Bill Young was the epitome of the classic footballing fairytale – the reluctant bush full-forward who came to the big smoke and became a star.
Young passed away in Sale on March 4 at the age of 88 after a long battle with dementia.
He will always be enshrined as a St Kilda great after topping the League goalkicking list in his debut season. John Coleman is the only other man to achieve that feat.
Young led St Kilda’s goalkicking for five consecutive seasons (1956-1960) and ended his 94-game career with 276 goals.
A frail looking full forward from Stratford who weighed only 73 kgs, he was a prolific goalkicker in country football and a fine all-round sportsman. He once top scored with 54 for a Victorian country XI against the 1954-55 English tourists, and was also an accomplished tennis player and star cyclist.
Many VFL clubs chased him after hearing of the imposing record he built in Gippsland. Young kicked 603 goals in 114 matches, including one monster tally of 26 against the Sale RAAF team.
He was the hero of his town, Stratford, and was constantly chased by clubs in the city. North Melbourne pursued him in 1948, Moorabbin (VFA) in 1951 and South Melbourne and Melbourne in 1953. Melbourne's coach Norm Smith even tried to persuade him to tear up the form he eventually signed with St Kilda.
Like many observers, Young wondered for years whether he was big enough to match it with the burly full backs in the VFL. He finally convinced himself that a League career was possible when he kicked 19 goals in two encounters with former Geelong premiership full back Bruce Morrison, who had just returned to the local comp.
He decided to make the move at the age of 24 and sat out the first two weeks of the 1956 season to fulfil residential qualifications. After three games, many in the press wrote him off as he only had four goals to his name.
But beyond that paltry record was the fact that he had also kicked 17 behinds – an aberration for a man who would subsequently prove to be one of the most accurate kicks in League history.
“I think it was just mental pressure that I created myself more than anything else,” Young told Heroes with Halos some time later.
Young came good in a big way, and as the weeks passed, the goals came more freely.
In a low-scoring era when tough defences ruled, he kept accumulating goals. Young eventually hit the jackpot with an eight-goal haul in a big win over North. Another six came the following week, then a bag of five.
By season’s end, he had 56 goals next to his name and was the VFL’s leading goalkicker.
“He is probably the most accurate kick in football today,” the Herald wrote after naming him recruit of the year.
His coach, Alan Killigrew, told him simply to “play your own game and don’t get bowled over – you are no good to us lying in the ground.”
In each of his first three seasons he kicked exactly 56 goals to run first, second and then third on the overall goalkicking list. With Young in brilliant form with six goals, St Kilda broke through for a Night premiership in 1958.
A change of coach after Killigrew’s departure didn’t help his cause, with new coach Jim Francis and others believing that they needed a bigger man at full-forward.
The tide soon turned when Young’s friend and ex-teammate Allan Jeans, replaced him as senior coach in 1961.
Unfortunately, Young had only one season under Jeans before hamstring injuries took their toll and he retired at the age of 31. After a season coaching Black Rock, he returned to St Kilda as assistant coach to Jeans.
On top of his great club standing, he left behind a legacy as the inventor of the kick for goal that would come to be known as the ‘banana’, ‘checkside’ or ‘boomerang’ kick. He perfected the kick during hours of practice in the paddocks of Gippsland
Richmond’s Blair Campbell was said to have introduced the kick to League footy in the 1960s, but he said he learned it as a young Saints fan watching Billy Young in the 1950s.
All in all, a remarkable sporting career for the man from Stratford.
94 games 276 goals
1956 - 1961
St Kilda Leading Goalkicker: 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960
VFL Leading Goalkicker: 1956
Represented Victoria: 1959
Guernsey number: 15