” A TRIO OF MAGPIE MEDALLISTS…….”

Timmy Lowe would have been an Ovens and Murray champ in any era.

The classy small man fortuitously landed in Wangaratta’s lap when his dad Roy decided to re-locate the family building business from Melbourne in 1948.

R.J.Lowe Constructions ( also employing Tim and his brother Ernie ) became one of the town’s largest companies, and spread its tentacles throughout the North-East …… even assisting in the re-alignment of ‘New’ Tallangatta, when it shifted 8km west to allow for the construction of Lake Hume in the early 50’s.

Roy wholeheartedly embraced his civic responsibilities , serving firstly as a councillor, then as Mayor of Wangaratta in 1955/56…….But it’s the mercurial Timmy who sticks in the minds of old-timers, many of them still fondly recalling his dazzling ball skills………….
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Tim Lowe’s childhood years were affected by his battle with the debilitating disease of polio.

He was somewhat of a late starter to football, beginning at the age of 16, with State Savings Bank, in the A-Grade Amateurs, in 1947. When he joined Wang the following season, he walked straight into a developing side.

Small in stature ( standing just 5’7” ), he was a quick, agile and elusive rover. Under the coaching of George Tribe, the Pies were hampered by injuries in the early games, but recovered well to finish just half a game out of the four.

Lowe was hailed as the ‘Recruit of the Year’, besides winning the first of his five Club Best & Fairests.

It was the arrival of football sage Mac Holten that helped fast-track many promising Magpie youngsters into out-and-out stars.

Lowe, in particular, derived much benefit from the discipline and tutelage of the master-coach…………..And he certainly required the whip to be cracked occasionally………

Jack Dillon, who was just starting his career with the Rovers, was Timmy’s next-door neighbor early on, and says, despite being footy adversaries, the pair were as thick as thieves:

“We only owned one bike between us and would take it in turns to dink one another to the Dance or the Pub………..He was a bit of a cheeky bugger, Tim……Combined with that, he was partial to a cool drink on a hot day………So he could get us into a bit of strife without even trying…….”

“I could tell you heaps of stories, but I remember one time, we found our way to the Footy Club Dance out at Tarrawingee…..Lord knows how we got there, but I do recall we brought a Crayfish and a couple of Bottles of Wine with us…….I went into the Hall to have a dance, and when I came outside again, Tim was standing beside the fire, stirring one of the popular local players – big Leo Devery.”

“Next thing, Leo’s hauled off and whacked him flush on the moosh ……….That stopped him in his tracks. He thought his jaw was broken………….was still nursing it the next day…….”
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

A touch of spunk added an extra ingredient to the Lowe football make-up. He relished the big occasions and starred in Wangaratta’s 1949 flag win over Wodonga.

The Pies had struggled to wrest control of the game from the Bulldogs, who, despite the absence of their inspirational coach Jack Eames, trailed by just a goal at half-time.

When the heavens opened up during the long break, it made conditions decidedly difficult for players and spectators alike.

Wang streaked away with the game in the final term, booting four goals to one, with Jack and Doug Ferguson, Bill Parkinson, Lowe and Ken Nish helping them to an 11.16 to 6.14 victory.

It was, of course, the first of the Pies’ famous ‘Four in a Row’, which would perpetuate the Holten legend.
But there was no more important player in the side than Timmy Lowe.

His capacity to rack up countless possessions and his rapport with ruckmen Kevin French, Graeme Woods and Bill Comensoli saw him named Club B & F in the 1950, ‘51 and ‘52 premiership years.

The evenness of the Wang side was exemplified when four players – Jackie Stevenson, Lionel Wallace, Mac Holten and Lowe tied for fourth place in the 1951 Morris Medal.

The following year Timmy polled 18 votes to finish third, behind Wodonga champion Norm Webb (22) and North Albury’s Billy King (19).

Melbourne had been on his hammer for several years and finally, in the pre-season of 1953, he and ruckman Graeme Woods agreed to head down to train and participate in a couple of practice matches.

Neither of them were comfortable in the ‘big smoke’ and were back home prior to the start of the season.

Chasing a historic five on-the-trot, the Pies finished two games clear on top of the ladder but were below their best in the finals. They dropped the Second Semi to Albury by 13 points despite booting four goals to one in the last quarter………

The Preliminary Final saw ex-Wangaratta star Norm Minns leading Benalla against his old coach, Holten.

The Demons, outpacing Wang and continually creating the loose man, held a slight edge all day and clung on to win a thriller by 19 points. Vice-Captain Lowe was magnificent, as he strove to keep his side in the game.

Benalla clinched their first O & M flag against Albury the following week. Prior to the game Lowe’s brilliant season was recognised when he was presented with the 1953 Morris Medal.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Lowe was enticed to Beechworth as captain-coach in 1954 and proceeded to set O & K footy alight with his individual brilliance.

He took out the Bynon Cup ( League B & F ) with 18 votes, ahead of two old Magpie premiership team-mates, Ray Warford (Moyhu) and ‘Hopper’ McCormick ( King Valley).

The Bombers went within an ace of snatching the flag the following year.

