“THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A FOOTBALL JOURNEYMAN……….”

The rain’s tumbling down in Rosebud ……..The temperature has barely nudged into double figures, but it feels two or three degrees chillier, with that icy breeze nipping in off Port Philip Bay…… ……..

Norm Hamill has called the Mornington Peninsula town home for the past 13 years……. eons away from the wide open spaces of the Mallee, where he first saw the light of day……or a few of the destinations around the nation at which he landed during his time as a journeyman footballer………

He was one of the real characters you come across in footy – boisterous, open as a book, loyal, the life of the Club, warm-hearted……….but underneath his ‘big-noting exterior’, as he calls it, lay a sensitive and introspective soul ………

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Normie quips that his ‘shit-house’ kicking style prevented him from being a star………

He was playing in Bendigo at one stage, when Hawthorn coach Graeme Arthur – an old Sandhurst boy – brought the Hawks up for a practice match……He marked everything….was best afield for the locals in what he terms ‘the game of his life’……

“Graeme came up to congratulate me after the game. He said: ‘Mate, if you could do something about your kicking you’d walk into the VFL…….”

I recall when he was making his way into senior football with the Rovers he became an instant fan-favourite due to his competitiveness, exhuberance, and ability to pull down a strong pack mark….. Then he’d line up a shot for goal, and they’d collectively utter a sigh of resignation: ‘Don’t put your house on this one………’

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His dad Les was a typical Mallee cockie……..Farmed 6,500 acres of Mallee scrub through years of drought, then had one good year……. Spurred by success he decided to sell out and move onto the irrigation at Pyramid Hill.

That’s where Norm first cut his teeth in footy, making his debut with the Reserves, aged 15, and graduating to the senior line-up.

He’d been making the daily 90-mile trek to-and-from school at Kerang ( 11 of them by pushbike ), but after gaining his Intermediate Certificate, joined Les on the land.

The family’s next move was to a property at Glenrowan West. When the surrounding O & M clubs heard of a likely-looking, 6’2” , blonde-haired youngster landing in their midst it prompted a flurry of activity.

One day, whilst on the tractor, he glanced across to see a pair of Collingwood officials sauntering across the paddock to have a yarn with him.

“The old man reckoned I wasn’t ready, so I spent the next season and a half with Greta……..then the Rovers got me in to play a few games on Match Permits,” he says.

Not that he was an instant success when he moved in permanently to the Findlay Oval…….He was in and out of the senior side for the next couple of years.

The turning-point came towards the end of 1964………..The Hawks, who had won 16 games on the trot, to be red-hot favourites for the flag, suffered an inexplicable drop in form, losing the next four.

A few regulars were chopped,……and big-man Hamill, was one of those who found their way into the Preliminary Final line-up……..

The Rovers stuttered in the early stages, then blew Myrtleford away. The following week after wresting control in the third-quarter, they out-pointed Wangaratta by 21 points, to win the Grand Final.

Normie Hamill was now a premiership player……

The Hawks also hung on in a dramatic finale’ in 1965, before eventually clinching the decider against the ‘Pies by three points…….Again, the big number 18 had played his part in the tense final stages of another famous premiership victory.

It was probably the acknowledgment that he was now a fully-fledged ruckman in his own right, rather than an understudy, that convinced coach Ken Boyd of Hamill’s importance to the side.

“ Boydy had a big influence on me……I couldn’t believe the aura that surrounded him……No wonder opposition players were cautious about him on the field – he frightened me, even though I was playing in the same side as him…….” Norm jokes.

In Boyd’s swansong season, Hamill played his finest football in the Brown and Gold. His good mate Neville Hogan took out the ‘66 Morris Medal with 19 votes………Normie polled 10 votes to finish equal sixth……….

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A WISE OLD BLOKE

‘But Dad !….I want to go to the Sale.

A big ‘NO’ was his very stern words,

“You’re not really interested in cattle, my boy,

You just want to check out the birds,”

He was right, of course, although I wouldn’t admit it,

I didn’t care much about cattle or sheep,

I was only interested in getting to town,

And some of the sheilas I’d meet,

“Grab the Mattoch and Waterback,

An’ go cut some shoots,

Make sure you dig deep and don’t miss the roots,”

So off I would go with a dent in my pride,

Swaggering along with my dog by my side,

But nevertheless, as you probably can guess, I lost

Most of my arguments with Dad.

If ever I won it was with help from my Mum,

To Mum I could do nothing bad.

It was there at Glenrowan, the seeds he was sowing

Had nothing to do with a crop,

But seeds of knowledge to help me cope

With all the problems I’d cop

For it was here that Dad taught me

What it was to be a worker

He said: ‘Always pull your weight son, and don’t be a shirker………..

Norm says farm-life didn’t really suit him: “I’d be sitting out on the tractor for hours and hours, day after day, ploughing……nobody to talk to………..”

In his early years with the Rovers he decided to leave the farm and go picking tobacco at Everton with the Kneebone family……He says his Dad was not that impressed:

“I left home without a care in the world,

Not realising or worrying about the hurt I’d unfurled,

Then Dad, walking behind the bush with a tear in his eye,

Hell, I couldn’t see too much reason to cry………..”

