‘LOUIE’S 87…….AND STILL KICKING……’

Roma Cesa reckons her husband Lou is still mentally playing footy – even at the ripe old age of 87.

“He watches every game on telly. I’ll look across, and there he’ll be, twitching in the Lounge Chair, kicking and flicking out imaginary handballs.”

“It’s the same when we go down to watch the Magpies play. He can’t sit still. It’s as if he’s out on the ground. I say: ‘Lou, you’re not playing any more, remember’. His one true love is football. I take a back seat,“ she quips………..

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Hardly any of the current Maggies would recognise this reserved little fellah with the swarthy complexion and the trademark peaked-cap. He and Roma sit behind the goals at the Women’s Industries-end of the Norm Minns Oval – have done for more than 50 years.

He’s declined offers to move to more salubrious surrounds; and maybe sample a bit of the Club’s upstairs hospitality. He’s comfortable there, he says, and doesn’t fancy too much fuss.

“I like doing my own thing. I can criticize if I want to…..and no-one will hear me.”

Louie’s from a Golden Era. In his day he was as good as any small defender going around. But he won’t have a word said against the modern game. “I love it; can’t get enough of it.”

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His is the classic story of a lad, born of immigrant parents, who completely embedded themselves in the local community.

His Dad sailed to Australia from the tiny, mountain village of Lentia in Northern Italy, in 1927; Mum followed four years later.

After settling in Melbourne, then Gippsland, ‘Pop’ landed a job out at the Glenrowan Quarry, smashing rocks. It was a tough old gig. Lou still has the sledgehammer he used; says you need to be a muscle-man to lift it.

After they settled in Wang, the old fellah used to ride his bike out to a block he’d bought at the foot of the Warbies, and cut wood all day.

Lou was born at York’s, a Private Hospital just over the Railway line in Rowan Street. It was merely a hop, step and jump to transport him home – the Cesa’s lived just up the road, in Green Street.

Nor was it necessary to travel far for work when he started as an apprentice joiner at R.M.Clayton’s.  He was 15 when he rode to their factory in Mackay Street…….. And that’s where he was to spend the entirety of his working life.

“I started off on 22 shillings and sixpence, and had to hand over a bit of board and pay off my bike out of that. The next year I got a rise to two pounds 13 and fourpence. I’ve still got that bike, you know.”

On the day he retired, his mum, who was 95 at the time, was invited to his farewell barbecue. It was her first visit to her son’s workplace of 50 years. “She didn’t know the building existed, and marvelled at the size of the machines that cost me some of my fingers,” he says……..

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When Lou was growing up, the Wangaratta Junior League comprised just four clubs. They’d introduced a zoning system and, as he was living near the middle of town, Centrals became his club, in 1946.

They were starved of success in his first couple of years. Yet, completely against the odds, they took out the ‘47 flag. I’ll let Lou explain it.

“We didn’t win any of the home-and-away games, and were stone motherless last. Then we happened to take out the First-Semi, Prelim and, amazingly, the Grand Final…… You’ll have to take my word for this, as I’m pretty sure I’m the only one still alive from that side.”

The next step in his football journey was to try his luck with Wangaratta. It was 1949, and the seeds of the Magpies’ greatest era had already been sown. The great Mac Holten had arrived to take over as coach, and duly implement a play-on style of game which was to prove fabulously successful.

Along with many other Junior League graduates, Lou became a member of the Reserves team, which played in the Benalla-Tungamah League.

“I remember buying my first pair of boots at Jack Ferguson’s Shoe Store, and getting old Maurie Adair to hammer some stops in them. Nine times out of ten the stops would be gone by half-time,” he says.

“We’d travel out by bus to places like Devenish, Tungamah, Dookie and Wilby. It was a side of kids, really, but a pretty good standard. We reckoned some of those blokes trained by kicking bags of wheat around. For instance, you had the Lane brothers from St.James who were built like Sherman Tanks-. It was tough footy….and great experience for us.”

The trips back to Wang were rollicking affairs, and Lou admits he’d often be coaxed into providing a rendition of his favourite song: ‘China Doll’.

“When we got home we’d wind down by having a few beers,  then go to the local dance at the Town Hall….a few of the older ones would go square-dancing.”

