50 Years On

This showed up in my e mail today. l am old enough to remember the incident, so l was interested to read the article. The lack of remorse he feels now, is reflected in the photo that is with the original article. In the picture he is standing nonchalant as the paper correctly calls it, hands on hips, looking down the field. Meanwhile the guy he has just k’od from behind, lays prone on the ground, completely unconscious. l can’t recall too many more cowardly acts on a football field than this one. Perhaps when Rod Grinter clotheslined Terry Wallace comes close, but this was off the ball, and well behind play. Just a totally gutless act.

As they point out in the article Sommerville was a classy HFF, and a ball player, he simply didn’t go in for the rough.tough stuff. l was looking to him playing in the winning 1965 side, he would have done well. Not an out and out star, but polished performer who would have acquitted himself quite well, and he deserved to be a dual premiership player. l don’t believe that Sommerville did half the stuff that Wright claims here, and obviously neither did the Collingwood hierarchy, as they cut him from the list the next season. No point worrying about the past, yet he can’t let go of it. He wants to absolve himself of the regret and guilt, l would be more inclined to accept it, if he just came out and said, ‘Yeh, you know what l did it.’ lt is not enough that he king hit Sommerville from behind and totally concussed him, now he wants to sully his reputation as well. John Sommerville was simply not that sort of player, not ever. There guy can cry himself to sleep every night for the rest of his miserable life for all l care. Once a thug, always a mug.

‘I would’ve loved to have stayed’: A Collingwood enforcer’s tears
Ben Collins April 22, 2015 7:30 AM

Magpie enforcer’s tears Collingwood hard-man Duncan Wright tells AFL.com.au about the notorious incident with John Somerville
What’s done is done. No point worrying about the past
Duncan Wright
DUNCAN Wright has only one regret. But it’s not the one you might expect.

Many will say Wright should harbour greater remorse about the incident that hastened the end of his League career when he knocked out Essendon opponent John Somerville behind the play in the 1965 preliminary final.

But the infamous former Magpie has never been the regretful type. At 74, he remains a hard nut to crack.

“What’s done is done,” Wright says. “No point worrying about the past. Only worry about the present and the future.”

As he ponders his turbulent 23-game career at Collingwood, the old-school hardman shows the first signs of emotion.

“If I had have been allowed to stay (at Collingwood), I would’ve played a lot more games. And I would’ve loved to have stayed there,” Wright says, before staring off into the distance and taking a long pause.

Tears well in his eyes. His face reddens.

“Perhaps I should’ve toed the line more,” he concedes.

But on the incident that changed his life forever, Wright remains unrepentant and cites provocation as the reasons for his actions.

Unfortunately we only have his side of the story, as Somerville died suddenly at just 44 in 1984.

We’re seated in the old grandstand at Alphington Park, in Melbourne’s inner north-east, where Wright’s football career started as a junior and finished as a veteran.

Wright’s childhood home and school are both within 200m. He has lived nearby virtually his whole life.

He has played at the adjacent bowls club for 14 years and every week someone notices his name-tag and asks, “You’re not the Duncan Wright are you?” “Yeah, that’s me,” comes the well-worn, matter-of-fact reply.

Wright concedes he was extremely lucky to get a game in the 1965 preliminary final. He’d played just two games to that point, after suffering two serious injuries: several broken ribs and a punctured lung in round one, and a broken collarbone on his return 10 weeks later.

Wright describes his third game for the season as “an even worse disaster”.

He started at half-back where he niggled the slightly smaller Graeme Johnston, who quickly swapped flanks with Somerville.

Wright and Somerville could scarcely have been more contrasting players and characters. Somerville, also 25, was tall and lean at 188cm and 79kg (8cm taller but 4kg lighter than Wright) and nicknamed ‘Slim’.

A quiet, respectful country boy from Moe, in Gippsland, the 1962 premiership player was graceful, a very good kick and a ball player. Not noted for his physicality, Somerville was never reported in his 106 League games.

Nine minutes into the match, with the ball about 40m downfield, there was confusion and then pandemonium as spectators and players noticed Somerville lying motionless near a seemingly nonchalant Wright. The photograph of the incident has gone down in footy folklore.

