The history of the first 50 years of the Central District Football Club (1959 – 2009) has been compiled in this outstanding 272 page book, written by former Club great Robin Mulholland and historian Robert Laidlaw. With over 600 photos, and stories from many of the great players, coaches and administrators over the last five decades, this book is a must have for all Bulldog supporters and those interested in the history and culture of the Northern suburbs.
The first print run was sold out. A second print run is running low. For just $49.95 you can grab your copy of this impressive book online by visiting the Bulldog Shop. Or you can simply drop into Grand Central or CDFC reception. Call 08 8255 2555 for details.
The birth of Central District Football Club
Football in the Northern Suburbs of Adelaide during the 1950’s was dominated by the Gawler Football League (Salisbury, Salisbury North, Gawler South, Willaston, Gawler Central and Virginia/Two Wells). This league had A and B grades but no junior structure or development.
In 1956 a junior football competition was founded by local football identities based at Salisbury Oval. This new structure soon became a successful sporting activity and was quickly affiliated with the SANFL.
Fred Rogers, Secretary of the Gawler League and heavily involved with the junior competition, made an unofficial approach to SANFL President Thomas Seymour-Hill regarding an admission of a League club from the growing Northern suburbs. Fred Rogers was to be instrumental in forming the network that was to ultimately lead to the formation of the SANFL Club while those associated with the Junior League were to serve in the new entity’s administration. Rogers was told that the SANFL would not entertain a single application. It was known that a consortium from Woodville were also considering an application. After several meetings in 1958 both the Gawler League/Junior Competition and Woodville agreed to make a joint submission to the SANFL.
Officials then faced the difficult task of designing the new entity with delegates from Salisbury, Salisbury North, Elizabeth and Gawler failing to reach consensus on issues such as the Club name and home ground. Eventually the new identity was reached – Central District (derived from the agricultural and meteorological definition of the Northern area) was to play its games at Elizabeth Oval (a neutral venue as far as the delegates were concerned). The name Central District was already synonymous with a Queen’s Birthday Holiday Football Carnival contested by the Gawler, Barossa, Adelaide Plains and Mid-North Leagues.
The colours of red, white and blue of Footscray in the VFL were suggested by Rogers. Centrals very first guernseys were hand-made by Mrs Rogers.
Not all SANFL Clubs were in favour of the submission. After strong lobbying from Thomas Seymour-Hill and Jack Forrester from North Adelaide the Central District and Woodville submissions were accepted only on the proviso that they serve a 5 year probationary period (1959 to 1963) in B-grade before being admitted into the SANFL competition in 1964.
Central District, with no team, no money, no supporters and no experience in League football, gladly accepted these terms. John Delo was Centrals first Captain and Charlie Pyatt Coach. During this period the team was place third in 1961, won a local “night” Premiership in 1962 and Gary Window won the reserves Magarey Medal in 1963. The Club also formed the Central District Football Association with local football clubs.
In 1960 the committee of Footscray (in the VFL) accepted an invitation to dine with the new Central District committee. Footscray became the first Patron of the Central District Football Club, donating 30 long sleeve woollen jumpers and 30 pairs of socks to assist the new club.
Centrals made its League debut against West Torrens in 1964 and was soundly beaten, 26:24(180) to 6:4(43). The Club had decided to cast away senior players and opt for a policy of youth for its first year in the League competition. It failed to win any of that first season’s 20 encounters. Ken Eustice was appointed Central’s first League coach and led the side for four seasons.
In 1965 the Club acquired key forward Tom Grljusich from South Fremantle and, with Window firing on the half forward line, rose to seventh position on the Premiership Table. Centrals closed the season in a blaze of glory, winning 7 of its last 10 games and Window captured the Magarey Medal. Disappointment followed and in the next 4 years (two under Eustice and two under Dennis Jones), the Club was unable to win more than five games in a season.
Dennis Jones was a colleague of Ron Barassi at Melbourne during the Norm Smith era. His aim was to develop the youth of the district and lifted the Club to its first finals showdown. During his tenure a number of players rose to prominence: classy centreman Lyle Skinner, giant ruckman Dean Farnham, dynamic roving duo Robin Mulholland and Barry Norsworthy, elusive half forward David Saywell, lightning wingman Peter Vivian, fearless Dean Mobbs and Bill and Richard Cochrane.
