King’s Collegian, 1957: “The abiding memory of 18 seasons is the imprint of the fire and enthusiasm of the coach on his teams: dynamic forwards, supplying the ball to backs who still believed in running and passing rather than kicking; defenders really flinching at a tackle; players at peak fitness; and a general “do or die” attitude which is the great strength of King’s football. Here was rugby football at its finniest.”
Geoffrey Greenbank was the principal of King’s College from 1947-1973. Such was the grip that Greenbank had over the College, patriarch would be a more fitting title. The above extract could well have been written by ‘G’ himself, after all he did organise his own farewell, rehearsing it extensively! A combination of brilliance, eccentricity and fear were hallmarks of his leadership – a leadership that had a profound impact on the First XV. Coach from 1940-1957, Greenbank presided over King’s most successful era, groomed some fine talent, but probably left others scarred for life!
Geoffrey Noel Townshend Greenbank was born in 1906. He attended country schools, “often the only white boy” he claimed, before boarding “unhappily” at Whangarei Boys’ High School from 1919-1923. While at Teachers College in Auckland he gained a degree in mathematics and a hockey blue. He had a year as a probationary teacher and spent over two years working in primary schools. In 1928, Greenbank left New Zealand to attend Cambridge University. Despite a fine reference from Gordon Coates, Prime Minster 1925-1928, inadequate maths skills and financial difficulties resulted in a “pass degree, the equivalent of a failure.”
However the Dean of Fitzwilliam took a shine to Greenbank and provided him with a lifeline. From September 1931 to July 1936 Greenbank was appointed as a teacher at Seaford College in Sussex. A small private school, Greenbank proved to be an “enjoyable and original Maths teacher” and energetic and successful hockey coach, gaining confidence in an environment similar to that at King’s, as well as his nickname. In October 1936 Greenbank returned to New Zealand and began teaching at King’s. It was his ability to survive against the odds and constant commitment to the school that saw Greenbank rapidly rise through the ranks. In 1940 he became a Housemaster and First XV coach. In 1947, despite his modest academic record, he defeated 44 other applicants in a four month fight to become the school’s Headmaster. He would hold the title for 26 years and leave a huge impression!
King’s Improvement Under Greenbank
Matches against Auckland Grammar, Mount Albert Grammar, Wanganui Collegiate, Sacred Heart and Hamilton Boys’ were the biggest tests of the season for King’s during the Greenbank era. The following tables illustrate the improvement of King’s under Greenbank. The first table shows the record against each of those schools in the 18 years prior to Greenbank’s coaching. The second table shows Greenbank’s record. It should be noted in 1950 Mr Lewis coached the team, his figures are not included. The 1950 First XV won five, lost six and drew three games. From 1958-1973 King’s won a further four 1A championships meaning Greenbank saw nine in his time at the College.
- Auckland Champions: 1927, 1928
- Biggest Win: 21-5, Sacred Heart College, 1928
- Biggest Defeat: 0-33, Auckland Grammar School, 1934
- Winning Percentage: 41%
|Auckland Grammar School||35||13||20||2|
|Mount Albert Grammar School||35||13||18||4|
|Sacred Heart College||35||19||15||1|
|Hamilton Boys High School||1||0||0||1|
- Auckland Champions: 1946, 1948, 1952, 1955, 1956
- Biggest Win: 37-3, Mount Albert Grammar School, 1955
- Biggest Defeat: 0-36, Auckland Grammar School, 1942
- Winning Percentage: 58%
|Auckland Grammar School||33||14||18||1|
|Mount Albert Grammar School||27||17||9||1|
|Sacred Heart College||30||15||13||2|
|Hamilton Boys’ High School||13||11||1||1|
Season By Season Record
Note: Ironically Greenbank is the only coach to have an unbeaten team and a winless team. In his first three years King’s only won 11 of 41 games. In his last three years they only lost 4 of 38. In 1952, 1955 and 1956 the team was unbeaten at home!
1940: v Technical – Won: 27-3
The first victory Greenbank achieved saw a star winger Richard Moore, the “best winger in secondary school football,” score three tries. Moore, Head Boy and senior athletics champion, had his career cut short by serving in World War II. He was later a farmer. Evidently Captain Frank Coleman, three years in the First XV, was the school’s boxing and shooting champion and was in the cricket First XI. Coleman retired in Gisborne after being wounded in Italy during the War.
1941: v Auckland Grammar School – Won: 6-0
Greenbank‘s first victory against Auckland Grammar was a “triumph for King’s tackling.” Halfback Derek Darrow and winger Robert Allen scored tries. For King’s it was their first victory in five matches since 1938, in three of those games they failed to score a single point!
