Les Twentyman coaching Yarraville in the VFA

Les coaching Yarraville in the VFA

Les Twentyman: A Sporting Chance

Footy Features | 3 comments

Melbourne Captain Max Gawn with Les Twentyman at the Brighton Rotary Night of Stars.

Legendary youth worker and community activist Les Twentyman OAM is a true Son of the West. The 2004 Australian of the Year finalist understands more than most how sport laces together the layers of society. He has exclusively written about his sporting journey for 4Quarters magazine.

“Sport has always played a significant part in my life.

In particular, Australian Rules Football, through which I have built lifelong connections with people who still remain important in my life today.

Connection is the power of sport, whether that’s playing, coaching, or supporting. It brings us together, connecting us all – no matter our backgrounds. It is something I have never forgotten in my work with kids.

Whether it is organising a footy match between local police and local kids known to find some trouble. Having 500 kids come and shoot hoops each week for the Les Twentyman Foundation’s 96ers basketball team. Or simply giving a group of kids an experience at the ‘G’.

Through sport we learn about the value of teamwork, discipline, creating special moments, bringing positive role models into our lives and, above all, connection. That is critical when we are talking about kids who are feeling separated from the society in which they live.

Connection is the power of sport, whether that’s playing, coaching, or supporting.

I know because I was one of those kids, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Braybrook in Melbourne’s west, which was a tough place to live. But I always had footy. Whether that was being captain of the school team, playing and coaching premierships for Albion (next photo, Les front row, with ball) and even a stint coaching Yarraville in the VFA.

I was even invited for a training run at my beloved Footscray (Western Bulldogs) and was running around the Western Oval with the great John Schultz and Georgie Bissett. John was a wonderful man, and I was a skinny 16-year-old kid. He said ‘Les, I will look after you’.

When he had the ball, I started calling out ‘Mr Schultz… Mr Schultz…’ and he came over and said ‘Les, for Christ’s sake, call me John.’

I then had one of the best times of my life captaining Williamstown in the U19s and took great pride in my nickname of ‘Oscar’ as I was wonderful stager for a free kick.

Barring a broken leg, who knows, maybe I could have been one of those fabled stars at the Western Oval – that is one the great things about being a kid – having a dream.

Something I know from decades of working with kids in need: they have no dreams, only a life that is a living nightmare. This is where sport can play such a key role in the life of a young person, when you enter a sporting field, it does not matter your background, all that matters is that you are willing to get out there and give your all for the team.

It gives you something to look forward to every week and opens opportunities in all aspects of life. Through our Les Twentyman Foundation basketball program, for example, we have had 28 kids go on to earn scholarships playing College ball in the US.

“Something I know from decades of working with kids in need, they have   no dreams, only a life that is a living nightmare..

Connections I have built through football have allowed me to help thousands of children in need, with the Western Bulldogs playing a critical role in the community good that the Les Twentyman Foundation has been able to achieve.

Right from the beginning of my work with kids we had a footy theme, and back in 1984 when Ron Coleman (editor of the Western Times and passionate Doggies fan) and I started the foundation we called it the 20th Man Fund – named after that infamous position for any aspiring young footballer.

My relationship with Foundation Chair Dr. David Young (a world leading orthopaedic surgeon who has repaired nearly every well-known knee in the sporting world) came through the Bulldogs. David was honoured by the people of Sri Lanka with the Presidential Award for building a National Trauma Service in the nation.

Les Twentyman coaching Yarraville in the VFA

Our Back to School program, which has helped over ten thousand kids stay in school, started with a chat in the changerooms post-game at the Western Oval.

The club has since become a drop off point for much needed school supplies for kids in need. The club also played a role in the building of a youth refuge with the support of former President David Smorgon. Then there is the Bulldogs number one ticket holder, Alan Johnstone, whose ongoing support in helping children is incalculable. An extraordinary man who donated the building from where the Les Twentyman Foundation operates.

Football clubs are much more than places in which we play sport, they are places in which we come together as a community – which is why we all fought so hard to save the Footscray Football Club during fightback in 1989.

Courtesy: The Age

“The West without the Bulldogs is not the west.”

The west without the Bulldogs is not the west. But in 1989 we nearly lost it all when the then VFL, under Ross Oakley, made the decision that our time was up. They wanted us to merge with Fitzroy and play under the Fitzroy colours, coach, captain and administration.

I remember the night the news broke; I was travelling in a car with former Collingwood captain Wayne Richardson who had given me the heads up that the Dogs were done for. That prompted a call from me to then Bulldogs General Manager Denis Galimberti, who said he would keep his ears open that night at the Bulldogs Best and Fairest. And good thing he did. He overheard a couple of conversations at the dinner and then broke the news on 3AW that night.

The next morning nobody knew what to do and a group of around 300 fans came together out front of the footy club. Then the media arrived. I said ‘let’s make our stand here’, and I just started yelling that the ‘VFL has absconded with our club in the dark of the night’ and the media picked up on the vibe.

From there the west rose and 10,000 turned up at the Western Oval on the Sunday. Peter Gordon and Dennis Galimberti worked the legal angles, Irene Chatfield risked all she owned, and as a community we stopped Oakley in his tracks and the club was saved.

It showed how much the club meant to the people of the west. I can remember pensioners handing me their pension cheques, they would rather go without food than the club. That is why I say sport is so much more than sport, it is about a community coming together, uniting no matter where we are from and let’s hope as the world continues to change that the community connection that sport brings is not lost.”

Les Twentyman (OAM) is a Veteran youth worker and founder of the Les Twentyman Foundation.

Les with Western Bulldogs #1 ticket holder Alan Johnstone.

Les with the Les Twentyman Foundation CEO Paul Burke (sitting), Chair Dr David Young (behind Les) and Vice-Chair Chris Byrne.

PRIDE & PEPPORONI: Les believes positive intervention equals positive outcomes for our at-risk youth…and pizza.

1960 Brownlow Medallist John Schultz

Alan John Schultz joined Footscray from Boort in 1958. He was supreme ruckman acclaimed for good tackling, elegant marking and hard, fair bumping. He was also durable and played a club record 169 consecutive games.

Two Footscray greats: Schultz with current club captain Marcus Bontempelli on the ‘G after the Dogs 2016 Grand Final victory. Schultz won the 1960 Brownlow Medal and played in the 1961 decider the Dogs lost to the Hawks.

Schultz played 188 games with Footscray during the Ted Whitten era and was Mr Football’s vice-captain for several years. He was voted the Bulldogs’ best and fairest player five times.