50 years on: Hamilton AFC’s groundbreaking Northern League title win

posted in: Heritage, News, Northern League

The year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Melville AFC (initially as Melville District Schoolboys), which was the foundation club of the current Melville United, and a major celebration is planned for the weekend of November 4-6.

But it is also the 50th anniversary of another significant but possibly less appreciated football milestone — Hamilton AFC winning the northern league first division in 1972. There was no northern premier league in those days and it allowed Hamilton to enter the national league play-offs for the first time.

Main photo: Hamilton AFC, 1972. from left, back: Laurie Fawcett, Ralph Noble, Ernie Gale, Kel Munro, Dave Wallace, unknown.
Front: Don Bain, Arthur Parker, Bill Hume (captain), Tommy Dunn (manager), Doug Snapes, Jeff Coulshed. Ground: Roy Little, Bill Ironside. 

(Editor’s note: An early edition of this story asked for help in identifying an unknown member of the squad who with the help of our readers, we now know to be Dave Wallace. Thanks to Nichola Page for her assistance. We still have one player to be identified — back row, far right (with glasses and moustache).)

To give a quick history lesson: Hamilton AFC was formed in 1964 and went on to contest five seasons of the national league (1977-78 and 1980-82) from its home ground at Muir Park, but in 1992 amalgamated with Waikato United, which then merged with Melville AFC in 1996 to form the modern-day Melville United.

The first Waikato club to qualify for national league play-offs

Hamilton not only became the first club to take the northern league title out of Auckland, but in the process became the first Waikato club to qualify for the national league playoffs. In some high-quality matches, Hamilton drew 1-1, both home and away, with Wellington Diamond United, but in a third deciding match at Wembley Park, Wanganui, lost 2-1.

Bill Hume.

Leading Hamilton was player-coach Bill Hume. The big Scotsman was in the twilight of an illustrious career in which saw him become the only player to score more goals for New Zealand than he made appearances (8 goals in 7 appearances in 1958) before then crossing the Tasman, where he played and also got on the scoresheet for Australia in the early 1960s.

By this stage of his career, Hume had a prominent beer belly and was playing as a central defender rather than a striker, but was still had wonderful skills and vision, and was unerring from the penalty spot.

Hamilton (who played in tangerine and black in those days, prior to the switch to blue in 1975) pipped Birkenhead United for the league title on goal average – a mathematical calculation which favoured defensive ability rather than attacking ability.

Hamilton started the season with a bang, nine wins on the trot, before two losses and a draw which gave Birkenhead a small league lead. But then Hamilton trounced Birkenhead 3-0 at Muir Park, running them off the park in front of what was at the time, a record Muir Park crowd.

There was a heartbreaking 2-1 loss away to North Shore and Hamilton were back to second, waiting for someone to beat Birkenhead and in the penultimate round, Metro did just that. And because of their superior goal average, Hamilton could even afford to lose their final league match — which they duly did — 1-3 against Eden.

Till then, Hamilton had conceded just four goals at Muir Park all season.

‘All in all, they were a good watch’

Hamilton were occasionally criticised for having little attacking plan apart from getting on the end of some crosses from wide men Russ Holmes or Doug Snapes. But other key Hamilton players that year were the unflappable Arthur Parker at centre back, seasoned goalkeeper Kel Munro, irrepressible midfielder Roy Little and the ageing Dave Wallace.

Don Bain transferred mid-season from Cambridge to give much-needed striking momentum (11 goals in nine appearances), while Alex Kelly, Ralph (“Wacky”) Noble, feisty young inside forward John Ravenscroft, the nuggetty Billy Ironside, Jeff Coulshed, Mike Bullen and Ernie Gale all played their part.

All in all, they were a good watch — though perhaps lacked the lovable mercurial dimension of the truly great Hamilton teams of 1976 and 1977.

But like Technical Old Boys winning the cup a decade earlier, eight of the Hamilton players were 30 or over in 1972.

Hume did stick around for one more season, though for most of the rest of the 70s — and ultimate national league qualification — Hamilton was built around a string of arriving quality Scotsmen and Englishmen such as Keith Nelson, John McDermid, Ken Morrison, Jim Barry, Dick Plume, and Ian Dolman (and talent-oozing youngsters like Mike Groom).

Little and Ravenscroft were the only ones who traversed both the 1972 northern league title win and the much-loved 1976 win.

The 1974 line-up for Hamilton AFC.

A bygone era

This is very much a bygone era.

Even Muir Park has been off the map for 26 years now, and the heroics of 1972 even pre-dated the big glass windows in the now-demolished clubrooms.

But for those who can remember back that far, winning the northern league for the first time was a pioneering feat, even if the pitch was often a quagmire.

The 10c entry fee of the day for kids was well worth the memories.

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