‘THE BRIAN DORMAN SHOW…….’

When old Wangaratta Social Cricket Association stalwarts gathered last Sunday, for a charity re-union match, discussion  no doubt drifted to the gun players who graced the competition over its colourful 74-year history.

There were a host of those – and countless others who served their clubs with distinction.

Occasionally a champ flashed across the landscape like a shooting star – only to quickly disappear……..leaving you with indelible memories of his skill.

I recall one of them. At times – in the early to mid-sixties – I had a box-seat to the Brian Dorman Show…………
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He stood 6 foot four, tipped the scales at 15 stone, and – brandishing a bat that looked like a tooth-pick in his hands – bludgeoned the bowling as ferociously as any local player I’ve seen.

Added to this, he was a high-class wicket-keeper;  creating an imposing presence behind the stumps as he stood up to most bowlers. His glove-work was neat, swift and effective.

They called him ‘Horse’. Some said his footy team-mates gave him that ‘handle’ because he took long, slow strides like a race-horse. More logically, it was probably because of his fascination with the sport of kings.

He arrived in Wangaratta to take up a job as a foreman for local trainer Hal Hoysted, and, after admitting his fascination for cricket, was recruited to WSCA club Socials.

It was a perfect mix. Socials were a motley band of keen cricketers and racing fanatics who included in their ranks a couple of the local constabulary and two or three S.P bookies.

Their President – and probably the bloke who recruited ‘Horse’ – was Ray Parkinson, one of the town’s leading bookmakers. Opposition teams irreverently dubbed them the ‘Cops and Robbers’.

The Socials players used to joke about the post-mortem of the previous day’s races which would be undertaken during their innings.  It would become so absorbing that a participant could excuse himself when a wicket had fallen, go out to bat, be dismissed and then rejoin the conversation without anyone having noticed that he’d gone missing !

Of course that was until ‘Horse’ Dorman arrived on the scene.

His debut knock was a signal of things to come, when he hit 99, including 8 sixes and 7 fours, against South Wangaratta. He followed this up with 114 in 72 minutes against Postals.

He wasn’t just a left-handed slogger. Possessing a fine array of shots and a keen eye, he exuded great power. Many of his sixes at North Wangaratta’s Sentinel Park ( Socials’ home ground and the local greyhound venue), landed half-way up the adjoining paddock – or smashed into the dog boxes, 30 metres from the field of play.

His first season – an interrupted one – netted 867 runs and a premiership.

He continued to pile up the runs. I was a decade younger than ‘Horse’ and had the privilege of standing, entranced, at the other end some days as he slaughtered the bowling. In one match our opening stand was 150 ( in 86 minutes ) of which my contribution was 22…… Oh, and that season produced another flag.img_3938

Later, when he moved to Berrigan, he travelled over for another season or two, such was the enjoyment that he derived from Sunday cricket.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I should fill you in on the Brian Dorman story…….
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He hailed from Merbein, a little town just 12km or so north of Mildura….. “There were four of us kids ( we had two sisters Raylee and Annette) and we were all mad on sport,” says his brother John. “Brian was a bit of a prodigy….played senior cricket and footy for Merbein at 15. “

“You know what it was like in the fifties…..No such thing as zoning. A bloke called Len Herath alerted Collingwood to Brian, and their Secretary Gordon Carlyon came up and nabbed him.”img_3937

“I went down too……Made the list, but got transferred to Boort in the Post Office soon after, so that was that. I wasn’t good enough to play League footy, anyway.”

But the younger Dorman made an impression. After three promising games in the Reserves early in 1954, he was named at centre half forward against Geelong for his senior debut. At 16 years 324 days, he had the unenviable task of lining up on Cats premiership defender John Hyde in the re-match of the previous season’s Grand Final.

He kicked a couple of goals too, but the Pies were just giving the lad a sniff of the big-time. He was to spend several years growing into his body and suffering injury setbacks before he was deemed truly ready.img_3934

His dad Marnie – a wood-merchant and non-footballer – was an old mate of Collingwood captain Lou Richards, who offered to put Brian up at his pub for a while, to keep an eye on him.

Firstly, he resided at the Town Hall Hotel in North Melbourne, then Lou and Edna took over the Phoenix, in the city. ‘Horse’ became the ‘star boarder’ for seven years.

The Richards’ had the benefit of a baby-sitter, fill-in barman and occasional handyman.
Lou enlisted Brian’s support one night, when a customer who’d been at the bar all day, collapsed, and, to all intents and purposes, appeared to have gone off to his mortal coil.

They carried the body out of the pub and around the corner . Lou suggested placing it in a phone-box, so as to avoid any adverse publicity for the Phoenix Hotel.

