The Swinburne University Amateur Football Club was started in 1995. Richard Pratt, the university's chancellor and business magnate at the time, began forming a football club to add to the diverse Swinburne sporting culture.
He laid the foundations for the club, offering both financial assistance and off-field guidance. He appointed Keith McKenzie as the coach which was hugely beneficial, as he has played at the top level in his younger days. Keith also coached North Melbourne for 2 years and was Assistant Coach to Ron Barassi at Carlton for a number of years, throughout the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Swinburne played in yellow and green, as that was the university's team colours at the time. Mark “Fridge” Johnston was President, Secretary and Treasurer in the club’s first season, acting as the whole committee.
In our first year, there was only one team in the whole VAFA (Victorian Amateur Football Association). We were reasonably successful, narrowly missing out on finals and finishing 7th. We were based at Rathmines Road Oval in Hawthorn, which is now home to the Hawthorn Amateur Football Club. Anthony Mills was the club’s first captain, with vice-captain Damien Milano. Dean took out the club B&F, as well as the VAFA B&F, the A. Fisher medal.
The club continued training at Rathmines Road Oval, but the home ground on match days moved to Glenferrie Oval (home ground of the Hawthorn Football Club). It was great to have such a fantastic facility for home games. We also moved into one of the E Grade (E East) competitions and had started a reserves side - a second team on the field.
Results did not match our off-field camaraderie and the club’s senior team went winless for the year, and only three wins for the reserves. Two of which were due to opposing teams forfeiting after they were found out for playing unregistered players.
Keith was struggling to make it to a number of games because of an overseas work trip. The club fronted up to a game against the strong Yarra Valley combination one Saturday at Yarra Valley, with 16 reserves players on the field, 2 of whom had to double up and play seniors as well. The fog was so thick - you couldn’t see halfway across the ground. We had no coach, no bench, no trainers, no runners and no one else in attendance.
The reserves lost by about 40 goals and the seniors by about 32.
1996 saw a great act of generosity extended to the club that has never been forgotten. That week, Wayne Reddaway came down to training and offered to coach us for the rest of the season in Keith’s absence. He was a premiership coach with Yarra Valley, and has been high up in the EDFL senior and junior leagues administration, so his experience was of great benefit.
Unfortunately, we struggled a lot in 1997. Hawthorn FC asked us to play our Reserves elsewhere because they felt we were doing too much damage to their ground. We had little off-field help and support, and playing at different grounds simply wasn’t an option. We started playing at St James Park.
Keith and Wayne also had to give up the coaching position due to work commitments, but Keith kept on as our Club President. Even though I’m sure he would agree that Vice President Shane Lee actually did all of the President’s work.
The coaching reins were taken over by Garry Hickey. The seniors won 7 games and the reserves chalked up 4 wins for the year.
The club was competitive but again finished in the bottom half of the ladder, the seniors chalking up 4 wins and the Reserves 3.
Vice Captain Carmelo Dell’olio took his third straight B&F award for the year. He then broke the sad news that he was going to try a higher level of football with his uncle’s club Panton Hill in the Diamond Valley League. “Mel” went on to win B&F’s there as well as captain their club.
The club didn't accept Garry Hickey’s reapplication for the senior coaching position, instead opting to go with Evan Evans, an experienced campaigner from competing club St Mary’s in the VAFA.
The club struggled again in 1999 after the loss of a number of key players, the seniors only managing to win 3 games for the season, whilst the Reserves went winless.
Matthew George took on the senior coaching position after Evan Evans opted not to continue, and returned to St Mary’s. Matthew had coached the Reserves at Swinburne in 1999, and he had Adrian Fidler join him as Assistant Coach. Adrian had been training with the Razorbacks for a number of years, but returning to the country on weekends to play.
Together, these two guys took the Razorbacks to a record number of wins for the senior team to date, with 8 wins, whilst the Reserves had 7. Gareth Brown took on the presidency, becoming in the end the third “one year president” after Shane Lee and Trevor Grimshaw in 1998 and 1999 respectively.
2001 saw Adrian Fidler take over the senior coaching job from Matthew George, with Matthew resigning due to other commitments. Adrian bought on board a friend as assistant coach, Derek Thoene which was to prove a very fortunate move on Swinburne’s behalf.
This was the first year that Swinburne made the finals. With D4 the only division in the VAFA to have a final 5, Swinburne locked up 5th position with a couple of rounds to go, and charged through the other finals contenders to make the grand final and the club’s first “promotion” in the VAFA. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to pinch the game, after being 1 point up at half time, were convincingly beaten in the second half by a strong Syndal Tally-Ho outfit. However, it set the pattern of expectation for the future at the club.
