Where are they now? Greg Wilkinson

By Ron Head

If a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity in football, and, as in the case of Subiaco and State defender Greg Wilkinson, a player's career can undergo a complete transformation.

A diminutive knee high to a grasshopper back pocket player minding the resting rovers for Old Scotch Amateurs thirds side, Wilkinson experienced a growth spurt, and a year later, although still in a back pocket, was on the resting ruckmen in the first eighteen.

The physical changes were accompanied by a marked improvement in ability, and Greg's inclusion in the State Amateurs team for the Australian Carnival, was to lead to a carnival fairest and best award and selection in the All Australian team. 

It also led to his phone running hot, with enquiries from league clubs in three States as to his future intentions. Although I had a lot of communication from other clubs, the one I was tied to, Claremont, didn't show much interest at all initially, he recalled. It was therefore galling to find himself in limbo when, after deciding on Subiaco, he found himself embroiled in a clearance wrangle when the Tigers refused a clearance.

His decision to join the struggling Subiaco would have surprised many, not the least Claremont, who were riding high at the time, with a flag in 1981 and runners up in 1982. I enjoyed the place as soon as I walked in the gate, Greg told Footygoss. Everyone was friendly, the camaraderie was great, and I felt part of a group who wanted to move forward.  

Another motivation was my age, he added. I heard a comment that at twenty-two I was too old to be starting out on a league career, and that fired me up.

Wilkinson was eventually cleared when a deal was struck between Swan Districts, Subiaco, and Claremont, which involved the transfer of Subiaco player Ken Marshall to the black and whites, and he made his league debut in 1983.

The player who had been a six foot four centreman in the amateur competition the previous season soon became a valuable cog in Subiaco's long and arduous climb up the ladder. 

We had won one game in 1982, improved by one in 83, then picked up four in 84,” he said.

Wilkinson was in a back pocket for Western Australia in their memorable one point win at Football Park in Adelaide, when they prevailed over South Australia. That was completely out of the blue, Greg said. I was at training one night when someone came into the club and said:  You're in the State side. I had no idea I was in the frame for selection, but jumped at the opportunity. He went on to represent Western Australia four times.

In 1985 a determined Subiaco played off in the grand final, losing to East Fremantle by five points, before going one better the following year, with a sixty nine point margin in a revenge defeat of the same side. 

Greg Wilkinson enjoyed probably his best year in 1987, winning the club fairest and best award playing at centre half back, and the twenty six year old had plenty to look forward to, the climb from the depths complete and now captaining one of the WAFL's power sides. 

His playing tenure as captain ranks among the shortest on record.

In the first game of the 1988 season, Wilkinson wrecked his knee, a fractured dislocation requiring two operations, leaving a pronounced limp as a lasting legacy. Subiaco went on to win another premiership that year, but the captain was in the grandstand.

In the two decades since his retirement from football, Greg Wilkinson hasn't moved far from Subiaco Oval, his vet practice, Subiaco Veterinary Hospital, just an Austin Robertson torpedo away.  A keen surfer, who enjoys a round of golf at Cottesloe Golf Club, he can often be spotted in the outer at Subiaco games. Two boys, Jeremy and Lucas, have played football with Scotch College and Swanbourne Tigers. 

Phil Bradmore, Steven Kernahan and Brian Peake head his list of tough opponents, while Neil Taylor, Dwayne Lamb, Laurie Keane, Phil Scott, and Mark Zanotti were among many fine team mates.

Greg Wilkinson was one of many top amateur players to wear the maroon and gold. I have often wondered why there hasn't been more recruitment across the league from amateur ranks, he said. There were many very good players that I played with and against who would have made it, most around my age. I was regarded as too old at twenty two, but at that age you've played a bit, have a mature body, and are fired up to prove yourself. There were many my age who'd been in the league system for five or six years and seemed stale.

He also had a word about the on field relationship between players and umpires. The game seems to have been sanitised too much. There used to be some characters among both players and umpires, when there were less officials, and they would get to know each other. The banter was part of the territory, as was the barracking and sledging between opposition spectators. It's a part of the game that's missed.

Greg Wilkinson's career ended when he was at his peak, having made a hundred and eighteen appearances. But for injury he could have become a two hundred game player and an all time great for the Subiaco Football Club. As it was, his contributions to the club were integral to their ultimate success and the force it was later to become.

His decision in 1983 turned out to be a wise one, and he would certainly have no regrets. 

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