‘A SALUTE TO THE CENTURIONS……..’

The dreaded Covid-19 Crisis has created confusion on a global scale……and local Football has become entangled in the maelstrom.

The proposed regulations are still hazy, and are changing by the week…..When will it be feasible to kick off again ?…….Won’t the absence of crowds have a devestating effect on Club finances ?…

It’s an open-ended debate. But compare it to the quandary facing the game in the aftermath of the Great War.

The nation was still recuperating . Having been bereft of organised competition for three and a half years, local footy was sluggish on the uptake. Clubs had to basically start from scratch….. the shadow of the Spanish Flu was also lurking ominously……..

Yet once the initial steps were taken to resume, administrators found that players and supporters, having been deprived of the sport they loved for so long, responded enthusiastically………

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Wangaratta is commemorating a famous premiership this year…… It’s the Centenary of their 1920 Ovens and King flag triumph over Eldorado.

The two Clubs had developed an intense rivalry from the time they first tangled, in 1903. The Red and Whites ( or the ‘Blood and Bandages’ as they were often dubbed ) had won three flags and were always at – or near – the top of the O & K ladder.

They reaped the benefit of having several handy players employed on the Dredge, and their proximity to Wangaratta added a ‘Local-Derby’ type flavour to clashes with the ‘Pies.

When the O & K resumed in 1919, so did hostilities between the arch rivals. Sharing a win apiece during the Home-and-Away rounds, they were slated to meet in a crucial Final at Beechworth.

The start of the Mid-Week game was delayed a couple of hours, due to the late arrival of a special train from Wangaratta, jammed with 600 spectators. Dusk was falling on Baarmutha Park when the match concluded at 6.30.

The large crowd witnessed an epic encounter. Wangaratta sneaked home by a point – 2.3 to 2.2, but because Eldorado had been the minor premiers, League regulations allowed them the right of challenge.

This time Wangaratta hosted the game, which attracted 2,000 spectators; the majority of them barracking for the home team.

It developed into a bloodbath. Eldorado held sway virtually from the first bounce and led 2.10 to 0.5 at three quarter-time. They went on with the job in the final term, adding 4.6 to a solitary point.

It was a decisive victory, but the ripples of discontent from the demoralised Wangaratta camp developed into a crescendo the following week.

The newspaper report of the Council meeting was headlined: FOOTBALL, OR BULL-FIGHTING ? The Mayor, Cr. Billie Edwards said he watched the game in horror. He added: “I am satisfied that football is now a rotten sport.”

Councillor Tweed was more expansive: “I am disgusted with the displays of savagery that took place in that Grand Final. The piece of Silver Plate that was the cause of all the trouble should have been given to the winner long ago,” he thundered.

“Wangaratta played good, clean football, but they were subjected to viciousness and brutality. I must protest against the Wangaratta ground being used for such a degrading display……….”

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The Magpies spent the summer months licking their wounds.

Recruiting had been kept to a minimum. Of course the League’s Radius Rule restricted them to landing players who resided no more than five miles from town. This was designed to curtail the bigger Clubs from lavishing money on expensive imports, or pinching players from the smaller towns in the League.

But there was certainly a sense of solidarity within the Wangaratta camp. Part of that could be attributed to the solid leadership of Arthur Callander, a local businessman, who became the Club’s first Post-War President when elected in 1919.

Callander had attended St.Patrick’s College, Ballarat, a well-known football nursery. When he returned home to take his place in the family Emporium, he quickly involved himself in the sporting affairs of the town.

In fact, you’d liken him to a 1920’s version of Eddie McGuire. He was 26 ( younger than many of his players ) when he took over the leadership of the footy club, and was also promptly voted in as O & K President.

With a stable bank balance of 6 pounds 12 and sixpence and a healthy list of players, there was genuine optimism around the Wangaratta camp.

On-field problems, though, needed to be dealt with. Long-serving Peter Prest resigned from the Captaincy. There was a suggestion he was offended that some players were always kicking to their mates, to the detriment of the side.

The loyal veteran Harold Hill, who had begun with the Pies back to 1908 and had also acted as secretary/treasurer, was nominated for the role, as was another old-timer, Les Kewish.

Hill was elected, but later stood down because he felt unsure he had the full support of the group. The position was eventually handed to Bob Metcalf. Decorum seemed to have been restored to the playing ranks.

But consistency plagued their performances during the season. They scored percentage-boosting wins against bottom-rungers North Wangaratta, Everton and Milawa, but it was a different story against tougher opposition.

They got home by less than 10 points in each of their clashes with Beechworth and Whorouly, but had fallen well-short against the well-equipped Eldorado and ever-improving Moyhu. At the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds Wangaratta were entrenched in fourth spot, with a 10-4 win-loss record.

Both Semi-finals produced surprising results. The Magpies finished on strongly to defeat Moyhu, whilst Beechworth caused a shock by clinging on to a three-point win over Eldorado.