2001 saw Jim Ryan take over as President, further enhancing his involvement with the club beyond the sponsorship with his pub, “The Whitehorse Inn”, which is essentially the social rooms at St James Park due to the clubrooms being change rooms and canteen facilities only. Brett Canfield and Nigel Smith took over the Secretary and Treasurer duties respectively.
2002 saw the club change it’s colours and Guernseys to match the same changes that were made to the rest of the university teams, from the green and yellow to the much more fashionable red, white and some black with the emblem of the University “Razorback” pig emblazoned on the front.
In 2002 the coaching baton was passed to 2001’s Assistant coach in Derek Thoene brought his previous coaching experience at Yarra Junction to us and a great deal of professionalism.
Derek Thoene, SUAFC Senior Asisstant Coach 2001, Senior Coach 2002 – 2004
After going up to D3 in 2002, the club only just narrowly missed the finals. Jason Murchie had an excellent second season with the club after joining us halfway through the 2001 season, finishing with 85 goals and the D3 goalkicking award for the most goals in the VAFA section in 2002.
What a year! The club’s first premiership since it’s inception, a resounding victory by 89 points in the grand final against the Monash Gryphons saw the seniors take out a convincing flag, only suffering two losses throughout the year. Impeccably prepared by coach Derek Thoene, the Razorbacks were convincing flag winners in D3 in 2003, gaining the club’s second promotion in 3 seasons, this time up to D2.
7 players from this premiership team were named in the VAFA D3 section’s “team of the year”, a remarkable achievement.
Just as importantly, 2003 saw Swinburne’s Reserves side play finals for the first time in the club’s history. The two’s just missed out on making the grand final, finishing third under the tutelage of second year coach David Murphy.
It also saw the club’s first “century goalkicker”, with Jason Murchie kicking 116 goals for the season in 20 games, more goals than any other player in any division of the VAFA, and he again obviously took out the D3 section goalkicking award for 2003.
2003 also saw the induction of the club’s first life member, Damien Milano. Damien’s achievements at the Razorbacks can be seen in detail in the club’s life member section, but suffice to say that most games, much committee involvement and a determined resolve that saw him captain the senior team from 1996 to 2001 made him a clear choice as the Razorback’s first inductee into this prestigious club.
The club entered 2004 with high hopes after such a successful season in 2003. Unfortunately, narrow losses against the top sides in the first few rounds resulted in many injuries that then resulted in losses to sides lower down the ladder that should have been comfortable wins. The Razorbacks recovered and got players back on the park in the latter part of the year to end up winning 6 games out of 18 and avoid the dreaded “relegation zone”, finishing 7th.
Derek Thoene and Paul James were the senior and reserves coaches respectively, Paul retiring from playing after 108 games with the club to take up the Reserves coaching role.
Simon Fragiacomo equalled Mel Dell‘olio’s record of 3 best and fairest awards in a row, taking out the 2004 B&F by a record margin of 59 votes, finishing on a total of 85 votes for the season. Another stellar season for Simon, he narrowly missed out on selection for the C – D4 VAFA Representative team in 2003, but for the third year running was named in the VAFA section’s “team of the year”.
2004 also saw Derek Thoene hang up his coaching boots after 4 years involvement with the club and being a major force behind the club climbing 2 divisions during his tenure.
2005 saw Swinburne have mixed fortunes. On field, the club recruited experienced campaigner Manny Debono for his 15th season as a Senior Coach and first in the VAFA after a career in the EDFL, YVMDFL and a number of others. Unfortunaltely, the club struggled with the loss of several key players and significant injuries to others, resulting in the club’s worst season since 1995, not winning a Senior game, and the Reserves winning four and drawing another one. Despite all of this, Manny remained upbeat and positive, concentrating instead on developing players at the club for the future.
The return of Mel Dell’Olio after a year off and 5 years in the Diamond Valley League to both play and coach the Reserves was a fantastic bonus. Although injury restricted Mel to just a handful of games, his experience and commitment was a shining light to the younger players at the club.
The club then picked up a number of other smaller sponsors, as well as taking up a social residence at the Hawthorn Bowling Club at the top of the hill at St James Park, where Thursday nights and after match functions on home games would take place, as well as a number of official social functions.
As a result the club posted it’s first official profit (without top up from the Swinburne Sports Association) of just over $2200, which was a fantastic result for all of the hard work that had been put in by a number of people around the club, but particularly Tanya James and David Harmer, who were duly presented with the “Best Clubperson” award in a tied result that was very fitting.
