Thursday, July 15, 2021

Eagles still flying after 60 years

Photo:  White Eagles circa 1968. 

New Town White Eagles celebrated their 60th anniversary on Saturday night with a gala dinner attended by about 230 guests at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hobart.

It was a wonderful occasion for a great club that has had tremendous success over the years.

I confess to being star-struck at the illustrious personalities in attendance.

Some great players have represented this club founded by Polish immigrants and many of them were there on Saturday night.

I was in awe of many of them and recall interviewing a host of them and writing many column inches about them in my 42 years of covering the game.

A few came down from interstate to attend the dinner and two of those, goalkeeper Zlatko Belanic (South Australia) and David Stoddart (Melbourne), truly were stars of the club.  It was wonderful to chat to them.

As I said on the night, some people can play.  Those who can’t, write about it.  That seems to sum up my career.

The White Eagles Sports Club was innovative in that football was just one arm of the club.  There were, for example, basketball, volleyball, table tennis and other spots under the club’s umbrella.

It was something new in Tasmanian football and is the norm in Europe, where many clubs, including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Panathinaikos have sporting teams other than football.

White Eagles began life in the second division and had to earn promotion to the top flight.  If only that were the case now, when numerous criteria except playing performance, determined the composition of the current State League.

The club recruited some top players from other clubs and were soon promoted to the First Division.

They have suffered relegation a couple of times over the decades, but bounced back within a year.

They currently top the Men’s Southern Championship, the second tier of local football, but they are there because they did not meet a list of criteria, which did not include on-field performance.

Eagles’ first title came in 1977, when they were State champions after beating Devonport.

Their squad was:  Wally Bucher, Stefan Sikora, Brian McKay, Eamonn Kelly. Larry Nunn, Peter Linnell, Denis Trueman, Gary Jenkins, Mark Oakes, Mick Southworth, Mike Richards, Ian Stewart, Bobby Rybak and Peter Wass.

Glynn Jenkins was the coach and he attended on Saturday night.

Eagles won the inaugural State League the following year on goal-difference from Croatia Glenorchy.  John Grimsey was the coach.

The title was won when David Smith scored the only goal in the 1-0 win over Rapid.

The 1978 squad was:  Peter Wass, Denis Trueman, Eamonn Kelly, Mike Richards, Larry Nunn, Brian McKay, Nigel Sugden, David Smith, peter Linnell, Nick Drascovic, Bobby Rybak, Tony Godfery, Ian Stewart and David Forshaw.

Eagles also had a women’s team that year.

The club were relegated in 1980 under coach Eugene Mycak, a Polish coach who had been working in the U.S.A.

The club actually appointed Rapid coach Ken Morton as an adviser to Mycak, which was a unique situation as Rapid were also in the State League.  The move failed and Eagles went down.

The squad that year was:  John Michniewski, Peter Linnell, Frank Letec, Peter Sherman, Chris Collins, Chris Witek, George Krambousanos, Nick Cook, Mark Leszczynski, Ken Worden, Noori Aziz, Guilbert Steenhuis, Bobby Rybak and Brazil.

Eagles won the 1981 Southern Championship but were not promoted because the State League ended that season and they were a part of the 1982 Southern competition, which they won.

A few lean years followed and some of the club’s stars, including the four Leszczynski brothers, Mark, Chris, Andrew and Richard, joined University.

They came back for the 1985 season when Steve Darby was coach.  Darby, who is in England, spoke by video on Saturday night at the function and had some fascinating insights.  His biography will be published this month and it includes a couple of chapters about his time in Tasmania.

In 1986, Ulverstone beat Eagles for the State title.

The 1986 squad was:  Peter Groenewoud, Krsysica, Alan Burton, Franco Previdi, Eugene Banasik, Scott Young, Mark Leszczynski, David Stoddart, Richard Leszczynski, Neil Morrison, Andrew Leszczynski, Chris Leszczynski, Jimmy Kerr.

In 1987, Eagles finished third in the Cadbury League, while a golden age then began and they won four State League titles from 1988 until 1991.

In 1989, they won everything except the pre-season competition and finished 15 points ahead of second-placed Hobart Juventus.  They were unbeaten and scored 60 goals with Mycak as coach.  They had signed Bob Nicholson from New South Wales, as well as Brett Harwood and Craig Pitt.

Their squad during this period was:  Peter Groenewoud, Mark Leszczynski, Michael Driessen, Eugene Banasik, Neil Morrison, David Stoddart, Bob Nicholson, Scott Young, Craig Pitt, Brett Harwood, Richard Leszczynski, Franco Previdi, Andrew Leszczynski, Richard Ketchell, Paul Morrison, Scott Hadley, Simon Templeman, Michael Driessen.

