‘BARRIE BEATTIE’S SPORTING JOURNEY………..’

He was a typical boy from the bush, thrust into the hurly-burly of city life when he moved down to combine his education with pursuing employment opportunities.

Having settled into lodgings at Flemington, he entertained thoughts of finding a Club nearby, which might cater for his twin sporting passions.

That was how, on a mid-February day in 1964, he found his way to the Western Oval, headquarters of the Footscray Football and Cricket Clubs………..

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Barrie Beattie was toiling away on the family farm at Thoona when the Wangaratta Rovers were first alerted to his footy talents.

Aged 16, he was playing for his local team, Glenrowan-Thoona. A Taminick ‘cockie’, Duncan McLean, Hawk star Neale’s dad , saw him play in the Club’s only win for the season, against Dookie College, and liked the look of the raw, well-developed kid with the handy ‘pair of mitts’.

The Rovers lured him the following season, and found work for him at the Wangaratta Abattoirs.

“It wasn’t the greatest job. I was a sort of jack-of-all-trades, but didn’t mind it at all, and I was loving playing footy under Bob Rose,” Barrie recalls.

In between four fleeting senior appearances, he was one of a crop of youngsters who took the Hawks to a Reserves flag in 1962.

He, and several of his team-mates had improved rapidly, and formed the core of a senior line-up which Rose’s successor, Ken Boyd, began to mould the following season.

Beattie ‘snagged’ 48 goals ( including a season-high of nine against North Albury ) to win the Club goal-kicking. He seemed to play ‘taller’ than his bulky 6’2”, 83kg frame, and opponents found him difficult to outmanoeuvre in the air.

He had also made a considerable impression in local cricket, as an accurate fast-medium bowler and solid middle-order batsman.

His 9/17 in a North-East Colts match drew plaudits, as did some strong performances at Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks.

‘Here’s a fellah who could be at the forefront of local footy and cricket for years to come’, the wise judges predicted…………..

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But it wasn’t to be.

“Bill Woods, the Council Meat Inspector, pulled me aside at the Abattoirs one day, and said: ‘Look son, you don’t want to be hanging around here for the rest of your life’,“ Barrie recalls.

“I did a bit of research, and found out that, if I started a Meat Inspector’s Course in Melbourne, and passed everything, I could qualify in 12 months. So I landed a job as a clerk at William. Angliss Meats and organised to do the Course on Monday nights and Saturday mornings.”

He represented Wangaratta at Country Week in February ‘64, then moved down permanently to the ‘big smoke’ the week after.

“It was my good fortune to meet Bill Mobbs, the City of Footscray’s Meat Inspector……A terrific bloke….He became my mentor….He also happened to be the Chairman of Selectors at Footscray.”

“Bill said: ‘Why don’t you come down and have a run with us.’”

“He was also connected, unofficially, with the Cricket Club. He added: ‘…..And, if you’re gonna play footy here, you might as well play cricket with Footscray.”

Four senior games in three years hardly constitutes a momentous VFL career. but fate can sometimes intervene…….and it certainly did in Barrie’s case.

He was selected to play his first senior game, against Hawthorn in Round 11, 1964

“It’d been raining all week, and continued during the game. Glenferrie Oval was a mud-heap. I was 20th man, and finally got onto the ground with about two minutes to go…..It was the most inauspicious debut you could imagine.”

His next opportunity was meant to be in the 1965 season-opener against Geelong, at Kardinia Park. But a meat-worker who wasn’t concentrating, sliced a tendon in Barrie’s finger. His arm was in plaster for three weeks whilst the wound healed.

He finally got his chance when he was named at full forward against Richmond a few rounds later, on Queen’s Birthday Monday.

“I was up at 6am, worked ‘til mid-day, then knocked off and headed to the Western Oval. It was really the fruition of a dream, running onto the ground in front of a crowd of 28 or 29,000 including a few old Rovers team-mates, and my girl-friend ( now wife ), who’d come up by train from Geelong.”

“After the game I took Erica to watch a movie at the Brooklyn Drive-In, then dropped her back to Geelong. On the way home I’ve dozed off, ran off the road at Werribee and had an accident. That put me out of action for quite a while, although I recovered in time to play in the Reserves Finals.”

