‘COCO’, THE WHISTLING GROCER……..

They called him ‘Coco’.

No-one’s sure of the derivation of the nickname; just that it seemed to fit him perfectly. In his prime he was one of Wangaratta’s outstanding sportsmen – a fellah with a combustible temperament ; easily-distinguishable by his thatch of ginger hair.

Us kids knew him as ‘Old Jim’, the effervescent man in the grocer shop which adjoined dad’s business in Murphy Street.

He probably got sick of our visits. We would ask if he’d like us to sweep the floor or clean up the cellar. The reward for our labours would be a bag of broken biscuits.

Many years later, when he was quite elderly and took an interest in our exploits on the football field, the welcome would be the same as it always was: “Hello, m’boy”……………….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..Jim Boyd was tallish, agile and slightly-built and first made his mark on the sporting scene as a key position player with the Wangaratta Magpies.

He was a mere teen-ager when he played in successive Grand Finals for Wangaratta. The first of these was in 1922, when they surprised the hotly-fancied St.Patrick’s to win the Final by a goal – 7.8 to 6.8, with young Boyd a star in defence.

As was the rule in those days, if the minor premiers won the Final they clinched the flag. They had the right to challenge if defeated.

So the teams met again, in front of a large crowd at the Albury Sportsground. St.Pat’s led convincingly at three quarter-time, but the Magpies came home with a flourish, to fall short by just two points.

It was Wangaratta against the unbeaten St.Pat’s in the Final the following year. Aside from the regular rail transport, four special trains were needed to ferry fans to the big match at Corowa.

The lead had ebbed and flowed throughout the game, but the ‘Greens’ kept the pressure on their opponents and held on to win by seven points and become outright premiers for the third successive year.

Boyd had been used with good effect at either end of the ground and had become one of the team’s most reliable players. His move to Ballarat in the mid-1920’s left a hole in the Magpie line-up, but proved to be a boon for his development. He had now become an established spearhead .

Essendon saw something in ‘Coco’ and recruited him in 1927. He managed two senior games at full forward , but when he returned home to Wang the following season, his reputation as a goal-kicker was cemented.

He kicked several bags of goals, including a then club record 15 in one game and nine in another.img_1880

The Ovens and Murray hosted a near full-strength VFL representative team at the Showgrounds during the 1928 season and ‘Coco’ was named at the goal-front.

The VFL struggled to break the shackles of the persistent locals, but drew away in the closing stages to win by seven points, after trailing into time-on.

Geelong’s ‘Jocka’ Todd, renowned as the outstanding full back of the day, was unable to contain the elusive Boyd, who kicked five goals and was named among the O & M’s best players.

Jim worked in the grocery section at Callander’s and ultimately began his own licensed grocery over the road.

Whereas you’ll now find soothing music emanating from many of the stores in Wangaratta’s central business precinct, 60 years ago it was ‘Coco’s’ cheery whistle which floated down the footpaths – a sort of serenade of a Pied Piper.

He hung up his footy boots in the early 30’s and turned his hand to golf, at which he was a proficient low-handicapper.

He then became an enthusiastic bowler and was, in fact, Wangaratta Bowls Club’s champion in 1955/56. He was runner-up three times and probably suffered from being in the shadow of that Wangaratta legend – Bill Hickey.

It was in a championship round in the early fifties, that he earned some notoriety, as the eyes of everyone on the links were riveted upon him.

Aggravated by an opponent who was continually ‘stalling’, the well-known Boyd temper had reached boiling point.

He was incensed by this unsportsmanlike act, which invoked the full force of his fiery disposition. He proceeded to ‘flatten’ his foe, bringing down a 12-month suspension upon his head and shrouding the Bowls Club in controversy.

‘Coco’ eventually overcame this indignity and became an inter-town stalwart for many years, skipping the Wangaratta pennant team and combining with his great mates, Alf Goldsworthy and Henry Howell in some memorable triumphs.

On a hot day he would appear at the bowling greens with his tender, ruddy skin bespattered with sun cream; a towel wrapped around his hat,  giving him the appearance of a desert sheik – and a rather stern one at that.

Along with Bill Hickey and Reg Hennessey, ‘Coco’ was among Wangaratta’s finest exponents of billiards, when it was a highly-popular local sport.

And you knew you had a fair-dinkum battle on your hands when his steely gaze met you across the green felt of the table. He won 11 Wangaratta Club championships and was the toughest of opponents.

Someone recalled him bringing a can of oil on championship nights, to lubricate the doors, so that they wouldn’t squeak and upset his concentration during a game.

‘Coco’ remained an avid football follower and would negotiate the short journey from his house, on the corner of Grey and Templeton Streets, to watch the Magpies or the Rovers play.

With a brisk gait, and flourishing a tripod walking stick, he became a familiar figure and, as usual the greeting was : “Hello m’boy.”

Eventually his knees gave way and he would get a lift down to the games.

As his health deteriorated there were a few hospital stays. On one visit an old sportsman recalls him giving the nurses a hard time, then apologising profusely for his behaviour.

It was the renowned Boyd temper, which had always been capable of erupting during his sporting career, again coming to the fore.

‘Coco’ Boyd, another of Wangaratta’s cavalcade of sporting personalities, was 92 when he passed away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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