Bogong led 6.12 to 5.16 in the dying seconds of a sensational Grand Final. As they grimly clung to a three-point lead the ball was bobbling around in Beechworth’s 10-yard square….. Lowe grabbed it and snapped it through, just as the siren blew…….Alas, it was a split-second too late, and the Bombers rued their misfortune.

They made amends in 1956 when Lowe (who had shared the League B & F, with Ray Warford and Moyhu rover Greg Hogan ) led them to a strong win over Milawa.

Despite woeful kicking ( they booted 9.17 to 6.5 ) the Bombers were too strong for a smaller, but courageous Demon side. Jock Gardner was a star for Milawa, kicking five goals, whilst the premiers were inspired by their tireless leader.

Beechworth fell away, winning just 6 games in 1957. Tim relinquished the coaching post and returned to Wangaratta. Injuries and a subsequent drop-off in fitness saw him confined to a handful of senior appearances, taking his final games tally to 122.

But he remained eligible for the 1959 Reserves finals and figured in yet another premiership when the young Pies eclipsed Benalla in the Grand Final curtain-raiser.

He was lured out to Moyhu in 1960. Despite some indifferent late-season form, he held on to his spot for the keenly-anticipated decider, against his old team, Beechworth.

The game’s fate was still in the balance when the siren blew and the ball was in the hands of Bomber rover ‘Ab’ Comensoli. His shot for goal from 40m out, on the angle, missed, and Moyhu snatched the flag, 9.11 to 9.5…….

Fittingly, amidst wild celebrations, the Timmy Lowe career had drawn to a close.

It was his seventh premiership……He’d won seven Club Best & Fairest Awards, three League Medals, and would, after his death, be inducted to the Ovens and Murray and Wangaratta Halls of Fame, and the Magpies’ Team of Legends………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Ray Preston was a fifties football nomad who slotted smoothly into the Wangaratta side after the departure of Timmy Lowe.

He began his career with Ardmona in 1947, before moving to the Mountain District League for three seasons. On his return to home territory he stripped with GVFL club City United, winning their B & F in 1951 and making his name as a talented small man.

South Melbourne considered the 170cm, 70kg rover a likely type. He spent two seasons (1953 and ‘54 ) at the Lakeside Oval, but was contending for his spot with a handful of players of similar calibre and stature.

He was limited to just seven senior games with the Swans. When Wangaratta came knocking in early 1955 the Pies’ recruiting strategy appealed to him, particularly as it fitted in with employment with a cigarette company.

He enjoyed a brilliant season……. The smart, stocky on-baller was more than handy around goal and it was no surprise when he took out the 1955 Morris Medal with 22 votes, two clear of Myrtleford coach Alby Rodda.

Additionally, Preston performed more than capably in the Ovens and Murray’s Country Championship victory over Ballarat.

He snagged 20 goals during the finals series, during which Wangaratta overcame Yarrawonga in the Prelim Final re-play and lowered their colours in a tight Grand Final against North Albury.

He had a patchy 1956 season and was dropped from the senior side on more than one occasion.

But Wangaratta’s B & F voting system in that era decreed that the award should go to the leading vote-getter in the Morris Medal.

Thus Preston, with 8 votes, took out his second successive award, sharing it with brilliant youngster Lance Oswald.

Ray Preston continued his football journey, moving to Lemnos in 1957, to Seymour for three seasons; then on to Mooroopna for 1961 and ‘62.

He concluded his career back with home club Ardmona in 1963…………..
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Lance Oswald will forever be regarded as one of the Magpies’ proudest sons……

He was a schoolboy prodigy – a curly-haired football nut who had won a Junior League Medal and two premierships with South Wanderers before his 14th birthday.

Two years later, he was making his O & M debut against Wangaratta Rovers…….He only played one more senior game in 1953, but consolidated his spot the following season.

By 1955 Oswald was an out-and-out star. He kicked 17 goals during the finals series, including seven in a losing Grand Final against North Albury.

League clubs circled him, but his coach Mac Holten advised him to add a bit more beef to his slender body…… Holten was keen to nudge him towards his old club, Collingwood, but St.Kilda won the race for his services.

They played him on a match-permit in the opening round of 1957 and urged him to stay after his promising debut.

But Wangaratta put the foot down and persuaded him to return home.

By now Lance was the complete player. Strongly-built for a rover, he could sniff a goal and had a manic attack on the footy.

In a dominant season for the ‘Pies he kicked 90 goals to win the League goal-kicking, played in the O & M’s Country Championship triumph and shared the Morris Medal with Myrtleford defender Neil Currie…..

And he snapped the winning goal in Wang’s last-minute Premiership victory over Albury…….

After such a fairytale finish to his O & M career, big things were expected of Oswald……

.Within three years he was rated the best centreman in Australia, had represented Victoria, and picked up two St.Kilda B & F’s.

Lance Oswald retired to the ‘bush’ from the Saints after 107 games and 102 goals, settling his young family in Strathmerton, where he played 210 games and coached for nine seasons………

‘THE OBJECT OF MY DESIRE………’

I happened upon the object of my desire many, many years ago.

