St Paul’s Junior Football Club unofficially started in the late 1950s with an Under 15 team organised by Mr Jim Byrnes. Local boys attending school at St Bede's, bolstered by other St Bede’s boys, comprised the team. They played in a competition in the McKinnon area.
At Rev. Father O’Sullivan’s request, Mr Reg Mulavin approached the Bentleigh McKinnon Youth Centre (BMYC) with a proposal to include a Football Section. As a result, the BMYC Football Competition was introduced in 1960, including Under 11, Under 13 and Under 15 Age Groups. St Paul’s was one of the inaugural Clubs. The competition was strictly limited to local boys. Other Clubs competing included McKinnon Demons, Bentleigh Tigers, St Catherine’s, St Peter’s, Ormond Blues and Glen Orme. Players paid a small Registration Fee to cover the costs of football, umpires and guernseys, which were supplied by the B.M.Y.C.
The guernseys were given out at the beginning of each season and collected after the last game. Clubs did not have an official guernsey. St Paul’s Under 11 Saints wore St Kilda colours, the Tigers wore Richmond colours, the Under 13’s wore green/yellow stripes, while the Under 15’s wore black/red stripes, until 1978, when all St Paul’s Teams were given the same coloured guernseys – the black/red stripes. The first Under 11 team fielded 28 boys and this soon increased to over 40, so it was decided to enter two Under 11 Teams in the Competition – the Saints and the Tigers. This made it easier to keep within the aims of the Club which was “Irrespective of the member, each boy was given part of a game, the attitude being that the winning of a game was not as important as the fact of giving as many boys as possible the chance to play football.” Successes were few, but the enjoyment, of having a game was great!
The first meeting called to seek assistance with the running of the Club, was attended by about sixteen fathers. They did not feel the need for a Committee or Office Bearers. They all worked together for the sake of the boys. Coaches and helpers were either fathers, older brothers or players from the St Paul’s Senior Football Club which had been formed in 1949 to accommodate the young men of St Paul’s Parish and had McKinnon Oval 2 as their home ground. Prominent names of dedicated workers for the Club in the early days included Jim Byrnes, Reg Mulavin, F. Thompson, W. Bennett, B. Duggan, T. Meehan, B. Morriss, C. Kelly, J. Richardson, R. Clavarino, R. Child, E. Mackie, J. Ahern, F. Jackson, J. Williams, J. & M. Mercer an J. & M. Clarke.
Charlie Pincott was considered a “legend” due to the fact that he coached the Under 11 Saints for ten years then took on the Under 13’s for three more years. Reg Mulavin and Charlie Pincott were honoured with Life Memberships from the BMYC for their dedication and service.
Prior to the commencement of the season, on a particular Sunday towards the end of March each year Registration Day took place after the 10.30am Mass, when all those wishing to play gathered at St Paul’s School yard in a seething mass and had their names and ages registered and were allotted to their teams and introduced to their Coaches.
Matches were played on Saturday mornings commencing at 9.00am so all teams met in St Paul’s school yard at 8.30am. Owing to various other commitments, it was very difficult to provide enough transport for all the players. However, by devious means, the boys were always delivered safely to their respective grounds. Thankfully seat belts had not been introduced as yet, because there could be any number up to 12 boys squashed into one car. Station wagons were the most popular mode of transport needless to say.
The first job for the helpers, on arrival at the ground, was to put out the witches hats and goal posts, then organise volunteers to be goal umpires, timekeepers, boundary umpires etc. Under 11 Coaches were permitted to remain on the ground during play – no such thing as Runners or Trainers in those days. The local Grounds included Bentleigh Recreational Oval, McKinnon Oval 2, Bailey Reserve (3 ovals), King George Reserve, Hospital Grounds (4 temporary ovals on the area where the present Monash Hospital in East Bentleigh is). There were no “home grounds” or luxuries such as change rooms in those days so the players went home in their football gear. The Under 13 Section, for the first few years, struggled to keep up its numbers mainly because of secondary school football commitments, but as the numbers flowed on from the Under 11s, this changed and St Paul’s produced some good teams in this division, winning at least one Premiership in 1968.
As times changed the early “Stars” (the Under 15s) became a problem. Numbers fell away and finally in 1970, despite the valiant efforts of a few faithful fathers, and perhaps in particular, Mr Des Linehan, the Under 15 Team disbanded for one season. However, the following season St Paul’s, often with the bare 18 or even less boys, took up the challenge once more and in 1973, were Runners Up to the Premiers.
The Under 11 Division continued fielding two teams successfully up till the 1972 season when numbers decreased gradually and in 1973 The Tigers found themselves very often lining up on Saturday mornings with only 13 or 14 boys. So it was decided, after much serious thought, to enter one team only for the next season with the name St Paul’s Saints.
The end of each season, up until 1970, was celebrated with a Mass and Communion for all players, coaches and managers, followed by a Pie Breakfast in St Paul’s Hall. It was about this time that things were becoming more sophisticated and it was decided that St Paul’s needed a Committee to run the Club and so began the “modern” era St Paul’s Football Club. The end-of-season Mass and Communion continued till 1976 but the Pie Breakfast had been replaced with a barbeque lunch and Presentation of Trophies at Bailey Reserve.
