‘SLIMMA’……..LOYAL TO THE CAUSE.

IMG_0527One of the Elder Statesmen of the City Colts Cricket Club spends his week-days toiling away at the rear of a tiny shop in Reid Street.

As you enter its tight confines, you are greeted by the principal of “Mario Solimo Footwear”, a noisy, outgoing, purveyor of wisdom, who, without provocation, is willing to offer a forthright comment on everything that is going on in the outside world.

He also doubles as a Salesman. Blokes used to joke that they’d take a pair of shoes in to Mario for a minor repair and he would launch into a convincing sales spiel: “Why’d you buy this s……. .You need a pair like this”….. Then spend a while extolling their quality, before digressing onto other subjects.

He’s a character, Mario. And as loud and boisterous as he is, his son Justin is as quiet and self-effacing. They’re a rare combination.

I’m pretty sure that Justin didn’t inherit any of his cricket ability from his old man……

 

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Loyalty is the name of the game for ‘Slimma’.

He has been with the City Colts throughout a career that began when he joined the Under 14’s, and moved through the grades.

There was never any consideration given to shifting camp. It’s the same with his footy. He started and finished with Moyhu despite offers to move elsewhere.

He’d be one of the most identifiable players in local cricket. Firstly it’s his stature. Small and now rather on the rotund side, he is at the stage of his athletic metamorphosis where he is placed in one of the least conspicuous spots in the field.

His journey to the crease is Bradmanesque. With a business-like waddle and flourishing the bat freely, he gives the impression of being ready to take  immediate command of the situation.

One of ‘Slimma’s trademark shots is the one he tucks behind square-leg whilst he’s half ‘on the run’. He likes to get a couple of those away early in his innings,as well as the cut shot that he squirts  behind point.

But you know he’s on song when his off-drive pierces the field a couple of times. It’s been responsible for a good share of the 4794 WDCA runs he has accumulated.

And all the better if the shot races to the boundary, because it conserves valuable energy which can be easily expended in running between wickets.

It’s amusing to watch Justin head towards the bowler’s end in running a quick single. He has almost reached the crease when he effects the perfunctory glance over his shoulder to see where the ball and fieldsman are situated. It seems almost a relief that he won’t be required to run too many brisk two’s and threes early on.

‘Slimma’ has played 8 Thirds games and 20 in the Seconds. In 1992 he made his senior debut and last Saturday chalked up his 253rd First XI game. By his own admission there have been some pretty tough times in those 22 years.

City Colts have developed something of a ‘Colliwobbles-type’ reputation since they won their first- and only – flag in 1986/87. They have contested six Finals since – including four in a row at one stage- and for one reason or another have been the bridesmaids on each occasion.

Justin has been involved in five of these. Besides the fact that he loves cricket, the dream of winning his first premiership is probably the thing that motivates him.

He has had plenty of other highlights, including 5 trips to Melbourne Country Week. A memorable innings of 87 came against Gisborne in 2007 and the following year he participated in Wang’s Division 3 win over Yarra Valley at Preston.

And his two visits to Bendigo Country Week with the WDCA included a triumph in the Final, over Kyabram in 1999. He also belted a terrific 120 for the now-defunct WSCA against Horsham at Bendigo when he represented them in 2003.

When Justin scored his first WDCA ‘ton’, 126 against Beechworth in 1996, he probably thought there were going to be plenty more. But, as all but the very best come to realise, they are hard to come by.

He has scored just one more in club cricket, 101 against Whorouly, and that came 14 years ago. But there have been 18 half-centuries along the way.

It’s unrealistic to expect ‘Slimma’ to be the key man to deliver that elusive flag this season. His days of being the king-pin are in the past. He was captain for six seasons and had to shoulder plenty of responsibility in some difficult times.

Now he can just play his part, with the odd well-crafted cameo, as he did with his handy knock of 30 in the opening round last Saturday.

You realise how long this old evergreen has been in the game when it is revealed that he began his career in the company of blokes like Maurie Braden, John Hill, Brian Carr and Mick Lappin.

They have hung up the whites long ago, but their sons have enjoyed lengthy stints playing alongside ‘Slimma’ and learned heaps from the way that one of cricket’s good guys approaches the game.

There wouldn’t be a soul in the WDCA who hasn’t got the utmost admiration for Justin Solimo.

In fact he’s my nomination as captain of the WDCA’s Italian-Australian Team of the Century !

“DON’T HOOK TOO EARLY, SON……”

He once kicked the winning goal in a Grand Final at the MCG,in front of 100,000 people………And for good measure, scored a blazing century at the same hallowed venue.

No, you won’t find him profiled in the AFL Encyclopedia of Footballers, nor in any Test or Sheffield Shield cricketing archives.

However, Greg Rosser’s is the tale of an outstanding sportsman, who rubbed shoulders with the elite during a varied and colorful sporting career.

Rosser made his senior debut with the Wangaratta Rovers at 16 and had the usual kind words uttered about him, as they are of any lad of promise. He was tough, dedicated and forever a team man.