1946: v Mount Albert Grammar School – Won: 3-0
King’s hadn’t won the 1A championship since 1928; they had to beat Mount Albert to prevent the drought from continuing. “Under conditions rarely seen in Auckland”, senior matches were even abandoned for the day, “there was nothing between the two teams.” H.L. Smith kicked a penalty and that proved to be the difference. The 1946 captain Brain Caughley played for Auckland and New Zealand Universities.
1948: v Auckland Grammar School– Won 20-3
The biggest victory in 179 matches against Grammar, King’s would win by 36-10 in 1997, was the fifth of six wins in a row that King’s would have from 1946-49. Grammar started brightly by kicking a penalty that would be their lot! King’s captain Harry Smith kicked a penalty before creating a try for Head Prefect Ian McCorkindale. William Hindmarsh, David Ludbrook (New Zealand Universities, Otago and Auckland) and Raymond Young (Manawatu, New Zealand Universities) also scored tries in a performance of complete dominance.
1952: v Sacred Heart College – Won: 8-6
The Collegian: “The sun sank lower and lower and so did the spirit of the King’s supporters.”
Sacred Heart Supporter:“Now you’ll win the championship.”
Played at the Showgrounds, John Chambers opened the scoring for King’s as he “beat three men to score out wide.” Sacred Heart took the lead, 3-6 and seemed headed for victory until Ross Brown scored to draw King’s level. The fate of the game hinged on the conversion, Brown goaled and King’s took a giant step towards the 1A title. Ross Brown was an All Black from 1957-1962. The fullback played 16 tests. However his greatest feats were preformed with Taranaki. Brown played 207 matches for the amber and blacks, kicking 35 drop goals, a key member of Taranaki teams that held the Ranfurly Shield from 1957-59 (13 defences) and 1963-65 (15 defences).
1952: v Auckland Grammar School – Won 6-3
The Collegian: “King’s defence was unfalteringly magnificent”
Reunion weekend, the championship at stake, Grammar smarting from a 17-3 defeat earlier in the season; this was a big game. Played at Eden Park, Grammar enjoyed most of the possession but was unable to consistently threaten the King’s defence. Ross Brown scored the only try of the match and King’s beat Grammar twice in a single season for the first time since 1948.
1955: v Auckland Grammar School – Won: 8-0
The Collegian: “The First XV were outstandingly fit, the backs superb, the forwards giants of courage and high spirit.”
The 1955 First XV was an imposing side that thrashed Mount Albert by a record (37-3) and accounted for Wanganui Collegiate, 25-0. In their first fixture against Auckland Grammar, King’s narrowly lost (3-8). The return match was played at Eden Park and would decide the championship. Grammar won the toss and played into the wind. There was no scoring in the first half; King’s had enjoyed more ball “than expected.” In the second half it was scoreless for the first half an hour and then Kerry Johnson scored! The championship, or at least a share of it, was sealed when David Caddie won a tighthead and Johnston scored again. Johnston Walker who represented Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu and Wellington played his “greatest game.”
1956: Sacred Heart College – Won: 11-0
The 100th match against Sacred Heart was an “interesting game, full of movement.” Sacred Heart’s handling let them down. Kerry Johnson scored the only try, while the accurate goal kicking of future Auckland and Junior All Black representative William Davies was a highlight. In the first 100 games between King’s and Sacred Heart, King’s enjoyed 52 wins and suffered 40 defeats, 8 games were drawn.
1956: Auckland Grammar School – Won: 8-0
The championship was decided on a wet and slippery Eden Park. Grammar tested King’s early; “hard tackling” denied Grammar any points. Duncan Wilson scored a great 70 yard try in the second half and King’s held on to achieve a first unbeaten season, outscoring opponents, 145-30! Tony Davies, who played 3 tests and 17 games, scoring 94 points, for the All Blacks, was a first-five or fullback in the last three of Greenbank’s teams.
Leadership And Character
How was Greenbank able to inspire such improvement, and consistently ensure King’s was among the best teams in Auckland? Simplicity, fear, restless energy and keeping everybody guessing. As a principal and a coach Greenbank was somebody that was not forgotten!
Tactics: Ross Brown, First XV, 1951-52 reflected: “His tactics were generally simple: pace, quick handling, get the ball to the wings. He had the knack of discovering the basics of any game and concentrating on them to the point of perfection.”
