You may not know Doug Ferguson. He keeps a pretty low profile these days ,which is excusable. He’s 91 and not moving with quite the same alacrity that he did as a star half forward in four premierships with Wangaratta.
Great fellah, Doug. He’s razor-sharp in the mind and can paint a vivid picture of the past. We’ve gone back in time to 1939,as he reflects on playing in a Junior League flag with South Wanderers. He’s pretty sure he’s the only surviving member of that side and reels off the names in a photo that he’s pulled out.
But good and all as he is,he couldn’t remember how many behinds he contributed to the winning score of 5.25,which enabled the Wanderers to get over the line by 9 points.
He tells me that the Junior League kicked off in 1938 and it was decided to divide the town up into four sections. It was ‘zoning’, as we later knew it when the VFL divided the state up among the 12 clubs in the ‘70’s. So if you were living around the southern end of Wangaratta, you became a Wanderer.
Doug remembers that the boys used to train on the ‘Convent Paddock’ , where Perry and Harper Streets bisect one another . He’s one of a cavalcade of hundreds who wore the Green and Gold uniform in one of several guises over the next 36 years.
Arthur Clarke is another. He proudly recalls being a member of the 1950 premiership line-up. “Wareena Park was our home in those days. We’d play on Saturday, then kick the footy all day Sunday. I won an award for being the ‘Most Unselfish Player’. It was only later that I twigged it was probably because I shared the ball so much with the opposition !”
The Wanderers captain in 1950, Peter Hughes, later played with Hawthorn – the club’s first ‘graduate’ to the big time. The side also included Arthur’s brother Les, who was to become a Wangaratta Rovers champion.
But the kid who captured most of the attention had terrific skills and a touch of spunk. At 13 years of age he won the Junior League Medal and everyone predicted a great future for him.
Lance Oswald was his name and he would be my choice as the best-ever South Wanderers player.He won a Morris Medal and shared the O & M goalkicking in 1957 and St.Kilda, who had been watching him closely, rushed him into their side for a couple of games in that same year.
Oswald became a Saints champion , won two Best and Fairests and was renowned as the best centreman in Australia in the early sixties, before heading for a long coaching stint at Strathmerton, where he still resides.
The Wanderers,with Oswald still in tow, won the flag again in 1952, but it wasn’t until 1960 that they were again to taste premiership success. An old Wangaratta player, Wally Parker, was coach and he had a good relationship with the players whilst being fairly firm.
If you run into ‘Old Wal’ these days, he could probably name, verbatim, the starting line-ups of the 1960 and 1961 premiership teams.
By now the club had settled in at Avian Park after having stopped in at another couple of training bases – a paddock in Vincent Road and at the Tech School. A rugged oval had been sketched inside the trotting track at Avian Park. Conditions weren’t sensational. But some star footballers learned the rudiments of the game.
In years to come, the Rovers, in particular, were to obtain a fair harvest of talent from the Wanderers. The Hawks’ premiership teams of 1964 and 1965 included Neville Hogan, Bob Atkinson, Eric Cornelius, Mick Kelly and JohnWelch who had all donned the Green and Gold Guernsey.
There was an overweight kid a few years later , who wasn’t too keen on training and usually only turned up so that he could have a couple of fags and a bit of a yarn with his mates. He’d rumble around for a while on the track and,consequently, didn’t crack it for too many games. In fact the Wanderers lent him to Springhurst ,one of the other Junior League clubs, for a few weeks, because they were short of players.
The Club eventually landed at their final resting place – the old Golf Links (now the Barr Reserve). Things were still pretty primitive and the Dressing Rooms were a couple of garages stuck together. Lighting was provided by a kerosene lamp.
It was in an atmosphere such as this that an assortment of characters, such as Dan Withers, ‘Drag’Harris, Ray Warford, Frank Griffin, Kevin Law and Nev Chamberlain imparted their coaching wisdom.
The South Wanderers stuck it out until 1974, when a combined lack of numbers, on and off the field saw them breathe their last. Life moved on and there were no post-mortems for the corpse.
But their legacy would provide the following : 3 VFL players, 2 Morris Medallists, 10 O & M Club Best and Fairest winners, numerous O & M premiership players , 5 Rovers Hall of Fame members and 2 members of Wangaratta’s Team of the Century.
Post-Script: Late last year an old Wanderers player was fossicking around in the shed of one of Wangaratta’s scrap dealers when he happened upon two Trophies, unloved and worse for wear. On closer inspection ,he read the engraving on the Cups. “ Wangaratta Junior Football League, Premiers , 1960 and 1961, South Wanderers”. He forked out a few bucks and took possession of them. They are, quite possibly, the only remnants of a tiny club which once meant a fair bit to a fair few people. Hence this nostalgic look at the ‘Mighty South Wanderers’.