Go West

Neale Fong

Neale Fong had a strong amateur career and two years with West Perth before a distinguished career as the Chair of the Western Australia Football Commission.

Neale Fong grew up with the dream of playing for the West Perth Cardinals in the WAFL alongside his brother Les Fong but an Achilles tendon injury in 1979 put his dream on ice.

He left to focus on his medical studies and play for the Nollamara club in the Western Australian Amateur Football League (WAAFL), where he would win the CJ Jamieson Medal for the competition's best and fairest player in three consecutive seasons between 1981 and 1983.

Neale was raised in a working-class Chinese-Australian family descended from their grandfather Andrew Fong, who migrated from southern China to try his luck on the Kalgoorlie Goldfields before moving to Perth to set up Fong's Greengrocer in Northbridge, in the heart of Perth's Chinatown.

Neale Fong excelled in school and after qualifying and practising as a doctor, he was elevated to CEO of Australia's largest private hospital in Subiaco.

He began a career in football administration, first as a board member of the West Perth Cardinals, then working as the West Coast Eagles' chaplain and later with the Western Australian Football Commission, becoming Chairman in 2001.

Neale assumed the role at a low point for the state at all three tiers of the game: the AFL, WAFL and grassroots. The West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers were at the bottom of the AFL ladder, and grassroots participation had stagnated.

One of Neale's great legacies was the Westar Planning Committee Report, which became known as the 'Fong Report' due to Neale's strong leadership in addressing the problems facing local football, especially the WAFL.

"My contribution, I think, was to bring the whole football fraternity together, because it was very disunified," Neale says.

"Everyone, frankly, disliked and mistrusted each other ... there was no money, and footy was in real trouble with $30 million in debt and an ageing stadium at Subiaco."

Neale's dual role was troubleshooter and builder, driving sustainability, growth and prosperity that befitted the status of the sport in Western Australia.

"I worked closely with the new CEO of the WA Football Commission, and we got football back on the map financially and turned it around over the next five years," he said.  

In 2010, after 11 years of service, Neale stepped down from the WAFC Commission and was duly awarded life membership. Beyond his leadership role in football, his leadership in the WA and national health industry has been extraordinary by any measure.

In 1985, Neale decided to do pre-season training with West Perth and his hard work earned him an unexpected call-up to play in the senior team.

Neale ended up playing 14 matches over the next two seasons and could never forget "the buzz of playing in front of 20,000(-strong) crowds with my brother Les."

Richard Pang

Richard Pang played in the ACT before moving to WA. In 1999 he won the Perth Demon’s Best and Fairest and finished second in the Sandover Medal.

Richard Pang’s career footy highlight occurred playing for Subiaco against Peel during the 2000 WAFL season and it remains a vivid memory: ‘We were on fire and I found the ball a lot that day - I couldn’t have played better and got 48 possessions.’

His teammate Richard Ambrose also played the game of his life taking 20 marks at centre half forward and Pang remembers Ambrose joking with him after the game, saying: “Bloody hell Pangy, the day I take 20 marks, you go and get 48 possessions.”

Richard Pang was raised in Canberra and was a basketball player until the age of 15 when he joined the Eastlake Football Club.

He excelled and was selected in the ACT schools team that travelled to Darwin for the annual Secondary Schools Championships, where the underdog ACT team pulled off a famous upset victory against powerhouse Victoria

Richard’s father Henry Pang was born in Australia after his parents migrated from Canton in the 1930’s, and the family settled in Canberra where Henry was the first Australian-born child in his family.  

Henry studied hard and graduated from university as an obstetrician and then began work as a General Practitioner.

‘My dad was from a traditional Chinese family, however, my grandparents encouraged him to be as Australian as possible.’ says Pang.

Richard played 5 years of senior football in Canberra including playing three times for the ACT representative team and culminating in winning the Alex Jesaulenko Medal for best player in Eastlake’s 1996 grand final victory.

He was invited to Melbourne to participate in the 1997 AFL Draft Combine, and although he was not drafted, he was invited to do pre-season training for Essendon.

Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy advised him he would need to leave the ACT to achieve higher honours in the game and Richard took his advice, signing with the Perth Demons.

