“NO REST FOR ‘WOBBLES’…….”

The first question I put to this dapper super-veteran is how he happened to acquire one of Wangaratta’s best-known nicknames.

“It was back in my younger days, when I’d been invited down to train with Collingwood…….” he explains. “During the course of some heavy socialising one of the players, Bill Twomey, remarked that I’d got a bad case of the wobbles. It seemed to stick, and I’ve been ‘Wobbles’ ever since………”

Kevin Allan invites me into the spare bedroom of his Thomson Street house, and produces a small batch of yellowing newspaper cuttings, which he proceeds to spread out on the bed.

“Nell ( his late wife ) kept these. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. I suppose I should’ve put ‘em in some sort of order, but never got around to it,” he says.

No matter…..’Wobbles’ has enough memories of his almost-80 years in football to fill a couple of books……

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He’s the eldest of six kids…..Grew up on a dairy farm at Milawa…..He tells me his dad, Jack, who was mad-keen on footy, was President of the Redlegs for many years, dating back to the thirties.

“I can remember when I was about 9 or 10. Dad had a ‘28 National Chev which he’d drive into Wang to pick up players for training. Our first stop was Bullock’s Store in Murphy Street, where a bloke called Vin Coram would jump in, then he’d collect the three Oates boys, and a few others.”

“In the end the Sedan would be chock-a-block. I had to stand on the running rail. You couldn’t have players standing there…..They might have fallen off !…….”

He was 14 when he debuted with Milawa in 1940, and had played just two seasons when the O & K League was forced into recess because of the War. It was 1945 before he could again pull on the beloved Red and Blue guernsey.

Kev’s first job was on the Farm. He hated it but, because it was classified as a Restricted Industry, had to stay there for the duration of the War.

“The moment the whistle blew at the Butter Factory, to signify the end of the War, I high-tailed it into Wang on my bike to join in the celebrations and start looking for a job,” he says.

He became one of Milawa’s stars of the post-war era, and played in both the 1945 and ‘47 Grand Finals.

“They were good times, but it’s amusing when you look back. For instance, the Methodist Minister, Reverend Perry, had a three-tonne Truck. When we played away games, he’d throw a couple of church pews on the back and we’d all pile in. We used to call it Perry’s Circus, and it’d cost us two bob each for the trip.”

But the blossoming Allan career almost drew to a close one late-summer evening in 1948, soon after he’d bought a Motor-Bike off a mate, Tommy Hourigan.

Apparently Tommy’s family had pleaded with him to get rid of the Bike after he’d had a prang, but Kev thought he was Christmas when he took delivery of it and headed off on his first jaunt.

“I came to grief at Thompson’s Bridge, just off the Hume Highway. Old George Robbins found me there, unconscious, and drove me to hospital.”

“When I came to, all the family were at my bedside. A list of my injuries included burst ear drums, a broken collarbone and facial paralysis. I was ever-grateful to Doctor Phillips, who pulled me through. But he gravely advised me that my footy career was over.”

‘Wobbles’ was ever-grateful to the old ‘Doc’, but says on this occasion his prognosis was about 20 years premature.

He missed the 1948 season and, somewhat injudiciously in the opinion of a few, pulled on the boots again in ‘49. Just to show that he’d lost none of his class and ball-winning ability, Kev took out Milawa’s Best & Fairest – the J.Allan Cup.

The Award, which acknowledges his dad’s lengthy contribution, was re-named the Jack Allan Memorial after his death later that year. A succession of Jack’s offspring have had their name etched on Milawa’s prized gong over the succeeding seventy years……

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Wangaratta, after being on his hammer for a few years, finally enticed him into town. Milawa were reluctant to release their star, and agreed to give him six match permits to see how he performed.

“But I’d fallen off some scaffolding in the meantime, and did an ankle, so it was half-way through the 1950 season before I started playing.”

“I’d decided, though, that I was definitely staying at Wang……Best thing I ever did,” he says.

‘Wobbles’ timed his move to perfection. He slotted onto a wing in those magnificent Mac Holten sides and figured in a hat-trick of premierships.

It was a team of stars, of course, but, in Kev’s opinion, Holten was able to get them pulling in the same direction.

“He just had a way about him. He was often able to get the message through without saying a word. A bit theatrical sometimes, I suppose, but gee he knew how to get us going.”

The 1952 side, he reckons, was the best he ever played in.IMG_4366

“We trailed Rutherglen at half-time of the Grand Final, but ended up knocking them over by 20 points. That was the year we played a challenge match over at Ararat at season’s end, against the Wimmera League premiers.”

He says it’s the only Trip-Away he’s been on where he returned home with more money than he took……IMG_4377

“The Ararat people must have had plenty of dough. They came to our hotel on the Friday night with a swag of money to back the home team. Then they returned twice, to lay more money….We all got on. Holten asked the hotel-keeper to lock the money in his safe…….We had some sort of a ‘do’ when we won the game and ‘divvied’ it up, I can tell you……”IMG_4370

Kev had played 128 games over seven years, including four Grand Finals, when he was lured back to Milawa as captain-coach. He was 30, but still playing top footy, and was keen to itch the coaching bug that lay within.

