“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……

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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……………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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…………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

‘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’…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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………..”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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.

IMG_4325

‘THE OBJECT OF MY DESIRE………’

I happened upon the object of my desire many, many years ago.

She was destitute, unloved; forever being compared unfavourably to her sassy neighbor across the road, who attracted, and courted, numerous suitors.

Noses were turned up whenever her name was mentioned. Jokes were made about her unsophistication. She’ll amount to nothing, they scoffed.

But I could see something in her. She possessed a rare charm which turned me on. I grew to love her more and more. It’s an affair that has never abated.

Through no fault of hers, my emotions still occasionally overflow in her presence. I find myself scaling the heights one minute, then plummeting to the lowest of lows the next.

Permit me, if you will, to recount a few of the cherished milestones of this dear old friend of mine ………….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

WELCOMING A NEW GUEST

I’m no more than four or five, and nipping at dad’s heels, when I’m first introduced to the new home of the Wangaratta Rovers.

They’ve received permission to use a ten-acre patch in Evans Street that had been handed to the Council way back in 1859. The specification of the Lands Department at the time was that it be used for sporting purposes.

It was un-named, but colloquially dubbed ‘The Cricket Ground’, and used sparingly over the next 91 years, for cricket and the occasional game of footy. Precious little had been done to improve it. The ‘paddock’ was rough-hewn, full of tussocks and mostly unkempt. A ramshackle building, which comprised a roof and two and a half sides, was occupied by a local swaggie, Tommie Clack.

Tommie used the floorboards of one part of the ‘pavilion’ as firewood, to provide some element of comfort in the harsh winter months.

He continued to squat, even when the Rovers began training there in the early fifties. The process was that they’d undress in the Industrial Pavilion under the old Showgrounds Grandstand, climb through an opening in the tin fence, and begin ball-work shortly after.

They continued to play Home games at the Showgrounds whilst spending thousands of hours -with Council assistance – grading the oval, rolling and sowing grass, and re-developing the surrounds of their new home.

“We had to grub out large trees; the oval had to be re-fenced. I recall we had to cart gravel from Eldorado for the banking; we had as many as 50 at working bees,” Rovers stalwart Frank Hayes once said.

“ And every evening and week-end for months, carpenters, plasterers, bricklayers and labourers worked like beavers to convert the dilapidated building into presentable Clubrooms.”IMG_3242

In 1952, in time for their third Ovens and Murray season, the Hawks are finally settled into their new headquarters…………….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

STAGING THE ‘BIG SHOW’

Just four years after its christening as an Ovens and Murray venue, ‘The Cricket Ground’ is chosen to host the eagerly-anticipated Grand Final encounter between North Albury and Wangaratta.

More than 11,000 fans pack in, and are treated to a classic contest which fluctuates throughout. It’s really a ‘coming-of-age’ for 18 year-old Magpie champion, Lance Oswald (later to become a VFL star). In a best-afield display, he boots five of his seven goals in the third quarter, to bring Wang back into contention.

But the ‘Hoppers steady, and hold a slender four-point three-quarter time lead. ‘Mother Nature’ seems to turn against Wang in the final term, as ideal conditions give way to a gale-force storm which blows towards North’s goal. The turning-point comes late in the game, when North’s Arthur Pickett sends one through the big sticks from the centre of the ground. They hang on desperately to win by 10 points – 13.15 to 13.5…….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A CENTRE-STRIP

A centre-square of black turf is laid, lovingly-nurtured, and comes into use for the first time in January 1955. It survives flood, drought, plagues, vandals, under and over-indulgent curators and some footy coaches who regard its presence as a necessary evil.

The Rovers Cricket Club springs up and soon becomes a vital component of the Oval.

With shared tenants, Combined Schools and United, which morph into the merged Rovers-United, then Rovers-United Bruck, they snare a total of 23 WDCA senior flags……..

IMG_4285
Another WDCA flag returns to the Findlay Oval

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

MR. FOOTBALL ARRIVES IN TOWN

Everyone with the remotest connection to football in the vicinity, is abuzz with anticipation in late-1955, as news spreads that Mr.Football has arrived in town.

Bobby Rose, unanimously touted as the best footballer in Australia, has been lured as captain-coach of the Rovers.

The battling Hawks are astounded at the extent to which he transforms their fortunes. A crowd of over 1,000 flock to watch him in action in the club’s first practice match. Membership shoots up by more than 300%. The outlay of 35 pounds a week for a man who was a ‘marketer’s dream’ is deemed a fabulous investment.

