Football in Burnie has its origins dating back to the mid-1880s. Following a convoluted history both the Burnie Tigers and Cooee Bulldogs joined the new combined North-west Football Union (NWFU) in the mid-1940s and immediately set about establishing their credentials. By the end of the 1950s football in the thriving City of Burnie was at its most powerful and the Burnie and Cooee clubs dominated football throughout the early 1960s on the North-West Coast and in Tasmania.
With the arrival of a statewide league in Tasmania in the mid-1980s the two clubs combined to form the Burnie Hawks, proving a powerful and worthy contender for statewide honours. With a further and final merger in 1995 the club became the Dockers, very much in keeping with the city’s maritime focus. The Burnie Dockers just missed statewide honours in 1996 and 1997, but have dominated regional football in northern Tasmania since 2001, winning five premierships in succession in the NTFL.
Home ground: West Park, Burnie.
Formed: Burnie (as Emu Bay) 1885; Cooee 1894; Burnie Hawks (formed through partial merger of Burnie to the Cooee Football Club (which had been accepted in the TFL statewide league) 1987; the regional based Burnie Tigers merged with the Burnie Hawks in 1993 and became known as the Burnie Dockers in 1995.
Colours: purple, green, red and white. Also: Hawks were brown and gold; Tigers were black and gold; Bulldogs were green and gold.
Emblem: Dockers (formerly Hawks). Also: Burnie Tigers and Cooee Bulldogs.
– Burnie Tigers: NWFA 1885-1912; Burnie Football League 1913-21; NWFU 1922-31; Burnie Football League 1932-33; NWFU 1934-40; Burnie Football League 1945; NWFU 1946-86; NTFL 1987-93.
– Cooee Bulldogs: junior competitions 1920-22 and 1930-44; NWFU 1945-86.
– Burnie Hawks/Dockers: TFL statewide 1987-2000; NTFL 2001 to present.
> Premiership wins:
– Burnie Tigers: 1899 and 1911 (junior); 1927-28, 1937, 1939, 1954, 1958-60, 1962-63, 1966, 1974, 1992 (senior); Tasmanian state premiership 1963.
– Cooee Bulldogs: 1930-31, 1933-36, 1941 (junior); 1961, 1964-65, 1973, 1978, 1982 (senior); Tasmanian state premierships: 1964 and 1978.
– Burnie Hawks/Dockers: 2001-5 (senior).
Other achievements of the club have been:
> Cheel Medallist: Charlie Hallam 1928 (Burnie).
> S.L. Alford Medallist: Clem Riggs 1937 (Burnie).
> Wander Medallists: Ray Stokes 1954 (Burnie); Len Hayes 1949, Lou Redman 1950, Graeme Shepherd 1973, Tom Lee 1979 (Cooee).
> Baldock Medallist: Nick Probert 2003 (Burnie Dockers).
> Leading goalkickers:
– NWFU top goalkickers:
Burnie: G. Goninon (67) 1947; B. Quirk (52) 1948; M. Morse (60) 1961; D. Hodgetts (79) 1971 and (73) 1972; L. Barnes (82) 1979.
Cooee: D. Anderson (89) 1952; L. Hayes (51) 1957; S. Beaumont (73) 1972, (94) 1978, (143) 1984; A. Hodgetts (73) 1973; D. Shepherd (60) 1975 and (102) 1976.
-NTFL top goalkickers:
Burnie Tigers: C. Reynolds (76) 1991 and (96) 1992.
Burnie Dockers: A. Hering (102) 2001.
– TFL top goalkickers:
Burnie Dockers: J.Plapp (98) 1996.
> Highest scores: Burnie 30.21 (201) vs. Penguin in 1963; Cooee 31.22 (208) vs. North Launceston 6.13 (49) in 1982; Burnie Dockers 49.35 (329) vs. Smithton 0.1 (1) in 2001.
> Most games: 265 by David Langmaid (Burnie); 263 by Harold ‘Tiger’ Dowling (Cooee).
> Record finals attendance: 12,352 for 1996 TFL grand final at North Hobart Oval: Clarence 14.17 (101) vs. Burnie 10.14 (74).
Football on Tasmania’s North West Coast has a long and convoluted history and the evolution of current NTFL club Burnie Dockers exemplifies this.
The club, which developed into the original Burnie Football Club, was formed in 1885 under the name Emu Bay, a moniker it retained until 1890 when it became known as Burnie. In 1901 it reverted to its original name for five seasons, then became known as Romaine in 1906 before finally settling on the name Burnie in 1909. These constant changes of identity must surely have proved unsettling, and only once during this entire period did the club manage to secure a premiership.
Burnie participated in the North West Football Association until 1912, and thereafter in the Burnie Football League. The North West Football Union had formed in 1910 and during the early post-war years it was looking to expand in order to cement its role as the primary controlling body in the region. Burnie joined the NWFU in 1922, bringing the number of member clubs to six. Burnie made an immediate impact, reaching that year’s grand final in which the club lost narrowly (4.12 to 5.12) to Latrobe.
