“Whenever somebody starts talking football, what is the first thing of which you’re reminded? The last League Grand Final, you say. That’s okay, but never lose sight of the fact there’s another style of football being played, will you?
Take it from me, the place where they play the real football is in the country, far away from the packed stands and phoney glamour, out in the bush, with the real people playing it just the way it was meant to be played.
Whenever I think of football I’m back up there at Blue Creek once again with everything just the way it was the first time I saw it when I rode into town in the old ute………”
From: ‘The Coach from the City’ – 1967.
The hero of this old footy novel, Bill Terry, is nearing the end of his career and has taken a coaching job in the bush. There were scores of blokes in real life who decided to do the same thing in the fifties and sixties and I’d like to tell you about one who applied for Tarrawingee’s vacant position in 1958.
Ron Murray was his name and his credentials read well. From all reports he was a more than handy player and had spent some time at Fitzroy. In fact his dad Dan had been a member of the club’s 1944 premiership team.
Ron and his brothers had attended St. Joseph’s, Clifton Hill, which had produced many a top-line footballer. Probably one of the best of them, he said, was his brother Kevin, who was now starring with Fitzroy and had already represented Victoria.
This was all good stuff and Tarra duly appointed the 5’11”,12 stone utility player to the post. The clincher was that the new coach had emphasised he was a ‘non-drinker and physical fitness fanatic’.
The Bulldogs sailed along nicely during the 1958 season and were easily settled inside the four. ‘Modest’ Murray ,as expected of a player who had been a regular in the VFL Reserves, performed well, but lifted in the big games and was handy at both ends of the ground.
Tough and strong, with prominent tattoes adorning his glistening arms and with plenty of stamina, he proved an inspirational leader.
Tarra played a draw with Moyhu in the first semi-final, but, in the re-play were well beaten. It was a disappointing result, but all in all, the ‘Dogs had lived up to their expectations and had just run out of luck.
The only dampener was that ‘Modest’ had told a white lie about being a teetotaller. There had been a few games, the boys reckoned, that he’d turned up in less than pristine condition.
The following season Tarra fell away. After one poor performance he berated his players: “You’ve got a yella streak running right down your backs”. They finished second-last and it was pretty-well acknowledged that the Club would part ways with their erratic coach.
Moyhu won the flag in 1959 and their leader, Arthur Smith, decided to return home to the Rovers. Bill Traill, the Wangaratta star, was appointed as his successor, but pulled out of the job in February. To the surprise of many, Murray stepped into the breach for the 1960 season. What a plum job it was, with a ready-made side at his disposal .
‘Modest’ was working on the railways at the time and he and his gang would go to somewhere like Springhurst during the summer months, work on the lines and operate one of those old-style ‘Pump-up flippers’ to return to Wangaratta. He would run behind the flipper to build his fitness.
So he was in great nick when he arrived at his new club. Some old Moyhu players can still recite the rev-ups they received on the training track. “You bastards are just running around in circles, you’re doin’ nothin”, he would yell.
And he had a well-honed turn of phrase on match-day. A regular directive to his defenders was: “I want youse to stick like shit to a blanket ..and if you’ve seen shit stick to a blanket, that’s how I want youse to stick….”.
It would be true to say that towards the end of the season, he had just about lost his players. He would go along okay for a while, then have a break-out on the ink, usually on a Friday night. But the Hoppers, in spite of this, remained flag contenders.
After the Preliminary Final win ‘Modest’ was driving up Perry Street when he reckoned he was blinded by a flash of oncoming lights. He crashed into the chemist’s shop in Vincent Road.
That was embarrassing enough,with the police attention and the like, but he also copped a ‘serve’ from Chronicle football writer John ‘Bouncer’ Bown, who reckoned he should be dropped from the side.
He brandished a copy of the Chronicle at training : “I’ll show this bastard Bown. I’ll shove his paper right up his arse”. The players, though, unbeknown to him, held a closed meeting during the week, at which the topic of leaving him out of the Grand Final line-up was raised. It was not acted upon.
Just as well.
Again reinforcing his reputation as a man for the big-occasion, Murray played a terrific game at centre half back and turned back Beechworth forward thrusts time and time again. The game looked as good as over when Moyhu kicked two early goals in the last term, to lead by 29 points.
But they had to stave off a brilliant Beechworth comeback. Bomber small man Ab Comensoli had a free kick after the siren. His shot fell short and ‘Modest’s’ boys had won by 6 points, to clinch their second successive flag.
Murray celebrated heartily, but a short time later was relieved of his coaching duties.
It was Rovers vice-captain Les Clarke who convinced him to come to the City Oval. Clarke promised the Hawk hierarchy and, in particular, coach Bob Rose, that he’d be able to keep ‘Modest’ in check.
By now his wife and kids had returned to Melbourne and he concentrated on footy as best he could. He was to prove a colourful figure. He held down a key defence post and annoyed hell out of some top centre half forwards. He played every game in what became an injury-riddled season for the Club.
But he proved a nightmare for President Jack Maroney, who had the task of taking him home after each match. The conversation would go something like this: “Now you won’t go out, will you Ron”. “No worries, Jack”. Much later Jack would receive a phone call from the police station. “We’ve got your mate here. Come and get him”.
Ron Murray’s last sporting appearance in Wangaratta was in Roy Bell’s boxing tent on Show week-end 1961. Accompanied by the familiar beat of drums he climbed into the ring, as the cheering crowd was invited to “watch your local football hero fight this session”.
He then then faded into oblivion. It is believed that he passed away in central Victoria some years ago.