IT should come as no surprise to find that the fingerprints of the Prahran Football Club’s most iconic figure, Kevin Sheedy, are found in the early days of the formation of the Prahran Junior Football Club.
The history of junior football at Prahran is stop-start but the official starting point was 1975, long after Sheedy had left the club and forged an illustrious playing career at Richmond (251 games) before 27 years from 1981-2007 as coach of Essendon (634 games) and two years from 2012-2013 at the AFL’s newest team at the time, Greater Western Sydney Giants (44 games).
The Two Blues’ favourite son was elevated to the seniors after just one season in the club Under 19s at the age of 16 years and three months to play his first senior game vs Camberwell in the opening round of 1964. But Sheedy’s pathway to Prahran did not come through the juniors. Instead he was a product of the local Try Boys society team while attending De La Salle College.
Although Prahran has fielded teams since 1886, junior football in those days was the domain of neighbouring suburbs such as Toorak, Armadale and Hawksburn who all had junior clubs. Indeed, Hawksburn juniors merged with Prahran in 1926 when the VFA introduced Reserves. When the VFA introduced Under 19s in 1951, Prahran still had no junior feeder club, fielding a team with players from the neighbouring junior clubs.
The birth of Prahran juniors is due to a small group of parents including 1950s club legend Ray Harvey, Team of The Century rover and vice-captain. Until then, the only competition for local boys was social games played at Romanis, opposite Toorak Park, in 1973-1974. That proved to be the catalyst for forming the Junior arm of the club.
Inaugural president and senior club committeeman, John Marsden, recalls one day taking his son Andrew for a kick at Romanis Oval. “Andrew said ‘can I play for Prahran?’ At that stage, Prahran had nothing for kids.’’ Andrew Marsden was later to win an Under 18 best and fairest at rival junior club, Glen Iris. Marsden started talking with fellow parents, the social matches followed and, by 1975, he formed the first committee with Brian Crewes, Brian Moroney, Ken Hatt, John Hartnett, John Yock and Harvey.
Among those original players was Steven Crewes (who still claims he was the first best and fairest winner with a 1973 trophy) who was later to sponsor the senior club through the Reflections Group and now Millennium Hi Tech Cleaning.
The move to introduce Juniors was far from unanimously supported by the senior club committee. “A lot of the committee didn’t want to know us,’’ Marsden recalled.
The Junior club started with an Under 13s, an Under 15s and an Under 17s or Colts team in the first year of a new VFA competition playing mainly on Saturday or Sunday mornings at Toorak Park. The club’s first creed was that no players would pay subs and the only costs incurred would be bringing their own boots. “We paid for dry cleaning the jumpers, pie nights, trips away. The kids never paid a cent,’’ Crewes said. Fund raising was done the old fashioned way. “We held raffles at local pubs, parents donated the jumpers and then we got a bingo session at the College Lawn Hotel on Monday nights. We had no money early on but we got by,’’ Marsden said.
Marsden was always on the lookout for sponsorships. Lloyd Williams, then a land developer and now one of Australia’s wealthiest businessmen and a leviathan racehorse owner, had son Nick playing with the Juniors in the late 1970s.
One day, Marsden received a phone call from Williams asking him to come to the businessman’s office in Windsor for a chat about young Nick getting more game time rather than being confined to the bench. “Lloyd said if I could guarantee Nick a bit more game time he would donate to the club a lounge suite he had in his office.’’ Being a furniture man by trade, Marsden knew he was on a good deal. “The lounge suite was worth $700 or $800,’’ he said. Next weekend, Nick not only started on the ground, he was made captain for the day! The suite was raffled and the club’s coffers received a handsome boost. In 1977, two years after the Prahran Juniors began, Sheedy became actively involved. By then Sheedy was development coach at Richmond and took a keen interest in all juniors. With Pam Crewes (wife of Brian Crewes) as secretary, Sheedy helped form the Spartan League Under 15 competition. Prahran, Abbotsford, AJAX, Richmond and Port Melbourne were the foundation clubs.
