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John Cooper - The Immortal Swan

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 - 1:30 PM by Matt Ogg

The word ‘Legend’ is often thrown around quite loosely these days, but you’d be spot on if using it to describe Swan Districts champion, John Cooper.

No one could have predicted the impact a bank teller from Manjimup would have had on the club, both on and off the field, when a former Swans Best & Fairest and Team of the Century member was able to lure him to the Swans around 70 years ago.

With interest from other clubs at the time, John could have landed at the Royals, if it wasn’t for South Fremantle’s dominance during that era.

‘The first club to approach me was East Perth’ Cooper said. ‘I did get some casual approaches from West Perth and Claremont too’.

‘I got on well with East Perth. They were a terrific group and my father barracked for them.

‘The club took me to Perth one weekend to watch a game, and they were walloped by South Fremantle, so I started to lose interest in them.

‘My dad had played with and against Jack Murray, who was one of the best ever Swans players to play the game, in my opinion.  Because of that, and the man Jack was, that was what attracted me to the Swans.’

Remembered more so on-field as a tenacious back pocket, Cooper started his career at the Swans as a speedy centre.  His first 10 league games impressed both team mates and umpires alike, polling a Sandover Medal vote in each of them.  Unfortunately, a muscular injury saw him cheering from the sidelines that year, before finishing his rookie season in the twos.

Due to a bone disease in his ankle and knee, along with a change in coaches, he returned to the league side deep in defence, and found his niche in the back pocket.

‘I was good at getting the footy in the middle, but I had Osteomalacia which meant I couldn’t kick too well.  I could kick short accurately, but wasn’t able to drive the ball long like the good players did in that day.’

It was here that John would spend the majority of his 7 playing years in the black and white.

Notching up his 122nd game in a rather unique way, Cooper was forced to hang up the boots midway through the 1958 season, as work commitments and bank postings in the outer suburbs made it difficult to travel to training.

‘I had to catch a bus from Dianella into Perth, a trolley bus to Leederville – where I had to get out and get the mail – and another trolley bus to Mt Hawthorn, just to get to work.’

‘I was getting to training about 6:30pm-7pm and my football went backwards, in my view.

‘I wasn’t going to go out on a bad note so I told the Coach I was done, which was a hard decision.

‘For my final game, I was a reserve for the Reserves at Bassendean.  I sat there for the whole game and never had to go on. Just before it finished, Eric Strauss who was the League Coach at the time, came over and asked if I would be the reserve for him. Because I respected him so much, I said I would do it.  I again sat there all day and never went on.  Although I didn’t play, because of that game I was able to finish on 122 games instead of 121.’

In 1959 he became the Colts Coach at Swan Districts, before a transfer in employment to Boulder the following season saw him leave the club for five years.  During his time in Boulder he was able to win a Premiership as the Captain/Coach of Mines Rovers, and spend time on their committee.

Upon returning to Bassendean, John Cooper would begin more than 40 years of continuous service for both the Swan Districts Football Club and the WAFL, in positions including;  Club President, Honorary Treasurer, Honorary Secretary, WAFC Commissioner and more.

‘When I came back to Perth, I immediately wanted to do something at the Swans and knew I was always going to work for them’ Cooper stated.

‘With the illness I had, I never thought I’d play League footy and I always respected the club for giving me the opportunity.

‘I recognised I was indebted to them and I am very loyal.

‘I had been the Treasurer of the club while I was still playing League football. When I came back to the club I started as the Coach of their under 16s combined side for a month or to then moved into the secretary role for about 4 years, and it went from there.’

A remarkable list of accolades now follows his name, including;

  • Swan Districts Life Membership,
  • WAFL Life Membership,
  • WA Hall of Fame Inductee,
  • National Football League Certificate of Merit,
  • Order of Australia - for services in football and community work,
  • SDFC Hall of Fame Inductee,
  • A stand named after him at Steel Blue Oval, and much more.

Out of all his awards and recognitions of service in and out of the club, it’s obvious to see that John bleeds black and white, holding his achievements with Swan Districts above all other accolades.

There is however, one honour that he cherishes above all others… ‘Marrying Beryl. I truly believe that’ John says.

As only the second Swan to become an Immortal in the Hall of Fame, John is both humbled and thankful by this recognition.

‘It’s a marvellous honour’ he stated.

‘There are a couple ahead of me that should be getting it in my book, but the club have made this decision and I’m going to grab it with both arms.

‘There is no doubt that I share this honour with Beryl. She has supported me totally and I couldn’t have done it without her. That’s the truth’.

It could be argued that no one has ever been more influential to the long term success of the Swan Districts Football Club than John Cooper.

Please join us in thanking him for his extraordinary service to the club, and congratulating him on his induction as an Immortal in the Swan Districts Hall of Fame.

Due to the Coronavirus this event that was going ahead on the 23 May 2020 has had to be postponed.  John along with other HOF inductees will receive their awards at a very special evening in the nearer future.