Albert Park Football & Netball Club
By Anna Pavlou
Sixty-four years ago, life in Melbourne, Australia was different. Most men worked and most women stayed home and raised children or looked after the house. The office or factory was a place for mostly men to gather, to not only work and make a sustainable income to raise and support themselves and a family, but to also find common interests and create bonds through shared love of art, history, culture and sport.
In 1954, with a population of about 1.5 million, much of Melbourne was concentrated in what today is known as the inner suburbs. Richmond, Collingwood, Carlton, Fitzroy, Essendon, South Melbourne, North Melbourne, St Kilda, Footscray, Hawthorn were all battling for suburb supremacy and bragging rights.
1954 was the year of planning; the year that Melbourne looked ahead to the prospect of growing the city to put its name on the map with strong international migration especially from Southern Europe. Melbourne was changing. In the world of football, Footscray Football Club won its first ever premiership in the Victorian Football League. Rising Fast won the Melbourne Cup that year, a right vision of what Melbourne was in the midst of doing. The city was getting ready to host the Olympic Games.
The Australian and New Zealand Bankers (ANZ) team came into play in 1954 also saw the birth of a new football team that defined the times of Melbourne in the 1950s.
With a strong growth of workplace football teams, the ANZ Bank formed its first ever team that was made up exclusively from players who worked in the bank. This team and some other working teams that played in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) and other competitions.
But without the facilities that many football clubs take for granted today, such as hot water and able trainers, the founding members of the ANZ Bank Football Club may have believed that this dream, of creating a successful Workplace Football team, would be short lived.
Oh, how wrong they would be.
Early Saturday mornings were much the same for the Bankers at ANZ Bank Head Office 394 Collins Street Branch, who were found working away on the day that is usually known to be a typical day off for many. But, all of that was about to change and Saturday afternoon football would become the new way in which they would connect and develop interest in each other. Many were returned soldiers and shared common understanding of war experiences..
The inaugural ANZ Bank Football Club President and fellow banker was Jim Dunn. He led the way bringing the ANZ employees together to create a competitive football side that would join the VAFA in 1954 in the newly established ‘E’ Grade.
This new Grade was created to cater for the large influx of new sides, many of which were Workplace or Trade teams, including National Bank and Insurance Social Clubs Association, who would both survive alongside ANZ until the mid 1980s.
The VAFA recorded 2726 registered players in 1954, a 333 man increase from the 1953 season and the largest the Amateur League had ever seen, with 22 of those additions belonging to the ANZ ‘Zedders’ team.
The Zedders established their home fortress at Olney Oval at Yarra Bend Fairfield, but trained at Wright Street Oval Albert Park, where better facilities (such as running water) were available. They selected ANZ Bank employee Val Kennedy as captain. Andy Brannan was then appointed coach, picked for the job due to his strong football past, playing 68 games for both Richmond and Hawthorn Football Clubs between 1942-1946.
They often worked Saturday mornings. Many did not own cars, so turned to train rides, long walks and buses to get to trainings and games. While it was a tough journey for many, endless memories and bonds were forged on the trip to the humble grounds.
The first time they fronted wearing the navy blue with the ANZ Bank logo proudly on display, the inaugural ANZ Bank side came out 20 goal winners. This jubilation would be short lived however, as they would go on to win only two more games of the sixteen-round season, finishing ninth out of ten teams. But it was a start.
ANZ FOOTBALL CLUB VAFA – 1954
Back Row: Harold Bray, Rob Stone, John Carruthers, John
Francis, Colin Spencer, Maurie Willmott (Secretary), Doug Strain, Norm Dibbin.
Middle: Alan McKay, Jim Dunn (President), Val Kennedy (Captain), Norm Halliday, Andy Brannan (Coach), Frank Lyons.
Front Row: Trevor Livingstone, Bill Gardiner, Jerry Price, Jack Ellis, Brian Christensen.
Absent: Graham Croxford , Geoff. Ridgway, Jim Marchbank, M Linard.
The following year the ANZ Bank team acquired access to a Batman Avenue Oval, next to the Artillery Depot. The men utilised the army depot for team meetings when the change rooms had no working lights. This was a common occurrence, but didn’t seem to faze the team, who were just happy to be playing the game.
While the build to succeed as a long-term workplace team off-field was in full swing, many players from ‘The Originals’ had retired, making it extremely difficult to field a full team weekly. Again, they scraped in with 2 wins from 18 games.
In 1956, the founding committee stepped down, believing there would be no future as a football team and brought their focus back to working at the Bank only. It was devastating for the players and club men who had put their heart and soul into their team, in order to share and boost the workplace connections beyond the desks at Collins street.
This prospect of a folding club didn’t sit comfortably with the remaining players, who had all created a strong bond through a turbulent first two seasons of footy.