Suddenly, the Rovers are front-page news and recruits eager to savour the champ’s wisdom, sign on. History will record him as the club’s most esteemed figure………

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

‘LET  CELEBRATIONS BEGIN……’

The biggest party in the Ground’s history begins soon after the siren blares to signify the Hawks’ 51-point win over Wodonga in the 1958 Grand Final – their first O & M flag.

The game is a triumph for the dynamic Rose, but there are numerous heroes. The players return to Wangaratta by train and are led down to the Ground by the Town Band.rosey

At the open-air Dance and Barbecue, a crowd of more than 3,000 is there to greet them. They devour 3,000 steakettes, 1,000 steaks, and the caterers carve up two large bullocks. The crowd is still at it in the wee hours of the morning…..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A YOUNGSTER IN THE WINGS

As a keen cricketer, Bob Rose is an integral part of three premierships with Rovers. His greatest fan is a tiny 7-8 year-old, who diligently uses his own score-book to record each game. .

And at each break in play he grabs a bat and pleads with somebody to throw a few down to him. Years later, the kid seems destined to wear the baggy green, as he progresses to become a prolific Sheffield Shield opening batsman. However, a tragic car accident puts paid to Robert Rose’s highly-promising career……

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

THE CHALLENGE MATCH

The Rovers’ victory over Wodonga in the 1960 Grand Final prompts a challenge from Oakleigh, who have taken out the VFA flag.

The match, played on the newly-named City Oval the following Sunday, attracts huge interest from the football public. Several city book-makers – keen Oakleigh backers – sense an opportunity to clean up and find multiple ‘takers’ when the word is put around .

But it’s a one-horse race. The Hawks lead from the first bell, running away to win 14.17 to 3.10…..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

COMFORT FOR THE FANS

With support from the Rovers in 1960, the Council submits plans for a Shelter, which is to be built in two stages and will cover the whole embankment to the right of the Clubrooms. It provides a vast improvement in supporter comfort and becomes possibly the most identifiable feature of the City Oval.IMG_4287

Many of the Ground’s most rabid fans make the new Shelter their home, and it is later named ‘The Neville Hogan Stand’, after a Club icon.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

THE BOYD – TUCK CLASH

It’s early 1964, when an incident occurs which is still imprinted in the minds of those who were there – although, to this day, you’ll get different versions.

Rovers coach Ken Boyd, one of the most controversial figures in the game, and Corowa leader Frank Tuck, the ex-Collingwood skipper, clash on the score-board side of the ground. To most it seems like a legitimate shirt-front which costs Tuck a broken jaw, but it triggers hitherto-unseen demonstrations at half-time.

Spiders supporters hurl abuse at ‘Big Ken’ as he walks from the ground and several, with fists raised, try to push their way through the packed crowd.

The ‘Melbourne Herald’ reports on the incident in their edition the following Tuesday, with the headline: ‘KEN BOYD IS NAMED’. Boyd subsequently sues for libel, and the aftermath is played out in the Supreme Court two years later.IMG_4282

Against all considered opinion, Boyd wins the case and is granted substantial damages. He retires later that year, with two flags to his name and a reputation as a charismatic and inspiring coach…..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

THE SECOND STOREY

The Rovers undertake a substantial renovation to the clubrooms, beginning in late 1964, and complete the task in ‘65. A second story is added to the humble abode that had been constructed twelve years earlier.

The players are to the forefront of this, as coach Ken Boyd marshalls them to lend support to the voluntary ‘tradies’ who had been at it every week-end for months.

It’s called the ‘Maroney Pavilion’, as a tribute to one of the club’s stalwarts, who has been at the forefront of the project ………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

THE LOCAL DERBY

IMG_4280
Rinso Johnstone marks spectacularly in a Local Derby. Half-a-century on, his grandson, Karl Norman would become a familiar figure at the Findlay Oval.
IMG_3313
Neville Hogan gets his kick away, in front of a large Local Derby crowd.

O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (10)

72 epic editions of the ‘Local Derby’ have been staged at the City Oval to date, but none have carried the consequences of the 1976 Grand Final.

The Rovers are in the midst of their fabulous ‘Super Seventies’ era when they meet a confident Wangaratta side which has hit peak form.

The Hawks are considered likely to hold an advantage, playing on their own dung-hill , but it’s not to be. The ‘Pies produce power football from the first bounce and lead by 25 points at half-time.

