A talented young follower who did not reach his full potential with Norwood, Tom Coombe moved to Perth where he developed a chain of movie palaces. He was knighted in 1924 for services to the community through wartime charity and scholarships for secondary schoolchildren.
Tom was born at Melrose on 3 December 1873 and spent his early years at Broken Hill, where his Cornish-born merchant father, also Tom, built the Australian Club Hotel and was the city's third mayor. Young Tom attended the Thomas Caterer School, Norwood, Hahndorf College and Prince Alfred College, where he was captain of cricket and football. In 1891 he led the football team to a famous victory over St Peter's College when it wiped out a 1-goal-to-5 deficit in the last 25 minutes.
Tom made his Norwood debut in May 1892 and celebrated a 15.16 to 1.2 demolition of Adelaide. In August, The Adelaide Observer noted that Coombe's fine play against Port Adelaide "showed that it was a mistake leaving him out of the team the previous week". That same month he was in the Norwood team which defeated Broken Hill, the first NSW team to play in Adelaide, 7.7 to 3.5. He shone in September as Norwood defeated the premier team, South Adelaide, 8.7 to 5.9 .
Tom returned to Broken Hill in 1893 and was a prominent player there alongside future Norwood men Jack 'Squeaker' Cullen and Billy Elsdon.
Back at Norwood in 1894, he was in and out of the senior team. After Norwood decided not to make its players available to play against Victoria because they would not have first-class rail travel to Melbourne, Tom and his clubmates dominated the SA Football Association second team which defeated Yorke Peninsula 5.1 to 4.5 at Adelaide Oval in May. Tom unluckily missed selection for the end-of-season matches against Port and South which clinched the premiership for Norwood.
He began the 1895 season with Norwood against the Natives, a new team soon to become West Torrens. Also in May, he took part in Norwood's financially disastrous visit to Melbourne, where it lost to Melbourne, beat Essendon and drew with Collingwood. On his return he joined the exodus to the Golden West of a host of Norwood players - 'Tack' Metherell, Ted Hantke, Jim Mullaney, Jim Polglase, Jack Cullen, Charlie Atkins and Os Bertram.
Tom enjoyed premiership success in 1897, his second season with West Perth, as the unconquered red-and-blues ended Fremantle's 10-year reign and claimed their first flag. He also played cricket for WA, including one first-class match against SA. He pulled on his football boots again to play under Billy Elsdon for The Rest of Australia against Victoria in a veterans' charity match in Perth in 1915.
Tom initially worked in the family timber business in WA. He opened a sports store and later, assisted by his brother James, built movie houses and was a director of Union Theatres.
Sir Thomas Coombe retired to Adelaide in 1938 and was involved in the building of West's Theatre, Hindley Street. He spent his last years in England, dying at Epsom, Surrey, on 22 July 1959. Twice married, he had six children. A daughter, 'Carol' Coombe, appeared in Hollywood films.
P Robins July 2017
Further reading: J. H. M. Honniball, 'Coombe, Sir Thomas Melrose (1873–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coombe-sir-thomas-melrose-12856/text23213, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 7 July 2017.