Mid-way through 1951 he was blooded for four senior games with the ‘Pies. The following season he cemented a permanent spot .

Wang were chasing their fourth flag on the trot, but Rutherglen, coached by ex-Essendon rover Greg Tate, had set the pace for most of the year.

They pipped the Pies by 7 points in the Second-Semi. The decider a fortnight later was a topsy -turvy encounter, with the lead changing several times.

Wang wrestled their way to a seven-point lead at lemon-time, but finished on strongly, to run out winners by 20 points.IMG_4193

Lou had entrenched himself in defence, and performed capably on a back flank in the Grand Final. It was, he admits, hard to get his head around being part of this team of champions.

He was now a key member of the Wangaratta side. When the O & M met East Perth at Albury two years later, there he was in a back pocket.

The following season he represented the Black and Gold in the first-ever Country Championship Carnival, joining such stars of the game as Jack Jones, Timmy Robb and Lance Mann. The side contained eight players who were on the verge of graduating to VFL ranks.

O & M proved too strong for Ballarat in the Final, with the Age reporting that: ‘… Sandral (back flank) and Cesa (back pocket) were crucial factors in the victory, and were responsible for repelling many Ballarat attacks….’IMG_4191

Wangaratta reached another Grand Final later that year, meeting North Albury in a memorable encounter .

Lou’s main focus was on the enviable task of keeping Hopper coach Tim Robb in check . “He and North’s full forward Lester Yensch were the danger-men,” he recalls.

Yensch booted a near-impossible goal mid-way through the final term, then Wang’s Lance Oswald marked superbly, and replied, to narrow the margin to four points. Suddenly, a fiendish gale blew up, with a storm erupting over the ground.

North’s Arthur Pickett, almost from the centre of the Rovers ground, booted a goal with the aid of the hefty breeze. In heavy rain, the Hoppers were content to play out time and hold their 10-point advantage to the siren.

Lou featured in his second O & M flag in 1957 – a classic contest against old rivals Albury – which looked to have slipped from their grasp in the dying stages.

The Tigers held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, but Wang slowly bridged the gap. With just one minute remaining, Lance Oswald snapped accurately from the angle, to see his side take out a sensational game by two points.

“That was Lou’s best-ever game for Wangaratta, I reckon,” says his old team-mate Bill Comensoli. “ He was named on a wing, opposed to Reggie Gard, who was one of Albury’s important players. He held sway all day.”

“I remember the siren blowing and all the emotion that overflowed,” Lou recalls. “Albury’s Jim Robison was that disappointed that he turned and whacked Rex Allen, who was standing beside him. Poor old Rex happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”IMG_4218

The 1958 season proved to be Lou’s last as a player. His legs had been playing up, and he’d been operated on to drain blood from them. Doctor Phillips, and the surgeon, Hal Stanistreet, both recommended that he give it away before he finished up a cripple.

He’d married that year…….“Yes, he also had a nagging wife telling him to give it up,” jokes Roma…….

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Lou coached Junior League club Combined Churches for a few years in the sixties, and took them to the 1967 premiership. Three of the side – Geoff Welch, ‘Manny’ Booth and Russell Stone were to play in O & M flags in the seventies. A few others had handy careers.IMG_4195

When his own two boys, Ian and Colin, became of age they stripped for Centrals. Roma says that when it was her turn to wash the Club’s Brown and Gold guernseys, she had to drape them on the fence.

One of the neighbors – a keen Rovers man – asked why she didn’t hang them on the clothes-line:

“Lou won’t let me !,” she replied.

Ian and Col both followed in their old man’s footsteps and went on to play senior footy with the Pies.

The Cesa’s also had three girls – Cheryl, Karen and Joanne. Sadly, Cheryl suffered an inoperable brain aneurism and passed away, aged 33, after being on Life-Support at the Alfred Hospital for some time.

“It was a sad time. You never forget it,” Roma recalls. “We cared for three of her kids for about three years, before their dad took them back. It hurt us when they left…..We wish we’d kept them.”

Lou and Roma headed over to Italy a few years ago, and made acquaintance with many of the Cesa clan in Lentia. They were treated like,. well, long-lost relations, and had a whale of a time.

