For the love of the game

TAKING the field alongside a generation of footballers who played for the sheer love of the game, Kingston local Leon Lovegrove still holds close "Bloods" connections with his former black and red colours.

A champion indoor bowler and golfer - when he makes it onto the fairway - Mr Lovegrove prizes the memorabilia from the West Adelaide Football Club - "the Bloods" - on his trophy wall.

Born at Streaky Bay and growing up on the Eyre Pennisula, Mr Lovegrove's parents ran a grocery shop during the war, and later sent their two boys - Leon and Brian - away to Prince Alfred College in Adelaide.

Beginning his football years playing in the Cummins Association, Mr Lovegrove played a few years in under 14s and under 15s for PAC before making his debut for the Bloods.

"I got a job at an insurance company so left school and started really getting into my football," Mr Lovegrove recalled.

Playing 10 years for West Adelaide, Mr Lovegrove started out in colts at 17 and he played every Saturday he could while completing his national service.

Wearing guernsey number 8, he escaped his football career with only few minor injuries.

"The first game I played was at half forward flank," he said.

"Over the years I alternated between the wing, played a couple games in centre, and at half back, but my main spot was in the back pocket."

Mr Lovegrove played his first game for West Adelaide in 1952.

After Brian Slattery was injured it was a toss-up - literally - between Leon's older brother and himself to see who would take the ground.

"Many years later when I was on the selection panel I found out they had to flip a coin to determine if Brian or myself would play," Leon said.

"After injuring himself during that year, Brian missed out on the chance at ever playing a league game."

A nephew to renowned West Adelaide player and former Advertiser sports editor Merv Agars - who wrote the history of the West Adelaide Football Club, "Bloods, Sweat and Tears" in 1987 - Mr Lovegrove recalled his first game like it was yesterday.

"Taking the field, I was so excited," Leon said. "I was excited to be there and to be playing with my uncle Merv.

"The only touch I got for the whole game was a handball from Merv."

Mr Lovegrove said his uncle was one of the reasons the Lovegrove boys joined with the "Westies"

"We saw quite a bit of our uncle," Mr Lovegrove said.

"After serving in the Airforce during the war - never had to go overseas - he came back to work with mum and dad at the grocers for a while.

"Mum was second oldest of 10 and Merv was youngest so he wasn't that much older than us...maybe seven or so years."

Mr Agars played 102 matches for West Adelaide between 1946-1952 and represented SA eight times.

A life member of West Adelaide, once he retired from football he started in the Advertiser sporting department.

As sports editor at the Advertiser for 19 years, he is the longest serving sports editor in the newspaper's history, and wrote primarily about football and cricket.

The Advertiser named its award for best AFL player - Crows or Power - the Merv Agars Medal.

"Merv's brother-in-law Don Taylor played for Westies," Mr Lovegrove said.

"There were three Taylor brothers who were all well-known footballers in SA."

By the end of his first year, Mr Lovegrove had played nine games and received a trophy for "best first year" - he was also picked by the association to play in the State side during 1952.

"We would train twice a week on Adelaide Oval number two, that was before West Adelaide could use Richmond oval," he said.

"The home games were played on Adelaide Oval."

During the club's history it has claimed four SANFL premierships - 1910, 1927, 1961 and 1983.

The Bloods made the '62 grand final again where they faced their nemesis Port Adelaide but lost.

"We were not a real successful club at the time I played," Mr Lovegrove said.

"The last grand final we played against Norwood was in 1961, until last year when they evened the score and thrashed us."

Mr Lovegrove played in the premier's team in 1961 under playing coach and football legend Neil "Knuckles" Kerley against Norwood.

It was to be Mr Lovegrove's last league game at 28 years of age.

"The grand final game against Norwood was played in 95 degrees fahrenheit and by halfway through the first quarter most of the footballers had lost some weight," Mr Lovegrove said.

"During 2008 I attended the West Adelaide Football Club's 50-year reunion dinner where we were given a DVD of the '61 grand final game."

Mr Lovegrove played 129 games in total and still has his name printed on locker number 8 at the football club as a tribute.

"I played in seven "Advertiser Cups", which were night matches where all teams played off at Norwood oval," he said.

"The best coach I played under would be Jack Oatey.

"He coached us for three years. Oatey was a fantastic bloke and coach."

Mr Lovegrove's retirement from the "Bloods" wasn't the end of his football involvement.

He sat on the West Adelaide selection committee during 1962 and the management committee during 1963-64.

After growing tired of the city life and his job in insurance, he opted for a move to the country and was appointed playing coach of the Border Districts club in the then KNFL in 1965.

"The opportunity came about through a bloke I used to play football and cricket with, Peter Vivian made some calls," Mr Lovegrove said.

"We were beaten in the 1965 grand final but won the flag in my last match during 1967.

"I retired as a player that year."

During 1968-69 Mr Lovegrove coached Border District colts, and then the Borders/Kyby "Roosters" schoolboys team in the Naracoorte School Boys Association.

Following that year he became chairman of colts committee while his son played, and coached the interleague under 21 side in 1970.

After being disgnosed with arthritis in 1994, Mr Lovegrove was forced to retire from work in Frances and as a result retired to Kingston where he pursued golf and indoor bowls - which again displayed his talent as a natural all rounder.

Mr Lovegrove still fondly refers to his football years and recalls many memories of the various clubs he played at.

"The grand final match for Westies during 1961 would be one of my best memories," he said.

"There were 40,409 in the crowd which was huge for that era.

"Once the AFL was formed SA football is nowhere near the quality it was in those days."

The former "Bloods" footballer shared his football years playing alongside some of the State's best ever players.

"The three Hank brothers - Bob Hank who won three Magarey Medals - Jimmy Deane from South Adelaide, blokes like Foster Williams who was a magnificent Port Adelaide coach, and there were many others," he said.

Mr Lovegrove said during his time playing league, footballers' dedication was fuelled by their "love of the game".

"Not that we ever thought about the money but there is a lot more in it today," he said.

"Quite a few of our blokes that were good enough to go to Melbourne went and played for Victorian sides.

"I can remember getting a cheque for 105 pounds for a 21 match season, which would be around 5 pounds a game.

"It is different today...the boys are probably much more involved with having to train harder and more frequently."

Mr Lovegrove said there had been a shift in the traditional football culture over the past few decades.

"One of the big things in football was the friendships you made and the wonderful blokes you would meet," he said.

"We were friends on and off the field with the opposition.

"It was a wonderful atmosphere and through playing football people recognised you when you would go out or jump on the tram, from having seen your photo in the paper.

"Football was so popular in those days.

"What I miss most about the game is the friendships and mateship of the people you played with and against, the people you dealt with and people you met along the way.

"It will always be a big part of my life."

Wearing guernsey number 8, Leon escaped his football career with only few minor injuries.

Wearing guernsey number 8, Leon escaped his football career with only few minor injuries.

Leon Lovegrove holds some of West Adelaide - the "Bloods" - Football Clubs best years on his trophy wall.

Leon Lovegrove holds some of West Adelaide - the "Bloods" - Football Clubs best years on his trophy wall.

Leon Lovegrove holds some of West Adelaide - the "Bloods" - Football Clubs best years on his trophy wall.

Leon Lovegrove holds some of West Adelaide - the "Bloods" - Football Clubs best years on his trophy wall.