The side included his two younger brothers, Tom and Laurie, and a few old mates who had been loyal to the Demons.IMG_4368

“I enjoyed coaching the boys, but I had a few run-ins with the committee,” he says. “I don’t think they were really fond of me in the finish. It didn’t help matters, either, when I took a few players over to North Wangaratta with me.”

The Northerners were playing in the Benalla & District League at the time, and finished Third and Runners-Up in his first two seasons.

When they – and Glenrowan – both sought admission to the O & K in 1961, Kev was the delegate who pleaded their case at a historic meeting, held at the Everton Hotel..

“Glenrowan’s delegate was a fellah called Bill Olliffe. We had a bet on the side about the result – a quid each – but after we’d both put our case we had to wait for the verdict in the bar. The meeting went on for ages, and we were both fairly merry, when they called us in to advise us that North had gained admittance…..”

Kev coached North Wang for six seasons, won five B & F’s and picked up the B.D.F.L Medal in 1960.IMG_4381

He stood down in 1965, and played on for one more year under Billy McKenzie….

“Then I talked Ron Wales into doing the job. Walesy said: ‘I’ll do it if you keep playing.’ But I was 40, and buggered. Walesy wasn’t too happy with me for a while, but I became his off-field ‘adviser’ “

So after a career, which had spanned 26 years and 426 games, ‘Wobbles’ hung up the boots……

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Inevitably, he drifted back to the Showgrounds Oval to begin a period of unstinting service which has even overshadowed his on-field achievements.

One of his titles for decades was ‘Bar Manager’, which included being on duty for every Club Function. All told, he devoted thousands of hours to the Magpies.

On match-days he’d collect the food and drinks for the Kiosks, stock the fridges, organise till floats, operate the Bar and entertain the patrons.  It meant an 8am start and a 9pm finish ( or 2am if a post-match function was held).

One old Pie joked that modern technology had caught up with him in recent years, and he re-located to operating the Sav & Refreshment Stall in the Past Players’ Stand – ‘Wobbles’ Bay 13 Bar’.IMG_4375

Each week-day morning throughout the year, ‘Wobbles’ and a a group of three or four stalwarts meet to clean up and effect any maintenance that’s required around the Clubrooms.

“We carry on with a bit of ‘bullshit’ of course, and review all the subjects of the day over a cup of coffee,” he says. “But I really enjoy the company.”

One of their principal topics at the moment would be discussing whether Wang can live up to their hot-favouritism and take out their 16th O & M flag.

‘Wobbles’, the 93 year-old Ovens & King League, Ovens & Murray League and Wangaratta Football Club Hall of Famer, is confident that they can do the job…..provided they get away to a good start.

“It’s my only worry.” ……..That, and making sure I reach 94………..IMG_4374

‘STEPPING BACK IN TIME….’

“Everything’s just like it was in ’69………It looks like you have stepped back in time………”

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Jim Comensoli is re-counting the highlight of his sporting career……..

It’s early September 1969, and he has guided Milawa into their first Ovens and King League Grand Final in 13 years. This proud old club hasn’t tasted premiership success since 1940.

They get away to a flier, with two early goals, but Beechworth peg them back. It becomes a nip and tuck affair…….. Just as Milawa look to be assuming control in the final term, the Bombers nail two goals in as many minutes.

The Demons’ wayward kicking threatens to cost them dearly, but they hang on in the dying stages of an engrossing clash to clinch the flag by 16 points………….IMG_4299

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They’re holding a shindig out at Milawa this Sunday – a 50-Year Re-Union of that famous side. There’s no doubt that tall tales and true will be spun. Jay will be involved in most of them.

He’s a born raconteur. Get him yapping about his 13-year stint in the O & K and he’ll knock the cobwebs off many of the yarns he collected along the way.

Like the time he was approached to coach Milawa………

“I worked for Les Brown, the builder, who was a dyed-in-the-wool Demon. And Arthur Clarke was a good mate of mine. We were always into each other, so when they came out with: ‘Would you like to coach Milawa ? ‘ I didn’t believe ‘em.”

“I said: ‘You blokes are having me on, aren’t you ?’ When I finally ascertained that, this time, they were fair dinkum I said: ‘I won’t even think about it – Yeah, course I will………”

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The Comensoli’s are a legendary local footy family. Jay’s the youngest of four boys in a tribe of nine kids.

He followed his brother Bob to Junior Magpies, then on to the Wangaratta seniors, where he played 21 games in the ‘ones’, interspersed with a number of Reserves appearances.

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Jay (back row ,left) at Mac Holten’s Footy Clinic. Ian Hayden and Ian Rowland, also in the group, went on to play VFL football.

At 19, he developed itchy feet. “Bill ( eldest brother) was coaching Beechworth at the time and ‘Ab’ ( another brother) was his rover. Wang were keen to get hold of a Beechworth player, Normie Stewart, so they instigated a swap and I headed up to join the boys.”