This pitted Wangaratta against Beechworth in the Final. They’d scored one-point wins over the boys in Red and Black in both of their 1920 meetings. It proved another nail-biter, with the Pies falling in by 5 points – 7.7 to 6.8.

The game’s aftermath , sadly, was shrouded in controversy. Wangaratta’s Peter Prest claimed that he’d been offered 10 pounds by a well-known citizen to ‘throw’ the Final.

Rumours also circulated that several Beechworth players had been bribed to ‘play dead’. It prompted one of them, ‘Brahma’ Davis, to pen a firm denial to the newspaper. “We just played poorly,” he stated.

The League decided to take no action on the matter.

Thankfully, too, as Eldorado, the Minor Premier, had exercised their right to challenge Wangaratta for the flag………

Wang shocked their opponents with an electrifying first quarter, and, to the surprise of the large crowd, which had paid 73 pounds 5 shillings at the gate, went on with the job.

They had a virtually unassailable 32-point lead at three-quarter time. But Eldorado fought back valiantly. In the dying stages they had all the play. The siren beat them, as they went down by nine points – 10.11 to 8.14.

“Norman McGuffie was the most consistent and best player. Les Kewish was ever-clean and ‘Scotty’ McDonald, the most popular man in the team, played well as usual,” said the Chronicle scribe.

The Pies were basking in the glory of their first premiership in 15 years……….

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Two years later, under the guidance of Arthur Callander, Wangaratta returned to the Ovens and Murray League, then took out their maiden O & M flag in 1925.

An inspirational figure, Callander was to remain at the helm for eight years, during which the Club played in seven Grand Finals. At one stage, in the mid-twenties, he was wearing multiple hats as President of Wangaratta, the O & M, the Wangaratta Athletic Club, Wangaratta Turf Club, St.Patrick’s Race Club and North-East District Racing Association.

It was said of Callander that: “Everyone who meets him becomes his friend. He has the facility of combining dignity and good fellowship.”

But, as we glance through this 1920 line-up, we recognise several others who were to make a sizeable impact on the town in the decades to follow:

…….Like Gordon ‘Scotty’ McDonald, who stood just 5 feet 4 inches and was renowned for his bravery throughout 147 games in Black and White. He played on until the early thirties, rejecting frequent approaches to try his luck in League football. He opted instead, to stick with his job as a grocer at the Co-Store, which he held until just before his death.

When Wangaratta fell upon hard times McDonald combined his playing duties with the role of Secretary from 1927-‘30. He remained a fervent Magpie.

……..Martin Moloney, along with ‘Scotty”, figured prominently in Wangaratta’s 1925 O & M premiership side and was a fixture in the line-up for many years. The family’s Butchery, on the site of the present-day Moloney’s Arcade, in Reid Street, became Martin’s domain.

………Norman McGuffie’s sojourn with Wangaratta lasted from 1919 to 1962. He proved to be a star in his 107 games. Upon hanging up the boots in 1927, he joined the Committee and stayed for 35 years. Incorporated in this was four years as Secretary/Treasurer, from 1935-‘38, and two spells as President, from 1949-‘53 and 1959-‘62.

……..Vic Woods possessed the tall, lean physique of his son Graeme, who became one of the O & M’s finest ruckmen in 249 games with Wangaratta. Graeme was a regular inter-League representative and played in 6 premierships. His son Richie carried on the family tradition, playing with Wangaratta during the seventies.

………When Marty Bean retired as a player he took over as Wangaratta’s Head Trainer for 17 years. Many footballers, searching for that extra yard, sought the tutelage of the astute ‘Old Fox’. The Showgrounds was Marty’s stamping-ground in summer, as he fine-tuned athletes for more than four decades, training three Wangaratta Gift winners.

………..One of Marty’s protege’s was the Club’s boundary-umpire, Jim Larkings, who pursued a lengthy, successful athletics career. He filled the minor placing in Gifts around the State on so many occasions, without ‘greeting the judge’, that they nicknamed him ‘The Shadow King’.

Like ‘Old Marty’, Larkings’ preferred mode of transport was a trusty bicycle, which was still conveying him around town – and down to the footy from his Swan Street residence – well into his nineties……….

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P.S: As a sidelight to the recollections of Wangaratta’s 1920 Premiership, the Club was recently contacted by descendents of Jim Gleeson, a key member of the team.

The Medal that Jim received as the Most Popular Player of 1920 (Best & Fairest) has been handed down through generations of his family. They’re keen to pass it on, for inclusion among the Club’s Memorabilia.

Covid-19 has jeopardised a planned function, but some time in the future the Pies hope to formally ‘Salute the Centurions’…………..

“I’VE LIVED A LIFE THAT’S FULL…..I DID IT MY WAY…..”

With thanks to Guest Blogger: Greg Rosser

The photo’s 70 years old………

‘South Wanderers Football Club – Wangaratta Junior Football League Premiers – 1950.’…….

