It is not every day that we celebrate the foundations of Hawthorn’s success. From the time the club entered the VFL in 1925 to 1957, Hawthorn sides had a mere handful of finals appearances and a 1941 under-age Flag to show for their efforts. This state of affairs would change thanks in part to the feats of the 1958 and 1959 2nd 18 teams. They earned back to back Premierships - breakthrough achievements that paved the way to future glory. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first of these victories and so a reunion lunch was held at the MCG on August 29 to celebrate both Flags.
This reunion took place high in the Ponsford Stand’s Harrison Room, overlooking the scene of the back to back triumphs. The players remarked that nothing remained of the ground from those days, save for the fence. There was an immediate buzz of anticipation, recognition and friendship between the 22 players, their wives, family members and invited guests. A number had come from interstate in order to see old teammates, tell stories and celebrate achievements as Hawthorn Premiership players. One late apology was noted, that of their Captain, Brian Kann, due to a family illness. His teammates certainly missed their leader.
These 2nd 18s Premiership sides were coached by the late Horace ‘Tubby’ Edmonds. He was represented by his son, William and his adult grandchildren, Robyn Harris and Evonne, Margaret and Stephen Edmonds. They were all warmly received by the players, whose stories told of a much-admired coach.
As the guests enjoyed lunch, they were welcomed to the event by Hawthorn’s CEO, Justin Reeves who spoke of the importance of the day. Bill Shelton expanded on the reasons for celebrating the back to back Flags and set the tone for the reunion.
The Hawks Museum’s favourite MC, Mike Derum then invited players up to the podium for short but highly entertaining interviews. Each team member related their memories of their days with Hawthorn, playing in an era where the possibilities and excitement for success were building.
The ruckman, John Elward set up the afternoon with his pages of stories and recollections of the1958 Grand Final, the players, officials, the Collingwood opposition and even the seagull who ended up worse for wear following a John ‘Ginger’ Dineen kick. He told of teammates who ran in straight lines irrespective of who was in the way and of those who received well-acted free kicks and of players who performed best in the greasy conditions on the day. In a wonderful end to his interview, Elward presented his 1958 2nd 18 Best & Fairest trophy and several rare under-age team photos to the curator of the Hawks Museum, Peter Haby.
John McArthur had made the journey from Western Australia. The Player of the Finals series in 1959 told of his life after football. He brought a sculpted hard hat to illustrate his time in the mining industry. He was one of those players who ran only in straight lines.
There was a cheer when a quiet man of the team, Ron Nisbet, centre half forward in the ’58 side, stood and told of his recollections of coach ‘Tubby’ Edmonds and the Edmonds family. He was one of many players who sought out Edmonds’ son during the afternoon to reminisce and illustrate just how much ‘Tubby’ meant to them.
There were also wonderful moments with Ron Cabble, Sted Hay and Ron McVilly, three usually quiet Hawks. Their teammates were certainly delighted to see and hear them speak!
A talented trio came to the podium for a song. With John O’Mahony and Ron Nisbet acting as backing singers, Garry Young performed the song about the exploits of the ’58-’59 Hawks, written in the 1950s by members of the Bugle Squad. The song listed every one of their teammates. Nisbet’s stunning voice, in particular, amazed the audience. Of course, you couldn’t end this function with just one song. The audience was encouraged to participate in the singing of the 1958 players’ version of the Club Song, We’re the Boys from Hawthorn Way. It was only natural then for such passionate Hawks to finish with a powerful rendition of We’re a Happy Team at Hawthorn, full of pride and gusto.
A Premiership should be marked with a team photo. This day could not end without the 22 players in attendance gathering for a clutch of formal - and not so formal – photographs and even more singing of Club Songs. The afternoon lingered well past the scheduled close as the teammates wanted to tell just one more story.
There was a lovely postscript to the event. Before they travelled home to Warrnambool, Ron Nisbet and his wife, Judy visited the Hawks Museum to see the displays, reminisce about events and absent teammates and to add detail to Ron’s part in the foundations of Hawthorn’s successful era. The main reason for their visit, though, was to see Ron’s 1958 Premiership trophy. He had not known of its existence until Tubby Edmonds’ family mentioned that it was on display in the Museum’s cabinet honouring the 1958-59 sides.
The success of this reunion was due in great part to the enthusiasm of its organisers, Bill Shelton, centreman from the ’58 and ’59 Flags, wingman Brian Falconer and Garry Young, the full forward in the ’58 side who would go on to play in Hawthorn’s 1961 Premiership. It was also due to each of the players who attended. Their memories of such a special time in Hawthorn’s history made the day unforgettable.
Team pictured above: Back Row: (l to r) John O’Mahony, John Dineen, John Elward, Terry Ingersoll, Gary Rasmussen, Ken Freiberg, John Kilpatrick, Geoff Howells, David Ritchie, Bob Nisbet, Trevor Randall, John McArthur, Garry Young, Brian Coleman.
Seated: (l to r) Paul Sullivan, Geoff Wilson, Bryan Waters, Ron Cabble, Bill Shelton, Brian Falconer, Sted Hay, Ray McVilly
Below: Tubby Edmonds’ family (clockwise from top) Robyn Harris, Stephen, Margaret, Evonne and William Edmonds