Just the same, it was great to get back home. After all, Lou was missing his footy…………….IMG_4194

‘THE ARTFUL DEFENDER……’

Jimmy Sandral occasionally casts his mind back to that late-September day in 1956.

A record crowd of 115,802 has jammed into the MCG for the Grand Final, between arch rivals Melbourne and Collingwood……….He runs, or rather, floats, onto the ground behind Demon skipper Noel McMahon, and alongside such luminaries as Ian Ridley, Bob Johnson, Stuart Spencer, Donny Williams and Ron Barassi……..

The last-minute words of coach Norm Smith are still ringing in his ears: “…..I want you boys to lay your bodies in the line….Some of you are going to get hurt today; if you’re not prepared to get hurt, leave now !…….”

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Seven years earlier, Jim had just settled back on the family farm after completing his secondary education. He had to re-acquaint himself with the rudiments of footy, as he’d been boarding at St.Gregory’s College, Campbelltown, a traditional Rugby League stamping-ground.

Before his departure, he’d attended the local 11-pupil State school. With seven girls and just four boys, ‘Rounders’ had been the compulsory sport at Rennie Primary.

So when he debuted for Rennie, aged 16, in his first-ever fair dinkum game of football, he was, he admits, pretty rough around the edges. “I wasn’t even sure of the rules. I must admit I made plenty of mistakes,” he says.

But he cottoned on pretty quickly. In 1952 he won the club Best and Fairest award, was runner-up in the League Medal and played a starring role in Rennie’s premiership side.IMG_3486

In the following two years he won both the club B & F and the Coreen League’s Archie Dennis Medal.

It was late 1954 when Corowa invited him in to play a couple of late-season games on match permits. Jimmy adapted easily to the lift in standard and was persuaded to make the 25-mile trek in from the farm, to join the Spiders in 1955.

He was a natural, and took on all-comers at centre half back . Standing just under 6 foot, and weighing around 14 stone, he possessed a strong pair of hands . And – when he swept onto that left boot of his -he could hoof the Sherrin a country mile.

After just seven games with Corowa, Jim earned selection in the O & M’s Country Championship team. In what was an All-Star line-up, he was the stand-out, polling eight votes of a possible nine, to win the gong as Player of the three-game Series.IMG_3497

League clubs, of course, zeroed in. His dad, doing his best to be a bit protective, ushered a couple of scouts away, informing them that: “he’s not going anywhere.”

But when persuasive Melbourne secretary Jim Cardwell and recruiting manager Ken Carlon ( an ex-Demon 49-gamer and former Rennie coach) paid a visit to the Sandral property later that year, Jim was invited to be a guest of the club at the 1955 Grand Final.

“Not only that, but I had the privilege of sitting on the bench, beside the coaching staff. What a thrill. That was the day that ‘Bluey’ Adams ran full-steam off the bench in the final quarter and collided with Collingwood winger Des Healy.”

“Melbourne were pretty good to me, really,” says Jim. “When I headed down there, they teed me up with a job at the Hardware Company of Australia, packing stuff to send to the bush. Gee, I thought, this is a far cry from working on the farm.”

“Then I moved to Standard Containers, of Dawson Street, Brunswick. It was over the road from Miller’s Rope Works, where Norm Smith worked. I got on all right with old Norm, and he used to take me to training.”

I ask Jimmy if Smith was as tough as they say. “No doubt about that,” he says, as he recalls an incident at training one night.

“There was a bloke who’d just been cleared from Collingwood; ‘Icy’ Hamilton was his name, and he was reputed to have a bit of an ego. Anyway, he’s out on the ground, kicking the ball to himself, and dodging and weaving around imaginary opponents, when Norm leads us out onto the track.”

“Norm barked at him: ‘There’s no room for lairs in this place……Get back into the rooms.’ Big Bob Johnson said: ‘I reckon you’re a bit hard on him, Norm.’ ‘Shut up, or you’ll be in there with him,’ was Norm’s reply.”IMG_3505

It was no mean feat for Sandral to break into a Premiership team, and hold his place in his debut season. His form wavered a little at times, and he was named on the bench for the Second Semi-Final.