The capacity crowd settles down to watch a predictable fight-back from the champs, but it fails to eventuate. They’re dismantled to the tune of 36 points……….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

CLUBROOMS EXPAND

A further re-modelling of the ‘Maroney Pavilion’ is undertaken between 1981-82, which increases the floor space of the complex by almost 40 per cent, and crowd capacity from 200 to 350.IMG_4289

Thirty-odd years later, a further step in the Clubrooms project is completed when a Balcony, covering the perimeter of the upstairs building is constructed, offering arguably the O & M’s best viewing facilities.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

THE LIGHTS GO ON

The first match for premiership points, under new lighting, is played at the City Oval in 1993. Whilst the Rovers’ performance in their 80-point win over Yarrawonga, is bright, the same can’t be said for the lights.

Supporters from both clubs fume that they’re unable to identify players on the far side of the ground,

But the dim lights don’t deter Hawk spearhead Matthew Allen, who slots nine majors in a scintillating display…..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

A FINAL NAME – CHANGE

The City Council, in consultation with the Rovers, re-names City Oval the ‘W.J.Findlay Oval’, in appreciation of the contributions of a former Postal Clerk, long-term Councillor, Mayor, Parliamentary candidate, author, Rovers committee-man, Life Member and ardent Hawk supporter.

IMG_1292
Four legends of the Findlay Oval – Bob Rose, Neville Hogan, Robbie Walker and Andrew Scott

‘Old Bill’, who has passed on a couple of years earlier, had first-hand experience of the evolution of a decrepit patch of dirt into a sporting mecca …………..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

BACK TO THE PRESENT

Darkness falls early on this bitter, early-August Tuesday evening……A curtain of misty rain glistens as it sweeps across the floodlit Oval……Brown and Gold-clad figures flip the pill around with precision, egged on by a demanding figure with a stentorian voice.

I’m propped under the giant gum-tree, which has probably hovered here longer than the 160-year existence of this sporting Oval.

If only it could tell the tale it may be of: “….. People who come and find seats where they sat when they were children, and cheered their heroes….. And watch the games as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters……..The memories are so thick they have to brush them away from their faces……..This field, it’s part of our past……..”IMG_2470

‘ A HARD-MAN…… ON AND OFF THE FIELD…….’

Ray Burns was one of those larger-than-life characters of my growing-up years.

As a recently-arrived member of the constabulary, he soon earned the respect of the town’s miscreants and scallywags; maintaining decorum by dispensing the old-fashioned form of justice – a decent, well-directed toe up the arse……..

Accentuating his reputation as a ‘hard-man’ was a flattened nose, spread generously across his ‘lived-in’ dial….. giving rise to a rumour that he’d once been a Golden Gloves contender.

He’s from an era when country football clubs eagerly anticipated the annual influx of bank-clerks, school-teachers and policemen to their municipalities. They would pray that, amongst those who migrated, they might be fortunate enough to snavel a ready-made star or two.

That’s what happened in late-1957, when ‘Burnsy’ made Wangaratta his home…………..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

He was just 16 when he left Shepparton and headed to the ‘big smoke’ to pursue his boyhood dreams.

Just as his brother Ted saw his destiny lying in the priesthood, Ray had his heart set on becoming a cop……and a star footballer.

But firstly, he had to ‘mark time’. He spent two years with the Railways before being accepted into the Police Academy.

By now he was well-entrenched at Richmond, where he’d had two years with the Third Eighteen, and was acquitting himself capably in the Two’s.

After playing a starring role in a Reserves Prelim Final in 1956, in which he received the plaudits of old Tigers for his three goals, a stint of National Service the following year took a decent slice out of his season.

Upon graduating from the Academy, and reaching the conclusion that League football was probably beyond his reach, he accepted his first transfer………

“The clubs came knocking, but there was no doubt where I was going to sign; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play under Bob Rose,” he recalls.

“It was sensational….They were the Golden Years of Country footy……..I loved regaling my kids with the stories of climbing on the train to go to the Grand Finals in Albury.”IMG_4242

“When we came back, victorious, we were greeted at the Railway Station by hundreds of Rovers fans, and the Town Band, which escorted us down to the Ground for the celebrations. Talk about being big frogs in a small puddle !……..”

Bob Rose loved Burnsy’s’ toughness and redoubtable spirit . And besides, the Hawk ‘protector’ regularly produced on the big occasions.

He was a key contributor in the club’s first flag – a 49-point win over Des Healy’s Wodonga in 1958. When the sides squared off two years later, he was best-afield, as the Rovers prevailed in a tight contest.

Casting his mind back to the closing stages of the 1959 Grand Final against Yarrawonga, though, still produces a lump in his throat.