The vast majority of this line-up have now shuffled off to their mortal coil. But if you’re a generation down the line, like us, you may be able to spot a few familiar faces……And can probably identify the contribution they made to life in Wangaratta…..and beyond.

We can even remember some of them in action on the footy field in succeeding years:

That’s Peter Hughes in the front row. Two years later, aged 18, he played on a wing in the last of Mac Holten’s famous Magpie ‘four-in-a-row’ sides. In 1953 he shared Hawthorn’s Best First-Year Player Award.

Of course, we hardly need to introduce the kid on the far right. Lance Oswald was just 13 at the time, but already had ‘Champ’ written all over him. He won the WJFL Medal that year, and went on to win a Morris Medal, two St.Kilda B & F’s and recognition as the best centreman in Australia in the early sixties.

There’s Graeme Kneebone , Pat Quinton and Col Bromilow – long-term O & K players and local identities. Up in the back row is a Wang Rovers Hall-of-Famer and Vice-Captain to Bob Rose in the Hawks’ 1958 and ‘60 premiership teams…Yes, it’s Les Clarke.

And that’s Arthur, his brother, the confident-looking kid nestling up to Alf Brisbane, the umpie…….

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They nominated Arthur as the Club’s Most Unselfish Player that year. He joked that it was probably because he shared the ball so often with the opposition.

Wareena Park was the Wanderers’ home ground. “We played on Saturdays and spent all Sunday arvo kicking the footy around there,” he once told us.

He followed Les to the Rovers and chalked up seven senior games. Not quite possessive of the talent – or dedication – of his brother, he was also obliged to sacrifice footy training for Night School. It was inevitable that he’d head ‘bush’ – to Eldorado – where he lined up at centre half back, under the coaching of Doug Ferguson.

When the Red and Whites folded he threw in his lot with Milawa in 1955 – and stayed there for 63 years. Many of his team-mates were to become lifelong friends.

But, as the old story-teller would say: “Hang on….you’re getting ahead of things here….You’d better go back to the start……And remember: No-one will mind if you stretch things a bit for the sake of a good story………….”

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So we return to the height of the Depression – to Gapsted, located 5 miles from Myrtleford and 25 from Wangaratta.

Ernie and Jean Clarke welcomed Arthur into the world in 1932.

“Mum and Dad were humble people…..Dad was a hard-worker; a quiet man with a gentle nature…. Mum was a marvellous woman; boss of the house and protector of her family. She gave us advice and a dressing-down at the same time…..Always straight from the heart…No bullshit….”

He started school just after the Depression, attending Gapsted State School (number 2240) with his siblings Eddie, Les and Patricia.

“I used to take my lunch to school in a brown paper bag, “ he said. “The crumpled bag smelt of many past lunches….If I wanted a drink there were a dozen enamel mugs on the stand of the rain-water tank….These mugs were used by all 40-odd pupils for the whole school year.”

“I liked school, probably because it was the only place I went to beside church. Living on the farm, though, was a great learning experience, even despite the inconvenience of freezing winters, long, hot summers and the threat of bushfires. More often than not it was as dry as a dead dingo’s donger ”

“In summer we’d swim in the lagoon. It was about three feet deep, with about a foot of mud at the bottom….and plenty of leeches. I always swam in the nude…..so it gave the leeches plenty of loose pieces to latch onto.”

“One day, Les, Eddie, me and a few mates went for a swim at the Rocky Point Bridge. We had no togs, so we pulled down our singlets and tied them under our crotch with a piece of wire………Unfortunately, Les was bitten by a snake.”

“I jumped on our horse and rode bare-back, approximately half a mile to the nearest farm-house. Les was taken to the Myrtleford Hospital and ended up okay. But I was worse off because the wire I’d tied onto my singlet bloody-near castrated me……So my kids were lucky they had a father……”

“Farm life was great. We’d harvest walnuts, go on fox drives, kill snakes and go ferreting. Rabbits ( underground mutton ) sold for a shilling a pair, and on a good day we could net a couple of hundred. At shearing-time we would attend the shed and work as a ‘hey you’, sweeping the floor and dabbing tar on sheep………”

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The Clarke’s moved to 29 Morrell Street, Wangaratta in 1947. Arthur had two years at the Tech School, but cut his losses on an academic career and scored a job at Bruck Mills. He was 17.

“After six months of placing drop wires on weaving looms, I left and got a job with Stone Brothers, the Plumbers. My next move was to Harrison’s Plumbing, not as an apprentice, but as an ‘improver’, which lasted for the next 15 years.”

“Mr.Harrison also had a garage and Funeral parlour in Ovens Street. At Week-ends I’d throw on the grey striped pants, white shirt, long black coat and bowler hat, put on my solemn face and drive the hearse.”

He also found time to do a milk-run for Cook’s Dairy whilst he was at Harrison’s. It was a tough job on the Horse and Cart, ladling milk into a billy in the pitch black, and fending off barking dogs. Cook’s found it hard to keep their ‘Milkies’ .

