Half-century of friendship
Former members of the Pilbara’s De Grey Football League recently reunited to mark the league’s 50th anniversary in Perth.
The reunion at Subiaco Oval included members of the original teams, among them Sports and Recreation Minister Mick Murray.
Another celebration held in Perth last month marked five decades since the first games were played, and involved Mr Murray presenting trophies to players who made the team of 50 years.
The league, founded in 1969 by Colin Matheson, was a far cry from the modern sport, with most games played on red dirt and players raking the ground for rocks and sticks before games.
The De Grey Football League held its first games on May 18 and 19, 1969, and comprised five teams: the Port Hedland Rovers, Port Hedland Pathers, Goldsworthy Tigers, Marble Bar and Finucane Island.
Marble Bar disbanded its team in 1971, and in 1975 two more teams were admitted: the South Hedland Swans and the Shay Gap Hawks.
The league combined with the West Pilbara Football league in 1977 and was rebranded as the North Pilbara Football League in 1983, where De Grey teams Port Hedland Rovers and South Hedland Swans still compete.
Mr Murray, who played for the Port Hedland Panthers in 1971, said the De Grey Football League was an era most modern footballers would barely recognise.
“If you told today’s players that part of the pre-match routine involved clearing rocks off the bare, red-dirt oval, I’m not sure they would believe you,” he said.
“When Colin Matheson drove the foundation of the league back in the early 1960s, he did it for the pure love of the game and the joy of competing.”
Mr Murray said the story of the De Grey Football League captured the essence of grassroots sport and the potential it had to bring communities together.
“The State Government is focused on using grassroots sport to build stronger, more connected communities — and what better example to follow than that set by the early De Grey Football League pioneers?” he said. Mr Matheson’s daughter Julie, who lives in Perth, said it was fantastic to see the recognition of the De Grey Football League and its legacy.
“Our family is ever-grateful, and so are the many families and players that enjoyed the friendships and rivalry between the towns,” she said.
Ms Matheson said the Goldsworthy Mining Company played a large role in the success of the De Grey League.
“This company recruited workers from Victoria to support the De Grey Football League, they built two amazing towns (Goldsworthy and Shay Gap) around the sport of football in the Pilbara and supported Colin Matheson’s initiative to pioneer football in the Pilbara,” she said.
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