Sport: AFL - Peter Physick


Interviewee: Peter Physick, born 1952

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,

            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 29 April 2010

Transcription: Glenys Murray, June 2010

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee

Were you playing in competitions even while you were with MLC? Did you continue your playing career?

I did when I first started with them in 1971 I played with South Adelaide and at the same time worked for MLC. That doesn’t happen these days in the AFL (Australian Football League) it’s a fully professional career these days so you don’t have a job. You get paid sufficiently by the club to not need a job. Certainly back in 1971 that wasn’t the case.

Peter Physick Captain of South Australian State Schoolboys AFL team 1968

So yes I worked with MLC and I played with South’s and then when I moved to Sydney I still worked for MLC of course but I played football with the East Sydney footy club called the Bulldogs. Out at the very famous oval at Paddington called Trumper Park. We played there for four seasons in all. I played in two losing grand finals in 1974 and 1975. Then we went overseas in 1976 so missed the entire football season of course that was the year the East Sydney won the premiership. So I didn’t enjoy that victory. 1977 we came back to MLC, back to East Sydney, back to football. I played again and I was fortunate to be the leading goal kicker for the competition in 1977 with East Sydney, still recorded in the annals of history which is nice. Then when I got moved to Newcastle strangely enough I decided to continue playing in Sydney. So Laima and I used to catch the train down, used to train in Newcastle with a local club. Then catch the train from Newcastle to Sydney on a Saturday or a Sunday morning as required to play football for East Sydney. Then I caught the train back home again, very, very late at night ready to go to work the next morning Monday. Not sure I’d do that again these days but it was good fun at the time.

Did you win any premierships in those days?

Nothing, not in those days with East Sydney the club itself went on to win many more after I retired. The only premiership that I ever played in was at Unley High School in South Australia when I was captain of the Unley High open team and we were undefeated premiers in 1969.

Now when the West Coast Eagles were formed in the national AFL league in 1987 did you play for them as well?

Oh no, no, no. I was thirty five when we were living in Perth. That was certainly, maybe not too old for some, but it was old enough for me. I’d well retired by then. I was just a keen supporter of West Coast and was interested to see them come into the competition, so no.

Peter Physick (on ground) playing for South Adelaide against Woodville at Adelaide Oval 17th April 1971

So what’s been actually your association with The Hills Shire?

When we lived here in Sydney from 1981 to 1984 we lived in Seven Hills which is actually in the Blacktown Shire. Then we went to Perth, then Melbourne and when we came back to Sydney in 1990 we purchased the house we still live in, in Castle Hill. So clearly that’s in The Hills Shire Council area. No real connection with the Council other than a very long one which will probably come out during the course of this interview about acquiring the Bruce Purser Reserve ground that we now play on. We arrived back here in 1990 the kids wanted to play footy somewhere. So we registered with the Baulkham Hills Australian Rules Falcons and we played there in 1991, 92, 93, 94, 95, well the kids have played there all the time.

Peter Physick and wife Laima in Key West Florida 2007

My association with the Council came about because of my election to be the president of the Baulkham Hills Falcons in 1996. As the president you needed to get involved with Council, councilors, council officers to achieve the various things that a footy club needs.

Can you give me a brief history of the Falcons, the Baulkham Hills Falcons as they were called?

They started in 1976 with one team and probably not enough players to fill that. The club itself was started by some people from the Pennant Hills football club. They saw the growth of the area in terms of people moving in, spreading way beyond Pennant Hills. Baulkham Hills was starting to get bigger and bigger and bigger so it needed a football club. The club was started in 1976 for those that are interested in the full history they can read that on the East Coast Eagles web site. That’s under the history section gives a complete rundown of how it all started. It was there in 1976 and it always operated as a junior club. Still does to this day the Baulkham Hills club. It grew from a lot of great people working with and for the club, all volunteers of course. It grew and grew until really it became the largest junior Australian Rules footy club in Sydney. In fact I think you could even say in NSW. It got to the point where it had 20 or 22 teams and they had to split the teams. They had too many kids for the under 13’s so they formed two under 13 teams and one was called the Hawks and one was called the Kookas. The same thing happened down through the 12’s, the 11’s, the 10’s, the 9’s and then back the other way to the 16’s. So the Hawks and the Kookas always played in the same competition against the same teams when they played each other for premiership points that was a big day. That was always the biggest day of the year when the Hawks and the Kookas played. The Falcons just continued on being a terrific club. They had use of Charles McLaughlin Reserve in the end as their home ground. It was fortunate to have a little basin on it where the Auskickers could play. The under 9’s and the under 10’s could play their games down there so it essentially had two ovals albeit one was a lot smaller than the other where the games could be played.