She was destitute, unloved; forever being compared unfavourably to her sassy neighbor across the road, who attracted, and courted, numerous suitors.

Noses were turned up whenever her name was mentioned. Jokes were made about her unsophistication. She’ll amount to nothing, they scoffed.

But I could see something in her. She possessed a rare charm which turned me on. I grew to love her more and more. It’s an affair that has never abated.

Through no fault of hers, my emotions still occasionally overflow in her presence. I find myself scaling the heights one minute, then plummeting to the lowest of lows the next.

Permit me, if you will, to recount a few of the cherished milestones of this dear old friend of mine ………….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

WELCOMING A NEW GUEST

I’m no more than four or five, and nipping at dad’s heels, when I’m first introduced to the new home of the Wangaratta Rovers.

They’ve received permission to use a ten-acre patch in Evans Street that had been handed to the Council way back in 1859. The specification of the Lands Department at the time was that it be used for sporting purposes.

It was un-named, but colloquially dubbed ‘The Cricket Ground’, and used sparingly over the next 91 years, for cricket and the occasional game of footy. Precious little had been done to improve it. The ‘paddock’ was rough-hewn, full of tussocks and mostly unkempt. A ramshackle building, which comprised a roof and two and a half sides, was occupied by a local swaggie, Tommie Clack.

Tommie used the floorboards of one part of the ‘pavilion’ as firewood, to provide some element of comfort in the harsh winter months.

He continued to squat, even when the Rovers began training there in the early fifties. The process was that they’d undress in the Industrial Pavilion under the old Showgrounds Grandstand, climb through an opening in the tin fence, and begin ball-work shortly after.

They continued to play Home games at the Showgrounds whilst spending thousands of hours -with Council assistance – grading the oval, rolling and sowing grass, and re-developing the surrounds of their new home.

“We had to grub out large trees; the oval had to be re-fenced. I recall we had to cart gravel from Eldorado for the banking; we had as many as 50 at working bees,” Rovers stalwart Frank Hayes once said.

“ And every evening and week-end for months, carpenters, plasterers, bricklayers and labourers worked like beavers to convert the dilapidated building into presentable Clubrooms.”IMG_3242

In 1952, in time for their third Ovens and Murray season, the Hawks are finally settled into their new headquarters…………….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

STAGING THE ‘BIG SHOW’

Just four years after its christening as an Ovens and Murray venue, ‘The Cricket Ground’ is chosen to host the eagerly-anticipated Grand Final encounter between North Albury and Wangaratta.

More than 11,000 fans pack in, and are treated to a classic contest which fluctuates throughout. It’s really a ‘coming-of-age’ for 18 year-old Magpie champion, Lance Oswald (later to become a VFL star). In a best-afield display, he boots five of his seven goals in the third quarter, to bring Wang back into contention.

But the ‘Hoppers steady, and hold a slender four-point three-quarter time lead. ‘Mother Nature’ seems to turn against Wang in the final term, as ideal conditions give way to a gale-force storm which blows towards North’s goal. The turning-point comes late in the game, when North’s Arthur Pickett sends one through the big sticks from the centre of the ground. They hang on desperately to win by 10 points – 13.15 to 13.5…….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A CENTRE-STRIP

A centre-square of black turf is laid, lovingly-nurtured, and comes into use for the first time in January 1955. It survives flood, drought, plagues, vandals, under and over-indulgent curators and some footy coaches who regard its presence as a necessary evil.

The Rovers Cricket Club springs up and soon becomes a vital component of the Oval.

With shared tenants, Combined Schools and United, which morph into the merged Rovers-United, then Rovers-United Bruck, they snare a total of 23 WDCA senior flags……..

IMG_4285
Another WDCA flag returns to the Findlay Oval

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

MR. FOOTBALL ARRIVES IN TOWN

Everyone with the remotest connection to football in the vicinity, is abuzz with anticipation in late-1955, as news spreads that Mr.Football has arrived in town.

Bobby Rose, unanimously touted as the best footballer in Australia, has been lured as captain-coach of the Rovers.

The battling Hawks are astounded at the extent to which he transforms their fortunes. A crowd of over 1,000 flock to watch him in action in the club’s first practice match. Membership shoots up by more than 300%. The outlay of 35 pounds a week for a man who was a ‘marketer’s dream’ is deemed a fabulous investment.

Suddenly, the Rovers are front-page news and recruits eager to savour the champ’s wisdom, sign on. History will record him as the club’s most esteemed figure………

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

‘LET  CELEBRATIONS BEGIN……’

The biggest party in the Ground’s history begins soon after the siren blares to signify the Hawks’ 51-point win over Wodonga in the 1958 Grand Final – their first O & M flag.

The game is a triumph for the dynamic Rose, but there are numerous heroes. The players return to Wangaratta by train and are led down to the Ground by the Town Band.rosey

At the open-air Dance and Barbecue, a crowd of more than 3,000 is there to greet them. They devour 3,000 steakettes, 1,000 steaks, and the caterers carve up two large bullocks. The crowd is still at it in the wee hours of the morning…..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A YOUNGSTER IN THE WINGS

As a keen cricketer, Bob Rose is an integral part of three premierships with Rovers. His greatest fan is a tiny 7-8 year-old, who diligently uses his own score-book to record each game. .

