The King is Dead

June 30, 2022 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, LIFE | 4 Comments |

Neil Kerley after the 1973 Grand Final

Neil Kerley (20 February 1934 – 29 June 2022)

Tonight, Saint Jude (the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes) is having dobs with Neil Kerley. ‘Knuckles’ specialised in taking football teams from despair to triumph, or at least respectability. West Adelaide, a good team, could not win Grand Finals. Until Kerley took over and captain-coached the Bloods to the 1961 Premiership in the “The Turkish Bath Grand Final.” South Adelaide, eating its gruel with 1963’s wooden spoon, was talented but clueless. Until Kerley took over and captain-coached the Panthers to the 1964 Premiership.

The Glenelg Tigers had descended more or less to a social club in 1966, finishing stone last. Until Kerley took over in 1967 and dragged the Bays to respectability, and then coached them to the 1973 Premiership in the Greatest Game of Football Ever Played. (He would go on to take struggling West Torrens and Central District to competitive levels and snagged an auld lang syne flag for West in 1983). He was also outstanding playing or coaching for his State, taking on the Big V, always matching and sometimes beating them.)

I liked going to bottom clubs because you started from scratch, you laid the foundation and you tried to build a good house on it.”* And to lay a foundation, you have to use a jackhammer: the first summer training session at the Bay featured ground work and drills and then Kerley said “‘right, now we’ll go down to the beach’. Quite a few of [the players] went for their car keys and I said ‘no, hang on, we’re running’. We ran from about the Broadway area up towards the Brighton Hotel and then we ran all the way back and we came to the Pat. I dived in and swam the Pat and then they all started following…We ran past the treatment works and we came back and it took quite a while for the last ones to arrive back at the ground…so we got rid of about 40 or 50 in the first night.”**

He was tough as teak and occasionally brutal. But if at times he dished it out, he could take it in return, with no complaints. He was a man in the arena, and we think his epitaph might include the famous words of Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Neil “Knuckles” Kerley to leave his hideout to back West Adelaide in SANFL final | The Advertiser

[* Cornwall & Wood, “Pride of the Bay” page 167.] [** Ibid, pages 169-170.]


  1. Reply

    Lyall Pryor

    June 30, 2022

    Very well said.

  2. Reply


    June 30, 2022

    Kerls never lost his charisma. Even into his 80s he exuded physical strength, intellect and fun. For someone who came from a background of minimal education, his capacity to communicate and teach was extraordinary. I believe he was the greatest coach of all time. He would be as successful today as he was during his era. Understanding people, knowing what motivates players, and tactical match planning are skills needed by modern coaches - he had them in spades, and well before his time. More than anyone he had the capacity to speak to a group of players before a game and have the players ready to die for the team. We'll miss you knuckles... Go Panthers - our last premiership captain & coach.

  3. Reply

    Adrian Nippress

    July 1, 2022

    yes well written Peter and Jack. you both had good reasons to reflect fondly of not so much when Sturt would have triumphed in any other Grand Final had Kerl's West no played us in 1983.
    Passionate and successful South Damien NYGAARD giving the Eulogy?

  4. Reply

    Swiss Tony

    July 12, 2022

    He was really unlucky that the Tiges didn't win at least 1 or 2 out of '69, '70, '74 or '75.

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