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John Northey - My Redan Story

April 2020

What was it like growing up in Derrinallum and what are some of your earliest footy memories and highlights there?

I loved my time living in Derri. My parents were in business owning the green grocery store, the news agency as well as a mail run. It was also the starting of the Soldiers Settlement blocks which improved the town enormously.


Originally we only had one team in all our sporting activities with the influx of the SS we were able after a period of time, two cricket teams, two tennis teams and most grades of footy up to the U/16. 


At what age did you make your senior debut and were you part of any premiership sides ahead of being drafted to the VFL?


I was 16 starting my first year in the senior side for Derri, winning the Premiership. The next year beaten in the Grand Final against Cressy. The following year I played for Mortlake in the Hampden league being beaten in the Grand Final by Warrnambool.

Can you tell us of the origins of the nickname Swooper?


I believe it was Lou Richards who gave me that name which has stuck with me throughout my career.

Describe yourself as a player.

I believed I was out there to help and support all my teammates where I could (the game was never about me). I think my strength was being able to read the play extremely well.

You played 118 games with Richmond from 1963 and 1970 and played in two premierships with the club.  What were some of your fondest memories of your time as a player in the VFL?                

Just getting a game of VFL. Playing with some of the greatest players who have ever played the game.

Describe the influence Tom Hafey had with your own coaching career and what made him so successful and highly regarded by his players?


Once you have been with a coach for six years their philosophy rubs off, Tom was a fitness man as well as a great personal communicator. Jack Elliott Derrinallum and Bill McMaster Mortlake also had an enormous influence on my football development.

Following your VFL playing career you coached in the Sydney competition, tell us about that experience in Rugby heartland and some of the highlights.


First of all I had no idea of coaching however the players we recruited and the side we had, made it a lot easier. We played off in three Grand Finals winning one Premiership. The football was very hard and tough. One of the greatest highlight was coaching the NSW state side playing against a 2nd VFL side, we belted the arse off them. I believe not a thing mentioned in the Victorian papers after the event.

Who was it that reached out to you to take on the Redan coaching job and what were your initial impressions of the club itself and the playing list?

As I was still in Sydney (Western Suburbs) my brother Rodney was my spokesman, he was living in Ballarat. Jeff Brisbane and Rodney had many discussions prior to me meeting Jeff to finalize a deal. The President (Les Boyd) was also in all meetings.

What were some of the initial big decisions you made that helped drive the success which was soon to follow?


Trying to convince the younger players as well as the experienced players the importance of fitness.

Can you recall a specific time during the 1975 where you felt Redan were ready to break their 23 year premiership hoodoo? 


We made the preliminary the year before which meant to me, continued work on the younger players, skills and fitness. We also recruited specific players, Darby Baxter, Alex (Cabbage) Andjelkovic, Dave Atkinson and I think Ken Nunn returned also.


Take us through your memories of the 1975 Grand Final, the winning goal and the celebrations thereafter?                                                                                                            


Winning the Premiership was wonderful for the club in particular the volunteers and supporters, 23 years is a long time to wait. This was a hard fought battle leading comfortably at half time we had injuries to a couple very important players which eventually took our superior ability away.


We struggled for a while however always hanging in. The last few seconds were very exciting, Kelly (East, poetic justice) kicking the ball out of bounce, free to Redan. Brian 'Doc' Hepper rushed in claimed the ball his first opportunity to touch the ball (came off the bench).


Kicking from the right forward pocket, the angle was so acute that only the slightest margin of daylight could be seen. Unable to pass the ball to anyone, or wouldn’t, Hepper let fly, and as if a miracle occurred, it sailed through the goals. Pandemonium then broke out. Hepper has never let me forget the significance of his kick. “Just remember, I made you. You’d be nothing without me”

What adjustments did you make going from the hunter in 1975 to the hunted in the following two seasons and how did you keep the playing group hungry after winning the premiership?


Adjustments were simple, start again, we lost about eight of our premiership players because of work commitments in other parts of Victoria. We relied on our younger players who were about to move into senior ranks as well as recruiting four others. Dave Tuddenham, Michael Brandon, Laurens Lubeek, David Jenkins, Patrick Gleeson and Col Chester. Our youth Trevor Bennett, John Warren, Lindsay Powell and Leigh McKenzie also stepped up to the plate.

How would you describe the game plan of your Redan sides of the late 1970s and the main philosophies you drilled into your players? 

I think it was mainly about structures. Terry McLeish, Wayne Lyle, Trevor Bennett on wings great skills, strong marks and speed. Top forwards, strong determined on ballers (Chibnall and Christie our ruckman) close checking backmen led by John Burt.


Our game plan was pretty simple move the ball to open spaces then like the traffic light turns Green and away we go. We had great speed so our quick ball movement was important.

We hear stories about the intense training sessions back in the 1970s, can you give us an idea as to a typical pre-season and regular season session? 


We were focused on making our club very much family orientated having weekend training sessions with family involvement organized by Luddy and Chibby. Apart from that training around the lake and solid ball sessions.