Jay had a day out in the Bombers’ 1961 Grand Final win. He ‘led beautifully and was rewarded with six goals in a fine performance up forward’ according the the Chronicle scribe.IMG_4300

With Bill controlling the big man duels and Bobby Billman on fire in his forward flank, Beechworth launched a torrid onslaught in the dying stages to overwhelm a tired Greta and prevail by 13 points.

Two years later, he’d been lured to Tarrawingee. Their live-wire President and ace recruiter, Brien Stone, put forward an offer of 2 pounds a game. “I said don’t worry about the two quid. I’ll play provided someone pays my wages if I happen to get injured. Old Brien was rapt in that; even chipped in for a new pair of footy boots.”

The Bulldogs got great value out of their new recruit. Playing mainly across half-forward, Jay helped them to successive flags (1963, ‘64) under the coaching of Ray Burns.IMG_4296

He was vice-captain of Tarra for a fair portion of his 85 games in Red,White and Blue and remembers being on the selection committee when they suggested that a fat kid in the Seconds might be worth giving an opportunity.

“Brien Stone, who was also Chairman of Selectors, wouldn’t have a bar of it…Said we were doing the Club a disservice by playing a kid that unfit and that young ( almost 15 ) who probably wouldn’t amount to anything.”

“So we out-voted him and gave Mick Nolan his first senior game. Brien was a bit ‘put out’ for a while.”

At this stage, Jay’s brother Bill was coaching Milawa, Bob was in his first year in charge of Moyhu, and ‘Ab’ was Glenrowan’s leader.

“I came up against Bob for the first time when we played Moyhu. He’s delivered a perfect right- cross to flatten our rover, Jimmy Grant. I raced in to fly the flag for Jimmy, and said to the umpy: ‘Did you see that ?’ I don’t know whether he did, actually, but he’s booked Bob, who copped two weeks.”

“That year, we played Milawa in the First Semi. I was chasing Rex Allen, and, out of the corner of my eye, caught someone steaming in from the left. I thought: ‘Oh, it’s Bill, he won’t hit me.’ I was wrong, he’s cleaned me up nicely, although I always tell him he woke me from my slumber, as I managed to kick 4 goals after that……..”

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By now, his wife Val had become well-acquainted with the pitfalls of life as a footy ‘widow’. Previously she’d become used to waiting in the car outside the pub while Jay enjoyed a few after-match beers with the boys. But her and the kids were welcomed into the Plough Inn and shared the hospitality of Mary Nolan and the rest of the Tarra people.

“They were a great crowd, Tarra, and it was a bit of a wrench to leave them,” says Jay. But I’d always been keen to coach, and I knew Milawa were a fantastic Club.”

Jay’s appointment was a deviation from the O & K tradition of luring stars from the Ovens and Murray. But the success of he and Greta’s Johnny O’Brien proved that there was no real risk in drawing coaches from within the League.

He succeeded his brother Bill in the role, and harbored the usual self-doubts about how well the playing group would accept him……Particularly considering that the side contained the Club’s three previous coaches – Bill, John Holloway and Rex Allen.

His coaching reign started shakily enough. In his first year (1967) Milawa won just six games and finished seventh. However, a seven-point loss in the ‘68 First-Semi indicated that they were on the right track.

Jay was cleaned up by one of his old foes, Chiltern hard-man Kevin Lappin, in the latter part of that season. A badly broken nose necessitated a hospital visit. The nurses were preparing him for the operation when another patient was admitted.

“Forget about Mr.Comensoli for a while. This patient’s in worse condition,” they said. “At that moment, Kevin Lappin was wheeled in past me.”

“Bill, who’d gone out out to give ‘Ab’ a hand at Glenrowan, called in to see me. He had one glance and said: “I think I’d better come back to look after you.”

And he did return in 1969, to become one of the key figures in a dominant season.

“Bill was a ‘protector’” says Jay. “ I remember Ross Gardner playing his first game – he was no more than 15, I think, and was getting jostled by his opponent. Bill’s walked up and said: ‘Touch this bloke today, and you’re a goner.’ “

“There’s a big peppercorn tree behind the goals at Milawa. The ball was stuck in a branch one day, and they were taking ages to get it down. One of the old ducks from the opposition yelled out. ‘Hey, Commo, go and get your chainsaw and cut it down.’ Bill replied: ‘It’d be quicker if you’d get on your broom and fly up and get it’. ”

Jay says the Demons ran a tight ship in those days, and jokes that with blokes like ‘Mocca’ Coleman, the purse strings were well and truly clamped.

“In seven years at Milawa, I had two pairs of socks. I went to ‘Mocca’ to hit him up for a replacement pair and he looked at me incredulously: ‘Why ?’…….’Because they’re full of holes,’ I snorted…….’Doesn’t Val darn…..?’, he said.“

“ ‘Mocca’ was the Property Steward, a Selector, Caretaker and ‘Gopher’. He got the blame for everything, even when it rained. One of the things I was finicky about was having plenty of Ice on hand on game-day.”