He managed two more senior games, in mid-1966 – the last of them a solid two-goal performance in the ‘Dogs’ 21-point win over Melbourne – but felt he struggled to regain full confidence after his accident.

“I think (Teddy) Whitten lost a bit of faith in me after that. It was decided that I probably didn’t cut the mustard as a League footballer,” Barrie says………….

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He spent eight years with the Footscray Cricket Club, occasionally coming on first-change in a formidable attack, which included Test players Ron ‘Pappy’ Gaunt and Alan Hurst, veteran left-armer Arthur Day and the slippery Tony Lee.

“They were a great club….really friendly. When you consider we also numbered the Joslin boys (Les and Graeme), left-hander Ken Eastwood, old all-rounder Arthur Dean and a handy tweaker, Tommy Seal, among our ranks, it was a handy side.”

“I loved my cricket, and one of the highlights of my time there was captaining the Second XI to a flag around ‘70-‘71.”

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After being delisted by the ‘Dogs, Barrie continued his footy career with VFA club Yarraville, and spent a couple of seasons at Tongala, as an ex-Radius player.

Opting to play closer to home, he followed a few mates to Parkside, in the Footscray District League, in 1970.

And when the incumbent coach relinquished the job at the last minute, he was asked to step into the breach.

In his first season as coach he took out the FDFL Medal and Club B & F. The Parkside Magpies were within a whisker of snatching an unlikely flag the following year, when club legend Lindsay Murphy lined up for a shot at goal 50-55 metres out, after the siren.

“It was against Spotswood, our arch rivals. Lindsay didn’t quite make the distance……We went down by three points.”

“I coached for five years and played on for one more. They were a great Club. I returned there many years later, and took on the Presidency.”

After moving on to play with Aberfeldie for two and a bit years, he hung up his boots mid-way through 1975, aged 31………

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Barrie spent more than five years working for the Commonwealth Government, taking on the responsibility for Meat Inspections at prominent exporters such as Angliss, Borthwicks and Gilbertson’s .

“My old mentor Bill Mobbs suggested to me one day: ‘Barrie, you don’t want to be a Meat Inspector for the rest of your working life. Have you thought about doing something else ?’ “

“I’m not sure, Mr. Mobbs,” I replied.

“He said: ‘If you like, I’ll arrange a meeting for you with the Town Clerk of Footscray, Bill Swaby’.”

“I didn’t even have my Leaving Certificate, so I had to study some subjects to obtain my Matriculation. That would enable me to enrol to do a Diploma of Education ( Local Government) Certificate at RMIT.”

Barrie started at the Essendon Council as a clerk, and qualified as a Town Clerk in 1972. He won a Scholarship to study Local Government, which took him to the USA, Canada and the UK. Ultimately, in 1979, he was appointed Essendon Council’s Manager/ Town Clerk.

He spent 17 years at the Council before taking a job with the State Government, then moving on to become Executive Director of the City Manager’s Association, a professional development group…………..

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After leaving the Essendon City Council Barrie resumed his active involvement with the Bulldogs.

“I’d followed them from afar, but didn’t want to be accused of a conflict of interest whilst I was working at Essendon.”

He was asked to join the Board in 1986, and served through possibly the most turbulent period in the history of the Footscray Football Club…….. To put it bluntly, he says, it was a matter of just trying to exist.

He was the Club’s VFL Director for three years, and accepted the ‘poison chalice’ of the Presidency in early 1988. To illustrate how highly-charged were the emotions of the supporters at the time, he recalls a meeting that was held at the Footscray Town Hall:

“Our Ground needed major improvements, but we had no money……..And we were advised by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade that the John Gent Grandstand was a Fire-trap……It wasn’t feasible to keep playing matches at the Western Oval……. I was doing my best to try to explain the reasoning behind transferring our home games to Princes Park……..”

“The supporters were cranky……. I reckon I’d have been lynched, only that Simon Beasley (who was still playing) stood up and defended the Board’s decision….Gee it was tough…….We just couldn’t get the message across ……….”

“Nick Columb took over from me in early-1989, and was in charge when all the amalgamation stuff with Fitzroy was happening. I remained as the Club’s VFL Director until 1990.”

The winds of change, of course, swept through in late-1989, when the ‘Save The Dogs’ campaign re-activated the Club and ensured its long-term survival as a separate entity.