None of their teammates saw the incident. Nor did the sole field umpire, Ron Brophy.

That Wright had hit Somerville is not in dispute, but the motivation remains debated.

Wright is adamant he was provoked, insisting Somerville “started mouthing off and niggling” before back-heeling his shins and then “squirrel-gripping”. He says he warned Somerville three times to quit it or else, but Somerville “didn’t take any notice”.

“I wanted to put a stop to it, and I did. It mightn’t have been too smart, but it’s too late (to change it) now.”

But others – including Somerville’s teammates, his son Peter (the Bombers’ 1993 premiership ruckman) and umpire Brophy – believe Somerville would have been the last person to intentionally rile a volatile type like Wright. Such tactics, they say, would have gone against Somerville’s nature as a player and person.

Ken Fraser, Essendon captain at the time, admits players are capable of uncharacteristic behaviour in the heat of the moment, but says he never saw any aggression from Somerville.

In any case, Pies star Des Tuddenham says he saw them jostling beforehand, but didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.

Peter Somerville was born almost three years after the incident, soon after his father’s League retirement, and was only 16 when Somerville snr died. He says his father didn’t like to talk about it and suspects this was because “it would’ve eaten away inside him” that it cost him the chance to be a dual premiership player. (Somerville spent two nights in hospital with severe concussion and missed the Grand Final.)

“The cruel joke was that the old man fainted before the first bounce, which was pretty embarrassing to hear from people,” Peter Somerville said.

“Dad copped that and even I did. Years later a spectator told me he saw what happened. He said they’d had the usual argy-bargy and when the old man walked in front of Wright he just went bang.”

Confronted with views that question his version, Wright asserts: “I don’t care what people say. You don’t hit somebody for no reason.”

Fraser was the first player on the scene, where Somerville was face down and unconscious. Wary of causing further injury, Fraser gently lifted Somerville’s shoulder to aid his breathing. He also waved over the trainers and prompted Brophy to hold up the game.

The incident appeared to have dramatically opposite effects on the teams: Essendon’s resolve was steeled, while Collingwood seemed rattled by the incessant booing of incensed Essendon fans.

Wright says he didn’t notice the hooting – “All you hear is noise, and you don’t know if they’re with ya or agin’ ya.”

As Fraser told his teammates individually to “focus on football and only hurt Collingwood on the scoreboard”, rugged vice-captain Ian ‘Bluey’ Shelton quietly ordered them to seek vengeance.

“Collectively as leaders we did the right thing,” Fraser said. “The ball players played the ball and the more aggressive types had full licence too. We had everyone playing their natural game and we won well (by 55 points).”

Wright says he wasn’t singled out for criticism or even stern questioning by anyone in the Magpie camp post-match. “They were all supportive of me,” he says.

Typically, Wright says he didn’t even have any concern for his safety when leaving the ground.

But Pies coach Rose ordered a handful of players to form a human shield around Wright to escort him to his car in the surrounding parkland. They copped only verbal abuse.

“I don’t think Duncan needed any help,” Tuddenham says.

Wright was eligible to play in the reserves Grand Final, and wanted to play, but the Pies decided it would be best if he attended a mate’s wedding in Warrnambool instead. It was a convenient and probably wise way to avoid further unwanted attention – of which there was plenty.

Victoria Police chief commissioner Rupert Arnold assigned two homicide detectives to the case, and Wright was lucky to be represented by famous lawyer Frank Galbally, a staunch Collingwood figure.

Wright was interrogated for 90 minutes at Victoria Police headquarters in Russell St but, under instructions from Galbally, answered every question: “No comment.” He recalls: “In the papers it said: ‘Wright speaks’ and then further down it said: ‘No comment.’”

Various spectators came forward claiming to have witnessed the incident, but gave conflicting accounts. No charges were laid. The League also decided against further investigation.

However, the controversy took a large toll on Wright’s family. His mother – whom he says was a gentle woman who had never wanted him to play football – received a letter threatening to bomb her house. He says the stress almost caused her to suffer a nervous breakdown.

