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Panthers Mourn the loss of "The Whale"

Posted by South Adelaide Football Club on 8 August 2016
Panthers Mourn the loss of "The Whale"

Brian "The Whale" Roberts (centre) contests for a ball against Sturt during his time with the Panthers

South Adelaide is mourning the loss of former star Brian Roberts, who passed away on Saturday aged 70.

Brian was a popular figure around the club and a character that transcended the game everywhere he play.

He will be missed.

Vale The Whale.

Brian Roberts 28/04/45 - 06/08/16

Roberts, a giant of a man, became affectionately known as "The Whale" during his playing days thanks to his enourmous 199cm, 120kg frame. He played an integral role in Australian Rules football in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia and is the only player to have represented all three States. 

Roberts emigrated from the UK, grew up in Millicent, and did not play football until the age of ten. In his late teens he was attracting interest from VFL clubs but new South Adelaide coach Neil Kerley, believed that he could be an asset to the team and travelled to Millicent in 1964 and persuaded Roberts to join the Club . At that stage Roberts was inexperienced and didn't have the timing and skills to play at SANFL League level. 

199 cm ruckmen are common these days, but were few and far between in the 1960's. Kerley realized that Roberts could become a major influence in the SANFL.

He spent the 1964 SANFL season playing in the seconds (reserves) under coach Denis Parham, honing his craft as a ruckman. He became particularly friendly with 1964 Premiership players Dick Jackson, David Kantilla and Gerry O'Brien and attended the team's Grand final celebrations.

Peter Darley's absence with injury in 1965 gave Roberts his opportunity in the league side, rucking with Neil Kerley. At training Kerley, arguably one of the game's most skillful and effective ruckman for his height, would patiently instruct Roberts in the art of ruckwork.

As the 1965 season progressed Roberts was regularly in South's best players. His strengths were his tap ruck work and marking, but was not a super-accurate kick.

He was South's best player in its heartbreaking second semifinal loss to Port Adelaide in '65. Late in the final quarter he had the opportunity to kick a goal which would have put the game out of reach for Port Adelaide, but he was exhausted and "sprayed" the kick.

Port's controversial win with a goal after the final siren has passed into football folklore and still rankles with older South supporters. South went on to lose the preliminary final against an emerging Sturt team when really it should have gone straight into the Grand Final. 

Peter Darley returned to the team in 1966, limiting Roberts' opportunities but he played well enough to be selected to represent SA at the Hobart Carnival.

Roberts who, like Peter Darley, enjoyed a drink and a good social life had played well during the year but was not at his best in South's elimination final loss to North Adelaide.

Kerley left to coach Glenelg in 1967 and Roberts accepted an offer to play with East Fremantle in the WAFL where he played for three years and in 1969 was selected in the WAFL State team.

The Whale in action for Richmond in the mid-70s

VFL Club Richmond had kept in touch with him over the years and eventually enticed him to Victoria where he played from 1971-1975, including the great Richmond teams under legendary coach Tom Hafey and was a Premiership player in 1973 and 1974. He also represented Victoria in interstate games during this period.

Roberts suffered a serious kidney injury after a clash with Carlton's John Nicholls and, in an infamous brawl against Essendon in 1974 at Windy Hill, was "king-hit" by Essendon's  infamous Ron Andrews suffering a broken nose, broken jaw and cut eye. Andrews was suspended for six weeks even though at the tribunal Roberts pretended he didn't remember the incident. There were enough witnesses and video footage to ensure a significant penalty for Andrews.

By 1975 Roberts was out of favour at Richmond and transferred to South Melbourne (now the Sydney Swans) where after playing only 15 games in the season he was runner-up to Gary Dempsey for the Brownlow medal. In the same year he was also awarded the Australian Football Media Association Player of the Year award as a dual winner with Carlton's Alex Jesaulenko.

He quit football at the end of the season after a disagreement with South Melbourne coach Ian Stewart.

Roberts went on to become a well known publican in Melbourne including 16 years managing the Duke of Wellington Hotel in Flinders St, as well as doing football commentary and newspaper columns. He became a   raconteur and all-round good bloke, and has entertained all at  South Adelaide reunions with football anecdotes and "send-ups" of his team-mates
Author: South Adelaide Football Club
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