THE GENIUS OF THE GOAL-SQUARE

On match days you’ll find him in his usual spot, perched on a rail at one end of the Hogan Stand, intently watching the footy, possibly dragging on a ‘gasper’ and with a cleansing ale in his grasp.

He’s not far off his playing weight, 30-odd years after he finally pulled the pin on a memorable 15-year playing career.

I reckon if you threw Steve Norman a Sherrin and put him out near the 50-metre arc (well, maybe 40), he’d still be a chance to guide it through the big sticks.

He was a goal-kicking genius, and as responsible as anyone for the incredible run of success that the Rovers enjoyed in the seventies…………

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Steve remains as passionate about the game as he was when he was a little fella, booting the ball around the family’s White Street backyard and practicing taking ‘hangers’.

He would jump into the weatherboards on the side of the house and leap in the air, gaining valuable leverage and dreaming that he was one of the high-flying champions of the day.

His folks, Eddie and Enid, were mad-keen on footy and tennis and followed their kids’ sporting pursuits. And when Steve graduated from junior league club, Tigers, to the Rovers Reserves, they became committed Hawks.

The young bloke’s progress was steady. Those who proclaim that he was a ‘born full forward’, might consider that he didn’t assume that position on a permanent basis until 1971 – his third season with the Club.

It may have been due to a lackadaisical attitude towards training. Or just an easy-going kid being content to ‘go with the flow’ without flouting his obvious football talent.

He spent most of his first season in the Reserves, was dropped for five matches in the second and became an ‘overnight sensation’ in his third.

There was never any doubt, when placed permanently in the goal-square, that he was the answer to the Rovers’ prayers.

The knack of being able to ‘read’ the playing styles and kicking patterns of team-mates further afield made his job look easy.

But his telepathy with the likes of Neville Hogan, Eddie Flynn, Andrew Scott and Neville Pollard was uncanny. For instance, Hogan would wheel out of the centre, turn onto his left boot and, seemingly blindly, spear a pass which would find number 9 on the lead.

“You only had to be half a metre in front of your man and Neville made sure that you’d get it “, Steve claimed.

It was his speed off the mark that proved a great asset, but, for a bloke who stood just on six-feet tall he could mark with the best of them. And his drop-punt kicks were deadly accurate, no matter what the angle.

He was never a real advocate for hard training and reckoned that playing tennis in the off-season was ample to keep him in shape for the season ahead.

And his preparation for a game was hardly mind-blowing, either. “I loved playing football ; that’s all the build-up I needed,” he once said.

“Each Saturday morning I had a good sleep-in. Then, when I got up I filled in a giant crossword or did something to keep myself relaxed and in the right frame of mind.”

He played in the Rovers’ seven premierships during the seventies (he holds the O & M record), yet not many players would have been as nonchalant about their standing in the game.

The real buzz that footy gave him was being one of a group of mates who were sharing phenomenal success. ” We were virtually inseparable all-year round. We’d play up a fair bit, but it never affected our performances on the field, ” he reflected.

He equalled Bob Rose’s club record for the most goals kicked in a season, with 65 in 1971, then went on a scoring spree in subsequent seasons.

He booted 97 in 1973, 90 (’74), 118 (’75), 48 in ’76 (12 games), 115 (’77), 103 (’78), 69 (’79) and 95 in 1980.

His 1979 season was interrupted after a late-night altercation with a couple of opposition players. The Hawks had tangled with Wangaratta earlier in the day and there was a renewal of hostilities several hours later.

Steve broke a thumb when he ‘missed’ an assailant and his fist connected with a brick wall.

Fortunately, he was up and about again come finals time and helped the Hawks to another title.

Arguably his finest season came in 1977. His tally of 115 goals included 13 against Myrtleford and 11 against Corowa and when he lined up against Wangaratta in the Grand Final the Rovers needed little motivation.

The ‘Pies had run away from them to take out the flag the previous season,but this time around, from quarter-time onwards, the game was never in doubt.

Norman kicked 8 goals out of total of 20, as the Hawks won by 52 points.

But he thinks his 9 goals in a Preliminary Final against North Albury in 1973 was his best game for the Rovers. They went down by 11 points in a classic. “It was the only Grand Final we missed out on in 11 years, so it spoiled the day a bit, ” he recalls.

He never sought any more than the normal match-payments during his career, but one year Des Murphy, the Railway Hotel publican, offered him $1 per goal. The money was gratefully received and was put on the bar for the players to imbibe on the end-of-season cruise.

Despite his sizeable reputation, he found himself starting in the reserves on the odd occasion, after tennis had encroached on his pre-season training. Those in authority had felt he was a bit underdone.

“That didn’t worry me”, he said. ” It made me all the more determined when I came back into the ‘ones’.”

He battled groin injuries in his last couple of seasons and started to find it difficult to get out on the track. The Rovers went off the boil at bit, too, and he had to change his tactics.

His leap had deserted him and he began to rely more on ‘street smarts’ at ground-level. But he still remained an intrinsic part of the forward line.

Steve played the last of his 242 senior games with the Hawks in 1983 and had kicked 1,016 goals.

He is second only to North Albury great Stan Sargent on the O & M’s all-time list of super-boots.

The Norman statistics are mind-boggling. He kicked 6 goals or more in 68 matches, which included eight double-figure tallies. He is a member of both the Wang.Rovers and Ovens and Murray Halls of Fame.

When his son Karl arrived on the scene it was anticipated that the Hawks would inherit another goal-front maestro. But the lad’s forte’ was as a defender and, later on, as a powerful ruckman, in a colorful 121 game career with the Rovers and with Carlton, Mooroopna, Greta and Glenrowan.

It would be nice to think that we may one day see another Steve Norman. If so, Rovers fans would be in for a hell of a ride.

 
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