“That upset me,” Wright says.

Another casualty of the incident was umpire Brophy. After officiating in the previous year’s Grand Final, Brophy was demoted to a country league grand final but retired on principle.

“(Brophy) got rubbed out because he didn’t report me. But how can you report anybody if you didn’t see the incident?” Wright says.

Wright had also featured in his last League game. He didn’t see it coming either – after all, he’d joined the Pies on an end-of-season trip to Japan and had no inkling he had become persona non grata.

It wasn’t until after he played the last of five practice games before the 1966 season that he was told he was no longer required. Publicly the Pies explained they had too many half-back flankers, but Wright suspects otherwise.

Tuddenham says it was a mistake, and that Wright might have proved the difference in the 1966 Grand Final against St Kilda.

Twenty years later, Wright went to a sportsmen’s night and bumped into former coach Rose, who apologised for letting him go. It was cold comfort for Wright.

After his sacking, Wright went to Canberra to work and play football and get out of Victoria, but soon returned to play local footy.

The Somerville incident never followed him on the field. It was different in pubs, where he was “harassed” for 20-odd years.

The Sporting Globe took Wright to Somerville’s farm at Moe for a story in 1982 (two years before Somerville’s death). It was the first time they’d seen each other since what Wright calls “that fateful day”.

Greg Hobbs, the journalist who orchestrated the meeting, said they exchanged phone numbers and vowed to get in touch.

Wright says: “We shook hands, and gave each other a kiss and a cuddle. Nothing more was said. There was no animosity.”

In some ways it’s difficult to reconcile Duncan Wright the footy villain with the loving, wise-cracking grandfather-of-five.

He becomes emotional again when he refers to them as his “best mates”.

A grandson, Billy Hogan, who will be 20 next week, represented TAC Cup club Oakleigh Chargers and now plays for Port Melbourne in the VFL.

“He’s a far better kick than his grandfather,” Wright says. “He’s a bit of a hothead too. Dunno where that comes from.”

Yakati yak Captain Jack goes whack,
Says fark Duncan Wright - he don’t deserve any slack!
An ex Collingwood player - a gutless one at that,
Sommerville knocked out from behind - what a ■■■■ weak act!
Now Wright cries himself to sleep, weep, weep, weep - just as the toothless lot will be doing all next week!

Nice piece CJ.
And thanks for the poetry DannyD.

Story makes me angry.

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Yeah, this was in the Footy Record on the weekend and I read it before the game. Wright’s callous dismissal of what can only be described as a dog act left a nasty taste in the mouth.

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I wasn’t at that game but the incident was notorious. That article is the first time I’ve ever heard it claimed that Somerville had been niggling Wright. Somerville didn’t niggle anyone.

I was a kid back then and I used to go to the games with a friend. We used to be mothered by the ladies in the crowd who thought we were cute. One day at Victoria Park I was adopted by a woman who supported Essendon but for some reason hated Somerville. He had quite a heavy beard which meant his cheeks had a blackish tinge, and this was the focus of her hatred. I remember her shouting at one point, “Somerville you black heap of %^#!.” I was only about 11 and I had never heard a woman swear before – times were different then. I stared at her and she attempted to excuse herself but continued to swear at Somerville throughout the afternoon.

John Somerville was one of my favourite players. We won that day, and Somerville kicked 4 goals and was best on ground.

Sometimes there’s justice in football.

Thanks CJ, that was a good read.

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Yeah, this was in the Footy Record on the weekend and I read it before the game. Wright's callous dismissal of what can only be described as a dog act left a nasty taste in the mouth.

Sorry, but l am a dog lover, and l can’t abide by that phrase. Certainly as low an act on a footy field as you can get.

A weak sniper, who Collingwood sacked because of the Somerville incident…

Duncan Wright re-writing history. Maybe dementia?

I read that story off the AFL website and I wondered whether it would be “justice” if someone fixed him up at the bowls club?

I have no sympathy for him, none whatsoever. I did find it curious that they did meet just days before Somerville’s death and it ‘seemed’ they had buried the hatchet of sorts.

