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Wednesday WAFL: Krakouer magic inspires golden WAFL memories

John Townsend


More than 52,000 people – nearly six percent of Perth’s population at the time – attended the four WAFL matches in an early round in 1979.


That season was probably the WAFL’s pinnacle.


More fans than before or since went to matches where they were treated to remarkable spectacles of skill and athleticism that created the game’s greatest traits of high marking, long kicking and prolific goal scoring.

Plenty of WAFL fans are accused – probably accurately – of living in the past.


They often hark back to a golden era when superstar footballers launched 60m drop kicks and hauled in speccy after speccy in front of sell-out crowds.

Ground facilities were basic but who cared about comfort when the league was so robust, compelling and full of such great characters and stories?


Of course, the modern-day WAFL is a far different proposition to earlier eras which is why comparing today’s football to the game of old is mostly futile.

But that is not to say that it is not worth doing occasionally.


That 1979 season and the era itself was brought alive this week at The Backlot, a small specialist cinema tucked away near the Polly Farmer sculpture (kicking right-footed for some bizarre reason) that stands next to the entrance of the Northbridge tunnel.


Drawing on private VHS tapes of WAFL matches, news highlights and and the panel shows of the day that he had collected painstakingly over the years and converted to digital format, journalist and WAFL historian Sean Cowan compiled a highlights package of the Krakouer brothers to show at the Wayback WAFL event at The Backlot.


Jim Krakouer was present and took part in an absorbing QnA session in which he revealed that he and his brother Phil would not have gone to North Melbourne in 1982 if Claremont had not won the flag the previous year.


And, quite poignantly, he explained that his often-incendiary reaction to racist abuse was the result of deciding that he might have had to cop it at school but he was not going to do so on the football field.

The Krakouers were stars of their time and their deeds shone brightly during nearly two hours of the footage that Cowan had put together.


The dim recesses of your memory might not recall how good players were that you saw when you were young but the videotape does not lie.

And what it revealed about both Krakouers was that Cyril Rioli and Eddie Betts and Dustin Martin might inspire awe and wonder in recent football followers but they had nothing on the two Aboriginal brothers from Mt Barker who made such a mark in the 1970s and 80s.


There was Jim who claimed a thrilling mark high above a pack that was on a par with anything Shai Bolton has taken in recent times.

A few minutes later in the same game, Krakouer laid three consecutive tackles on different opponents in the same passage of play before winning the ball back and spearing a goal from the boundary.


It would have been the goal of the season to complement the earlier mark of the season.

His speed around the ball, the cleanliness of his handling and the precision of his delivery combined in an extraordinary combination that was enhanced even further by the uncanny bond he had with his brother and the remarkable association he forged with ruckman Graham Moss.


Commentator George Grljusich, who had a photographic memory of the numerous WA footballers he had watched from the mid-1940s, said during one passage of play that Krakouer ranked alongside Barry Cable and Steve Marsh as the three best rovers ever born in WA. Some tribute, that.


Phil Krakouer, who regularly used both hands to pick up the ball on the ground while travelling at full speed, also produced a banquet of unbelievable moments.

Preceding Rioli and Betts by several decades, he twisted and weaved his way through heavy traffic while his hapless opponents grasped at empty air like a scene out of The Matrix.


At least twice during the footage, the television commentators started giggling at Phil’s exploits. It was the only appropriate reaction given how audacious and unimaginable were his gymnastics.

The footage was not just about the Krakouers though they were the stars.


Moss, probably WA’s least appreciated football superstar, had his agility and palming ability on full show while the technical proficiency of spearhead Warren Ralph underpinned his harvest of Krakouer passes.


Stephen Michael and Maurice Rioli starred for South Fremantle, East Fremantle showcased an array of stellar talents like Brian Peake, Graham Melrose and Kevin Taylor, Swan Districts fans would have salivated at Leon Baker’s creativity and Peter Bosustow demonstrated his aerial and ground skills.


It might not be the WAFL of today but it was a marvellous era for WA football, a time whose stars live on in wondrous memories and scratchy VHS tapes.


Wednesday hero:

Harry Marsh battled groin soreness for much of last season and it took the belated diagnosis of hernia problems, requiring special mesh to be inserted into the region, before he could regain the spring in his step. A long rehab process meant the former Sydney utility was out of action for the first four games this season but he underlined what Subiaco had been missing with a bright return against Swans in Kalgoorlie. Marsh kicked the first goal of the second half to give the Lions the lead and was a busy contributor throughout. He will be a key player as Subiaco attempt to push up the ladder.


IMAGE: The West Australian.