Sonny Morey was also transformed by Jones from a wingman into an rebounding back pocket, later winning State selection in his tenth season and becoming the first Bulldog to reach 200 games in 1976. Sonny was the first of a strong Aboriginal heritage that has blessed this Club. The key men who made the Club a finals force in 1971-72 were two Western Australian ruck-rovers, Phil Haughan and Tony Casserly. Haughan won Central’s Best & Fairest in his first season and tied for second in the Magarey Medal.
Casserly was appointed Club Captain in 1971, his second season, was Captain-Coach for the next three seasons and then continued as a playing Coach in 1975 after relinquishing the Captaincy to Bill Cochrane. His fast running and handball game got Centrals to within a whisker of the 1972 Grand Final but then saw the Club slide to sixth and seventh position.
In 1976 the ebullient but highly volatile Gary Window took the Coaching helm. His enthusiasm helped the Bulldogs stage a great recovery in the second half of his first season. Centrals then collected the dreaded wooden spoon the following year, which precipitated another change to the man at the top.
Five time Sturt Premiership player Daryl Hicks came to Centrals with a wealth of experience and, with his forceful and articulate guidance, lifted the side to a minor Premiership in only his second year. The advance of sensational youngster Peter Jonas to All-Australian status, the brilliant form of Magarey Medallist John Duckworth, the skill of centreman/half forward Geoff Gillies, combined with the tenacity and flair of Dean Mobbs, Peter Vivian and the Norsworthy brothers made 1979 a memorable year tempered only by losing the two finals matches.
In 1980 Duckworth was injured in the opening round and the club was unable to maintain the momentum due to the lack of key positional players. Hicks’ run and reflex football allowed players to gain possession but too many opportunities were wasted on the flanks. The loss of Duckworth and Jonas interstate complicated the opening of the 1981 season. Then in 1982, with 104 goal-kicking youngster Greg Edwards, Centrals bounced back into the finals only to go down to Glenelg (only three weeks after hammering the Tigers by 18 goals!)
Despite the Elimination Final disappointment, the future looked very good with developing talent. John Platten, Peter Bubner, Steven Trigg, Peter Krieg, Trevor Roe, Mark Prior and Jamie Thomas provided refreshing support for the old reliables like Mark Norsworthy, Wilbur Wilson, Mobbs, and future Captain Rene Van Dommelle. Unfortunately 1983 spelled the end of the Hicks’ reign with an eighth spot finish.
St. Kilda stalwart Kevin Neale came with an impressive coaching record in the ACT, and brought with him Brett Hannam and Stephen Nolan who proved very valuable contributors to the Club. To say that Neale had an immediate impact would be an understatement as the team won a record 16 games to grab the double chance before bowing out to Glenelg in a spiteful game (which resulted in 3 Centrals players being suspended), and Norwood. John Platten’s Magarey Medal and All-Australian selection were at least some consolation for the Club.
A couple of near misses in the next two years and then a slump to eighth in 1987 saw the “Cowboy’s” reign end and the “King’s” reign begin. Neil Kerley had an inspirational coaching record as an SANFL Coach and the Club responded with two finals appearances in his first two seasons but, alas, two losses in each series continued the Club’s dismal finals record.
Promising players of this period were tall forward/ruckman Grant Coffee, rover Eddie Hocking, and classy future Captain Roger Girdham. The Club had also recruited established VFL stars Craig Braddy and Greg Smith, as well as fringe VFL players Scott Lee, Robert Handley, David Flintoff and cult hero Rudi Mandemaker, all who were substantial contributors to the Club. Despite the finals failure 1989 achieved other milestones for the Club, a Reserves Premiership, Gilbert McAdam’s Magarey Medal, Phil Lounder’s Reserves Magarey Medal, Paul Hicks’ Tomkins Medal and Mandemaker’s Ken farmer Medal. A new era was dawning on South Australian football with the advent of the Adelaide Crows into the AFL competition for the 1991 season.
The 1991 season also saw a change to the coaching spot with the appointment of long time Club stalwart Alan Stewart. Stewart played only two league games for the Club in 1969 and played in the Reserves Premiership side in 1971. He also had success coaching Central’s Under 17’s to two flags in the late ’70’s and was a successful Teal Cup Coach. Stewart broke Centrals long-standing finals drought with 1994’s memorable first-semi, four-point victory over Norwood, and then in 1995 led the Bulldogs into their first grand final. Unfortunately the loss to Port Adelaide was Stewart’s swan song.
