HISTORY OF THE CLARENCE DISTRICT FOOTBALL CLUB
(formerly Bellerive Football Club)
For long-suffering Clarence supporters the 1990s and the early years of the new century have brought unprecedentedly sustained success. Prior to 1990 finals appearances and premierships had been sporadic, but since then the 'Roos have made a habit of both.
The district of Clarence, separated from Hobart by the Derwent River, has been a home of football for well over a hundred years. The first mention of the sport came in 1884 when a local side, Bellerive, played a challenge match against VFA side Carlton which, not surprisingly, the Victorians won comfortably. Over the next twenty years or so Bellerive continued to engage in frequent informal matches. mainly against local opposition, but it was not until 1903 that organised football came to the region with the formation of the Bellerive Football Association.
The BFA lasted just one season, with Bellerive Football Club the first and only premiers. In 1904 the competition was replaced by the Derwent Football Association which comprised five clubs, including Bellerive. After winning one premiership (in 1907) of that competition Bellerive moved on to the three club Metropolitan Football Association in 1910 where it achieved regular success.
After the Great War Bellerive re-formed but did not play in a formal competition until 1930 when it was a founder member, along with four other clubs, of the South Eastern Football Association. Bellerive won the first three flags in this competition and followed up with further premierships in 1937 and 1940.
During World War Two a floating bridge was built connecting the eastern and western banks of the Derwent. The Clarence region was now a mere ten minute drive from the centre of Hobart, and it was not long before major new housing developments sprang up and the population escalated. Clarence could no longer be regarded as a country area and when the TFL began considering expanding its competition Bellerive, as one of the leading lights in the SEFA, were prime candidates for inclusion. In 1944 the Bellerive committee resolved to pursue admission to the TFL as a serious option and made the strategically astute decision to alter the club name to Clarence, thereby suggesting an association with the entire Clarence region, of which Bellerive was just a part.
To suggest that the TFL were considering expansion is actually an over-simplification. Three of the TFL's established clubs - Lefroy, Cananore and New Town - were in difficulty and the league committee charged with preparing the ground for the resumption of full scale football after the war proposed that one way of alleviating these problems would be to introduce district football, whereby players represented the clubs in whose districts they resided rather than being free to join whichever club they wished . The implicit assumption here was that, with a district system operating, a more even playing field would tend to be created. Moreover, it was felt that there existed sufficient playing talent in and around Hobart to support six clubs of league standard, hence Clarence's optimism about being included.
In the event, when the TFL resurfaced in 1945 it was with two old clubs - North Hobart and New Town - and two new clubs in the shape of Hobart and Sandy Bay. SEFA clubs New Norfolk and Clarence were told that they would have to wait to be admitted to the league, but simultaneously reassured that this remained the TFL's short to medium term objective. On the surface this seemed eminently logical, but both Clarence and New Norfolk suspected that there was a hidden agenda revolving around the two established league clubs' concern over losing some of their most lucrative recruiting territory.
Clarence reached the 1945 grand final of the South Eastern Association but managed only an embarrassing 1.5 (11) to New Norfolk's 12.12 (84). The 1946 season proved more enjoyable, however, as the side not only won the flag but, despite narrowly losing a challenge match against TFL wooden spooners Hobart, subsequently learnt that the league had resolved to admit them from 1947, along with New Norfolk. At Clarence's AGM in November the members agreed to a second name change in two years and the club officially became known as the Clarence District Football Club. After some debate the members decided to adopt the kangaroo emblem, on the grounds that "you never see a kangaroo going backwards".
Clarence's TFL career began with a convincing 16.15 (111) to 9.13 (67) defeat of old South Eastern Association rivals New Norfolk. This earned the Kangaroos top spot on the ladder, a situation in which they would not find themselves again for many years.