After three meetings pre-season, Keith Metcalf was elected president in a last-gasp effort to keep the club afloat. He, along with secretary of the ANZ Bank Staff Social Club, Jack Hodges, moved the “Zedders” to train at the outside grounds of Princes Park, bordering Carlton Football Club training in the VFL. Training alongside the best in the VFL competition, acted as a catalyst for many of those young men to keep plating.
It was a defining moment and the right move to focus on club survival and eventual expansion.
Frank Lyons, inaugural 1954 team member and fellow banker, was elevated to captain-coach in 1956. His enthusiasm and genuine care for his team’s future through that tough ’56 season, kept them alive to see another day.
“Because the bank was changing in the workplace environment, recruitment was getting hard as players weren’t as interested from the bank,” said club life member Bill Jackson, who was an eager spectator of the ANZ boys in their inaugural years until he pulled on the jumper himself in the 1960s.
As the saying goes ‘the only way is up’ and after hitting rock bottom in previous seasons, threatening to fold after only one year and losing many of ‘The Originals’ of 1954 through loss of interest, the ANZ side finally began to see their hard work turning into on-field success.
By 1958, the club was refreshed and much more stable. It had rejuvenated itself and was full of a mixture of eager young men mostly from within the bank, but now had been joined by a small group of “outsiders” who were not bank staff.
This expanded the club and made for a great social environment. They were finally branching out and the efforts off field were starting to show on field.
The side banded together to win 10 out of 18 matches and set themselves up for their first finals appearance in the ANZ Bank Football Club history.
Despite finishing third on the ladder, the hard-fighting team won through to the Grand Final and in doing so won promotion to VAFA D Section.
They unfortunately lost the Grand Final to St Kilda CBC Old Collegians 10.13 73 to 12.14 86, but it was a major improvement and a reason why the club continued the grow and gain interest into the 1960s and beyond.
“Just making the finals was a big hype, it sparked us all up,” said Jackson.
ANZ GRAND FINAL SIDE 1958:
Life member Jim Woodman entered the ANZ FC scene in the 1960s. Woodman was a forefront recruiter who brought many able and keen players to the club, who were working in the ANZ City Branches. His aim as part of the club was to ensure that the relationship and connection from the workplace was brought onto the football field and carried through the club.
The growth continued off-field with multiple ANZ bank executives attending home games and sharing in the spirit of the game, which encouraged the players to pull on the boots weekly. They played the game, to identify with their workplace, their workmates and to make their company proud, along with bragging rights they would receive over their competing businesses.
“We had all come from similar backgrounds. Not wealthy families, just bankers. Football became a very important part of our lives,” said life member Neville ‘Birdie’ Pearson, who joined the club as a 15-year-old at the beginning of the 1960s.
In 1962, The growing interest from the bankers at ANZ headquarters to join the footy team acted as a catalyst for the club to enter a Reserves ANZ side to account for the overflow of numbers for just one team. Birdie would be a vital part of this side.
The initiative to field a second team was a positive one, especially looking to the future of the club, however with banks opening until 11am on Saturdays and reserve team games scheduled for midday, getting 16 players together became a struggle early on.
“The bankers worked on Saturday mornings and it would be difficult at times to get out of work. You’d be working really hard to get the doors closed, get on the train and be off to the footy match,” Pearson said.
1963 saw the decision to move from the Middle Park home ground to Flinders Park, Batman Avenue. The facilities, according to Albert Park Football Club historians “were central and were a convenient location that served the club until 1978 when there were plans to redevelop this quarter of Melbourne.”
The Batman Avenue training facilities were transformed into what is today known as Rod Laver Arena, while the ANZ FC were forced back to Oval 10 at Albert Park, a place they had taken tenancy of just four years prior in 1959 and would stay for many decades to come. It would become a safe haven for many and a special place to call home.
The love affair with the ANZ Football Club can be attributed to ‘The Originals’ of 1954, who spearheaded the club into becoming a competitive and welcoming force. One of these stalwarts, a true driver of club expansion, was player and life member Brian ‘Chrisso’ Christensen.
The late ‘Chrisso’, who was a member of ‘The Originals’, played his 150th game during the 1963 season and led the club proudly, as well as working hard as a Senior Executive of the ANZ CBD Branch.
“He showed great interest in the club and loved it,” Pearson said.
The passion for the club, led by Chrisso, would spread into off-field camaraderie through the rest of the club.
Many of the younger staff from ANZ and other banks were living at the Boarding Home in Hawksburn, which proved to be a handy recruiting bank for the side.
The Boarding Home in Hawksburn and a share house in Allambee Avenue, Camberwell became the place to be post-match. Allambee Ave was the home of around 12 ANZ Bank players and supporters, who brought a real sense of community spirit from the bank and their home, to the club.