Hell on Earth: His practices were often hell! In practice games he might use the cane on the forwards! 6 am runs, before breakfast, up daunting hills were not uncommon either. The cruellest training technique was reserved for tackling. Greenbank once set up a tackle bag in a gum tree and watered the ground below; expecting his players to rush forward and hit the bag! Training was sometimes held indoors in a gymnasium, tackling on a hard wooden floor! One session in the gym was simply known as “Black Friday,” thirteen windows were broken!
Discipline: An adherence to hierarchy was a key characteristic of Greenbank’s leadership. He enjoyed close relationships with his captains, at the same time reminding everybody of who was in charge! As a Principal he would appoint staff without even consulting the Board. Board and staff members were not the only ones scared of Greenbank; he could terrify the boys! “Magic Circle” was one of Greenbank’s specialties. Greenbank would say the words and boys would stand up in a circle and show their work to Greenbank. He typically knew every boy’s first name by the end of the first week so any mischief was hard to get away with and could result in a public caning! One such incident saw the Prefects, including the Head Boy, caned at 3.00am, as they chose to go out on the last day of the term!
“The next morning, as the bus prepared to leave, I approached Headmaster, Greenbank, arm extended to thank him for the hospitality that the College had offered to the team, only to be met with a steely glare and the words, “I refuse to shake the hand of a man that teaches players to ruck like that!” There was a sequel to that in the following year when I was teaching at Auckland Grammar. At a rugby exchange day, held at the College grounds, I was about fourth in line as Greenbank greeted the Grammar coaches of the participating teams. He shook hands with the first and, in his condescending way, said; “Welcome Grammar” before moving on with the same greeting to the second and third in line, then missed me out and moved on to the fifth visiting teacher. He still did not speak to me three years later when, in Auckland Grammar’s centenary year, I coached its 1st XV to a resounding win over their traditional King’s College rivals. – Funny that!”
Encouragement: Greenbank could obviously be authoritarian but he had an innate ability to boast morale as well. Ross Brown recalls: “He was so enthusiastic he knew when to praise and when to criticise.” Assembly was used as a forum to praise excellence but perhaps the biggest compliment to Greenbank was paid by Arthur Reeve:
“Greenbank really developed a formidable reputation. His packs were dynamic and were feared for their ability to quickly seize on mistakes. He was the only coach I have heard of who would drop personal notes to key players through their letter boxes before big games to remind them of the job they had to do on the following day.”
Energy: Former staff member Michael Lawrence compared Greenbank’s energy to that of Lord Nelson. Almost daily he went to bed after midnight and would be up before 6:00am sweeping leaves outside the Chapel or “being everywhere.” During the school holidays Greenbank would often spend ten days resting with the Grahams in Poverty Bay, though he didn’t really rest. Roland Graham recalled: “Once he was helping with the dipping…one of the sheep was upside down in the dip…he jumped in dragged it out!” First XV “bonding” trips to Ruapehu or Hunua were the stuff of legend too. Pre-season fitness levels were typically higher than those of King’s opponents.
Routine: was far from sacrosanct under Greenbank! If he sensed the school was tired he might announce a sport half holiday or the timetable would be suddenly changed. Max Jackson, a staff member from 1962-85, even recalled he arrived to find the school deserted – they were at a cricket test!
Horror of Rodents: When a mouse appeared at a Prefects’ meeting he leapt on a chair, disbanded the meeting said “I can’t stay,” sleeping elsewhere. When bees became a nuisance in the Dining Hall he had the ventilator holes blocked by Prefects – this made the bees angrier and the situation much worse!
Inevitably somebody of Greenbank’s passion and stature was reluctant to leave and had to be pushed. Aged 67 in 1973, the Board made the decision to part ways. Roland Graham remembered towards the end of his tenure at King’s Greenbank was spent: “He was pretty expended…very tired…He used to lie down on the floor hours at a time.” Naturally Greenbank was not pleased and refused to talk to his successor Iain Campbell. He left no records or advice and was rude to his wife. Greenbank briefly taught maths at Auckland Girls’ Grammar before moving to Southwell Prep School in Hamilton where some of the old energy returned, but the divorce from King’s was something from which Greenbank never recovered from. He died on November 9th 1979.
Artist D H Binney: King’s 1953-57: “You couldn’t be half a King’s man…You were committed and engaged or not there. It was not an inert or neutral place. You were embroiled in a hectic and demanding dramatic production…It was contentious, competitive, super-traditional and maverickly independent…there was never anything by halves…(G) kept everyone guessing; it was how he stayed where he did…(He’d) never get away with it now.”
Acknowledgements: John Bean, Gael Panema, Peter White, Dave Henderson, O Floreat Semper : the history of King’s College, 1896-1995 by Bruce Hamilton.