“Graeme Cook was also an O & K umpire, and was in charge the day I belted a Tarrawingee player. ‘Cookie’ raced in and said ‘you’re gone number 2’. I told him that he could shove his Milk-Round and he replied: ‘Ah…Let’s make it a warning’.

Arthur spent most of his time in defence for Milawa, where his long, booming kicks from the last line were a feature. The Demons had finished bottom – winless – the year prior to his arrival, but under the coaching of Bill Kelly, improved dramatically. They jumped to Third, then in 1956, after topping the ladder, were unable to contain the taller Beechworth in the Grand Final.

The absence of Kelly was sorely felt, and Clarke led the side into the big clash. He remained one of their stalwarts for years, until a rainy day, on a slushy Whitfield Oval in 1960 brought about his downfall.

“I never forgot it,” he said. “I marked the ball at centre half forward, but landed awkwardly and broke my left knee-cap in half. The boys were saying: ‘Come on Clarkie, you can kick it.’ But the knee was wobbling around like a broken piston in a lawn-mower.”

“Old Art was going nowhere. My career was over.”

But in a scenario that’s replicated in countless community Clubs around the state, he hung around.

For the next five decades he served as Treasurer, Vice-President, Selector, Trainer, Time-Keeper, Committee-Member and, for a period, Number 1 Ticket-Holder. On Sunday mornings he would head out to spruce up the Rooms after a home-game.

Milawa had won just two premierships in 54 years when his son Jeff, who had been a Demon mascot whilst Arthur was playing, guided them to the 1984 flag. The margin over Chiltern ( 78 points ) was almost as decisive the following year, when they blitzed Bright to the tune of 68 points.

After four years as coach, 257 games and three B & F’s Jeff hung up the boots in 1988. He was later elevated to the O & K Hall of Fame. His brother Rob (‘Roo’) played alongside him for a fair portion of his career and their sisters Pam and Sandra were part of the Demons’ Netball line-up.

Arthur’s grand-son Ben is recognised as one of the best mid-fielders going around in the O & K at present. He played a big part in Milawa’s 2013 flag and was co-captain of their all-conquering 2019 side. Grand-daughters Sarah, Emily and Izabelle have all made their mark in netball……

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Three years after Arthur’s footy career finished he and Val started their own business – ‘Arthur Clarke Plumbers’.

“It was 1963. We had 204 pounds, an FJ Holden, a trailer, four kids and a Workshop in Bullivant Street . My best mate, Mick O’Keeffe came to work for me and at one time we had five plumbers, two apprentices and several others working. We left our mark all around Wangaratta and adjoining towns, and did countless ‘love-jobs’.

One of those was for Father Byrne, the popular Parish Priest of Our Lady’s Church.

“We had to climb the 85-foot bell-tower and bolt the aluminium frame to the tower. I reckon I’d be the only Freemason who’s featured in an congratulatory article on the front-page of a Catholic newsletter,” he once said.

In 1982 he and Val passed the business on to the two boys, Jeff and Rob, and decided on a ‘sea-change’ as Florists. Arthur then moved on to manage Boral Bricks for ten years.

But in the meantime he kept himself busy, involving himself in the Wangaratta Urban Fire Brigade (for 20 years), Appin Park Rotary ( where he was awarded Rotary’s highest honour, the Paul Harris Fellowship ), Kiwani’s, Milawa Bowls, Tarrawingee Golf, care-taker of Wangaratta Ladies Bowls, and tending to Rotary Park in Edwards Street.

This most unpretentious of helpers received recognition for his sterling efforts when he was declared Wangaratta’s Citizen of the Year in 2002.

But some health battles lay ahead. He spent just on ten years enduring the endless cycle of kidney dialysis treatment. Eventually Arthur Clarke, the old battler who often joked that he was ‘Too Tough To Die’, passed away, aged 87, in early May last year……………

‘FROM KING VALLEY, TO MOONEE VALLEY…AND BEYOND…’

Leigh Newton’s father Laurie, grandad Aub and great-grandad Jack, are all legends of the King Valley United Football Club.

So when Leigh, a lanky, blonde-haired 14-year old ruckman, shared the 1992 O & K Thirds’ Fred Jensen Medal, there was a bullet beside his name.

The Club’s ardent fans salivated that the lad had the breeding and talent to lead them out of the wilderness; maybe to Premiership glory, in years to come.

Furthermore, they dared to dream, with his mate ‘Marty’ Porter alongside him, they’ll be a near-unbeatable ruck combination………..

It wasn’t to be…. By 1997 both were playing League football…….They had to acknowledge that this pair of 6’6” beanstalks would, in all likelihood, never wear the Valley’s Blue and White stripes again………………….

