‘THEY CALLED HIM ‘MR.CRICKET’………..’

The laneway that separates Wangaratta’s two main sporting precincts clearly defines Graham Kerr’s sporting loyalties.

He’s a Maggie through and through……has been for most of his 80 years. He’s played…..rolled wickets……barracked…..shed buckets of sweat and tears….and meticulously cared for the Showgrounds Oval with a devotion almost beyond compare.IMG_3174

In fact, it’s where he was approached for the only job he ever had. He was playing for Methodists when a  Rovers batsman, Sandy Macgeorge (also the WDCA Secretary) enquired of him between innings’ whether he’d be interested in being interviewed for a position with his Accountancy firm.

Graham was 16 – and already a three-year veteran of WDCA cricket – when he took up the offer.

Soon after, he joined ‘A.L & J.S Macgeorge’ and began years of study by correspondence, becoming so capable in his profession that he was invited to become a partner in the firm: ‘Macgeorge, Macgeorge and Kerr’, which eventually morphed into ‘Kerr, Andison and Kenny’………

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He’s a Wangaratta icon. You may have heard of his devotion to the assortment of organisations with which he’s been connected over the years.

For instance, the Uniting Church, where he first took on a secretarial role 60 years ago, and has served diligently.

Or the Apex Club, which he joined in 1966………. And the numerous sporting clubs – cricket, footy, golf and basketball – for which he has been Honorary Auditor.

It would be true to say that if he dug all the service medals with which he’s been presented, out of his drawer, he’d resemble one of those gnarled war veterans who proudly march on Anzac Day………

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Mention sport to this Member of the Order of Australia, 1989 Citizen of the Year and Australian Sports Medal recipient, and watch his eyes light up. His boyish enthusiasm comes to the fore – particularly when you touch on footy and cricket.

He admits he wasn’t a champion, but there was no-one more passionate or determined.

He ended up playing 33 senior games in a pretty successful era for the Wangaratta Football Club, captained the Reserves for a couple of years, then acted as the senior runner.IMG_3171

The premierships he’s been involved with have been the highlight of a cricket career which goes back to the late forties, when he often ‘subbed’ for his dad Bill’s team if they were short.

He made his debut with Wang Methodists, aged 13, in 1951, and moved on to play with Tarrawingee for a season. When the Magpies (or Wangaratta Footballers, as they were originally called) were formed in 1955, that’s where he propped.

Three years later, they won their first flag. Graham’s steely determination shone out in the Final against Bruck, when he batted on a difficult, sticky wicket, hung around long enough to make 35 and helped the Pies reach their target of 164.

He still has the replica of the ‘Mick Smith Memorial Cup’ that the Club was awarded. “Only two of us turned up to the Presentation Night. I accepted the trophy and, somehow or other, ended up with it,” he says.

The previous season, he’d made his first trip to Melbourne Country Week. As one of the side’s three youngsters, he was a ‘spare-part’ in a talented team. It took until Day 4 before he was handed a game, and his debut CW innings could hardly have come about in more spine-tingling circumstances.

It boiled down to this. As last man in, he took block for the final ball of the innings. Wangaratta needed one run to defeat Mildura, and so assure themselves of a berth in the Final the following day.IMG_3172

The ball trickled down the leg-side and the batsmen scooted through for the winning single.

Graham was a hero for his 1 not out. He had guided Wangaratta to a famous victory.

There were plenty of slaps on the back, but  he didn’t bother telling his ecstatic team-mates that the ball had actually come off his pads and the ump had failed to signal a leg bye !

It rained heavily that night, and no play was possible in the Final. So Wangaratta were awarded the Provincial Group title, having finished on top of the ladder.

Part of his family holidays in 1964 were spent at Bendigo, where he helped Wangaratta clinch a Country Week title with a bright knock of 49 in the Final.   His wife Jenny would, by now, have been resigned to the fact, that she was destined to be a cricket ‘widow’.

Graham  took over the captaincy of the Bendigo CW team in the late sixties. With a young group  under his charge, most  of whom were members of the North-East Colts side that he managed, he fitted into the role like a glove.IMG_3175

He was a solid right-hand bat who placed a high price on his wicket. He strove 13 years before he landed his solitary ‘ton’ – 101* against Moyhu, but his specialties were the backs-to-the-wall knocks which often got Magpies out of trouble.

The ‘Froggy Thomson-style’ bowling action, in which he delivered the ball off the wrong foot, was part of his artillary as a medium-pacer. In his most memorable performance, he once took 7/7.

He played in five flags for Magpies, and can still dissect each of them. He was captain of the 1973/74 side, which came from the clouds, after being second-bottom at the Christmas break.

“Then we got on a roll, snuck into the finals, dismissed the hot flag-favourites, United for 62 in the semi, and defended 100-odd against Whorouly in the Final.”

Magpies had hit upon relatively rocky times when a couple of future stars arrived on the scene. Graham acted as a father-figure to the Grant twins, as they began to make their way in the game.

Years later, they would provide him with some of his biggest cricketing thrills. But Graham recalls batting with Barry in one of his early games:

“I was facing a young bowler, Johnny Landgren, who had a bit of pace and could get the ball to jump off a good length. Unfortunately, I decided to try and hook him ( a bad decision at my age) and the ball smashed into my face.”

“As they helped me from the crease, Darren was next in, but before he took his guard, he had to pick up my four front teeth, which were lying in a pool of blood at the crease.”…………

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Graham was never seduced by the ‘demon-drink’. “They say I didn’t need it; that I could  get drunk on lemonade.”

But he made an exception after the merged Wangaratta-Magpies had clinched their third-straight flag in the mid-2000’s. In the exciting aftermath, someone thrust a VB into his hand and he pressed his first-ever can to his lips. “Didn’t taste too bad, either.”IMG_3169

Administration, however, is where he really made his mark in cricket. His contribution was all-encompassing. A WDCA delegate in his teens, he was Treasurer for 15 years, Secretary for 9 and President for three.

He performed just about every role in the game, including preparing the Showgrounds ‘track’ for 55 years, acting as Treasurer of the NEDCCC and the VCCL for long periods.

His honesty sometimes riled people, but he felt it was a waste of time ‘beating about the bush.’

“Geoff Welch (another WDCA great) called me the ‘conscience of the cricket association’. If there was something that needed to be done, I had to let people know,” he says.

His forthrightness impressed me one year, when he was managing the Melbourne Country Week side. The usual phone enquiry from Wangaratta for a progress score went something like this:

“What’s the latest, Graham ?”

“No good. They’re getting a hiding. Very disappointing……”

“A few blokes played up last night…….and your son was one of ‘em.……….”

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His love of the Magpies extends to the AFL breed. He has revelled in many of their great moments and cringed at their lows. As a long-term MCC member, he thinks there’s nothing better that settling into a seat at the ‘G’, with Jenny, to watch a Test match, or an AFL clash.

In fact, he believes not too many fans could equal his record of seeing all three drawn VFL/AFL Grand Finals – 1948,1977 and 2010.

Graham will reach another coveted milestone next year, when he notches up his 50th year as an MCC member.

And hopefully, he says, there might be another Collingwood flag before he heads off to his mortal coil………….IMG_3173

 

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