Footy factory in the bush

Headshot of Steve Butler
Steve ButlerThe West Australian

Whether it's the dubious levels of lead in the ground or the genetics linking through home after home, Northampton is a sporting giant among Australia's small towns.

It is almost bizarre to think that this extraordinary football factory could almost have claimed two of the AFL's four major individual awards for this season.

West Coast's Josh Kennedy won the Coleman Medal for the competition's leading goal-kicker, while Carlton's Patrick Cripps was a favourite to take the Rising Star award.

Kennedy's former junior teammate Harry Taylor and one of their childhood idols, Daniel Chick, have both been a part of AFL premiership glory with Geelong and West Coast, respectively.

Add inaugural Eagles defender Andrew Lockyer, Fremantle champion Paul Hasleby, Collingwood 227-gamer Tarkyn Lockyer, Kennedy's current Eagles teammate Jamie Cripps and former North Melbourne midfielder Liam Anthony and you have a small town punching well above its sporting weight.

It was also home to late Eagles legend Chris Mainwaring's mum Leah Cripps and her sister Brenda Parker, whose grandson Aidan was an Adelaide-draftee and is a three-time Subiaco premiership player.

All this and more from the Northampton Football Club, which is geared by a Mid West town of few more than 800 residents and a community that has survived more than its share of adversity.

Club president Colin Suckling laughed that even locals dubbed the town "Little Tasmania" because of its intertwined relationships.

When family members of the compelling football clan were contacted, a palpable spiritual link also extended well beyond the many and varied blood ties.

Kennedy said though he and his family only moved into the town when he was nine, he felt a vibrant, life-long connection to the place where he happily caught tadpoles, rode his bike and played footy as a kid.

"It's a fantastic footy club and a really close community, " Kennedy said. "When Harry and I were coming through as juniors we were always looking up to Daniel Chick and Paul Hasleby.

"Everyone loves getting back there to have a beer, and any chance I can get back there to watch them play, I definitely do.

"It's always great to see Northampton next to someone's name when they're playing AFL."

Locals joke that there must be something in the water.

Mr Suckling reckons it might even relate to the town's lead contamination fears, dating back to the stockpiling of tailings for decades at the Northampton State Battery.

"That's our secret weapon. Don't let it out," Mr Suckling said.

In the local museum, near a picture of the club's 1922 premiership team, many of the historical portraits are captioned with members of the Cripps family.

Larry Cripps, whose son Jack is playing with East Fremantle, proudly produced a family tree that outlines much of the town's football achievement.

But he admits it had to be approved by matriarch Edna Lockyer, who is the mother of Andrew, also grandmother of Tarkyn and herself a former Cripps.

She suggests simply - and selflessly - that a lot of the success can be attributed to the size of what she described as the "Cripps bum".

"We've all got it," she said with a cheeky smile.

Notable former residents away from the sporting field range from long-serving WA premier Sir David Brand to notorious convicted killer Bradley John Murdoch.

The townsfolk also claim locally owned, dual Railway Stakes champion Luckygray. Murray Criddle, a former State transport minister, played 207 games for the Northampton Rams.

Shire president Gordon Wilson - the father of Kennedy's stepfather, who is also named Josh - said the agricultural town mainly now traded on wheat and canola farming, with good fishing from Horrocks Beach to Kalbarri.

"Unlike some towns in WA it's not going backwards. It's moving forward all the time," Mr Wilson said.

"It's always been a resilient town and the people get together when they have to."

When one of Northampton's family businesses, the Woodcock Independent Traders store, was razed in a chemical fire in April, the football club was packed with people wanting to show their support.

With local fishermen Chad Fairley and Mason Carter missing at sea after a prawn fishing trip in late July, their respective brothers Tom and Codie regularly made the 150km round trip from Kalbarri to train and play for the club.

League coach Greg O'Malley said it was typical of the rock-solid support network the club had always provided.

Ironically, the club did not win a Great Northern Football league game this season.

But immediate past president Mick Drage said it had not dented the town's spirit.

"It's the bloody centre of the universe, mate," he boomed. "Well, at least that's what we tell the backpackers who come to work here."

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