“ ‘Mocca’ forgot to buy it one day and I kept at him about it. He eventually rounded some up and came back with his tail between his legs. He muttered: ‘Are you happy now ?’”

“I was in the shower after the game, and wondered why all the other quickly players drifted out. ‘Mocca’ came in with a bucket. ‘You know that Ice you wanted,’ he said…….’Here it is ! ‘ “

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Milawa dropped just two games in the 1969 home and away rounds, to top the ladder. They booted 8.5 in the first quarter of a soggy Second Semi against Beechworth, to cruise home by 64 points.

The Bombers bounced back, and outlasted Greta in a tough Prelim, to enter the ‘Big One’ as distinct underdogs.

Their confidence grew when Milawa’s big-occasion player Bill Comensoli was accidentally knocked out 10 minutes into the first quarter and stretchered from the ground.

Bearing in mind that Beechworth’s hard run to the Grand Final was expected to have them at a disadvantage, they surprisingly kept nipping at the heels of the classy Demons.

Trailing by just two points at half-time, they hit the lead at one stage in the third, and were within two goals at lemon-time.

But Milawa took control of the air in the final term, as the Bombers’ big men tired. Youthful, barrel-chested John Michelini, who’d played a great game- along with veteran defender Rex Allen -came to the fore in the dying stages.

Rod Reid had also proved damaging around the packs and chipped in with three majors. But when Beechworth again threatened in the last, through Ron Burridge, Jay pushed himself down back as a loose man, to curtail the dynamic Bomber.

As the siren blew to signal a 13-point Milawa victory, their supporters unleashed 29 years of pent-up emotion and carried their heroes to the rooms.

Besides the veterans of the side: Bill Comensoli (36), John Holloway (33) and Rex Allen (32), the premiership line-up boasted a few up-and-comers like 16 year-old Mervyn Holmes, Best & Fairest winner Ray Anderson, Eddie Kipping, Rob Tobias, Kerrie Taylor and the burly big-man, Michelini. It was a well-balanced side, bolstered by a number of hand-picked O & M recruits who had proved their mettle…….IMG_4294

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Milawa remained there or thereabouts in the next two seasons. They were unable to contain rampaging King Valley spearhead Ray Hooper, who booted 11 of the ‘Roos 14 goals, to lead his side to a 34-point victory in the 1970 decider.

And Chiltern edged them out by six points in a see-sawing ‘71 Grand Final, which saw the emergence of precociously-talented youngsters Barrie Cook, Ross Gardner and Gary Allen.

Jay relinquished the coaching job after that – his seventh O & K Grand Final – but played on for a further two years, to finish with just on 150 games with the Demons.

He often reflects on that ‘69 flag. “I can still remember Ross Schutt, who was an emergency, and a much-loved figure around the club, being overcome with emotion in the rooms afterwards.”

Ross said: “I can’t celebrate………I’m too distraught……….”

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P.S:  Jay won his first – and only – cricket Premiership, aged 40, when he kept wickets and played alongside his son Paul, with WDCA club Rovers in 1980-81 . Deciding to go out on top, he promptly hung up the gloves…IMG_4316

‘THE STEAM-TRAIN IN THE GEELONG GUERNSEY…..’

Ray Card knows exactly how Andrew Gaff felt when the fury of the football world came crashing down upon him last Sunday.

Forty years ago – in Round 7 1978 -the well-chiselled Geelong defender, with just 15 games under his belt, pole-axed dual Brownlow Medallist Keith Greig (Click here to watch).

“That one would have got the journos going in Monday’s ‘rag’,” I suggest to Cardy.

“Back and front pages,” he replies. “I wasn’t too popular with North Melbourne for a while, but it was just part of the rough-and-tumble of footy in those days. Similar incidents occurred every week………”

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Respected scribe Glenn McFarlane summed up the clash: ‘It’s remembered as much for the blood that streamed from Greig’s nose, as it was for the impact of the collision. Greig had gone back with the flight of the ball when he ran into a steam-train in a Geelong jumper.’

‘Card said there was very little he could do to lessen the impact: “I was going hard at the ball and we collided. Keith didn’t come out of it very well. But the cameras caught it.” Greig said years later: “I was following the ball with my eyes when contact was made. I accepted it then, and I do now, because I played every week expecting contact. Now the game is getting like basketball….”

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That’s just one titbit of the Ray Card story. He played his footy hard. But once the final siren blew, was ever-ready to sit down with teammates and opponents alike, and blow the froth off a beer…..or twenty.

It made him a legion of lifelong friends, and is one reason why he’s still involved on the fringes of the game. People blessed with his gregarious personality are invaluable commodities in sporting clubs………

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Cardy grew up in Morwell, but was born in Yallourn, literally with a Sherrin at his fingertips.

His dad George, who had played 46 games with Geelong in the late forties, was a big influence, but didn’t interfere, as Ray was coming through the junior ranks. “If he had anything to say, it was always constructive…..never critical.”

After three promising seasons with the Morwell seniors, he’d come to the attention of Hawthorn, to whom he was residentially-bound. But, being eligible to play with Geelong under the father-son rule, Kardinia Park became his new home in 1977.