Between 1927 and 1930 Burnie fielded its strongest teams to date, with players like Charlie Hallam, Ray Townsend, Mick Lucas and Claude Bennett to the fore. The club contested the grand final in each of those four years, downing Devonport in 1927 and 1928, but losing to Circular Head in 1929 and Latrobe the following year. Fortunes declined somewhat during the first half of the 1930s, and indeed between 1932 and 1933 Burnie left the NWFU and returned to the Burnie Football League. However, the side was back as a force during the years leading up to the onset of another world war.
Between 1936 and 1939 Burnie contested every grand final. It lost to Devonport in 1936, despite managing 26 scoring shots to 25, but gained revenge in 1937 by edging home in a five-point thriller. Out-classed to the tune of 37 points by Devonport in 1938, Burnie was much too good for Latrobe the following season, winning the last grand final before the war with a score of 16.10 (106) to 8.13 (61). Particularly notable among many prominent players for Burnie during this period was 1937 Alford Medallist and triple club champion Clem Riggs.
When football on the North West Coast resumed after the war in 1945 Burnie found itself once again competing in the Burnie Football League, with its place in the NWFU taken by another Burnie-based club, Cooee. Like Burnie, the evolution of the Cooee club had been long and convoluted. Originally formed in 1894, the club had endured two prolonged spells in abeyance (1896 to 1919 and 1923 to 1929) before emerging as a pivotal force in the Burnie Football Association where it won a total of six flags between 1930 and 1936. In 1938 Cooee was one of four founder members of the Darwin Football Association and won the 1941 premiership of that competition with a 34-point win over Upper Burnie.
Between 1945 and 1948 the NWFU comprised an Eastern and a Western Division, and in 1946 Burnie left the BFL and joined its near neighbour Cooee in the Western Division. Over the course of the next 41 seasons, as the timeline below reveals, Burnie and Cooee competed alongside one another with varying degrees of success:
After many years of speculation and promise, statewide football of a sort arrived in 1986 with the formation of an eight-team competition involving the six TFL clubs (all based in and around Hobart) together with North Launceston and South Launceston. The response from the public was broadly positive and in 1987 the new league made an incursion into the domain of the NWFU, inviting Devonport and a new Burnie-based club, Burnie Hawks, to participate. The Hawks arose out of a merger between old rivals Burnie and Cooee, and while the alliance proved a trifle tentative and cumbersome at first, the new club would ultimately thrive.
The city of Burnie also maintained a link to the new regional competition, the Northern Tasmanian Football League, with the continuation of the Burnie Tigers in that competition. The Tigers managed to win a final premiership with a victory over Penguin in 1992, benefitting from the recruitment of ex-Richmond players Mark Lee and Jim Jess for one season.
Coached by Warren McCarthy and with former Hawthorn star Colin Robertson as their on field leader, the Burnie Hawks were competitive from the start. The club finished fifth out of ten clubs in their debut year, repeating this result in 1988 and proving consistently strong throughout their 14 year involvement in statewide football, without ever quite managing to break through for a flag. In 1995, two years after absorbing NTFL side Burnie Tigers, the club embarked on a partnership with fledgling AFL club Fremantle, becoming known as the Dockers in the process.
Since the collapse of the statewide competition at the end of the 2000 season Burnie has competed in the NTFL with considerable success. In 2001, under the coaching of former Collingwood champion Mick McGuane, the side went through the roster matches unbeaten and won the flag with a 17.14 (116) to 7.10 (52) grand final defeat of fellow ex-statewide club Northern Bombers. It repeated this success the following year, this time with Nick Probert holding the coaching reins, overcoming a spirited early challenge from Ulverstone to win the grand final with some comfort, 14.5 (89) to 5.12 (42). Then, in 2003, the Dockers made it three in a row by overcoming the previously unbeaten Northern Bombers in a surprisingly one-sided grand final, 14.11 (95) to 6.13 (49).
In 2004 the Dockers went on to secure their most conclusive premiership victory yet, with their 23.19 (157) to 7.8 (50) annihilation of Devonport constituting an all-time record margin of victory for an NTFL grand final. It was also the biggest win in a coastal grand final since Ulverstone defeated Latrobe by 126 points in 1957. The 2005 season brought a league record-equalling fifth successive flag thanks to a hard fought 17-point grand final victory over perennial victims Devonport.
Among the many fine players to have represented the merged club since its inception are Wayne Keegan, Paul Atkins, Errol Bourn, Leigh Heath, Keenan Reynolds, Brad Davis and Nick Barnes. Like most states, Tasmania has in recent years been forced to continually modify its football infrastructure in order to keep step with developments in the sport’s highest tier, the AFL. Such frequent change has not made life easy for clubs like the Burnie Dockers but it is testimony to those in charge that the club has continued to thrive.