It’s raved about as one of the finest O & M Grand Finals of all time. Here’s how it unfolded :

The Pigeons, pursuing their maiden premiership, scarp out to a 39-point lead in the third quarter.

But the Hawks produce 20 minutes of champagne football, to boot seven goals in 20 minutes, and take a 3-point lead into the three-quarter time break.

The lead changes six times in a pulsating final term. With the clock counting down, and the Rovers attacking,  Max Newth takes possession near centre half forward, fumbles, then, with a deft flick-pass, unloads to the running Burns.

From 50 metres, he promptly slots it through the big sticks to regain the lead for his side.

But seemingly from acres away, the shrill sound of umpire Harry Beitzel’s whistle sends a hush through the 12,000-strong crowd. He adjudicates Newth’s  pass as a throw, much to the dismay of Newth, Burns and the rabid Rovers fans.

Yarra take the resultant free kick and the giant, Alf O’Connor, becomes a hero when he slots a major from the pocket just before the siren, to see the Pigeons home……….

“That was a travesty,” Ray says. “There’s no doubt the pass was legitimate, but old Harry pulled the wrong rein. I still replay that incident, 60 years later.”

Bob Rose usually handed Burns the task of tailing Yarra’s tough-nut Lionel Ryan when the sides met. The fiery red-head was a fearsome opponent. When the pair tangled it was akin to two gnarled, feisty old bulls going at each other.IMG_4243

“I picked him up again in this game, but Billy Stephen rung some changes when they were under siege. He shifted Lionel into the centre early in the last quarter.”

“I said to Rosey: ‘Do you want me to go with him ?’……’Nah, it’ll be right,’ he replied. I’d been ‘blueing’ with him all day. As it turned out, Lionel became a big factor in them getting back into the game. But that’s footy……”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

After a magical three years with the Rovers, Ray was by now married to Judy ( ‘the best-looking girl in town’ ) and, having purchased a house in Swan Street, decided to try his hand at coaching.

Moyhu snapped him up. After reaching the Prelim Final in 1961, the Hoppers were all-conquering the following year, and went through the season undefeated. One of his prize recruits was a future O & M legend, Neville Hogan, who dominated the mid-field.IMG_4248

At season’s end, Ray received letters from two clubs – St.Arnaud and Nhill, sussing out his coaching availability.

“Wheat was big in the West in those days,” he recalls. “I’ll never forget this; a fellah called Ray Youthmire was showing me around the club’s facilities. Nhill had never won a Wimmera League premiership. He said: ‘If you take us to the flag, I’ll personally buy you a new Holden car.’ “

“That was irresistible. I told Moyhu I was keen to put in for it,  but instead of thanking me for keeping them in the loop, they sacked me !”

“I went ahead and accepted the job, subject to getting a transfer in the Force. But the cop who was leaving the Nhill police station changed his mind, and my transfer fell through.”

“To rub salt into the wound, Nhill won two of the next three flags, but luckily for me,  Brien Stone, the President of Tarrawingee offered me their job.”

It had been ten years since the Bulldogs’ last premiership, but they set the pace for most of 1963. The Grand Final was a gripping affair, and they just staved off a defiant Moyhu, to win 7.18 (60) to 9.5 (59).IMG_4250

Tarra again triumphed in 1964, this time against a Greta side which was on the rise. The following year, Greta, despite kicking just five goals in another nail-biter, were able to pip Tarra – who kicked 4.15 – by two points.

One of the highlights of his last year as coach was nurturing an overweight, easy-going kid called Michael Nolan, who was to rise to the heights of VFL football.

“I was close to buggered by now, and handed over the reins to Neil Corrigan. I thought it would be best to spend a year just concentrating on playing.”

And that was it for Burnsy – or so he thought.

The Rovers were keen for him to act as a guiding-hand for their youngsters, and appointed him Reserves coach in 1967. But on finals-eve, with injuries mounting, they thrust him back into the senior line-up.

IMG_4246
Ray Burns ‘flies the flag.l

A broken leg to coach Ian Brewer in the second quarter of the Grand Final placed the self-confessed ‘broken-down hack’ in an invidious position. He was now the on-field leader.

IMG_4245
Ray Burns receives instructions from Rovers’ injured coach Ian Brewer during the 1967 Grand Final

He threw his weight around, and was involved in a big dust-up in the third quarter. “I was lying on the ground after it, when a New South Wales copper came onto the ground and said: ‘If you don’t behave yourself, I’ll lock you up’. I don’t know how he came to that conclusion. I finished with the free kick……”

The Rovers were eventually overpowered by Wodonga, and Burnsy promptly hung up the boots.