“Rod Olsson was the coach. He’d been a tough-nut at Hawthorn and tried to introduce that style of play. I think he appreciated that I was determined, reliable, and had a crack. But, you know, when you’re in your first season there’s a few doubts; I wasn’t sure whether I was good enough.”IMG_3560

He copped a few injuries, and won the Reserves B & F, in between playing nine senior games that year, but over the next couple of seasons became an established senior player, across the half back line.

“Billy Goggin took over from Rod Olsson, and his game was all based around pace. With me not being real quick, I struggled a bit under Billy. If you made a mistake he’d have you off the ground in a flash,” Ray says.

“In Bill’s third year – 1982 – I only played nine games, but was lucky enough to be part of
the Reserves Premiership side.”

Ray had been contemplating whether his future may lie elsewhere. Melbourne had a yarn, and waved a contract in front of him, but fate intervened when Tommy Hafey was appointed to succeed Goggin as the Cats’ leader.

“Tom took me aside and said he’d watched the Reserves Grand Final closely and was impressed by the way I played. He felt there was an important role for me in the side.”

“He was a great fellah, Tommy; a terrific coach. He let you settle in, and if you made a mistake he’d stick with you. I suppose, when I look back, I tried to adhere to his philosophies when I started out on my coaching journey.”

Hafey certainly brought out the best in Card. He enjoyed a brilliant season in defence in 1983, and took out the Carji Greaves Medal as Geelong’s Best & Fairest.

Then, just as he had scaled football’s heights, ‘Lady Luck’ showed what a fickle wench she could be. A shoulder injury proceeded to cost him twelve games of the following season.

Back to full fitness, he ‘blew out’ a knee in the opening round of 1985. A series of setbacks followed, including three major ‘ops’. Gruelling rehab would be followed by another devestating let-down.

He was limited to just two more games over three seasons. The end was nigh.

“I met with the Club at the end of 1987. I was going on 31, and, with my injury problems, they said they’d probably let me go……”

The 110-game VFL career of Ray Card was over………

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He received approaches from 17-18 clubs, and eventually narrowed it down to coaching offers from Redan (Ballarat F.L) and Wangaratta.

“Three blokes – Norm Sharp, ‘Smoky’ Dawson and Terry Johnson – interviewed me and convinced me to sign on with the Magpies,” Ray recalls.

He moved the family to Wangaratta and had a job as a rep with a confectionary company, (he was later to become Secretary-Manager of the Wangaratta Club for five years).

“I thought I’d line up at centre half back, pick up a few cheap kicks and direct traffic from there,” he says. “But in the opening game we played Wang Rovers, and this bloke took me apart, jumping all over me, and leaving me for dead on the ground. It was my introduction to Robbie Walker.”

“I thought, this is no good. I could read the play alright, so I re-evaluated things and decided to play on the ball.”IMG_3566

The Pies fell to Yarrawonga in the Elimination Final that year, but in 1989 he believed they had a side that was nearly good enough to win the flag.

They finished second at the end of the home-and-away, but ‘copped’ a few injuries, along with a bout of ‘flu which swept through the club on the eve of the Qualifying Final. Despite a valiant effort, they were unable to rein in the Pigeons, who prevailed by 16 points.

The following week, the Rovers belted them by 112 points on a windswept Findlay Oval. The Pies’ season of promise had ended in the most humiliating fashion.

But Card had shown his mettle on the field. He finished fourth in the Morris Medal and was named in the O & M’s Team of the Year.

The story is told of him allaying the fears of Mary Naish, who was concerned that her baby was far too young to be playing senior O & M football. “Mrs.Naish,” he said, “ I’ll give you my guarantee that I’ll keep young Chris under my wing. He’ll be as safe as a church.”

“He was very popular with the players… a man’s man,” recalled one of his players. “Any dust-ups on the field were usually settled by Cardy fronting the opposition aggressor. He played hard and partied harder.”

“His powers of recovery astounded us. After a big night we’d drag ourselves along to KFC for brekkie, and notice him going past, pounding the bitumen on a 10 km run.”

After three seasons Card relinquished the coaching job at Wangaratta and was lured to Milawa as assistant-coach in 1991.

“It was very sociable out there in the O & K, and I made a heap of friends,” he says.

It proved to be a most enjoyable exercise. The Demons clinched an exciting Grand Final victory over Greta, after the Blues had led by 15 points going into time-on. And Card’s effort in winning the B & F was justification for his decision to have one last fling as a player.

After another year as non-playing coach of Milawa, then a brief foray as the O & M’s inter-league mentor, he looked forward to a respite from footy.

But Wangaratta sent out an SOS to him early in the 1994 season, when the incumbent coach, Graeme Cordy, resigned after Round 4.

“They’d asked me a few weeks earlier if I could give him a hand. I told them I didn’t think that was appropriate – having a former coach hovering around him. But when they came looking for a caretaker, I reluctantly agreed to do the job.”

