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One of Perth’s great players of the Fifties and Sixties, Bob Coleman, always wanted to play for East Perth. And he would have, but for the shrewd Jack O’Dea, who tied the outstanding youngster to the Demons with a visit to the butcher shop where Coleman was an apprentice in 1955.“It was during the finals, and Jack came into the shop and asked me if I’d like a game,” Bob recalled. “I was sixteen, living in an unalloted zone and playing with East Vic Park at the time. I was just loving my football, and said: “of course.” “OK,” he said, “you’re playing in the Perth seconds in the second semi final on Saturday.” My boss let me off at 11.30 and I rode my bike to Subiaco Oval. I was handed a pair of red socks and a guernsey and had to pinch myself when I looked around and saw Ron Tucker, my hero, alongside me.”“We were almost on our way down the race when Jack grabbed me and thrust a piece of paper and a pen in front of me. “You have to sign a permit,” he explained. “In the euphoria of the premiership win, the permit was quickly forgotten.”Coleman played with Cannington in the South Suburban League in 1956, and the seventeen year old was a member of both the Cannington senior side and the League combined team that year. A visit from Graham Farmer and Ted Kilmurray convinced Bob to go to East Perth, where his heart lay. The following season he rode his bike to Perth Oval for training, but it wasn’t long before another visit was forthcoming from O’Dea.“You can’t play with East Perth,” he said, “you’ve signed with us,” and brandished the form I’d signed in the changerooms at Subiaco.”  So Bob went back to Cannington for the 1956 season, missing the grand final, which they won, after copping a broken nose in a previous match. It was to be another fourteen years before he would be  part of a premiership combination.  Bob Coleman was an outstanding junior.Son of former Perth footballer, Cyril Coleman, a diminutive player who stood at five foot nine, he was always a tall boy, finishing up at six  three. “When I was eleven I was the same height as my teacher, Frank Goddard, who was six two,” he told Footygoss. Captain of each age group through the juniors at East Vic Park, he also skippered the under eighteen combined side that won the interleague competition.   But Bob wasn’t just a big lad, he was tough.Into the workforce at thirteen, Coleman took on a lot of responsibility at an early age due to the loss of his father.  He went to Perth in 1957, and was selected for the  game  against West Perth. “It was an education,” he said. “Starting on a half forward flank, I ended up at full forward, with Ray Schofield breathing down my neck. The first time the ball came down there, I got a ride on his back, took the mark, and converted, but the on next arrival of the burley I felt a tug on my shorts, and next thing they were off. It was a bit disconcerting for a young bloke in his first game.”“In a following clash with East Perth, I encountered a back line that would frighten little kids, Wattsie, Gordon Earnshaw, and Jack Hunt a nice welcoming committee. Bert Wansbrough started at full forward, and I was on a half forward flank, but, with us three or four goals down at three quarter time, Ern Henfry sent me to full forward. I took four marks in the square, kicked four goals, losing seventeen teeth in the process, but we won by four points.”“I spent the next day in the dentist chair having a set of top teeth extracted.”Early in his career, Coleman had trouble combining with star player Charlie Skehan. “I kept presenting myself when he got clear with the ball on the half back line, but his kicks were missing me by twenty metres,” he said. “After a few games, Charlie came up to me and said: “son, don’t lead before I kick the ball, wait until after it’s left my foot.”    Swapping positions became the story of Bob Coleman’s football life. Like others such as Laurie Kettlewell and Gary Scott of other eras, his ability to fill many roles never allowed him to carve a niche in any one spot on the ground. Confident wherever he was put, he had the natural ability to jump high and run fast, and approached the ball with ferocity, which at times resulted in injury.“At one stage they tried to make a ruckman out of me,” he said. “It was an experience going body to body against Farmer and Clarke, but I learnt a lot in the process.”In 1959, Coleman played for Western Australia in Hobart and Adelaide, on a half forward flank, and won Perth’s fairest and best award as a centre half forward the following season. In 1962 he returned to the Western Australian side and was among his side’s best in the key position. One of his best performances came in the preliminary final of 1964 against East Fremantle, when he booted seven of  Perth’s eleven goals, with Bob Johnson down the other end grabbing eight in an East Fremantle avalanche of nineteen.Then a policeman, Bob Coleman became a victim of the Force’s employee transfer policy in 1965. “I was going to be transferred, so my wife and I decided to at least go where we wanted to go, and chose Albany,” he said. “We had a third child on the way and it was time to consider our future.”       