Around about I think 1989 the committee in charge of the club at that stage must have thought about where all these kids that were too old for junior footy where were they going to go.

AFL field at Charles McLaughlin Reserve Baulkham Hills 2010

The area and the district needed a senior club or at least it needed senior teams. They put their foot in the water with experimenting with some senior teams. In fact the first year I remember although I wasn’t there. But in writing the history I recall that the first under 19 side for Baulkham Hills, would you believe, played as the under 19 team for the East Sydney Bulldogs, which was my old club. East Sydney didn’t have enough kids for an under 19 side. The Baulkham Hills boys came in and played as Baulkham Hills but they played in the slot for the East Sydney under 19’s team, which is ironical from where I sat given that I used to play for them.

From 1989, 1990, 91 the club eventually then went higher and higher and it played in a division of Sydney footy at that stage which wasn’t the highest senior division by any means. They were just stepping up. As they got better and better at what they did and they won one premiership I think in division 2. They probably won an under 19’s premiership on the way as well.

In 1992 the club applied to the Sydney AFL for elevation to the premier league which is the state league of Sydney football. That was granted and in 1993 Baulkham Hills made their first appearance in the Sydney Football League. So in 1993, 94, 95 Tony Hill was the president of the club in those days. Tony got them to that position along with another stalwart of the club called Graham Willis. Graham and others really, really did their utmost to get the club into a position where we can be what we are now.

In 1996 I was appointed as the president of the club and then remained there for the next 12 years.

What were the logistical problems involved playing at Charles McLaughlin Reserve?

Well probably none from where we sat. The league had a problem with it. The ground itself is arguably smaller than it should be but even to this day in 2010 we play on smaller grounds than Charles McLaughlin is or was in those days. So we didn’t have any problem with it other than the fact that there was so many teams operating out of the club that Charles McLaughlin just couldn’t handle the traffic.

As all that was going on, 1997, 98, 99 was a watershed year. Towards the end of 1998 the league approached the club and said absolutely out of the blue, we had no warning of it coming. That in order for you to stay in the competition, we don’t think you’re good enough, or words to that effect. In order for you to stay in the competition in 1999 we want you to play last years premiers, which was the Balmain footy club in a practice match. That will determine whether or not you’re good enough to stay in the competition. We did that and we played them and we played well. We were defeated I think by only a couple of points. The strange thing about it was that not one person from the league came along and watched the game or if they were there I didn’t see them, they were sort of camouflaged. We were allowed to stay in the comp. and we competed the 1999 year. They also said once you’re now back in the comp. we believe that Charles McLaughlin Reserve is too small for you to play on. You should have a different ground. We also think that you should change your name. So they were three fairly significant events in the club that came all at once.

We addressed the first one by being allowed to remain in the competition for 1999. The second one about the size of the ground we looked at that and said well if we’re going to do anything we are going to have to play on a larger ground. It then frees the ground up for the kids in the junior sides. We moved to the university oval which was then called the Roger Sheeran Oval at Macquarie Uni. We played there for quite a number of years.

Also in 1999 when they said that we had to change our name from the Falcons to something else. That became not an emotive issue because the club wasn’t old enough to have any real attachment to the name the Falcons. We had to work out what to do. We put our thinking caps on and many, many people I’m sure do a lot of thinking under the shower. I certainly did on this occasion. I thought about what our approach could be and jotted a few thoughts down in a business plan. Discussed it with fellow executives, certainly nothing official but gave them an idea of what it was that we could do. Then with all that in mind I then met up with Richard Colless. Now Richard Colless many people listening would know is the chairman of The Swans. He was then and still is today.

