‘THE SAD DEMISE OF TROOPER LE BRUN…….’

The 124-year history of the Ovens and Murray Football League has seen only five clubs rise from the ignominy of inheriting the wood-spoon to winning the premiership the following year.

Lake Moodemere Rovers (1904-’05), Rutherglen (1906-’07), Wangaratta (1937-’38), Corowa (1967-’68) and Albury (1984-85) share that ‘Lazarus-type’ honour.

But Wangaratta went one better. In winning the flag in 1936, plummeting to the bottom in 1937 and miraculously resurrecting their fortunes to win again in 1938, they performed a feat which will, in all likelihood, never be repeated……….

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The Pies had shadowed Rutherglen for most of 1936. The Redlegs, the minor premiers and reigning title-holders, pipped them by 12 points in a tight second semi-final, but Wang bounced back after an ordinary first-half, to win the Grand Final by 20 points.

It was their second flag in four years and another triumph for the great Fred Carey, who was in the twilight of a stellar career.

Things went downhill quickly after that. As the nation slowly recovered from the aftermath of the Great Depression, footballers tended to drift off to wherever they could find regular employment .

The loss of several stars left the Magpies badly depleted and, after a hesitant start to the 1937 season, they fell away dramatically, to win just three games and slump to the bottom of the ladder.

Drastic measures were implemented. After an involvement of 10 years at the Club, Fred Carey relinquished the coaching position. The net was cast far and wide to replenish the playing ranks.

Milawa stars Maurie and Joe Valli were enticed to try their luck and Leo Crowe (Richmond 2nds), Arthur Hayes (Ballarat) and Jim La Rose (Golden Square) signed on the dotted line.

The icing on the cake was then provided when an experienced former VFL player Norman Le Brun accepted the coaching appointment……….

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Le Brun was the classic football nomad.

He grew up in the back streets of Richmond, where young bucks would sooner have a fight than a feed. Employment was scarce, but fortunately Norm’s football ability was an asset and he supplemented the meagre match payments he received from the Richmond Reserves with occasional work as a brick-layer.

Standing only 171cm, the stocky 76kg rover was spotted by South Melbourne and enticed to the Lake Oval with the promise of a regular senior spot. He booted two goals on debut, but after only two more senior games, headed for fresher pastures – to Bendigo League club, Sandhurst.

He was fearless and hard-hitting, and, despite his size, could run all day. He was a huge success in the Bendigo League, to the extent that he shared the competition’s Best and Fairest, the Michelson Medal.

News of his dominance quickly spread, and in 1931, Essendon coaxed Le Brun back to League football. However, after two seasons, and 23 senior games, he was on the move again, this time to Collingwood.

But he failed to lock down a berth in what was a crackerjack side ( just coming off its history-making fourth successive flag). He was rewarded with two senior appearances in his first season, but proved a stand-out in the Reserves.

Le Brun made his mark the following year. He played 17 games, mainly as second rover to Harry Collier and, with 23 goals, was ever-dangerous around the big sticks.

Incredibly, after performing well in a semi-final loss, and being rated by one newspaper as the ‘most improved player on Collingwood’s list’, he found himself at Princes Park in 1935, as part of a new-look Carlton line-up.

He had, ironically, been belted by big man Harold Maskell in a brutal match against the Blues the previous year. In response to the umpire’s Tribunal evidence that Le Brun had been hit with ‘closed fists on each of his ribs’, Norman responded that : “We all felt hot and bothered.I only felt a knock on my shoulder. He was trying to knock the ball out of my hands.”

His adherence to the ‘Player’s Code of Honour’ obviously impressed Carlton’s football hierarchy, but Norm went on to make just a handful of senior appearances with Carlton that season. He concluded his VFL career with a total of 50 games, comprising 3 at South Melbourne, 23 at Essendon, 19 with Collingwood and 5 with the Blues.

But still, his wanderlust continued. He had a fine season with Coburg, moved to South Warrnambool for a year and had actually applied for the coaching position at Tasmanian club, Ulverstone, before Wangaratta came knocking………

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A bachelor, with a carefree personality, which endeared him to everyone, Norman Le Brun was ‘adopted’ by the town.

He enjoyed an outstanding season in and around the packs and finished fifth in the Morris Medal, his inspiring play giving his ‘new-look’ team a huge lift.

Wangaratta finished second, equal with Yarrawonga and Rutherglen on points, at the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds, but earned a quick passport to the Grand Final. Their 4-point win over Yarrawonga in the Second-semi earned them favouritism for the flag.

They met Yarra again in the Grand Final and it was to prove another clinker of a contest. The Magpies led by 12 points at half-time, but the Pigeons booted themselves out of the contest in the third term, when they could only manage 2.7.

Wangaratta ran away in the final quarter, to win by 27 points. “It was the greater all-round strength and teamwork of players like Ernie Ward, Norm Le Brun and Alec Fraser, that took them to the flag,” the Border Morning Mail said of the game.

“Much of the credit for this premiership must be given to coach Le Brun, for welding this side together throughout the season,” chortled the Wangaratta’s Chronicle Despatch.

Le Brun was again in charge in 1939, but Wangaratta just missed out on the finals. They needed to win the final game to clinch a spot, but lost to Wodonga.

In his final year of football – 1940- Norman Le Brun coached Ganmain to a South-West League premiership………

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He was one of the thousands of Australians who signed up to serve, when World War 2 got into full swing soon after. After undertaking basic army training, passing all of the selection processes and undergoing intensive instructions, he joined the 2/10th Commando section in the jungles of New Guinea.

n November 1944, whilst pursuing retreating Japanese forces through thick jungle, Trooper Le Brun was shot and killed by an enemy sniper, concealed among the roots of a large tree.

The varied, hectic life of Norman Le Brun was over, at the age of 36……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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