Hundreds of aspiring athletes – or maybe footballers looking for that vital extra yard – came under the tutelage of a wise old owl, who regarded the Showgrounds as his domain for almost 50 years.
Marty Bean was his name. Although he was nothing more than an average runner himself, he had a terrific influence on the careers of several champions.
Marty was born in 1896 and was always interested in sport. He learned about the conditioning and tactics of running by asking questions of others involved in the sport. In time he became renowned as a superb judge of a runner.
He had played on a wing in Wangaratta’s 1920 premiership side and acted as Head Trainer for the Magpies for 17 years. Hence the tendency of many footballers to keep fit over the summer months by ‘doing a bit with Marty’.
One of his first ‘protege’s’ was a footy team-mate, Jim Larkings, who had incredible endurance and competed for 28 years, after first winning the 400 yard event at the inaugural Carnival, in 1919.
Gentleman Jim became known as the ‘Shadow King’, a nickname coined because of the regularity with which he filled the minor placings at Wangaratta.
In his prime there were few better runners in the state, but he just couldn’t greet the judge in the final of his home Gift. He finished second twice (1919 and 1926), third twice and fourth once.
He was a regular training partner of Mick Maroney, whom Bean guided to the Gift, off 12 yards, in becoming the first local winner of the event in 1930.
What’s more, there were always promising schoolboy athletes approaching the cagey veteran and asking him to take them under his wing.
One such youngster was Frank Seymour……..
Seymour’s adolescent years coincided with the advent of World War II. The nation was pre-occupied by the goings-on of the battle-royal being waged on several overseas fronts, and sport had been placed on the back-burner.
But the lad was an ardent footballer and played his first senior games with Wangaratta in the Murray Valley Association, under the tutelage of a tough old ex-VFL star, George Robbins.
The cessation of hostilities saw Ovens and Murray football resume and Frank, at the tender age of 17, earned his share of senior matches with the Magpies.
Wangaratta went on to win the 1946 premiership and the youngster was a member of the line-up, which included Laurie Nash,Doug and Jack Ferguson, Tommy Bush and Kevin French.
By now, Marty Bean, the strict disciplinarian, had convinced Frank that he possessed the wherewithal to make his mark in the world of pro running. He gave him the advice that he no doubt passed on to all up-and-comers :
“Son, you have to be dead keen, not just to run, but to listen to what I tell you. If you’re half-hearted I’m not interested in you”.
Unregistered athletic meetings provided plenty of opportunities for runners to test their ability in those days. Handy pocket money was available at places like Eldorado, Whorouly, Stanley, Bowman’s Forest and Moyhu.
After some success against a few talented sprinters, Frank realised that he was good enough to give it a go in the pro ranks.
He enjoyed the atmosphere of the big meetings and the camaraderie which existed among the athletes.
Wangaratta was the big one for him, though. ‘Old Marty’ had been setting him for the Silver Jubilee Gift of 1947 and was confident that his charge could become the third local to take out the ‘Blue Ribbon’ at what was rated the best mixed Carnival in Australia.
A blistering-hot January day had reduced the afternoon attendance, but when dusk fell, the crowd had swelled to almost-capacity. You could literally hear the buzz around the oval, as Seymour and other members of the Bean stable – Jack O’Keeffe, Max Christie and Maurie Morley – were roared on by the local supporters.
And when Frank registered the fastest time of the day in his semi, to be installed as warm favourite for the final, he carried the weight of the crowd on his shoulders.
Morley also ran well to reach the final, but it was to be Frank Seymour’s night.
Running off seven yards, he breasted the tape, to edge out Sydney taxi-driver J.C.King, who was also well- fancied and well-marked off 10 yards.
A large contingent of Wangaratta footballers could hardly contain their excitement, having backed their team-mate for a sizeable sum.
Frank continued to compete on the pro circuit for many years, but this was to prove his greatest triumph.
He made the trip to Stawell on six occasions, but experienced little success. He was never comfortable, he reckoned, on the uphill camber of Stawell’s Centennial Park track.
His professional career lasted into the early ’50’s, before hamstring-related injuries forced him out of the game.
He focused, instead, on helping the enthusiastic Bill Eaton to get Wangaratta’s Little Athletics off the ground in 1957.
The emergence of many keen youngsters prompted them to organise training, and then meetings, which further enhanced their development.
Seymour sought re-instatement as an amateur, which permitted him to compete in the senior Harriers competition.
Just as his old mentor had done for decades, Frank Seymour continued to make a lasting contribution to the development of local athletes.
Some of the footballers who sought the assistance of Marty Bean, to ‘pick up a yard’, lacked the necessary patience to succeed.
He was well in his ’70’s when I reported to the running guru, and expected him to wave the wand which would magically transform me from a plodder to a pacy utility player.
Instructed to run a few laps, which seemed to go on for hours, I concluded that the ‘old bastard’ had either (a) forgotten about me, (b) reasoned that I was suited to distance running, or (c) deduced that I was one of those half-hearted blokes who were wasting his time.
I disappeared off the track after two nights, never to return…….