“SUPERSTAR STAN – A BORDER SPORTING LEGEND…….”

“…..More than 15,000 fans have flocked to the Wangaratta Showgrounds to witness this much-touted 1973 Ovens and Murray Grand Final…….

“Benalla earned their spot when they clinched a nail-biting nine-point victory over a wayward North Albury in the Second Semi-Final……The Hoppers had to defend grimly to hold off fast-finishing Wangaratta Rovers in the Prelim…….. Their 16.15 (111) to 15.10 (100) win, in an absolute classic, was highlighted by the performances of the League’s two crackerjack full forwards – Steve Norman ( Rovers) and Stan Sargeant ( North)…….

“So the stage is set for a re-match between the season’s two outstanding teams….

“There’s action aplenty early-on, as North use their physical strength in an attempt to curtail Benalla’s pace and teamwork…….The resultant flare-ups see Hopper mid-fielder and newly-minted Morris Medallist Johnny Smith reported, and umpire Lance Coates repeatedly penalise North, as Benalla ride the bumps…..

“A former Medallist, ruckman Joe Ambrose, also has his number taken, after another bruising incident in the second quarter…….

“It’s an enthralling struggle throughout, and there are thrills and spills galore…..Benalla creep out to an 18-point lead in the dying stages…..North refuse to submit, and their irrepressible forward Stan Sargeant, marks 70 metres from goal, lines them up, and sends a booming torpedo punt through the middle……It’s his fourth for the day, and a typically inspirational piece of play.. ….

“The Hoppers rally again, and small-man Dave Fulford snaps another major….

“But the siren sounds seconds later….Benalla have taken out a memorable encounter – 12.12 (84) to 11.11 (77)…

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49 years have now elapsed since that fateful day, yet Stan Sargeant still remembers it vividly….After all, it’s the closest he ever came to achieving the ultimate in Senior football……..

Premierships are the only thing in short supply in the CV of this sporting superstar.

In fact, Stan has only two flags to his name; one from junior footy in 1957, and one with New City, the Albury & Border cricket club he faithfully served for 30 years.

But there’s no regrets, says the 83 year-old; the friendships he made, and the adventures he enjoyed, more than adequately compensate for that…..

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He was the proverbial ‘Bush Footy Legend’……

In the early sixties, when he was booting goals by the bagful for North Albury, he fielded regular enquiries from VFL clubs, urging him to consider venturing down to the ‘big smoke’.

“ St.Kilda and South Melbourne were two who were pretty persistent ……..But after they’d been on my hammer for eighteen months or so I told ‘em: ‘Look, thanks all the same, but I’m pretty tied up in business here……..I don’t want to waste any more of your time.’….”

Stan had been raised on the family farm at Table Top, on the northern outskirts of Albury, and began his working life with hardware firm Permewan-Wright’s. But a couple of years later, an old footy stalwart, Arthur Pickett, who’d become good mates with him at North Albury, extended an invitation to become partners in business…..Thus, ‘Pickett & Sargeant Tyre Service’ was born……….

And that’s where he propped…..finally retiring, after 40-odd years in the tyre trade, on Christmas Eve, 1999…..

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The skills of a budding cricket all-rounder were honed on the concrete ‘strip’ at Table Top but as a young tacker he’d had hardly any exposure to competitive footy.

That came in his only season in junior ranks, when he helped North Albury to a flag.

Naturally, the senior Hoppers, who’d been eyeing him off, snavelled the well-proportioned 18 year-old and named him at full forward for the season-opener in 1958.

After several seasons as a power in the mid-fifties under coaching guru Timmy Robb, the bottom had fallen out of North, and they were regarded as likely wooden-spooners.

Little wonder that they chaired their new teen-age sensation off the Albury Sportsground after his eight-goal debut on Corowa’s experienced full back Len Fitzgerald.

Alas, it was to be one of only two Hopper victories for the season………

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But there was good reason for the fans to become excited…….

For the next seventeen years the 6’2”, 13 stone Number 15 was to remain a fixture in attack for the Green and Gold…..

“Occasionally they’d swing me out to centre half forward if they needed to change things up a bit, but I pretty much spent the majority of my career at full forward,” Stan says.

Did he ever got itchy feet, considering that North contested just three finals series in the first 15 years of his career ?…………

“Not really, I was happy there……A district club approached me once about coaching, but I said, nah, I’m not really interested…..”

He set about re-writing the record books, taking out North’s goal-kicking on 15 occasions, and being awarded the O & M’s goal-kicking award, the Doug Strang Medal six times…..

You only had to see Sargeant in action in his 13 appearances in an O & M guernsey ( he also represented New South Wales once ), to gain a real appreciation of his class.