And at each break in play he grabs a bat and pleads with somebody to throw a few down to him. Years later, the kid seems destined to wear the baggy green, as he progresses to become a prolific Sheffield Shield opening batsman. However, a tragic car accident puts paid to Robert Rose’s highly-promising career……

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

THE CHALLENGE MATCH

The Rovers’ victory over Wodonga in the 1960 Grand Final prompts a challenge from Oakleigh, who have taken out the VFA flag.

The match, played on the newly-named City Oval the following Sunday, attracts huge interest from the football public. Several city book-makers – keen Oakleigh backers – sense an opportunity to clean up and find multiple ‘takers’ when the word is put around .

But it’s a one-horse race. The Hawks lead from the first bell, running away to win 14.17 to 3.10…..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

COMFORT FOR THE FANS

With support from the Rovers in 1960, the Council submits plans for a Shelter, which is to be built in two stages and will cover the whole embankment to the right of the Clubrooms. It provides a vast improvement in supporter comfort and becomes possibly the most identifiable feature of the City Oval.IMG_4287

Many of the Ground’s most rabid fans make the new Shelter their home, and it is later named ‘The Neville Hogan Stand’, after a Club icon.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

THE BOYD – TUCK CLASH

It’s early 1964, when an incident occurs which is still imprinted in the minds of those who were there – although, to this day, you’ll get different versions.

Rovers coach Ken Boyd, one of the most controversial figures in the game, and Corowa leader Frank Tuck, the ex-Collingwood skipper, clash on the score-board side of the ground. To most it seems like a legitimate shirt-front which costs Tuck a broken jaw, but it triggers hitherto-unseen demonstrations at half-time.

Spiders supporters hurl abuse at ‘Big Ken’ as he walks from the ground and several, with fists raised, try to push their way through the packed crowd.

The ‘Melbourne Herald’ reports on the incident in their edition the following Tuesday, with the headline: ‘KEN BOYD IS NAMED’. Boyd subsequently sues for libel, and the aftermath is played out in the Supreme Court two years later.IMG_4282

Against all considered opinion, Boyd wins the case and is granted substantial damages. He retires later that year, with two flags to his name and a reputation as a charismatic and inspiring coach…..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

THE SECOND STOREY

The Rovers undertake a substantial renovation to the clubrooms, beginning in late 1964, and complete the task in ‘65. A second story is added to the humble abode that had been constructed twelve years earlier.

The players are to the forefront of this, as coach Ken Boyd marshalls them to lend support to the voluntary ‘tradies’ who had been at it every week-end for months.

It’s called the ‘Maroney Pavilion’, as a tribute to one of the club’s stalwarts, who has been at the forefront of the project ………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

THE LOCAL DERBY

IMG_4280
Rinso Johnstone marks spectacularly in a Local Derby. Half-a-century on, his grandson, Karl Norman would become a familiar figure at the Findlay Oval.

IMG_3313
Neville Hogan gets his kick away, in front of a large Local Derby crowd.

O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (10)

72 epic editions of the ‘Local Derby’ have been staged at the City Oval to date, but none have carried the consequences of the 1976 Grand Final.

The Rovers are in the midst of their fabulous ‘Super Seventies’ era when they meet a confident Wangaratta side which has hit peak form.

The Hawks are considered likely to hold an advantage, playing on their own dung-hill , but it’s not to be. The ‘Pies produce power football from the first bounce and lead by 25 points at half-time.

The capacity crowd settles down to watch a predictable fight-back from the champs, but it fails to eventuate. They’re dismantled to the tune of 36 points……….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

CLUBROOMS EXPAND

A further re-modelling of the ‘Maroney Pavilion’ is undertaken between 1981-82, which increases the floor space of the complex by almost 40 per cent, and crowd capacity from 200 to 350.IMG_4289

Thirty-odd years later, a further step in the Clubrooms project is completed when a Balcony, covering the perimeter of the upstairs building is constructed, offering arguably the O & M’s best viewing facilities.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

THE LIGHTS GO ON

The first match for premiership points, under new lighting, is played at the City Oval in 1993. Whilst the Rovers’ performance in their 80-point win over Yarrawonga, is bright, the same can’t be said for the lights.

Supporters from both clubs fume that they’re unable to identify players on the far side of the ground,

But the dim lights don’t deter Hawk spearhead Matthew Allen, who slots nine majors in a scintillating display…..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

A FINAL NAME – CHANGE

The City Council, in consultation with the Rovers, re-names City Oval the ‘W.J.Findlay Oval’, in appreciation of the contributions of a former Postal Clerk, long-term Councillor, Mayor, Parliamentary candidate, author, Rovers committee-man, Life Member and ardent Hawk supporter.