The 1980s saw the inclusion of more Bayside teams in the competition, and when the BMYC amalgamated with the Morrabbin Saints Junior Football League (MSJFL) all age groups from Under 10 through to U/16s were introduced. There were not enough boys to go around in this area. During 1984 it was decided that St. Paul's would seek an amalgamation with their near neighbours, McKinnon Demons and so 1985 saw the inauguration of St. Paul's Demons Junior Football Club, and this has proved to be a very successful union.
By this time clubs were supplying their own Guernseys so a new design was decided on a black Guernsey with a red, yellow and maroon stripe on the front left hand side to include the colours of both previous clubs. Junior Clubs were allocated to Home Grounds with limited use of dressing rooms and facilities and so St. Paul's Demons found themselves at McKinnon Oval with St. Paul's Seniors, who were now playing in the East Suburban Churches Association and sharing all facilities with the Old Haileyburian's Amateur Football Club.
Throughout the years many of the St. Paul's Senior players began their football careers from 7 years of age with the Juniors. They then joined the Seniors later but it was not until 1998 that boys could play right through, with the introduction of an Under 18s Team in the Senior Competition, which has been a great step forward for both the Senior and Junior Clubs.
Recognition has been given to devoted workers for St Paul’s Junior Football Club during its early days. Since that time there have been many more great workers – probably none more noteworthy than Bernie Maher or “Mr Bernie” as he was known. Bernie became involved in 1981 when Vic Kick opened a clinic at Bentleigh West Primary School, and Bernie was recruited as one of the coaches to look after the St Paul’s interests. He then graduated 2 years later to the position of Under 11’s Coach beginning his illustrious career as coach of all age levels ending with Under 15’s in 1987. Bernie coached several finals sides without actually winning a premiership, and was also honoured with the task of coaching several combined teams on several occasions. Bernie took on the position of President of St Paul’s in 1992.
Other people worthy of mention in this era include Jack Nankervis (RIP) who severed as Bernie’s Team Manager over the years, Jack Smith (RIP) long-time Timekeeper and father of Graham Smith (RIP) President of several years, Peter Commerford Treasurer, Michael Jackson, Sue Foggie, Shane Foots then later Debbie and Barry Ridgeway (RIP), Sam Oakly, Pam Robertson and then there are the tireless, wonderful parents involved at the present time.
Over the years there have been some attempts at social interaction with distant clubs which are worthy of mention – not for any other reason than unusual happenings, such as the time a group from South Australia whose players were billeted by St Paul’s parents and one little visitor decided to run away from the home of his hosts causing untold alarm including police being called in to find him walking towards the city where his parents were staying. Then another time a group of St Paul’s Under 13’s went to Canberra by plane with two or three adults and the plane was delayed by two hours before taking off at midnight on the return journey. Then another time a group came here and their accommodation was at St Paul’s Clubrooms where local parents looked after them. When the football match began so did the rain and hail so that the game had to be called off at the end of the first quarter, but nobody told the goal umpire who continued at his post till half time – he could not see anything because of the rain.
The Juniors and Seniors have always been happy to be located at McKinnon Oval, but it has not always been easy, as several times over the years since 1990’s the Glen Eira Council has tried to have the Junior Club moved elsewhere, the reason being that the ground is over used. Hopefully that has finally been resolved and there will be no further stressful periods.
Over the years some of the Junior’s have gone on to play at a higher level including: James Ahern – Melbourne F.C., Francis Jackson – South Melbourne/Swans, Richmond, Chris, Tony and Tim Mercer – Sandringham V.F.A. (Tim returned later to St Paul’s Seniors as Playing Coach then President in the 1990’s), Steven Gilmore – Sandringham V.F.A., Teddy Fidge – Melbourne F.C., John Fidge – Melbourne F.C., Brisbane Lions F.C., Mark Kellett – St Kilda F.C., Michael Boland – Sandringham VFA, Glen Boland – Melbourne F.C., Frankston V.F.A., Phil Abourizk – Sandringham V.F.A., Simon Eishold – Melbourne F.C., Paul Hopgood – Melbourne F.C., Joe Krieger – Fremantle F.C. and presently at St Paul’s Seniors, Chris Phillip – Swans F.C., Simon Buckley – Melbourne F.C., Collingwood F.C., Terry Siderellis – Melbourne F.C., Harley Ambrose – Sandringham VFA.
When asked the question “Who stands out as the most noted Junior of all time”, one player stands out above the rest – Robert (Robbie) Prew or “Prewy” who epitomises what St Paul’s is all about. Robbie retired at the end of 2009 season after playing all his football from the age of 8 years to 39 years with St Paul’s – Juniors and Seniors. Robbie could have played at a much higher level when he finished as a Junior, but he resisted all offers because he wanted to stay and play with his mates. His Best and Fairest trophies were many, both at Club level and League level. His speed and skills together with his display of fair play were outstanding. The year 2009 saw another “favourable son” Travis Ridgway kick 113 goals for the season for St Paul’s Seniors. Travis began his career with the Juniors when he was 8 years old and joined the Senior’s after completing Under 17’s.
At the present time (2010) almost 75% of the plays at St Paul’s Seniors Club have played their junior football with the Junior Club – a great achievement and rare amongst other local Clubs. During the late 80’s or early 90’s the playing day was changed from Saturday to Sunday, which was at first considered a very radical move, but before long was accepted unanimously.
Presentation of Trophies in the present era changed from a rather low key affair to a grand all-day affair on a Sunday after the season ends, incorporating lunch and the Annual General Meeting.
Written by Margaret Mercer