Sheedy also helped in fundraising. In those days, quadrella tickets (sealed tickets with four random numbers) were a sizeable money spinner for football clubs. If your numbers corresponded with the winning quaddy numbers for the Melbourne city race meeting that Saturday, you received $100. “Kevin would give us 500 tickets every weekend,’’ Marsden said. The early days of the juniors were marked by tragedy. The Under 15s coach Greg Skinner died of a heart attack in 1977 and the day after the funeral, Pam Crewes also had a fatal heart attack. The Pam Crewes Memorial Trophy for the most promising junior continues to honour her contribution to the club’s history.
By the early 1980s the Juniors were becoming profitable. “We would have dinner dances and make a profit of $12,000 to $14,000 and would pass some of it onto the seniors,’’ Brian Crewes said. Gradually, player numbers grew and Prahran fielded six teams- U9s, two U11s, U13s, U15s and U17s. The first Prahran junior to play AFL/VFL emerged in the 1980s; Graeme Yeats, who went on to play 182 games for Melbourne, won the 1982 Under 17s best and fairest. Interestingly, Yeats’ son, Toby, played in the Juniors in 2010.
Inaugural president Marsden was made a life member in 1979, but his invaluable contribution ended abruptly when he had a heart attack in February 1980, which he thankfully survived. After Marsden stepped down, Brian Crewes took over as president with Annette Coote secretary. Coote later became Juniors president and then made VFA history when she became the first Senior VFA female club president (1991-93). From those six teams in the early 1980s, suddenly numbers dwindled and the Junior arm of the club ceased by 1989 although the club continued to field Under 19s until the early 1990s. The senior club had gone into recess at the end of the 1994 season when the then VFA voted Prahran, Dandenong and Oakleigh out of the revamped competition. All three clubs had significant debt and, in the cases of Prahran and Oakleigh, it was deemed inner city suburban clubs were no longer appropriate for the competition’s vision of a statewide competition. Dandenong and Oakleigh both folded while Prahran continued to trade for the next four years, albeit without teams at either senior or junior level.
After 10 years in recess, season 1999 proved pivotal in the evolution of the Juniors. With creditors finally settled, the club’s colours returned to the field in 1999 as a joint venture with Southbank Amateur Football Club which had lost its home ground at Yarra Park near the MCG to the development of the new tennis precinct now known as Melbourne Park. With two junior teams now ready to play, Senior club president Tim Habel became president of the juniors and two of the club’s senior players Andre Pitts and Shaun Campbell took coaching roles. Pitts coached the u10s and was head of coaching with Adam Lux, from Toorak Prahran Cricket Club and Campbell took charge of the U12s. Pitts was to play a club record 379 games, the second highest in the VAFA, while Campbell later coached the Reserves and Under 19s.
A former Prahran senior club president Sir Rupert Steele was a great believer in junior sport. “Keeps the kids off the streets,’’ was his mantra. Determined the club would again assume an important role in the community, the committee followed Sir Rupert’s creed and formed the Prahran Football Club Community Sports Program (CSP) in 1999. Under manager Derek Hine, a previous coach with Prahran and later Southbank, the Program was launched to spread the name of Prahran to neighbouring primary schools, Horace Petty Housing Estate and Currajong Special Needs school. The club sent Hine to England on a 17-day study tour of English soccer clubs’ “Football in The Community’’ schemes run throughout England and Wales in October 2001 and he returned with a vision for the program. The program was the first of its kind in a metropolitan area in Australia, and recommended as the ideal model for junior sport by a Stonnington Council consultants’ report in 2002. No doubt the PFC Community Sport Program helped the awareness of the re-emergence of the Junior club in its formative stages as clinics were conducted up to six times a year in local primary schools. Hine returned as senior Prahran coach in 2002 and 2003 before he accepted an appointment as development coach at Collingwood in December 2003. Collingwood President, Eddie McGuire, aware of Hine’s program and keen to see his players gainfully employed after training hours, asked Hine to replicate the program for the Magpies. Hine, now National Recruiting Manager at Collingwood, was succeeded as CSP manager by John Lamont, a full-time member of the North Melbourne coaching staff and, in 2014, coach of Werribee in the VFL. Lamont was succeeded in 2007 by Dale Tapping who was assisted by Juniors coach and Senior Club General Manager, Steve Zayler, a foundation junior player in 1999. Tapping, a 1987 Prahran premiership player, was coach of the 2011 TAC Cup premiers, Sandringham Dragons, and is now full-time assistant coach of Brisbane Lions AFL team after six years as an assistant coach at Collingwood. Zayler now manages the program in 2017 which features a 'Footy Fun Day' during the July school holidays .
