearance since the war recess, before a crowd of 18,000 on a wet day. While the 'Town played well, Port always seemed to have the game in hand and got home by 2 goals, 7.12.54 to 5.12.42. This game marked the end of the excellent career of Johnny Walker after 447 goals in his 127 games. He never really recovered from the hard knocks of the previous season and was able to play only ten matches for the year, kicking 41 goals including 14 against Sandringham. Although not of the same physique as Ron Todd and Harry 'Soapy' Vallence, he was very nearly as prolific as those two champions if only the games he played at full forward were taken into account when determining his average per match. Tragically, he died in 1959, aged just 32.
The preliminary final against Northcote, appearing in their first final series for six years, was played in front of a crowd of 14,500 and resulted in a comfortable win to Williamstown, 17.11.113 to 10.12.72. This was only the second meeting in a final by the two clubs. The Dragons surprised everyone by advancing so far after financial troubles had undermined the club’s future during 1953. On a dry day and a firm surface, Williamstown’s big men exploited Northcote’s lack of height in the first half to have the game virtually wrapped up by half-time, leading 11.4 to 5.2. At that stage, the ‘Town had taken 42 marks to Northcote’s 22. The Dragons were unable to match the ruck strength of Wookey and Simpson, Martin’s dash off the wing and the reliability of Alan Leigh and Callahan across half-back. Spearhead Dale Anderson kicked five goals, while rovers Linton and Alford both scored four.
In the grand final against Port, an ankle injury precluded Jack Evans from selection and he was replaced by Ian McLeod. Port was still without captain-coach Don Fraser, who had been suspended for 10 games after a behind-play incident at Northcote in round 12. Played in near-perfect conditions, from the opening bounce Williamstown looked the more accomplished and confident team and led 4.7 to 0.1 at quarter time. Several Port players tried to rough up their opponents in the first half with little impact and umpire Irving handing out penalties regularly. Trailing by 18 points at half-time Port was still in the contest, But Williamstown sealed the game in the third term by adding a further 4.7 to lead by seven goals at the last change. Although Port kicked the identical score it did in the second-semi of 7.12.54, it was not enough and Williamstown romped home by kicking 11.20.86 in front of 30,000 people. This was one of the rare occasions when the team that lost the second-semi returned to win the grand final, and Port had to be content with yet another runners-up. Key man in the ‘Town side was ruckman Simpson, who negated the brilliance of Port’s Frank Johnson, and formed a formidable big-man division with Wookey and Fisher. Winger Martin, defenders Callahan and Harley, rover Alford and centre half-forward Kent were the other stars.
Williamstown’s 1954 premiership team was :
B. Reg Harley Max Munday John Ramsay
HB. Jack Curran Gerry Callahan Alan Leigh
C. Johnny Martin Neil Whitaker George Taafe
HF. Ray Smith Len Kent Ian McLeod
F. Sid Wookey Dale Anderson Noel Alford
Foll. Harry Simpson Reg Fisher
Rov. Alby Linton
Res. Frank Sims Keith Abberton
The seconds won sixteen of the twenty matches to finish second behind Moorabbin but, like the seniors, lost the second-semi with a score of 4.7.31 to Moorabbin's 14.13.97, following a goalless second half. The Seagulls won well against Port in the preliminary final, 16.11.107 to 9.14.68, and met up again with Moorabbin in the grand final. On this occasion the newcomers proved too strong for the ‘Town and won its first pennant 10.8.68 to 8.10.58, despite the Seagulls being 18 points in front at three-quarter time. Lou Barker was the coach and Charlie McLaren won the league best and fairest award.
Murray McRae was coach of the thirds, which finished fifth with eleven wins from seventeen matches. Laurie Davies headed the competition goalkickers with a total of 59. Keith Cameron won their best and fairest. Preston were premiers.
One of the highlights of the season was the visit by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Dallas Brooks, to Williamstown to see the team play Preston on July 17.
Harry Simpson capped off a fine season in the ruck by finishing second to Ted Turner of Brighton in the JJ Liston Trophy and also took out the Club's best and fairest award, the Andy Taylor Memorial Trophy. Linton, with 46 goals, was Williamstown’s leading goalkicker and 11th on the Association list. Reg Harley bought up his 100th game with the Club during 1954.
From Williamstown Chronicle July 9, 1954
From the Williamstown Chronicle July 23, 1954
Argus newspaper team photo before a home-and-away match in 1954
Back row: Len Kent, Ian McLeod, Max Munday, Keith Abberton, Syd Wookey, Neil Whitaker, Ray Smith
Centre row: Johnny Martin, Jack Curran, Harry Simpson, John Ramsay, Gerry Callahan, Wally Carter, Frank Sims, Dale Anderson, Jack Evans, Don Rogers
Front row: Alan Leigh, Alby Linton, Noel Alford, Reg Fisher
From Williamstown Chronicle September 24, 1954
From The Age, October 2, 1954
From Williamstown Chronicle October 8, 1954
From Williamstown Chronicle December 17, 1954