By Andrew Paloczi
Neil Kellett’s imminent induction into the SFNL Hall of Fame recognises his extensive contribution to the League and at club level.
Most in the SFNL community know him as Ned.
A schoolmate tied Kellett to Australia’s most notorious bushranger.
As a youngster, Kellett worked in a newsagency and used to “borrow” items that he then sold at school.
This form of entrepreneurship and the similarity of Neil Kellett and Ned Kelly ensured the nickname stuck.
Yet, Kellett went on to help keep kids on the straight and narrow through his position as team manager at Jordanville YCW.
This role required him to manage various underage footy teams from 1972.
Kellett explains how he came to be involved in a club that gave kids a sense of purpose.
“Well a bloke by the name of Mick Sheridan asked me to help him out, to help the kids out. Because in the neighbourhood then there wasn’t much around.”
Unlike many in the SFNL Hall of Fame, Kellett didn’t have a lengthy or decorated playing career.
He played at Jordanville YCW and briefly at Ashburton, but it was administrative posts in which he excelled.
What he describes as “a sort of amalgamation” between Jordanville YCW and Burwood Football Club resulted in Kellett becoming secretary at Burwood.
That was in 1976 and he was in that position until after Burwood’s 1979 premiership.
Kellett moved into the role of Burwood President ahead of the 1980 season.
It was an early sign of his strength of character as a leader when Kellett took drastic action to deal with a financial crisis at the club.
Burwood’s recent onfield success was offset by an imposing $13,000 debt.
That was a vast sum of money in that era and Kellett could see only one way to adequately address the matter.
“So we put the club into recess and then we managed to pay all the money back the following year.”
Burwood did not play in 1980.
Although President of a dormant club, Kellett remained active, working to wipe out the debt and to ensure Burwood would have a team upon its return to competition.
Burwood’s players were distributed amongst other clubs for the 1980 season.
Kellett made it clear to these players and their new clubs his expectation they would be transferred back to Burwood for the 1981 season.
His bingo calling ability played a significant part in fundraising, even if the league was less than keen on a ‘dormant’ club continuing to run bingo.
Yet, the income generated by bingo was a major factor in Burwood paying back its debts and resuming its place on the field in 1981.
Although it only remained as a club in its own right until the end of the 1984 season, Burwood is an important part of the Kellett story.
He was instrumental in a merger between Burwood and Essex Heights footy clubs that spawned the birth of Ashwood Football Club.
The new club took to the field in 1985 after Kellett persuaded members of the Burwood Football Club to accept the Ashwood name.
His initial intention was to call the merged club Burwood Heights, but it became apparent the members of Essex Heights Football Club would not accept this.
Kellett is now pleased the Ashwood name was chosen.
It has come to mean a lot to him since he assumed the vice presidency of the new entity in its inaugural season.
One vision Kellett had in mind at the time of the merger was the creation of club social rooms with a liquor licence.
This wasn’t viable in the Burwood days as that club was situated in a dry area.
The social rooms came to fruition in 1990, and required the negotiation of a $100,000 bank loan and some persuasion to get the local council onside.
Kellett’s renditions of Billy Joel’s Piano Man were to become a feature of club gatherings in the social rooms.
The star performer happily concedes Bacardi rum played its part in his act.
It was one Friday night after the 1995 season, sitting and enjoying a beverage, that Kellett got an inkling of underlying issues at Ashwood.
“Things aren’t travelling too well here,” is how he sums up his feelings at the time.
By then he was no longer in an official position at Ashwood and had gained valuable knowledge from time spent on the SFL board, which he joined in 1992.
However, what Kellett heard at that Friday night Ashwood gathering and at the club’s subsequent AGM compelled him to again become involved in the running of the club.
A debt of $19,000 was announced.
Needless to say, someone suggested he run for the club presidency, a role he had filled between 1988 and 1989.
Kellett indicated he was unwilling to do so, but would become social secretary if given control of running the bar and managing ordering and finances.
It didn’t take him long to discover the club owed far more than he had been told.
At a subsequent committee meeting, the then President was absent and people began to talk about many previously unmentioned debts.
It was soon revealed the true extent of the debt was a whopping $47,000.
It is not difficult to guess who stepped up to help Ashwood out in this period of crisis.
Kellett took on the presidency in 1996 and adopted a firm approach to stabilise the club.
He explains how he laid down the law to get things on track.
“I said to all the committee people and everybody involved in the joint, this is how we’re going to operate, my way or the highway. Nobody gets paid except the coach and everybody works.”
Kellett negotiated payment arrangements with all those to whom the club owed money.
Surprisingly, not only did all the players stick around, Ashwood won the 1996 flag.
The debt was repaid within a couple of years.
Another administrative highlight for Kellett was helping establish the Ashwood Sports Club in 2005.
This involved uniting the Ashwood Football Club with the Ashwood Cricket Club, in order to achieve greater administrative efficiency.
The Ashwood Sports Club now encompasses not only football and cricket, but also basketball and netball.
Kellett was President of the Ashwood Sports Club from 2006 to 2013.
He then became a member of the Football Sub-Committee, “structuring the footy department”.
Kellett still helps out around the club, but no longer holds an administrative position, but in the words of Ashwood’s Jean-Paul Lefebure is still “working in the background”.
Lefebure is asked for his thoughts when he learned of Kellett’s Hall of Fame induction.
“My first thoughts were ‘about time’. He’s been a great servant of not just Ashwood and Burwood, but also the Southern Football Netball League,” he says.
Kellett has previously been honoured with Life Membership of both clubs, and is also an SFNL Life Member.
Congratulations Neil Kellett on this arguably belated, but much deserved Hall of Fame induction.