CHARISMA, LEADERSHIP…… AND WHITE-LINE FEVER.

The Rovers ground was ‘home’ to my mates and I when we were growing up in the fifties.

We would spend hour after hour down there and knew every inch of its terrain. Most of our time was spent taking ‘spekkies’, wrestling for possession of the footy, having hundreds of shots for goal, following the stars around, revelling in the glorious victories and shedding a tear or two when the Hawks lost.

It was our piece of heaven. Our dream was to follow in the footsteps of the many champions who had worn the Brown and Gold and, one day, run out onto that hallowed turf as a member of the senior side.

My opportunity finally came mid-way through 1966.

It was, of course, long before social media had been conceived. You learned of your selection either in Friday morning’s ‘Border Morning Mail’, or by perusing the Team lists which were placed on the windows of some of the Rovers-oriented businesses around town.

Sure enough, my name was there.

I was thankful that our coach Ken Boyd had presented me with an opportunity ( deserved was improbable ; possibly more for encouragement, I guessed ). Nevertheless, a senior career, notable for its mediocrity, was about to begin.

It was a ‘gentle’ initiation. Named as 19th man against our arch rivals, Yarrawonga, at home, I pulled off the dressing gown sometime through the third quarter and was given the simple instruction: ” Go down to the forward pocket. You’re on ‘Pascoe’ Ellis.”.

What !! I’d heard enough about old ‘Pascoe’ to know that he had a reputation as a ‘dirty bastard’ -one of the O & M’s genuine tough-men.

As I jogged onto the ground towards him, I caught sight of his fearsome visage. Grizzled face, thick-set frame, oiled arms,  thighs like tree-trunks. I wondered what sort of a reception would greet me.

My angular physique tensed. Be prepared…… he could do anything.

His hand shot out to greet me.   “Good luck, son. Ken Ellis is the name”, was the gruff introduction.

What a gentleman, I thought. Maybe he’s mellowing in his old age…..But it could have also have been the presence of Ken Boyd, lurking in the area, that prompted him to mind his manners………

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I ran into ‘Pascoe’ recently. He’s a genial guy with a gift of the gab – a prominent figure at Pigeon-land, who has served the club for decades.

He doesn’t mind pumping Yarra up and delights in having a yap about the old days. And he’s not backward in propagating the stories about his he-man reputation, either.

But he dips his lid to ‘Boydy’ as probably the most frightening player he came across. I’m sure all O&M players of the sixties would agree…………

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I must admit, it had been a huge thrill to run out behind Ken Boyd. We young fellahs idolised him and lapped up all the details of his notorious past.

The newspapers had dubbed him as some sort of football terrorist – a sixties version of Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden all rolled into one.

It was true that he had been suspended for a total of 30 games in his 60-odd matches with South Melbourne. He decided to call it quits on his VFL career after being rubbed out for 12 matches for striking Big John Nicholls on an infamous day at Carlton’s Princes Park.

It coincided with the Rovers looking for a successor to the legendary Bob Rose, who advised that his body was ‘shot’ and that he had plans to return to the city after six fabulous years with the Hawks.

My dad was part of the sub-committee, which had been given surprisingly positive reports about this volatile ruckman with the incredibly bad rap-sheet.

They arranged to meet Boydy at South’s Lake Oval and were ushered into a small ante-room occupied by the Swans’ head trainer, Bill Mitchell, for the interview.

After 20 minutes they had decided on Rose’s successor. He came across as a sincere, honest, intelligent and charismatic young man ( he was just 23 ). They were certain that Big Bad Ken would guide the Hawks into a bright new era.

Ken had served four weeks of his suspension when he arrived in Wangaratta. The Rovers attempted to have the remaining eight weeks rescinded, but were unsuccessful. So Bob Rose agreed to continue on for another season, with Boydy playing out the 1962 season when he became available.

He took over in his own right the following year and inherited a youthful side with plenty of talent. Some of the young blokes had played in the Reserves flag in 1962 and were just starting their careers.

Boydy shaped them into a skilful, hard-hitting combination which, by the following season, was ready to ‘reach for the stars’.

He was never far from controversy and became somewhat of a ‘Human Headline’ with his ferocious play. There was no doubt about it, he had a hefty dose of ‘white line fever’. But his breezy easy-going manner made him a favourite with everyone in the club and he marshalled the troops with ease.

The Rovers became the first club to head overseas on an end-of-season trip, with much of the fund-raising initiatives coming from the coach.

A second-storey extension to the Clubrooms was undertaken and he ensured that he and his players were at the forefront of the working-bees during its construction.

The great camaraderie that the players had built up was a contributing factor in the Rovers 1964 premiership. The following year they repeated the dose, sneaking home by two points against Wangaratta.

He was the consummate team-player, not over-skilled, but with a real presence on the field. Aggression was a by-product of his fierce will-to-win.

It landed him in hot-water in a match against Corowa in 1964, when he tangled with Corowa coach Frank Tuck. The incident was the focus of a sensational article in the following Tuesday’s Melbourne Herald.

The sequel to this drama was played out in the Supreme Court two years later – when he sued the Herald and Weekly Times for damages. Against all considered opinion Ken won the case.

He battled a persistent back injury for much of 1966 and it was obvious that his career was drawing to a close. But he didn’t plan the stormy exit from the game that eventuated.

The Preliminary Final against Wangaratta was slipping away from the Rovers’ grasp when all hell broke loose in the third quarter. Ken was booked on four separate charges.

He announced his retirement after the game.

It was standing-room only at Rutherglen the following Wednesday night, as the local and national media converged for the Tribunal hearing – the final stanza of the Boyd career.

It was anti-climactic. Ken presented a statutory Declaration, called no witnesses and copped his punishment on the chin….Eight weeks.

He returned to Melbourne and was touted as a successor to the retiring Bob Skilton as coach of South Melbourne. But no, he said, he intended to concentrate on business.

Instead, he became a selector and confidant to incoming coach, Alan Millar, before finally exiting the game completely……

 

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Friday, March 18, 1916: The Rovers Guernsey Presentation and Hall of Fame Night. The place is chockers and bubbling with feverish expectation for the season ahead.

A swag of kids, embarking on their football journey with the Hawks, rise and are introduced to the crowd. A handful are possibly in line to make their senior debut. It is all about the future……

I glance across the room and catch sight of the Rovers oldest surviving Hall of Famer, surrounded by old team-mates and soaking up the atmosphere.

The great Ken Boyd is in his element……

 

 

 

 

 

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