Barrie Beattie regards his role during this tumultuous time as an ‘unforgettable experience’. He remains a keen Bulldog member and still gets to as many games as he can.

What an eventful journey it’s been for the boy from Thoona……………

“BEST KICK I EVER SAW…….”

The subject of this yarn politely declined an interview. “That’s okay,” I said. “Do you mind if I do a bit of a resume’ of your considerable sporting career.” “Go for your life,” was the reply……

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You’ve probably spotted him on his daily walk around the streets of Wangaratta…….. The gait is instantly-recognisable…..Long arms pumping……Legs striding out purposefully……..Head down…

Someone suggested he’s either attempting to unravel the problems of the universe……Or on the look-out for a stray 50-cent piece to add to his collection………..

Another route often takes him from his Templeton Street residence, down to Evans Street, where he might complete three or four circuits of the bank at his old Home Ground………..

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There was a time, more than five decades ago, when the crowd on those banks would roar with delight, as the big number 15 plucked a mark – reaching into the sky like a giant cherry-picker.

“Line ‘em up ‘Thommo’ “, they’d yell…….And from some obscene distance he’d bomb the pill through the big sticks.

No, I’m not dreaming.

Nostalgic old-timers recall the day Gary Ablett landed one from close to the centre of the ground for Myrtleford in a 1983 Semi-Final. It’s grown in distance over the years, to be labelled the longest goal ever kicked on the Findlay Oval.

Ray Thompson booted those regularly.IMG_4319

He had hands the size of meat-plates, and wore a pair of boots which amply protected his ankles. They were tailor-made for him by a city cobbler called Hope Sweeney, recognised as the best boot-maker in the business. ‘Thommo’ modestly vouched that the ‘Hope Sweeney’s’ were the reason he could hoof the ball a country mile……………

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The Thompson’s arrived in Wangaratta from Wagga in 1956, settled in Orwell Street, and began operating the town’s major Brickworks’.

It was a family concern, and Ray left school, aged 14, to join the business, toiling alongside his dad Sidney, and brothers Ron and Alan. The demanding, physically-taxing nature of the work no doubt hastened the development of his imposing physique.

He was still a teen-ager when Sidney passed away, so the boys took over joint operation of the Brickworks. Ray became the designated Employment Officer.

I came knocking on his door a decade or so later and became yet another of the itinerant employees of ‘Thompson’s’.

I’d just landed home from a casual, year-long Northern Sporting Safari and Ray warned : “I’m not sure whether this’ll be your cuppa tea.”

He was right. I advised him at lunch-time on the second day that I’d had enough.

‘Thompson’s Brickworks’ continued on to be an integral part of the local building landscape for almost 40 years, before the boys sold out to Boral in 1983…………

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When Ray was first invited to the Rovers, to train after the completion of his Junior League commitments at Centrals in late-1958, one jokester likened him to a new-born foal – all arms and legs.

He was slotted straight into the senior line-up in Round 1, 1959, as a back pocket, with the occasional run on the ball. That position, he always said, was a footy ‘sinecure’ . Just read the play, back yourself to out-mark your opponent and send it back from whence it came.IMG_4321

At 18, it was obvious that the young fellah was a star in the making. He finished fourth in the B & F in his first year, then played a starring role in the 1960 flag.

He was in awe of the dynamic Bob Rose, who had a big influence on his development. Even today, get him yapping about those ‘Golden Days’ and he can unveil a host of Rose stories, depicting his brilliance and coaching prowess.

Like the time ‘Thommo’ earned his first O & M guernsey, in 1961, and had the honour of playing alongside the great man in a Country Championship match against the Goulburn Valley.

He recalled ‘Rosie’ hardly being able to stand, or lace up his boots without assistance, before the game. The selectors tried to talk him out of playing. But he would have nothing of it. “With the stars that are playing in this side feeding the ball to me, I’ll be okay,” he said.

Ray was on fire up forward at Benalla one day, and booted five majors in a quarter, before rolling his ankle.

Reasoning that he’d be no value to the side in that condition, he advised Rose, who said: ‘No, we’ll plonk you in the pocket. They’ll be that focused on keeping you under control that it’ll release a couple of our other forwards to do some damage.”

