The 1959 Ovens and Murray Grand Final has long been hailed as one of the greatest of all time.
It was a classic exhibition of attacking football, played before a huge crowd which had crammed into the Albury Sportsground to see the reigning premier, Wangaratta Rovers, and the popular favourite, Yarrawonga, who were chasing their first-ever flag.
I’ll try to paint the picture for you………..
Yarra lead by 39 points after 5 minutes of the third term and appear to have the game in their keeping. The Hawks then will themselves back into the match. Les Gregory and Bob Rose lead the revival and in 20 minutes of heart-stopping football the Rovers add 7.1 to lead the bewildered Pigeons by 3 points, going into the final term.
It’s goal-for-goal in a pulsating final stanza. The lead changes six times as first one side, then the other, gain supremacy.
With just a couple of minutes remaining, Rovers defender Les Clarke swoops on the ball ,bounces it a couple of times, and passes to John Frawley, who, in turn finds the leading Max Newth. Newth, just beyond centre half forward ,fumbles the mark, then deftly ‘flick-passes’ to a running Ray Burns, who races clear to boot a goal.
Rovers fans are ecstatic. The Hawks have regained the lead, albeit by 2 points. Surely the game is now theirs. The seconds are counting down.
But wait! Umpire Harry Beitzel has blown his whistle and deemed Newth’s pass a throw. This is madness. Every Rovers fan in the 12,000- strong crowd could see that it was clearly a legal pass.
The goal is disallowed and the resultant free kick sends Yarra into attack. Shortly after, ‘man-mountain’ Alf O’Connor snaps from deep in the pocket. He becomes part of Pigeon folk-lore by kicking the goal to give Yarra victory by eight points, just before the siren signals the end of an epic.
Even now, almost 59 years on, veteran Rovers supporters cringe at the mention of the name- ‘Harry Beitzel’:
“The bugger couldn’t keep up with the game….He was well behind play…..No way known could he have seen whether Newthy threw that ball or not….”
Anyway, Beitzel still cops the can for the premiership that got away. But the man at the centre of the drama, blames himself.
“I cost the Rovers the game”, the 81-year-old Max Newth said the other day, when reminded of that moment in time which still causes him nightmares.
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Hardly true, we would say, when we present him with the facts. He kicked six goals at full forward and was named second best. Oh, and, by the way, even though it’s no consolation to him, we reckon the pass was ‘legit’.
Max ‘Pigsy’ Newth had an amazing football career. He stood just 5’6”,yet played with equal adeptness as a rover, centreman or full forward.
It was Bob Rose who decided to use him as an occasional spearhead; reasoning that with his pace, toughness and sure hands he would have a decided advantage over lumbering full backs.
But he roved in two premierships and kicked 202 goals in 89 games with the Hawks. And could he kick!
He lined up one day from just forward of the centre at Myrtleford and sent the ball sailing through the big sticks, almost post-high, to clinch a dramatic after-the-siren Rovers victory. It was his eighth goal.
Bob Rose loved his adaptability – and his attitude. Newthy was never phased, as you would expect from a bloke who was a shearer and didn’t mind doing it hard on the land out at Greta, where he was raised and has lived ever since.
He played his first game with Greta in 1949 and his last in the Purple and Gold in 1973. He coached Tatong from 1966 to ’68 and Greta in 1971 and ’72.
In the 400th game of his career, at Tarrawingee, an opponent fell on him and it was feared that he had cracked ribs. Taken to hospital for X-Rays he was cleared of major damage .But he decided then and there, at the age of 40, that it was time to pull the pin.
Max played in four premierships (1958 and ’60 with the Rovers; 1954 and ’65 with Greta).He is a member of the O & K Hall of Fame and in 1980 was selected in the forward pocket in the Rovers’ ‘Team of Legends’.
But he still regards that 1959 Grand Final as the best game he ever played in. He recalls that it was a tribute to the brilliance of the game that both teams were chaired from the field.
And he remembers the day fondly for another reason -he was cured of asthma.
He lined up on John ‘Oscar’ Ryan, a close-checking full back, renowned for his toughness. “Oscar would follow you everywhere. He didn’t give you an inch. I had kicked a couple of goals early, then led out for a mark”.
“Oscar was on my hammer and he hit me with everything and so hard that I have never had asthma again. Whatever asthma I had, he knocked it right out of me!”
“I staggered to my feet to take the free kick and the goal posts were dancing. I just managed to sneak the shot in for a point”.
You can see that he enjoys re-living those golden days. There’s nothing Newthy likes better than to sit down over a quiet ale or three and spin a yarn.
He’s always been laid-back. But he got a bit of a shock last Thursday night when he picked up the phone. It was Rovers icon Pat Flynn, who explained that he’d just received a call from a chap called Max Huffer from Shepparton, who was having a clean-out of his cupboards and found a number 10 brown and gold guernsey that he knew had been swapped in the ’59 Grand Final.
“If you can find the bloke who wore it, I’ll bring it over and he can have it back”, he said.
Newthy was tickled pink and told Pat he’d like to donate the 55-year-old heirloom to the Rovers. They met today, to exchange the Guernsey.
Upon spotting it the nightmare recurs……..he’s absolutely ‘burning’…the crowd roars as he leads out and takes possession of the footy….he turns, passes off….. and then the whistle blows………

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  1. Max Huffer

    Hi my name is Max Huffer. I just read your article on when I gave the number 10 jumper back to Max Newth. Great article,just one small thing, you have written my name as MAX HOFFER it is actually MAX HUFFER. Thanks once again. Regards, Max

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