He was a connoisseur of a cold ale and a tall tale.
One of those blokes who are priceless within a footy club for the role they play behind the scenes and the levity they introduce when things start to get a bit grim. He was,as they say – ‘a bit of a character’.
Ken Dodemaide left us in 1999, but his links with the Rovers had stretched back to the club’s infancy. He could regale you with stories of the great players over the years, but remind you that he was right up there with them when talent was handed out.
‘Doodles’ joined the Rovers in 1945, after he had returned from repelling the Japs (‘almost single- handed’) in New Guinea.
He had played with King Valley and Moyhu before the war and claimed he once upended the toughest of them all, ‘Bluestone’ Flanigan, with a hefty shirtfront that he described in graphic detail.
He was a ‘rough-nut’, no doubt, and a valuable protector for his young team-mates, many of whom were still attending school. Kenny had the honour of being the Rovers first-ever best and fairest winner, in 1945.
He would have made it a double the following year, he said, only that officials had misplaced the voting card from one match. “Best afield by a country mile”, he always claimed.
He had taken a pause from fighting during the war to propose, via a letter, to his sweetheart, Betty. Three years later they tied the knot and settled in Orwell Street, where they raised their kids and spent the rest of their lives.
Many years later, ‘Doodles’ would testify that Orwell Street boasted more Ovens and Murray footballers per-capita than any other street in Wangaratta. “And the further up the street they got, the tougher they were. I lived at the top of the street.”
He was vice-captain of the Rovers 1948 premiership team and, as a hard-hitting utility, was a key player. He would have been a bugger to play on. My father, who was his coach, reckoned that there were better players than Ken, but none had more spirit. Dad rated him highly and maintained a close friendship with him over the decades.
I’m willing to bet that ‘Doodles’ would have been the star turn at the post-match just as he was when celebrating the Hawks’ other 15 flags.
He had played just on 90 games with the Rovers when they gained admittance to the Ovens and Murray League in 1950. Age, which is the great steadier, began to take its toll on him and, after 11 more senior games he decided to hang up his boots.
He acted as a trainer for four years. Imagine those hands, calloused from his work as a concreter and brick-layer, manipulating your tender hammy or calf !
When the club moved from the Showgrounds to the Cricket Ground in the early fifties, Ken and blokes like Harry Armstrong and Spud Patat spent countless hours converting a hovel of a building into what became the base of the present Clubrooms.
Just for good measure, they set to and constructed wooden seats which ringed the oval. And volunteered for any other jobs that needed to be done.
‘Doodles’ was a top seller of raffle tickets, but had to admit his efforts paled into insignificance compared to those of his sister. ‘Little Alice’, as everyone called her, was confined to a wheelchair, but this didn’t deter her from extraordinary devotion to the club.
She had been her brother’s greatest fan when he was playing, but, long after he retired, remained one of the most familiar figures around the club.
‘Doodles’ had an endless repertoire of stories which he was only too willing to expound upon. There were the two Eldorado Gifts that he won (“the tape bruised my chest I was travelling that fast”), the 500-odd games of cricket he played with West End (including 4 hat-tricks, the last of them at 59). He would tell of how he treated Doug Ring, later to play cricket for Australia, with disdain when he gave the champion leggie a mauling in a pick-up match in New Guinea.
A 10-rounder he fought during the war with the world number three Andre Famechon (Johnny’s dad), only to lose on points, always rated a mention. As did the day he took Footscray star Harry Hickey apart in a match in the sweltering conditions of the tropics.
He also excelled as a tennis player and woodchopper and the Council Club’s tug-of-war team would not have performed the deeds it did without him, he insisted.
But there was another side to him. For 40 years he made it his mission to visit veterans and war widow patients at the Hospital and people raved about his warmth and compassion in this role.
He would not allow a bad word to be said about the Rovers Football Club and its players. Many a critic was stopped in his tracks by a stinging outburst from ‘Doodles’.
He was nearing the end when he asked if he could be taken out of his bed to watch the Rovers play an important match against Wangaratta. He got a kick out of the players making a fuss of him before the game, but he couldn’t last the distance and had to be taken back to hospital.
A few days later, this toughest of old Hawks died.