‘A SALUTE TO THE CENTURIONS……..’

The dreaded Covid-19 Crisis has created confusion on a global scale……and local Football has become entangled in the maelstrom.

The proposed regulations are still hazy, and are changing by the week…..When will it be feasible to kick off again ?…….Won’t the absence of crowds have a devestating effect on Club finances ?…

It’s an open-ended debate. But compare it to the quandary facing the game in the aftermath of the Great War.

The nation was still recuperating . Having been bereft of organised competition for three and a half years, local footy was sluggish on the uptake. Clubs had to basically start from scratch….. the shadow of the Spanish Flu was also lurking ominously……..

Yet once the initial steps were taken to resume, administrators found that players and supporters, having been deprived of the sport they loved for so long, responded enthusiastically………

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Wangaratta is commemorating a famous premiership this year…… It’s the Centenary of their 1920 Ovens and King flag triumph over Eldorado.

The two Clubs had developed an intense rivalry from the time they first tangled, in 1903. The Red and Whites ( or the ‘Blood and Bandages’ as they were often dubbed ) had won three flags and were always at – or near – the top of the O & K ladder.

They reaped the benefit of having several handy players employed on the Dredge, and their proximity to Wangaratta added a ‘Local-Derby’ type flavour to clashes with the ‘Pies.

When the O & K resumed in 1919, so did hostilities between the arch rivals. Sharing a win apiece during the Home-and-Away rounds, they were slated to meet in a crucial Final at Beechworth.

The start of the Mid-Week game was delayed a couple of hours, due to the late arrival of a special train from Wangaratta, jammed with 600 spectators. Dusk was falling on Baarmutha Park when the match concluded at 6.30.

The large crowd witnessed an epic encounter. Wangaratta sneaked home by a point – 2.3 to 2.2, but because Eldorado had been the minor premiers, League regulations allowed them the right of challenge.

This time Wangaratta hosted the game, which attracted 2,000 spectators; the majority of them barracking for the home team.

It developed into a bloodbath. Eldorado held sway virtually from the first bounce and led 2.10 to 0.5 at three quarter-time. They went on with the job in the final term, adding 4.6 to a solitary point.

It was a decisive victory, but the ripples of discontent from the demoralised Wangaratta camp developed into a crescendo the following week.

The newspaper report of the Council meeting was headlined: FOOTBALL, OR BULL-FIGHTING ? The Mayor, Cr. Billie Edwards said he watched the game in horror. He added: “I am satisfied that football is now a rotten sport.”

Councillor Tweed was more expansive: “I am disgusted with the displays of savagery that took place in that Grand Final. The piece of Silver Plate that was the cause of all the trouble should have been given to the winner long ago,” he thundered.

“Wangaratta played good, clean football, but they were subjected to viciousness and brutality. I must protest against the Wangaratta ground being used for such a degrading display……….”

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The Magpies spent the summer months licking their wounds.

Recruiting had been kept to a minimum. Of course the League’s Radius Rule restricted them to landing players who resided no more than five miles from town. This was designed to curtail the bigger Clubs from lavishing money on expensive imports, or pinching players from the smaller towns in the League.

But there was certainly a sense of solidarity within the Wangaratta camp. Part of that could be attributed to the solid leadership of Arthur Callander, a local businessman, who became the Club’s first Post-War President when elected in 1919.

Callander had attended St.Patrick’s College, Ballarat, a well-known football nursery. When he returned home to take his place in the family Emporium, he quickly involved himself in the sporting affairs of the town.

In fact, you’d liken him to a 1920’s version of Eddie McGuire. He was 26 ( younger than many of his players ) when he took over the leadership of the footy club, and was also promptly voted in as O & K President.

With a stable bank balance of 6 pounds 12 and sixpence and a healthy list of players, there was genuine optimism around the Wangaratta camp.

On-field problems, though, needed to be dealt with. Long-serving Peter Prest resigned from the Captaincy. There was a suggestion he was offended that some players were always kicking to their mates, to the detriment of the side.

The loyal veteran Harold Hill, who had begun with the Pies back to 1908 and had also acted as secretary/treasurer, was nominated for the role, as was another old-timer, Les Kewish.

Hill was elected, but later stood down because he felt unsure he had the full support of the group. The position was eventually handed to Bob Metcalf. Decorum seemed to have been restored to the playing ranks.

But consistency plagued their performances during the season. They scored percentage-boosting wins against bottom-rungers North Wangaratta, Everton and Milawa, but it was a different story against tougher opposition.

They got home by less than 10 points in each of their clashes with Beechworth and Whorouly, but had fallen well-short against the well-equipped Eldorado and ever-improving Moyhu. At the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds Wangaratta were entrenched in fourth spot, with a 10-4 win-loss record.

