John Somerville (Australian footballer)

John Somerville (8 December 1939 — 12 November 1984)[1] was an Australian rules footballer who played 106 senior games for the Essendon Football Club from 1960 to 1967.


Recruited from Moe Football Club, he played his first match for the Essendon senior team in Round 5 of the 1960 season, against Carlton, at Essendon's home ground, Windy Hill.

He played on the half-forward flank, kicking 96 goals in his 106 game career.

He played in the 1962 Essendon premiership team that beat Carlton 13.12 (90) to 8.10 (58).

1965 Preliminary Final

Within the first 10 minutes of the 1965 Preliminary Final between Essendon and Collingwood Somerville was knocked unconscious by his opponent, the Collingwood half-back flanker Duncan Wright.[2]

At the time, Wright and Somerville were some 90 metres behind the play and were isolated by some 30 metres from all other players, and were much closer to the boundary than they were to the central goal-to-goal line.

Somerville was so badly injured that he was taken off the field on a stretcher and was taken to hospital immediately.[3] Due to the severity of his injuries, he was unable to play in the following week's Grand Final.[4]

Essendon, backed by a now polarised crowd, went on to beat Collingwood 14.21 (105) to 6.6 (42).


There was a public outcry; and the press was outraged:

"Collingwood should give an immediate open clearance to the player responsible for this despicable action. It is a blot on our great game and to the greatest club in the VFL." Former Collingwood champion rover Thorold Merrett, commentating on ABV 2.[5]

"Saturday's brutal and cowardly assault on Essendon's John Somerville points out the crying need for stewards in Australian football. There can be no doubt in the minds of any of the 95,386 people at Saturday's game, or in the minds of the umpires, just who was responsible for the attack on Somerville." Mike Throssell, football writer for The Australian.[5]

The police (including the homicide squad) made some preliminary enquiries. The match officials, the field umpire , the two boundary umpires, and the two goal umpires all claim to have seen nothing.

The field umpire, Ron Brophy, was never selected to umpire a VFL match again.[6]

Wright, too, denied everything.[7]

However, many years later, Wright openly admitted that he had indeed felled Somerville, and claimed that his actions had been in response to Somerville's niggling[8] — which (Wright claimed) had started from the moment that the taller, far more skilful Somerville had been swapped over, by Essendon's coach John Coleman, from his selected position on the opposite half-forward flank, to play on Wright.[9]

Wright, was renowned for his hot-headed violence:

Wright, slightly built[10] but with large hands, was never a great player. He was a solid contributor rather than a star. He had pace and tenacity as well as a mean streak about him, but was not a very good kick. His best contribution to a football team was the fear he instilled in opposition players. His reputation was that of someone who could lose control of his temper quite easily on occasion. Once he had a confrontation during a cricket match that resulted in him being in trouble with the game's authorities, and he had also been involved in a huge altercation with the Lord twins, Alistair and Stewart, at Geelong.[11] During the game Wright had taken a mark and saw that one of the twins was headed towards him so he secured the ball under his arm and threw out a right cross. Down went the first one. The second Lord then headed over so Wright simply tucked the ball under his other arm and disposed of him with his left.[12]

— Strevens, (2004), p.151

The Collingwood coach, the tough champion rover, the highly talented boxer, and the scrupulously fair man Bob Rose was far from impressed with Wright's knockout; and, at Rose's behest, during the 1966 pre-season practice matches — that is, when the police, VFL and general social pressure on Collingwood and Wright had somewhat diminished — Wright was told, by football club secretary Jack Burns that his services were no longer required at Collingwood. He never played another VFL game.[13]

After Essendon

Somerville left Essendon at the end of 1967, and was appointed coach of Numurkah Football Club in 1968.

He is the father of Peter Somerville and Dean Somerville


  1. ^ Sourced from "Somerville, John". Essendon Football Club. Archived from the original on 6 July 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  2. ^ According to the VFL's statistics for Duncan Wright, Wright only played a total of 23 senior games for Collingwood over the six years between 1960 and 1965, and had only played two other senior matches in 1965.
  3. ^ Given the severity of his head injury, it is relevant here to recall that Somerville died of a brain tumour nineteen years later.
  4. ^ As a mark of respect from his team-mates he appears as an additional (twenty-first) player in the team's Essendon's 1965 premiership photograph[permanent dead link].1965 VFL season#Grand Final Teams
  5. ^ a b Miller, Petraitis & Jeremiah, (1997), p.115
  6. ^ See Australian Football League Umpires Association Biography: Ron Brophy Archived 22 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Given that the Victorian Chief Secretary Arthur Rylah immediately announced that he was considering making new laws relating to on-field violence, and that Rylah, the Victorian Police Commissioner, and the VFL administration all conferred on the matter, and that the Victorian Police were seeking witnesses to the assault, it is not astonishing that his advisor, perhaps the greatest-ever Australian criminal defence lawyer, ex-Collingwood footballer, Frank Galbally (1922–2005) had Wright issue the following statement (i.e., not an affidavit or a statutory declaration, but a simple unsworn "statement") at the time:
    With reference to the Somerville affair I want to say I have not been given a fair go in all the publicity about it. I want to say clearly I am innocent in this affair and have done nothing wrong. Because of the publicity and for other reasons, I don't want to say any more now. I repeat I did nothing wrong — Duncan Wright (Hansen & Dyer, (1995), p.121.)
  8. ^ However, the field umpire Ron Brophy, who knew both Wright and Somerville well, later spoke of Wright's claims that he was niggled by Somerville as rather hard to believe, commenting: "Somerville and Wright had some sort of exchange but it really wasn't Somerville's go to whip up a bloke like Duncan" (Hansen & Dyer, (1995), p.117).
  9. ^ Somerville was at least 8cm taller than Wright, and 5 kg heavier.
  10. ^ He was 180 cm tall, and weighed 73 kg.the VFL's statistics for Duncan Wright
  11. ^ Geelong eventually won the match, played at Kardinia Park on 20 July 1963 7.13 (55) to Collingwood's 5.13 (43).1963 VFL season#Round 11
  12. ^ Once Lord fell to the ground, players came from everywhere, and a brawl erupted. In the second wave of fighting, Wright smashed the Geelong captain Fred Wooller in the face with a left cross. Wright was reported by the field umpire (who just happened to be Ron Brophy!) for two offences: hitting Alistair Lord with his right fist, and for knocking out Fred Wooller with his left fist. He was found guilty of both offences, and was suspended for a total of eight matches (Hansen & Dyer, (1995), pp.110-111).
  13. ^ Strevens, (2004), p.151.


  • Hansen, B. & Dyer, J., "Ron Brophy, the Larrikin Ump!", pp. 98–121 in Hansen, B. & Dyer, J., The Wild Men of Football, Volume III: If Ya Don't Mind Umpire!, B.E. Hansen, (Mount Waverley), 1995. ISBN 0-646-23042-5
  • Maplestone, M., Flying Higher: History of the Essendon Football Club 1872-1996, Essendon Football Club, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-9591740-2-8
  • Miller, W., Petraitis, V. & Jeremiah, V., The Great John Coleman, Nivar Press, (Cheltenham), 1997. ISBN 0-646-31616-8
  • Ross, J. (ed), 100 Years of Australian Football 1897-1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported, Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN 0-670-86814-0
  • Strevens, S., Bob Rose: A Dignified Life, Allen & Unwin, (Crows Nest), 2004. ISBN 1-74114-465-5

External links