Importantly, in 1999, the PFC Community Sport Program was also a cornerstone of its ambitious bid to oust Old Xaverians who had replaced Prahran as tenants at Toorak Park in 1995. Against the odds, Prahran ‘’won’’ back tenancy of Toorak Park from Old Xaverians after a Stonnington Council vote in November 1999 only to lose on appeal two weeks later. At the end of the Old Xaverians’ new three-year tenancy, the club agreed to a share arrangement with Prahran which exists to this day.
From humble beginnings and a struggle for numbers, the reformed Junior club gradually began to expand. One of the club stalwarts was Andy Miller, a man with a Rugby background, who in 1999 began as team manager for the team featuring his son, Adam. Later he coached for eight years from 2000 to 2007 and then served two years as president in 2008-09. As Miller was at the club through its formative days and saw it grow over a decade he's well placed to comment on the club's evolution. "It began as an acorn, now it’s grown into a tree with many branches,'' is his favourite homily. Miller’s outstanding service over 10 years was rewarded with life membership of the senior club in 2009. Miller is the inaugural chairman of Prahran Football Club Inc and remains in that role in 2017.
Angus Forrest was the first president to serve two terms since the club reformed (2002-2003), and passed the baton to the entrepreneurial Chris Garnaut. Garnaut’s fundraisers soon had the club flush for funds. Collingwood president, Eddie McGuire, who had two sons, Joseph and Alexander, playing at the club at the time, showed a glimpse of his salesmanship at one memorable fundraiser. McGuire auctioned a day for two at the Collingwood President’s Lunch and the chance for their child to run out onto the MCG with the players for the start of the game. Two parents locked horns in a bidding war. When the bidding reached $7500, McGuire said to the bidders. "Do you both still want it?”. "Yes,” was the prompt reply from both. “Sold,” said McGuire, “you’ve both won.” So, within two or three minutes, $15,000 had jumped into the Club’s coffers and two excited kids had won the chance to tread the hallowed MCG turf thanks to their parents’ generosity.
At a round table discussion one night at his Toorak home, Garnaut posed the question to the committee; “what do we want to stand for as a club?” As a result, the club's mantra “Passionate Community Participation” was set in stone. Under Garnaut’s presidency, the club’s reputation grew and PJFC began to attract players and parents from rival clubs, Glen Iris and East Malvern.
Garnaut, who was awarded life membership in 2013, was succeeded in 2006-07 by Liz Jenkins who became the second female president after Annette Coote.
The present day juniors play in a newly designed Prahran jumper, also worn by the Senior club. When Prahran merged with Southbank in 1999 to form the Prahran Amateur Football Club, the Victorian Amateur Football Association banned the club from playing in the traditional Prahran royal blue, with sky blue shorts. At the time, Mick Erwin, the 1978 Prahran VFA premiership coach, had joined the committee and owned sportswear company Kea. Erwin had his designers come up with a new, modern Two Blues strip which is worn to this day.
When it comes to generosity and overall contribution few could match Peter Spargo. Spargo coached for five years from 2001 to 2006, was on the committee from 2002 -2010 and was a generous major sponsor through the Bed Depot for more than a decade. He was awarded life membership of the club at the annual general meeting in 2014, a fitting tribute to his generosity and continued involvement. Spargo is also a one-time Melbourne Football Club board member and he and his wife Kate had four children play at the club.
As the club became more financial and more professional, a director of coaching was appointed, first Guy Rigoni from Melbourne Football Club, then Stuart Powell from St Kevin's College followed by Andrew Barker from Xavier College. Barker was followed by North Melbourne premiership player Anthony Rock while in 2012 former long serving TAC Cup club Sandringham Dragons manager Wayne Oswald took over the role and remains at the helm in 2016.
Under five year president, Jamie Gray, the club’s numbers grew from about 220 in 2010 to more than 400 players in 2014. The club’s financial position continued to prosper under Gray’s committee, with means to secure the future of the club and the capability to contribute to future capital works to upgrade the outdated Charles Lux Pavilion.