Clarence finished the 1947 season in 5th place with 3 wins: finals participation was still some way off. In fact, it was not until 1952, with former Sandgroper great Les McClements at the helm, that the Kangaroos finally secured a finals berth after just squeezing into the four. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, the side appeared overawed by their achievement, and promptly lost the 1st semi final by 30 points to eventual premiers Sandy Bay.
The general consensus about Les McClements during his five season (1951-55) stint as coach was that, although he was undeniably a brilliant player, as a coach he was merely adequate. What Clarence needed was a coach with drive, passion and a touch of ingenuity. In 1957 (after finishing last the previous year under John Golding) they got their man.
Stuart Spencer was twenty-five years old when he arrived at Clarence, a veteran of 122 VFL games with Melbourne including participation in the 1955 and 1956 premiership sides. He was also a dual winner of the Demons' best and fairest award, no mean feat when you consider that his team mates included players of the calibre of Ron Barassi, John Beckwith, Brian Dickson, Laurie Mithen and Ian Ridley. There is no doubt that, had he wished, he could have gone on playing in the VFL for many more years, but for family and business reasons he elected to relocate to Tasmania. With him he brought a professionalism and an indefatigable resolve to succeed, which gradually had a discernible impact on those under his tutelage.
The key word here is 'gradually'. Improvements in attitude and approach emerged long before the scoreboard started to display the benefits. Clarence finished last in both 1957 and 1958 before starting a slow ascent of the ladder the following year. By 1960 the side was performing with an aggressive vitality which left most opposition sides floundering. Unfortunately, after topping the ladder going into the finals, the team lost its way, and defeats in consecutive weeks by Hobart and North Hobart brought the season to an abrupt, inglorious end.
The 'Roos dropped to 4th in 1961 but 1962 was a landmark year in that it brought both the club's first TFL finals victory as well as its first grand final appearance. Second after the roster games Clarence lost a thrilling 2nd semi final to North Hobart by 8 points before overcoming Sandy Bay in front of a preliminary final record attendance of 13,410.
The grand final was fiercely contested, and indeed Clarence managed as many scoring shots as the Robins. However, North were just that bit steadier, and got home by 15 points. A TFL grand final record crowd of 19,311 watched the match in which the losers were particularly well served by Eric Hawkes, Cliff Tabe, Brian Evington and Graham Jackson.
Stuart Spencer coached Clarence again in 1963 but the side slumped to 4th. There was worse to follow during the next couple of seasons under Spencer's successor Geoff Frier, with the 'Roos finishing 5th on both occasions. Spencer was re-installed as coach in 1966 and there was marginal improvement as the side finished 4th. However, the loss of promising under age player Royce Hart to VFL club Richmond was arguably the most significant event of the season.
Former City-South, East Devonport and St Kilda player John Bingley took over from Spencer as senior coach for the 1967 season and remained until 1972. Under his guidance Clarence enjoyed their finest era to date, finally breaking through for a flag in 1970, after participating in the finals in each of the three preceding seasons for 3rd, and 2nd place finishes. The 1969 grand final pitted Clarence against a North Hobart side which had annihilated the Roos by 81 points a fortnight earlier in the 2nd semi final and which looked on course for a repeat when it led by 49 points midway through the 3rd quarter of the 'big one'. However, the Roos were quick learners and hit back strongly, dominating the remainder of the game to succumb in the end by just a couple of goals. Indeed, given that Clarence's last 5 kicks for goal all produced minor scores the result could quite easily have been different.
The watershed year of 1970 began with some shrewd recruiting on the part of the Clarence committee. Four players in particular stood out: Adrian Bowden (ex Sandy Bay and Melbourne, Mike Nash (ex Collingwood reserves), Bob Lynch (ex City South, Fitzroy and New Norfolk) and Bob Cheek (a 1969 Tasmanian state representative from Penguin). Collectively, if somewhat inanely, termed 'the foreign legion', this quartet would go on to play a significant role in Clarence's rise to pre-eminence, but the real key to the achievement was the coaching of Bingley, who simply refused to accept second best.