IMG_1292
Four legends of the Findlay Oval – Bob Rose, Neville Hogan, Robbie Walker and Andrew Scott

‘Old Bill’, who has passed on a couple of years earlier, had first-hand experience of the evolution of a decrepit patch of dirt into a sporting mecca …………..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

BACK TO THE PRESENT

Darkness falls early on this bitter, early-August Tuesday evening……A curtain of misty rain glistens as it sweeps across the floodlit Oval……Brown and Gold-clad figures flip the pill around with precision, egged on by a demanding figure with a stentorian voice.

I’m propped under the giant gum-tree, which has probably hovered here longer than the 160-year existence of this sporting Oval.

If only it could tell the tale it may be of: “….. People who come and find seats where they sat when they were children, and cheered their heroes….. And watch the games as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters……..The memories are so thick they have to brush them away from their faces……..This field, it’s part of our past……..”IMG_2470

‘FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD’…..

Lance Oswald, who passed away last Wednesday, is rated by many local experts as Wangaratta’s finest football product.  

‘On Reflection’ caught up with the old champ just on four years ago. This was his story……:

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

He’s rising 79 and has been ensconced in the sleepy Murray River town of Strathmerton for over 50 years. Life is just as he wants it – peaceful, idyllic and ‘far from the madding crowds’

He spent six years in the ‘big smoke’. More than enough time to earn recognition as the best centreman in Victoria – and probably Australia.

Occasionally his mind drifts back to where it all started………   ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Lance Oswald was a South Wanderer.

The Oswalds resided in Greta Road, which meant that, in accordance with the prevailing Wangaratta Junior League rules of the late 40’s, he was zoned to the Green and Golds.

Picking up kicks was never a problem for the curly-hairphoto 2ed footy ‘nut’. He was 13 when he played in the first of two flags for the Wanderers. A year later he was the League Best & Fairest.

He seems chuffed when I start to reel off a list of his premiership team-mates . “There were a few good kids in those sides. Some of them turned out to be pretty handy players,too”, he says.

But none of them came remotely close to matching the achievements of the prodigiously talented Oswald.

In one of the early rounds of the 1953 season, he was selected to make his senior debut for Wangaratta against the Rovers. He was just 16.

The ‘Pies were fresh from winning their fourth straight O &M flag and it was a fairly hard side to break into. He only played one more senior game that year, but consolidated his senior spot in 1954.

The fabulous ‘Holten Era’ was drawing to an end, and I asked Lance how he rated the former Collingwood star ……”Good coach…excellent tactician…But gee, he was tight. Wouldn’t shout if a shark bit him !”

Holten urged Oswald, who, by now, was attracting plenty of attention from League clubs, that he should put on a bit of beef before he headed to Melbourne.

He’d kicked 17 goals as a rover-forward during the 1955 finals, including seven in a best-afield performance, as North Albury overpowered the ‘Pies in the last quarter of the Grand Final.

As clubs circled him, he swayed towards playing with Essendon. But Holten warned him…”Look, you’d be competing with Hutchinson, Clarke and Burgess for a roving spot. Don’t go there”.

Mac was keen to entice him to his old club and took him down for a practice match. He started in the Reserves curtain-raiser, then was whisked off the ground and played in the main game, under an assumed name. He starred, but was happy to return home, much to the chagrin of Collingwood officials.

After St.Kilda coach Alan Killigrew had trekked up the Hume Highway to visit him three or four times, Lance agreed to play the opening round game of 1957, against South Melbourne, on match permits, as the O & M season didn’t get underway until the following week.

It was a promising debut, and he was named in the side again, but Wangaratta put the foot down and told him he was going nowhere.

By now he was the complete player. Strongly-built for a rover ( 5’10 and 12 stone), he could sniff a goal, was an accurate kick and had a fierce attack on the footy.

If anyone still had a ‘knock’ on him, Oswald put paid to those doubts with a dominant season. He kicked 90 goals, to win the League goal-kicking award, featured in the O & M’s Country Championship triumph, and shared the Morris Medal with Myrtleford full back, Neil Currie.

And he played a starring role in the Magpies thrilling two-point win over Albury in a gripping photo 3Grand Final. Wang had kicked only six goals to three-quarter time and trailed the Tigers by 27 points.

They gradually closed the gap, and with a minute remaining, Lance snapped a miracle goal to give them the lead for the first time in the game. It was his 73rd, and last game for Wang.

What a note to leave on !

He was an apprentice at Jack Cox Engineering and St.Kilda arranged for his indentures to be transferred to Melbourne firm, Phoenix Engineering, as he settled in at the Junction Oval.

Lance and his wife Dot coped with severe bouts of homesickness. “We went home pretty regularly the first season. I suppose we improved as time went on, but Dot still hated the place”, he recalls.

After 10 years in the wilderness, the Saints were on the move and hit the jackpot with recruiting. The place became a bit of an Ovens and Murray haven. Brian McCarthy and Peter Clancy (Yarrawonga), Geoff Feehan (Wodonga), Ian ‘Doggy’ Rowlands ((Wangaratta) and, briefly, Les Gregory (Rovers) all wore the Red,White and Black guernsey.

Lance was a more than handy rover-forward in his first three seasons, but his career took off when he was moved into the centre.

