Where are they now? Phil Lamb

By Ron Head

Round one of the 1976 season was notable for an incident that virtually ended one outstanding career while at the same time launching another.

When Subiaco wingman Stephen Heal limped off East Fremantle Oval with a knee injury that eventually ended his playing days, the replacement was Phil Lamb, who would go on to play two hundred and twenty seven games in the maroon and gold.

“My friends were listening for me on the radio, and the commentators called me as kicking a goal with my first kick in league football,” Phil recalled. “It was actually my second, they must have missed the new bloke’s first kick.”

Little did the young Lamb know that some dozen years later he’d be behind the microphone himself. 

A product of Marist Brothers College juniors, Lamb was an outstanding centreman who was a two time Association Fairest and Best winner in junior competition, and went straight from school to league football. He is effusive in his praise of the Marist Brothers for their help in those formative years. “Brothers Kevin Wolf, Terence Gleeson, and Timothy McDonald were fantastic coaches, they gave us a good grounding,”

On the bench again against Claremont a week later when Subiaco lost for the second time in the opening two games of the season, the selectors’ hands were forced, and Lamb started the game against Perth in the centre. He was among the best on ground, went on to play every game of the season with the league side, and his impressive displays didn’t go unnoticed. The West Australian, The Daily News, and a radio station all named him “Rookie of the Year.”

“I was always a centreman in my own mind,” Phil laughed, but the return of Peter Featherby in the 1977 season forced a change of thinking. Featherby went back into the middle, forcing Lamb onto a wing. His skills enabled the transition, and he became a permanent fixture in that position over many years of mixed fortune for the club.

Former Subiaco rover and wingman Neil Taylor told Footygoss about one particular match against Swan Districts which was an illustration of the plight the Lions were in at that time. “Phil Lamb and myself were playing on the Narkle brothers, who kicked five goals each, which would surely be a record for two wingmen in a league match. We were named as Subiaco’s best two despite that.”

A dependable mark, deft handballer, and the consummate team man, Phil Lamb became a leader of the side in the bad years and a key mover in the good times. A natural centreman, he made the adjustment to star in his new role, but in his words: “I found it tough against a guy like Phil Narkle, who was a born wingman, and was playing me on his terms.”

Lamb found himself on a half forward flank one day in 1978 against East Fremantle, and reveled in the role, booting six goals straight. “The ball kept dropping into my arms,” he joked.

It was a resurgent Subiaco that made the 1985 grand final and fell five points short of East Fremantle in a heartstopping contest watched by forty two thousand spectators. The following year the blue and whites looked to have their measure again, when they belted the hapless maroons by fifty points in the second semi final.

Subiaco regrouped, had an easy win over Perth in the preliminary final, then proceeded to demolish East Fremantle by sixty nine points in a grand final in which Lamb and Mark Zanotti were outstanding in defence. Lamb had most possessions on the ground and Zanotti won the Simpson Medal.

Phil Lamb must be considered unlucky not to have made a State side, but he played in an era of great strength in the WAFL. Wingmen who represented Western Australia in that time included both Narkles, Phil Kelly, Dalton Gooding, Benny Vigona, Alan Johnson, Peter Murnane, Alan Daniels, Darrell Panizza, Andrew McNish, and Peter Davidson, while other stars such as Peter Featherby, Graeme Melrose, Mike Smith, Rod Lester-Smith, Gary Buckenara, Wayne Blackwell, Peter Menaglio, and Dwayne Lamb played on the centreline at different times.

During his career, Phil had the nickname of Syd bestowed on him.

“It was a Windscreens O’Brien advertisement at the time,” he explained. “I put a ball through a plate glass window, and someone called me “Syd,” after a bloke in the commercial. Opponents started calling me Syd.”

At the end of the 1987 season Lamb had surgery on a knee, and, with a second daughter a new arrival, plus a work change, and with the added uncertainty of the AFL expansion looming, decided to retire.

The end of one career in football then unexpectedly turned into another one.

“In 1988 I was runner for Subiaco,” Phil recounted.  “I knew Tony Buhagiar well, and was chatting to him one day, when he asked me if I’d be interested in taking over his duties as round the grounds man with 6PR. I sat with him for a few weeks then took over. I was there for a couple of years before they dropped local football.”

“It was then that I got a call from 6NR, who were looking for a caller. In what was a dream come true, I would go to Melbourne every second week, often calling another game while I was there. I was doing the whole game by myself, with expert comments from blokes like Brian Taylor, Michael Roach, and Sam Kekovich. It was fantastic.”

Lamb joined Gary Buckenara, Peter Featherby, Dennis Blair, and Paul Bennett as selectors at Subiaco in 1995. We lost the grand final in 95, and after a dismal 96 were shown the door.”

6NR lost their AFL license in 1996, and Phil was approached by the ABC to work with Dan Lonergan, Wayne Harvey, and Trevor Sprigg on radio. He later became comments man on TV with Wally Foreman and Sprigg, moving into calling when Sprigg moved on.

His distinctive dulcet tones and accurate, precise, and informative style of commentary has been well received, and ABC Football has become regular for many on a Saturday afternoon. 

There has been much conjecture amongst fans of the future of the broadcasts. “We have a two year license at present, and beyond that I know nothing,” Phil said. “We have a great team here, and it’s enjoyable working with them.”

Phil Lamb is a partner in Bay Financial Services, specialising in equipment finance for a wide range of large and small businesses.

The company is a participant in the Western Australia based joint venture, Independent Finance Brokers Alliance (IFBA), involving a select group of specialised equipment, asset and commercial finance brokers.

He and wife Julie enjoy travel,like to get away to the deep South or Broome when possible, and have three daughters, Rebecca, Stephanie, and Katie. His weekends are taken up during the winter, but he is a member of the WATurf Club, the WACA, and Karrinyup Golf Club.

Phil Narkle was one player Lamb had trouble with. “He was a natural wingman, which put him in front straight away, and I remember what it was like playing at Bassendean. He was the crowd’s golden boy, and we’d be on the Members Wing. It wasn’t easy.”

Among many fine team mates highly rated by Phil were Featherby, Buckenara, Neil Taylor, and Dwayne Lamb(who, contrary to popular opinion, is no relation).

He also had a high regard for Dean Kemp, Peter Matera, and Matthew Pavlich, as great local players.

As a commentator for the local product, we asked him about mature age recruits, and who he considered were dealt a rough deal by not getting picked up. “Jason Salecic and Allister Pickett were two in my opinion who could have done well, Toby McGrath, while he did get a shot with the Eagles, maybe wasn’t given enough opportunity, and of course the tragedy was Brad Smith,” he replied.

In 2009 Haydn Bunton was asked by the Subiaco Football Club to name his “Best Ever Haydn Bunton Team.” Bunton included the name of Phil Lamb in that combination, which was an honour indeed, considering the stars of the game he coached at Subiaco and Swan Districts. “To be selected in a team which included so many champion players from Bunts’ eras as coach was a thrill, and to be personally acknowledged by him is something I value very highly,” Lamb said. 

“I consider myself fortunate to have played in a premiership side in what I call the “old” WAFL system. Our win in 1986 was actually the last Grand Final of the era before Western Australia had any involvement in the AFL. Whilst every premiership is to be cherished, I think that one was extra special.”

The man who calls the football on Saturday afternoon with such aplomb and professionalism was a fine player in his own right, veteran of 227 league games, and is a favourite son at Subiaco 

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