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I catch up with Leigh during a break in his hectic schedule as the Regional Services Manager of Country Racing Victoria. He’s been involved in the racing game for more than nine years; loves it, he says. It’s the only sport that’s been able to soldier on throughout the Coronavirus Crisis, albeit, of course, minus the crowds.

The sight of his gigantic frame towering over all and sundry at Race-courses is a far cry from the slight youngster tagging along behind his old man at the Whitfield Reserve back in the eighties…..

I suggest that he inherited the wonky Newton limbs. Laurie was a star, and had two stints as Valley coach, but his crook knees – and assorted other body parts – played havoc with him. He fitted a famous flag (1976) into his five years with Wangaratta, and was a member of King Valley’s two premierships, in 1970 and ‘81.

He’d retired early in that ‘81 season. His back was giving him hell, but someone came up with the idea of fitting him with a brace. It allowed him to play out the season – and be a dominant ruckman in the Valley’s last flag.

Even after that, he would still fill in with the Reserves, up to the ripe old age of 42.

Leigh recalls playing with him at Bright. “You were always short when you travelled up there in mid-winter. I kicked a few goals in the Thirds this day, lined up in the Two’s with dad, who was just about best afield. Then they named me at centre half back in the Seniors. I think I’d just turned 15………..”

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He reckons he totalled no more than 20 senior games with the Roos. “A few from our 1993 Thirds Premiership team moved up the following year, but I spent a fair bit of that season with the Murray Bushrangers,” he says.

Then he began studying at Charles Sturt University, embarking on a Marketing and Accounting Degree. Rather than making the difficult choice between the Wang Rovers and Wangaratta, who were both on his hammer, he decided to play with Albury. Besides, he was living within walking distance of their headquarters, the Albury Sportsground.

The Tigers had assembled a crackerjack side. Their ruck duties were in the hands of Ken Howe, another ‘blonde bombshell’, who enjoyed the season of his life, taking out the O & M’s Morris Medal and guiding them to a flag.

Leigh made a few spasmodic senior appearances, but Howe then moved on to Canberra club Ainslie, and he grasped his opportunity.

During the course of the 1996 season he became the League’s pre-eminent big man. He represented the O & M, figured in Albury’s premiership triumph and, with 25 votes, ‘bolted’ to the Morris Medal, a massive eight votes in front of another ruck star, Wodonga’s Paul Nugent.

His dramatic rise to centre-stage had, naturally, attracted the attention of the recruiters. Leigh has a feeling it was a relative of Melbourne assistant-coach Greg Hutchinson who first alerted the Demons to his potential.

By January 1997 they’d nabbed him with the third pick in the Pre-Season draft. It had been a meteoric rise to A.F.L ranks………..

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But the climate in the Demons’ camp at the time was, to say the least, unsettled. Volatile ‘Diamond’ Joe Gutnick, who had rapidly ascended to the Club Presidency the previous season, was becoming increasingly agitated with the on-field performances, and demanded improvement.

The affable Neil Balme, highly-regarded by the players, was unable to wave the magic wand. After defeating eventual Preliminary Finalists North Melbourne in the opening game, they proceeded to lose the next eight.

Leigh played in a handful of those, which included kicking two of their three goals in a 51-point Friday night thrashing at the hands of Port Adelaide.

That was enough for ‘Diamond Joe’. His off-the-cuff comment was that: ‘Blood will flow……….’. Sure enough, on the following Tuesday evening, Balme was sacked and Greg Hutchinson installed as the interim coach.

With a few games under his belt Leigh began to settle into the rhythm of League footy. His debut against the Sydney Swans had been highlighted by a booming 50m goal with his first kick….. He had a big influence in an encouraging win over Carlton and produced snippets of class in a few others.

But the dreaded Osteitis Pubis had begun to take hold of his body. “These days, the medical people would immediately order you to have a break; to let the groin heal. But I was determined to play through the pain. I’d have an anti-inflammatory injection, then could hardly move after a game and it would be early the next week before I was able to run again.”

Finally, he had to admit that he couldn’t go on. He’d played 13 games in what was regarded as a highly-promising season……One ray of light in a litany of disasters for the wooden-spooners.

His rehab was slow and steady. Mid-way through the following year he’d got back to somewhere approaching full-fitness. But deep down he knew that, if he played, he wouldn’t be able to come up the next week. So Melbourne’s medicos suggested he take the rest of the year off.

By early 1999, Leigh felt he was right to go. He booted four goals in a promising return to the Reserves, but was laid up for a month after a hernia operation. The resultant comeback was halted by a dislocated shoulder. That put paid to another season for the luckless big man.

Melbourne had given an indication that he’d be offered another contract in 2000, but his groin began to flare up again. He had to face the reality that his AFL career was over.

Leigh rued his misfortune, as Neale Daniher’s line-up went on a rollicking ride from third-last to the Grand Final. He took on the role as Opposition Analyst, watching three to four games a week.

Melbourne utilised his Professional qualifications by seconding him to their Marketing and Sponsorship Department in 2001. On match days he was Neale Daniher’s ‘Board-Man.’