Both Semi-finals produced surprising results. The Magpies finished on strongly to defeat Moyhu, whilst Beechworth caused a shock by clinging on to a three-point win over Eldorado.

This pitted Wangaratta against Beechworth in the Final. They’d scored one-point wins over the boys in Red and Black in both of their 1920 meetings. It proved another nail-biter, with the Pies falling in by 5 points – 7.7 to 6.8.

The game’s aftermath , sadly, was shrouded in controversy. Wangaratta’s Peter Prest claimed that he’d been offered 10 pounds by a well-known citizen to ‘throw’ the Final.

Rumours also circulated that several Beechworth players had been bribed to ‘play dead’. It prompted one of them, ‘Brahma’ Davis, to pen a firm denial to the newspaper. “We just played poorly,” he stated.

The League decided to take no action on the matter.

Thankfully, too, as Eldorado, the Minor Premier, had exercised their right to challenge Wangaratta for the flag………

Wang shocked their opponents with an electrifying first quarter, and, to the surprise of the large crowd, which had paid 73 pounds 5 shillings at the gate, went on with the job.

They had a virtually unassailable 32-point lead at three-quarter time. But Eldorado fought back valiantly. In the dying stages they had all the play. The siren beat them, as they went down by nine points – 10.11 to 8.14.

“Norman McGuffie was the most consistent and best player. Les Kewish was ever-clean and ‘Scotty’ McDonald, the most popular man in the team, played well as usual,” said the Chronicle scribe.

The Pies were basking in the glory of their first premiership in 15 years……….

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Two years later, under the guidance of Arthur Callander, Wangaratta returned to the Ovens and Murray League, then took out their maiden O & M flag in 1925.

An inspirational figure, Callander was to remain at the helm for eight years, during which the Club played in seven Grand Finals. At one stage, in the mid-twenties, he was wearing multiple hats as President of Wangaratta, the O & M, the Wangaratta Athletic Club, Wangaratta Turf Club, St.Patrick’s Race Club and North-East District Racing Association.

It was said of Callander that: “Everyone who meets him becomes his friend. He has the facility of combining dignity and good fellowship.”

But, as we glance through this 1920 line-up, we recognise several others who were to make a sizeable impact on the town in the decades to follow:

…….Like Gordon ‘Scotty’ McDonald, who stood just 5 feet 4 inches and was renowned for his bravery throughout 147 games in Black and White. He played on until the early thirties, rejecting frequent approaches to try his luck in League football. He opted instead, to stick with his job as a grocer at the Co-Store, which he held until just before his death.

When Wangaratta fell upon hard times McDonald combined his playing duties with the role of Secretary from 1927-‘30. He remained a fervent Magpie.

……..Martin Moloney, along with ‘Scotty”, figured prominently in Wangaratta’s 1925 O & M premiership side and was a fixture in the line-up for many years. The family’s Butchery, on the site of the present-day Moloney’s Arcade, in Reid Street, became Martin’s domain.

………Norman McGuffie’s sojourn with Wangaratta lasted from 1919 to 1962. He proved to be a star in his 107 games. Upon hanging up the boots in 1927, he joined the Committee and stayed for 35 years. Incorporated in this was four years as Secretary/Treasurer, from 1935-‘38, and two spells as President, from 1949-‘53 and 1959-‘62.

……..Vic Woods possessed the tall, lean physique of his son Graeme, who became one of the O & M’s finest ruckmen in 249 games with Wangaratta. Graeme was a regular inter-League representative and played in 6 premierships. His son Richie carried on the family tradition, playing with Wangaratta during the seventies.

………When Marty Bean retired as a player he took over as Wangaratta’s Head Trainer for 17 years. Many footballers, searching for that extra yard, sought the tutelage of the astute ‘Old Fox’. The Showgrounds was Marty’s stamping-ground in summer, as he fine-tuned athletes for more than four decades, training three Wangaratta Gift winners.

………..One of Marty’s protege’s was the Club’s boundary-umpire, Jim Larkings, who pursued a lengthy, successful athletics career. He filled the minor placing in Gifts around the State on so many occasions, without ‘greeting the judge’, that they nicknamed him ‘The Shadow King’.

Like ‘Old Marty’, Larkings’ preferred mode of transport was a trusty bicycle, which was still conveying him around town – and down to the footy from his Swan Street residence – well into his nineties……….

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P.S: As a sidelight to the recollections of Wangaratta’s 1920 Premiership, the Club was recently contacted by descendents of Jim Gleeson, a key member of the team.