After 13 years in the Police Force, he embarked on a new career, as the licensee of the London Family Hotel.

Situated opposite the wharves in Port Melbourne, it was a ‘7am to 7pm’ pub, and favoured watering-hole of Wharfies, Painters and Dockers and ‘colourful identities’.

“It was an interesting place, that’s for sure……And talk about busy ! We averaged 50 barrels a week.”

Controversial Dockers such as ‘Putty-Nose’ Nicholls, Pat Shannon, Billy ‘The Texan’ Longley, ‘The Fox’ Morris and ‘Ferret’ Nelson were numbered among his clientele. ‘The Ferret’ finished up wearing ‘cement boots’, and another notorious figure met his end after being gunned down outside the pub.

“We were there for a touch over ten years and although I was on good terms with the wharfies,  I did the ‘modern waltz’ quite a few times, with some of the local ‘intelligentzia’. And my head was used for a football on more than one occasion………They sure kept me on my toes.”

Ray went on to spend some time as a rep for Carlton & United Breweries, ran Wangaratta’s Railway Hotel for three years, then moved the family to Adelaide, where he operated the Half-Way-Hotel, a busy establishment with 40 poker machines and a thriving bar trade.

After a hectic 11 years, they sold out and he and Judy decided to put their feet up. They retired to his old home town of Shepparton, where Ray admits they’re now doing life ‘on the bit’. They spend a fair bit of time these days keeping tabs on their six kids ( Di, Mick, Karen, Paul, Shane and Mark ), and 14 grandkids.

He’s been doing volunteer work for many years with a few old mates, mowing the lawns and tending the gardens of Ave Maria Hostel.

” I’d always reckoned there were two jobs that’d really suit me. One was holding up the Stop/Go sign  for the CRB.  I never achieved that ambition, but I’ve been able to tick off  on the other one – driving a Ride-On Mower !………….”IMG_4247

‘THE INTRICACIES OF COACHING……’

I’m a sucker for a good old  footy  coaching story……..

……..Like that of the rough and tumble back pocket player, born and bred in Richmond. He joins the Tigers, but over a period of six years never really establishes himself as a regular senior player.

Frustrated and unfulfilled , he spends a season with Richmond Amateurs, then decides to head to the bush, accepting a coaching position with Shepparton. His tenacious attitude and devotion to fitness turns the club into a winner. They narrowly lose the Grand Final in his first year, but snare three flags in a row.

The Mighty Tigers, looking for a replacement coach, cast the net and eventually turn to the formerly unfashionable defender. Relishing the opportunity, he gains the confidence of players, raises their fitness levels to new heights, and preaches his philosophy- ‘Kick the Ball Long…..’

Richmond win four flags under Tommy Hafey, and he is voted their Coach of the Century. He later leads Collingwood, Sydney and Geelong, in a fabulous 522-game coaching career…….

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A diminutive 5’4” rover moves from Murtoa to pursue what seems his impossible dream of playing League football with St.Kilda. He appears in 87 matches on either side of World War II before being struck down with tuberculosis of the spine.

For months he is in a coma and near death. When he recovers he is left hunchbacked. But his love of football and desire to coach St.Kilda inspires him to walk again. He is a big little man of courage and conviction, who openly loves his players, and his speeches become a precious part of the folk-lore of the game.IMG_3726

Overcoated and with tie askew, he patrols the boundary on match day, urging on his players and brandishing a towel to inflame the emotions of his club’s rabid fans.

Alan Killigrew’s coaching route takes him via East Ballarat and Golden Point, to St.Kilda, Norwood, North Melbourne and Subiaco. It ends with a premiership at QAFL Club Wilston-Grange. He says of his wanderings: “Wherever I go I’ll love my football. But I can only love one club – St.Kilda. It’s like a marriage – I’m married to one club …………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

A handy half-forward from Finley is promised six games with St.Kilda. He’s perceptive enough to realise that, at the expiration of those match permits, he’ll probably end up back in the Murray League.

He surprises himself and becomes a Saint regular until a rib injury forces him into early retirement. Two years later, aged just 27, he is thrust into the St.Kilda coaching job, after impressing as a fill-in with the Reserves.

The side clicks. In his first season in charge they sneak into the four – the Saints’ first finals appearance since 1939.

