Season Summary: 1961
1961 saw massive changes sweep the Victorian Football Association. In December 1960 the league made the radical move to split the competition into two separate divisions in an attempt to eradicate one-sided games from occurring and also to give new clubs entering the competition the necessary time to adjust. This involved deciding on ten teams to operate in the first division (which included Williamstown) and eight for the second division, including new club Waverley. As the top level of VFA competition had to be divided, this was also the case for the seconds and thirds, which brought some complexities and the trophy list was doubled.
New recruits for the 1961 season were Keith James, Jim O'Toole, Greg Taube, Bobby Turner, Merv Williams, Jim Murrie, Ken Parker, Ray Bamford, Jocka Mellis and Ken Barnes.
Seagulls captain Ray Smith secured a three-peat of best and fairest awards from 1959-1961, becoming the only player besides Arthur 'Porkie' Sykes (1930-1932) to achieve this tremendous honour. The milestones didn't stop there for Smith, who also became the first Williamstown player to surpass 200 senior games late in the season.
With a much more competitive league in 1961 due to the divisional split, the Seagulls finished 4th on the table despite winning a lower percentage of their games to the year prior, finishing with a 13-9 Win/Loss record in the 22-game season, the longest season since 1947. Having won eight of the first ten games, Williamstown were victorious only five times over the remaining twelve rounds. On a particularly wet day in July at Yarraville, the Seagulls registered their lowest score since 1899 when they kicked 1.5 to the Eagles 4.8, with Leo Maloney kicking the 'Town's only goal 20 minutes into the last quarter.
Having to win three matches to take out the premiership, the team fought their way through the VFA finals series, initially overcoming Sandringham in the first semi-final 12.7 to 9.8 (Bobby Turner 4 goals) before downing Moorabbin by four points in a thriller in the preliminary final, 14.17 to 15.7, with diminutive rover George Mazouris booting five goals, including the six-pointer to regain the lead in the last minute of the game. The grand final, played before a crowd of 20,000 on a warm day, was a dismal affair as Yarraville raced to a five-goal lead at quarter time, which was reduced to 14 points by the long break. However, the Eagles played an inspired third quarter to add 11 goals to just one by Williamstown to have the game in hand by the last change with a lead of 77 points. The margin was reduced to 63 points by the end of the game, with Graham Clough kicking four goals and being named best player, and Mazouris three. This was the only time that the two neighbouring teams met in a grand final.
Williamstown's 1961 Grand Final team was:
B. Ken Parker Tom Russell Greg Taube
HB. John Cope Jack Evans Les Finch
C. Ray Smith
HF. Bobby Turner Don Carmichael Alan McAsey
F. Maurie Collins Lindsay Murphy George Mazouris
Foll. Leo Maloney Jim O'Toole
Rov. Tom Pelly
Res. Graham Clough Merv Williams
Coach: Gerry Callahan
The Grand Final marked the end of Ray Smith's long career with the Seagulls, which had commenced in 1951 and finished after 205 games and 162 goals, premierships in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1959, captaincy in 1960 and 1961, and three best and fairest awards in 1959, 1960 and 1961. He finished third in the JJ Liston Trophy in his final season. Ironically, as captain, he introduced a rule that if a player didn't train he didn't play, but as a result of a change in his employment, Smith was unable to train so resigned from the Club at the age of 28, but continued to play at Cora Lynn in West Gippsland for the next four years.
Leading goalkicker was first-year player Keith James, whose 48 majors put him equal fourth on the VFA list. Daryl Ward played his 100th senior game for the Club during the season, and Jack Evans his 150th.
Unfortunately the bad news didn't finish there for Williamstown. On December 7th 1961, the press box and storeroom at the Williamstown Cricket Ground was destroyed by fire. Along with the building, the bell that was used to mark the start and finish of each quarter was also destroyed. This was the last bell used at any major ground in Melbourne as the use of a siren could have caused confusion by the use of sirens on ships close to the shore.
1961 Grand Final squad, picture taken at training on Thursday night before the game
Back row: Leo Maloney, Merv Williams, Ken Barnes, Jim O'Toole, Maurie Collins, Greg Taube, Les Finch, Tom Russell, John Cope
Middle row: Bobby Turner, Kenny Parker, Lindsay Murphy, Gerry Callahan (coach), Ray Smith (captain), Jack Evans, Alan McAsey, Don Carmichael, Ray Bamford, Keith James
Forward: Tom Pelly, Daryl Ward, Graham Clough, Adam Hill, George Mazouris