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RPO83 01-08-2005 06:29 AM

Football and Ford Forge 80-Year Association
 
(Thanks to Geelong Football Club historian, Russell Stephens, for this story on the links between the club and Ford since 1925)

In 2005 Geelong Football Club is honouring the 80th anniversary of its links with Ford Motor Company in Australia. When Ford began its Australian operations in Geelong to build the Model T in 1925, it also began a special relationship with the Geelong community and the Geelong Football Club which is maintained to this very day.

It was a period when many Australians were living in remote rural areas and anxious to find a better means of travelling long distances. The Model T was their answer, brilliantly engineered, cheap to run, durable and 'any colour as long as it's black'.

As the popularity of the Ford models increased so did the size of the company. The factory moved from humble beginnings in the old Dalgety's wool store in Geelong to larger premises at Corio.

The year 1925 was important for another reason -- the sporting achievements of the Geelong Football Club which celebrated with thousands of supporters their win of the club's first Victorian Football League Premiership. The Geelong Advertiser, in its 1925 July 4 issue, recognised both events with a cartoon, aptly describing the beginning of what was to be a long and successful relationship between both organisations. A Model T Ford was depicted with the Geelong "Cat" in the driver's seat and Mr Football as a passenger (see attached image). The caption read:

"Putting Geelong on the map -- two big 'F's' - (Football and Fords)"

When Ford first started manufacturing in 1925, a firm relationship had already begun when the company's first managing director, Mr Hubert French, lived at Barwon Heads, as did a new friend of his, Jack Jennings. Football was often discussed between Jennings, a keen football supporter, and Mr French, an American keen to learn about the game. Destiny was to play its part as Jack went on to be the club's longest serving president of 26 years, during which time the club won premierships in the years of 1951, 1952 and 1963.

From those early days, Ford Australia developed a 'company citizen' interest in the City of Geelong as a major employer. This citizenship interest was something that took its natural course from 1925, when over the years numerous American and Canadian executives visiting Ford would invariably watch the Geelong team in action and become keen supporters. They enjoyed the skill and physical clashes of Australian Rules Football.

During World War II the company encouraged employees to participate in football. They made contact with American servicemen and formed a game that became known as "Austas". Half Grid Iron and half Australian Rules, the game featured a pointed ball which the Americans threw and the Australians kicked. The Americans could usually throw it as far as the Australians could kick it. Games were played at Corio Oval. For a period, the game proved popular with often 3000 to 4000 spectators in attendance.

Over the years many Geelong footballers have worked at Ford Motor Company in varying capacities, maintaining the links between the two companies. The ranks of Ford employees have included premiership players such as Joe Sellwood, Tommy Quinn, Tom Arklay, Fred Hawking, Bob Davis, Neil Trezise, Syd Tate, Bert Worner, Russell Middlemiss, Bill Goggin, John Yeates, Paul Vinar and Hugh Routley.

Along the way senior executives from Ford have provided expertise at the club's board level along with countless others as players, trainers, and committee members. Ford has been possibly the most prolific employer of Geelong people since 1925, including the years spanning the depression and World War II. Many families have been involved with the company all of their working lives, providing them with employment stability and a springboard for community involvement.

It was during the early 1950s that Ford became a more direct sponsor of the club with the posting of English-born executive Mr Charles Smith to Ford Australia. Mr Smith had migrated to Canada as a young man, joined Ford in 1927 as a sales clerk in Regina Saskatchewan, and had risen through the ranks to become the Managing Director of Ford South Africa. In Australia, he immediately became interested in the Geelong Football Club with a subsequent commitment to provide Ford vehicles for recruiting purposes and the development of a stronger business relationship.

Today Ford is the major sponsor of GFC. There is no doubt that Ford has been a prime factor in providing stability to the club over the years. Charles Smith, the catalyst of this relationship, enjoyed every minute of his involvement with the club. His praise and hospitality extended to a dinner at the Carlton Hotel celebrating the 1952 premiership victory. Smith said in his speech to the gathering:

"They [Geelong Football Club and the team] had brought distinction to the city, making their achievements known far and wide, and having proved themselves on the field, they could be champions in any walk of life if they applied themselves to the task.

"It was not always possible to be champions on the field, but they could achieve that status in everyday life by applying to it the diligence that had marked their performance in football."

He said the team was "the best he ever wanted to see." The club had made history by winning two successive premierships and he looked forward to another one next year. He congratulated the team on behalf of the Ford organisation and the citizens of Geelong.

Charles Smith, respected by those who knew him, was awarded a Life Membership of the Geelong Football Club, an award he treasured. This was an example of the goodwill that existed between Ford Motor Company and the Geelong Football Club, from the early days of Hubert French, and strengthened with Charles Smith's involvement during the 1950`s.

This relationship has continued over the years characterised by the building of the Ford Stand at the Geelong home ground and the signing of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements, marking some of the biggest Victorian AFL sponsorships in the history of the game.

GFC Chief Executive, Brian Cook, would no doubt advocate from his involvement with Ford that "when things get tough the tough get going" as the company has also supported the club through times of need.

There could not be a more enduring relationship and a greater team than the Ford Motor Company and the Geelong Football Club, which in itself has a proud history dating back to its founding year of 1859. They are both an integral part of Geelong, which is known as Ford and 'Cat' country! The bond has remained strong over the years since 1925 and there is every indication it will be just as strong in another 100 years

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