In 1965 they reach the Grand Final, but this is only the prelude to one of the most historic of all football moments, when a rushed snap for goal from Barry Breen hands them a one-point victory – and the 1966 premiership.IMG_3732

He has the reins at St.Kilda for sixteen years, basing his coaching philosophy on fierce discipline and the basic tenet that ‘either we have the ball, the opposition has it, or it is in dispute’.

Alan Jeans’ later appointment as coach at Hawthorn raises eyebrows , but he becomes a much-loved father-figure at Glenferrie, guiding the Hawks for a further nine seasons, during which they land three flags…………..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

A shy 16 year-old from Nyah West is first lured to Melbourne to fight a three-rounder at West Melbourne Stadium. He impresses, and over the next couple of years disposes of a variety of opponents.

On one of those visits to the city, he is invited to train with Collingwood. Years later he admits his clearest memory was of the green grass underfoot ; such a stark contrast to the drought-affected clay surfaces that he was used to in the Mallee.

He debuts with the Magpies in 1946 and becomes a instant hit. Modest to the extreme, he takes the game by storm, winning four B & F’s with the Pies and starring in their 1953 premiership.

The Brownlow Medal that most people feel is his due, never comes. He finishes runner-up in 1953, but is handed the pseudonym of ‘Mr.Football’, and acknowledged as one of the greatest players of all-time.

The football world reels in late-1955 when he announces that he is turning his back on a 152-game VFL career at age 27, in favour of a coaching job at Wangaratta Rovers.

He turns around the fortunes of a struggling club, capturing the imagination of the locals in the process, particularly the large contingent of Italian fans, who dub him ‘Bobby Rossa’.IMG_0549

He guides the Hawks to flags in 1958 and 1960 and wins the Morris Medal in both years. His 126 games in Brown and Gold are of rare quality, but equally acknowledged is his understanding of the game and the esteem in which he’s held.

Bob Rose, football legend,  heads back to Collingwood and takes over the coaching job in 1964. He proves to be a wonderful coach, but luck eludes him in his 10 years in charge, with three heart-breaking Grand Final losses. He also leads Footscray for four seasons…….

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Rovers embark on a search for Rose’s replacement ; a Herculean task in itself.

Their enquires lead them to South Melbourne’s Lake Oval, where they have arranged to interview a 23 year-old, bony, confident, rapid-talking ruckman.IMG_1493

He’s become a ‘human-headline’ during his brief, controversial VFL career, principally because of his knack of getting into trouble on the field.

After all, he’s been rubbed out for a total of 30 games and has played just 60, many of which have contributed to his reputation as the ‘Wild-Man’ of football.

Several weeks earlier, he had copped a 12-week suspension for ‘snotting’ John Nicholls in a fiery Carlton- South Melbourne game. This followed on from the six weeks he’d been given for smacking ‘Big Nick’ and John Heathcote in the prior Carlton clash that season.

But still, informed sources had led the coaching sub-committee to believe that this fellah was a quality person and would be well worth the punt. He was, they said, ideal coaching material.

He tells them that he’d received 40-odd offers from around the nation, but sounds interested in what the Hawks have to say. Twenty minutes into their conversation, they’re certain that they’ve got the right man for the job.

Within 18 months Ken Boyd has become renowned as a popular, charismatic leader – loved by the Rovers; hated by opposition fans. He coaches for four years, wins two flags, and his capacity to create headlines remains undiminished………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

It’s early-October 2018…….. The Wangaratta Rovers have come off the worst season in their 68-year O & M history.

Winless and firmly entrenched on the bottom of the ladder, they are searching for a formula to return this famous club to its former glory.

And, not for the first time, they’re realising how difficult it is to entice recruits and potential leaders when things are seemingly ‘on the nose’

Already Hawk recruiting manager Barry Sullivan has sounded out Gold Coast on-baller Michael Barlow,  Nigel Lappin and Jarred Waite, among others. His list of names ‘as long as your arm’ is thinning rapidly.

He knows how hard it has been, over the last decade or so, to entice outsiders. Apart from the bold seven-game experiment with Barry Hall in 2012, several other players with sizeable reputations – including Lindsay Gilbee, Josh Fraser, ex-Demon Paul Wheatley and Patrick Rose, have eventually rejected the Rovers’ approaches.