For one reason or another, he remained as coach of the battling Pies for three seasons. The popularity of the coach was probably a factor in maintaining morale in the Club, as it entered some of the leanest times in its 120-year history.

When he finally resigned Card had become ( and remains ) the second-longest serving Wangaratta coach, behind the legendary Mac Holten.

Ray arranged a transfer in his job as a rep for Cadbury’s ( now Schweppe’s, with whom he’s been employed for 23 years), and re-located his family back to Geelong in the late nineties.IMG_3563

Immediately approached to renew his link with the Cats, he served firstly as a runner, then an assistant-coach of the Reserves, for several years.

He recalls being involved with the Geelong Reserves team that won the flag in 2002. It included kids like Bartel, Ablett, Chapman and Johnson, who were just making their way in the game, and were to become crucial components of three famous Geelong premierships in succeeding years .IMG_3561

“I took a keen interest, in particular, in the progress of Steve Johnson, who’d been a little tacker hanging around the rooms when I first started coaching at Wangaratta,” he says.

Ray has been President of the Geelong Past Players Association for three years. One of his roles is to host match-day functions at home games.

He remains as passionate as ever about the Cats, and still keeps a close eye on the week-end results, to keep track of his old clubs – Morwell, Wangaratta and Milawa.

He’s a true football fanatic, is Ray Card……..
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” AS HARD AS A HOG’S HEAD……………..”

When I quiz a few old-timers on Bill Comensoli’s football attributes, their response is pretty much the same – ‘hard as a hog’s head’, ‘competitive’, ‘never beaten’.

Bill was one of the Magpies’ stars of the fifties. In fact, sixty years ago this September, he figured in one of the O & M’s greatest Grand Finals – a match in which rising star Lance Oswald snatched victory for Wang over Albury with just seconds remaining.

He was initially a reluctant interviewee, but once he let his guard down, seemed to enjoy this trip down memory lane……..

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Bill’s rising 84 and his sporting activities these days centre around a weekly game of golf.

His playing partners at Waldara have been the same for the last 25 years – nephew Mark, son-in-law Johnny Mullins and a mate, Les Goonan.

He walks the course and is still capable of out-driving them. The boys say that when he clicks into gear those competitive juices flow just as freely as they did when he was involved in the big-man duels with footy’s rough-nuts.

He’d been a bit inconvenienced by a crook shoulder recently, and with duck-opening just around the corner, went to the doc for a cortisone injection so it wouldn’t hamper his style on the big day…………

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The Comensoli forebears hail from a tiny Italian town called Edolo-Moo, high up in the Alps, near the border of Switzerland and Austria. Bill and his wife Shirley headed over there a decade ago and got acquainted with relatives and a family history which dates back about 1,000 years.

His maternal grandfather is Bill Collins, who played for Carlton in the late 19th century, then returned home to coach an O & M club, Exelsior, just outside Rutherglen.

You might be familiar with some of the nine members of the Comensoli clan – Bill’s brothers ‘Ab’, ‘Jay’ and Rob and the five girls – Glad, Wilma, Maude (who passed away last year), June and Beryl. “We’re a tight mob”, says Bill. “Never had a blue.”

Which is not to say they didn’t have the occasional ‘barney’ whilst sticking up for one another.

Like the day the boys decided to go and watch a few of the girls playing netball….

“I’ve got a fair idea how it started,” Bill recalls. “A fellah from the opposition came onto the court and, for some reason, grabbed the ball. Someone intervened and suddenly there was an all-in brawl. They had to cancel the game.”

“The return match was held on neutral territory, at Corowa a couple of months later. When we arrived there was a big crowd; they had the court cordoned off ; and there were police in attendance. They were expecting the worst, but this time it was a tame affair.”

“The girls were all good players. They had that will-to-win.”

Bill was about 10 when he started to help out his father, who was a wood-cutter.

“We lived at Rutherglen and would take the Horse and Dray out to Gooramadda, bring in a couple of loads of wood, then cut it up. Dad was a real worker and I suppose I had to keep up. I didn’t know any different.”

He used to ride his bike down to Barkly Park, to watch Rutherglen training. Redleg great Norm Hawking was his hero.

“He was about 5’10” and was a phenomenal mark. He could play anywhere and I thought, if ever I get to play, I’d like to emulate him.”

The family moved to Wangaratta in the late 40’s and Bill helped his dad run the local Woodyard.

For the next 25 years of his working life he’d be out of bed at 4am, drive up into  the bush and be ready to work like a navvy from daylight, collecting 3 loads of wood a day.

Football-wise, he was residentially bound to Junior League club Centrals, even though a lot of his mates were with South Wanderers.

“We played our games on Saturdays, then a few of us, like the Clarke’s and my mate Col Bromilow, got together to kick the footy around all day Sunday. I loved it.”

Bill won the WJFL Best & Fairest in 1951 and early the next season, had a training run with the Rovers.

“It was a wet night and I obviously didn’t impress the coach, Don Holbrook. I heard him say I moved like a staghound. That was enough for me. I went over the road.”

After one game in the Seconds, he made his senior O & M debut and, from then on, became a permanent fixture in the Magpie line-up.

