Brian Lenton – North West Football Legend
Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in NSW this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney in 1880.
Dr Rod Gillett profiles the nomination of Brian Lenton into the NSW Hall of Fame.
“The women playing is the best thing that has happened for footy up here, the fellas are now running the canteen while the girls play,” Brian Lenton told me in an interview for this piece.
Brian was reflecting on over 50 years of active involvement in football in NSW after having done it all in the north west as a player, coach and official since his arrival in the area in 1976.
“I’m just as proud of my daughter Natasha who played in the Bulldogs’ women’s premiership team this season as my son Nathan, who played top-grade football in Sydney and Canberra. Also my grandsons, Chad and Jake. They played together in the Under 14s grand final this year”.
After a promising start and then a rocky period in the mid-1990s footy has really gained traction in the north west of the state with the Moree Suns coming back in 2015, and both Gunnedah and the Tamworth teams now playing on the main ovals in their respective towns as do the Inverell Saints while the New England Nomads play on the university’s premier oval in Armidale.
Brian attributes the stability of the footy competition to the introduction of the women’s competition a few years back and efforts to establish junior competitions finally being successful.
Brian Lenton started his football at Whitton in the South West league in the mid-1960s but due to employment opportunities moved to Sydney and lined with Western Suburbs and played in the club’s 1969 and 1972 premiership teams. He was named full-back in Wests team of the century.
He moved to Gunnedah in his employment in 1976 and initially played with Tamworth in the University of New England competition in Armidale. The formation of a football club in Tamworth in 1975 to play in the UNE competition in Armidale was the catalyst for the expansion of the game all over northern NSW.
Together with a couple of Tamworth team-mates based in Gunnedah Brian founded the Gunnedah Bulldogs in 1977 and were admitted to the uni competition and developed a strong rivalry with Tamworth that continues to this day.
Expansion of the game was unprecedented. Through 1977 clubs were formed at Coonabarabran, Wee Waa, Inverell and Moree. And so, the North West Australian Football Association came into being in 1978.
“It all started with Tamworth, but we wouldn’t have been able to get going without the support of the students at the uni in Armidale. They had four teams, so we had a decent competition to start with”, said Brian.
Brian was the inaugural captain-coach of Gunnedah and led the Bulldogs to the first premiership in the new competition when they beat the Tamworth Magpies at No 2 Oval Tamworth in 1978.
He coached 1977-82 1985-88, and 1990-91 winning five premierships in 78,79, 86, 87and 91. He won the competition best player award in 1979 and was runner-up in 1979. He was the competition leading goal scorer 1978-1982.
“The 1978 premiership win gives me the most satisfaction. We were down by 40 points at half-time and got up to win by a goal! It was the new league’s first-ever premiership. And we beat Tamworth”, Brian told me.
“Ian Kingwell was a great player for us as were Peter Jaeger, John Acland and John Rodway from Temora. We really gelled together and had great team spirit. We really wanted to win the first premiership”.
Brian Lenton was match day time-keeper for the Gunnedah Bulldogs this season, a job he has performed since 2000. He has been a club committee member since 1977; he was Gunnedah club president from 1977-84.
As a player he represented North West (first coach), Northern NSW and NSW.
He was made a North West AFL life member in 1982 and received a National Football League Merit Award in 1988.