While records in the early days are sketchy, there was a premiership for the Prahran Under 11s in 1981 playing Port Colts at the North Port Oval. The first flag when the Juniors reformed in 1999 came in 2002 when the Under 15s coached by David Myers won the 2nd division premiership in the Yarra Junior Football League. One of the members of that team - and indeed a member of the first team in 1999 - was Ed Macdonald who played in Prahran Assumption’s Senior premiership team in 2011.
Success followed in 2003 with a flag in the Under 13s B Division in the Waverley District Junior Football League.
(In 2008 Waverley District Junior Football Association disbanded and in 2009 PJFC joined the Moorabbin Saints Junior Football League, renamed in 2012 as the South Metro Junior Football League.)
More recently the Under 12s won a South Division premiership under Mick Poynter in 2009 and in 2011 the Under 11s won a South Division flag under Chris Faulkner.
In 2012, for the first time the Juniors won two premierships in one year. The Under 11 Reds were undefeated in East Division, crowning a great season with a grand final win in extra time against East Brighton. Scores were level at full-time but Prahran kicked two goals to nil in extra time to win 4-4 to 2-2. The Under 14s had a more comfortable win scoring 11-12 to 4-11 to down St Kilda City in the Division 3 Grand Final.
In 2013, the club fielded 14 teams and won three Lightning Premierships (Under 9 Reds, Under 9 Blacks and Under 10 Reds) and a flag for the Under 13 Reds in Division 2.
In 2014, the Juniors fielded 18 teams including, for the first time, a girls’ team. The newly formed Under 13 Girls team duly won the premiership under coach Steve Zayler, also general manager of the Senior club. The Under 9 Reds and Under 10 Blacks also won Lightning Premierships in the last season before the AFL introduced a “no scoreboards” policy for teams playing in Under 8, 9 and 10 competitions.
Back in Kevin Sheedy’s days, Prahran was seen as a largely working class suburb and Prahran Technical School was the main recruiting ground for the Juniors. But nowadays, Prahran and neighbouring suburbs, Toorak and Armadale, are now among the most affluent suburbs in Melbourne. Almost 80 per cent of players representing the club are private school students, reflecting the relative affluence of the City of Stonnington. Despite this, PJFC has never been regarded as an elitist club. Housing Commission kids mix freely with private school students from high profile schools such as Xavier, Melbourne Grammar, Scotch and Wesley, one of the great strengths of the club.
The growing strength of the juniors was emphasised in 2012 when Tom Temay (Carlton) and Xavier Richards (Sydney) were drafted to AFL clubs. Then, in 2013, another former junior, Tom Langdon, was secured in the National Draft by Collingwood and played in the seniors in round one 2014.
PJFC also has a link to exciting Greater Western Sydney forward Toby Greene whose father Michael won the club’s Under 17 best and fairest in 1975 and 1976.
A record high 14 teams were fielded under the presidency of Gray.
In 2013 Oscar Bennett won the inaugural Players MVP while the same year Steve Zayler, a player then coach since the club was reformed in 1993 was the second winner of the Peter Spargo Cup for overall contribution to the club,
Dual juniors best and fairest in 1975 and 1979 Con Papagoergiou was the first winner.
Gray stood down at the end of the 2014 season after five years at the helm and was replaced by Justin Long who was formally elected at the annual general meeting of the Prahran Football Club in December 2014.
At that meeting members agreed to a revamped constitution, or Rules, that legally recognised Prahran Juniors committee to act on behalf of the club in matters affecting the Junior section of the club and membership rights for parents or a guardian. Long, Gray and Madeline O'Connor served with three senior club nominations on the new PFC Board, chaired by Andy Miller. In 2017 life members Rob Barber and Kev Matherson were added to the Board.
In 2016 the Juniors fielded 18 teams, including two girl’s teams with the Under 18 Youth girls recording a memorable two-point grand final win over St Peter's.
In 2017, under the guidance of new Juniors’ President David Landrigan and a new committee , Prahran Junior Football Club fielded 18 teams including 2 girls’ teams with plans for 4 girls teams in 2018, and reported a financial turnaround with a substantial profit.