The Medal that Jim received as the Most Popular Player of 1920 (Best & Fairest) has been handed down through generations of his family. They’re keen to pass it on, for inclusion among the Club’s Memorabilia.

Covid-19 has jeopardised a planned function, but some time in the future the Pies hope to formally ‘Salute the Centurions’…………..

‘BRINGING HOME THE BACON IN THE LOCAL GIFT………’

Wally Pasquali occasionally harks back to the most memorable night of his sporting career……

He was feeling the weight of expectation pressing down upon his slightly-built frame, as he stepped onto the blocks for the Final of the 1995 Wangaratta Gift.

Moments earlier, under the glare of the floodlights, the second back-marker had sauntered down the 120-metre track whilst being introduced by the ground announcer .

The accompanying applause from the locals sent a tingle down his spine.img_3924

Wal was 27, and already an accomplished pro performer. He’d contested a Stawell Gift Final, won two Broadford Gifts, finished fourth in South Australia’s prestigious Bay Sheffield, fourth in a Bendigo 1000 – and two weeks prior, had taken out the Rye Gift.

But this one would give him special satisfaction.

He got away to a flier and breasted the tape in 12.21 seconds, a metre clear of his nearest opponent – Peter Harloff of North Albury – to whom he’d conceded five metres.img_3925

It was a dream run. With hands held aloft, he commenced probably the longest celebratory journey in Gift history. He completed his ‘lap of honour’ by acknowledging the roar of the crowd in the Richardson Stand…………..
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Twenty-four years on, the prestigious Wangaratta Carnival still means the world to Wally Pasquali. He plays a key role in its organisation. His company – Optus – heavily promotes the event.

He regards that as his duty, just as he did when the Wangaratta City Soccer Club – and his old footy team, the Wangaratta Rovers – both asked him to be their President.

Wal has a keen eye for history, and he’s proud of the fact that he’s one of only seven locals to have taken out the Carnival’s ‘Blue Ribbon’ event in its 97-year history……..
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Mick Maroney was the first, in 1930.

Maroney stood just 5’4”, was beautifully proportioned, and was handled by a wise old coach, Marty Bean, who had a number of Wangaratta runners in his ‘stable’.

Bean was only an average runner himself, but had a terrific influence on the careers of several champions.

Marty, who was born in 1896, had played in Wangaratta Football Club’s 1920 premiership, and acted as Head Trainer for the Pies for 17 years. It was whilst performing this role that he recognised the talent of the elusive, courageous, determined Maroney, who was a star winger.img_3930

The bookies adjudged the 18 year-old a 7/4 favourite for the Gift. Given a liberal handicap of 12 metres, he cruised home in style, and completed the double, by taking out the Warby Sprint.

The following year, Mick continued his good form, despite being handed a much stricter mark from the handicapper. He ran impressively to win the Shepparton Gift, and pocket the accompanying purse of 130 pounds.

He moved to Melbourne soon after, but would make the annual pilgrimage home to compete at the Carnival each Australia Day week-end. In 1937, his final success at Wang, he won the Ovens Handicap and Warby Sprint………..

 

Alf Whittaker had gained employment locally, with the Railways, when he prevailed in 1938 . After winning a re-run of the 100 yard sprint in effortless fashion on the Saturday night, and effortlessly winning the twelfth Gift heat , he stormed into contention.

The Final proved a thriller, as front-markers Stevens, McCorkell and the Echuca sprinter C.R.Collins were locked together nearing the end of the 130 yard journey.

But Whittaker lunged at the line to take out the 100 pounds prize-money, finishing six inches in front of the fancied Stevens, with McCorkell a further six inches away in third place……….

 

When Frank Seymour bobbed up, the town was in raptures.

Seymour’s adolescent years co-incided with the advent of World War II. He was an ardent footballer and played his first senior games with Wangaratta in the Murray Valley Association.

The cessation of hostilities saw O & M football resume and Frank, at the tender age of 17, was selected for his share of senior matches with the Pies. Wangaratta went on to win the 1946 premiership, with the youngster in their line-up.

By now, Marty Bean had convinced Seymour that he possessed the wherewithal to make his mark in the world of pro-running. He gave him the advice that he no doubt passed on to all up-and-comers:

“Son, you have to be dead keen, not just to run, but to listen to what I tell you. If you’re half-hearted I’m not interested in you.”

After experiencing success at a few unregistered athletic meetings, Seymour reasoned that he’d like to give it a go in pro ranks

‘Old Marty’ decided to set him him for the Silver Jubilee Gift of 1947.

A blistering-hot January day reduced the afternoon attendance, but when dusk fell, the crowd had swelled to almost-capacity.