Stephen Wright, brother of former Bulldog Michael and an accomplished footballer with the Swans, took over in 1996 and did not miss a beat, leading Central District to its second straight minor premiership and grand final. A first ever finals victory over Port Adelaide in the second semi (the fourth victory over the Magpies for the year) was soured by a shock loss in the grand final. The record run of consecutive finals continued in ’97, with a victory over North Adelaide in the first-semi and an 11-point loss to eventual premier Norwood the outcome.
Wright left to coach in the National under 18 competition in 1998, and was replaced with the clubs first All-Australian Peter Jonas as coach. Supporters were also heartened with the news that Magarey Medallists and favourite sons John Platten and Gilbert McAdam were returning to the club. Despite the Bulldogs making the finals, it was a poor year soured by injuries. Central did not win a finals game for the first time in five years although it extended its finals appearances to six consecutive years.
Another shocking run with injuries in the 1999 season further handicapped Jonas as coach, with a no-finals appearance the downside. On the positive side, the underage teams and the reserves developed well under the Jonas style of football.
The 90’s saw Captains Roger Girdham and Danny Hulm lead from the front with inspirational leadership. Rick Macgowan was been Central’s outstanding player through the ‘90s, while Damian Arnold, Michael Wakelin, Marco Bello, Steven Schwerdt, Brian Haraida, Craig Potter, Scott Lee, Damien Hicks and Tim Cook were outstanding contributors.
In 2000 that came to fruition with Central District winning its first League Grand Final against Woodville/West Torrens. Three of the Clubs four grades were to contest the finals. The Club embarked on a recruiting campaign that netted key Centre Half Forward Kynan Ford, James and Chris Gowans from St. Kilda and Danny Stevens from North Melbourne and the return of Daniel Healy from St. Kilda. Already blessed with the likes of Daniel Hulm, Marco Bello and Stuart Dew the Club now possessed a potent rotating midfield that would prove decisive in the finals series. With victory came disappointment with Peter Jonas leaving the Club to join Malcolm Blight at St. Kilda.
Alastair Clarkson, 32, joined the Club after an AFL career with Melbourne and North Melbourne to take the helm as Coach and is the Club’s youngest coach since Tony Casserly. His appointment and the start of the 2001 season was soured by the tragic death of 2000 Premiership Captain Daniel Hulm in London. If the 2000 season was any good, 2001 was to be much better. With a strong league squad strengthened by the arrival of Simon Arnott, Tyson Hay and Martin McKinnon the Bulldogs won all but four games the entire season. The favouritism tag for the flag was well founded and the club went to win its second consecutive premiership dubbed “bark to bark”.
If Central District was destined to only win one Premiership in 2002, it won the wrong flag, as its league side lost to Sturt by 47 points and the reserves defeated Port Adelaide by 102 points in the SANFL grand finals. Having lost only 2 games for the season and defeating the Blues four times from four encounters, the Bulldogs chose the wrong day to put in their worst performance of the year. There could be many excuses, like too many weeks off without competitive footy, losing key backman Damian Hicks early in the game but, at the end of the day, Sturt was too good. Central’s score of 6.9 was its lowest of the season in only its third loss of the year – the least losses the Bulldogs have experienced in the same season. The game would rank alongside the 1996 grand final as one of the club’s darkest hours.
At the start of 2003 the club and Clarkson went their separate ways after a contractual dispute and Reserves Premiership Coach Roy Laird, 33, was thrown into the deep end. Drawing on his first-hand experience with the developing culture at Centrals under Wright, Jonas and Clarkson, Laird was able to continue with the Bulldog work and development ethos. Richard Cochrane, Stephen Brooks, Yves Sibenaler and David Kellett heralded a new generation of league regulars. A Minor Premiership was soon outclassed by a Premiership victory over top-four rival West Adelaide. No club in the history of the SANFL has won the trifecta of under-19s, reserves and league in the one season, earning Central District a unique place in history. Other record-breaking facts from the grand final included the Bulldogs kicking their highest score in a grand final, Eddie Sansbury’s five-goal haul – the most by a Central player in a premiership decider. And for the first time a pair of brothers have won the Jack Oatey Medal – James Gowans took out the club’s inaugural medal in 2000 and now brother Chris has made it a twin victory, with his best-on-ground performance. Elizabeth Oval was rocking on the Sunday night after the game as supporters came out in force to celebrate with the players, proving Central District is the top community club in the SANFL, with fans from Elizabeth, Gawler and the Barossa revelling in the success.