The following year they appointed him as their Media and Communications Manager, a position he was to hold for seven years: “It was a tremendous experience…..so diverse. Whenever any news broke about the Demons, I was the man the media got in touch with. It meant I was on hand, virtually from 6am to 10pm, either promoting the Club or putting out spot-fires.”

Additionally, Neale Daniher asked if he’d take on the job as ruck coach.

When he decided to take a break from footy, he stepped into a position in Marketing and Public Relations with the Moonee Valley Racing Club. Hawthorn, fresh from winning the 2008 AFL flag, also nabbed him as their ruck coach.

“I was flat-out combining the two jobs,” says Leigh.

“I’d be up at 4am analysing and cutting tape to show to the players…….and then head off to my job in P.R and Communications at Moonee Valley.”

“Something had to give, so I eventually passed up the ruck-coaching – much and all as I loved it.”

But he did manage to fit in one last fling as a player. “Dad was a bit crook at one stage, and I was coming up regularly to keep tabs on he and mum. My brother Michael, who was coaching Milawa, said: ‘You may as well have a run, seeing as you’re here most weeks’.”

“I played about eight games, including the 2009 O & K Grand Final. We played Tarrawingee, who’d been unbeaten in 39 games. It was a terrific clash, and we held on to win by nine points.”

Leigh moved on to become Moonee Valley’s Marketing Manager for three years, and had a sojourn in Local Government and Real Estate, before an opportunity came up to return to the racing industry.

He accepted the position as Manager of the Echuca Race Club and threw himself headlong into building it into one of country racing’s showpieces.

The extent of the Club’s development was recognised in 2017/18 when it was selected as the Country Racing Club of the Year.

“The things that have been achieved since Leigh arrived have been significant and he has set us, the Club, the trainers, the other people who use the track, the punters and our wider community with an exciting and solid future,” remarked the Club’s President, Troy Murphy.

He did such a good job that Country Racing Victoria hand-picked him, mid-way through last year, to take on the role of Regional Services Manager.

Leigh and Aingela and their two boys Lachlan and Taylor returned to the city, where he’s based at racing’s headquarters, Flemington.

His all-encompassing job entails keeping an eye on all country racing, including Governance, Marketing, Administration, Trainers, Race-dates – and offering advice to Clubs.

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Sport has virtually been Leigh Newton’s life. He wouldn’t have it any other way……..well, maybe the footy gods could have been a little kinder to him on the injury-front …………….

‘BIDDING ADIEU TO AN OLD HAWK…..’

Tom Tobin had just turned 24 when he lined up for his first season with the Wangaratta Rovers.

It was 1957. The attraction of playing under Bob Rose’s coaching was enough for Tommy to sign on the dotted line.

A Tatura boy, he’d transferred to Wang in his job as a Postal Clerk, an occupation which was to take him far and wide, and see him eventually become a Postmaster.

Despite his zest for sport he’d accepted at a young age, that his limited ability wouldn’t propel him to superstardom.

When you’re in the ruck and give away height every week, or line up in a key position and find yourself two yards too slow; then have average skills to boot, it puts you behind the eight-ball. But he played every game as though it was his last.

He made 11 senior appearances in his initial two-year spell with the Rovers, and figured In Reserves Grand Finals in both years, the second of which resulted in a Premiership.

He spent a season with Greta on his return to the area five years later. Then, in the evening of his career, the Hawks suggested that they had the ideal position for him – as captain of the Reserves.

Many youngsters like me were just coming out of the Junior League. Tommy was our ‘protector’, besides coming down hard on us if we strayed on, and off, the field.

He’d often say: “The tougher it becomes, the better I like it,” and would rarely finish a game without ‘wearing’ one wound or another.

I liked his style. When tempers flared in a typically feisty clash with Myrtleford at the Findlay Oval one day, Tom decided that he needed to make his presence felt.

He charged in with all guns blazing just on siren-time, and his ‘two-man war’ with opposition skipper, Vic Garoni, had the crowd roaring. The commencement of the senior clash soon after seemed somewhat of an anti-climax.

Tommy decided to hang up the boots as Reserves skipper. He’d won the B & F (1964), and finished runner-up and Third in the following two years.

He moved seamlessly into the role for which he was lauded, as a brilliant administrator. He became assistant-secretary and a Selector for four years, then succeeded Ernie Payne as Secretary in 1970.

For the first time in the Club’s 20-year O & M history, they’d plumped for a local boy as coach. Neville Hogan’s appointment was panned by many experts and supporters, who predicted the demise of the Hawks.

It was to prove a master-stroke, of course, as the Club embarked on its fabulous ‘Super Seventies’ era. Jack Maroney, a gruff, tough old campaigner, was a fine President who could go off on a tangent. Tobin took it upon himself to keep ‘Old Wally’ in check; also ensuring that the rest of the off-field stuff ran smoothly.