He played strongly for Perth and his form attracted the attention of the state selectors who picked him to play in the West Australia State of Origin team to play South Australia in Adelaide.

Although Perth narrowly missed the finals in 1999, Richard thrived alongside future AFL stars including Darren Glass, Chance Bateman and Leon Davis. 

Richard’s stunning run of form was acknowledged when he finished second in the Sandover Medal for the WAFL’s Best and Fairest Player and he also won the Butcher Medal for Perth’s Best and Fairest Player.

‘Pangy was the perfect teammate,’ Perth teammate and friend Richard Kelly says.

At the end of 1999, Richard signed with Subiaco and from that point he was plagued by injuries leading to the 2001 season where he missed most matches and subsequently retired.

After 13 knee operations, Richard retired and took up surfing, making regular trips to the Mentawai Islands off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia to indulge his new passion.

Les Fong

Les Fong, known as Captain Courageous, played 287 games for West Perth and represented Western Australia six times in State of Origin.

When Les Fong made his debut for West Perth in 1973, it had been 57 years since a Chinese heritage player had played in the Western Australian Football League. The first was distant relative Job Fong who played one game for South Fremantle in 1907 and he was followed by Frederick Mitchell (Nomchong) who played 49 games for South Fremantle between 1912 and 1916.

Les's father Alan played football for the Wembley Magpies and passed the love of the game to his four sons including Les at their housing commission house in Nollamara, north of the Perth CBD.

"Dad was a truck driver and Mum used to do a bit of cleaning," Les explains. "We certainly knew what it was like to be relatively poor."

Les was a football child prodigy and in 1971 at the age of 14, he was appointed vice captain of the Under-16 Western Australian State Schoolboys team that went undefeated in the National Secondary Schools Championships.

Les finished third in the J.L. Williams Medal for best and fairest and earned selection in the All-Australian Schoolboys team, instantly becoming a hot property for VFL recruiters.  Richmond's offer was rejected by Les's mother, Daphne, who said: "He was too young to give it serious consideration."

Les became the youngest ever West Perth senior player at 16 years of age and was given the nickname 'Chopsticks' because of his Asian heritage.

He tasted premiership success at the age of 19 and he was one of the best on ground when West Perth won the 1975 WAFL premiership with a crushing win over South Fremantle in front of more than 51,000 fans.

"It was an incredible experience for a 19-year-old," says Les. "I never won or played in a grand final again."

Les did receive other honours, playing six times for Western Australia in State of Origin matches including a strong performance against Victoria in 1980 which convinced Collingwood to approach him with a serious offer.

Les chose to stay loyal to West Perth, having recently been made Captain at the age of 23, the Cardinals' youngest-ever captain.

From 1980-1986 Les captained West Perth, the longest captaincy term in West Perth history and earning him the nickname 'Captain Courageous'.

By the time Les retired from top-flight football in 1987, he'd played 284 games, kicked 331 goals and won a premiership, two club best and fairest awards and induction into the Halls of Fame of both his club and the league.

The entrance gates at West Perth's new home ground, Joondalup Oval, were named the Les Fong Gates in his honour, while the award for the best player in West Perth Under-16s team is called Les Fong's Futures Best and Fairest award.

Howard Collinge was a Chinese-Australian West Perth teammate of Les Fong in 1987 and says that Les was: "the Bruce Lee of Australian football: a cool Asian dude, tough and highly respected by all, and that gave me some strength."

Keifer Yu

Broome’s Keifer Yu played 100 matches for Claremont in the WAFL and was famed for his toughness and long kick.

In August 2018, Keifer Yu was chaired off the ground by his Claremont Football Club teammates after reaching the 100-senior game WAFL milestone at his home ground, Claremont Oval.

The Claremont team were saddened to be losing a teammate who brought more than hard physicality and an elite kick, according to his Claremont captain, Jake Murphy.

"He was hard and had amazing courage," says Murphy.

"There was one season when he kept getting injuries, concussions, broken bones all from putting his body on the line and intense combat and collisions.

"And we'd all look at him in the rooms and we would see just how committed he was and it drove us on."