Central District celebrated 40 years in the SANFL league ranks in 2004. Most of the league squad stuck with the club after the success of 2003 giving coach Roy Laird plenty to work with to defend the flag. Two wins started the year well before finals rival, the Eagles, gatecrashed Central’s birthday celebrations in round 3 at Elizabeth Oval. Centrals were to lose just two more games finishing on top of the minor round ladder with a 17:3 record. Daniel Schell collected his first Ken Farmer medal with 74 goals, Paul Thomas won both the Magarey Medal (the club’s fifth) and Norm Russell Medal (with Matthew Slade in second place on both occasions) and Elijah Ware, Kane Officer and Brad Symes became familiar names in league ranks. The Bulldog’s form leading into the finals looked ominous after securing its fourth consecutive minor premiership. The 2nd Semi Final against the Eagles was a nail-biter, the Dogs securing a 2-point win at AAMI Stadium (and their first win over the Eagles that season) to advance straight into the grand final. A week later the club learnt that again the Eagles would front up to contest the Dogs in a grand final for a third time (after 2000 and 2001). Sunday October 3 was a day for the record books. While sentimental favourites it was the Eagles who were to have a dog of a day at the hands of a ruthless Central District who piled on 23.15 (153) to 4.4 (28) to record the biggest winning margin in any SANFL grand final of 125 points. Schell and Healy kicked 6 and 5 goals respectively and Nathan Steinberner collected the Jack Oatey Medal for his best-on-ground performance. The club also collected its fourth consecutive Stanley H. Lewis Memorial Trophy (for best performing club through all four grades) while the Under 17’s worked hard for the club’s 12th Under 17’s flag.
Club stalwarts Brian Haraida (268 games), Damian Hicks (181) and Damian Arnold (181) announced their retirements after the 2004 season and the signs looked ominous for 2005 with injuries to numerous key players. A slow start to the season, two extremely hot game days and the Bulldogs were languishing in 7th spot on the ladder and looked vulnerable at 3:5. Was the dynasty over? It was the Round 11 home game against Sturt and the Dogs had their backs to the wall. A third quarter comeback saved the game and set the stage for a miraculous comeback to win the remaining 12 minor round games of the season with an average winning margin of 55 points! Luke McCabe returned from Hawthorn, Heath Hopwood played his 150th game, Marco Bello won his second Norm Russell Medal while the next generation of pups, Travis Varcoe, Scott Dutscke, Andrew Bawden, Michael Taylor and Leigh Westhoff made their debuts. The winning streak saw Centrals pinch its fifth consecutive Minor Premiership, establish a record 6 consecutive victories against Port Adelaide Magpies and a record six consecutive victories in second semis). Once again it was the Eagles who fought their way to challenge the Bulldogs after they knocked the Magpies out of the finals in the Preliminary. Their grand final performance was an improvement on 2004 but it was not enough for the honours with a 28 point loss, the Bulldogs claiming their third consecutive flag. Luke McCabe was awarded the Jack Oatey Medal.
2006 started without Captain Daniel Healy, Marco Bello, Tyson Hay, Heath Hopwood, Simon Arnott and Sam McArdle (with 25 premierships between them). The outlook from many quarters was that 2006 was to be a very difficult one for Centrals, according to Coach Roy Laird. The season opened in spectacular fashion on a warm April night at home when 7329 people watched the Dogs convincingly beat Sturt under lights for the first time at Elizabeth. The minor round was one of mixed fortunes. Rarely was the team able to play with consistency. That was compounded by Captain Nathan Steinberner’s serious shoulder injuries that hampered his on-field role to just 1 game. Entering the finals the Bulldogs had a 12:8 win/loss record and was fortunate to have the double chance. The club put together its best two performances of the year against North and the Eagles with wins earning a place in its 7th consecutive grand final. Unfortunately, the day itself was to be a bitter disappointment, beaten by a better side on the day (Eagles), 17.19 (121) to 7.3 (45). Twelve players made their debuts for the club, most notably Andrew Hayes, Chad O’Sullivan and Justin Westhoff, while Stuart Cochrane, Luke McCabe and ruckman Paul Scoullar called it a day. Matthew Slade won the Norm Russell Medal ahead of James Gowans and Chad O’Sullivan.