After losing a tight Grand Final to Myrtleford , the Hawks won the first of their seven 70’s flags in 1971 . Tom moved on after this and was honoured with Life Membership.

He followed from afar, but his last (unofficial) duty for the Club came 22 years later. Laurie Burt had heard a whisper that there were one or two Wodonga players under an injury cloud for the Grand Final, and asked if he’d mind subtly ‘sussing’ them out at training.

Tommy was chuffed at that prospect; ‘spying’ for his old club, under-cover, in his adopted home town…….

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His summer passion in those days was cricket. As a lower-order batsman and a medium-pacer with an elongated run, he played for Rovers and City Colts, in the Wangaratta and District Cricket Association, and served as WDCA Secretary for two years.

Postals appointed him as their inaugural captain when they joined the Sunday Association. And the Tobin combativeness was always close to the surface.

Like the time he fronted a West End fieldsman who’d been annoying hell out of him and doing his best to get under his skin: “Don’t call me a bad sport, or I’ll wrap this bat around your bloody head…………”

Footnote: Tommy passed away in Wodonga last Wednesday, aged 87. He leaves wife Marlene, six kids and nine grand-kids.

” ‘MOUSE’…….THE OPPORTUNIST……..”

Denis Wohlers passed on some notable characteristics to his son…….among them, a shock of blonde hair…….the Diabetes gene…..one of the most recognisable nicknames in town……..and a passion for the Rovers, Essendon and fishing.

Thank heavens young Shane didn’t inherit his minimal footy ability.

The kindest testimony to his old man’s skills with the Sherrin is that, mercifully, he found a more suitable pastime as a drummer……..

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Shane was part of a couple of Rovers premiership teams that have been classified among the greatest of all-time. Even though he was one of their unsung foot-soldiers, he’d have no trouble plucking out a host of career highlights.

But his mates always vouch that the best of ‘Mouse’ was encapsulated in a scintillating six-minute burst at the Albury Sportsground in 1998. I’ll try to re-construct the scenario:

After being near-unbeatable in the early part of the nineties, the Hawks’ reign is terminated by Albury, who have snared the last three titles.

The ladder-leaders exemplify their ruthlessness in this mid-season match, arrogantly stretching a 32-point lead at the long break to 40 at lemon-time. Even the most ardent Hawk fans sense a debacle and are mournfully contemplating the long trip home.

The pendulum swings ever so slightly ……The formerly-frazzled visitors begin to exhibit a sense of abandon and charge forward. Three early goals provide the inspiration……

12-minutes into the last term the will-o-the-wisp Wohlers swoops on the ball and kicks a great running goal from 40 metres…………A minute later, with the Hawks deep in attack, he successfully snaps from a near-impossible angle……..And, deja vu……He boots a sensational goal on the run, from 45 metres out, tucked up against the boundary, just as the clock ticks over 14 minutes……..At the 18- minute mark it’s the elusive number 36 again ! His destruction continues, with his fourth on the trot ( and fifth overall) to level the scores……..

By now he’s on Cloud Nine, dominating the game in a way that he’d never have envisaged . The Rovers continue attacking relentlessly, and, after Tim Scott kicks his fifth to regain the lead for the Tigers, it’s Rohan Graham who puts them back in front.

Precious seconds tick by. At the 30-minute mark, Albury’s Manny Edmonds breaks clear. His shot from 35m towards an open goal, drifts across for a minor score, just as the siren blares…..the Hawks have sneaked home by four points……

Amidst the pandemonium, ‘Mouse’ – the hero of the moment – bashfully acknowledges the plaudits of the fans…….

His dad, the Club’s resident Video-Operator, packs up his equipment and enters the jubilant rooms, fobbing off the praise directed towards his son.

Someone remarks: “What’d you think of the young bloke.? “

But ‘Old Mouse’, a hard task-master if ever there was one, drily comments: “Where was he for three quarters……….?”

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Shane laughs when we reflect on his favourite ‘moment in the sun’: “Robbie (Walker) used to do things like that every second week.”

Indeed, he says, he was privileged to have a box-seat to the ‘Walker-Show’. But really, he’d long been destined to make a mark at the Findlay Oval. When he was a toddler in the mid-to-late seventies he was forever trailing behind his heavily-involved dad .

His heroes weren’t the VFL household-names of the day, but stars like Merv Holmes, Steve Norman, Eddie Flynn and Andrew Scott, who indulged him as part of the Hawk family.

He progressed from playing with Junior League Club College, to the Rovers Thirds, where he finished runner-up in the B &F and featured in their 1988 Premiership side. It seemed a ‘fait accompli’ that ‘Mouse’ would be yet another to join the assembly-line of budding champs.

Within two years, one of his Thirds flag team-mates, Dean Harding had been snapped up by VFL club Fitzroy after some eye-catching performances……..Shane’s journey couldn’t have provided a starker contrast…….

He found himself unable to even squeeze into the Rovers Reserves side in ‘89…….

