Football Clubs are a melting pot of people, players, administrators, coaches, trainers, supporters, champions and hopefuls.
Every now and then, a player comes along, who doesn’t fit the stereotypical mould... with the outstanding qualities of an exceptional person, in addition to being an excellent footballer.
Geoff Williams was born on November 18 1930, and attended Geelong High School, where his father Ralph was an art teacher. One of his schoolmates there was Terry Fulton, who lived around the corner in Humble St, and who would later join him at Geelong as part of the famous 1952 Premiership team. Geoff played his junior football at East Geelong in the Under 15’s and he captained the Under 18 team in 1948.
I first met Geoff Williams about 55 years ago, through the YMCA Little League. He was a regular visitor to the Geelong West Little League, where he would run training nights for the boys. We were all under 12, and a little star struck whenever he came to visit.
He was a real footballer, and I remember the sound of the air trying to get out of the ball when he kicked it… he was a champion, and a hero to the boys.
I also remember his gentle, softly spoken and caring nature, which would be one of the hallmarks of his life. Terry Fulton told me that he never once heard Geoff raise his voice in anger.
There were always Geelong players coming to training and to pie nights with the boys... Polly Farmer and Geoff Rosenow were both regulars… probably organised by Geoff. Later on, Geoff founded the South Barwon Little League, and before long, junior teams were established right across the Geelong area and beyond.
Over the past 50 years or more, thousands of Geelong boys, and now girls, have been part of the competition that Geoff created, such is the depth of his legacy to this region.
I was a YMCA boy from the age of 9 to 18, and played Little League, then through the Under 15’s and Under 18’s. There was no senior team at the “Y”, so after Under 18’s, all the boys went different ways to play senior footy around Geelong, and some Little League boys made it in the VFL, like Mark Browne, and in the VFA like Colin Arklay. None of this would have been possible without the vision and commitment of Geoff Williams.
Last year we had a 50-year reunion for the YMCA Under 15 Champion team from 1969… Every boy in that team had come from the Little League… now we are all 66-years-old, or a bit older… and we spent the evening telling stories of our happy days in the Little League.. and at the “Y”, and what it has meant to us, and the impact it has made in our lives.
Geoff was involved with the YMCA for many years, and in addition to co-founding the Little League, he also founded and coached an indoor soccer competition in Corio in the late 1970’s, where he took teams to the National Titles.
He helped to establish a community drop in centre in Bell Post Hill and was an active member of his church groups and of Probus.
Geoff even drove the Prison Welfare bus for many years, where he would pick up visitors for inmates and take them to the Geelong jail from the North Geelong railway station.
Geoff’s partner in getting the Little League off the ground was the love of his life, his dear wife Joan, who ended up running the administration at the YMCA. Both Geoff and Joan were elevated into the YMCA Hall of Fame in 2003 for their outstanding contribution over many years.
For someone with such extraordinary athletic ability and talent, Geoff was a humble and quiet man as a player, and remained so, the whole of his life. Whenever you met Geoff you always came away feeling better for having seen him... he made you feel valued, and special... such was his generous, giving nature.
Geoff would wonder what all this fuss was about today... he often said that he was just an ordinary bloke, and he didn’t understand the fuss people made of him… he never really stopped to consider his achievements, he just focussed on doing his very best... at everything he did, and he got on with the job.
After Geoff left school, he joined the Bank of Australasia, and started work in Geelong… and was later transferred to Warrugul where he played football for a while. He was then relocated to the ANZ Bank in Melbourne.
He was recruited to Geelong in 1952 at the age of 21, despite being chased by three other clubs.
He walked straight into the reigning premiership team, such was his footballing ability, to become part of what would be the famous half backline of Middlemss, Hyde and Williams.
Later that season, his first season, he would win a premiership, and the first of his Best and Fairest Awards, the other coming 3 years later in 1955.
Geoff’s work at the bank in Melbourne meant that he couldn’t get to training in Geelong, so he actually trained at the Junction Oval with St Kilda, and played with Geelong on Saturdays... can you imagine that today? Joel Selwood turning up to train with Collingwood!
Geoff only kicked one goal in his 121-game career at Geelong, but it was a memorable one, to say the very least. One of Geoff’s areas of excellence on the field was his natural speed, he was quick, very quick.
In the second quarter of the Round 16 clash v Hawthorn at Glenferrie Oval in 1957, Geoff grabbed the ball on the half back line, tucked it under his arm and accelerated through the lines toward the Geelong goal, running and bouncing... when in sight of the goal he launched one of his best ever kicks, and the ball sailed through the big sticks, from a long way out, to record his one and only League goal.
Feeling pretty pleased with himself, he made his way to the change rooms when the half time break arrived and was very happy receiving the congratulations and plaudits of his teammates, when he was met by coach Reg Hickey who was looking quite serious.