Peter Physick wearing West Coast Eagles gear 2007

I also knew that Richard Colless had been the chairman of West Coast Eagles when he lived in Perth. So he had an affinity for both clubs. So I approached him one night, it was at the Cherrybrook community centre, I said to him “if you look out across this elevated area where we’re looking at all these houses”. I said “all these people living here a hell of a lot of them are expats from other states. They’ve been moved here, they’ve been promoted to Sydney by their companies and a lot of people tend to live in the Hills area”. I said “a lot of these people are Australian Rules footy fans. That’s evident by the number of kids who play the junior game and we know that the demographic of the juniors is a lot of people coming in from interstate” I said “guess what Dad must have to do. Dad goes and watches the Swans. He’s a football fan. He goes and watches the Swans, because it’s the only team in town, at the SCG but I bet he doesn’t barrack for them. If he’s from Perth he barracks for West Coast or if he’s from Adelaide he barracks for Port Adelaide or the Adelaide Crows”.

So Richard started listening to that. Towards the end of the conversation I think I had him understanding that what we could do is have a local club in Sydney AFL play as the Eagles. I had already identified that West Coast was the club that we wanted to be associated with. I suppose when you think about it this was pretty cheeky. A little upstart club in Sydney approaching a big mega giant like West Coast but Richard saw where I was coming from.

We amplified the business plan a bit more and sent it to him. He rang me and said “I’ve got it all, just leave it with me”. Then nothing happened. Six weeks went passed and I didn’t hear anything from him. I really thought jingoes nothing is happening with this. Then out of the blue Richard rang and he said “Pete, got a pen”. I said “yeah”. He said “give this Trevor Nisbett a call the CEO at West Coast”. He said “I’ve been chatting with him, I’ve shown him your plan and I think you’ll like what comes out of the phone call”.

Now I was a little old guy in Sydney ringing the chief executive of West Coast and still remember the day I did it and so does Trevor. We laughed about that just the other day at our ten year celebration last weekend. Trevor remembers that and I remember it. From that they agreed that they would support footy in Sydney. In particular do it through the Baulkham Hills football club which was going to change its name to the East Coast Eagles. So the East Coast Eagles were born. In anticipation of Trevor saying yes we’d already registered the name at the Department of Fair Trading. The East Coast Eagles were born in 1999 and we played out first game in the year 2000.

Did the Baulkham Hills club stay after the East Coast Eagles were formed?

It did.

What was their record after that?

Whilst we were confident that the East Coast Eagles as a senior club without any junior connections would work. We deliberately remained under the Baulkham Hills umbrella. So it was the Baulkham Hills football club incorporated. The board of directors which looked after the affairs of the junior football club and the senior part of the club which was now called East Coast Eagles. We thought that was best to run that for two years to make sure that everything bedded in. To make sure that we could stand alone and to make sure that the juniors could stand alone. When you run two footy clubs under the one umbrella juniors and seniors you’re really not too sure which club supports the other financially. All the money comes in and whilst you can work it out on paper, money from both sides is required to make both entities work. So we just wanted to make sure that no one was going to fail in this exercise. So for the year 2000 and 2001 it was the Baulkham Hills footy club playing as East Coast Eagles. In 2002 we had an extraordinary annual general meeting whereby the East Coast Eagles Football Club Incorporated was formed and we started trading under that alone from 2002 onwards. Equally the Baulkham Hills footy club stayed. It is still there to this day and still going very, very strong. Interestingly they formed a bit of an alliance with Hawthorn and they’re now called the Baulkham Hills Hawks as opposed to the Falcons. So we now have the East Coast Eagles as a senior club in the area that provides services to junior clubs in the area. The Baulkham Hills Falcons, it’s the Winston Hills club, the Hawkesbury club, the Kellyville Magpies. Those clubs all have kids who we hope all aspire to play for East Coast Eagles. That is if they’re not good enough to get in the draft to play for an AFL club.

What is it about bird’s names that football clubs use you’ve got the Hawks, Eagles, you’ve got Magpies etc?