The 2006 grand final loss inspired the club to steel its resolve. A strategic planning day held by the Board in November 2006 assessed the club’s position, developed a business plan and made important decisions to assist the football department to achieve that ultimate goal. A strong recruiting campaign netted Ian Callian, Nathan Grima, Heath Lawry, Charles Slattery and Trent Goodrem to the club while locals Daniel Havelberg, Jonathon Giles and Louis Haddon made their league debuts. Matthew Slade and Paul Thomas were appointed co-captains and Saturday night football became a regular event at Elizabeth.
The 2007 campaign kicked off at home with an impressive 42-point win over highly favoured North Adelaide in front of over 6000 supporters. With the playing group changing significantly from the previous year the club anticipated a slow start of the season. However, the club got off to a flying start with eight successive wins including a crunching Anzac Day win over the Eagles by 82 points. A hard fought loss to Sturt at Unley along with a 35-point loss to North at Prospect late in the season were the only two defeats of the year. The North loss providing real motivation come the finals. Knowing that the minor premiership was sealed Roy Laird gave the players hard running drills to make the super fit for the finals. With a grand final berth up for grabs, the second semi-final got off to a shaky start against North Adelaide follwing two weeks of byes. Down at quarter tiome the players slowly began to gain the ascendancy and won by 20 points awarding the club with its eighth consecutive grand final. Coach Roy Laird said, “My role was minimal. You could sense the hunger and desire in the rooms prior to the game. This group was on a mission!”. The opening 10 minutes set the scene. Fierce attack on the ball, aggressive tackling and polished ball use saw the team gain the upper hand over opponent North Adelaide. The 65-point victory handed the club its sixth flag and Roy Laird’s fourth as coach. Both the Gowans boys were hard at it and creative all match, with Chris winning his second Jack Oatey Medal. Callinan was at his lethal best kicking goals when it counted, Brad Symes rebounded well while the backline, led by 100-gamer Richard Cochrane, was solid all game. The Norm Russell Medal went to Ian Callinan in his debut year with 59 goals. During the season Chris and James Gowans and Adam Switala played their 150th game and Daniel Havelberg kicked a club record 14 goals against Norwood in Round 13 at Elizabeth.
Season 2008 was a prime example of perseverance and mental strength. Luke McCabe returned from retirement and James Moss, Matthew Westhoff and Brayden O’Hara made their league debuts while co-captain Matthew Slade played his 200th league game. The goal each year is to finish the minor round in the top three. The club achieved that quite comfortably, but performed poorly at different times and looked to be falling short of the standards and skill level set by Sturt and Glenelg. When the going gets tough, the tough get going – this cliche could not be more apt when identifying the clubs late season revival. Mental toughness had been displayed during courageous come-from-behind wins against Port at Elizabeth and Norwood at The Parade. The physical toughness would be the Bulldog’s area of attack against competition leaders Sturt and Glenelg, both very skillful teams that could be broken down by tackling, chasing and accountability. Roy Laird said, “During all three finals, we were headed and concerningly faced these good sides with momentum, a dangerous situation in finals. These moments were overcome by one of the mentally strongest teams I’ve coached, a team which knows when to hang tough during onslaught and when to sense the moment to go in for the kill.” Central’s qualifying win over Sturt was the biggest finals comeback in the club’s history, Central rebounding from a 23-point three-quarter time deficit to beat Sturt by three points, after Elijah Ware took a pack mark and steered the winner through the 20 minute mark of the last quarter. A week later Centrals’ inflicted a 30-point loss to raging favourites Glenelg (led by Daniel Schell’s 5 goals). The SANFL Grand Final was once again a familiar stomping ground for the Bulldogs with a seven goal third quarter onslought against Glenelg, led by Jack Oatey medallist Jason Mackenzie. With the 17.11(113) – 11.11 (77) final score another premiership was heading past Gepps Cross. In many good judges’ opinion it was one of the finest moments of the club’s history. The “too old, too slow’ jibes were sent back return to sender. According to CEO Kris Grant, 2008 proved the most satisfying finish to any football season he had been involved in. Jeremy Aufderheide, Luke Cowan, Luke McCabe (again), Nathan Steinberner and Elijah Ware announced their retirements. Chad O’Sullivan was awarded the Norm Russell Medal in his third year with the club.
To be continued …