The heartbeat of a football club can sometimes be away from the field of play. It can be the ardent supporter who has coped faithfully with the torment of many a losing season, but remains stoically optimistic. Or the volunteer, sweeping the floors, scrubbing the toilets and cleaning the ground without expectation of recognition. Just providing example to those whose dedication is not on a similar keel.

Or it can be a bloke like Barrie Henderson.

‘Chooka’ is the welcoming face at every training session. He would have plenty of other things to do, no doubt, but regards it as his obligation to lend support to the playing group.

Every club project that has been undertaken in recent years has his stamp on it, whether it be the new balcony enclosure,the coach’s box above the Hogan Stand, repairing the front gate, upgrading the back entrance – just to name a few.

He’s the man to fix the dishwasher that hasn’t operated for a while, or to construct a stainless steel servery on the bar in the Hogan Stand. And then get behind the counter and serve beer all afternoon.

He returned ‘home’ to the Findlay Oval four years ago, when his son Nick began playing with the Thirds. His had been a lengthy ‘sabbatical’ at his other ‘home’, Whorouly, where he had made a monumental contribution over 19 years.

You’ve probably seen his old grey van regularly ‘domiciled’ at the ground, as he undertakes his various jobs. But you mightn’t be familiar with ‘Chooka’s’ footy career,which was substantial and is, itself, a lesson in loyalty.

His father, Tom, had made his name as a workmanlike defender. Tom was once a Rover, moved to the Magpies seeking opportunity and finally landed at Whorouly, where he played for many years. And when young Barrie was old enough, he followed in his footsteps with the Maroons lower grades.

He was recruited to the Rovers in 1982. At 19, and standing 6’4’’ he was rated a top prospect, having represented the O & K the previous season. But for five or so years he suffered  from the vagaries of selection. Mainly playing in defence and  boasting a prodigious right boot, he was a member of the 1984 Reserves Premiership team.

It was obvious that his dad had more faith in him than the selectors. In one of Barrie’s regular stints ‘on the outer’, as he was shining in the Reserves, we asked Tom how he was going. “Good.I don’t know why they don’t give young bloke a decent go in the seniors”, he implored.

It was 1987 before Tommy got his wish. Laurie Burt had taken over the coaching job and threw ‘Chooka’ down back. He was there to stay and was a significant influence in a youthful Rovers side.

Laurie can recall Barrie’s booming voice from deep in defence,as he could see the play unfolding. “Tighten up fellas”. “Mick,there’s a bloke loose”.”Hickie,watch your man”.

“He was a big help down there and became a crucial member of the side”, Burt recalls.He was named at full back in the 1988 Grand Final team, flanked by Ronnie Ferguson and Matt Allen and played his part in that famous victory by ‘Burt’s Babes’ over Lavington.

1989 was probably his best season for the Club. He was an absolute pillar at full back and was named the Most Consistent Player. His 100th game ended in disappointment, however, as Wodonga snatched a two-point win in the Preliminary Final.

He had another role to play in 1991. Regular ruckman Howard Yelland went down with injury in the second semi-final and  ‘Chooka’ was thrust into the role of knock ruckman.

He played a fine game in the Prelim Final win over Corowa-Rutherglen and was outstanding in the Grand Final, as the Hawks swept to a 69-point triumph over Yarrawonga.

It was to be his last game for the Hawks. After 121 senior and 79 Reserves games, he was awarded a  Life Membership and resumed his career at Whorouly.

He would scarcely have imagined that he would still be running out in the Maroon, Blue and Gold Guernsey in 2010. He is regarded as one of Whorouly’s greats and twice took out the Best and Fairest award (1995 and 1996). He served a term as President, and took his tally of senior games with Whorouly to 203. The last of his 47 reserves games came  at the age of  46.

Roc Harry and Brayden Carey were among a host of newcomers to the Rovers in 2011, but my vote for the ‘Recruit of the Year’ went to ‘Chooka’, the ‘mature-age rookie.’

Back at the Rovers after 19 years he and wife Deanne threw themselves into the Club’s activities, as Nick made his mark in his first year with the Thirds.

Nick has played two senior games and 40-odd with the Reserves. It may be a repeat case of serving a long apprenticeship before cementing his spot, just as his father did.

If Nick makes the grade there will be no-one prouder than Barrie Henderson, the man behind-the-scenes at the Findlay Oval.

71,72,91 042



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