Picture this scenario. A struggling Ovens and Murray club, preparing for the season ahead, has endured a barren summer on the recruiting front.
Where are the players going to come from, to lift them from also-rans to contendors ? …..Another problem is that finances are rather precarious and it is necessary to keep a tight rein on the club’s purse.
Suddenly, news filters through that a family has arrived in town and, importantly, the five brothers all play football.
What a recruiting bonanza ! This was the good fortune that befell Wangaratta on the eve of the 1929 season. Two of the brothers proved to be champions and were to be nominated in the Club’s Team of the Century, seventy-seven years later.
The other three were handy players for the ‘Pies and, when the five of them lined up in the same side, they created an O & M record that still stands to this day.
They were the famous Careys.
Walter Steane Carey moved to Wangaratta with his wife and family of 9 ( five boys, four girls), from Devon Meadows, near Cranbourne, just as the cloud of the Depression began to enshroud the nation.
Steane, as he was commonly known, could try his hand at anything, and had a crack at tobacco farming and gold mining.
But building was his forte’ and most of the boys also plied the trade. They had to assume more responsibility when their ‘old man’ sustained syenite poisoning in his knee, from gold-mining and walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.
Steane Street, which was named after Carey the elder, contains much of the family’s handiwork.
The Carey lads were already well-advanced in their football careers by the time they pulled on the Black and White guernsey. Bert had played five games with Fitzroy and was a somewhat controversial figure ; George, Bill and Stan were players of varying talent.
The other brother, Fred, was a highly-rated utility, who had begun with Hopetoun and made a big impression with VFA club, Northcote.
The Magpies were under the coaching guidance of former Hawthorn player, Dermott O’Brien,in 1929, but when he quit during the season, Fred Carey took over.
He had played brilliantly up to this point and a leadership role suited him. Wang finished the home and away rounds in second position, but bombed out in a cut-throat semi-final.
Fred handed over the coaching reins to St.Kilda’s Ern Loveless the following year, but the ‘Pies struggled on-field, and financially, running up a debt of 248 pounds, a huge sum in those days.
Officials felt that they had no option to transfer to the Ovens and King League, where the reduction of travel and playing expenses would ease the burden.
Again they called on Fred Carey to assume the coaching role. Understanding the club’s plight, he agreed to do the job for nothing.
The O & K was of comparable standard to the O &M. The Chronicle of the day reported a big improvement in players’ attitudes: “It is obvious the players are a lot closer this season and it can be attributable in no small way to the efforts of Fred Carey. No players are being paid.”
Wangaratta outpointed Moyhu in a classic Grand Final and notched another flag in 1932, when it outclassed Whorouly.
One of their ‘guns’ was Bert Carey, who won the League goal-kicking in both seasons. He had an uncanny goal-sense, either from running or set shots and booted 21 goals out of a team total of 25 in one match.
Bert was an outstanding all-round sportsman. He was a star in a Golden Era of Wangaratta cricket and old-timers rated him among the all-time greats of the game. A left-arm bowler of considerable pace, he swung the ball considerably, both ways – sometimes too much – and was a hard-hitting batsman with a good technique.
His first Country Week trip, in 1929, produced 20 wickets at an average of 5.6, including successive hauls of 7/21 and 5/39. He was to become the cornerstone of the Wang attack during the thirties.
In the 1933 Carnival he snared 6/11, 5/39, 5/24, 4/57 and 40 not out and followed this up with 4/67 in the Final, which Wangaratta duly win.
Bert was somewhat of an individual, but when on-song on the football field, he was well nigh-unstoppable. In addition to his original stint with Fitzroy, he was twice enticed to Hawthorn, in 1933 and 1937, before answering the call of home ( or possibly the persuasiveness of his brother).
A highly-skilled rover, he could be swung with telling effect to the spearhead, where he produced some of his most memorable performances.
Fortunately, Wangaratta, had wiped off their financial millstone and now boasted a healthy balance. Their return to the O & M in 1933 was greeted enthusiastically by all in the town and the news that Bert Carey was returning from Hawthorn mid-season was icing on the cake.
He formed a lethal liaison with Len Nolan up forward and the pair bagged 18 of the ‘Pies 20 goals in a convincing 78-point Preliminary Final win over Corowa.
But the real architect of Wangaratta’s rejuvenation was Fred Carey, who dominated in a number of positions. It was no surprise when he tallied 18 votes to win the inaugural Morris Medal by one vote, from Yarrawonga’s Harold Ball.
The Grand Final at Corowa was against Border United, who had snuck past Wang to win the second-semi by 5 points. And the Pies were in trouble in the big one, being held to 2 points against a strong breeze in the first term.
In fact, they were also goalless in the third quarter, but managed to storm over the top of United in the dying stages of the game, to win the flag by a point.
It signalled huge celebrations, and Fred Carey was at the heart of them. He was a larger-than-life personality and held in high esteem by the players.
He did ruffle a few feathers the following summer when the constabulary happened upon him on the banks of the Murray, pursuing his favourite recreation -fishing- with the assistance of some dynamite !
Wangaratta were there or thereabouts in the following two seasons, but snared another premiership in 1936.
And they had to do it the hard way. Finishing on top of the ladder, they lost the second-semi to Rutherglen, but played superbly in the Grand Final to win by 20 points.
In Carey’s seven years at the helm they had won four flags.
His magic touch eluded him in 1937 and the Pies slumped to the bottom of the ladder, with only two wins.
At 35, it was time for the old ace to move on and he left his beloved Magpies, much to their regret.
He was a Life Member and in 9 years as a player, had always given of his best, as had his family.
Fred Carey spent two years at the helm of O &K club, Waratahs, before hanging up,his boots for good. He died in 1964, aged 62.