Immediately installed as coach of Albany Railways, Coleman attacked his new role with gusto. “The club had problems,” he recalled. “They had won two games in three years, and I kept my ear to the ground as a copper, welcoming anyone new to the town with an invitation to join Railways.” It paid dividends, but Bob also received plaudits for his development of young players in the area. In another story on these pages, Claremont and State full back John Lewis pays tribute to the influence Coleman had on his career. Railways finished third in 1966, and made the finals in each of the three years that Bob was at the helm. It was 1967 that the club was looking the goods.Bob had enticed former Swan Districts forward Colin Edwards out of retirement, and the new recruit was on fire at full forward, kicking eight and nine every week, with Railways on top of the ladder all year. Winning the second semi final, they were raging favourites to win the flag, but on the eve of the big game Edwards was sent on an enforced holiday due to some misdemeanours.   Railways lost the decider by six points.It was also in 1967 that Coleman coached the Great Southern League’s combined side, and it became the only  Great Southern League side to win the inter league carnival.  The Colemans returned to Perth in 1969, and Bob joined Victoria Park- Belmont in the Sunday League, kicking eighty goals in the first eight games of the season, including twenty against Maddington. In a bizarre incident involving two former Perth team mates, his season ended in the blink of an eye ( no pun intended.) “We were playing Mandurah, and John Mills collected the ball and lined up,” Bob said. “I led out as Ray Lawrence moved in. I took the mark, but in the inevitable collision I copped an elbow from a Mandurah player.  Next thing I knew I was in Royal Perth Hospital with a fractured skull, smashed nose and a shadow over one eye. A specialist eventually removed the eye, informing me that it had a melanoma that would have killed me in three months.”Coaching the seconds in 1970, Coleman wasn’t quite finished yet, at age thirty one and  by now a scarred warhorse, playing in the league side when they were short,  a bag of thirteen against Mundijong showing he could still get a kick. It was to be the year that he would at last experience a premiership, the side coming from fourth to win the grand final.  A medal for best on ground was the icing on the cake. Transferred to Carnamah, Bob coached and played with the local side to round off a long and distinguished career in 1972.These days, Bob Coleman plays bowls at Boyanup, enjoys fishing and crabbing, and has more time to enjoy an association with horses that has been an obsession for much of his working life. He has bred some good horses from the stallion Enforcer, who had been nominal favourite for a Railway Stakes in the early nineties before having to be scratched from the race. Nanking(wins in the double figures)  and Ginger Minx(eight wins) are both by Enforcer, and another of his good ones was Shy Wild.Bob has two girls, Christine and Janice, and a boy, Neil, who played juniors at Perth and was later selected in a league combined side while with Carnamah. Subiaco’s Brian Sarre was a player against whom Bob had many good clashes. “Brian was about my size, played much the same way, and it was always an even tussle with him. I take my hat off to him, he was ability personified. Swans Joe Lawson was a very physical but  fair player who was also a tough opponent.” He rated Roy Harper as a fearless team mate who never gave in. “I wasn’t there when Barry Cable and Greg Brehaut became the players they ended up being.” he added.In closing, Bob related an anecdote concerning South Fremantle high flyer John Gerovich.“One day at Fremantle Oval, Gero had eight on the board at three quarter time. I was sent from full forward to the other end to have a go at stopping him. My tactics were to force him out of kicking range, and with three minutes to go we were three points in front. John led out with seconds remaining, I got the spoil in, the ball went to ground, I dived to smother, gero stuck his leg out and my arms went around them.  He got the free, but I wasn’t too concerned, as we were too far out of goal. As he ran in to kick, I acted as if I was picking up some grass then made a throwing action trying to put him off. Umpire’s whistle went, and he got ten metres.”“We were still over sixty five metres out, so even then I wasn’t too concerned, and the time was ticking away. The kick split the middle and we lost the game.”Bob Coleman’s favourite movie is  “For Love Of The Game,” starring Kevin Costner. It surely summarises his long and much travelled career, with the initial direction carved out in a butcher shop, and bookended with a belated premiership. Despite his reluctance to play there originally, Coleman is one of Perth Football Club’s favourite sons, and the veteran of a hundred and fifty five games was one of their best.                    

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