THE SPORTING PASSION OF DRAG HARRIS

‘Show no Fear’ would have been Alan Harris’s motto throughout his marathon sporting career.

And there’s no doubt he adhered to that philosophy to a tee.

Except, maybe, for a grey winter’s day in 1957, when he was chased around Wodonga’s Martin Park, by a Bulldog strong-man.

The cranky ruckman had, for some reason, taken an intense dislike to ‘Drag’, who was picking up plenty of kicks in his role as a nuggety, cheeky, Magpie on-baller.

He managed to stay one step ahead of the big fellah all day until, finally, he was cornered in a forward pocket and flattened.

“He put the shits up me, for sure”, he said, years later, as he recalled that the bloke with the short-fuse was eventually ‘rubbed out’ for life from both Aussie Rules and Rugby League.

 

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As the youngest of 19 kids, ‘Drag’ learnt very early on how to fend for himself.

And, while his footy, cricket and baseball careers unfolded and traversed their nooks and crannies, his various team-mates knew how handy it was to have him on your side.

He was introduced to sport by the kindly headmaster at Peechelba Primary School, Tom Stevenson.

Cricket was never a big deal at Peechelba before old Tom arrived.

Pretty soon the bat and ball were brought out at every play-time and young Alan was soaking up the advice of his teacher, who was an excellent batsman and spinner.

He never looked back. At the age of 10 he filled in for Peechelba’s Social cricket team – alongside skipper Stevenson – and at 12, after his father died and the family moved to Wangaratta, he was playing for Woollen Mills.

But the moment he threw his bat over the handlebars of his bike and headed down from his Greta Road house to the Showgrounds, he began a love affair with the Wangaratta Cricket Club which was to last almost a quarter of a century.

As a kid, his week-ends would be consumed by cricket in summer and football and baseball in winter.

He played in the Junior League with South Wanderers, alongside his near-neighbor, Lance Oswald, with whom he was to share the roving duties when he made the grade at Wangaratta.

‘Drag’ was doing his apprenticeship as a Joiner at Clayton’s at the time, and worked alongside Magpie team-mates Lou Cesa and ‘Hop’ McCormick. On training nights they would jump on their bikes and race madly down to the Showgrounds, with the younger Harris usually setting the pace.

A tough, hard-at-it left-footer, who loved to tear into packs, he played in a similar vein to current-day Magpie skipper Matt Kelly and was an ideal foil for the silky-skilled Oswald.

Unfortunately, on the eve of the 1957 finals, he went down with a serious knee injury and had to look on as the Pies defeated Albury in a dramatic Grand Final.

After he left the Magpies, ‘Drag’ spent a couple of seasons at Tarrawingee in the early 60’s and figured in their 1963 premiership side, combining this with coaching his old Junior League team, South Wanderers.

Training was always very physical at the Wanderers, just the way ‘Drag liked it.   “He would have you doing contesting work all night. There was no such thing as that dainty ‘Around-the-Circle’ stuff,” one of his players recalled.

When he hung up his footy boots he took on umpiring and was surprised how well he took to it. “I knew exactly what the players were going to do before they actually did it”,  he once said.

Baseball was a pretty big deal in Wangaratta during the 50’s and ‘Drag’ was one of its stars . He began with Dodgers and later moved to Tarrawingee when they formed. He was a regular North-East rep at the annual Country Carnivals.

Baseball, he figured, helped his cricket and enabled him to sight the ball better…….

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Cricket was always his true sporting love. At Wangaratta he came under the influence of two of the game’s local legends – Clem Fisher and Max Bussell – who both possessed a ruthless streak which ‘Drag’ was only too willing to emulate.

He played in a Grand Final in his first season and, by 1957 had improved sufficiently to earn selection in the Country Week team.

It was the first of his four trips to Melbourne as a player and provided an unforgettable memory, as Wangaratta took out their first – and only – Provincial title.

‘Drag’ didn’t believe in ‘mucking around’ at the crease. He was pugnacious, attacked the bowling with gusto and was never afraid to loft the ball into the outfield. His 6070 WDCA runs included five centuries.

He trundled up innocuous left-arm tweakers which looked harmless, but through a mixture of cunning and guile, connived to dismiss 259 batsmen.

He was at his most productive in the 60’s and was rated one of the competition’s outstanding all-rounders. But in his 238 games for Wangaratta, there was just one premiership – in 1963/64.

‘Drag’ was in his element at Country Week. Wangaratta sent a mostly young side to Bendigo, with a couple of older fellows to steady the ship. With his irrepressible nature he was ideal for the role. His way of welcoming the young kids when the team congregated on the Sunday night, would be to wrestle a few of them into submission.

His introduction to the art of wicket-making came when Clem Fisher enlisted his help in making the ‘deck’ for the match against the visiting Englishmen in 1959. He reckoned that being a curator for over 45 years gavFullSizeRendere him his greatest sporting satisfaction.

The sight of his familiar figure, clad in the trademark shirt with sleeves hacked off, shorts and straw hat, sauntering behind the roller on the Showgrounds, Galen or Bruck wickets, became one of  the faces of summer.

Recognising the need for kids in the Yarrunga area to have an opportunity to play senior cricket, he was responsible for the formation of a new club. He also came to the rescue of College when they were on the brink of collapse. Within a year they were playing in a Grand Final.

But when time precluded his direct involvement, both clubs withered and died.

He was coaxed into playing Sunday cricket alongside his son Gary. His wife Betty, who had been his most enthusiastic fan throughout his career, was delighted.

She was beaming with pride the day Alan and Gary – dubbed ‘Me and Dad’ – figured in a 200-run partnership for Royal Vic against Woollen Mills.

His week-ends were taken up with cricket -umpiring on Saturdays and playing on Sundays . Betty had been the scorer, then took over as secretary of the WSCA for 15 years. The Harris’s were synonymous with the Sunday association.

They pushed for a Sunday representative team and with ‘Drag’ as Manager/Coach and Betty as his side-kick, the WSCA surprised the cynics with their success.

The demise of the Sunday competition in 2003 saw the close of ‘Drag’s active involvement in cricket. But he still retained his zest for the game.

As he once said, he had a cupboard full of terrific memories of sport to go along with the various accolades he received.

Few people  in Wangaratta sport FullSizeRenderwould have made such a telling contribution, on and off the field.

 

 

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