“I wasn’t going to hang around not playing, so ‘Boofa’ Allan talked Chris McInnes, ‘Rolls’ (Steve Ralston), myself and Dean Stone ( who hadn’t played footy for a year or so) to head out to Milawa for the rest of the season.”

“We enjoyed it too, but it was only going to be a one-year thing for me. I still reckoned I was good enough to eventually crack the Seniors at the Rovers.”

Even then, he had to earn his spot the hard way. He was the Reserves B & F in 1990, Third in ‘91, and shared the Award with Mark Nolan in 1992. The reward for his consistency was the sum total of 15 senior games in three years.

He was going on 23. “I really thought I might have been given more opportunities,” Shane reflects,”…but I realised I had to be patient. It was a pretty hard line-up to break into.”

After playing a handful of early games in the Two’s in 1993, Laurie Burt pulled him aside one night and said: “You’re in.” “ ‘Sorry, I can’t play’ I told him. ‘I’m going to a mate’s wedding.’”

“I thought, shit, now I’ve done my dash. I knew what Laurie’s attitude was to blokes who put their social life in front of footy.”

“But surprisingly, I got a senior game the following week – and didn’t get dropped for the next seven years……………”

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Included in that was a run of 35 consecutive wins, which took in the 1993 and ‘94 premierships.

A myriad of memories flick through his mind when he recalls those flags……..for instance, the half-time brawl in the player’s race in the ‘93 decider against Wodonga…..the inspirational Laurie Burt speech which stirred them back into action….. Leading by just one point at the main break, they went on to kick 12 goals to 6, to win by 40 points….He even managed to ‘snag’ a couple himself…….

And the multiple stoushes in the ‘Big One’ the following year, when the ‘Dogs had three players off the ground – ‘yellow-carded’ – in the third term……He played against his good mates – Dean Harding, Robbie Hickmott and Dean Stone that day……The Rovers triumphed, this time by 10 goals….

‘Mouse’ was creative….. skilful…..an opportunist……and an ideal club-man. He was often accompanied at training by his faithful Corgie-Kelpie-Cross companion, Sid, which would usually lead the sprint-work during the Sunday morning ‘warm-down’.

In early 1999 Shane headed north for an eight-week Gold Coast summer safari . He trained alongside his old team-mate ‘Hicky’, who was now at at Southport; and also with Beenleigh, the home club of another ex-Rover, Rob Panozzo.

“I was playing two practice matches some week-ends……. got super-fit. I’d thought about staying up there, but when I came back to Wang I was raring to go. It proved to be a disappointing year, though. I ran out of form. In the final round we played well against Lavi and I had a day out on a young kid called John Hunt.It was my last senior game for the Rovers………..”

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His association with Moyhu began in 2000 when he was appointed assistant-coach to Des Smith.

It probably wasn’t obvious at the time, but the Hoppers were about to embark on a Golden Era, which would see them snare five flags and play in seven Grand Finals.

However, Shane’s stint began disastrously. A broken cheekbone, which he sustained in a torrid clash against Chiltern left him on the sidelines for eight weeks. It spurred a frosty relationship between the Hoppers and Swans which never really thawed.

He took over the coaching reins the following year, but copped another setback – an opposition player fell across his leg, he fell awkwardly and underwent a knee reconstruction.

Ruled out of action indefinitely, he returned to the Rovers as Coach of the Reserves ( non-playing for the first year and playing-coach in the second).

The Hoppers were riding high when they welcomed him back. They atoned for a last-gasp four-point defeat at the hands of Bright in 2004 by clinching the next two flags, both against Whorouly.

“The first of these was played at the Showgrounds, and turned out a ripping game,” he recalls. “Gerard Nolan kicked ten of our 15 goals and we got up by 10 points.”

“In 2006 we took the game away from them in the third quarter and finished up winning by about nine goals. ‘Higgsy’ (Mark Higgs) came off the bench and marked everything, which helped turn the game in our favour.”

He had another two-year stint as coach in 2008/‘09. “They had someone else teed up, but it fell through, so I agreed to take it on. We made the finals both years, but I was glad to hand it over to Johnny McNamara when he became available.”

His career came to a fitting end when he played in Moyhu’s enthralling win over Tarrawingee in the 2011 Grand Final. It had been nip and tuck all day. The Hoppers reeled back a 10-point deficit in the last quarter to sneak home by two points.

He was going on 42, and it was his 409th game ( 139 at Moyhu – and 139 Senior, 92 Reserves and 39 Thirds games with the Rovers).

“ I was buggered, and could hardly raise a gallop when the siren blew……. I knew it was time to give it away…………”

P.S : Another blonde-haired, talented young ‘Mouse’ has just begun his football journey. Shane will be coaching Kaiden in the Centrals Under 12’s when footy kicks off again, whilst the two girls, Tahya and Kyia are playing Netball under the coaching of their mum, Sharlene, at Moyhu.