PORT MELBOURNE/NORTH LAUNCESTON/LAUNCESTON/DEVONPORT/EAST DEVONPORT/EAST LAUNCESTON,
137 games for Port Melbourne (VFA), 1952-59
Port Melbourne VFA premiership 1953
Port Melbourne Team of the Century (Half Back)
Three games for VFA, 1957-58
VFA National Carnival representative, 1958 (Melbourne)
165 games for North Launceston, 1960-67
Around 35 games for Launceston, 1968-69
North Launceston captain-coach, 1960-67
Launceston captain-coach, 1968-69; coach 1971-74
North Launceston NTFA premierships 1961, 1963
Launceston NTFA premiership 1969
12 games for Tasmania, 1960-64 – Captain vs VFA, 1964
Tasmanian National Carnival representative, 1961 (Brisbane) – Named All-Australian
Lefroy Medal, 1963 (Best Tasmanian interstate player)
Numerous representative games for NTFA, 1960-66 (Captain 1961-64, 1966)
Coached Devonport (1975-76), East Devonport (1979) and East Launceston (1980)
North Launceston ‘Greatest Team – 1945-1999’ (Centre)
Launceston Team of the Century (Rover)
A supremely skilled and highly versatile player, Bob Withers was a star of NTFA and interstate football throughout the 1960’s. During this time he also gained a
reputation as one of northern Tasmania’s finest coaches, guiding North Launceston and Launceston to drought-breaking premierships.
Born in Victoria in 1934, Bob Withers first played senior football with Port Melbourne in the VFA. Making his debut in 1952, Withers played 137 games in eight seasons
with the Boroughs, the highlight being the club’s 1953 premiership. Withers would also gain VFA selection during this period, representing the Association against a
composite NWFU/NTFA team in Launceston in 1957, as well as at the 1958 Centenary Carnival in Melbourne; his finest match in the tournament came when he starred
in the VFA’s eight-point win over the legendary Tasmanian team featuring names such as Baldock, Leedham and Hodgson.
In 1960, Withers moved to Tasmania to join NTFA club North Launceston as captain-coach. After a Grand Final loss to the legendary City-South team under Stan
Morcom in his first season, Withers and North succeeded in winning the premiership in 1961, Withers himself a key figure in one of the most controversial finishes in
NTFA history: with Longford leading by five points, Longford defender ‘Ike’ Hayes appeared to have taken a match-saving mark, however Withers leapt over the top from
behind and claimed the mark himself. The umpire paid the mark to Withers, and he calmly slotted the goal which gave his side a one-point win. The two sides met again
for the premiership two years later, and in an almost identical result to that of two years earlier Withers and North Launceston triumphed in a thriller by just two points.
Over the next four seasons Withers guided his charges to another two Grand Final appearances, however on both occasions – against Scottsdale in 1965 and East
Launceston in 1967 – they were unsuccessful.
During this period, Withers had become one of Tasmania’s finest representative players. First selected for Tasmania in 1960, Withers featured in the famous 7-point
victory over the VFL at York Park. The following season, Withers was selected in the Tasmanian squad for the National Carnival in Brisbane, where his fine performances
were rewarded with an All-Australian blazer. In 1963, Withers’ form in matches against South Australia and Western Australia saw him presented with the Lefroy Medal
as Tasmania’s best player. However, arguably Withers’ greatest achievement came in 1964, when – against the VFA in Launceston – he became only the second player
from a northern club (after Terry Cashion) to captain Tasmania. He had previously captained NTFA combined teams on many occasions from 1961.
Like most great leaders of the day, Withers was equally adept in using both words and deeds to inspire his charges. As a player, he was a classical versatile champion of
his era, combining a tough and tenacious approach to the game with deft skill and an exceptional football brain. He also possessed deceptive pace, was a brilliant short
pass and had a keen eye for goal; the latter came in handy more than once, such as when his six goals helped North Launceston overcome City-South in the 1965
Preliminary Final. Above all however, he was scrupulously fair and respected the same quality in others, rating Glenorchy and Devonport star – and fellow Hall of Fame
Legend – Neil Conlan as his greatest opponent.
The 1967 Grand Final marked Withers’ final match in charge of North Launceston after 165 games. He subsequently joined cross-town rivals Launceston, a club who
had not tasted premiership success since 1951 and hadn’t finished higher than 4th in their past 11 seasons. Under Withers’ guidance, Launceston quickly re-emerged
as a contender, and after finishing runner-up in 1968 Withers delivered Launceston to the flag in 1969 with a 44-point win over East Launceston. Withers retired as a
player after this triumph, and after spending 1970 as an Assistant Coach with Essendon in the VFL returned to coach Launceston in a non-playing capacity for another
four seasons. Upon leaving Launceston at the end of 1974, Withers took his coaching talents to the north-west coast, spending a little over a season as coach of
Devonport. His departure mid-way through 1976 prompted Withers to take a temporary break from coaching, and he spent the 1977-78 seasons in the commentary box,
calling NWFU matches on radio alongside names such as Tim Lane and ‘Paddy’ Martin. Finally, Withers bowed out of coaching with two one season stints with East
Devonport (1979) and back in the NTFA with East Launceston (1980).
A revered name in northern football, Bob Withers’ contribution to the NTFA over nearly 20 years was honoured when he was inducted as a ‘Living Legend’ of the
competition. His skill as a player meanwhile has been recognised with his inclusion in three Teams of the Century: Port Melbourne, North Launceston, and Launceston.