Albert “Pongo” Sawley
(1935 - 1946)
Albert George "Pongo" Sawley was a tough, uncompromising footballer who was regarded as one of the most skilful players of his era. Originally from the Kensington Football Club, he impressed in the Norwood Reserves as a centre-man early in 1935. He made his league debut against Sturt on a half forward flank in round six and played nine senior matches for the season.
In 1936 he was runner-up in the Reserves Magarey Medal, despite again playing nine league games during the year and winning the league award for "best user of the ball".
Sawley then developed rapidly and in 1937 came equal third in the League Magarey Medal. He also tied with Port Adelaide's Bob Quinn in The Advertiser award, and was named Norwood's best and fairest. Although he travelled to Perth for the 1937 Australian Carnival, he surprisingly returned home without playing a game.
He was outstanding again in 1938, finishing equal sixth in the Magarey Medal voting, and being named Norwood's "best position player" in his role as a centre-man.
A silky footballer, Sawley was highly skilled via hand or foot and stood out particularly for his ground-play and long and accurate drop-kicking. Quick and elusive, he was a clever two-sided player. A true character, he used his loud, booming voice to bark out instructions on the field.
In 1939 he transferred to Victoria in his employment and decided to join St. Kilda in the Victorian Football League. He starred in the pre-season trials, but had his clearance delayed. Sawley had to serve a 13 weeks residential qualification period before he could make his VFL debut, in Round 8. He played 11 games for the Saints, including the preliminary final loss to Collingwood.
Back in Adelaide, he played 15 games in 1940.
Sawley had lost his right index finger when he was only 18 months old, after a backyard childhood stunt went horribly wrong and the finger was severed with an axe. The incident did not stop Sawley enlisting in the Australian Army however, on August 12, 1940.
The following year, playing in the pivot, he was an integral part of Norwood's grand final victory against Sturt : 14.16 to 10.11. He made 19 appearances for the season.
Sawley was one of the leading lights of South Australia's World War II competition (1942-1944). He won the best and fairest award for the Norwood-North Adelaide combination in 1942, playing pre-dominantly as a centre-man, and not missing a game.
In 1943 he captained Norwood-North to a premiership against Port-Torrens. Named as a half-forward flanker, he played a fine game, despite suffering an ankle injury early in the first quarter. Sawley was re-appointed captain in 1944, but decided to retire in late July, before making a comeback just before the finals. He was again named on a half-forward flank in the Grand Final against Port-Torrens, and was one of the best players on the ground.
With the resumption of the league competition in 1945, Sawley played 11 games for the season and was named Norwood's "best forward".
He also qualified for player life membership of the SANFL in 1945.
At the start of the 1946 season he applied for a clearance to Port Adelaide, which was refused by the Norwood Football Club. Sawley then played 11 games for Norwood during the season, including the grand final victory against Port Adelaide. He lined up at centre half forward, in what proved to be his final match of league football.
Outside the game, and like so many footballers of his time, Sawley was a member of the Fire Brigade. He was also an enthusiastic organiser of children's charity picnics.
He passed away in 1983, and was later named on a half-forward flank in Norwood's Team of the Century.
Premierships: 1941, 1946
Club champion: 1937
Further honours: Norwood Player Life Member, Norwood Team of the Century, Norwood-North best and fairest 1942, Norwood-North premiership captain 1943, Norwood-North premiership 1944
R Cialini July 2018