In due course the Kneebone’s invited him to grow tobacco as a share-farmer.

“They were great to me, and we had two good years……..I bought a brand-new car and was the richest bloke in the footy club…….thought I was shit-hot……then in the third year they had the first floods in December for decades ……..flooded every plant down the river…..”

“We all walked off with the arse out of our pants………I’d been living in a tent nearby, with one of my Rovers team-mates, Frank Sargent, who was a teacher at Everton…….We got home after training one night….there’d been a huge storm….debris everywhere……and the old tent, and all our possessions had been blown away….”

That was the end of his tobacco-growing episode. Instead, he took up Ray Thompson’s offer to work at the local Brickworks for a couple of years……..But he was developing itchy-feet and decided to use footy as his travelling passport………..

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He had a few relations in Bendigo, and decided to head over to renew acquaintances with them one week-end……..Invited for a training run with Sandhurst , he met a few people….. One thing led to another, and they offered him a few bob to play.

The Dragons teed up a job selling insurance with AMP and Norm starred in the ruck, alongside 6’8” man-mountain Carl Brewster, who was to become his best mate.

Together, they represented the Bendigo League against Sunraysia, and Norm’s original League, the Northern District.

At season’s end he and two mates drove over to the Golden West. It was his intention to strip with South Fremantle but – restless soul that he was – he popped down to Albany one week-end.

“We were sitting in the pub having a few beers and the bloke ‘behind the jump’ happened to be on the North Albany committee.”

“He raced upstairs, where they were having a meeting. Next thing 5 or 6 of them came down and offered me a few bob to play…….They arranged a job as a slaughterman with Borthwick’s – cutting sheep’s throats……1,000 a day…and hanging ‘em on a mobile chain.”

“I did that for three weeks, before I approached the boss – who was North Albany President…….I said: Listen, mate, unless you can put me up the line a bit I’m giving it the arse…..Anyway, that worked, and I ended up with a better job……….”

The next move was back east, to Albury.

“I don’t really know how I ended up there, to be honest…….They got me a job as a Slaughterman, then I had a Bread-Delivery run and was finally a Sales Rep for a Tyre company for 18 months.”

The Tigers were a middle-of-the-road side in ‘69 and finished bottom in 1970, with just four wins. Norm played consistently, though, under the coaching of Bob Spargo, and alongside Carl Brewster, who’d followed him over from Sandhurst.

“The biggest kick I got in that disappointing 1970 season, was to toss the coin, as Albury captain, with my old team-mate Neville Hogan, who was in his first year as coach of the Rovers.”

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The sunshine was beckoning………And North Albury star Kevin ‘Turkey’ Weule had been offered the coaching job with Queensland club, Coorparoo.

“ They advised ‘Turk’ the job was his, on the proviso that he could bring a couple of ruckmen along. He arranged for Carl and I to meet their ‘money-man’, Barry Modini, in Wagga, to seal the deal.”

“I got a transfer in my job with the Tyre Company, went Car-detailing for a while and ended up selling cars for the remainder of our eight years, most of them on ‘The Mad Mile’, in Ipswich Road, Brisbane.”

Norm adapted well to the QAFL and, in his first season, was rated a strong chance of taking out the League’s Grogan Medal. He was selected in the State Squad for the National Division 2 Carnival, before a sprained ankle forced him out of the action.

And he was a crucial part of what was a hectic social life at Coorparoo, along with his ‘partner-in-crime’, Carl Brewster.

“We had some great times at Coorparoo, but gee, he was a bit of a wild bastard, Carl…….Got me into a bit of trouble over the years…….I even had a blue with him one night at a Club function…….He clobbered me…..I had blood all over my white jumper…..We were heading out to the middle of the ground to finish it off…..”

“When he saw the blood on me he thought: ‘Oh shit. What am I doing, whacking my best mate.’ So we went back into the Club again…….”

“When we got home we told our wives a couple of Bikies had attacked us……..”

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Norm went on to receive an attractive offer from SQAFL club South Brisbane, where he proved a star in his debut season.

“The incumbent coach quit at the end of the year, and they asked me to take over……..I wasn’t that keen, but we actually rose from the bottom, into the four…..It was a great experience.”

Many years later, they invited him back for a function, and named him captain of South Brisbane’s ‘All Star Side’……

The final stanza in his football journey was penned when he returned home, in the late seventies, to spend part of a season with his old club, Greta…….

But the Hamill family had still not sated their wanderlust ……..He and Christine continued to traverse the nation – from Melbourne…. to Augusta (WA)….to Perth, with their growing family – Adrian, Tania and Daniel….

He got right into Scuba Diving and Absailing and crayfishing in Augusta. “Fair dinkum mate, the crayfish down there were two foot long,” Norm says.

He estimates that he had more than 30 jobs, as diverse as Barman-Cellarman, Tomato-Picker, Hotel Licensee, Caravan-Park Manager, Hay-Carter, Oil-Refinery worker, Shearer, Sales Representative, Solid-Waste Operator, Fruit-Juice Distributor, Florist and Club-Manager…………..After 30 years in W.A, he and Chris finally pulled up stumps and settled in Rosebud…….

