Bill's vision fulfilled

Richmond Rovers Soccer Club founder Bill Harris at his East Lismore home.
Richmond Rovers Soccer Club founder Bill Harris at his East Lismore home. David Nielsen

BILL HARRIS never thought he’d live to see the day.

In 1960 the local soccer legend capped a record three-peat of premierships as captain-coach of Goonellabah Stars.

This year, Richmond Rovers will look to break that record, exactly 50 years on.

But that isn’t even half the irony.

After claiming the three-peat with Goonellabah in 1960, Irishman Harris, now 76, defected from Stars to create another club – Richmond Rovers.

It was an amicable split, not that the Stars were entirely happy with it.

Harris was more than just first-grade captain-coach; he coached the juniors and was secretary-treasurer of the club.

“They thought I was joking at first,” Harris said.

“I mean, why would you leave such a successful club at the peak of its powers?”

Harris had a vision – to grow the sport in the region.

The club held a vote on whether Harris could leave. It was split 15 votes each way.

“The chairman held the deciding vote and decided to let me go,” he said.

“The boys at Goonellabah thought I was mad, they told me I wouldn’t do any good.”

Harris dragged together a bunch of reserve-graders, coaxed a few out of retirement and set about his mission.

Three years into his tenure at Rovers, Harris’ new team met his former team in the grand final.

“We beat them 6-1,” he said.

“Got a bit of revenge.”

Two years later Harris’ playing career was cut short when his leg was smashed in a horror tackle.

There was a double break in his lower leg; after six months on crutches he was warned by doctors not to play again.

“The saddest part was that I heard the guy intentionally came to get me,” he said.

“Thistles thought if they could take me out they would win the match.”

They did.

Harris coached Rovers for five years before moving into his role as club president.

His proudest moment came when the home ground of the club he started was named Bill Harris Field.

“Not many Irishmen own a bit of Australia,” he said.

“Ned Kelly might be the only other, so I am in pretty good company there.”

Suffering from emphysema, macular degeneration and prostate cancer, Harris has since been forced to resign as club president.

“That was a real kick in the guts,” he said.

“I have been so active up until now; I guess things have finally caught up with me.”

Harris still gets to some Rovers home games, but his failing eyes make it tough.

“I don’t see much but I love the atmosphere,’ he said.

And he vows to be there on grand final day should his brainchild get the chance to better the benchmark he set in his playing prime.

“If Rovers get that fourth premiership I will go to the grave a happy man,” he said.

Richmond Rovers will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a function at the Lismore Workers Club on April 24.