“A significant intellect”, a “decent man” and a person who pursued outcomes not “factional interests”.
It’s how East Fremantle’s 1985 premiership coach Ron Alexander described his premiership president Harry Morgan.
Morgan who died recently at the age of 91 after a battle with cancer and will be remembered in a memorial service at East Fremantle Oval today, was the man at the helm during the successful period with Alexander as coach in the 1980s.
He was a great manager of change. Club stalwart and long time general manager Bob Uittenbroek remembers Morgan helping him convince the board and supporters of the benefits of changing East Fremantle from Old Easts to The Sharks.
Once Morgan believed in something, Uittenbroek said, he followed through on it.
“I read an article about Harry which was written in 1985. Everything that applied then, applied all the way until the end,” he said.
“I used to have a notebook and when we went somewhere and Harry heard something of value he would say ‘Bob make a note of this’.”
“He was firm. Straight to the point.”
Morgan a successful figure in WA Agriculture and the Consul General to Sweden for 26 years, played five games for Subiaco and had a successful playing and coaching career in Mt Barker but made his football name after succeeding Merv Cowan as East Fremantle president in the early 1980s. He flew to Melbourne to woo Alexander, then winding down his playing career at Fitzroy and also in the crosshairs for a coaching job at East Fremantle’s WAFL rival Perth.
They met at a Melbourne city hotel and Alexander saw a smart man with a plan.
“He had a bit of a presence about him. He was clearly smart but also quite charming,” he said.
“You could tell he had integrity about him. He was an accomplished businessman and an accomplished chairman and he had a sense of decency about him. He built confidence in people by his capacity and by doing real things.”
“I used to have some pretty serious chats with him. The Coach-president relationship was not always a bed of roses. But talks were always productive.”
Alexander took East Fremantle to the 1985 premiership and the 1986 grand final before accepting the job as West Coast’s inaugural coach in 1987.
Morgan went from president to a role on the WA Football Commission to try and steer change as WA football underwent the biggest change in its history and the Eagles entered what was then known as the expanded VFL competition.
Uittenbroek, the general manager of a strong and successful club, joked this week that he “lost the bloody lot” after back to back grand finals. The coach was gone, the President was gone and a chunk of Sharks players were signed by the new club while Peter Wilson headed to Melbourne to join Richmond.
But it was one of East Fremantle’s most significant changes – the switch of the club’s moniker from Old Easts to The Sharks – that he remembers Morgan most fondly for.
Uittenbroek had floated the idea of a change previously with the board but had met strong resistance. He had even liked the name The Sharks after visiting the Cronulla Sharks in Sydney.
When Morgan joined, he tried again.
“When Harry came in – and I had never mentioned the Sharks name to him – I said Harry we need to come to some changes. I wanted to go to the members and the press about changing our name.”
“Harry said ‘great idea – go ahead’. I said ‘what about the board?’. He said ‘I will fix the board’.”
“I went ahead and we had about 600 names come in. No-one mentioned The Sharks. Then a woman from Palmyra sent us a handwritten suggestion “The Sharks”. Everyone had pigeon holes back then and I put a copy of her letter in Harry’s pigeon-hole.”
“The next day he came in and he said: ‘That’s not a bad bloody name’.”
“The rest is history.”
“The way Harry put it (the name change) to the members was brilliant. It was Harry’s forte. He didn’t take any nonsense but he had the capacity to deal with all sorts of people.”
Alexander said Morgan quickly won people’s confidence. The club’s country zone around Geraldton started humming and churned out players like Chris Mainwaring, Murray Wrensted, Clinton Browning and Andrew Lockyer. Club sponsorship jumped tenfold.
“He was a significant intellect in the direction of footy and a significant “player” in football’s direction,” he said.