Tell us about your second stint coaching Redan in 1980 and 1981 which saw the side fall to Golden Point in the Grand Final.


I couldn’t believe a club could drop away so quickly (two years). We created excitement by making the Grand Final in 1981 however were well beaten in the finish.

With which clubs did Redan have the biggest rivalries those days?

I think the local sides, East Ballarat, Golden Point, North Ballarat however always having enormous respect for these teams.

Who would be the top five players you coached at Redan, the player who improved the most during your time and the opposition player who gave you the most headaches?


Graeme Gellie, Russell Tweedale, Ian Christie, Peter Merriman, Terry McAliece, David Jenkins winning Henderson Medal, Ken Nunn, John Burt I could name every player who played all the sides. Russell Cook opponent we had some great tussles. Never had any headache players “did I Russell” (very early days).

You coached the BFL interleague squad to great success winning 1981, 1982 and again in 1983 and beaten in 1984 Tell us about some of your memories of those wins and the players who really took their game to another level in those matches?

A wonderful experience, Don Discher and Tony Howlett outstanding players through the Titles as well as all the other players. Having success in the titles created a great deal of respect between all players in the Ballarat FL.

From 1985 to 1998 you then coached 315 games of VFL/AFL football. What was the biggest adjustment you needed to make to succeed at the higher level and what were your greatest highlights? 

Preparation is the biggest adjustment to make, having had the experience of the Ballarat titles our preparation was always spot on. I needed to have support staff around me who were there for the right reasons as well as having people who were better than me in certain areas, that way I am learning also. Highlights: Melbourne FC making the finals first time in 23 years (same as Redan 1st Premiership for 23 years. Winning two night Premierships at Melbourne. Richmond 1995 first finals appearance in 13 years.

Who was the best player you ever saw take the field during your VFL/AFL coaching days?


Tony Lockett, Gary Ablett Snr, while coaching in AFL both players kicked over ten goals against the team I was coaching. Frances Bourke never say die no matter what, Royce Hart one of the best CHF ever seen, Dick Clay winger, full back, pace skill, determination. Matera, Judd the list goes on and on.

You came back to coach Redan for one game in 1998 when the club was in perilous shape. What do you remember of that experience and did you have confidence then that the club could turn its fortunes around as well as it did?


I believed the people in charge of the club were both solid business people as well as a strong love for football and in particular the Redan FNC. The club was in capable hands to make a full recovery very confident they would turn things around. Sat on the bench game day that weekend only to be abused by an opponent supporter.

Where do the Redan sides of late 1970s with their hat trick of premierships and those from 2002 to 2011 in winning six premierships rank among the BFL’s great dynasties?


Top of the ladder from where the club came from this is truly a magnificent effort. The club now is the leader in the BFL. When you love your club anything is possible, just ask all the volunteers.

You returned to the BFL coaching fraternity during the late 2000s at Ballarat FNC. Tell us about coming up against your old club and coaching another premiership side in 2008. 


When coaching no matter who it is you are out there to win, sentiment doesn’t come into it. Ballarat FNC is also a very well run club they were determined to win a Premiership as they had been down for such a long time or at least play in the finals creating some excitement.


In 2008 Ballarat won the Premiership against a side that was 100 to 1 on (Darley to win). A very determined group of young players plugged away doing the role that was expected of them.


Like a story from the history books Baker (captain, two points down) marked 45 out, went back ran in slotted the goal, siren went, Ballarat won a Premiership. Ash Baker later said I never made you Swooper it was that bloke “Hepper” from Redan who made you.

What are some of the biggest changes in coaching methods you have seen during your time in footy?


Game simulation plays, three nights training, because of technology more education via computer. As well as more support by all coaches.

What were some of your most effective methods of helping players regaining their lost confidence?                                       


Giving them extra solid one minute drills (over a period of ten minutes) which were very taxing this also supported mental strength. Their overall thoughts I believe gave them confidence to take on the challenges ahead.

You’ve been a big supporter of the various re-unions and fundraising efforts. You were named coach of Redan’s Team of the Century and been awarded Legend status in the Redan Hall of Fame. What does Redan and the 40 plus year connection you’ve had with the club mean to you today? 


It means being a proud member of the RFC. It also highlights we are only caretakers of a position in a club while achieving as much for the club as we possibly can. That is why volunteers and supporters are the most valuable people around, they seem to be there forever.

Tell us what you are up to these days and do you still have involvement with footy at club level?


Becoming an old flatulent.

What advice do you have for the junior boys and girls starting their careers with Redan?


Do it first of all for the enjoyment, playing with your mates, meeting new friends then working out how far you wish to take this wonderful emotional journey.

1998 Daylesford match

Save the Lions Dinner

1998 Daylesford match

1998 Daylesford match

1975 Grand Final scores

1975 banner

Team of the Century - Gary English, 'Bomber' Wells, John Northey and Mike O'Brien

1982 BFL Interleague side

1981 side
John Northey 2006.JPG

With Ian Pym 2006 Grand Final Breakfast


     1975 Premiership Re-union in 2015

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