FRAN – WANGARATTA’S NETBALL AMBASSADOR

A couple of the grandkids have started playing netball. It’s early days, but so far they love the game and look forward to their Saturday mornings at the Barr Reserve.

I suggest that, sometime in the near future, they’re sure to come across a lady called Fran Doig, who has been involved down there for a decent part of her life.

“It’s fantastic for someone to devote so much time to the sport,” I tell them. “Think of all the players she must have helped over the years.”

Just then, their gran chipped in: “Well, she coached me…….and that’d be almost 50 years ago………..

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Fran warns me to go easy with the pats on the back. She says there have been heaps of people who have assisted with running local netball along the way, and she’s just one of them.

“And besides, I’m not ready for a eulogy…..just yet !”

She recently ticked over 80, but you wouldn’t believe it. Staying in touch with youngsters keeps her on the ball, she reckons.

We strike a common chord because she doesn’t mind a yap about sport. Other than Netball, she has a soft spot for the Geelong Football Club ( one of her favourites is Harry Taylor), and loves watching the cricket on telly ( ” I think Smithy’s a star”).

I broach the subject of the new National Netball League and Fran’s eyes light up. She’d have to be Wangaratta’s keenest Melbourne Vixens fan; is a Member and travels down regularly to watch them play at Hi-Sense Arena.

And if she doesn’t, she’ll tape their games and analyse them closely. “My daughter Adrienne usually rings up on a Monday. She’s got more knowledge of netball than anyone I know, and we have a good old in-depth post-mortem.”

“I like the captain, Kate Moloney. She’s a great girl and, I think, the best captain going around. I’ve always been partial to the position of Wing-Defence and Kate played there when the Vixens won the championship in 2014.”

“Another one I keep my eye on is Chloe Watson, whose dad came from Wang. I taught with her grandfather, Bob, at Wang.West.”

Fran believes the Vixens can win the inaugural Suncorp Super Netball title and certainly hopes they can get over new entity Collingwood, if they meet in the finals. “Vixens are a close-knit team, whereas the Magpies are a more like a group of individuals thrown together. Also, they pinched three of our best players ……..!.”

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We’re down at Netball Headquarters – The Fran Doig Clubrooms- flicking through photos and memorabilia, some of which stem back to the beginnings of the game in Wangaratta – around 1939 – when it was called Basketball.

There’s a passing parade of Premiership and representative teams of generations past, and Fran has been a part of many of them. I ask her how she thinks the game has evolved over the years:

“It’s certainly different, particularly at the elite level.So much more physical. When I watch games I sometimes have to get the rule book out – in fact it’s by my bedside. It’s just the way the rules are interpreted, I suppose. There’s no doubt the game is more spectacular these days.”

Fran began playing netball, aged 10, at primary school in Shepparton. “Dad ( Alf Brisbane) was a mad-keen footballer and we inherited his love of sport. We moved to Wangaratta in 1949 and he continued on as an umpire.”

She enjoyed Hockey and Volleyball at Teacher’s College. Then, several years later, around 1967, she was approached by a group of girls who asked if she would mind helping out with their Netball team – P.F.A.

“I told them I didn’t know a lot about Netball. I thought they’d mistaken me for my sister Carol, who was a good player. But they said: ‘No, we’d like you to coach us’,” she recalls.

So Faye and Betty Dobson, Julia and Elaine Morris, Heather Booth, Vicki Ryan, Pam Clarke and Merrilyn Spence were probably the ones responsible for launching Fran’s coaching career and subsequent marathon Netball journey.

P.F.A were one of the outstanding teams in the Wangaratta competition in the late 60’s/early 70’s and won three flags. They were a close lot and Fran formed lasting friendships with them.

Gemini, Clint, Freedom, Flint (so named when Clint and Freedom combined) and Jets were the other teams that she coached in a 22-year stint.

Faye McCullough (Dobson) says her secret as a coach was that she is an excellent ‘people person’.

“Other teams got a bit excited when it came to preparing for a Grand Final. Fran would invite us around to her place, fill us up with Cheesecake and we would relax and have a good laugh,” Faye says.

Fran did her utmost to make Netball a stronghold at Wangaratta West Primary School, where she was a teacher/librarian for 27 years.

“I used to go into each classroom and ask the kids if they’d like a game. Wang West had 5 or 6 teams at one stage, and some really good players came through.”

“Helene Allen and I would get a swag of material from Bruck’s and co-ordinate a small group of mums to sew and put patches on the tunics. In those days all it cost was about $4 a season for the kids to play.”

It was a natural progression for her daughters Christine and Adrienne to take up the game and at about the same time they became rep players, Fran was persuaded to coach Wang’s Country Week and rep squads.

She did the job for 12 years.

It co-incided with one of the city’s richest Netball eras. Wangaratta won three Country Week titles and, at one stage, had three Under-16 rep teams.

She says she was fortunate that her late husband Ron didn’t mind her spending huge slices of each week-end, coaching and administering Netball.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..Fran is rapt that many of those girls who were star players have been only too willing to re-pay the game by taking on coaching and umpiring duties.

She has been on the Association’s committee for almost half a century; was President for quite a few years and still helps to co-ordinate a competition which comprises approximately 1200 registered players. But, she insists, it’s only with the help of hundreds of mums and dads and volunteers behind the scenes, that things keep going.

On Wednesday evening there is a competition for adult and secondary teams. Then ‘Netta’, which introduces the little tackers to the game, is conducted on Friday nights and ‘Net Set Go’, a 2-tier program for Grade 3 and 4 kids gets going early on Saturday mornings.

After that, it’s non-stop action, as 51 teams, ranging from Grade 5’s to Under 17, take to the courts Fran’s principal role these days is to look after the young umpires and conduct training sessions for them.

She thrives on engaging with the youngsters: “Whenever I run into the players I coached they still call me Mrs.Doig; to the young ones I’m just Fran………. They give me a hard time but I love it. Kids are basically the same as they’ve ever been. They get a bit of bad press these days…….”

If you’ve been down to the Netball courts recently, you’ll agree that they look a bit antiquated. They’ve had plenty of traffic over the years and would appear badly in need of an overhaul.

This icon of local Netball agrees: “They argue that we should make it a 10-year project to update them. I hope they don’t expect me to be still here when they’re completed…………”