At that moment a passing policeman queried what was going on…..“We think he’s dead,” said Brian….With that, the cop gave the bloke a good kick in the midriff, and he awoke, startled………..
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Besides his run of footy injuries, Brian copped another when he was on National Service duty at Watsonia. The Army jeep he was driving, rolled over and he sustained a broken pelvis. It cost him half of 1956, and all of the ‘57 season.

Collingwood was heading towards one of their most famous premierships in 1958. ‘Horse’ had played the bulk of the season in the key forward post, but rolled his ankle in the second-semi, and was ruled out for the season.

But by 1960, he had hit his straps. He’d booted three goals in each of his three previous games, and when he lined up at CHF in the Preliminary Final against Fitzroy, was considered one of the keys to the Magpies’ victory chances.

The ‘Sun’s’ preview of the clash stated that: “……with more pace, Dorman could be a top-line forward…..He’s not a slow thinker and knows what to do with the ball when he gets it. He was the side’s most positive forward in the semi-final………..”

Alas, the Dorman career ended tragically that day, when he took a mark, attempted to kick on the muddy surface of the MCG, and his left knee caved in. These days, it would just require a ‘reco’, some rehab and he’d be back as good as gold in less than twelve months.img_3933

But in that era it spelt disaster. His career with the Magpies was finished, after 51 senior games. He was grateful for the resultant job offer from Hal Hoysted, as he was enthralled by the racing game .

He attempted a footy come-back of sorts a year or so later, when he had a run with Wangaratta, but the knee continued to ‘blow up’. It was all over for ‘Horse’………img_3936
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Brian was lured to Berrigan by an old mate, Bert Honeychurch, and became Stable Foreman for the Training legend, thus beginning a 46-year love affair with the small Riverina town.

After a lengthy training ‘apprenticeship’ he obtained his own trainer’s licence in 1977, and, with wife Jan ( a Wangaratta girl ) started operating from the Berrigan Racecourse.

Soon after, Brian’s keen eye for talent saw him purchase Warlike, a seven year-old, for $1,250. It proved a sound investment, as the gelding was to take the $10,000 Golden Harp at Broken Hill, the Deniliquin Cup, and got up – at long odds – in a shock result at Moonee Valley, among its 14 wins.

Namrod ( Dorman spelt backwards ) was also a more than handy galloper who landed a few wins at double-figure odds.

He continued to chalk up the winners, particularly on Riverina tracks, over the next 35 years, and numbered Griffith, Albury, and Chiltern Cups – and a Riverina Cup with Master Delville – among his many successes.

‘Horse’ battled cancer for two years before finally succumbing in 2012. He left wife Jan, who still resides in Berrigan, and two daughters, Marnie and Anissa, who live in Albury.

His memory is perpetuated by the Berrigan Race Club who annually name one of their races, the Brian Dorman Memorial Handicap…………….img_3935

DEATH OF AN ICON

Wangaratta bade adieu to a sporting icon in March 2003.

At 73 years of age it had been a good innings and friends from far and wide gathered on this sunny early autumn day to pay homage. Many kind words were spoken and the odd misty eye was dabbed. It was a sad farewell.

Social cricket was pronounced dead not long afterwards and summer Sundays have never been the same since.

Most keen young cricketers in town, me included, cut their teeth on the Sunday game. It had a flavour and personality of its own and, whilst played earnestly, didn’t quite require the commitment and the conformity of the WDCA.

Charlie Welch, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the association, stressed its guidelines when speaking in the early ’30’s : ” The Social competition was formed to educate youngsters and give older players some enjoyment on a Sunday afternoon. We trust that many young boys will qualify for Saturday cricket”.

That sort of remained its charter throughout the years, although sometimes the will-to-win of some players spilt over into fierce competitiveness .

I became an interested observor of the Sunday game in the late fifties and early sixties, at a time when anything that resembled cricket tended to captivate me.

Even now, when I see a old bloke defying the traffic as he negotiates a motorised scooter down Norton Street on a Saturday morning, on his way to place his bets, my mind goes back to the gritty Woollen Mills left-hand opener Don ‘Bull’ Tripp squirting the ball through slips and gully.

And when I read the ‘Letters to the Editor’ columns, as a prolific correspondent, Ken Preston assails the A.L.P over some of its policies, I reflect on the same ‘Nugget’ Preston giving cheek out in the field for West End and batting with super-confidence.

It was ‘Nugget’ who raised the ire of Postals’ all-rounder Tommy Tobin one day. “Don’t call me a bad sport or I’ll wrap this bloody bat around your head”, was Tom’s fiery retort to the redoubtable ‘Nug’.

