A life in footy by Les Everett

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• Coaching Clontarf. Photo Football Development Trust

Percy Johnson died on Saturday 4 December.

He had a notable playing career in the WAFL: 180 games for East Fremantle including the 1957 premiership; 21 games for Swan Districts and 27 for Claremont. He was captain-coach of Swans in 1959, coached South Fremantle in 1977 and West Perth (1978 (4th), 1979 (sacked). The short coaching stints hint perhaps at Percy’s volatility.

He was a very good match caller on radio with 6PR and happy to share his opinions as a TV panel member on Channel 7.

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Giving some advice to members of the media while working for the Dockers: “You nincompoops…” Photo by Les Everett

In 1995 Percy took a step into the AFL as ruck coach with new club Fremantle but he hadn’t been idle after his last senior coaching position with ruck coaching roles at East Fremantle, South Fremantle and Perth. In more recent years he was a coaching mentor at Claremont and Swan Districts.

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MC at the Fight for Freo rally in 1997. Photo by Michael Wearne

Percy grew up in Kalgoorlie. His father Percy snr ran the Hannan’s Brewery and was a life member of the Goldfields Football League. Older brother Jack was a dual premiership player for Kalgoorlie and twice GFL leading goalscorer but Percy, who was schooled in Perth, didn’t play on the Goldfields. 

He did, however, watch local footy keenly when he was home for a weekend or on school holidays. In 1995 I got in touch with Percy while researching for my book Gravel Rash: 100 Years of Goldfields Football, wanting to know some details about local players of the 1950s. He lit up, perhaps in the same way he did whenever talking footy.

“Ron Criddle was a wonderful player for Mines. He was only about five foot eight but played centre-half-back and beat the best of them. He just had a way of positioning himself. And he was a beautiful kick – drop kicks of course.

“Ron Billett played 20-odd games for East Fremantle, you know, and he’d be known as a star of the WAFL if he’d stuck around. And he was a star footballer. It’s just that he played most of his footy on the Goldfields.”

Percy spoke in great detail about others too – idiosyncrasies, kicking styles, ability to avoid trouble or make trouble, similarities to current players. These were players who mostly only played for Mines, Boulder, Railways or Kalgoorlie.

Listeners to Sport FM 93.1 in Perth know what it’s like to listen to Percy Johnson talk about footy. His WAFL summaries on the breakfast program were essential listening – sharp, funny, analytical, critical and empathetic.

Percy was still helping out at Swan Districts this year. He was a relevant part of the WAFL from the day he started at East Fremantle in 1951 until the end of the 2021 season – that’s quite a life in footy.

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Helping out at Swans. Photo by Les Everett

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