Keifer Yu was raised in Broome by his mother Sarah, an anthropologist and historian and his father Professor Peter Yu AM, a Traditional Owner of the Yawuru people of West Kimberley who is also the Vice President First Nations at the Australian National University and Deputy Chair of the AFL Aboriginal Advisory Committee.

Peter was one of nine children from his mother Margaret, a Yawuru Aboriginal woman and his father, Johnny Yu, who was of Hakka Chinese heritage from a fishing village called Tai O in the New Territories in Hong Kong. He migrated to Broome in the 1940s to work on a pearling lugger to help collect pearl shell.

When Keifer was in Year 7, his mother and father moved with him down to Perth to attend Hale School, a quality independent secondary school that had the reputation of 'a good footy school'.

In 2010, he made his debut for Claremont and until his retirement in 2018, he put his body on the line in 100 senior games.

His playing style matured over time and his peak years were his final three years, according to Claremont coach Darren Harris.

"I had him for his last 3 years and he was important to me from a leadership point of view. He didn't need to say a lot because he has such a strong set of values," Harris said.

Keifer's versatility made him a coach's dream, according to Harris: "I could send him back, put him in the midfield or send him forward – what an unbelievably supportive player and a good human on and off the field."

Keifer Yu returned home to start a family and play for Cable Beach in the West Kimberley Football League, winning three premierships in a row before retiring from all football in 2022 to work as a mentor for disadvantaged Aboriginal youth.

Every year his family pays tribute to Johnny Yu at Broome's annual Ching Ming festival, where the Chinese families of Broome sweep their ancestors' graves and bring offerings to respect their memory.

And when Keifer travelled to China to see his grandfather's hometown of Tai O, he was amazed at the reception:

"Dad was first born so they are very traditional and welcoming to us. It's amazing that Johnny Yu came from all the way over there and ended up here," he said.

Ryan Lim

In the second match of the 2022 WAFL season, Claremont's Ryan Lim was given the captaincy of the club for the first time due to COVID-19 sidelining 14 players.

In the second match of the 2022 WAFL season, Claremont's Ryan Lim was given the captaincy of the club for the first time due to COVID-19 sidelining 14 players. Nine players were brought in from the reserves team and the difficulty of the task was amplified by having to play full-strength reigning premiers Subiaco.

Somehow Ryan Lim willed his young team to an improbable 15-point victory, and his herculean effort won him the WAFL Player of the Round award.

For Claremont coach Ash Prescott, it was an extraordinary moment.

"The club was on its knees with so many players out and Ryan couldn't have done a better leadership job in the way he galvanised the young group, but also the way he performed, which is ultimately the measure of a leader," Prescott said.

Teammate Lachie Martinis was one of the players who caught COVID-19 and was forced to watch a live stream of the game from home.

"A couple of us were watching on Zoom and it was crazy - I can't really explain the feeling but Ryan played unbelievably well," he said.

Ryan Lim was born in Perth in 1996 to a Malaysian Chinese father, Paul, and a Scottish mother, Mary, from Perth who met while working in a restaurant together in Spain.

Paul's parents migrated from Fujian Province in China and he was born in Kuantan on the eastern peninsula of Malaysia. He grew up with a big family and was heavily into sports.

Paul's love of sport transferred to his boys and Ryan's elder brother Brendon played representative football and a senior game for Claremont in the WAFL.

"I followed his footsteps in every way," Ryan said of his brother Brendon's journey.

Ryan excelled in football at Hale School and he was selected to play in the Under-16 Western Australia Schoolboy team which won the national championships and secured Ryan a place in the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Academy team that toured to play in New Zealand and Europe.

In 2015 he made his debut for Claremont, quickly establishing himself as a senior player, coming 10th in the 2017 Sandover Medal count for the WAFL's best and fairest player and was named vice-captain in 2018.

2022 was a breakout year for Ryan, notching the 150 WAFL game milestone and earning him life membership of the Claremont Football Club.

His Claremont team lost a close 2022 Grand Final by 12 points and he was named in the WAFL team of the year.

For Claremont coach Ash Prescott, Ryan Lim's leadership by example is a treasured asset. "He will do whatever is needed, and importantly he has humility and is always open to improving himself, which sets a great example and he drags a lot of players with him – what a great person to have around."