Geoff was waiting for a compliment on kicking his first goal when Hickey said … what are you smiling at? Geoff replied “I kicked my first goal”…. Hickeys response was.. “that’ll be your last… if you ever kick another goal you’re finished.. Backmen don’t kick goals”… and so you could say that Geoff was well ahead of his time.. The running backmen of the modern game kick goals often these days, and it’s a great feature of our game.
In his 121 games of football with Geelong, Geoff was reported only once…in Round 4, 1952 v Fitzroy. Geoff was charged with striking Fitzroy tough man Alan “Butch” Gale.
Geoff went to the tribunal, and told them truthfully that he arrived at the contest too late, bumped into Gale and they both ended up on the ground…it was the truth, and the tribunal found Geoff not guilty.
For a player who played the game so hard over his career, he was always fair.
In speaking with Terry Fulton and Bill McMaster, both of his teammates described him as a humble, gentle person, who was a quiet, well-mannered gentleman off the field, but a tough hard team man on the field. He was a tough opponent and was fast, determined and skilful.
On Saturday, September 27, 1952, Geoff woke with the knowledge that he had to work in the morning at the bank in Melbourne, even though he was selected to play in the biggest game of his life… the Grand Final against Collingwood at the MCG.
As usual, Geoff just took all of this in his stride…it was a fierce contest.
Geelong won the Premiership and Geoff was acknowledged as Best on the Ground.. not bad for a kid in his first year of football.
After 121 games, Geoff retired from league football midway through the 1959 Season. His last game was against Essendon at Windy Hill in Round 5, 1959.
He went on to play with Yarraville in the VFA. He kicked 12 goals in his 13 games there, five in one match and I wonder if he was ever reminded of Hickeys comments eight years earlier, ‘Backmen don’t kick goals’.
On 1 April 1960, the Association approved for the first time, the playing of VFA premiership matches on Sunday afternoons.
Geoff was a man of principle, a strict Methodist, and he remained true to his beliefs for the duration of his life.
He didn’t believe that playing football on a Sunday was right. So he didn’t and he stood his ground, and his VFA playing days came to an end.
In 1962 Geoff was appointed playing coach of local team Modewarre, taking over from his old Geelong teammate Norm Sharp.
In 1964 he was appointed captain coach of his old team, East Geelong, back to where he started his football, and he would take them through to the grand final. He remained there as coach through 1965 and 1966 when he coached East to a famous Premiership win, by a goal over St Marys.
In 1975, Geoff was appointed as the Team manager of a group of Under 14 boys, who had been selected to represent Victoria, in a team that travelled to Papua New Guinea for a series of games. One of the young boys on that trip was Timothy Watson, a young boy from Dimboola High School, who would later carve his name into the history books of our game.
Bill McMaster remembers when Geoff rang him up in the 1970’s and arranged for a group of boys from Papua New Guinea to attend training at Kardinia Park, and so Geoff’s commitment and dedication to young people continued.
Bill says that Geoff was always a straight shooter, a great team man, and a wonderful bloke to play with… and above everything else he was a good man. Bill says that Geoff had a great memory and a good sense of humour.
Last year, Geoff was interviewed at the Geelong Art Gallery, by the Addy, and when it came to photo time, in a flash, Geoff aged 88, had stripped down in the middle of the gallery, and put on his number 21 jumper that he played in, just for the photo.
Geoff’s football and community contribution is well documented and acknowledged. In addition to this long list of achievements in his wonderful life, we should also add that he was a true champion to his family. His role as a great player, can only be matched or maybe even bettered, by his role as a wonderful, caring, father and husband.
Geoff was inducted as a Life Member of GFC in 1959. In 1984 he was awarded the Reg Hickey Award for services to Australian Football and elevated to the Hall of Fame of GFC in 2002. In 2016 he was awarded a Medal of The Order of Australia for services to football and the Geelong community.
His teammates loved Geoff and still do. The 51/52 boys were a close-knit group, they looked after each other on and off the field and have stayed great friends throughout their lives. They would get together every year up until recently for a dinner or a lunch, usually hosted by Hooker or Bobby Davis... they laughed a lot, told tall stories and stayed together.
The half backline was inseparable. Whenever there was a function at the Club, if you found one of them, you found them all, like the three musketeers, they stuck together.
It seems right that they are all back together now. Russ would be pulling up his shirt and showing everyone the scar from when he fell through the roof, Hydey would be organising everyone, and Geoff would be what he has always been… humble, kind and thoughtful.
I sat with Geoff on the Friday night before he passed away… he was asleep… it was a one way conversation… but I think he heard me.. it has been my honour to have known Geoff Williams, and an even greater honour for me to have him as a friend.
Geelong Football Club is a better place because of Geoff Williams.
Geelong as a city, and we as Geelong people, owe a debt of gratitude to Geoff Williams for the profound legacy he has left for our children, and our grandchildren… and we are all better for having known him and for the place that he has filled in all of our lives.
Every time I see a little league kid I will think of him, and every time I see a number 21 Geelong jumper, I will think of him and the values he lived.
Geoff Williams has left a profoundly positive impact on this earth, his footprints are everywhere, and they will remain for generations.