When Seymour registered the fastest time of the day in his semi, he was installed as warm favourite for the final.img_3929

Running off seven yards, he scorched to the tape, to edge out Sydney taxi-driver J.C.King, who was also well-fancied. A large contingent of Wangaratta footballers could hardly contain their glee, having backed their team-mate for a considerable sum…………

 

The Doolan family moved to Wangaratta in 1950, and young Jim, who had attended Assumption College, soon made his mark in local sport.

He came under the influence of the ageing Bean, who was sure that he had the talent to go a fair way as a professional athlete.

Doolan’s big moment came in 1958, but it was not without its share of drama. He dead-heated with W.Dinsdale in the semi, but won his way through to the Final on a soggy Monday evening.

He ran the race of his life to take out the Gift, then completed the double with a win in the Ovens Sprint…………..

 

Greg O’Keeffe was jogging around the Galen College Oval, trying to maintain some fitness after an exhausting 1980 football season with the Wangaratta Rovers, when a car pulled up and a voice called out: “……Ow ya goin….”.

It was Bernie Grealy, a local running legend and two-time Stawell finalist.
He told the panting O’Keeffe that he’d seen him on the footy field, and reckoned he could do all right as an athlete.

He must have sold the message okay, as, within months, Greg had his first run, in the Carnegie Gift. He was unplaced, but the adrenalin had started to flow. He ran in his first Wangaratta Gift in 1983. The next year he finished second in the Final.

He was to reach his home-town Final five times, but in 1985 ‘ran the house down’. Off a mark of 7.5 metres he clocked 12.23 to narrowly defeat Murray Dineen in a famous Gift Final.img_3931

Greg continued to compete with considerable success all over the state, and is renowned as an icon of pro running. He has been inducted into the prestigious Stawell Athletic Club Hall of Fame, in recognition of  his devotion to the sport over nearly 40 years.

He’s another stalwart who decided to put his shoulder to the wheel when the Wangaratta Carnival faced the threat of extinction several years ago.

He was President for 13 years and will be floating around in some administrative capacity this week-end, besides keeping an eye on a couple of the runners he now coaches…….

 

Jason Boulton was one of Wangaratta’s up-and-comers in the early nineties. He showed his potential by figuring prominently in many meets around the state. But there was a bullet beside his name when he finished runner-up in the 1996 Gift – pipped by Scottish-born Kevin Hanlon.

The following year he turned the tables with a strong performance, outlasting Hanlon in a tight finish.img_3926

By now, Jason had re-located to Melbourne, but he continued to return for the Carnival week-end. In 2006, nine years after his initial triumph, he coasted to victory in 12.36 seconds, off the handy mark of 11.5m, to become one of only four dual Gift winners.

Boulton had overcome some niggling injuries, including three shoulder reconstructions emanating from his football career. But he kept persevering. He made the Gift Final four times, won the 70 metre event twice and also took out the 400m handicap in 1998.img_3927
These days he keeps a close eye on his four kids, who are keen Little Athletes and shaping as stars of the future…………
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One of the host of great Wangaratta Gift stories concerns, not a local winner, but probably the most famous runner to have contested the event…….

American negro Barney Ewell ( a 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist ) won his heat and semi-Final of the 1950 Gift, then came up against Carlton footballer Laurie Kerr, who was favourite to win the Final.img_3922

Ewell badly wanted the prize-money.

At the start he walked across the track and saluted each finalist. When he came to Kerr he said: “Hiya Laurie, see you at the tape……but you’ll be looking at my back.”
Vintage gamesmanship indeed !

There was a sensation, and the hushed crowd sighed as Ewell and Frank Banner appeared to break. It was revealed that the fault was caused by a ‘snapped cap’ from the starter’s gun…..

Ewell later said: “I went and Frank followed. I gave that goddam starter the raspberry when I went back to the blocks.”
Ewell burned up the track to set an all-time record of 12.1, beating Laurie Kerr into second place.

In presenting Ewell with his sash, long-time Carnival President Arthur Callander said: “ Great run, Barney. You have done so much to put this town on the map…………”img_3928

OLD MARTY, THE ‘SHADOW KING’ & THE CHAMP

FullSizeRender (12)Hundreds of aspiring athletes – or maybe footballers looking for that vital extra yard – came under the tutelage of a wise old owl, who regarded the Showgrounds as his domain for  almost 50 years.

Marty Bean was his name. Although he was nothing more than an average runner himself, he had a terrific influence on the careers of several champions.

Marty was born in 1896 and was always interested in sport. He learned about the conditioning and tactics of running by asking questions of others involved in the sport. In time he became renowned as a superb judge of a runner.

