2023 Great Club – Penguin Football Club

Established: 1891
Home Ground: Penguin Recreation Ground (1891-2017), Dial Park (2018-Present)
Playing Colours: Red, Gold and Blue (1891-1906), Sky Blue and Royal Blue (1907-Present)
Nickname: ‘Two Blues’
Affiliation: Various Local/Junior Competitions (1891-1909; 1911-21), NWFU (1910; 1922-37; 1945-86), Darwin F. A. (1938-39), NTFL/NWFL (1987-Present)
State Premierships: Nil
Senior League Premierships: 5 – 1913, 1932, 1977, 1980, 1985
Reserves League Premierships: 7 – 1953, 1969, 1978, 1982, 1983, 2017, 2021
U19s/U18s League Premierships: 4 – 1968, 1974, 1976, 2017
Competition Best & Fairest Winners: 7 – Fred Odgers (1924), Rupert Stott (1926), H.O. ‘Nip’ Smith (1927), Roy Plapp (1931), Alan Crawford (1947), Colin Moore (1958), Ricky Smith (1972)
Competition Leading Goal Kickers: 6 – Fred Odgers (1924), Trevor Dunham (1956, 1958, 1960), Dennis Adams (1962), Fred Wooller (1966), Chris Reynolds (1985), Jack Templeton (2021)
Games Record Holder: Bill Fielding (432)

Established: 2017
Home Ground: Penguin Recreation Ground (2017), Dial Park (2018-Present)
Playing Colours: Sky Blue and Royal Blue (2017-Present)
Nickname: ‘Two Blues’
Affiliation: Tasmanian Women’s League North-West (2017), North West Football League Women (2018-Present)
State Premierships: Nil
League Premierships: Nil
Competition Best & Fairest Winners: Nil
Competition Leading Goal Kickers: 1 – Tayla Marshall (2021)

The 2023 induction into the ‘Great Club’ category of the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame is the Penguin Football Club.

A small town of around 4000 people situated on Tasmania’s north-west coast, Penguin first played host to a football match in 1890, when a team of locals faced an Ulverstone reserves team on a paddock behind what is now The Neptune Grand Hotel. The hotel’s then owner, a Danish sea captain named Christian Anton, was subsequently elected as the first President of the Penguin Football Club upon its formation in 1891, with the club playing – and winning – its first official match in June of that year against Cam. Despite some very strong performances in their embryonic years – including a huge 14 goals to 1 win over Ulverstone in 1892 – the club struggled to capture the interest of the town’s populace on a consistent basis, and as a result Penguin’s appearances in regular competition were sporadic. The years leading up to World War I continued to be a mixed bag for the club, with brief stints in strong competitions – including as a founding member of the North-West Football Union (NWFU) in 1910 – interspersed with time spent in various country and local leagues. Nevertheless, this period saw two major events in the club’s history: the adoption of the now famous ‘Two Blues’ colours in 1907, and the club claiming its first piece of silverware by winning the premiership of the Pine Road Association in 1913.

After two further seasons in country football post-war, Penguin returned to the top flight of Tasmanian football in the NWFU in 1922, a move which would usher in the club’s first period of comparatively sustained success. Able now to settle into a competition long-term, this newfound stability allowed the club the opportunity to attract players of a high calibre for the first time, something it achieved in 1924 with the appointment of former Tasmanian representative Fred Odgers as captain-coach. Odgers’ influence through both his leadership qualities and his own brilliant form had a profound impact on the club, and within two years he had guided Penguin to their maiden NWFU finals appearance. The team continued to improve under Odgers’ successor H. O. ‘Nip’ Smith (another former Tasmanian Carnival player) and by 1931, despite the struggles of the Great Depression, Penguin were regular finals contenders and had produced no fewer than three NWFU Best & Fairest winners. The following year, under the guidance of former player Jack Kidd, Penguin finally reached the ‘promised land’ with their maiden NWFU premiership: leading all day after a fast start, the Two Blues defeated Latrobe by 29 points in front of their own home fans, with Roy Plapp, Jack Kingston and spearhead Harry Hardstaff (7 goals) the most
prominent stars. In another first, the final was the first coastal football match to be broadcast live on radio, by 7UV Ulverstone.

Penguin continued to perform creditably throughout the 1930s, and even attracted ex-VFL champion Tom Fitzmaurice as coach in 1937. Despite this, the club’s position within the Union was far from secure, and before the 1938 season they were ousted from the NWFU by a committee vote, ostensibly in an attempt to eliminate the bye. Penguin subsequently became a foundation club of the Darwin Football Association, and played off in the 1938 Grand Final against Wynyard before war once again brought football in the state to a halt. Upon the game’s resumption in 1945 Penguin was once again readmitted to the NWFU; in a case of ‘third time’s the charm’, this time their membership was permanent, the club going on to be one of the ‘Big 8’ north-west clubs during the golden age of Tasmanian football.

Penguin’s early post-war days were not flushed with success. The Two Blues won just three games in six years across seasons 1945-50, struggling for competitiveness and suffering several record-breaking defeats. Desperate to turn their fortunes around, the club landed a number of good recruits from around the state and from the mainland, however the real coup was the securing of Bob Parsons as captain-coach in 1951. Parsons had been a star rover in the great New Town TFL teams of the late-1940s, and had been dubbed ‘The Mighty Atom’ after his performances for Tasmania at the 1950 Brisbane Carnival. A teacher by profession and a popular and charismatic figure, it was a testament to Parsons’ skill as a both player and leader that he was able to guide the senior side to four wins during his first year at the helm. Penguin continued to improve steadily over the following four seasons, culminating in not only a long-awaited finals appearance in 1955, but also the club’s first NWFU premiership – courtesy of the Reserves – two years earlier. Unfortunately, Parsons’ departure at the end
of 1955 saw the club slide back down the ladder and despite the tireless efforts of countless dedicated individuals, what followed was a period of significant onfield struggle. From 1956-75 Penguin qualified for finals football at senior level only once (1963), and claimed the dreaded wooden spoon five times.

