WA Footy 101: Murray Couper goes from Vietnam battlefield to Perth football field

Thursday, May 14, 2020 - 9:35 AM

Murray Couper with 1977 premiership.

Murray Couper with 1977 premiership. Credit: Supplied

Murray Couper, one of the most outstanding kicks of a football produced in Western Australia and a highly emotional player shaped by his tough upbringing, was lucky to survive to play for Perth let alone win two premierships.

In 1969, the 20-year-old infantryman was on 5RAR’s second tour of Vietnam when the battalion lost 25 men killed.

Murray Couper.

Murray Couper. Credit: Supplied

One of the 25 was Couper’s mate who died in his arms as he carried him to a helicopter to be flown out after a rocket attack.

Couper was wounded and described the incident to the Daily News three years later after he had made a strong start to his league career.

“We were evacuating the wounded by helicopter when two more rockets came in,” Couper said.

“The soldier I was helping died in my arms and I was hit by shrapnel down my leg and stomach.

“Shrapnel wounds are very hard to keep clean and mine kept infecting.

“I was in hospital for two months and my main concern was whether I would play football again.”

Couper not only played again but became one of the most mercurial footballers of the 1970s, a goal-kicking wizard who found something extra in finals.

Only eight WAFL players have kicked more than Couper’s 43 finals goals, and he landed a combined 10 in consecutive grand final wins.

A superb kick who honed his technique with constant repetition after East Fremantle star Fred Lewis had taken him under his wing as a teenager, Couper was one of the few footballers so in command of his skills that he could ease the ball left or right in flight like a golfer using a draw or fade.

Chris Mitsopoulos, Kevin Hill, Murray Couper celebrate after 1977 grand final.

Chris Mitsopoulos, Kevin Hill, Murray Couper celebrate after 1977 grand final. Credit: Supplied

That was one reason that coach Ken Armstrong, who got the best out of Couper at Perth after previous coach Mal Atwell had wanted to cut him from the club, recognised that his star needed special handling.

“He was enigmatic and initially quite difficult to control,” Armstrong said once.

“He told me about six times that he would never play for Perth while I was coach.

“But he was the best drop punt ever off both feet.”

Couper was from Dowerin, the same Wheatbelt town that produced Mal Brown and Lance Franklin, and, like those two players, is remembered for his performances on the biggest stages.

In 1976, when Perth were rising to their peak under Armstrong after losing the 1974 grand final, Couper kicked four goals to help beat East Perth.

Written by John Townsend. Originally published by The West Australian, Thursday 14 May 2020