The fact that he had no signs of remorse over the incident (even 50 years later) is the thing that really grates with me. No “I regret hitting the guy…”, just a simple what is done is done and then he moved on.

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Pathetic to come out with the excuse now that Somerville was niggling him. Nobody would have believed it at the time. Somerville was about the gentlest footballer ever. Collingwood instead put it about that he might have had an epileptic fit.

The reaction of the team was fantastic - it galvanised them to a man and probably won us the flag the following week. Collingwood players were looking over their shoulders for the remainder of the game and with good reason. I remember Don McKenzie picking one guy up at a stoppage and slamming him into the turf like a wrestler.

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Why are they bringing up this story now? Yeah maybe it’s 50 years but not unless the GF was played in April back then?

Seriously, if he’d come out and apologised it might have been a story, but all he’s done is blamed the guy he nearly killed for his own career as a “hard man” being ended prematurely. Thug.

I don’t really know what it says about Collingwood either, kind of good that they sacked him despite publicly defending him at the time (so it would seem). The fact that there were police involved and it was a serious assault means that Collingwood would have known what he was capable of, quite possible there were other incidents that escaped media attention back then to.

And yeah, I’m not advocating that someone go after him at his bowls club, but I don’t mind that he has to keep looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.

I should add that I am not advocating someone go get him at his bowls club either.

Yes, we have demonstrated that we aren’t very good at dealing with bowls clubs. It would just lead to further embarrassment.

Unfortunately CJ, there is some truth in Duncan Wright’s claim but that doesn’t excuse his response. I have that directly from one of his teammates on that day who subsequently became President of EFC.

Sommer, as you rightly point out was NOT a fighter. However in this Final, Wright kept holding Sommer’s guernsey from the back and Sommer tried to break his grip but in the process, Wright’s chestnuts copped a blow. Wright didn’t need any further excuse so used the haymaker!!

A weak sniper, who Collingwood sacked because of the Somerville incident..

Duncan Wright re-writing history. Maybe dementia?


Collingwood mentality.

Looking forward to reading more about our great '65 triumph 55 years on.

I was way too young to remember.

Article is interesting: key takeaways for me was how ruthless - but still fair - Coleman was on his players, how they revered him though and would walk over hot coals for him and how tight they were as a group.

Lessons for the present day.

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/essendon/bombers-in-full-flight-inside-essendons-legendary-1965-grand-final-triumph/news-story/7da8e60b68b35b4565647bd8f8c80b4d

Bombers in full flight: Inside Essendon’s legendary 1965 Grand Final triumph

They were the 1965 version of the ‘Baby Bombers’ – the John Coleman coached Essendon underdogs who won the premiership from fourth spurred on by one of the game’s most contentious off-the-ball incidents. This is the story behind a famous flag.

Ian “Bluey” Shelton is 80 but remembers like it was yesterday the spiteful preliminary final win over Collingwood at the MCG that ignited Essendon’s legendary 1965 premiership run.

In a behind-the-play incident early in the match, Bombers forward John Somerville was knocked out cold by Magpie defender Duncan Wright.

“It started off as a bad situation but finished up a fun thing,” Shelton recalled this week.

“Kenny Fraser was our captain and he was running around telling everyone not to get sucked in by them and to keep playing the ball and all the rest of it – and I was running around telling them the exact opposite.”

John Birt, Essendon’s champion rover, said the Somerville incident, which turned the crowd of 95,386 feral, galvanised the team.

“It was a red letter day for the club,” Birt said.

“We were a pretty good side in those days but probably didn’t have the same killer instinct of some other clubs.

“(Coach) John Coleman was always thrashing at us that we were a better team than what we were actually displaying. It spurred us on.”

It’s 55 years on Friday since Coleman’s class of ’65 defied the odds to win the flag from fourth position.

The Bombers beat Geelong in the first semi-final, crushed Collingwood by 55 points in the prelim and accounted for St Kilda by six goals in front of 104,846 fans in the big one.

Eighteen of the 20 premiership heroes will gather over Zoom on Friday afternoon for a reunion like no other.