He had played on a wing in Wangaratta’s 1920 premiership side and acted as Head Trainer for the Magpies for 17 years. Hence the tendency of many footballers to keep fit over the summer months by ‘doing a bit with Marty’.

One of his first ‘protege’s’ was a footy team-mate, Jim Larkings, who had incredible endurance and competed for 28 years, after first winning the 400 yard event at the inaugural Carnival, in 1919.

Gentleman Jim became known as the ‘Shadow King’, a nickname coined because of the regularity with which he filled the minor placings at Wangaratta.

In his prime there were few better runners in the state, but he just couldn’t greet the judge in the final of his home Gift. He finished second twice (1919 and 1926), third twice and fourth once.

He was a regular training partner of Mick Maroney, whom Bean guided to the Gift, off 12 yards, in becoming the first local winner of the event in 1930.

What’s more, there were always promising schoolboy athletes approaching the cagey veteran and asking him to take them under his wing.

One such youngster was Frank Seymour……..

 

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Seymour’s adolescent years coincided with the advent of World War II. The nation was pre-occupied by the goings-on of the battle-royal being waged on several overseas fronts, and sport had been placed on the back-burner.

But the lad was an ardent footballer and played his first senior games with Wangaratta in the Murray Valley Association, under the tutelage of a tough old ex-VFL star, George Robbins.

The cessation of hostilities saw Ovens and Murray football resume and Frank, at the tender age of 17, earned his share of senior matches with the Magpies.

Wangaratta went on to win the 1946 premiership and the youngster was a member of the line-up, which included Laurie Nash,Doug and Jack Ferguson, Tommy Bush and Kevin French.

By now, Marty Bean, the strict disciplinarian, had convinced Frank that he possessed the wherewithal to make his mark in the world of pro running. He gave him the advice that he no doubt passed on to all up-and-comers :

“Son, you have to be dead keen, not just to run, but to listen to what I tell you. If you’re half-hearted I’m not interested in you”.

Unregistered athletic meetings provided plenty of opportunities for runners to test their ability in those days. Handy pocket money was available at places like Eldorado, Whorouly, Stanley, Bowman’s Forest and Moyhu.

After some success against a few talented sprinters, Frank realised that he was good enough to give it a go in the pro ranks.

He enjoyed the atmosphere of the big meetings and the camaraderie which existed among the athletes.

Wangaratta was the big one for him, though. ‘Old Marty’ had been setting him for the Silver Jubilee Gift of 1947 and was confident that his charge could become the third local to take out the ‘Blue Ribbon’ at what was rated the best mixed Carnival in Australia.

A blistering-hot January day had reduced the afternoon attendance, but when dusk fell, the crowd had swelled to almost-capacity. You could literally hear the buzz around the oval, as Seymour and other members of the Bean stable – Jack O’Keeffe, Max Christie and Maurie Morley – were roared on by the local supporters.

And when Frank registered the fastest time of the day in his semi, to be installed as warm favourite for the final, he carried the weight of the crowd on his shoulders.

Morley also ran well to reach the final, but it was to be Frank Seymour’s night.

Running off seven yards, he breasted the tape, to edge out Sydney taxi-driver J.C.King, who was also well- fancied and well-marked off 10 yards.

A large contingent of Wangaratta footballers could hardly contain their excitement, having backed their team-mate for a sizeable sum.

Frank continued to compete on the pro circuit for many years, but this was to prove his greatest triumph.

He made the trip to Stawell on six occasions, but experienced little success. He was never comfortable, he reckoned, on the uphill camber of Stawell’s Centennial Park track.

His professional career lasted into the early ’50’s, before hamstring-related injuries forced him out of the game.

He focused, instead, on helping the enthusiastic Bill Eaton to get Wangaratta’s Little Athletics off the ground in 1957.

The emergence of many keen youngsters prompted them to organise training, and then meetings, which further enhanced their development.

Seymour sought re-instatement as an amateur, which permitted him to compete in the senior Harriers competition.

Just as his old mentor had done for decades, Frank Seymour continued to make a lasting contribution to the development of local athletes.

 

Footnote:

Some of the footballers who sought the assistance of Marty Bean, to ‘pick up a yard’, lacked the necessary patience to succeed.

He was well in his ’70’s when I reported to the running guru, and expected him to wave the wand which would magically transform me from a plodder to a pacy utility player.

Instructed to run a few laps, which seemed to go on for hours, I concluded that the ‘old bastard’ had either (a) forgotten about me, (b) reasoned that I was suited to distance running, or (c) deduced that I was one of those half-hearted blokes who were wasting his time.

I disappeared off the track after two nights, never to return…….

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