The team’s strong defence and improved depth allowed him to roam the field and pick up kicks at will. In an era when centreman rarely moved away from the cricket pitch area, he was an exception. He had a big tank and could run all day.

By 1960 he was an automatic choice in the Victorian side and narrowly missed an All-Australian blazer in 1961, after performing superbly at the National Carnival in Brisbane.

He gained some consolation by winning his second successive St.Kilda Best and Fairest in ’61 and helping the team into the finals for the first time in 22 years.

He almost swung the semi in St.Kilda’s favour with an inspirational third quarter, as they pegged back a big lead to get within a couple of points. They eventually fell nine points short.

Although starting to feel the effects of some niggling ankle injuries, Lance was still playing at his top in 1963 and again starred when the Saints bowed out in another semi.

He and Dot packed the kids in the car the next week and headed up to visit his mum, who was living in Strathmerton.

She must have worded up the locals.They paid him a surprise visit , escorted him down to the footy ground to show him the facilities – and offered him the coaching job. “Give us a couple of weeks to think about it”, was his reply.

They were only a few miles out of ‘Strathy’, on the way back to the city, when Lance rang back and accepted the position.

So, after 107 games, 102 goals and four Interstate appearances, Lance Oswald’s League career was over.

He was offered employment at the Kraft Cheese factory, coached Strathmerton to a Murray League premiership in 1964 and, all-up, led them for nine seasons. He finally hung up his boots at the age of 37, after 210 games with ‘Strathy’.

It was a lifestyle choice that he never regretted and was an ideal place, he and Dot reckoned, to bring up their three kids.

He was at the J.C.Lowe Oval last Saturday, to watch his grandson Scott play for Yarrawonga, against Wangaratta. He had, he says, mixed feelings about the result, as he always keeps an eye on the fortunes of his old club.

It has been an incredible football journey for the St.Kilda Hall of Famer and Team of the Century member and a man who some experts rate as the greatest of all Magpies.

photo

THE COLORFUL, CHARISMATIC ‘K’ MACK…..

Kevin Mack was a colourful figure in Ovens and Murray football when I began to tentatively make my way in the game.

Strong, tough and hard-working, he had a reputation as an outstanding ruck-rover – a Jack Ziebell -type, who provided inspiration to those around him..

When Wangaratta needed a lift, he was often the bloke to boot that team-lifting goal or lay the tackle that spurred them on.

As a somewhat impressionable lad, and being eager to fraternise with the opposition, I looked forward to meeting him.

But the night I did, I was gobsmacked.

He was half-way through ‘devouring’ an ale – a beverage of which he had become particularly fond over the years. Not content with draining the contents, he then proceeded to nibble away at the glass. Thankfully,  having demolished a good portion of the pot, and with a small trickle of blood appearing at the corner of his mouth, he deposited the remainder on the counter.

That was one of the ‘party tricks’ of the legendary ‘K’ Mack……………..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

He was just 19 when he arrived at Wangaratta from Mid-Murray League club, Tyntynder, half-way through the 1956 season – having already made 94 appearances with his home club.

The timing of his transfer was perfect. The Magpies plonked him straight into their line-up and, as they began to gather momentum the following year, he became a star.

Wang booted 7.7 to defeat Benalla by 14 points on a ‘lake’ in the 1957 second semi- final at Myrtleford. They were warm favourites for the Grand Final, but were outclassed for three quarters, by Albury’s solid defence and systematic play

They trailed by 27 points at the final change, but whittled the margin down. With a minute to spare, Lance Oswald, who had been held goalless, swooped on the ball and snapped accurately to see the Pies home by 2 points.

Mack was the proverbial ‘bush champion’ and would no doubt have made it at the highest level. He received persistent offers from League clubs, but unlike his team-mates Oswald and ‘Doggy’ Rowland, elected to stay put in Wangaratta.

He had been strongly pursued by Collingwood, St.Kilda and South Melbourne, and trained with the Swans, but expressed no real fascination for the ‘bright lights’ of Melbourne..

His first appearance in the Black and Gold O & M guernsey came against the South-West League, as part of a star-studded line-up which included an array of ex-VFL players.

He was the ‘Pies Best & Fairest in 1959, a feat he replicated in 1964. But individual awards were not his cup of tea . Mack was a true team-man, and a model of consistency.

Wangaratta lost just 5 games in the 1961 home-and-away rounds, to finish eight points behind minor premiers, Wodonga.

But they ‘ran hot’ in September, defeating Corowa by 40 points in the First Semi, before fronting up to Wodonga the following week.

They had kicked only two goals, to trail by 11 points at half-time, but with Mack and the high-leaping ‘Rinso’ Johnstone dominating proceedings, they booted 12 goals to 2 in the last half, to whip the Bulldogs by 52 points.

The Pies were all over Benalla  from the opening siren of the Grand Final, and completely routed the Demons. They coasted in the last quarter, to run out winners by 63 points, with brilliant Ron McDonald completing a 16-goal finals series at centre half forward.

It was a case of having everyone firing at the right time. But the general consensus was that McDonald, Mack and John Mulrooney had been the stand-outs in an emphatic finals campaign.

