I’ve just spent a couple of laughter-filled hours talking sport with a delightful old couple from Swinburne Drive.
He’s a former South Melbourne champ ; she’s his trusty side-kick. His memory is reasonable-enough, but whenever he falters with a name from the past, she’s there to fill the missing link. Or warn him not to over-embellish some of the yarns he’s telling.
You’d have to be of my vintage – or beyond – to be vaguely familiar with the name Eddie Lane.
In the halcyon days of the fifties , when you’d fork out a penny ha’penny for a Coles ‘special’, or dive into the Kornies cereal box for the complimentary footy swap-card, Eddie’s was one of the most sought-after.
He was dealt a rough deal about 36 years ago, when he contracted Retinitis. It’s left him completely blind, but with his wife Margaret at his side they still manage to find the bright side of life.
That’s the way it has always been……….
They grew up across the road from one another in Albert Park. He’s six years older, but Margaret was mates with one of his sisters and they inevitably hooked up.
Marg’s grandfather, Jack Hudson, was a long-term Head Trainer for South Melbourne, Victoria and the Australian Test team. The Swans were part of her family’s DNA.
Eddie played with both his junior team, South Colts, and Amateur club South Districts on week-ends. When he arrived at the Lake Oval in 1951, he was a ready-made player.
It was the dream of every lad in the area to turn out for their beloved Bloods. They didn’t enjoy a lot of success in this era but boasted a few individual stars of the calibre of Billy Williams, Jim Taylor, Bill Gunn, Jimmy Dorgan and Ron Clegg.
Along with a couple of his brothers, Eddie scored a job on the wharves. Most of his work-mates were dyed-in-the-wool Swans and made sure he didn’t expend too much energy, particularly on the eve of a game.
If he was rostered on night shift of a Friday night, for example, they would tell him to make himself scarce and find a quiet spot to have a snooze.
He stood just 168cm, but was clever, courageous and dynamite around goals. South had spent years around the lower-reaches of the ladder, but rose dramatically in 1952. Eddie personally had enjoyed a fine season.
All that was required to clinch a finals berth was to knock over Footscray at the Western Oval in the final round. But the Dogs proved too strong and South lamented one of their worst performances of the season. They missed the finals, just two points behind fourth-placed Carlton.
In the aftermath, the club relieved key forward Gordon ‘Whopper’ Lane (no relation) of the coaching job. He had been a fine coach, in Eddie’s opinion, but some committee-men were keen to move him on.
“There was always a bit of politics going on at the club. The coaching position was a revolving-door for a few years,” he says.
Eddie took out the club Best & Fairest in 1954 and finished equal third in the Brownlow Medal. But he regards the following season as his best in Red and White.
The interstate selectors obviously thought so too, as he was named in the squad of 21 to travel by train to Adelaide in mid-season.
“The night before the game they announced the side and I was the one to miss out. One of the officials plonked a schooner in front of me and said: ‘Here, Ed, seeing as you’re not playing, you may as well wrap your hands around this.”
“I was 26 and had never touched the grog, but thought it’d be polite to drink it. Then they followed with a few more and I had the staggers.”
“You wouldn’t believe it, a while later Essendon’s Jack Clarke tripped on the front steps of the pub and sprained his ankle. So the officials have dragged me under the shower to try and sober me up.”
Margaret, his fiancée at this stage, listened in to the game on the wireless the next day, and heard the commentators describe ‘a goal booted by the lively Lane” in the final quarter, unaware of the circumstances behind his unique interstate debut with the ‘big V’.
The Vics won, 15.11 to 9.10, and celebrated heartily on the return train journey. Margaret was proudly waiting at the station, but couldn’t track Eddie down.
“I went home to mum’s house. I said ‘Something must have happened to Ed. I can’t locate him.”
” ‘They dropped him off here. He’s in bed, drunk,” Mum replied’.
Eddie reckons that, although he was a slow starter on the grog, he caught up pretty quickly.
South finished tenth in 1955, but, come the night of the Brownlow count, he was tipped as the favourite. The word had been out for quite a while that he was the ‘hot’ chance.
“I was working that night and a lot of the boys on the wharf were gathered around the wireless, listening to the count. I was called away for a while and just got back to catch the dulcet tones of 3AW’s Norman Banks announcing, ‘…………..from South Melbourne is the winner of the 1955 Brownlow Medal.’ ”
” ‘You bloody beauty’, I said under my breath………Lo and behold, our full back Freddie Goldsmith became the only full back in history to take it out. No one rated him at all. I ended up fourth, equal with Denis Cordner of Melbourne and Carlton’s young Johnny James.
It was an era when League stars were being lured to the bush with the offer of attractive coaching jobs. The Coulter Law dictated that all VFL players were on a standard payment of 7 pounds a game.
“Bairnsdale came down and offered a bit over 20 quid a week. That was good money at the time, so I decided to leave South.”
Eddie had played 99 games and booted 130 goals in his six years with the Swans. They awarded him a Life Membership on his departure.
He had a bit of success in his four years at the helm of the Bairnsdale Redlegs, then took charge at neighbouring Lindenow for another three. They dubbed him the ‘Mayor of Lindenow’. “Some of the best years of my footy life,” he reckons.
When they returned to the city, his original club, South Districts, chased him up and offered him the coaching job. After another three enjoyable years he decided it was time to hang up the boots.
He spent many years working at the Par-3 Albert Park golf course, but eventually, with his eyes the way they were, had to give it away. “I knew I was in trouble when I was mowing the grass and ended in the lake a couple of times,” he says.
Marg used to drive him up to Wangaratta to watch their son Robert -‘Rocky’ – playing with North Wang each week. “I said to Ed : ‘We may as well live up here.’ Then Marty, our other son, made the move. And later, our daughter, Jennine shifted over from Tassie with her family, to be close to us.”
‘Rocky’ and his mate Les Goonan took Eddie down to the great Bobbie Skilton’s Testimonial, at Crown Casino 20-odd years ago.
“I tell people Skilton wouldn’t have won his three Brownlows if I hadn’t taken him under my wing, but the truth is, my last game with South was Bob’s first,” he says.
He was delighted to be in the company of the Swans ‘family’ again. “It took ages to get him to his seat. All these old South diehards wanted to catch up with him,” Les recalled …….
“Unfortunately, when we were leaving, Eddie and Rob both took a tumble down the escalator. Ed was upset because his prized Victorian blazer and a brand-new pair of dacks he’d bought for the occasion, were ruined. But he wasn’t in very good shape, was taken away in an ambulance and spent a bit of time in hospital.”
Eddie takes up the story : “….Rob and Les convinced me to leave my wallet with them for safe-keeping. When they returned it to me, it was empty. The bastards had the rest of the night on me at the Casino ! ” he jokes.
Ed’s 88 and is just back home after spending a few days in hospital. “They nurses said they’ll miss me. I kept ’em on their toes,” he jokes.
He and Marg celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. They look forward to their 5 grand-kids and 2 great grand-kids regularly popping in.
He had a ready answer for one of the grandkids, who asked him a few years ago how he came to be such a great footballer when he was blind.
“Easy…….I’ll have you know, I was the one who invented the blind turn………..”