Season Summary: 1968
The 1968 VFA season would prove to be a very pivotal one in the Williamstown Football Club's history. This would be headlined by the much-loved ex-Moorabbin (93 games, 265 goals) and South Melbourne (59 games, 66 goals) player Max Papley taking on the reins as Captain-Coach, along with 14 new players. In February 1968, Papley was working in the chemical industry and one of his clients was Ron Marett, licensee of the Yacht Club Hotel in Nelson Place, Williamstown. Marett also happened to be President of the football club. He urged Papley, who was still only 27 years of age, to consider the coaching position vacated by Gerry Callahan at the end of 1967. Papley was also a talented cricketer and was captain-coach of Moorabbin Cricket Club in the sub-district competition. He had told South Melbourne that he would continue playing football provided it did not interfere with his cricketing committments. When South would not relent over the cricket issue, Papley moved to Williamstown without a clearance and took up the job as captain-coach, which was announced on February 29, 1968. South tried to secure Williamstown full-forward Eddie Szyszka in retaliation, but when the Seagulls would not release him Papley left without a clearance, thus forfeiting provident fund payments and incurring VFL disqualification.
Papley was appointed for three years, but came to a Club at a very low ebb. For the first time in living memory, the youth of the area were not as interested in wanting to play with Williamstown. He also adopted a different style of coaching to his predecessor, with a greater emphasis on skill and set-plays and playing to the open space on the wings. Joining Papley at Pt. Gellibrand was Mick Mulligan from South, Dallas Patterson from Footscray, Ron Page, Paul Hayward, Andy Camilleri and Les Meyers.
The Second Division season opened out at Caulfield with a struggling win 9.13 to 6.17, but things clicked after that and the side went on to win 15 of the 17 home-and-away games, surprisingly going down to Sunshine by eight points in round 7 and playing a draw at home with the Crows in round 16. Despite finishing the home and away season on top of the ladder with a 15-1-1 record and narrowly beating the eventual premier, Geelong West, in the second-semi final 19.18.132 to 19.11.125, Williamstown went down to the Roosters in the grand final, 20.15.135 to 18.15.123, in controversial circumstances.
A rover named Ian Nankervis was recruited from Carlton in 1967 and, after enjoying a superb debut season with the Seagulls where he took out the Club best and fairest award, Nankervis won the 1968 J. (Jack) Field Medal as Best and Fairest in the VFA 2nd Division. After the second-semi final, while being presented with his medal, vice-captain Nankervis somewhat foolishly used the occasion to publicly criticise his coach, Max Papley, and to demand more money. The Seagulls and Papley were outraged, and Nankervis was immediately suspended. He didn’t play in the Grand Final against Geelong West, replaced by Bob Smith, and was sorely missed as Williamstown lost a nail-biter by 12 points at Toorak Park to the persistent Roosters. Despite the Seagulls leading by four goals during the second quarter, Geelong West played themselves back into the game and by half time the lead had been reduced to 8 points. The lead was reduced to five points by three quarter time, and early in the last term the Roosters hit the front and got out to a two-goal lead. At the 21-minute mark Camilleri goaled followed by another from Mulligan as time-on started to regain the lead. However, Geelong West added another two goals to run out winners. Would the result have been different had Nankervis played? That is something that Seagulls fans have been able to debate ever since, as Nankervis had kicked three goals in the second semi victory and 52 for the season and was regarded by Papley as the best rover in the competition. At season's end, Nankervis was sold to Dandenong and the runner-up placing meant the club would have to spend another year at Division Two level.
Williamstown's 1968 Grand Final side was:
B. Owen Madigan Tom Russell Bob Cohen
HB. Terry O'Mara Ron Page Ian Johnson
C. Max Papley
HF. Mick Mulligan Graeme Buchanan Russell Knight
F. Bob Ware Eddie Szyszka Bob Smith
Foll. Ken Barnes Dallas Patterson
Rov. Andy Camilleri
Res. John Raffle John Allard
Coach: Max Papley
Szyszka headed the Second Division goalkicking with a total of 61 majors for the year, while Ian 'Hucky' Johnson won the Andy Taylor Memorial Trophy for best and fairest from Papley, Smith and Nankervis. Camilleri was judged to be the best first-year player. During the season, full-back Tom Russell made his 150th senior appearance for Williamstown.
Another interesting fact to come from the 1968 season was that the reserves and thirds committees were disbanded at Papley's insistence, allowing the first grade to take over control of those teams, which had always operated as separate clubs with their own president, committee, secretary, treasurer, training staff, life members, etc. Such a move was seen as unusual by some as the seconds and thirds had stable management for a long period of time, as well as a strong ladies committee which enabled them to be self-supporting throughout the season, but it was done to streamline the selection process.
During the year the Club endured the sudden passing of Victor Hateley, a life member and committee-man for nine years. He also acted in the capacity of timekeeper for six years and was instrumental in forming the inaugural Fourth's team that commenced in 1968. This team competed in the Western Suburban League, and finished runners-up in their first season. John Bloom was the inaugural captain, Paul Norman was leading goal-kicker, and Mick Halemba won the best and fairest from Ken Smith. Bernie Johns was coach.
Newly appointed captain-coach, Max Papley
Ian Nankervis in his Carlton days