THE COACH

John Coleman is revered as a player, but those who played under him at Essendon in 1965 are in awe of his coaching.

“He wasn’t an orator like Alan Killigrew or Norm Smith, but when ‘Coley’ looked at you and said something with a terse expression in his voice and that look in his eyes as if to say, ‘Smarten yourself up son and get yourself a kick’, well you’d certainly try your heart out,” skipper Ken Fraser said.

Full-back Greg Brown said Coleman commanded total respect.

“If he’d said, ‘Walk on hot coals’, I would’ve walked on them on my hands and my knees – he just had that sort of effect on most of us,” Brown said.

“That had a lot to do with it. He was unbelievable with his tongue – it acted almost as a stock whip.”

Coleman, who replaced ■■■■ Reynold as senior coach in 1961, coached the first of his two Dons premierships in 1962.

“I was a great fan of ■■■■ Reynolds because ■■■■ recruited me and I lived two doors from him and I loved him, so it took 12 months for me to accept the change of coach,” Birt said.

“Coleman was certainly very different. ■■■■ to me was a friend whereas Coley – he wasn’t an enemy but … he didn’t talk to me much and when I went out and played I thought, ‘I’ve got to show you, Coleman’. He helped me tremendously.”

THE TEAM

Not unlike the ‘Baby Bombers’ of 1993, Essendon’s premiership team of 1965 featured only one player in his 30s, the late Jack Clarke, brother of Olympic runner Ron Clarke.

“The majority of us were at our football peak as far as maturity,” Fraser said.

“As a player, you’d get to know the patterns of the players in front of you and around you.”

But apart from talent, Shelton said the secret to their success was enduring mateship.

“I know it’s a bloody long time ago, but we are still as close a mob of blokes as you’d ever get,” Shelton said.

“We’ve had teams that have won back-to-back flags in ’84 and ’85 and they still look upon us as the side that really epitomises what Grand Final club mates should be.

“It’s interesting to reflect when you talk to some of the smart football people and the thinking they put behind what makes premiership sides gel together – they play for each other. And that was where Coleman was so fantastic.”

Added Brown: “It was just such a high-calibre, quality group of men. You just felt so proud to be a part of their company. You knew it would be bloody hard work to win a match but it didn’t matter, because you were surrounded by a group of blokes you’d love to be in the trenches with.”

1965 Essendon Premiership Team

Coach : John Coleman

B: D. Gerlach, G.Brown, C.Payne

HB: G. Pryor, I. Shelton (vc), B. Davis

C: A. Epis, J. Clarke, R. Blew

HF: G. Gosper, K. Fraser ©, G. Johnston

F: D. Shaw, E. Fordham, B. Sampson

R: D. McKenzie, H. Mitchell, J. Birt

Int: K. Egan, B. Waite

Injured: B. Capuano, D. Gross, P. Doran, J. Somerville

THE GAME

The Bombers started slowly, leading by just eight points at the main break, before kicking away in the second half led by full-forward Ted Fordham, who kicked seven goals.

“I played on Bob Murray and I can remember Bob getting shifted off me,” Fordham said.

“I might have kicked four of five, and Verdun Howell came on to me and I said, ‘Oh, you’re a bit unlucky Verdun’ and he said, ‘Oh, why is that?’ and I said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to play on the bloke who is BOG’. He looked at me strangely and I don’t think he knew what I was talking about, but I knew what I was talking about.

“He got shifted away and Bob Murray came back. I think I said to him, ‘Oh, Bob you’re unlucky again …’

“They were the things that went on in those days and I learnt a lot of them from Ted Whitten to be truthful.

“The crowd was deafening. It’s hard to explain.”

Birt recalled preparing for the game by listening to Ray Charles records at a friend’s house, while Brown and his girlfriend Jill got engaged that morning.

“I didn’t have enough money to buy the bloody ring – I borrowed most of it off my sister,” Brown recalled.

“Half way through the last quarter we were six goals in front and I was picking the ball out of the gutter prior to kicking it in and this flash went through my head, ‘S—, we’re going to get a real fantastic bonus when we win and I’m going to be able to pay my sister back, you beauty’.”