In time, the trail leads to a retired 244-game Sydney Swan, who, during his career, was known as ‘smart, strong and unflinchingly brave’…..A Tasmanian and Sydney Swans Team of the Century Member, who had coached extensively since hanging up the boots – most recently at Wodonga Raiders………..IMG_3724IMG_3725

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
“ ‘Carps’ (Sam Carpenter) suggested getting in touch with ‘Crezza’.” said ‘Sully’. “And ‘Rosco’ ( Hill, his co-coach of the past two seasons) fully supported the idea. They have had a good relationship with him and reckoned it’d be worth a try.”IMG_3734

“So I sent a text and arranged a convenient time to talk. He was in London when I caught up with him, but it sounded promising. He said he’d originally been planning to take a year off, but was excited by the challenge of taking over a young list and building the club up.”

“He’s 24/7 when he commits, and he’s big on player development, so he’ll be ideal for our group. But he’s also got a wide recruiting network and will look to see where we can fill a few holes.”

“He asked if he could have a few days to have a yarn to his wife, and have a think about it. When I contacted him again, he was rearing to go.”

“I think it’ll be fantastic for the club. The reaction has already been so positive and I know the players are excited by the prospect of being coached by Daryn Cresswell…………

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

So the bombshell news that was dropped last week-end, is still being digested by stunned O & M fans. For the first time in 51 years the  Hawks have a coach from outside the club’s ranks….……Only history will decree whether it’s another of those good footy coaching stories…………IMG_3733

‘VETERAN’S MOMENT IN THE SUN…..’

He’s the first person you’ll encounter when you enter the gates of the Findlay Oval for a Rovers home game……..A weather-beaten old-stager with a string of one-liners, and a sharp wit, which has been known to cut the heftiest of egos down to size………..

Up-and-coming Thirds players and gnarled, long-time supporters alike, know him as ‘Bully. He’s one of those unique personalities who are an essential ingredient of any football club……..100_3470

……………………………………………………………………………………………………
Noel Wise is the first to admit that the good Lord didn’t over-endow him with sporting genes. Toughness and determination were his prime assets, he says….

The nickname stems back to when he was a youngster, working out of town with the Railways, and returning home for footy on week-ends. His eating, drinking and training habits were a bit askew, with the result that he ‘blew out’ to beyond 15 stone. His coach, Noel Richens muttered one day: ‘Have a look at him running, will ya, he looks like a bloody big bull.”

‘Bully’ takes me back to his growing-up days in Rutherglen. He says he had an intense dislike of school, but didn’t envision his career at Rutherglen High coming to such an abrupt, and ignominious conclusion.

“What happened ?” I ask. “Well, there were three or four of us mucking around, up the back of the classroom one day. The teacher produced a wooden ruler and whacked me across the ear. I took exception; grabbed him by the tie, and snotted him. That was it. I was out.”

He got a job walking greyhounds with one of the North-East’s leading trainers – ‘Nugget’ Martell . “He had about 50-odd dogs in work, and it kept me fit. I enjoyed it.”

As part of his job he had to drive ‘Nugget’s old ute to collect pig gut from the abattoirs and cook it up for dog-feed. The local cop, who he was on speaking terms with, questioned whether he had a licence. “Nah, I don’t need to worry, do I ?” said ‘Bully’. “You better …. Listen, bring 10 bob into the station in the morning, and I’ll give you one.”

He was walking the dogs past Barkly Park one Saturday, and peeked through a hole in the corrugated iron fence. “The Rovers were playing Rutherglen, and Bobby Rose was in full flight. It must have been one of his first games in Brown and Gold. He won me over. The Hawks became my club.”

‘Bully’ stayed on in Rutherglen for a couple of years, whilst the rest of the family – parents Bob and Dorrie and five siblings moved to Wangaratta. They’d become dyed-in-the-wool Magpie fans by the time he re-located.IMG_3711

“Gee they were staunch. Mum and Dad, my sister Lorraine and her husband Cliff all became Life Members; Graeme, my brother, was secretary for a few years…….They lived for Wang. They had no hope of winning me over, though.”

Instead, he headed out to Tarrawingee for a game. He’d started to track a young girl – Glenda Sheppard – who played netball for the Bullies, and whose parents Norm and Joan, had run the lolly-stall at home matches for ever and a day.

Glenda says she’s never liked football, and thinks the way Noel played the game turned her off it. “He was too rough,” she says.

She recalls playing netball up at King Valley, when one of the girls glanced across at the footy, and commented: “Did you see that.” I said: “Thank goodness Noel’s not in it.” “Well, he was the instigator,” was the reply.

I quiz the man in question about his memories of that occasion. “Yeah. Gary Holmes (Valley coach) told me he’d flatten me before the end of the game, and I decided I’d better get in first.”

That was just one of the incidents that resulted in ‘Bully’ being on first-name terms with the O & K Tribunal members. He went up about six or seven times, he says. His worst offence ?….Seven weeks for smacking King Valley’s Malcolm Kendall.

