The coaches: Bill Strickland
By: Michael Roberts
Years as coach: 1904 (part), 1908 (part)
Collingwood’s first coach actually filled the role long before he was given the title.
Bill Strickland was an established and highly experienced star of the game when he crossed from Carlton early in Collingwood’s second season. The Magpie were a young and inexperienced bunch, and they thrived under Strickland’s captaincy. This was a time when there were no coaches, so most of the on-field strategy and direction came from the captain. Mid-week preparation was also down to the captain, usually in conjunction with the trainers.
Strickland, as it turned out, was a brilliant skipper – astute, respected, disciplined and inspirational. His leadership played a major role in securing the club’s first Premiership in 1896. He stayed for Collingwood’s first season in the VFL, but hung up the boots at the end of 1897.
Strickland became Collingwood’s first coach when he was appointed to the role midway through 1904. But that was really only formalising a role he had held in one form or another for many years. In the 1896 Grand Final, for example, it was he who had made the key positional move of shifting high-marking defender Jack Monohan to the forward line. It was also Strickland who ordered his charges to ‘take it easy’ in the third quarter of that game in order to save themselves in hot conditions for a final burst. A risky strategy, but it worked.
After he retired, Strickland’s role effectively became that of coach before it was given the name. He was regarded as a ‘general adviser’ or ‘chief adviser’ to the captains that succeeded him, and he frequently delivered stirring addresses. In 1898, Markwell in the Australasian wrote this about the team’s improved form:
“I am strongly of opinion that a very large share of the credit and renown they have secured has been attributable to the active and most intelligent interest still evinced in their behalf by their old and respected leader, W. Strickland. The coaching of his old club’s players is a real labour of love with Strickland, and he has succeeded in imbuing every man amongst them with the earnestness which characterised his own play in seasons past. Strickland it is who gauges the abilities of every Woodsman, senior and recruit, and allots to each his task upon the field. So long as Collingwood’s executive and Collingwood’s players have Strickland at their elbow, so long will the Collingwood Club continue to be a power in the land.”
After John Worrall was appointed Carlton’s coach in 1903, Collingwood followed suit by formalising Strickland’s position during the 1904 season, after the team had found itself struggling. The Pies regained ground under Strickland’s control, with the Australasian noting in September how much the team had improved in just a month “under the experienced guidance and advice of W Strickland”. The team eventually finished third.
But Strickland had had enough. By now he was involved with the game at a high official level (he would soon be a part of the Australasian Football Council), and his time was at a premium. Interestingly the coaches appointed to follow him were all playing coaches, until Jock McHale retired.
But Bill Strickland had one last, unexpected hurrah as a coach. In 1908, with Ted Rowell struggling to combine coaching with an injury-interrupted onfield role, he returned to coaching in the latter stages of the season to once again help out the club he loved – despite a schedule already overloaded by his role in helping to organise the first ever Australasian Football Carnival.
Bill Strickland was admired and respected by everyone he came into contact with, not just at Collingwood but also in football generally. He played a crucial, yet undervalued, role in transforming Collingwood from a fledgling club just finding its way to one of the first powerhouses of the VFL. And as a coach before his time he had a huge influence on our early successes. He was a giant of his time.