The 120-pound bonus was the equivalent of about $3400 today.

“I remember we couldn’t kick goals for a long while and then all of a sudden we got going and ‘Boofa’ (Fordham) started to kick goals and played a terrific game,” Shelton said.

“Brian Sampson played a great game. Russell Blew played a great game and Fraser played a good game, of course, he always did.”

Fraser said his main memory from holding up the premiership cup was of sheer relief.

“It wasn’t so much elation. The joyfulness came later on when we were celebrating in the clubrooms with the fans and our family and friends,” he said.

THE LEGACY

As the years marched on almost every player from the side of ’65 went on to hold an off-field role at Essendon – from president to coach to runner and coterie club chairman.

“We would like to think we’ve had a huge amount to do with the Essendon culture,” Brown said.

“Progressively over the next 20 or 30 years, each and every player, in all the various roles they played, had a massive part to play.”

Fordham, who served as chairman of selectors and vice-president, said: “We’ve always been a group that has stuck together. Even when we were on the committee or coaching or as serving as the runner, it was all because of a love of the club. It’s been a bloody long and loving journey.”

Birt won the best and fairest in ’65 and coached for a season at Windy Hill in 1971.

“What they have contributed to the club is amazing,” Birt said of his teammates.

“But there’s also this great friendship amongst us all. If one bloke gets a bit crook everyone is around him.”

Incoming Dons president Paul Brasher said it was a “special Essendon premiership team”.

“It was a team full of great players, wonderful characters, and true Essendon people, many of whom went on to work at the club in various capacities, and many of whom are still involved today,” Brasher said.

THE FUTURE

It’s been 20 years since the Bombers last saluted, but it’s not all grim according to Brown and Fraser.

“We are in transition a little bit but the reports I get about Ben Rutten from fairly trusted sources are that he could be a very good coach – but coaches depend on the players as well,” Fraser said.

He said president-elect Brasher was “a passionate Essendon man and very, very capable”.

Brown added: “The worm will turn. There are too many good people around the club to not see it grow and thrive again.”

But their teammates aren’t so sure.

“They generally always do bounce back from bad times but they’re in a bloody mess at the moment,” Shelton said.

“I’m a bit worried about the fact we keep making the same mistakes every bloody week – we don’t seem to be overcoming the problems.”

Birt said: “As it stands at the moment, I don’t think the future is very bright in the next few years. I get distressed about (Adam) Saad and (Joe) Daniher probably leaving. To us the club was everything.”

Fordham believes Essendon simply needs a harder edge – like the premiers of ’65.

“We had Coleman as coach, mate. We had no option,” Fordham said.

“Coleman was ruthless, but a bloke at the same time who could love you just as well as he could be tough on you.

“He had the ability to cut you down and the ability to pick you up five minutes later – and that’s what they need there today. They need someone to start telling the players what is expected of them – not the players telling them.”

Club roles for the 1965 flag heroes

President: D. Shaw

Vice president: T. Fordham, K. Fraser, D. McKenzie, D. Shaw

Board: G. Brown, B. Capuano, P. Doran, K. Egan, D. Gerlach, A. Epis, T. Fordham, C. Payne,

General manager: B. Capuano

Team manager: K. Egan

Senior coach: J. Birt, J. Clarke, B. Davis

Assistant coach: B. Davis, K. Fraser, C. Payne, D. Gross

Skills coach: J. Clarke, B. Davis, A. Epis

Chairman selectors: A. Epis, T. Fordham, G. Johnston, D. McKenzie, C. Payne D. Gerlach

Senior runner: I. Shelton, B. Capuano, A. Epis

Recruiting/development: R. Blew, H. Mitchell, D. Gross

■■■■ Reynolds Club chairman: G. Brown

Past players assoc president: B. Capuano

Inaugural AFLPA president: G. Pryor

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I had Hawthorn fans try to tell me that Robertson was only retaliating to Tim Watson in the 1983 GF. Naturally I told them they were talking out of their arses.

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You are right. They are talking crap. There was no retaliation. l saw the whole thing. Robertson threw the punch, Watson had his arms by his side.

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