After qualifying for the finals in 2nd place, despite a somewhat worrying loss of form over the final few roster matches, Bingley had his charges all but breathing fire for the 2nd semi final encounter with Sandy Bay, which the Roos won comfortably by 22 points. For the grand final against New Norfolk a fortnight later there was an insatiable optimism about the Clarence camp with which the Eagles proved unable to cope. A grand final record crowd of 24,413 saw Clarence methodically rip their opposition apart from the time nineteen year old Terry Mayne kicked the opening goal of the game thirty seconds in. Mayne went on to add 9 more goals as the Roos won convincingly, 19.16 (130) to 10.15 (75). Coach Bingley remarked afterwards that the victory meant even more to him than his participation in St Kilda's historic, drought-breaking 1966 premiership, sentiments which undoubtedly endeared him even further to the Clarence faithful.
The Roos next attempted to secure the state flag, but after a comfortable preliminary final victory over Scottsdale Darrel Baldock’s Latrobe proved too strong.
Clarence went within 9 points of back to back flags in 1971 after conceding Sandy Bay a lead of 41 points at half time of an absorbing grand final. The cracks were beginning to emerge, however, and after the Roos finished a disappointing 4th in 1972, Bingley resigned as coach.
Somewhat controversially, the Clarence committee chose Robin Norris, a local lad, as Bingley's replacement, but 4th place in both 1973 and 1974 was the best he could manage. Enter Trevor Sorrell from Port Adelaide, whose coaching achievements could not quite match his playing prowess. During Sorrell's two year stint the Roos got no further than the preliminary final.
Under Sorrell's successor, Eric Pascoe, Clarence finished 6th in 1977 and 5th the following year. Noel Leary arrived from Sandy Bay for the 1979 season anticipating a stern challenge in his first coaching assignment, but to everyone's surprise his charges performed heroically, qualifying for the finals in 2nd position. Peter Hudson's Glenorchy were very much the team to beat, however, having finished the roster matches 16 points clear of the Roos, a superiority they were swift to re-assert in the 2nd semi final.
Clarence used the preliminary final against reigning premiers Sandy Bay to rediscover their form and confidence, winning comfortably, but few people other than Roos supporters considered that they had anything other than an outside chance of upsetting the Magpies. Clarence's job was made even more difficult given the unusual circumstance of Glenorchy being not only popularly favoured to win, but also, in light of the fact that this was to be the great Peter Hudson's final game, a warm sentimental favourite.
An all time TFL record crowd of 24,968 packed into the compact North Hobart Oval creating an electric atmosphere. The Roos rose to the occasion right from the start, and by the long break had established a lead of 16 points. Glenorchy's anticipated 3rd quarter revival coincided with the onset of heavy rain and in hindsight this may have been to Clarence's advantage as it stymied the Magpies' effectiveness up forward. The last change saw Glenorchy in front by just 5 points, after which the final term proved to be something of a slog with neither side able to achieve a decisive break. In finishes of this nature, with the lead changing hands repeatedly, the match takes on some of the characteristics of a lottery - or, more accurately, a game of musical chairs; in this context, Clarence supporters were overjoyed to find that it was Glenorchy who were 'left standing' at the final siren.
Best afield in the Roos' 3 point triumph was Greg French, but in truth every Clarence player played to the limit of his ability and it was only because of this that the supposedly indestructible Glenorchy bubble was burst.
Clarence's next flag two seasons later was acquired with considerably more conviction. The side comfortably topped the ladder after the roster matches and stayed in the comfort zone in the 2nd semi final which yielded a 79 point annihilation of New Norfolk. Two weeks later in the grand final the Eagles resorted to rough house tactics in an attempt to square the ledger and at first this seemed to succeed as they went in at the long break 9 points to the good. However, the second half brought a restoration of normality as the Roos gradually got on top to carve out a 25 point victory, with John Moles best on ground.
