Saturday night was a very special occasion at Malseed Park as some of the greatest Western Border players ever shared stories from West Gambier’s glory days.
All three of the Roos’ premiership teams – 1971, 2010 and 11 – were under the one roof as the entire club paid tribute during the memorable reunion.
Former league medallist Kevin Douglas kept the large crowd entertained, but the biggest cheers were saved for the famous 71 team with 14 players in attendance including some from as far as Queensland and Western Australia to mark the 50-year anniversary.
Barry Ward and John “Bones” Beaton were vital playing members of the club’s first premiership team and said the squad’s mateship was just as strong as it was half a century ago.
“West Gambier was our second home, so to get success from our careers was just a plus because we played football because we were mates,” Ward said.
“Football is a team game, you could be one of the best players in the world, but if you do not have the team around you, you cant win,” Beaton said.
“As we get older, you remember some of the sillier things that happened, but it is nice to also celebrate with the 2010 and 11 players.” Coleraine will forever be the venue associated with the Roos’ maiden flag.
Coming up against a spirited East Gambier side led by Gary Lazarus, West was slow to get off the mark, but eventually levelled the scores before quarter time.
West stamped its authority with a strong performance across the second and third terms to carry a solid 23-point lead into the final quarter.
However, the Roos could not find the big sticks for the remainder of the afternoon which brought the Bulldogs back into the game.
But thanks to the dominant efforts of Bryan Wilkinson, John Yeates, Beaton and captain Bill James, West held on by just 12 points.
Beaton said each player coached by Peter Merrett pushed the Roos over the line.
“It was what you would call a real team effort, everybody played their part,” he said.
Even though the WBFL was in its infancy, there was no doubting the high standard of the game with VFL and SANFL stars scattered across the clubs.
Cross-border trips to Hamilton and Heywood were daunting against former Melbourne and Carlton premiership stars, while each Mount Gambier team did not hold back on the field.
It was a very different world with Malseed Park still a paddock, three years away from being a football ground, as the Roos shared Vansittart Park with North Gambier.
The sides would rotate training times each week and “did not see eye to eye” with one another.
Despite the less-than-ideal training facilities and battle to be a winning force in the early years, the arrival of James transformed the team and in the space of five years, West went from “easybeats” to premiers.
The current players had nothing-but respect for their predecessors who had to earn every single possession and Ward said anyone could mix it with the city’s best.
“I do not recall anyone who went up to Adelaide that did not make it to SANFL, most players were good enough,” he said.
“We were the best country league outside of Adelaide, but I do not know how we would go today because the game is so different.
“You used to play in your position, but the game is so much faster now.” The night also marked the first reunion for the 2010 and 11 premiership winning teams after their maiden attempt was butchered from COVID- 19.
The man who coached the Roos to the holy grail for the first time since 1971, Keith Ransom said it was tremendous to catch up with so many of the club’s greats.
“It has been fantastic to listen to the 71 boys and see them and of course it is really good to see the 2010 and 11 guys because the decade has gone very quick and some of them have changed,” he said.
“They are memories entrenched in your mind that you never forget, so it has been a great night.” Ransom, a former East Gambier stalwart, had taken over the West coaching reigns after a stint at Heywood.
He arrived at Malseed Park with a team languishing near the bottom of the ladder which had only nine players attend a particular training session.
Ransom introduced a “you do not train, you do not play” mantra and the team responded brilliantly.
With more than 70 players hitting the training track each week, the Roos started to build momentum, but the coach believes a cross-border trip in round 5 was the turning point on the field.
“We had a trip to Portland and no one could ever break their castle, but we had a fantastic game kicking 12 goals before half time and held on by three points,” Ransom said.
“Afterwards there were so many people in the changerooms, so we knew we were on the right track.” The 2010 grand final is still talked about as one of the closest ever with a fast-finishing Millicent coming within three points of denying West a break-through flag.
A maiden triumph in 39 years inspired the Roos to even more success with a crushing performance against the Tigers in the 2011 decider.
Ransom said the vibe around the team to score back-to-back wins was powerful.
“They had a lot of hunger and found the professional side of football,” he said.
“We worked with the Under 18’s, worked on extra nights which inspired the boys to play the football they were capable of and the rest is history.”