I’m not quite sure what the relationship is there. I guess it’s the first thing some one thinks of when they look out the window in the morning. They wake up and see a bird and they say “we’ll call our footy club after that”.

Did you set some sort of new trend or benchmark with the AFL by affiliating with another interstate club?

We did, it was an upstart thing to do, and I’ll certainly admit that. It’s worked beautifully. Other clubs tried to do it. The North Shore footy club that plays out of Gore Hill in front of the Royal North Shore Hospital formed a relationship with Essendon. St George football club formed a relationship with Adelaide unfortunately now folded. Campbelltown football club tried to form one with Carlton. I’m not sure whether that really got off the ground or not and apologies to any others that I have omitted.

The Eagles the East Coast and West Coast alliance and partnership is I think acknowledged as being the strongest of them all.

The club also appointed a full time general manager for the first time. When was that and what was the effect on the club?

That came about in the year 2000 because after the shakeup with us being asked to prove that we were good enough to remain in the competition. The league to their credit provided funds for each of the competing clubs in the premier league to employ a general manager.

We used that money to employ Andrew Bence from Melbourne who had been recommended to us by the then West Coast Eagles liaison person for us. A fellow called Steven Nash. Steven was the Victorian manager for the West Coast Eagles. Steven knew Andrew, Steven knew Andrew knew football. Steven knew that Andrew wanted to move out of Melbourne and seek further experience in football elsewhere.

So we appointed him as the East Coast Eagles general manager in 2000. Utilising the funds available from the AFL and we slightly supplemented it with funds from our own resources. We always believed in the need for a general manager and Andrew was there for three years. Some other clubs chose for whatever reasons not to use the money for employing a general manager but used it for other reasons. After three years the AFL decided that because not all clubs were using the funds in the manner for which they were intended the funding stopped. I think Andrew was with us for 2000, 2001, 2002 and maybe part of 2003. He then went back to Melbourne unfortunately.

Now the general manager takes a hell of the load off the volunteers. They are expected to do a lot of the work. One of the difficulties, one of the things you’ve got to be really careful of is when you bring a general manager or a paid employee into a club that has always been run by volunteers. You must be careful that you don’t allow the volunteers to dump all their work onto the general manager. That’s not what it’s all about. You need the general manager and you need the volunteers.

Fortunately I think we were able to strike that right balance. When Andrew left we did run for a while without a general manager and certainly all the other clubs did as well. Then over the years we decided that we still needed such a person, such an entity, such a position being filled. We had some part time general managers over the years. Then we upped them to full time and we stayed in that position right up until 2009 with a full time general manager. In 2009 we had to let Anthony Dignam go, who was our most recent general manager. As at June 2009 Anthony finished up in that role and since then we’ve run the club back on a volunteer basis.

Some East Coast Eagles players at Macquarie University 2002

When did the East Coast Eagles play their first season and what was the outcome?

The first season was 2000 and we played at the Roger Sheeran Oval at Macquarie University. The outcome was it wasn’t a good year. Without having my notes with me or some history I can’t remember where we finished. It certainly wasn’t in the finals it certainly wasn’t in the top four. 2001 was pretty similar, 2002 was again similar. A lot of people were wondering, I thought the East Coast Eagles were going to get a lot stronger than this because of their association with West Coast. Now maybe we all thought that too, but things don’t just happen overnight. We were nomads as well. We can’t forget that. We’re a Hills based side playing out of Epping. It got worse than that Frank. Once Macquarie University decided that they didn’t want “a foreign team” in other words a non uni team playing there. We then had to go and find another ground. We then moved from memory to Alan Davidson Oval down near the airport. We had a couple of seasons out of that and that became even more foreign for us. People had to travel enormous distances to go to a home game. Although we’ve got wonderfully loyal supporters, we’ve got some terrific supporters. As all clubs do, all clubs have great supporters. We’re in the position where we’ve got a few more than others have. They used to support us. God knows why because it was so far to go.

