Over a 13-month period, ‘On Reflection’ has profiled a host of Wangaratta’s finest sportsmen. Some have been international stars, world and national champions. Many have appealed because of their extraordinary devotion to their particular sport.
This week’s subject is an ardent sports enthusiast. Let’s call him ‘The Fanatic’. He dabbled in cycling, football, cricket and horse-racing and can debate, with the authority of a Bruce McAveney, the pros and cons of all sports.
He once finished sixth in a national under-age cycling championship, opened the bowling in a WDCA final, proved a competent O & M reserves player and was more than handy when he lined up at centre half forward in the Blue and White of King Valley for a couple of seasons.
They claimed at the Valley that never had a player arrived at the Swinburne Pavilion displaying such sartorial elegance. Often a three-piece suit was his attire on match day and cockies, arriving in work ‘mocca’ after a strenuous morning’s work in the dairy, would be startled by the sight of this ‘Raggsy’ Goold look-alike in the humble dressing-rooms.
His long, excruciating journey as a racehorse-owner was at times a litany of disaster, and would strike a common chord with many others who have become entranced/seduced by the dream of owning a Cup-winning thoroughbred.
“Better for the run”……..”‘Might be suited to a longer distance”……”We reckon it needs a spell in the back paddock to freshen it up”…….”That bastard of a jockey murdered it….didn’t give it a chance.”……”He got boxed in when they turned for home. Until then he looked a real show.”…..They were some of the tales of woe he would spin upon returning home, grim-faced from another down day at the track.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Amidst all of this doom he did experience occasional success. Mr.Curiosity chalked up a few wins and Triple Toss was a handy galloper-turned steeplechaser which he raced with a colorful Gippsland identity, Billy Vowell, a bloke who rode the roller-coaster of life with reckless abandon.
Bill made and lost a couple of fortunes, but always came up smiling. Triple Toss was his passport to another financial ‘recovery’ and they were exciting times when the owners were taking out a few country and a couple of impressive city races.
A fair portion of the stake-money would go towards hefty celebrations. And did they know how to let their hair down ! People who got to know our abstemious subject over the last 30 years would be surprised to learn that he could raise hell with the best of them.
He has adopted an intense sporting ritual in recent years that entails attending footy training twice a week, to cast an expert eye over ‘the boys’ and to pick up any morsel of O & M ‘scuttlebutt’ that may be floating around among the onlookers.
He will never miss a match involving his club and his mood on a Saturday evening is dictated by the way ‘the boys’ have played. He can be critical, analytical, even threaten to give them away, but by Tuesday evening he has settled down and forgiven them for whatever ‘sins’ they have committed.
An ardent TV sport watcher, he sits glued to the Tour de France coverage. Some of us are beguiled by the magnificent scenery which is a feature of ‘Le Tour’ , but he is absorbed in the riding tactics and professes that just about every cyclist who makes a break from the peloton (unless he is an Aussie) is ‘on the juice’.
It’s worth pointing out that cycling was always his real ‘go’. He was a mere juvenile when he first started competing and was at home in road races. He was proud of the fact,though, that he contested a Wang Wheelrace final and there was the time that he and the legendary Barry Waddell ‘rode the card’ at a Gold Coast bike meet in the sixties.
It’s purely incidental that Waddell, who prevailed in five successive Sun Tours and was a National track champion, won five of the feature races and, in the sixth, our subject held him off in a blanket finish.
Nevertheless, like all old bikies, they become so indoctrinated into their sport that the urge to throw their leg over the saddle never leaves them. You can be cruising along a country road, many miles from town when you happen upon a veteran, old enough to be your grandfather, pushing hard, and probably re-enacting some of his memorable moments in the sport some thirty or forty years earlier.
Truth be known, it’s probably the fellow we’re profiling.
And so it came to pass a couple of weeks ago, that ‘The Fanatic’ was reaching the concluding stages of his daily 30km ride. He was ‘warming down’ and turned into one of Wangaratta’s newer residential estates.
Admiring some newly-planted trees, he failed to account for a parked vehicle which suddenly loomed up in front of him.
He swerved at the last minute to avoid it, and was thrown into mid-air, over the handle-bars and onto the bitumen.
The result ? A broken neck. Whilst bailed up in hospital as his 70 year-old body takes time to recuperate, he has plenty of time to ascertain whether his lengthy liaison with his first sporting love is over.
My betting is that he is already anticipating pulling on the Lycra and returning to the saddle.