In 1961 ‘Thommo’ was in his prime, and took out the Club Best & Fairest. The departure of veteran Les Clarke the following season saw him handed the vice-captaincy, under Rose. He was 21. By now he was used to spending most of his time at centre half forward, where he proved a near-insurmountable obstacle for defenders. If he got a sniff of it in the air those huge hands would clamp the ball.IMG_4323

He resisted the overtures of five VFL clubs. On one occasion he was at the Western Oval, watching Rovers player Barrie Beattie go around in a Footscray practice match. Teddy Whitten, who was notified that he was in the crowd, invited him to strip for the last half. ‘Thommo’ declined.

His mates reckoned that “he’d probably have had a crack at League footy if they’d set him up in a Brickworks down there”.

One of his most memorable performances came in the 1964 Grand Final. The Hawks had won the first 15 matches that season, before losing the next four, which included a demoralising loss to Wangaratta in the Second-Semi.

After a shaky start, they overcame Myrtleford in the Prelim, to earn another shot at the ‘Pies in the big one. ‘Thommo’ had copped a heavy knock against the Saints and was unable to train on Tuesday or Thursday night prior to the Grand Final.

He was still receiving pain-killing injections minutes before the match and limped and hobbled around ten minutes after the start.

The ‘Chronicle’s’ journo Lester Hansen summed up his performance…….

“In an inspired patch of football in the third quarter, Thompson kicked four of the Hawks’ six goals. The big fellow hauled down incredible marks, moved around the ground with the poise of a ballet dancer and burnt off opponents with speed that must have amazed even himself. It will forever be remembered as ‘Thommo’s quarter………….”IMG_4320

The Hawks made it successive flags the following year . One of the tactics of coach Ken Boyd was to start Thompson in the back pocket, then move him to centre half forward as the game unfolded.

The ‘65 Grand Final was no exception. Boyd had been having trouble with Magpie defender Bernie Killeen. But when big Ray moved onto Killeen he added life to the attack and combined well with elusive flanker Laurie Flanigan to help swing the pendulum in the Hawks’ favour.

‘Thommo’ injured his knee in an inter-League match against Bendigo in 1966 and it began to cause him no end of trouble. He thought if he had a good spell and tried again, that might help.

He could only limp his way through eight games in that horror year. And when he consulted South Melbourne’s Head Trainer Bill Mitchell, the diagnosis was heart-wrenching.IMG_4324

Thinking the pesky limb had settled down again over the summer, he decided to have a run with his old Rovers team-mate John Welch, who was coaching Whorouly. But after half a season he accepted the inevitable…

He retired at the tender age of 27, after playing 143 games for the Hawks. A stint on the committee, and as Chairman of Selectors, followed………

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‘Thommo’s’ fascination with cricket almost rivalled his passion for footy. As a middle-order batsman and purveyor of off-breaks, he was a member of the all-conquering United teams which dominated the local game through the sixties and seventies.

He featured in all nine of their WDCA flags. And when he and Brenda and the four kids moved out to Tarrawingee, he was one of the king-pins – on and off the field – in the resurgence of the ‘Bulldogs, who became a Sunday cricket power.

No tale about ‘Thommo’ would be complete without the re-telling of his finest stroke of golfing fortune. He was a regular on local courses and tackled the game with typical gusto. A handicap in the high 20’s had eventually been whittled down to the 12-mark.

He credited his improvement to a set of state-of-the-art clubs which were unfortunately snavelled from the back of his Ute after a game at Waldara. He promptly reported their departure to the Police and decided it was best to move on with life.

A call from the Prahran police, weeks later, notified him that they’d been ‘flogged off’ to Cash Converters for the paltry sum of $60, and if he came down to identify them, he could be re-united with his prized ‘Lindson’s’…

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Lester Hansen, the journo who wrote an aforementioned piece about the 1964 Grand Final, has now retired to Port Macquarie. He occasionally rings to touch base, catch up on the latest O & M gossip, and enquire as to the welfare of some of the old acquaintances of his Chronicle days.

The conversation eventually meanders to one of his favourites……..”How’s Thommo going…..What a player he was……Best kick I ever saw………..”

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P.S: Keen Rovers man that he is, ‘Thommo’ will be watching Saturday’s clash between the Hawks and Pigeons at the Findlay Oval. The Rovers Past Players are holding a Get-Together as part of the day.

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