Eagles won the 1991 title with Mark Leszczynki as player-coach and with Zlatko Belanic in goal.

Colin Shepherd and goalkeeper Alan Wisby signed for the club as the State League competition became a summer league for two years.  This period was characterised by the intense rivalry with Devonport.

Eagles won the 1995 State League title and Clare Street became the club’s home ground in 1996.  Further league success followed and the club snared the 1996 and 1997 State League titles.

In 1997, the Australian Soccer Association decreed that clubs had to abandon their ethnic names and White Eagles became New Town Eagles.

That decision went against all the principles of a multicultural Australia and virtually destroyed some clubs.

I must admit to not even taking my camera out of its bag on Saturday night, so I have no photographs of the occasion.

There was a professional photographer in attendance and her photos may be seen on the Eagles website.

My wife and I were too busy enjoying the occasion.  It was one of the few times I’ve been able to attend a club event with family.  My grandson, Toby Butler, plays for Eagles and my cousin, Tommy Fotak, is the senior coach.  My daughter and son-in-law were there, too.

I chatted to many former players and coaches and it was wonderful to catch up with former coaches such as Dale Itchins and players and officials including Sean Collins, Danny Donohoe, Rodney and Damien Bones, Nick Cook, Jimmy Kerr, David Forshaw, Ian Honeyman, Frank Bansel, Eddie Kempa, George Kambousanos, Richard Ketchell, Adam Shackcloth, Bill Shackcloth, Eamonn Kelly, Mark Page, Steve Vernon, Ben Whitehall, Michael Driessen, Bob Nicholson, Darren Frost, Adam Jones, Peter Groenewoud, Eugene Basnasik, Bobby Rybak, Stefan Sikora, Alonso Morales, Shane Revell, Julian Proud, Peter Angel and Matthew Rhodes to name just some.

Photo:  One of the great White Eagle sides is the 1980s. [PlessPix] 

Congratulations must go to Andrew and Chris Leszczynski, Peter Wass, Adam Shackcloth and club president Grant Nutting for their role in organising the event.

Andrew Leszczynski has compiled an excellent history of the club comprising newspaper clippings for the past 60 years and team photographs and I am sure readers can access this by contacting Andrew.  It is much more comprehensive than this article.

Bobby Osuchowski, Ian Honeyman and Eugene Rosinski were just three players from the 60s who attended and who feature in team photos.  I saw Adam McKeown there, too, one of the great goalscorers of more recent times, while Nathan Pitchford, who was unable to attend because Devonport played that day at Valley Road, featured in one of the teams of the decade.

My head is still spinning from the occasion and I hope the club gets to celebrate at least another 60 years of life.

Photo:  New Town Eagles 2008. [PlessPix]

Photo:  New Town Eagles 2008. [PlessPix]

Photo:  New Town Eagles 2010. [PlessPix]

Photo:  New Town Eagles 2007. [PlessPix]

Photo:  New Town Eagles with George Krambousanos as coach. [PlessPix]

Photo:  New Town Eagles with Ian Parker (left) as coach. [PlessPix]

Photo:  2007 New Town Eagles [PlessPix]

Photo:  2006 New Town Eagles [PlessPix]

Photo:  2007 Summer Cup finalists [PlessPix]
Photo:  New Town Eagles in the 2000s [PlessPix]


Anonymous said...

Fantastic article Walter and by the sounds of it you could of written more. I heard that the Polish Dancers put on a great display to showcase the culture. By the sounds of it they are now a club on the way up and all the need to do is restart a junior program.

Unknown said...

Absolutely wonderful night, enjoyed by all and superbly organised.Tremendous to see so many great people from the past and hopefully the club will be in top league again soon, where it so deserves to be.

Zlatko Belanic said...

Absolutely wonderful night, enjoyed by all and superbly organised.Tremendous to see so many great people from the past and hopefully the club will be in top league again soon, where it so deserves to be.

Anonymous said...

A quick check tells me that Olympia won the 1996 title. Is that document wrong?

European footballer said...

Olympia won the grand final in 1996, which is an alien concept in football. White Eagles finished top of the league and were awarded that funny old thing, the minor premiership, another alien concept in football.

Brian Young said...

Great article, Walter.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great write up Walter. Was great to see you & Matthew there too. Just a shame that Covid restrictions were in place as quite a few could not make it down + I think we would have sold 300 tickets easily if not for venue restrictions.