‘Colah’ Days … memories of a very special  time - Peter Comerford 28th April 2007

Mt Colah was a small semi rural town just north of Hornsby divided by a railway line and the Pacific Highway. On the Chase side of the town there was a newly opened primary school, a corner store called Colah Cottage and on the highway side there was a roadhouse and near the station a greengrocer, milk bar, a butcher and post office. It was a small population where everyone seemed to know everyone else and you could wander along the streets and roam through the surrounding bushland safely.

Back in the 1950’s there was no organised sport for the young boys of the Mt Colah area.  Our dads, many of whom had a rugby league background, were keen for us to be involved in a team sport. As we all attended the relatively new Mt Colah public school, logistically, it would have been relatively easy for Jack Berry, the founder of Mt Colah Soccer Club to speak to parents and to ignite an interest in, what is to my knowledge, the first weekend sporting team formed in Mt Colah using the nucleus of the school team which was formed the previous year. This team had been pulled together by Lionel Morris, a then grade 6 student, at the request of Mr Samuels, the Mt Colah Primary School Headmaster. Lionel organised, played, coached and trained a school team that included Des Naylor, Kevin Setterfield, David Playfair, Johnny Pratt and Ted Newton that played against other primary schools such as Asquith, Berowra and North Turramurra.

It was 1958 and we were quite a mixture of shapes, sizes, age and skill. There were a couple of boys whose dads or mums were English and another, Michael Dragic, whose parents were German so they at least had parents who came from a soccer culture. That wasn’t quite the case for the majority of the dads.

The first Mt Colah team or squad from memory consisted of Kevin Setterfield, Johnny Pratt, Alan Davey, Danny Berry, John Swinton, Gary Leach, Warren Pilgrim, David Ray, David Playfair, Edward Adam, Michael Dragic, Des Naylor (the baby of the team), Ted Newton, Paul Newton, Tony Coote, Peter Comerford, James Wilks, Gareth Townsend. Later we were joined by Leigh Scott-Kemis, George Jackson, Dennis McKinnon, Harvey Bisset,  Kenny Finney, Danny Beecroft and Alan Baker.  The majority of us all went on to play together until under 16’s. Des was the only original team member who despite his skills, was held back for a year as he was too young and too small. None of us were particularly happy about this decision and fortunately it was only for a year. There are other names that spring to mind from those days who played in younger age groups in the following years such as Anthony Stephens, Steve and Chris Hemmings and Stuart Robinson. Although a couple of  players from this period went on to play for Sydney clubs in the Federation competition, Stuart Robertson was the first player from the Mt Colah club to play at national club level for Marconi.

Jack Berry and some of the dads would meet us two evenings during the week to train and hone our skills on the sloping dirt playing area behind the primary school. We jogged around the small field, dribbled balls, practised passing up and down in relays and were shown how to kick and head a ball. A year or two later James Wilks’ dad was our trainer and used resistance methods based on Don Athaldo’s body building techniques, using white, painted, metre long lengths of broom handle to increase our strength and stamina.

The balls were different then, made of 8 panels of brown leather, with a small split through which the rubber bladder was poked and inflated. The split was then laced together with a leather thong. That laced up section was the bit that hurt if it made contact with your head when you headed the ball. The 8 panel ball was superseded by the 12 and then I think a 16 panel ball which kept its shape better. The trouble with these leather balls was that when used in the wet they became as heavy as lead.

Soccer boots were also very different. They were a high boot that laced up above the ankles with leather sprigs. A number of us had rugby boots with leather sprigs. The English style soccer boot had a flap of leather that was sewn across the lower part of the boot near the toes. There were two types of  sprigs, thick leather bars nailed across the sole and sprigs which were made from a number of small leather discs the size of a 5 cent piece, placed one on top of the other that were nailed to the sole of the boot. As the leather wore it exposed the heads of the nails and consequently sprigs had to be checked before the start of a game and protruding nail heads nails banged back into the sprig and boot. Leather sprigs were replaced by steel sprigs with a flattened end unlike the rugby sprig which was longer and tapered with a rounded point and leather bars were banned. A few years later the introduction of the Mick Simmons’s ‘Blue Flash’ boot revolutionised the boot scene. The ‘Blue Flash’ was a low cut, below the ankle, blue leather boot with a moulded rubber sole consisting of numerous rubber sprigs. Lionel Morris was the first player for Mt Colah to wear these stylish and enviable boots!

That first season on reflection must have been a nightmare for Jack and the parents as we were literally blown off the paddock every week with scores ranging from 6 to 16 nil. There were some strong teams from the North Shore such as North Turramurra, (there is a photograph of the first Mt Colah team of 1958 and North Turramurra lined up before the game), West Pymble, St Ives, Kissing Point and Bradfield Park that consisted of English immigrants who beat us 16 nil. Later some of Bradfield boys, Alan Baker and Ken Finney, came to play with Mt Colah. I think we managed to score a couple of goals in the season but that’s all. We had a wonderful time, well I did as I wasn’t the goalkeeper then, as that fell into the hands of Tony Coote, who was a couple of years older than the rest of us but was allowed to play in goal… Things were a little more flexible then.