His tap-work in the ruck was first-rate and his ability to clear the way for the ‘Pies fleet of small men, earned plenty of plaudits from the coach, Mac Holten. As did his mobility and strength around the ground.

Wangaratta rebounded from a 7-point loss to Rutherglen in the second-semi, to meet them again in the 1952 Grand Final. This time they overcame a 14-point half-time deficit to ‘turn it on’ in the last term and clinch their fourth successive flag.

Comensoli was one of the stars and, in a touch of irony, his boyhood hero ‘Butch’ Hawking also got plenty of the ball for the ‘Glen.

Wangaratta were at, or near, the top in each of the seven years Bill spent with them. He was appointed captain in 1956, when Holten was non-playing coach. And after 128 games, two flags and Ovens and Murray representation, he finally claimed the club Best & Fairest Award in his final season – 1958.

It was around this time that he enjoyed one of his biggest sporting thrills. As a competetive wood-chopper, he chased all the popular  local meets, and at the last-ever Moyhu Sports, took out both the Standing Block and Underhand events, against a class field.

Moyhu came knocking with the offer of a role as playing-coach, at the end of 1958, but he knocked them back.

“I didn’t think I was cut out to be a coach, but Dad said: ‘Look, you should have a go at it’. Next thing Beechworth came to see me and I weakened and took their job on.”

“It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. They were great people and we were really made to feel welcome.”

The highlight of his 5 years with the Bombers was the flag they won in 1961.He was the O & K’s outstanding ruckman and won the club’s B & F in 1960 and ’61.

“We went close every year, but might have won a couple more flags if we’d had access to some of the blokes in the gaol. The committee had a vote on it, but a couple were against bringing them in at the time. Of course it helped the club a few years later, when the prisoners were allowed to play.”

What made the premiership win all the more enjoyable was that he shared it with his brothers ‘Jay’ and ‘Ab’, who were crucial players in the victory.

Bill crossed to Milawa and coached them into the finals for three years, then spent half a season with Glenrowan, alongside ‘Ab’, who was coaching at the time.

‘Jay’ was now at the helm of Milawa, and coaxed him back to the Demons in 1968. Despite advancing years he was still playing good footy and picked up another B &F.

And he was a dominant figure in their terrific 1969 season, which culminated in a 16-point triumph over his old side Beechworth in a hard-hitting Grand Final.

It was Bill’s last game of footy.

He doesn’t remember much about the game, but can recall bending down to pick the ball up and being collected on the side of the head.

“I was a  bit groggy, but somebody gave me a whiff of smelling salts and I passed out. Next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance, heading to the Wang Hospital. It was time to hang up the boots. I kept fit by training greyhounds for the next 22 years………”

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The Comensoli brothers amassed a total of over 1200 games with local clubs.

Bob made 180 appearances with Wangaratta, then coached for 12 years at Moyhu and King Valley. He was a dual Baker Medallist with the Hoppers, and also held a Riverina boxing title in his heyday.

‘Jay’ (Jim) shared in four flags at Beechworth, Tarrawingee and Milawa and led the Demons for five years. ‘Ab’ ( Albert) played at Wang, Beechworth and Milawa, was playing-coach of Glenrowan for three years and also guided junior league club Centrals.

Bill’s grandson, Luke Mullins, is the most recent member of the family to make an impact on local footy. He played in two premierships and chalked up over 100 games with Wangaratta. Good judges felt that he deserved more than the 3 AFL senior games he played at Collingwood.

Luke, a laid-back customer with a great attitude to life, wouldn’t have lost any sleep over that. But he’d have been proud to have upheld the legacy of one of Wangaratta’s foremost football families…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE MILLS BOYS…………

My trek through the sands of time takes me back to the Albury Sportsground……..to September of 1929………………

West Albury are scheduled to meet Wangaratta in a First Semi-Final, and the scouts from the city have converged on the border town to flush out some much-vaunted talent.

Their attention is focused on a scintillating on-baller, Haydn Bunton, one of three brothers who have lifted Wests into premiership contention this season.

They hope to catch up with another talented pair of local boys – Gordon and Doug Strang – who are reportedly potential superstars.

Almost escaping attention is a strongly-built key-position player who has battled against the odds, repelling attack after attack, as he attempts to keep Wangaratta in the game.

West Albury win convincingly enough, by 27 points, and Bunton is the star of the day, but officials from lowly Hawthorn are bold enough to approach the 19 year-old Magpie, Bert Mills.

They are used to being over-run by the glamour clubs when it comes to recruiting, and are chuffed when the shy lad appears genuinely excited by the prospect of turning out for the ‘Mayblooms’ next season.

Not only that, he says, his older brother Arthur, who has also performed creditably in the big game, would definitely be interested in signing on the dotted line……………

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The Mills family had moved from Bethanga to Oxley early in 1929.

The boys accepted an invitation to play with Wang, who were also boosted that season by the inclusion of five members of the Carey family.

A giant cloud began to envelop the nation, as the first signs of the Great Depression were becoming evident. Rising unemployment created unrest ; failing companies laid off workers.