For all of Penguin’s dearth of on-field success, very little of it can be put down to the actions of the club itself. Off-field the administration structure was quite stable, most notably during the distinguished period under legendary
President/Secretary duo Wilf Barker (1946-62) and Pat Hales (1948-60), club finances were rarely a concern and attendances were consistently strong. The reality of Penguin’s situation was that, as a comparatively small district, the depth of talent in the player pool simply couldn’t match that of larger coastal hubs like Burnie, Devonport or even Ulverstone, and nor was there an array of employment opportunities which could be used to entice high-calibre recruits. Nevertheless, the resolve of those attached to the club never wavered, supporters rejoicing in the occasional premiership triumphs at lower levels, the few precious senior wins each season and delighting in the brilliance of champion players such as state representatives Col Moore, Barry Strange and Phil Lade, three-time NWFU leading goal-kicker Trevor Dunham and multiple Best & Fairest winners Don Harrington and Ricky Smith. Additionally, a number of local players including Kerry Rattray (Melbourne) Ron Fry (Fitzroy) and Tony Franklin (South Melbourne) would go on to play football on the mainland; none, however, would top Tim Evans as Penguin’s greatest football export: after a short stint with Geelong, Evans became one of South Australia’s greatest ever full forwards, booting more than 1000 goals and winning four SANFL premierships
with Port Adelaide.

After years in the doldrums, 1976 was the year in which Penguin finally reemerged as a force in coastal football. Firstly, the U19s claimed their third NWFU flag, the team featuring several players who would go on to enjoy fine senior careers. The primary factor however was the appointment as captain-coach of Warren ‘Putt’ McCarthy, a two-time premiership player with Cooee who was known for his unique view of the game. ‘Putt’ guided the Two Blues to a stunning 2nd place after the roster season, from which they advanced to their first Grand Final for 43 years before falling to Ulverstone. Having learned many valuable lessons, Penguin went one better in 1977, a season remembered with great joy by all associated with the club. After finishing the roster season in 3rd
position, Penguin won their way into the Grand Final courtesy of a two-point Preliminary Final win over their 1976 conquerors Ulverstone. Their opponent for the flag would be McCarthy’s former side Cooee who, having dismantled Ulverstone by 101 points in the 2nd Semi Final, were white-hot favourites. In a game held at Devonport Oval and affected by a strong breeze, Penguin played with courage and determination to amass an 18-point lead by the last change before withstanding a fierce Cooee fightback to triumph by just four points in one of Tasmanian football’s biggest upsets. The greatest season in club history was subsequently capped off with a win over NTFA premiers Scottsdale to secure the unofficial ‘northern premiership’.

McCarthy’s tenure as coach lasted only three seasons, however it would lay the groundwork for unquestionably the strongest period in the history of the Penguin Football Club. Powered by legendary names such as Gary Carpenter, Wayne Manson and games record holder Bill Fielding, the Two Blues claimed senior NWFU premierships in 1977, 1980 and 1985, with two additional unsuccessful Grand Final appearances in 1981 and 1982; in the latter season Penguin could have claimed to be the best team in northern Tasmania, having topped the Greater Northern Football League* ladder with 15 wins from 19 roster games. Unfortunately, by this time the concept of the State premiership was dead, and as a result the club was never offered the opportunity to contest one; had it done so, it likely would have stood an excellent chance.

Upon the cessation of the NWFU competition in 1986, Penguin naturally joined its successor the Northern Tasmanian Football League (later North-West Football League), where it has remained ever since. Now finding itself playing against many strong former NTFA clubs such as Launceston and Scottsdale, Penguin once again endured a period of relatively lean on-field results, with a loss to Burnie in 1992 being the club’s only senior Grand Final appearance for more than 30 years. The club became no less adept at fostering elite talent, however, with several Penguin juniors reaching the AFL, Michael Gale (Fitzroy/Richmond), Justin Plapp (Richmond/St. Kilda) and particularly Russell Robertson (Melbourne) the most prominent.

The most recent decade has been a prosperous one for Penguin. Off-field the club relocated in 2018 to the brand new $10.5 million Dial Road Sports Complex, giving it the most modern and up-to-date facilities of any club on the north-west coast, while on-field the club enjoyed a resurgence, winning the U18s/Reserves premiership double in 2017 and playing off in three senior NWFL Grand Finals in 2011, 2016 and 2021 – all unfortunately resulting in narrow losses. Arguably the most significant moment however was the formation in 2017 of the Penguin women’s team, who played their inaugural match in May of that year, defeating Latrobe 5.8 (38) to 4.4 (28). The team went on to play off in the Grand Final in its first season and has been regular finals contenders ever since, led by such star players as three-time Best & Fairest Lila Wijesinghe-Frohmader and goalkicking ace Tayla Marshall.

Anyone familiar with small-town football clubs knows that the part they play in the social structure of their community is more important than any amount of silverware, and in many ways Penguin embodies this concept perfectly. Through thick and thin the club and its cohort of dedicated players, officials and volunteers have tirelessly kept the club in the fight year after year, and no group of individuals can have been more deserving of the few moments of football euphoria they have achieved along the way. The Penguin Football Club is a more than worthy induction as a Great Club of the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame.

* The Greater Northern Football League was a short-lived fusion of the NTFA and NWFU which lasted for two seasons. The roster season was played as a combined competition before finals series were played along NTFA/NWFU lines. The competition was discontinued after the 1982 season.