“It was a great group of about 12 footy club blokes who also worked at the bank. They were a wonderful bunch. Every Saturday we’d party after the game there. It became an important part of the footy club and connections,” Pearson said.
But it wasn’t all enjoyable. On the field, it was a tough few years for the Senior team, who struggled in 1966, finishing last and being relegated down to E Section, where they were placed when they first entered the VAFA 12 years before.
But enter Neville Elvish, who was appointed Reserves coach in 1967. His “commando style training and prohibition rules,” according to ANZ historians, were beneficial in creating the fittest sides the club had ever seen.
Elvish rejuvenated the club and made it a tough atmosphere which brought new people in. Everyone wants success and his demeanour was pushing for that.
This fitness and commitment finally paid off in 1969, when the ANZ Bank Football Club played off in the Reserves E Grade Grand Final to come home victors 10.6.66 to 6.12.48 over Brunswick, winning the club’s first ever premiership.
“It was absolutely electric. We were the underdogs and it was an unexpected win. Everybody got very excited and it showed in the workplace with a few players stumbling in after a few too many beers!” said Jackson.
While the success was flourishing for the Zedders in 1969, on the other side of the same competition was the struggling ES&A Bank Football Club, a club with similar roots, background and history who was in a threatening position to fold.
ES&A Bank FC was established in the VAFA in 1932 and played their first few seasons at Brighton Cricket Ground, recruiting their bank staff from all over their Melbourne branches, particularly from the CBD branches.
The side began their football journey in VAFA D Section and over only four years in the competition, they managed to be successful during the home and away season, being promoted into A Grade by 1935, but their playing days were cut short with World War II looming, forcing the side to disband until after 1945.
Once the war had ended, staff at the ES&A Melbourne Office (338 Collins Street) and Royal Bank Branch (293 Collins Street) conducted meetings to bring together interested workers who wanted to reform the football team, after a directive was issued from the bank’s administration.
It took the bank more than seven years to pull together a side with a reliable committee and by 1952, ES&A Bank found themselves in D Grade of the VAFA.
It didn’t take ES&A long to find their form again, mirroring the success they had had before war. By 1953, they had been promoted into C Grade after losing the Grand Final that same year.
ES&A, like ANZ Bank Football Club, looked to expand outside of the workplace and eagerly recruited a multitude of readily available players from the country, who didn’t necessarily work as bank staff on weekends. One of those key recruits was ex Melbourne Football Club premiership player, Bill Deans, who took on the role as coach in 1956. He brought in a number of younger players.
Deans rejuvenated the side and took them all the way to the 1957 Grand Final and earned them promotion to B Grade. The side only lost by 19 points and it dampened spirits, with many of the players leaving the club, believing they had done enough for the team and began to concentrate on their workplace roles.
The higher standard of B Grade meant the side struggled in the newer and tougher competition, up against sides who blooded recruits from schools and other sports. The pure lack of numbers tested ES&A and the strain was beginning to become evident between work and play. Without being paid to compete in amateur footy, bankers needed to take more interest in making an income at work instead, leaving footy behind.
In the 1960s in Melbourne, families generally lived off one wage, usually earned by the working man. For majority of ES&A staff, their income was the only thing supporting their loved ones, so turning their back on playing amateur football was no real issue, if it meant picking up extra Saturday hours, or leaving to play in semi-professional leagues for money, to keep their family financially stable.
Due to player loss, committee change and the inability to inspire bank employees to come on board, the team dropped several divisions and by 1965, found themselves in E Section.
The positive for the club came from their Reserves side, who in 1965, coached by past player Don Hoffman, won the E Section Reserves Premiership, which was a big boost for the club.
The premiership was proudly celebrated in the ES&A workplace, many of the players entering to workplace a little later the following Monday and a little worse for wear.
But this success of the ES&A Football Club would only last another few short years, progressively losing players, committee and supporters and struggling to inspire the bank workers to be involved with the team.
After a treacherous 1969 season ES&A FC was a club on its knees.
In a timely and fortunate co-incidence in 1970, ES&A Bank merged with ANZ Bank to officially become Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ). ES&A changed their 570 Australian Branches to come under the ANZ name.
The football club followed in their workplace’s footsteps and decided to merge with the ANZ Bank Football Club to allow their players and workers to continue to keep connected with their workmates. The merging of their company was not going to be the death of their football club.
Life Member and former ES&A Banker Jim Kelly played a key role in keeping the ES&A Bank Football Club history alive when they merged with ANZ. Kelly would become a vital committee member in the early days, who helped unite both sides into one. His commitment to the club led to success in the early 1970s.
“There was a little bit of feeling [during the merger]. ANZ were the higher side of the ladder and ES&A were middle of the table. It was a feeling that it was a take-over rather than a merger,” said Jackson.