So the opportunity to secure a regular income from football was an enticing prospect. Bert and Arthur high-tailed it down to the ‘big smoke’……

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‘Dad always reckoned he was the ‘set of steak knives’ in the deal to get Uncle Bert to Hawthorn,” says Ian Mills.

But Arthur may have been selling himself short. He was a strongly-built ruckman, aged 24. In modern lingo we would label him a ‘mature-age recruit’. He broke into the senior side in round 5 of that 1930 season and played 10 games, which included three of the team’s six wins.

On his return home at the end of the year, he was to establish a reputation as one of the finest and most inspirational players in the area over the next decade.

His first stint was a two-year coaching appointment at Milawa, the high-point of which came in 1932, when he led a combined Ovens and King League team against Hawthorn ( captained by his brother Bert).

When Wangaratta were re-instated to the Ovens and Murray League in 1933, they zeroed in on Arthur to lead their big-man department. He played superbly in a gripping Grand Final, in which Wang held on to defeat Border United by one point.

His next move was to coach fledgling club, Waratahs, where he again demonstrated his leadership qualities. He won the O & K’s Hughes (now called Baker) Medal in 1934 and took the ‘Tahs to their only flag in 1935.

The Waratahs’ fleeting sojourn in local football during the 30’s provided many youngsters with their initial opportunity in senior football. My dad, who was a 17 year-old stripling, was one of them, and claimed that they could have had no better ‘general’ than Arthur Mills.

Arthur was back at Wangaratta in 1936, his return co-inciding with another flag. He was adjudged best afield in their 20-point triumph over Rutherglen in the Grand Final.

His on-field appearances became more sporadic as the years wore on. But he was enticed back to Wangaratta mid-way through 1939 , in the hope that he could help spark a somewhat disappointing season. But a loss in the last round cost the Pies a spot in the finals.

The old war-horse had one last fling in 1940. Milawa, who earlier in the season had registered just their second win in 69 games, began to get on a roll. Suddenly they were a finals chance. Then a premiership was staring them in the face. They led Beechworth by 27 points in the Grand Final, were gradually pegged back, then hung on to win by four points.

Arthur Mills had kicked 8 goals in the preliminary final and snagged six in the ‘big one’.

He settled his family on a property at Greta West in 1948 and, later, was a keen observer, as his son Ian, who became a more than handy player in 148 games for Greta, made his way in the game.

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There was never any doubting, from his first appearance with Hawthorn. that Bert Mills was going to be a champion.

He ‘walked’ into the side and played some cracking games in 1930, his strength and versatility being regarded as one of the reasons for the most promising of the ‘Mayblooms’ five seasons in the VFL.

But these were stressful financial times. The club secretary had to defend the handling of finances at an angst-ridden Annual Meeting. He explained that, for example, it had been necessary to travel 1000 miles to obtain the prized signature of Bert Mills.

“And he was worth the trouble,” added secretary Sam Ramsay.

“All those miles meant,” argued one supporter: “that Hawthorn was concentrating on imported talent, rather than concentrating on players from its own municipality.”

The subsequent performances of the brilliant Mills, were to provide justification for their pursuit of him.

He became a champion – Hawthorn’s player of the generation. Although he only stood 6 foot tall, he had a natural spring and there were few ruckmen who could out-point him in the tap-outs.

As Hawthorn were so light-on for players, Bert would come off the ball and rest at centre half back. He was an exceptional mark and kick and a true leader.

He assumed the captaincy in just his third season – aged 22 – and won the first of his three Best and Fairests the following year – 1933.

Playing with the perennial cellar-dwellers, he became a natural target of the some of the richer clubs, eager to lure him away with the promise of employment and some extra cash in the pocket.

But Bert was loyal to the core. His regular appearances in interstate matches (he wore the Big V on 11 occasions) offered some respite from the regular hidings that he was a part of in club matches.

Also, the opportunity to strut his stuff in the company of a team of stars, created a huge impression among football’s hierarchy.

With his blond hair, good looks and striking physique, he was a fan favourite and took out the Argus Most Popular Player Award, voted upon by VFL fans, in 1936.

There had been a passing parade of coaches at the Hawthorn Football Club in its 15 years involvement in the VFL. When Bert Mills became the 10th to assume the role in 1940, it was regarded as an inspired appointment.

They equalled their most successful season to date, winning 7 games, and Bert held a high-standing among the players.

But it wasn’t all plain-sailing. The club was in a financial pickle at one stage and he had to gather the players in the centre of the ground one training night, to give them the message.

“Look”, he said, “the club can’t see its way clear to paying you blokes, but they’ve assured me they’ll get it to you at the end of the year. There’s just nothing to pay you with now.”

Bert decided at the end of 1941 that his time as coach was up. He had played 195 games at that stage, and his ambition was to reach the 200-mark.

But, after one more game, in 1942, he hung up the boots. His had been a superb career.

Bert Mills was, early in the 21st century, admitted to Hawthorn’s Hall of Fame and named in their Team of the Century.