The club also inducted it’s second life member in John-Paul Sheedy. “Popey” as he is known, has won club leading goalkicker awards and been high in the club B&F a number of times. He is just the third player at Swinburne to play 150 games, displaying a beautiful kick and a super discipline to be rarely beaten without somehow getting a fist to the ball to spoil. He is a premiership player but he has been much, much more than just a player to this footy club. In 1998 he went on a Sports Association training course for administrators and become Secretary the following season, in 1999. He was then on the committee for 6 years, 4 of them as secretary, 2 of them as assistant to the secretary because it is such a massive job.
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After a couple of rough years, Swinburne found themselves back in the D4 division and with some work to do. Luckily coach Mel Dell’Olio had some handy young players to work with, and he set the foundations for future success with the blooding of numerous future Swinburne stalwarts.
New recruit Tiller Yaman set the competition on fire at full forward with a staggering 130 goals, but unfortunately support for him was hard to find. The seniors finished in seventh place all told, and the reserves also failed to make an impact on the competition – struggling for numbers for most of the season.
The season was memorable off the field for the eventual constructions of our new clubrooms – an event that meant for half the season we were getting changed in demountables, something we were all too keen to leave behind!
A new year and a new coach. George Koumantatakis was hired as our new seniors coach, a move that would pay dividends in the future. This year would prove the turning point for Swinburne as we started an assault up the ladder.
With a bunch of new players, pressure was on to maintain spots in both teams and the results showed this. The first half of the year was average, but once the game plan became ingrained our run home reaped the rewards – winning 6 of our last 8 games to narrowly miss the finals in 6th spot.
The reserves reaped the benefits of extra players, coming from 5th position in the finals to make the big one. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful against a very strong side.
It was a good year for the Razors with a preliminary final appearance, but unfortunately the boys
just weren’t quite good enough to get to the big one.
In reserves, it was an unconvincing finish to the season as they went down in the first elimination
The form side all year was St Francis Xavier, and while we notched up several good wins throughout
the year, an away win against the Xavs was the catalyst for a new found self belief. Suddenly we
weren’t playing for second place any more.
Unfortunately the finals series didn’t give any great indication that we were able to compete at that
level for large periods of time. After a solid defeat in the major semi final (after slipping into second
position by the barest of margins), the boys shaped up to old foes Richmond Central in a preliminary
Despite having the wood over them most of the year, unfortunately we were unable to bring out a
convincing effort and we went out in straight sets, which would become a good source of motivation
in 2012. While being in touch all day, we were overrun in the second half and were forced to watch
from the sidelines at a grand final we felt we could easily have played in.
Swinburne prospered on the field in 2012, winning the D4 reserves premiership and coming
agonisingly close to the cup in the seniors. From the outset it seemed that there were two teams that were a class above in the D4 competition, in both grades – Swinburne University and South Mornington. Both teams had little trouble throughout the season proper, dropping only a few games.
Due to a quirk in the draw, the top two sides in seniors would face each other in the last home and
away round. The Razorbacks took down South by a solitary kick in a fantastic game that would prove
to be an insight into the spirited clashes to come in the finals, with the team qualifying first and
second. In reserves, a couple of shock losses led to the boys having to fight their way from third.
The reserves easily accounted for the fourth placed team in the elimination final, while Swinburne
was unable to get over the line in the senior’s major semi. This led to two preliminary final clashes
with Eley Park, albeit by different routes.
Both teams came through with flying colours – the seniors in particular putting on a dominant
second half performance. Two grand final places were booked and the ultimate prize was there for
The reserves were behind for much of the day, but some final quarter heroics saw them lift the cup
in a tight encounter. Unfortunately, the seniors were unable to repeat the dose, despite behind
ahead for long periods. A poor final quarter let us down and will provide some motivation for the
upcoming round 1 clash in D3!
All in all, it was a great year for Swinburne, and one that will hopefully kick-start our move up the
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Swinburne welcomed a new President for 2015 with Michael Manning taking up the mantle. His first year as president was a relatively successful one.
The reserves nearly went all the way and the seniors, who know what may have happened had we not been ravaged by injuries at all stages during the year. The result was a struggle for numbers through the middle portion of the year, always an issue for a University club.
Congratulations to Shane Kelly, who ends a terrific and colourful tenure as Reserves Head Coach. We wish him all the best for his future coaching career and every success in his role as Head Senior Coach at new club Glen Eira.
Special call out to head coach George Koumantatakis, who is always looking to improve himself as a coach and bring new things to the club. To turn the team around from free fall 5 weeks out from the finals, to give the premiers a
real shake up to 3 quarter time in our elimination final is a testament to abilities and commitment.
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