I can recall ‘Nugget’ passing comment as I trudged off the ground, head bowed, dismissed cheaply in one of my first games, aged about 13 or 14: “Gee, this kid’s not as good as he’s cracked up to be”, was ‘Nug’s’ prognosis, delivered with the subtlety of a blunt chain-saw.

I remember Greta’s Max ‘Jackie’ Corker, who loved to bowl short and at the solar plexus and provided ample temptation to anyone with a penchant to hook.

Bill Daly was one who would readily take up the challenge. ‘Trigger’ had been a good WDCA player and made an outstanding contribution when he shifted to Social cricket. He and his workmate Vin Kenny were the backbone of Railways.

Bill owned a grey Austin, which, on match-day, would carry the Railways gear, an urn, a couple of kids, the cups and saucers and two or three plates of Mrs.Daly’s tomato sandwiches.

He loved cricket with a passion and many a youngster benefited from his stern influence. He received great support from Vin Kenny, who had played for a Victorian Country team at Bendigo, against Douglas Jardine’s Englishmen.

He was a left-arm bowler of pinpoint accuracy and a classy right-hand bat. In 1951/52 he took 102 wickets at an average of 6.0 and scored 891 runs. Vin produced these sort of performances for a decade, as Railways clinched three flags in the fifties.

Another of the great characters of Social cricket was Lionel Finnemore, who was a fine bat and a great cricket-lover.

We kids used to marvel at the rotund ‘Digger’, his face the colour of rhubarb, as he battled the heat and pursued the ball with the verve of a youth. ‘Dig’ had the dubious honour of being my first captain.

He was in charge of Socials, who at that time were a motley breed of keen cricketers and racing fanatics, including in their ranks a couple of the local constabulary and two or three S.P bookies. They were irreverently dubbed the ‘Cops and Robbers’ by opposition teams.

The Socials players used to joke that the discussions about the previous day’s races could become so absorbing that a participant could excuse himself when a wicket had fallen, go out to bat, be dismissed and rejoin the conversation without anyone having noticed that he was missing !

It was hard to know which took precedence, the cricket or the impromptu racing panel.

The day finally arrived when Socials were one short and captain ‘Digger’ had to call on yours truly. The instructions were simple – field at fine-leg, very fine.

Socials had a delightful fellow keeping wickets called Tommy Ferguson. Everyone thought a lot of Tom and he had, by all reports, been a pretty handy player in his time. He looked like Bert Oldfield in his beautifully-ironed creams and keeping gear, but he had two problems.

One was advancing age and the other was that he didn’t mind a drink or two and was sometimes under the weather. I soon realised that the job at deep fine-leg involved plenty of work, as Tommy dived vainly to and fro.

Then, all of a sudden, he would pull off a miraculous catch and be embraced warmly by his team-mates.

My favourite player was Brian Dorman, who was an up-and-coming racehorse trainer at Berrigan and travelled over to play with Socials for three years in the sixties. ‘Horse’ stood 6 feet 4 and tipped the scales at 15 stone. His VFL career with Collingwood had ended when he crashed and ruined his knee on the MCG turf in the 1960 Preliminary Final.

He was a ferocious hitter of the cricket ball and a high-quality wicket-keeper. His debut knock was a signal of things to come, when he hit 99, including 8 sixes and 7 fours against South Wangaratta. He followed this up with 114 in 72 minutes against Postals.

‘Horse’ was not just a slogger. He had a fine array of shots and a keen eye, mixed with immense power. Many of his sixes at North Wangaratta’s Sentinel Park seemed to land halfway up the adjoining paddock or smashed into the dog boxes, 30 metres from the field of play. Had he devoted himself to cricket he would have received rave reviews as a ‘keeper.

He was an intimidating figure as he stood over the stumps to most bowlers and his glove work was neat, swift and effective. Invited to open with him one day, I watched, transfixed, as he slaughtered the bowling. My contribution to our stand of 126 was 13.

Socials won ten premierships before they disbanded in 1975.

A succession of teams – Greta, West End, Tarrawingee, Bruck and Milawa – to name a few, shared the spoils in succeeding years. When Tarra prevailed over Springhurst on that melancholy day in 2003, in front of a crowd of several hundred, it had been their fifth flag in seven years.

One of their stars had been Bob Murray, a left-hander and former League star, like Brian Dorman 30 years prior, and almost as exciting to watch.

At its peak, some 16 teams from Wangaratta and district comprised the Social competition and they competed with distinction at Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks.

One wonders, if they had been able to soldier on for a few more years, the advent of the 20/20 brand may have saved them.

But in the end the changing habits of the younger generation, the option of playing B and C Grade in the WDCA and the increasing year-round demands of football brought the Sunday game to its knees.

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