Football Victoria is saddened to learn of the passing of prolific forward, national and state representative Bill Copeland.
Born in Scotland in 1932, William Clark Copeland learned his football at Greenock before playing locally with Port Glasgow Rangers. Still a teenager, "Bill" arrived in Melbourne in 1951 and began a career spanning two decades with a host of clubs, most notably Juventus and George Cross, scoring goals at a rapid rate of knots.
Playing as a centre-forward, Copeland helped Juventus achieve promotion from the Second Division, losing just twice in the league. His exploits in the Dockerty Cup were even more impressive, scoring a hat-trick in a 7-1 quarter-final win over Maccabi at Royal Park and again in their 5-2 loss to eventual champions JUST in the semi-final at Olympic Park.
Juventus conquered the First Division in 1952, with Copeland scoring 28 goals in all competitions in a season where the club were unbeaten in the League and reached the Dockerty Cup final. He also featured for Scotland in the Laidlaw Cup, scoring in the final against Italy, that featured several of his teammates at club level. He was a regular for his country of birth in the mini World Cup tournament over the course of the next decade.
Olympian Ted Smith recalls a player with an eye for goal and electrifying speed, "I remember seeing Copeland when he first arrived in Melbourne, watching him play with Juventus at Royal Park in open parkland. He was enormously quick and grabbed a lot of goals from literally nowhere, always bobbing up late in the box."
Copeland’s eye for goal did not go unnoticed at representative level. He was selected as a reserve for Victoria in the team which won the Australian National Carnival at Toorak Park Oval and made his only two B-international appearances for Australia in a touring party to Perth, scoring on debut in a 2-0 win against Western Australia at the WACA Ground.
An early season move to Hakoah in 1953 witnessed hat-tricks against Moreland and J.U.S.T. but he transferred back to Juventus, scoring another 12 goals to finish the season with 19 in the league and a second consecutive Championship to boot. Another move in 1954, this time to rivals JUST, lasted until June before he returned to Juventus again as it claimed a hat-trick of league titles.
Copeland’s club travels continued throughout the decade. He played with George Cross (1955), Footscray City (1956), Polonia (1956) and Slavia (1957) before a stint in New York with the Brooklyn Scots. He returned to Melbourne in 1959, starring for George Cross with 15 goals in a season where they narrowly missed out on a maiden League championship to Wilhelmina, but claimed the Dockerty Cup in a 3-1 replay win over Hakoah.
He starred for Victoria during the second Melbourne leg of the Heart of Midlothian tour of 1959, where 20,000 witnessed the hosts lose 7-1 at Olympic Park. In all, he made four appearances for his adopted state, the last in a 3-3 draw to Tasmania in Hobart in 1961.
A new decade witnessed another change of club, this time to relegation bound Footscray Capri. A return to George Cross in 1961 netted another 13 goals in all competitions, helping guide the club to an Ampol Cup win over JUST (2-1 in the final) and runner-up finishes in the League and Dockerty Cup, where despite a brace to his name, George Cross could not overcome the might of Polonia 4-2. Another Dockerty Cup trophy followed in 1962, as George Cross avenged that defeat 2-0 in the semi-finals before outclassing Hakoah 3-0 in the Final.
An early season move to Alemannia-Richmond in 1963 saw Copeland add another 10 goals to his ever-growing bag, before a transfer back to George Cross on the cusp of his 32nd birthday resulted in his and the club’s greatest success, as they lifted the Australia Cup at a packed Olympic Park. His goal in the semi-final helped defeat JUST 2-1 before a thrilling encounter against APIA from New South Wales in front of a crowd of over 15,000. Copeland was instrumental on the left wing as George Cross triumphed 3-2 thanks to an Archie Campbell strike in the 113th minute.
Another mid-season transfer followed in 1965, this time to struggling Triestina, but not even Copeland’s class could save them from a last place finish and relegation. It would prove to be the last of his thirteen seasons in the Victorian top-flight, which netted close to 200 goals across all competitions and etched him into Juventus and George Cross folklore.
Bill Copeland passed away last Saturday, aged 90.
The FV Board of Directors, Executive and staff send our sincere condolences to the Copeland family.