A host of pioneering Pilbara footballers, including Sport and Recreation Minister Mick Murray, have reunited to mark the 50-year anniversary of the North-West’s first football league.
Beginning in May 1969, the De Grey Football League was the region’s first official league, with matches played mostly on red dirt ovals, often in bare feet.
Players from De Grey clubs, including Port Hedland Panthers, Port Hedland Rovers, Goldsworthy Tigers, Finucane Island and the Shay Gap Hawks joined the Minister at Subiaco Oval this week to mark the 50-year anniversary.
League founder Colin Matheson arrived in Port Hedland as a postal worker and qualified football umpire in 1962, and finding no local competition, he set about organising games and by 1967 had established the Port Hedland Football Association.
The De Grey Football League’s first matches were played in May 1969, with the town of Goldsworthy having the only grassed oval in the competition.
All other teams used improvised patches of red dirt for matches, with players required to sweep the playing surface for rocks, sticks and other obstructions before matches.
The De Grey Football League combined with the West Pilbara Football League in 1977 and in 1983 the competition was re-branded as the North Pilbara Football League, with Colin Matheson as president.
De Grey teams Port Hedland Rovers and South Hedland Swans continue the league’s legacy as part of the North Pilbara Football League.
As stated by Sport and Recreation Minister Mick Murray:
“The De Grey Football League harks back to an era most modern footballers would barely recognise.
“If you told today’s players that part of the pre-match routine involved clearing rocks off the bare, red-dirt oval, I’m not sure they would believe you.
“When Colin Matheson drove the foundation of the league back in the early 1960s, he did it for the pure love of the game and the joy of competing.
“The story of the De Grey Football League really captures the essence of grassroots sport and the potential it has to bring communities together.
“The State Government is focused on using grassroots sport to build stronger, more connected communities – and what better example to follow than that set by the early De Grey Football League pioneers.”