” ‘THE WHITFIELD FLYER’…..STILL AN AVID SPORTING FAN…….”

Ian Gambold is reminiscing on one of the magic moments of his life………

He’s almost 11 years old…..He and his younger brother Noel are adorned in the Blue and White stripes of their beloved King Valley……excitedly preparing for the 1970 O & K Grand Final……

Their dad Phil, a club stalwart, who’d experienced many more hard times than good in his 18-year playing career, has convinced them that this match will compensate for the years of disappointment that the battling Roos have endured……

He’s right on the knocker……..

Trailing Milawa by five points at half-time, the Valley take control from then on, booting nine goals to 3 in a blistering display……… to win their maiden flag by 34 points.

“It helped that a big fellah at full forward, Ray ‘Rocky’ Hooper, kicked 11 goals from 12 shots,” Ian recalls……”He was a star, as was Tony Crapper – a brilliant defender.”

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You rarely find someone as enthusiastic about sport as ‘Gambie’. The flame still flickers……..decades after his football hey-day, when they dubbed him ‘The Whitfield Flyer’………

I remember him arriving at the Findlay Oval in the mid-seventies – as a prospect from Junior team Combined Churches…….. The thing that struck those around the Club was the devotion of his Dad, who had placed his faith in the Rovers to teach young Ian the rudiments of the game.

Phil took it upon himself to transport his eldest son to training and matches; racking up thousands of kilometres to and from the wilds of Whitfield in pursuit of the lad’s football ambition……

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Phil was a salt-of-the-earth identity himself…….A country cockie, whose life revolved around family, work and sport.

The Gambold forebears assumed their property – on the Cheshunt side of Whitfield – in 1912, and after Phil first saw the light of day twenty years later, he spent most of his life there, tending cattle and sheep and growing crops such as Millet.

There were tough times, including drought, which led to severe downturns in sheep and cattle prices. They faced up to the unbearable prospect of shooting stock, which gave him a lesson on the complexities of life on the land.

In those calamitous situations Phil found work on the Dam, on nearby Tobacco farms, and, one year, a season of Cane-Cutting in far-North Queensland, to keep the wolf from the door.

Competition wood-chopping in the summer and footy in the winter, were his sporting outlets. He made his footy debut in 1949, alongside another couple of Valley icons in Marshall Burrowes and Colin Knaggs, and chalked up more than 300 games in the Blue and White.

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“He was hard-at-it, apparently…….a ruckman-defender who never gave in……..” Ian says.

In 1964 after spending nine-months in the Wangaratta Hospital recovering from Tuberculosis, Phil showed typical stoicism to return to the field and strip for three more seasons with the Valley.

His skill as a proficient shearer also enabled him to supplement a sometimes meagre farm income. He earned a deserved reputation as a 120-a-day man.

The opportunity presented itself in the mid-seventies, for he and a colleague, Kevin Vincent, to take up a 6-8 week contract at Penshurst, in Victoria’s Western District.

They continued to travel down there for 21 years, heading off at Cup-time and returning home to see their families each week-end.

Ian also became adept with the blades in his late teens. He’d not long started playing with the Rovers when Leigh Hartwig asked if he and Phil would shear their Poll Dorsets.

“We had 4-5 years with the Hartwig’s……..His mum (Madge) used to lay on the cakes and sandwiches……. A bit too much to eat for that sort of work,” he jokes.

Not surprisingly, Phil adopted the Hawks’ durable, tough-as-teak centre half back Mervyn Holmes as his favourite player.

In 1978, as the Rovers charged through another finals series, he detected that ‘Farmer’ – who’d spent a hard few days shearing in the lead-up to the Prelim – had looked a touch weary in the dying stages of the game.

“I’m going over to ‘Holmesy’s’ before the Grand Final,” he advised Ian. “I know he’ll be reluctant, but he’ll be on lighter duties on Friday……….He’s going to have a spell from shearing……”

‘Farmer’ responded with a near-best-afield display in the big win over Benalla…….

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Phil visualised a bit of the ‘Carboor Farmer’ in his strongly-built son.

Ian was perceived as an awkward opponent; a hard-hitting defender, with a damaging left boot. He’d have liked to be shifted up forward, he says, but the Hawks were convinced that he was a died-in-the-wool backman.

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After a couple of seasons with the Thirds ( and a Grand Final appearance in 1977 ) he’d graduated to the Reserves; spent a year back at his spiritual home, King Valley, then returned to the Hawks, to play in their 1980 Reserves premiership side.

“King Valley were moulding a pretty strong side in 1981, and I was keen to be a part of it,” he recalls. “I felt another year in the O & K might be good for my development. I considered the forward line was my best position, and was determined to add another string to my bow……It makes footy a bit more interesting if you can play at both ends of the ground…”

He struck it lucky.

