Vale Bill Stephen

Sad news. From the Essendon website:

Essendon Football Club joins the wider football community in farewelling its former coach and League great Bill Stephen, who passed away on Monday at the age of 92.

A former Fitzroy captain, Stephen coached nine seasons at Fitzroy between 1955 and 1970 before a stint at North Melbourne as assistant coach during its maiden VFL premiership in 1975.

He was appointed Essendon’s senior coach in 1976 - the year that saw Graham Moss become the Bombers’ third Brownlow medallist - and held the position for two seasons and 44 games.

Stephen was a renowned developer of young players and it was during his time at Windy Hill that the club recruited Tim Watson, Paul Vander Haar, Merv Neagle, Neil Clarke and Shane Heard. All would go on to have fine careers and win premiership medals.

Premiership coach Kevin Sheedy and 300-gamer Garry Foulds said Stephen was an unsung hero of the Bombers’ success in the '80s.

“Bill helped Essendon win the 1984 flag more than people realise. The first ‘Baby Bombers’ was his, don’t forget that - players like Tim Watson and Merv Neagle,” Sheedy said.

“He laid a few foundations of that successful 1980s side, in part through the way he nurtured a lot of the players by giving them opportunities,” Foulds said.

The club extends its condolences to Stephen’s family.


Played the kids that had a huge part in the 80s team.



They replayed his interview from earlier in the year on SEN, sounded like a wonderful bloke.

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The Father figure of our resurrection as a Club in the mid - late 70’s, recruiting Watson, Neagle, Van Der … then to Barry Davis & then to Sheedy.


Sorry, I know I’ve posted something like this before on BB but I’m not going to miss this opportunity to show my gratitude to this wonderful man.

Billy was a mate of my dad, and got us a gig doing statistics at the club through 1976/1977. Dad was paid a twenty dollar note each week from the Social Club till - we’d be done for rorting the soft cap these days. But of course we did it for the love of the club and just to be around the players. Bill put together the Baby Bombers - Neagle, Merrett, Watson, Van der Haar and so many more who ended up winning the flags in 84/85. But in the early days with such a young team we copped a few floggings.

Bill was a gentleman, old school and quietly spoken. I remember once at half time in the Kardinia Park rooms hearing him yell at Greg Bell (“Belly, that was farken SH!THOUSE”) and I looked up at my dad in shock - I didn’t think Mr Stephen could actually swear. He nurtured those boys, many of them just shy 16 and 17 year old country lads at the time, and we need to honour his contribution to building the team that won us back to back flags seven years later.

In September 1984 we made our second GF in a row and my dad was able to score a ticket but couldn’t get one for me. In desperation he contacted Bill, who somehow got me a seat next to him in the Fitzroy section. When the final siren went I had tears in my eyes and just wanted to bolt off to join all the Bombers fans ( the Fitzroy section was understandably a bit on the quiet side). Before I left I remembered (thank God) to thank Bill for the ticket and then remembered (thank God again) to thank him for what he’d done for us as coach. I think my fumbling words were “Thank you, … this was you” or something equally ineloquent as I offered him my hand. Bill could have been bitter, this was a club that had sacked him after just two seasons, but his eyes were moist and he grinned broadly as he wrapped his two hands around mine. He was happy for us, that’s all, he was Just that sort of bloke.

Such a lovely man. Vale Billy Stephen.


As others have correctly pointed out, Stephen laid the foundaton for the transformation of Essendon from a suburban middle of the road club, to a national powerhouse. He didn’t have the rescources or vision of Sheedy, but backed in the young Bombers, and the rest as the say is history.

RIP Billy Stephen, with great respect.


.Au contraire @Humbert_Humbert, less is more. Eloquent words


I had the pleasure of meeting him several times when he was coach. At the time the appointment was widely criticised, he was from Fitzroy of all clubs they said. Yet in hindsight he did more in 2 years than our crop of highly paid coaches have done since 2017. He should always have a special place in our hearts. No, he wasn’t a visionary. But a man who could connect and nuture young players, a group that became known as the Baby Bombers. RIP BILL


Absolutely great coach. It was such an exciting team to watch after the dark grind of the Tuddenham years.