Those old enough to remember would recall the golden days of Western Australian football broadcasting, when we were blessed with many fine commentators in the days before television.“Just imagine you’re talking to a blind man,” was the advice given to one of them, Neil Garland, early in his radio career. Garland worked on both radio and television during a twenty eight year media career, after playing in two premierships with West Perth and five State representative sides. Neil became one of Perth’s leading on air football personalities in the sixties, after filling in as a round the grounds reporter on 6PR. “Oliver Drake-Brockman wanted to start this State’s first ever live score service from each ground, and asked West Perth’s recently retired centreman Johnny Loughridge to join the initial crew,” Garland said. “John soon got sick of the job, preferring to watch the game with a mate and a beer, so he asked me to take over.”Things fell further into place for Neil when Drake-Brockman decided to move on, and he was recruited by Frank Sparrow to become his co commentator. It was a job Garland adjusted to easily, and he and Sparrow went on to become an outstanding commentary team. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however.“At Lathlain Park one day we arrived early, hooked up the gear, but nothing was getting to the air, the line was dead, with half an hour to bounce down. It transpired that the PMG hadn’t patched the line to Lathlain, and we were on our own. We jumped into the 6PR blue and gold Beetle, drove into the crowd, and hooked the microphone onto the dashboard, calling the game from the car because the lead was short.”“We couldn’t see much, having to jump to look over spectators heads, and that’s when the battery went flat. So we started the engine, with someone having to put a foot on the accelerator to charge the battery. It was a real struggle, funny now but a struggle at the time.”Garland later led Channel Nine football operations, during a period of war on the television scene, with Seven doing all they could to smother the rival station’s attempts to break into the football market. “It was a tough time,” he recalled. “There was a lot of skullduggery happening, with identities being signed up by Seven with no intention of using them but aimed at frustrating Nine, and blockbuster programs being directly lined up against any footy show on Nine.” Neil Garland’s football career didn’t happen by script either.A forward in Wesley College’s team, with the nickname of “the little tubby kid,” he went to Subiaco Police Boys side before joining the Navy in 1943. Aligned to West Perth, he trained a couple of times at the WACA with Perth, with little interest in playing league football, but Perth secretary Pat Fogarty put in a clearance application anyway. When no reply was forthcoming, Fogarty discovered that the form had been sent by mistake to East Perth instead of West Perth. When it finally arrived at Leederville, the answer was: “no clearance until you train with us.”Training with the Cardinals in early 1946, Garland decided to stay with the club, and played in the reserves grand final, which was won by East Fremantle, complementing their undefeated league side’s efforts that year. Neil made his way onto the league list during the 1947 season in unusual circumstances. A car carrying three West Perth players to a game at Fremantle Oval was involved in a smash, and two of the occupants were unable to take their place in the side. Already having played a full game with the reserves, Garland was chosen as a replacement, but didn’t set foot on the ground. It was in 1948 that Neil Garland became a regular in the league side, and he was part of a premiership the following season, the Cardinals overcoming Perth in the decider. A six foot one ruckman with plenty of aggression in his game, he was a great team man, often playing a role against much bigger players, and none more so than Merv McIntosh in that grand final. It was also in 1949 that he played for a Western Australian second side, kicking five goals in one of two games against Richmond, followed later by two games against Canberra and one against South Melbourne. “All that the two teams had been carefully preparing and striving for the past eight months was in precarious balance during the last two and a half minutes as West Perth fought bravely to prevent South Fremantle from kicking another goal to gain the lead for the first time and win the premiership.”The above was a newspaper report of the 1951 grand final between West Perth and South Fremantle. The Cardinals went into the last quarter defending a seventeen point lead against a star studded side with the wind at their backs. Needing one six pointer in the last two and a half minutes, South attacks were continually repelled by Ray Schofield and Wally Price on the last line of defence, with one melee after another. “I was exhausted and about to have a spell,” recalled Neil. “But the bench waved me back onto the ball and a stacked backline.”People talk about the Derbies, but in those days the South-West clashes were legendary, both sides being outstanding in the late forties and early fifties, and this was another epic contest. When West Perth treasurer Dick Hill was appointed secretary of the WANFL, Garland was given the treasurer’s job. “Not sure if there’s been many playing treasurers of league clubs, but I was given a chequebook and a savings bank book in a little black case,” he said. A civil servant, Neil was transferred to Germany by the Immigration Department to screen new immigrants in 1954, effectively ending his league football career after just seventy eight games. He spent Neil rates McIntosh as best he played against, while Stan “Popsy” Heal and Fred Buttsworth were best team mates. He reckoned that umpire Tony Pitsikis was clairvoyant. “He was always saying: “don’t do it, number 16,” I’d reply: “I didn’t,” and he’d retort: “you were going to.” Neil Garland was a member of two premierships at West Perth, in one of the club’s best ever combinations, and went on to become one of Western Australia’s leading football commentators. He wouldn’t regret his decision to stay at the Cardinals in 1946.
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