Noel Leary's coaching tenure ended two seasons later with no addition to the premiership haul. Robert Shaw, Leary's replacement as coach, arrived with a sound pedigree having commenced his playing career at Sandy Bay before enjoying a 51 game career at Essendon where he earned a reputation as a reliable if unspectacular defender. In 1983 Shaw had served as skills coach at Windy Hill under Kevin Sheedy in a season which saw the Bombers play off on grand final day for the first time since 1968. Shaw brought discipline and professionalism to Clarence, combined, equally significantly, with a detailed understanding of local conditions. His impact was immediate, as the Roos went on to secure a memorable against the odds premiership. Just as in 1979, Glenorchy was the team which supposedly 'had it all', but when the heat was on in both the 2nd semi final and grand final it was the red and whites who held sway.
Just when it seemed that the Roos had Glenorchy's measure, however, the Magpies turned the tables, winning both 1985 finals encounters between the clubs to re-establish themselves as the team to beat. Robert Shaw returned to the mainland after the grand final to be replaced by Graham Hunnibell, but neither he nor his his three immediate successors Bill Picken (1987 and 1988), Peter Daniel (1989 to 1991) and Leigh McConnon (1992) could rediscover the flag-winning formula.
Former South Melbourne/Sydney stalwart Stevie Wright (237 games between 1979 and 1991) was appointed playing coach in 1993 and he soon had the 'Roos playing a brand of football light years in advance of most opponents. Back to back premierships ensued, with North Launceston (9 points) and New Norfolk (38 points) the grand final victims.
Wright left to join Central District in 1995 and there was a temporary hiatus under his successor, Grant Fagan), as the Roos succumbed to North Launceston by 10 points in that season's grand final. It was back to business as usual the following year, however, as Clarence comfortably overcame grand final debutants Burnie by 27 points to make Fagan the first non-playing premiership coach in the club's TFL history.
The 1997 grand final saw the same protagonists engaging in a much closer tussle, but with ultimately the same result, Clarence winning 20.9 (129) to Burnie's 18.14 (122). The Roos fell from grace in 1998, losing the grand final to North Launceston by 49 points, while in 1999 they slumped still further, missing the grand final for the first time in seven seasons.
No-one who attended the 2000 Tasmanian State Football League grand final between Clarence and the recently re-named 'Northern Bombers' (formerly North Launceston) would have realised it but they were witnessing the final moment's of the competition's existence. In hindsight therefore the Roos' victory, whilst doubtless, at the time, as satisfying to all concerned as any other premiership, can at very best only be regarded as a bittersweet achievement. Whilst nothing in the recent history of the sport encourages optimism in this regard it is earnestly to be hoped that future generations of Tasmanian football followers will find themselves immersed in an environment in which the achievements and traditions of clubs like Clarence can be properly celebrated, not to mention furthered and enhanced.
The sudden demise of the TFL early in 2001 has left the above table looking less like a roll of honour and more like an epitaph. Clarence, along with fellow former TFL members Glenorchy, Hobart, New Norfolk and North Hobart, would compete in future in the Southern Football League, which had been formed in 1996.
Clarence immediately found its feet in the new environment, downing Glenorchy by 54 points in the 2001 grand final. It followed this up a year later with a hard fought 12.17 (89) to 10.8 (68) grand final defeat of North Hobart. Two years later came an arguably even more agreeable grand final triumph as the 'Roos overcame warm pre-match favourites New Norfolk in a high standard encounter which David Stockdale, writing in 'The Mercury', described thus:
When it comes to premierships, Clarence's cup really does runneth over. The Roos racked up their 12th premiership - the eight since 1993 - by bounding away from New Norfolk to win yesterday's SFL Premier League grand final by 33 points. Given the continual infusion of youth, the bad news for rival clubs, is it is likely Clarence's run will continue for some time yet. The other winner on the day was the SFL, the crowd of 6,132 being the best for a grand final since the Statewide League clubs joined the competition in 2001.
