Season Summary: 1976
Williamstown found themselves in familiar territory once again in 1976, heading back to the second division of VFA football and with their fifth President in five years, this time Rex Swann. Promotion back to first division the following year would be a daunting task with the prospect of having to knock off Mordialloc and Frankston, who were perceived as much stronger clubs and fancied for the premiership. The season began with Mal Allen, the first Port Melbourne player since Charlie Stanbridge in 1933 to take up the role of captain/coach, being given the reins to steer the club back to division one. The loss of the previous year's best and fairest winner, Michael Kelly, to Footscray after four games of the season and captain Bill Thompson to Dandenong after 67 games with the Club was a major blow to the year's campaign before it could even get underway. Thompson would go on to win the JJ Liston Trophy in 1977. Others to leave were Ron Fenton (74 games, 30 goals) and Robert Fox, the leading goalkicker in 1975. Recruits included Rocky Burgess, Michael Brown, Peter Mildenhall, Frank Briner, Bruce 'Pickles' Alexander and Mick Mahoney.
The season ebbed and flowed for the Towners, but got off to a flying start with an 80-point win in the opening round at home against Werribee (Greg Boxall 5 goals), followed by a 60-point victory at Waverley (Boxall 4 goals) and then an 11-goal margin over Yarraville at Pt Gellibrand (Boxall 9 goals) before the first loss at Camberwell in round 4. This was the Cobras first victory over Williamstown since 1952, ending a losing streak of 16 matches over 24 years. The team bounced back to thump Sunshine by 80 points (Michael Brown 10 goals) before going down by just six points at Mordialloc in the season's first real challenge. The Seagulls then knocked off ladder leader Frankston at Williamstown by 51 points in round 7, but then two defeats at the hands of Northcote and Werribee saw the 'Town out of the four by round 10. Four successive victories over Waverley (Michael Brown 7 goals), Yarraville by 65 points (Brown 5 goals), Camberwell by 55 points (Brown 9 goals) and Sunshine then had the Seagulls back in third position on the ladder before sustaining a crushing 99-point defeat at the hands of Mordialloc at Williamstown in round 15. The Seagulls kicked 18.9.117 but still lost badly, with Peter Neville booting 12 majors for the Bloodhounds. A second defeat followed at Frankston the next week, but the home-and-away season rounded out with big wins at Northcote and at home against Box Hill (Brown and Cross 6 goals each).
While finals participation was never in doubt, the query still remained as to whether Williamstown could knock off their seemingly superior bayside rivals come finals time. The Club finished in third place with 12 wins and six losses for the year and entered the finals as definite underdogs. The first semi-final saw the Towners come up against a competitive Northcote at Toorak Park before a crowd of 9,500. In a very high scoring and attacking fixture where the lead changed eight times after the long break, Williamstown were able to sneak past by four points, 16.20.116 to 17.10.112, after trailing by three points at the last change and kicking 3.8 in the last term. Michael Brown and Gary Harley both kicked 5 goals for the Seagulls.
Ladder leaders Frankston were next up, and after losing just one game for the entire year (to Williamstown in round 7), went into the preliminary final as firm favourites. In a free flowing contest, and thanks to some slightly more accurate kicking (including eight goals straight in the last quarter), the Seagulls booked their place into the grand final with a last-gasp two-point win, after being five goals behind at three quarter time and still trailing by 15 points at the start of time-on. Greg Boxall and Michael Mahoney each kicked four goals, but it was a late goal by Mark Cross that sealed the 18.12.120 to 17.16.118 win at Toorak Park in front of a crowd of 8,000 spectators.
After two heart-stopping finals, the Seagulls could be excused to come into the grand final against Mordialloc exhausted and overwhelmed at the colossal battle that was ahead of them, especially when Mordialloc won both of the home-and-away contests during the season. The game itself would be the exact opposite, such was the determination of Williamstown to return back to division one. After a tight opening quarter where the Bloodhounds led by nine points at the first break, Williamstown piled on goal after goal while an inaccurate Mordialloc could not go with the Seagulls, with the blue and gold running out 57-point winners in a rugged encounter, 19.13.127 to 9.16.70. Greg Boxall kicked 7 goals but best player was adjudged to be first-year full-back Rochford 'Rocky' Burgess who 'halted attack after attack' according to press reports of the game. The game was played at Toorak Park before a crowd of 10,000.
Williamstown's 1976 premiership team was:
B. Bruce Alexander Rochford 'Rocky' Burgess Brian Lowe
HB. Frank Pocevina Colin Boyd Peter Kerr
C. Greg Tweedly
HF. Mal Allen Mick Mahoney Peter Gardner
F. Peter Mildenhall Greg Boxall Gary Harley
Foll. John Fanning Robert Percy
Rov. Mark Cross
Res. Frank Briner Michael Brown
Some video of the game can be seen by copying and pasting the following link into your internet browser:
To top the season off, reliable defender Colin Boyd was awarded the J. (Jack) Field Medal as the best and fairest player in the VFA second division, but was runner-up to Robert Percy in the Andy Taylor Memorial Trophy for Club best and fairest. Percy had returned to the Club after being out of football in 1975. Peter Kerr finished third in the voting. First-year player Michael Brown took out the goalkicking award with a total of 67, and finished equal fifth on the Second Division list. The Reserves, under the coaching of former 200-game senior player Tom Russell, finished sixth on the ladder and the Thirds, coached by Gary and Daryl Ward, finished fifth, one game out of the final four. Future senior players Roland Goetz kicked 53 goals and finished fourth in the competition best and fairest award, while Laurie Taylor won the Club best and fairest in the Thirds. Bruce Wookey was awarded the Reserves best and fairest.
Former President of the football club and also the Gulls Coterie Group, Bill Dey, and long-serving committee men in Cec Page and Gordon Brown received life memberships at the annual general meeting. Life members and former vice-presidents of the Club Curly Lee and Snowy Wilkins both passed away during the year.
The Williamstown Fourths were disbanded in 1976 due to lack of players after winning three consecutive premierships in 1972-74 in the Western Suburbs Football League
Williamstown players line up before the preliminary final against Frankston
Greg Tweedly in a contest for the ball
Some action from the 1976 Grand Final at Toorak Park