Our shirts were the green and grey Mt Colah primary colours. Des Naylor still has one of the original shirts. Mrs Berry and possibly some of the mums evidently sewed green stripes onto a grey shirt for our first team strip.  Even though they may not have been the flashiest and some of us wore white, black or blue shorts, it nevertheless cemented us together and identified us as a team albeit a rather bedraggled looking team compared to North Turramurra. Because of our variety of shorts colours we were each given a pair of grey shorts to wear in the march past on the Kuring-gai District Gala Day in 1958. The trouble was there wasn’t a pair big enough for my tubby build and I had to wear a smaller size which rode up my backside, much to my embarrassment and the amusement of everyone else marching behind me, as we marched all the way around Turramurra Oval. The announcement that we had won the march past was a just and suitable reward for our first year of competition. Everyone was so excited you would have thought we had won the grand final. Our trophy was in the form of colourful, green felt pennants that were presented to us at the annual Kuring-gai Association presentation evening where, once the formalities were over, we sat back excitedly and watched a black and white film of an English FA Cup final.

On Saturday mornings we would meet at Jack Berry’s house to be loaded aboard the back of an open truck to travel to the various grounds for our game. Later the vans of Warren Pilgrim’s uncles Brian and Russel and also Jim Wilks’ dad were used as transport. It was while travelling in the back of the truck that the brown horse, that was to become the symbol of Mt Colah Soccer Club, came to being.  While travelling to our games in the truck Michael Dragic came up with the idea that if we saw a brown horse we would win, in fact it even got to the stage where he would predict our scoring margin by the number of brown horses we saw. It seemed to be amazingily accurate. The brown horse then became the symbol of the club and appeared on our shirts, flag and an enamelled metal badge.

After our first disastrous season in 1958 where we were soundly thrashed week in and week out things were to change dramatically in 1959. We won the ‘B’ competition undefeated and then won the Gala Day (although HKDSA records don’t indicate this so we need a pennant from that year as proof).

After the success of 1959 we were promoted to the ‘A’ competition. New players gradually arrived from Berowra and Cowan and we continued our success winning both our age competitions and Gala Days and were undefeated Premiers for the next 3 years. Many of our players were selected to represent the Kuring-gai and Districts representative sides. Our crown was dented, however, when were unceremoniously knocked out in our first match in a Gala Day 3 years later. Our first loss in 3 years came as a terrible shock to us. We were devastated and I remember James Wilks, Ted Newton and I fighting back the tears as a result of our first sobering experience of defeat for a long time.  

Unfortunately at the moment there doesn’t appear to be a great amount of memorabilia around, although hopefully now that more people are aware of the 50th anniversary more things will come to light. People didn’t take a lot of photos and the Brownie Box camera wasn’t of much use for taking action shots, although there must be some group photographs of the teams somewhere. I had every pennant we had won pinned on to my bedroom wall and my parents took them along to a Mt Colah 25th anniversary gathering. I have no idea where they have ended up. Other than a page of autographs of both the Preston North End and NSW players that played at the ES Marks field, the only other surviving item I have, other than the Mt Colah metal badge, is a good luck talisman that I painstakingly made by filing down a piece of metal into a disc and having it engraved with my name, club and a diving goalkeeper. Attached to it was a piece of sink chain and a safety pin so that I could attach it to the inside the padding pocket of my football shorts!

Bob Edmunds small son, Kevin, was our ball boy. Bob was very active in the club from its very beginnings.  There was a photograph taken for one of the Sydney papers of Kevin being held by Tom Finney (later to be knighted), the English international and Preston North End player was with his winning F.A. Cup side as guests of the NSW Soccer Football Association at its “Juniors Day” at the ES Marks Field, Moore Park. A number of our players played in one of the lead up games to the demonstration game which was played between the English team and not against a NSW State Representative side as planned as Australia had been banned by FIFA over issues involving non payment of transfer fees for overseas players playing in the Sydney competition, so the English team could not play an Australian side.

Eventually in 1961 an All Age team was formed initially of some dads and people who had helped coach us such as Brian and Russel Pilgrim, Bob Edmunds and Sid Keith but the team soon had some Italian, German and English immigrants in the side to add some extra flair and skill.

One of both our team’s and the All Age team’s greatest supporters was Joe Brogden, Warren Pilgrim’s grandfather. Joe ran the line, carried the water and sponges, gave regular running commentaries and regular serves to the umpires if things were not going our way and served as strapper and enthusiastic ‘massage man’ when one of our team were injured.

As mentioned earlier these days were very special. We were a new town where people moved to affordable blocks of land after the Second World War. There was bushland and lots of space to run and play, rocks to throw, cicadas to catch and on training nights fruit to pinch…but that particular game didn’t last very long!  We were a small country town with a small, wonderful primary school and the soccer club became a focal point for our all our activities as well as providing our parents with a regular socializing opportunity which also helped to bind a close knit community. It gave us as young boys a chance to burn up some energy kicking a ball around a field, make some great mates and to learn some important team skills to carry with us in life. Jack Berry wouldn’t have fully appreciated the legacy he left. At his funeral in 1964 the boys from Jack’s original team plus the present teams were part of Mt Colah Soccer Club’s guard of honour. Berry Oval remains as a memorial to his legacy.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 12 January 2010 19:31)