It wasn’t until 2006 and we were playing our games out of Henson Park at Marrickville that we made the finals. In fact we went straight through undefeated for that season. The whole season we were undefeated. We went straight into the grand final. In 2006 we played our arch rivals Pennant Hills in the grand final at Henson Park. The day was as worse a day as anyone’s ever seen. The wind blew horizontally hence the rain came down horizontally. It was cold it was absolutely miserable and just the worse day. We were beaten by 2 points and lost our first game of the year and it happened to be in the grand final. So Pennant Hills were victorious and we were very downcast. We’d had a taste of first grade football. Prior to that I should make mention of the fact that our reserve grade were playing grand finals and winning premierships all the way along. We just couldn’t crack that first grade level which is what everyone remembers of course.

Then in 2007 we were still playing at Henson Park. We still hadn’t got our new ground and we didn’t make the finals that year from memory. 2008 we decided to appoint a new coach who is still our coach, Glenn Garner. Glenn took the club into the grand final again in 2008 and again we were beaten. We had just scraped into the finals and we won all the games through the finals to get into the grand final. We were comprehensively beaten again by Pennant Hills so another disappointment.

2009 came along and we had another crack at it and that was the year that we won it. So we finally got that illusive premiership in 2009. In 2010 we’re defending it.

Glenn Garner (right) and Jon Vlatko with 2009 AFL Sydney Premiership Cup

So what moves were made to secure a permanent or larger ground, tell me the whole story?

It was just a case of perseverance. It’s fair to say that I think Council were aware of the fact that they needed to provide this growing AFL sport with a new ground. Then of course they were probably under great pressure from soccer, league and union and similar sports for ground as well. It wasn’t an easy decision for them to make. It just went on and on and on. Certainly casting no aspersions against anyone either in our club or in our Council but it was just a long winded process.

Geoff Brooke-Cowden who I mentioned before thought that he’d identified a piece of dirt that would be suitable out in Green Road. It didn’t happen. This is all prior to us becoming the East Coast Eagles. Each year it was chronicled in our year books the particular efforts that were made within that twelve month period in order to get the ground. It just kept stalling. I remember it stalled for about three years with the debacle over Windsor Road as well. Council had their eyes on other matters naturally. In the end it was probably about 2002 and maybe even earlier than that, probably earlier. It was identified that the ground on Commercial Road where the Kellyville Riding Club is would be allocated to AFL. Once that news became public, we were comfortable with that, very comfortable, very happy with it. The Kellyville Riding Club constituents weren’t. Particularly when a very large I think front page article appeared in one of the local papers, Hills News or the (The) Hills (Shire) Times about a stadium the size of the MCG going to be built in Commercial Road for the AFL. That just put the cat amongst the pigeons there’s those birds again. All sorts of hell broke loose. The Kellyville Riding Club didn’t want to move. But as we know now because of the way Rouse Hill has developed they arguably couldn’t have stayed there and indeed have now moved and are extremely happy where they’ve gone. At the time they weren’t. So that caused another further hiccup.

Then Council said “well what we’ll do is, we’ll give you the land across the other side road” which is where the motorcycle club is. I had forgotten, prior to that they had allocated some land up by the tip near the netball courts. We were going to go there as well. Then it became the riding club, then it became the motorcycle club and it was where the motorcycle club was that Bruce Purser Reserve is now built today. So that land became assigned to us. It was formally passed in a Council meeting that that would be given to AFL. Not without rallies from other sports saying “how can AFL get that”. We had certainly done a lot of work. After we’d had that ground allocated to us formally the AFL then came in and assisted us significantly. They’d made a partnership with Cricket NSW with the view that future grounds because both sports play on the same shaped ground that any future grounds built would be for the future of both winter and summer constituents. So the AFL came in and they were terrific. A number of people within the AFL Clare Toia-Bailey and Alan McKinnon were extremely helpful to us in our dealings with Council on designing the whole thing. Once the design had been approved the Council had to put it out to tender and that took ages and ages and ages. Then they finally chose a tender and then the weather interfered and all sorts of things. We were expecting to play there in 2007 but that didn’t happen. We certainly expected to play there in 2008 but that didn’t happen. We finally got on it and it’s no coincidence when you think about it. We finally got on it in February 2009 and it was in 2009 that this little old nomad club that had been around for ten years and never played at home. Once it finally had a home ground it also secured a premiership.

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