Season Summary: 1971
After the promising previous season, the club was dealt a major blow with captain/coach Max Papley deciding to call time on his illustrious playing career at the club due to persistent hamstring problems. However, he did remain as full-time head coach. He did return to the playing field in 1972 for a further nine games in royal blue and gold. Future captain and State cricketer Les Stillman joined Williamstown in 1971 from Footscray, along with Bob Svorinich from South Melbourne. Greg Boxall began his long career with the Seagulls in this season, as did Neil Courtot (promoted from the Thirds) and Ron Fenton (Footscray).
With new captain Ken Barnes at the helm, the Towners ambition to make a charge at another premiership unfortunately never came to fruition, mainly due to the loss of key players to injuries mid-season and the loss of 19 players who played with the seniors in 1970 through retirements and transfers. This included Papley, Alan Byers, Bill Mitchell, Paul Hayward, Graeme Buchanan, Andy Camilleri, John Fanning, Ron Page and Dallas Patterson, who sued the President and Secretary during the year. As a result, the Seagulls won just six games and narrowly avoided relegation to the second division by just percentage. Geelong West finished on the same number of points but with a percentage of 87.2 to Williamstown's 90.6, thanks to the Seagulls kicking 19.12 in the final home and away game against Oakleigh. The team was in fifth position after six rounds but floated between seventh and eighth for a majority of the year before finishing ninth.
The Seagulls finished in ninth place on the ladder, with a 6-12 record. Four of these victories came in the first half of the season at Sandringham in round 2 (Mick Mulligan 5 goals), and at home against Preston, Geelong West and Oakleigh (Greg Boxall and Bob Svorinich 5 goals each) in rounds 5, 6 and 9, respectively. The two other victories were against Port Melbourne in round 12 and Geelong West in round 15.
Brian Harvey took out the Andy Taylor Memorial Trophy for best and fairest from Bob Svorinich and Les Stillman. Svorinich was also the Club's leading goalkicker with a total of 54. John James and Graham Salter tied for the Reserves best and fairest, while Ron Gordon won the Thirds award and Graham Dean the Fourths. The Thirds, under coach Alex Merrill, took out the premiership in that grade in 1971, and provided four players who debuted in the seniors and nine who played in the reserves during the season.
During the season, full-back Tommy Russell, in his final year, played his 200th and last senior game for Williamstown in the round 17 clash with Dandenong at Pt Gellibrand, making him only the second player after Ray Smith to achieve that milestone in the long history of the Club. Unfortunately the Seagulls went down by 25 points, 20.15.135-15.20.110 (Boxall 5 goals, Svoronich 4) in the Redlegs first-ever victory at Williamstown.
Photo from the round 4 clash at Waverley, which Williamstown lost by 2 goals, 146-134
The First Division ladder after four rounds of the 1971 season, with Williamstown in eighth position
Peter Ryan, 1969-72 8 games, possibly the first VFA player to wear a helmet, played 1 game with Hawthorn in 1967
1969 premiership fullback, Tom Russell, played his 200th senior game in round 17, 1971
Williamstown Thirds won the premiership in 1971 under coach Alex Merrill
Former Williamstown player, Mick Mulligan, coached in PNG in 1970. He returned to the 'Town in 1971 and topped the Club goalkicking with 75 in 1972