“Old Jack Foletti, the Chairman, said to me after I’d been up a few times: ‘You’re mad pleading not guilty, Noel. We know you did it. So I changed tack and pleaded ‘guilty under provocation’. Would you believe, I got off.”

‘Bully’ was at Tarra during some good times. Of the 280-odd games he played, 180 were in the Seniors. But no doubt the highlight came in 1964.

One of football’s enforcers, Ray Burns, had taken over the coaching job the previous year and had guided them to a one-point victory over his old team, Moyhu.

In the ‘64 decider they squared off against Greta in wet conditions at Whorouly. Burns lined up in the ruck, with the burly Wise as his ruck-rover side-kick. In what was probably the game of his life, ‘Bully’ was a star, alongside Burns, Roly Marklew and the elusive goal-sneak Dickie Grant, in the ‘Dogs’ 16-point triumph.IMG_3715

Another one of the Wise attributes was stamina. He could run all day, as was evidenced when he and a Bulldog team-mate, Johnny Carpenter, picked up a side-wager of 20 pounds for running from Tarra to Wangaratta in a set time. ‘Bully’ also points out a paper cutting of him leading the field of 70 into Wangaratta on a 25-mile charity run from Benalla, back in 1968.

His spell with the Railways was followed by an 18-year stint at Cohns, then his final – and probably best-known role – as the Manager of the Town Hall, for almost two decades.

He virtually played footy until he dropped. Just in case he was having second-thoughts, Glenda threw away his Gladstone Bag – complete with boots, guernsey and jock-strap –   during a clean-out.

So ‘Bully’ became a fixture at the Bar end of the Hogan Stand, urging on the Hawks and acting as the principal protagonist of the umpires.

He admits that he was pretty severe on the men-in-white at times, but “I was only trying to be helpful……….”

He played Bowls at Milawa in his latter years, but his main summer sport had been tennis, firstly out at Tarrawingee in the Ovens & King comp, then on to Wangaratta’s Lawn courts. He proved a popular figure at Merriwa Park, and a more than handy player.

Eventually, they coaxed him into travelling down to play at Country Week, on the makeshift – but beautifully-cultivated – courts of Albert Park and St.Kilda.

‘Bully’ revelled in the social atmosphere and established strong friendships with a host of opposition players – despite his fierce competitive streak.

It was an achievement to saddle up each day, because after-tennis drinks could sometimes stretch to 3 or 3.30am. The alarm was often raised for the veteran, when he went missing in the early hours. It was panic stations in one instance, before he was discovered, sound asleep in a bath tub.IMG_3712

The notoriously-short Wise fuse blew one day, when he sensed his opponent making several touchy line calls against him. He took it out on the racquet, and slammed it onto the court, with dire consequences – and a hasty call for a replacement. Team-mates nervously pondered whether it, too, may suffer the same fate.

“Lucky I knew this bastard’s family, because I was about to wrap the thing around his bloody neck,” ‘Bully’ was heard to say………….
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
He eventually acceded to a request to man the gate at Rovers home games. He’s been in the job for nigh-on twenty years, and is so well-known that he has a word for everyone – whether it be advice, cheek or a back-handed compliment. If you were handing out gongs for gate-keepers, he’d be the Gold Medallist.100_3448

He was out of action for a few weeks this season, when his gall bladder played up. There were fears that his health, which had also been hindered by a stroke five years ago, might lead to his retirement. But he was back in full swing, after missing two matches.

The bane of his life are the numerous passes that are flashed at him by opposition players, supporters and officials.

If he’s in doubt, he’ll take the piece of paraphernalia in his grasp, fondle it suspiciously, sometimes quiz the holder as to how it came to be in their possession, then finally, having conducted the inquisition, hand it back.

I’ve seen him stand up O & M Board Members, or local celebrities who have attempted to brush past him, but my favourite occurred at a game this year, when a member of the constabulary parked his van on the nature strip and wandered through.

“Hoi,” barked ‘Bully’, “…What are you doing parkin’ there. We take a bit of pride in that lawn…….If one of us did that you’d book us…..You know better than that….”

The ‘offender’ looked back, startled, but didn’t realise the mickey was being taken out of him……..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Noel Wise’s service to the Hawks was rewarded a few weeks ago when a Life Membership was conferred upon him.IMG_3709

He was suitably chuffed and, for a brief moment, lost for words. When he gathered his equilibrium, he then delivered some pearls of wisdom to a captive audience………………IMG_3708