But his value was shown when he came on to replace Geoff McGivern at half-time. The Sun’s match report said:

‘One of Melbourne’s heroes was 19th man Jim ‘Little Bull’ Sandral, who charged into packs just as his nickname suggests. After the match Sandral – whose instructions were simply : Go in, Get it, Kick it’, said: ‘I kept thinking that if I get a chance to take the field, I can’t afford to make one mistake……(Then) after listening to Norm’s pep-talk at half-time, I felt better than at any time in my football career.’

The Demons stormed to the flag a fortnight later, winning by 73 points, after Collingwood had held a 5-point lead at quarter-time. The 1956 Melbourne team is still thrown up as one of the greatest of all-time.

Jim remembers, as much as anything, the over-flowing crowd, which had earlier lifted some of the gates off their hinges and swarmed inside the oval fence. “You had to be careful if you were chasing the ball near the boundary, that you didn’t end up plunging into the crowd.”

An ankle injury kept him out for a fair portion of the following season. Add that to a decent bout of homesickness and it’s not hard to understand why the wide open spaces of Rennie beckoned.

“I used to come out of a post-match ‘do’ and be greeted by the cold, empty stands of the MCG. Then I’d have to wait for a tram to take me out to Heidelberg. Moments like those made me pine for home……And I knew I was needed back on the farm. ”

Corowa jumped in and appointed him playing-coach in 1958. They were light on for personnel, but were inspired by their champion centre half back, who took out his first Morris Medal the following year.

“The two years of coaching was enjoyable, but it was a battle combining it with work on the farm. At the end of the ‘59 season, I went down to Melbourne with our President Alan McBride, to see if we could find a replacement.”

“We had three fellahs teed up – Freddie Goldsmith, Peter Lucas and Frank Tuck. Goldsmith ended up at Albury, and Collingwood appointed Lucas as their Secretary. ‘Tucky’ was keen on the job, and we were very lucky to land him as coach.”

The Spiders were a vastly-improved combination in the early sixties, and surged up the ladder. Tuck had a terrific lieutenant in the dynamic Sandral, who was to take out five successive Club B & F’s and add another two Morris Medals to his collection. He finished fifth in the Medal on another two occasions.IMG_3494

Corowa won their way into their second-ever Grand Final in 1963, with tight 10 and 7 point victories in the lead-up. Sandral’s battle with burly Demon forward Ian Hughes was to prove one of the highlights of the game. His side was in the contest up to its ears at three quarter-time, but Benalla blew them away with an eight goal to nil last quarter. The Spiders would have to wait another five years for their fairytale flag.

By this time, Jimmy Sandral was back at Rennie. He had left Corowa, aged 32, after 164 games, and a reputation as the greatest-ever player to wear the Black and Red guernsey.

For the next six seasons he coached his home club, and finished runner-up in the Archie Dennis Medal each time.

“I told Rennie that I’d do the job for nothing in 1970. They were pretty happy about that. As it turned out, it was one of my most enjoyable years of footy. I was still playing okay, and took out the club Best & Fairest. And in my last game we won the premiership……….”

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Seven years after Jim’s retirement, his son Dennis began a football journey which saw him chalk up 348 O & M games. Regarded as the finest defender in the competition in his day, he and Jim were named full back and centre half back respectively, in Corowa-Rutherglen’s Team of the Century. He also matched his dad’s feat of winning five club Best and Fairests.IMG_3507

Jim says it gave him a huge thrill watching the young bloke’s career closely. “A good, strong player, Dennis….Never let ‘em down…….Finished third in the Medal one year, and a terrific inter-League player.”

“But then, the other boys were handy, too. Michael did his knee early on, and young Jimmy had a bit of back trouble. When Dennis coached Howlong, Jimmy followed him out and won the League Medal.

Jim and Shirley also had two daughters, Bernadette ( O’Donnell ) and Joanne (IMG_3509 Reagan ). There are also 17 grandkids and eight ( soon to be 12 ) great-grandkids, so the Sandral footy dynasty is set to continue.

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Jimmy’s going on 86 now, and there’s no more respected figure in footy. This official Legend of the Ovens and Murray League could also be dubbed its unofficial Ambassador.

He can be found in his customary spot, perched between the kiosk and the interchange shed at the John Foord Oval each home game, or following Corowa-Rutherglen around, wherever they play. And he’s always  up for a yarn…………….IMG_3501