After a nip-and-tuck contest for the first three quarters in which the lead frequently changed hands, most expected the Eagles to prevail despite being a point down. After all, they had finished minor premiers, won the second semi final against Glenorchy and had the week's rest to watch the Roos and the Magpies fight out a bruising preliminary final. Yet it was Clarence which finished full of running, rattling on 7.3 to 2.1 to win 17.12 (114) to 12.9 (81).
After finishing second behind New Norfolk in 2005, the Roos reinforced their status the following year as, without doubt, the pre-eminent Southern Tasmanian Football power of recent times, when they withstood a stern first half challenge from Glenorchy before pulling a way to record a comfortable and highly meritorious 37 point win. Final scores were Clarence 17.13 (115) to Glenorchy 11.12 (78).
In 2007 the same two sides again contested the grand final, but on this occasion the Roos were outclassed to the tune of 68 points.
The 2009 season saw the establishment of a new Statewide competition with Clarence among the inaugural members. It proved to be a memorable debut year for the 'Roos who ended up claiming the premiership with a hard fought 15.11 (101) to 14.11 (95) grand final defeat of Glenorchy. A year later Clarence again emerged triumphant on grand final day, comfortably disposing of the challenge of Devonport to the tune of 57 points.
Although Clarence finished second in 2011 and 2012, it was a dissapointment that the team was eliminated in the Preliminary Final in both years and failed to make the Grand Final.
Bellerive Football Association 1903; Derwent Football Association 1904-1907; Metropolitan Football Association 1908-1910; South Eastern Football Association 1930-1939 and 1942-1946; Tasmanian Football League 1947-1985; State Wide League 1986-2000; Southern Tasmanian Football League 2001-2008; Tasmanian State League from 2009
P.O. Box 94, Rosny 7018, Tasmania
Red and white
Premierships (up to 1946):
BFA - 1903; DFA - 1907; MFA - 1910; SEFA - 1930, 1931, 1932, 1937, 1939, 1946; (8 as Bellerive, 1 as Clarence - 9 total)
Premierships (from 1947):
TFL - 1970, 1979, 1981, 1984; SWL - 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000; SFL - 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006; TSL 2009, 2010 (15 total)
William Leitch Medallists:
Hamish Yaxley 1949; Stuart Spencer 1960; John Richmond and Stuart Spencer 1967; Robert "Bobby" Lucas 1968; Trevor Sorrell 1976; Scott Wade 1989; Gary Williamson 1991; Danny Noonan 1995 & 1996; Matthew Jones 1999 (9 Medallists/11 Medals)
Brett Geappen 2010 (1 total)
Scott Wade 1989 (1 total)
John Golding 1956; Stuart Spencer 1957 & 1960; Rod Hughes 1981; Billy Picken 1988; Scott Wade 1989; Brady Jones 2012 (6 Medallists/ 7 Medals)
Stuart Spencer 1958 (1 total)
TFL Top Goal kickers:
J.Cooper (42) 1951; John Mills (49) 1968; Terry Mayne (74) 1971; Andrew Vanderfeen (66) 1981; Paul Dac (94) 1994; Scott Allen (80) 2000 (6 total)
Southern Football League Top Goal kickers:
Mitch Williamson (63) 2007 (1 total)
TSL Top Goal kickers:
Mitch Williamson (80) 2012 (1 total)
41.23 (269) vs. Brighton 5.4 (34) in round 5 7th May 2005
315 Scott McCallum from 1989 - 2007; 314 Gavin Cooney from 1989 - 2006 and 2009
Record Home Attendance:
5,157 on 6th June 1970: Clarence v New Norfolk
Record Roster Attendance:
8,480 on 4th April 2011: Clarence vs Glenorchy at KGV
Record Finals Attendance:
24,968 for 1979 grand final at North Hobart Oval: Clarence 12.11 (83); Glenorchy 11.14 (80)
The basis of the above History has been taken as extracts from the book entitled The Encyclopedia Of Australian Football Clubs Volume One and has been published with the kind approval of the author, John Devaney