108. Des James

108. Des James 2

LEGEND – Player Inductee

Sandy Bay/Clarence, Defender, 1974-86

209 games for Sandy Bay, 1974-84
34 games for Clarence, 1985-86
Sandy Bay captain, 1983-84
Sandy Bay TFL premierships 1976, 1977, 1978
24 representative matches for Tasmania, 1976-84
Tasmanian State of Origin Carnival representative 1979 (Perth), 1980 (Adelaide)
State of Origin Carnival All-Australian, 1979 (Back Pocket)
12 representative matches for TFL, 1974-84
Weller Arnold Medal, 1977 (Best TFL representative player)
Brighton coach (SFL Premier League), 2003-04
Assistant/reserves coach North Hobart FC
Selected in “Sandy Bay’s Best 25 – 1948-97”
Short-listed for Indigenous Team of the Century, 2005

One of a select group of indigenous champions to have graced the football fields of Tasmania, Des James was a classy and dashing back pocket player who enjoyed a highly distinguished career both at club and representative level during the last decade of the pre-Statewide League era.

A member of the Yorta Yorta aboriginal people, Des James was born in 1952 in Shepparton in northern Victoria, commencing his football career with the Lemnos-Shepparton Football Club in the Goulburn Valley Football League. A prolific talent from an early age, James won the GVFL Thirds Best & Fairest award aged 17 in 1969, and three years later finished third in the senior award despite missing seven games.

In 1973, James spent a season playing in Sydney with Newtown under former Sandy Bay premiership coach Gordon Bowman, and it was on the recommendation of Bowman that James – who had returned to Victoria at the end of the season – was approached by Sandy Bay secretary Michael Wright about potentially joining the club. James agreed to a trial, and after impressing in a pre-season practice match he officially signed with Sandy
Bay for the 1974 TFL season.

James joined Sandy Bay at an interesting time: the club was coming off a shock loss to Hobart in the 1973 Grand Final after going into the match undefeated, and it was hoped that the addition of James and former Melbourne defender Noel Leary would give the Seagulls’ defence a much-needed boost. Their faith was well placed, as over the following decade James cemented himself as arguably the finest small defender in Tasmanian football. After two further Grand Final defeats in 1974-75, Sandy Bay went on to annex three consecutive premierships under the guidance of Paul Sproule from 1976-78, James’ brilliance in defence
proving integral to this success.

With his bouffant hair and prominent moustache James was one of the most recognisable figures in TFL football, but it was his outstanding ability which truly made him stand out on the field. He possessed the uncanny knack of reading the play well before anyone else, and as a result was peerless at intercepting the ball; as regular opponent and state teammate Chris Fagan put it, ”just when you thought you had the ball Des would cut in front of you.” Once he had possession James invariably used it well, his excellent disposal and speedy dashes often
turning defence into attacking opportunities for his side. Being a defender, his game naturally required a certain amount of physicality, however he always displayed great fairness and sportsmanship, which in turn earned him the respect of teammates and opponents alike.

James’ outstanding performances naturally saw him rewarded with representative honours: a regular member of TFL combined teams, in 1977 he received the Weller Arnold Medal as the league’s best performer in intrastate contests against the NTFA and NWFU. In 1976 James earned the first of his 24 Tasmanian guernseys, and went on to represent the state at carnivals in 1979 and 1980. The first of these produced arguably the greatest on-field accolade of James’ career when he was the only Tasmanian-based player to be named in the All-Australian team
(fellow selected Tasmanians Darryl Sutton and Michael Roach were playing in the VFL with North Melbourne and Richmond respectively).

Sandy Bay’s golden era came to an end after the 1978 premiership, however James continued to star for the Seagulls for many years. In 1983, he was appointed Sandy Bay captain, holding the role for two years until his departure from the club after 11 seasons and 209 magnificent games. He subsequently spent his finals years in the TFL with Clarence, playing in one last Grand Final in 1985 before retiring at the end of the following season.

James maintained an involvement in football well after his playing days, serving as an assistant/ bench coach with North Hobart and taking charge of SFL side Brighton for two seasons in the early 2000s. He also took great enjoyment in following the extraordinary career of his son-in-law, fellow Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame member Ian Callinan.

Des James left a legacy as not only one of the finest players of his generation, but also as arguably the greatest indigenous player in the history of Tasmanian football. His legacy at Sandy Bay is certainly undisputed, named as one of the ‘Bay’s Best 25’ in 2001. Perhaps James’ greatest accolade however came in 2005, when – although not selected in the final team – he was shortlisted for the official AFL Indigenous Team of the Century, in effect recognising him as one of the 35 greatest Indigenous players of all time.