Despite a disciplined training regime which would not be out of place even in today’s era, he copped a staggering run of injuries which tended to disillusion him.  He would fight back to fitness, regain his place in the side, then suffer another setback.

Little wonder that his 100th senior game with the Hawks came 13 years after his first.

Wedged in between, of course,was a premiership with North Melbourne Reserves in 1967 (and that famous goal), a Grand Final with VFA side Sunshine and a coaching spell with Glenrowan.

When he returned to the Rovers he showed the benefit of his maturity. He had harnessed the wild streak that once prompted President Jack Maroney to mutter that Rosser and a couple of his mates would send him to an early grave.

He was transformed into a dependable and dour back pocket specialist and figured in four premierships. The 1977 Grand Final was his last game for the Rovers and he bowed out in style (his 110th game) with an almost faultless performance.

Greg Rosser the cricketer was a youthful prodigy. A batsman who stood out with his wide array of shots and a steely determination.

After honing his skills on the half-pitch lovingly constructed by his dad, Johnny, in their Orkney Street back-yard, he was soon playing with Railways, under the guidance of a crusty old cricket-lover, Bill Daly.

Bill liked to do things by the book and often fretted as his 14-15 year-old opening partner contemptuously flayed the bowling ….”Greg, Greg…get your head down…Play straight,son..”, he would plead. Sage old Bill knew that, although he regularly admonished the lad, he was a rare talent,

Rosser had a few seasons with Combined Schools. At 18 he had scored the first of his 9 WDCA centuries and was selected to play against the Englishmen at Euroa.

North Melbourne chose him in their First XI team without so much as a training run. Old North curator ‘Snowy’ Lyons, who also doubled up as the gate-keeper at Arden Street, didn’t recognise the kid and charged him his entry fee at the turnstiles.

In one of his early innings’ Rosser stole a glance at Victorian speedster John Grant measuring out his run-up. He had the words of his coach John Miles ringing in his ears: “Don’t hook,this bloke”.

He sent the first ball crashing to the boundary at backward square-leg for 4. The second was quicker and thudded into him as he tried to repeat the previous pull shot.

Carried from the field covered in blood, he was left to contemplate the fate of the happy hooker. When he came to, the stitches of the Kookaburra ball were clearly implanted in his swollen head.

Some time later a similar scenario occurred. Seasoned Fitzroy quickie Eddie Illingworth, also an international baseballer, tested his penchant for the hook. This time the new red ‘cherry’ cannoned off his noggin and bounced square of the wicket to the fence, yielding 4 ‘leg-byes’ and necessitating another hospital visit.

Rosser spent three seasons at North and hit 3 centuries. He represented a Victorian Second XI alongside John Scholes, Peter Bedford, Alan ‘Froggy’ Thompson and Max Walker against a West Australian team which included Rod Marsh and future swing-king Bob Massie.

He was back playing in Wangaratta in 1969 as the Victorian selectors tried – and discarded – a number of openers. Had he stayed at North another season he may have won the Victorian cap that he had coveted.

But he had pined for home. He became a key figure in a United team which dominated the WDCA competition during the seventies and was a mainstay in Country Week teams for a decade.

His best knock at CW was described under a back-page headline in the Melbourne ‘Sun’ the following morning : “CRASH,BANG IT’S CRICKET”…….”The hero of Wangaratta’s win at the MCG yesterday was Greg Rosser, whose innings of 113 included 11 fours. He mercilessly punished the Warrnambool attack with power-hitting all around the ground.”……..

He began another innings very scratchily at Richmond one day, playing and missing regularly, as he struggled to ward off the effects of a heavy evening. It prompted one onlooker to shout sarcastically….. : “Why don’t you put a bell in the ball ?”.

What followed was brutal, as Rosser hammered 146,an innings peppered with frequent fours and sixes, in a stand of 246 with Paul O’Brien.

He was among the first to be considered for representative teams and was selected against England, New Zealand Under 21’s, the West Indies and two Victorian Shield teams.

It had been a few years since he had played football, but he was talked into making a comeback by his old mate Stuart Elkington, who was coaching King Valley.

It must have been some effort for ‘Stuie’ to talk him around, but he was keeping himself fit and the prospect of reviving the old firm ‘Rosser and Elkington’ probably swayed him.

The pair were the ‘Hamish Blake and Andy Lee’ of their era. Elkington was the ‘straight man’, Rosser was the master of the one-liner,with an instinctive sense of humour.

A brief hiatus followed Greg’s one-year cameo. Then Whorouly came calling in 1983 with the lure of the coaching job. His keen football brain and charisma ensured he was a great fit for the job, even as a playing coach at the age of 36.

Everything was going swimmingly and he was picking up his share of kicks until a sickening collision resulted in a severe spinal injury. He was transported to the Austin Hospital and doctors told him not to expect to walk again.

In traction for weeks, he was paralysed from the neck down,but gradually regained all movement.

The active sporting career of Greg Rosser was over.

But he continued to involve himself fully in sport as a coach (and journalist) over the next 25 years and his on and off-field contributions have earned him a lofty position among the pantheon of local sporting greats.

 

 

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