In talent-laden sides he lapped up the slick delivery which came his way and rarely failed to boot a handful.

The O & M’s 35-point Country championship victory over Wimmera League at Horsham in 1968 was one case in point:

“In a hard, gruelling battle the champions struggled against Wimmera’s early pace and teamwork, but Mick Bone gave his players such a ferocious tongue-lashing at half-time that they bolted onto the ground and didn’t stop running until the final siren……Wimmera, totally unprepared for O & M’s dramatic change of pace, spent the remainder of the game clawing at Black and Gold guernseys.”

“Stan Sargeant, who had been the only forward capable of doing anything constructive, went on to kick six magnificent, long-range goals in a superb performance which won the grudging admiration of the pro-Wimmera crowd……”

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After having served under seven coaches – Kevin Wyllie, Don Ross, Graeme McKenzie, Ian Aston, Ralph Rogerson, John Sharrock and Tim Robb – Stan inherited the job at Bunton Park in 1972.

“We’d been lurking around the middle of the ladder for some time,” he says……”I enjoyed the opportunity to coach, but it kept me on the go, put it that way.…trying to fit it in with running a business……….”

“I was getting on a bit at this stage, too, and my back was starting to play up……. probably all those years of lifting Truck and Tractor tyres…….”

“I thought, ah well, business comes first……”

So he handed over the reins to Hawthorn forward Mike Porter in 1973……The Hoppers recruited heavily, and automatically entered premiership calculations.

Ironically, freed from the shackles of coaching and, despite nursing his dicey back, his last two seasons were among his finest.

He followed a haul of 87 goals in 1973 with 110 in ‘74, which included ‘bags’ of 15 and 13.

Even then, there are occasions when the radar of the sharpest of sharpshooters can go awry……..like the day he finished with 2.11 from 13 shots in the ‘73 Semi-Final………

After North bowed out in the 1974 Preliminary Final, he drew the curtain on his stellar career……He’d played 289 games and booted 1096 goals; an O & M record which will, in all likelihood, never be surpassed……

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A right-arm quickie and middle-order bat, Sargeant was 19 when he debuted for New City, which had been promoted to Albury & Border Cricket’s A-Grade division in 1959/60.

The following season, aged 20, with bowling figures of 8/33 in the Semi-Final and 3/32 and 4/27 in the Grand Final against North Albury, he helped them to their first premiership….

The first of his six Williamson Medals, as the ABCA Cricketer of the Year, came in 1961/62. He took 53 wickets and scored 307 runs…….

His 9/37 in the Semi-Final that year, guided New City into another Grand Final but, in what was to become a familiar scenario, they fell at the final hurdle…

Over the next three decades they were to finish runners-up eight times without adding to their maiden title.

It wasn’t that their gun all-rounder didn’t play his part……For instance, he chipped in with 3/71, 4/98 and 39 runs in the 67/68 decider, and snared 7/94, 2/35 and scored 48 in the 73/74 Final.

His 30-year ABCA career, to which he called a halt in 1987/88, included 10 centuries…..He took 9 wickets in an innings twice, 8 wickets in an innings twice, and 7 wickets in an innings four times.

In his finest all-round season, 1967/68, he took 70 wickets and scored 398 runs

Stan was a regular member of Albury’s representative sides during the sixties, and once snared 8/8 ( including a hat-trick) in a Matheson Shield match….. But the highlights were undoubtedly the two matches he played against touring English sides…….

“I was lucky enough to play against Ted Dexter’s side at Griffith in 1963, and two years later, we met the Poms at the Albury Sportsground.”

“It was a terrific experience to test yourself against the likes of Boycott, Mike Smith, Edrich and Barrington,” he says.

He shone with the bat that day, making a brisk 35 in a 41-run seventh-wicket stand.

“I liked both sports equally, but always found a day’s cricket to be far more mentally-challenging than a game of footy…….that’s one reason why I just concentrated on club cricket in the finish…..besides, the kids were growing up and it was time to devote more time to the family……..”

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Stan and his wife Val lapped up their retirement years by hitting the road……..

“We travelled around Australia a couple of times and headed up north quite a bit during the 2000’s……After that we used to spend three months a year on the Sunshine Coast……..But Val passed away just on two years ago…..”

His three kids and their families are now the focus of his attention. Two of the grandkids, Joel and Tyler Roberson have had a run with North Albury, but Stan’s not too sure where their footy focus is headed in the future.

“As long as they enjoy their sport I’m happy,” he says.

With a list of gongs as long as your arm, which include membership of the North Albury, Ovens and Murray and Cricket Albury-Wodonga Halls of Fame….as well as being an O & M Legend, Stan Sargeant sits comfortably among the area’s greatest sporting achievers……….

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