Just as the modern-day comedy duo Hamish and Andy are always spoken of in the same breath, so were the irrepressible Magpies combination of the 50’s and 60’s – ‘Rinso’ and ‘K’ Mack.

Tales of their escapades became part of local folklore. Obviously some were heavily embellished, but there’s no doubt the pair were as thick as thieves, even when Mack’s mate headed off to coach Greta.

Mack was still an integral part of a strong Wangaratta side. His three goals in the last quarter of the 1964 Grand Final dragged his team back into the contest against the Rovers, but they fell 23 points short. The following year also ended in disappointment, as the Hawks triumphed by 3 points.

Murray Weideman’s Albury were the pace-setters in 1966, with the Pies hot on their heels. The teams featured in a crackerjack second semi-final, with Wang reining in a handy Tiger lead and squandering three opportunities to hit the front in the last two minutes of the game.

The final siren sounded, seconds before Ron Critchley got his foot to the ball with a shot close to goal. Wang had kicked 11.20 to Albury’s 13.9.

But the hearts of Wangaratta fans missed a beat when they tuned into 3NE radio on Monday morning.

.Kevin Mack, who played superbly in the semi and had taken out the Chronicle Trophy after a fine season, had spent the night in hospital, seriously injured.

The ‘old firm’ of ‘Rinso’ and ‘K Mack’ had been ‘winding down’ in the Warby Ranges the previous afternoon, and Kevin had incurred a broken neck in a diving accident.

A fortnight later, the Pies, minus their vice-captain, were belted by 55 points by the Tigers in the Grand Final.

It was strongly suggested to Kevin that he should hang up his boots, but he soldiered on. Part of the way through 1967, he returned to the Wangaratta side, taking his eventual tally of O & M games to 210.

The Pies were reluctant to risk the on-going health of the veteran, so he accepted the job as playing-coach of Corryong in 1968, at the age of 31.

Conceivably,  he was now in the twilight of his career. But alas, he continued on until he was 43, thus writing another chapter in his remarkable football story.

He coached the Demons to successive flags in 1968 and ’69, and played in another in 1972, among his 200 games with Corryong.

Mack was 41 when he was selected as a ruck-rover for the Upper Murray inter-league side, against the Hume League. His son Ray, who was 17, and a real up-and-comer, was named at centre half forward.

A recruiting officer from South Melbourne attended the game to cast an eye over the talent, and had the task of presenting a guernsey to the best player in the two Leagues under their zoning jurisdiction.

He usually swayed towards nominating a promising youngster (maybe a potential Swan) but couldn’t overlook the outstanding display turned on by Mack.

The fierce rivalry between Corryong and down-town rivals Federal was akin to that of Wangaratta and the Rovers, and Kevin was antipathetic towards both of the opposition clubs.

The yarn is told of him wandering past the Federal ‘watering-hole’ a day or so after they had knocked off Corryong to win the premiership. He drifted in to their celebrations, set fire to the streamers which were attached to their proudly-displayed Upper Murray League flag, then walked out.

The Kevin Mack career totalled more than 500 games and he became an almost-mythical figure in local footy circles.

His three sons, Kevin, Ray and Michael were prominent sportsmen in their own right.

Ray spent time with the Swans and was a champion utility player for Lavington before continuing on at Holbrook and Thurgoona. He is now the principal of Ray Mack Real Estate in Albury.

Michael, who was a top-line basketballer, embarked on a career in banking, and was appointed the CEO of the WAW Credit Union in 2016.

Kevin (Jnr) was a prominent figure in district football. Of more recent times has placed his occupation as a policeman on standby to undertake his second term as Mayor of Albury.

Kevin Mack’s fascinating football career is perpetuated by his inclusion in the Ovens and Murray’s Hall of Fame – and as a member of Wangaratta’s Team of the Century.

But he is also remembered by old-timers as one of the great characters of the game……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SPORTING PASSION OF DRAG HARRIS

‘Show no Fear’ would have been Alan Harris’s motto throughout his marathon sporting career.

And there’s no doubt he adhered to that philosophy to a tee.

Except, maybe, for a grey winter’s day in 1957, when he was chased around Wodonga’s Martin Park, by a Bulldog strong-man.

The cranky ruckman had, for some reason, taken an intense dislike to ‘Drag’, who was picking up plenty of kicks in his role as a nuggety, cheeky, Magpie on-baller.

He managed to stay one step ahead of the big fellah all day until, finally, he was cornered in a forward pocket and flattened.

“He put the shits up me, for sure”, he said, years later, as he recalled that the bloke with the short-fuse was eventually ‘rubbed out’ for life from both Aussie Rules and Rugby League.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

As the youngest of 19 kids, ‘Drag’ learnt very early on how to fend for himself.

And, while his footy, cricket and baseball careers unfolded and traversed their nooks and crannies, his various team-mates knew how handy it was to have him on your side.

He was introduced to sport by the kindly headmaster at Peechelba Primary School, Tom Stevenson.

Cricket was never a big deal at Peechelba before old Tom arrived.

Pretty soon the bat and ball were brought out at every play-time and young Alan was soaking up the advice of his teacher, who was an excellent batsman and spinner.