Kelly was appointed reserves coach in 1974. He brought together a coherent and competitive side which went on to become premiers. It was the second Reserves Premiership in the club’s history, winning 11.11.77 to 9.14.68 over Old Geelong.
The win represented much more than just a premiership cup, as it truly sealed what was a tough workplace and football club merger for the working, playing and supporting groups.
“They were very capably led by coach Jim Kelly and it was a great success for the boys who had bonded together. And they basked in the glory of this win,” Jackson said.
This 1974 success brought great joy through the merging period and the ANZ and ES&A clubs with the victory that brought everybody together.
Between 1977 and 1983 the senior side would only play finals once.
This success didn’t eventuate on field in the 1980s either, much to the disappointment of the committed club members and players. But the success was felt pre-and-post-match with strong and loyal supporters and a viable committee.
Success was sought measured in the spirit shown by the Zedders, led by Secretary Tom Brain and his wife Linda. Bill ‘Jet’ Jackson and his wife, Bev, who pulled together to create a positive off-field atmosphere. All were inducted into life membership.
“Going back to the early days, a problem was that we had an all player committee. The off-field things had to be done by somebody. Our good ladies came in and filled those roles, like the canteen,” said Jackson.
“We relied heavily on those girls to guide us to the correct activities and events. Their organisation was important for the club as a whole.”
After many years in the wilderness, the 1991 season was the most successful in the clubs’ history, finishing on top with 17 wins. Unfortunately, they went down in the Grand Final to Elsternwick and would struggle in the years to come.
By the late 1990s it had become challenging to continue to recruit players from ANZ Bank as workplaces and lifestyles were rapidly changing, together with a diminishing interest shown from the ANZ Bank Staff Social Club.
The club had reached a fork in the road. This forced them to search for alternate recruiting paths. Do they cut ties with bank and align closer to the local community?
In 1999, the executive decision was made to formerly change the club’s name from ‘ANZ Bank Football Club’ to ‘Albert Park Football Club’. This rejuvenated the club and enticed fresh faces from the local Albert Park community to get involved.
“[The name change] was good, it was the only way we could survive. The club would have folded then and there if it hadn’t have been for the guys who decided it was a great opportunity to bring Albert Park into the picture,” said ‘Birdie’ Pearson.
But for some long term past players and supporters, this name change was un welcome and some feared the club would lose touch with its historic past.
Even the nickname change from the ‘Zedders’ to the newly christened ‘Falcons’ sat uneasily.
This was a tumultuous transformation, as the club morphed from a workplace football club into a suburban club.
“We felt if we brought in a local name, we may pull in some local footballers and we did. As the bank changed its workforce, less and less came from the bank and more from the area, so we changed our name,” Jackson, who was a vital part of the name-change decision noted.
Since this endeavour, Albert Park FC has been a mainstay in the lower divisions of the VAFA competition, with each year’s list filled with locals, students and mates of mates.
But the appreciation of the workplace origins of the club is evident with today’s playing group.
Current President Tyson Cattle recognises how important the history of the workplace-based club is on the current players, committee and supporter groups.
“The atmosphere [around the club] has been unreal. To have the current playing group engaged with past players, that’s guys showing a willingness to learn and hear about the history of the club,” Cattle said.
This year, the Albert Park Falcons Football Club managed only one win in their 2018 VAFA Division 3 campaign and will compete in Division 4 in 2019.
While they may not be the most successful, it can’t be denied that their club has a rich history spawning from an eager and involved Melbourne workplace, one that has proven to unite the current players to respect the sacrifices made in the past.
“It hasn’t changed. It’s still a fantastic club, you just have to go in after the game and watch the boys have a laugh,” said Pearson.
Today, the working world and the football world in Melbourne has changed. Most ANZ Banks close on the weekend and most football clubs are separate from the workplace they once formed in. The population of Melbourne is almost 5 million. The advent of ‘agile’ and ‘flexible’ working lifestyles has seen an increase in employees working from home, or on a part times basis, leading to disconnection in the work environment. The football landscape has similarly changed. The VAFA now supports over 70 amateur clubs and has in excess of 12,000 registered players, including 63 women’s teams.
Saturdays in Melbourne have also changed. Gone are the days where the football club was the centre of your social life, with seven-day trading in an ‘instant’ society where constant entertainment and fulfilment is available at your fingertips and the need for face-to-face social interaction has significantly reduced.
While Albert Park Football Club don’t have a Senior premiership to show for the decades of blood, sweat and tears, they have many inspiring men and women who came before them, leaving a respectable legacy as hard workers both on and off the field. These are the giants who paved the now-Falcon’s path to greatness in Melbourne’s football landscape.
And as current President Tyson Cattle said, “You can’t move forward as a club without recognising where you’ve come from.”