Club News

Vale John Robinson – Glenelg Great for 65 Years


By Peter Cornwall

Glenelg Football Club, already reeling from the sudden loss of Neil Kerley, the man who transformed the Tigers into a footy power in the 1960s and ’70s, is in mourning for the loss of another Great of Glenelg, John Robinson. The long-serving player, coach and official – including club chairman for nine years – died on Saturday, aged 87.

Robinson’s association at Glenelg was over a remarkable 65 years. He played 46 league games for the Tigers between 1957-59, was junior colts coach (1960), senior colts coach (1961-62), selector (1967-70 and 1992-94), chairman of selectors (1978-80), committeeman for two decades from 1975-95, chairman (1987-95), recruiter for many years and member of the Hall of Fame selection committee from its inception in 2001 until this year.

With a CV like that it’s hardly surprising Robinson was elevated to one of just 18 Greats of Glenelg, the highest honour the club can bestow on its players or officials.

This honour wouldn’t have seemed the remotest of possibilities when he was racking up premierships at Port Adelaide in the 1950s. Robinson incredibly won flags in each of the four grades – including two league premierships – in the space of just six years at Alberton. 

When he was under siege in the back pocket for Port in the nerve-wracking 1954 grand final, Westies attacking incessantly in the closing minutes, little could he have guessed how his life in football would transpire. That was his first year in league ranks, capped by a three-point win in the premiership decider. “I had a dream run,” he said of the start to his league career.

He’d had a dream run even before his league career kicked off. A leader from a young age, he captained Port’s junior colts’ premierships side in 1951 when he was runner-up in the best-and-fairest award. He added a senior colts flag in ’52, named in the best players ahead of Geof Motley in a 55-point grand final win against Norwood.

In 1954 and ’55 he played in the back pocket in league grand final wins against West and Norwood and in 1956 he played in the seconds grand final when Port beat West. “I was never a brilliant footballer. I filled in a gap in the Port Adelaide side that appeared out of the blue. Dick Russell retired and I had a freak run in three trial games playing at centre half-back. I got off to a flyer … I was lucky.” 

Glenelg chairman of selectors John Robinson and coach John Nicholls in 1978.

When Robinson switched to the Bay in 1957 – he was living in the area – it was the start of a remarkable association that became a significant contribution to the club’s history. Not only a Great of Glenelg but most definitely a great bloke of Glenelg, Robinson played 46 league games in three seasons with the Tigers, topping the 42 he had played in three years with Port. “I was 6ft tall (183cm) but weighed the princely sum of 10st, 4lb (65kg) … how can you play league football like that?” he laughed. Robinson immediately felt at home at his new home, his new team-mates were “really nice guys” and by his final year in 1959 under revered captain-coach Neil Davies he played his part in a run that took the Tigers to the preliminary final. In 1960, in his first year of coaching, he guided the junior colts to the premiership, losing only one game for the season – to Port.

He was keen to contribute in off-field roles, perhaps because he wanted to give the players support he felt was not always up to scratch in the late ’50s. It wasn’t easy in his first years at the club – “there were no social facilities, one little grandstand and we never had much success.” Robinson said long-time chairman Eddie Rix, who the grandstand at the ground is named after, was a “lovely guy” but there were “a couple of committeemen who tried to run things too much and had too much say but were terrible”. There weren’t many people trying to get on the committee then – the club not being successful – so the quality wasn’t what was needed to turn the club’s fortunes around.

The lack of top-level facilities hadn’t helped. “There was no lighting at the ground and the fact people worked meant there was not much chance of training,” he said. “We didn’t train for long. We started at a quarter past five and by a quarter past six all you could do was laps because you couldn’t see the ball.”

And there was good reason to get off the track in a hurry. “Eddie Rix ran a bakery – he had a shop on Rundle St (where Myers is now),” Robinson said. “Blokes would try to get off the track first to get their hands on these great big wooden boxes of pastries. If you were injured and off the track it was great, you would be in there first (on a Thursday night). Neil Davies would keep us out there as long as he could – he would know exactly what was happening. ‘Mopsy’ Fraser was trying to get the cream buns.”

Robinson, a methodical, commonsense thinker who was respected by management, coaches, players and volunteers alike, helped supply the off-field strength needed for on-field success. Fellow Great of Glenelg Laurie Rosewarne described Robinson as “one of those people I would call the salt of the earth”. “He did virtually everything you could do at the club,” Rosewarne said. “He was a terrific mate and a wonderful man. He was definitely a Great of Glenelg – by a long way.”

Robinson watched and celebrated the club’s 2019 grand final triumph with close mate Brian Scott, who followed him as Tigers chairman. “It felt even better than 1985 and ’86,” Robinson said. “It made it all the better because it was against Port Adelaide.”

So how did it feel to become a Great of Glenelg? “At the time you probably didn’t really appreciate it,” he reflected in 2019. “But afterwards, and now, when you see the names you are part of, it really sinks in and it is such a great honour.”

It was an honour to have John Robinson at the Bay. And we had him for 65 years.

Great of Glenelg John Robinson at the Tigers’ Hall of Fame function in 2015. Photo: Gordon Anderson