He never looked back. At the age of 10 he filled in for Peechelba’s Social cricket team – alongside skipper Stevenson – and at 12, after his father died and the family moved to Wangaratta, he was playing for Woollen Mills.

But the moment he threw his bat over the handlebars of his bike and headed down from his Greta Road house to the Showgrounds, he began a love affair with the Wangaratta Cricket Club which was to last almost a quarter of a century.

As a kid, his week-ends would be consumed by cricket in summer and football and baseball in winter.

He played in the Junior League with South Wanderers, alongside his near-neighbor, Lance Oswald, with whom he was to share the roving duties when he made the grade at Wangaratta.

‘Drag’ was doing his apprenticeship as a Joiner at Clayton’s at the time, and worked alongside Magpie team-mates Lou Cesa and ‘Hop’ McCormick. On training nights they would jump on their bikes and race madly down to the Showgrounds, with the younger Harris usually setting the pace.

A tough, hard-at-it left-footer, who loved to tear into packs, he played in a similar vein to current-day Magpie skipper Matt Kelly and was an ideal foil for the silky-skilled Oswald.

Unfortunately, on the eve of the 1957 finals, he went down with a serious knee injury and had to look on as the Pies defeated Albury in a dramatic Grand Final.

After he left the Magpies, ‘Drag’ spent a couple of seasons at Tarrawingee in the early 60’s and figured in their 1963 premiership side, combining this with coaching his old Junior League team, South Wanderers.

Training was always very physical at the Wanderers, just the way ‘Drag liked it.   “He would have you doing contesting work all night. There was no such thing as that dainty ‘Around-the-Circle’ stuff,” one of his players recalled.

When he hung up his footy boots he took on umpiring and was surprised how well he took to it. “I knew exactly what the players were going to do before they actually did it”,  he once said.

Baseball was a pretty big deal in Wangaratta during the 50’s and ‘Drag’ was one of its stars . He began with Dodgers and later moved to Tarrawingee when they formed. He was a regular North-East rep at the annual Country Carnivals.

Baseball, he figured, helped his cricket and enabled him to sight the ball better…….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Cricket was always his true sporting love. At Wangaratta he came under the influence of two of the game’s local legends – Clem Fisher and Max Bussell – who both possessed a ruthless streak which ‘Drag’ was only too willing to emulate.

He played in a Grand Final in his first season and, by 1957 had improved sufficiently to earn selection in the Country Week team.

It was the first of his four trips to Melbourne as a player and provided an unforgettable memory, as Wangaratta took out their first – and only – Provincial title.

‘Drag’ didn’t believe in ‘mucking around’ at the crease. He was pugnacious, attacked the bowling with gusto and was never afraid to loft the ball into the outfield. His 6070 WDCA runs included five centuries.

He trundled up innocuous left-arm tweakers which looked harmless, but through a mixture of cunning and guile, connived to dismiss 259 batsmen.

He was at his most productive in the 60’s and was rated one of the competition’s outstanding all-rounders. But in his 238 games for Wangaratta, there was just one premiership – in 1963/64.

‘Drag’ was in his element at Country Week. Wangaratta sent a mostly young side to Bendigo, with a couple of older fellows to steady the ship. With his irrepressible nature he was ideal for the role. His way of welcoming the young kids when the team congregated on the Sunday night, would be to wrestle a few of them into submission.

His introduction to the art of wicket-making came when Clem Fisher enlisted his help in making the ‘deck’ for the match against the visiting Englishmen in 1959. He reckoned that being a curator for over 45 years gavFullSizeRendere him his greatest sporting satisfaction.

The sight of his familiar figure, clad in the trademark shirt with sleeves hacked off, shorts and straw hat, sauntering behind the roller on the Showgrounds, Galen or Bruck wickets, became one of  the faces of summer.

Recognising the need for kids in the Yarrunga area to have an opportunity to play senior cricket, he was responsible for the formation of a new club. He also came to the rescue of College when they were on the brink of collapse. Within a year they were playing in a Grand Final.

But when time precluded his direct involvement, both clubs withered and died.

He was coaxed into playing Sunday cricket alongside his son Gary. His wife Betty, who had been his most enthusiastic fan throughout his career, was delighted.

She was beaming with pride the day Alan and Gary – dubbed ‘Me and Dad’ – figured in a 200-run partnership for Royal Vic against Woollen Mills.

His week-ends were taken up with cricket -umpiring on Saturdays and playing on Sundays . Betty had been the scorer, then took over as secretary of the WSCA for 15 years. The Harris’s were synonymous with the Sunday association.

They pushed for a Sunday representative team and with ‘Drag’ as Manager/Coach and Betty as his side-kick, the WSCA surprised the cynics with their success.

The demise of the Sunday competition in 2003 saw the close of ‘Drag’s active involvement in cricket. But he still retained his zest for the game.

As he once said, he had a cupboard full of terrific memories of sport to go along with the various accolades he received.

Few people  in Wangaratta sport FullSizeRenderwould have made such a telling contribution, on and off the field.

 

 

*