To those who had been associated with the SAAFL over the last half of the 20th century, the name of Frank (‘Sandy’) Cockburn was synonymous with amateur football. His association with Semaphore Central began in 1951 as a player-cum-trainer, and continued up until 1955 when he became the Club’s Trainer.
The relationship between ‘Sandy’ and the Adelaide University Football Club began in 1962 when he started what was to become an annual pilgrimage to the Club during September – Finals time.
In another rare acknowledgement, ‘Sandy’ was made an Honorary Member of the Sports Association in the 1960’s for services to this Club.
Whenever Semaphore Central was not participating in the Finals, ‘Sandy’ would appear at the University Oval ready to assist ‘the Blacks’ in the quest for a Premiership. If ‘the Blacks’ were not playing in the Finals, ‘Sandy’ would also assist Teachers College, Riverside or Kilburn during Finals, such was his passion for the game.
The relationship between Semaphore Central and Adelaide University was never more evident than the affection ‘Sandy’ had for the two clubs. He was a regular attendee at Annual Dinners and a popular figure at the Club.
It was therefore no surprise, bearing in mind his relationship with both amateur football and the Adelaide University Football Club, that ‘Sandy’ opted to join ‘the Blacks’ in 1979. This was the time that Semaphore Central amalgamated with Exeter and entered the newly formed South Australian Football Association.
‘Sandy’ was with the Club from that time up until his untimely death in early 1994. That gave ‘Sandy’ 15 years service with ‘the Blacks’, following a distinguished record of 27 years with Semaphore Central. He is a Life Member of ‘Centrals’ and on more than one occasion has won the Best Club Man Trophy presented by Adelaide University Football Club to Semaphore Central.
The ‘Sandy’ Cockburn Shield was struck by Semaphore Central for competition between Adelaide University and itself. In recent years this shield has been competed for in Division 1 games between ‘the Blacks’ and Port District.
‘Sandy’ was the Trainer for the State Amateur side from 1961 to 1993 and was the All-Australian Trainer in 1962, 1965, 1968, 1974, 1979, 1985, 1988 and 1989. In recognition of this impressive record he was awarded Certificates of Merit from the SAAFL in 1977 and from the NFL in 1978 for services to amateur football.
In 1984 he was awarded Life Membership of the SAAFL. In addition, ‘Sandy’ was awarded Club Letters in 1985 for his outstanding efforts as a Trainer with ‘the Blacks’.
A colourful personality around the Club, ‘Sandy’ was always willing to assist in anyway and spent many hours treating the injuries of the Club’s 200 to 250 players without complaint. Younger or more naive members of the Club were amazed at his repertoire of stories about racing tadpoles, tabby derbies, hurdling trotters and the feats of his wonder dog, all told as only ‘Sandy’ could.
‘Sandy’ was an avid player of Cross Lotto and organised syndicates with his select band of players. The call of “three plus a sub” would often greet members on Thursday nights, but stories of big payouts were scarce.
In an interview for the 75th Year Book in 1981, ‘Sandy’ rated J.F. (‘Jack’) Sangster, J.K.A. (‘Wimpy’) McLeod, B.M. (‘Boomer’) Seppelt and A.R. (‘Doc’) Clarkson as the outstanding players he had seen in his 25 year association with University football.
Away from football ‘Sandy’ had a variety of interests, including rowing and swimming. He played wing for the Port Adelaide Rugby Club, was elected a Life Member of the Henley and Grange Swimming Club and supported the Port Adelaide Rowing Club, with whom he was a very competent oarsman between 1947 and 1954.
‘Sandy’ was also a timekeeper of note in the past, filling that position at the Perth Commonwealth Games in 1962. Only difficulties obtaining leave from work prevented him from timekeeping at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
‘Sandy’ Cockburn was a very popular nomination for an Honorary Life Member of the Adelaide University Football Club in 1987. As Kevin Griffiths reflected on his association with ‘the Blacks’, “the selflessness of ‘Sandy’ Cockburn and his Green Ginger wine (amongst other things) was truly outstanding”.
His memory lives on, with a tribute in the change rooms which consists of a cabinet filled with photographs of ‘Sandy’ and other Cockburn memorabilia. It is probably true ‘Sandy’ spent more time in these change rooms than almost every ‘Blacks’ player.