The Roos, under the coaching of Richie Allen, pipped Milawa by a point in the Qualifying Final, narrowly overcame Chiltern in the Second Semi, then clinched their second flag by 29 points against a dogged Milawa, prompting huge celebrations at the Swinburne Pavilion.

Ian admits his form tailed off in the latter part of ‘81……”I thought I’d better do something different with my training; to become fitter, and have another crack with the Rovers……”

He enjoyed a fine season, taking out the O & M’s Leo Burke Medal and the Rovers Reserves B & F………This was followed by involvement in successive Reserves Premierships, in 1983 and ‘84.

But still, that cherished O & M Senior debut eluded him.

He’d made 105 Reserves ( and 22 Thirds ) appearances with the Rovers, and sensed that he must have gone close, at various stages, to achieving his dream.

So he decided to try his luck with Benalla.

Mid-way through his second season with the Demons – Round 9, 1986 – he finally won promotion to the Seniors…..lining up against Yarrawonga at the Benalla Showgrounds.

“I’d almost given up hope….. It was my last shot……..I played reasonably well that day….. probably the best of my four senior games.”

He also took out the Reserves B & F in what was a somewhat disastrous year for the Demons……What didn’t help matters, of course, was that two players – Neil Drake and Willie Ryan – were tragically killed in a car accident in the lead-up to the season.

‘Gambie’ decided on a ‘tree-change’ in 1987, and found employment in Melbourne, as an accounts-clerk with soap-manufacturing company, Cossons. He travelled back to play with King Valley each week-end, and was rewarded with the ‘Roos’ B & F award.

After 12 months, he’d had enough of the city, and moved to Rutherglen, to work with McNamara’s CRT. He was tossing up what to do with his footy, when he received a phone call from a prominent Hume League figure, Ian Schilg, inviting him to play with Brocklesby.

“They offered me $80 a week, which I was appreciative of. They said they had a spot at centre half back they needed to fill…..I agreed to play for the remainder of the season…….Instead, I spent five enjoyable years at ‘Brock’, made a lot of friends, and ended up playing 102 games…..”

“Dad, who’d followed my footy at the Rovers, King Valley and Benalla, had done a bit of shearing in the Brock area and loved going up there. He was passionate about training, and used to help out on match-days……”

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When he left Brocklesby he decided to head back home and finish his career with King Valley.

“My brother ( Noel ) and I hadn’t played much footy together – even though he spent 20 years at the Valley. Mum ( Betty ) always watched Noel, whilst Dad would follow me; so it was great for them to see us both play.”

Ian was runner-up to promising ruckman Mark Porter in the B & F in 1994, and played through until 1998, finishing with 118 senior games at King Valley.

He was then talked into playing with BDFL club Bonnie Doon, but after kicking his second goal in his debut game, was unceremoniously ‘cleaned up’……

“That was it…..I gave it way, and took up umpiring for a season,” he says.

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He became a full-time student in 1990, undertaking a four-year Accountancy course at Charles Sturt University, which led to teaching Accountancy to mature-age students at Wangaratta and Wodonga TAFE on a sessional basis.

But he discovered he wasn’t cut-out to be a Teacher, so he enrolled in a Sport and Recreation course at Wangaratta TAFE, and worked part-time at the YMCA for three years.

His final career-change came 18 years ago, when he procured a Lawn-Mowing business, which he admits, ‘keeps him on his toes’…….

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You’ve no doubt become acquainted with ‘Gambie’s’ dulcet tones if you’ve turned on the radio to catch up with the local footy of a winter week-end afternoon.

He first began calling games on OAK-FM, alongside Tony Cuskelly, Bernie Lonergan and Brendan Rhodes, back in 2001.

He says it was a great opportunity to remain involved in the O & M, albeit behind the microphone.

There’s no doubt that the service provided by OAK-FM and 2AY/3NE over the years has provided priceless free publicity to the Ovens and Murray League.

They obviously appreciated that fact when Ian was presented with the ‘Peter Bruhn O & M Volunteer Award’ in 2018, for his services to the game.

He’s the sole survivor of that initial foray into broadcasting, but also helps produce a Sports Show, which airs from 5pm to 6.30pm every Friday throughout the year, covering all modes of sport in the area.

…..It includes another of his great loves – cricket.

His first comeback to the game came, aged 36, when King Valley joined the Wangaratta Sunday competition. He resumed playing four years ago when Gapsted approached him to join their WDCA C-Grade side…….

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‘Gambie’ says that much of his inspiration for his lengthy connection with sport came from his Dad:

“Phil loved being involved…..whether it was playing, or as a Trainer. He often spoke about the day he was invited to be a part of the Melbourne Training staff for a match against Collingwood, at the MCG. I remember when Myrtleford were going through that losing patch around 2009, he wanted to help them in some way, so he’d drive up and help out as a Trainer on match-days……..”

Phil Gambold passed away seven weeks ago, aged 89………..