Old-time Wangaratta cricketers were so effusive in their praise of Frank Archman that they deemed him the ‘Oldfield of the Bush’.
The man they nicknamed ‘Dark Dawn’ was chuffed by that comparison, as he had modelled his wicket-keeping style on the legendary Bertie Oldfield, Australia’s finest pre-war gloveman.
Swarthy of complexion and as nimble as a cat, Archman was a fixture behind the stumps in club and representative fixtures for two decades. Only the onset of World War 2 brought about his reluctant retirement.
His father, Tom, was an outstanding golfer and won nine Wangaratta championships, but the youngster’s passion was cricket. He thrived on the constant involvement in the game that wicket-keeping provided, and the challenges it presented.
Frank was just coming of age when sport in the area was revived after the Great War.
Interest in cricket had fallen to a low ebb, but a new breed of players were coming through. In no time equilibrium had been restored and Wangaratta were producing representative teams of substance.
Archman’s first WDCA club was Teague’s, which then merged into Russell,Baird & Simpson ( a team sponsored by a local automotive company).
His move over to newly-formed club, Footballers, came in 1924 and he stayed with them for the remainder of his career.
They were to become one of the power clubs of the association. Archman was a central figure, as he avidly recruited talented newcomers, who enabled them to remain at, or near the top. Many joined him in representative teams.
Frank’s first visit to Country Week was as a member of a combined Rutherglen-Wangaratta team. Some dissatisfaction had been expressed beforehand that Wang had only been allotted a handful of places in the squad.
It was a liaison that was destined to end in tears, and the following year – 1925 – Wangaratta went of its own accord.
Archman didn’t miss another trip until the war, excepting 1937, when the pending arrival of his son Bryan, forced his absence.
He believed in keeping up to the stumps to all but the quickest of bowlers and sometimes a speedster’s nose would be put out of joint by ‘Dark Dawn’s’ insistence on ‘standing up’ to him.
But this was not lairising or false bravado on his part, as he was gifted with lightning-fast reflexes and as safe a pair of hands as you’d see.
The psychological advantage of having him lurking over the stumps was off-putting to the batsman and he could have the bails off in a jiffy.
His keen involvement with the local Theatre Company may have suggested a tendency to be over-expressive, or loud-mouthed. But far from it, his movements were always neat and controlled.
His mother and sister, and wife Mary, were his greatest fans and rarely missed a club game. Frank managed to combine his employment as a long-haul driver at Canny’s with cricket, and a football career with O & K club, Rovers.
He figured in three Country Week premierships in a Golden Era for Wangaratta – 1933, ’36 and ’38. But by far the most memorable of these was the WDCA’s maiden title – in 1933.
An enterprising right-hand batsman, he slotted in at number 4 in that series and reeled off scores of 23, 136*, 48*, 60 and 51. His century, against Warragul, helped Wangaratta to a total of 8/300 and prompted one scribe to comment:
‘…..Archman’s talents as a batsman and first-class wicket-keeper would surely have taken him to Interstate cricket had he wished to pass up the peaceful existence of his home town……..’
His series tally of 318 ranks behind only Ron Nicoll (443 in 1938) and Barry Grant’s 336 in 2001, as the WDCA’s best.
A star-studded batting line-up in latter years pushed him down the list, but he was a stumbling-block for opposition sides in the middle-order.
Archman appeared in 12 Grand Finals for three premierships, but surely his most memorable came in the 1930/31 encounter against bitter rivals East Wangaratta.
East Wang had finished well clear at the end of the home-and-away rounds but were well beaten by Footballers in the semi. As minor premiers they had the right of challenge, so the two sides again faced off a fortnight later.
Archman rattled off twin knocks of 89 to lead Footballers to a 216-run victory.
He shares a part of history for his role in Footballers’ mammoth total of 8/634, which remains a WDCA record. The first four batsmen scored centuries in their 1935/36 run-feast against Grand Final opponent, Eldorado.
Frank was involved in a 287-run third-wicket partnership with good mate Charlie Heavey. His contribution – 112.
After discussions lasting a period of months during 1929, a decision was finally made to install a turf wicket at the Showgrounds. The tenants – Wangaratta and Footballers – had raised the required amount of £150 thanks to donations and a series of concerts.
Frank Archman, nominated as the first curator, was the key figure in its teething stages and within a couple of seasons had produced a track which earned universal approval.
Cricket had been such a huge part of Frank’s life that it came as a shock when the WDCA decided to go into recession in late1939. The rapidly-gathering clouds of war now made cricket a secondary consideration.
His time in the Army played havoc with Frank’s health and he returned in poor shape. He found work with the Wangaratta Council and later worked on the Hydro-Electric Scheme in the Kiewa Valley.
His dream was that his son Bryan might follow him into cricket. But alas, the pair of boxing gloves that he bought the lad for his 10th birthday set him on a completely different sporting path.
Bryan fell in love with the Noble Art and enjoyed a creditable boxing career, fighting under the pseudonym of ‘Archie Bryant’
Frank Archman, who passed away in 1980, aged 78, will always be remembered as Wangaratta’s finest wicket-keeper/ batsman.