You can sometimes get wisdom from a man in the gutter,

Not always the intellects and the words that they utter,

He was a wise old bloke that Dad of mine,

Because I took his advice and I’m feeling fine………...

“THE BIRTH OF A FABULOUS ERA……….’

It’s fifty years now, almost to the day, since Philip Doherty played the last of his 43 games for the Wangaratta Rovers……..

The lanky, acrobatic key forward, dubbed the ‘Flying Doctor’, produced a quarter of football which turned a Grand Final on its head, and earned him a spot in local footy folklore……

Philip Doherty

A phenomenal run of success was to follow for the Hawks, but ‘Doc’ moved on……firstly, for a brief career at North Melbourne, then to WAFL club Perth, as part of a deal which landed the great Barry Cable at the Kangaroos.

He rarely ventures eastwards these days, but I’m sure, occasionally reflects on the part he played in that famous ‘Flag of ‘71’…………………

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Neville Hogan took time to warm to the coaching caper.

When the Rovers first dangled the job in front of him he deferred, and reckoned they should set their sights a tad higher. He was aware that they’d been in negotiations with Richmond hard-man Mike Patterson, but when the ‘Swamp Fox’ opted for North Adelaide instead, they settled for the popular local lad.

Many fans were sceptical of the decision. Hogan was the first ‘insider’ to take the reins at the Findlay Oval, but he adapted smoothly and led his side to a narrow Grand Final loss against Myrtleford in 1970.

Even then, he wasn’t convinced of his coaching capabilities. He suggested to Hawk President Jack Maroney that, if they were able to find someone more suitable he’d happily step aside.

That approach fell on deaf ears.

So he and his footy department set about filling some gaping holes, caused by the departure of 10 members of the side that had taken them to the ‘Big Dance’…………..

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Terry Bartel

Some were already within the ranks…………..like Steve Norman……..

Despite his obvious potential, Norman had chalked up just a handful of games in his two senior seasons at the Club. Much to his dismay he’d been dropped from the 1970 Grand Final side because selectors were fearful that his slender, immature body may be targeted by the physical Saints.

Determined to prove himself, he proceeded to ignite a spectacular career which would set goal-kicking records over the next 13 years.

Others, like Peter Jack, Mickey McDonald, Greg Patterson, Noel Hiskins and Brian O’Keefe were given an opportunity……….A speedy winger, Peter Booth, was recruited from Glenrowan, and a more-than-handy utility, Ian Hutchieson, landed in their lap, by virtue of a transfer in employment.

And a footloose youngster, Terry Bartel, re-appeared on the scene. Bartel was a 16 year-old schoolboy when the Rovers enticed him to play four games on Permit in 1966 and invited him to join their end-of-season cruise to Perth. But there were sojourns at Beechworth, Carlton and Albury before the Hawks finally persuaded him to sign on the dotted line.

There’d been fears that much-loved, and rapidly-developing ruckman Mick Nolan may depart. He’d been enticed to Geelong for a pre-season, and made a solid impression, before a bout of homesickness drew him back to the nest.

In the meantime, he’d formed a strong friendship with Rick Sullivan, a similarly laid-back lad from Swan Hill who’d encountered similar difficulty in adapting to life at Kardinia Park.

‘Big Mick’ talked his mate into spending a season ( which was to stretch to four ) with the Rovers. The pair would finish first and second respectively in the 1971 B & F.

Veteran Bobby Atkinson found his way back to the Club after coaching King Valley to a flag. Valued for his uncompromising approach to footy, it was anticipated that Atkinson would help produce a tougher edge, and provide Hogan with valuable leadership support .

Rick Sullivan

One of the ‘gems’ to be plucked from the recruiting campaign was Donny Lappin, a skilled, and adaptable on-baller from Chiltern, who improved as the season wore on………

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Wodonga, under the leadership of the dynamic Mickey Bone, had been the power side of the competition in recent times, winning two flags and having another couple snatched from their grasp.

But their era of dominance had now drawn to a close, and they fell out of Finals contention.

Conversely, after several seasons in the doldrums, Yarrawonga had pulled off the League’s major recruiting coup by appointing champion Essendon centre half forward Ken Fraser as captain-coach.

The addition of Fraser’s ex-Bomber team-mate, ruckman Jimmy Forsyth, and another big man, Neil Fell, also stiffened their line-up.

The Pigeons were the pace-setters in ‘71, and topped the ladder, with 15 wins, one clear of the well-balanced Benalla. Reigning premiers Myrtleford slotted into third spot, equal on points with fourth-placed Wangaratta Rovers.

The Hawks had won 12 games, but of their six losses, five were against fellow-finalists.

In fact, their Round 18 capitulation at the hands of a slick Benalla was a mortal blow to their flag chances, in the eyes of the media critics……….

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The First Semi-Final between the Hawks and Saints was billed as the Grand Final replay. It developed into a battle-royal for three quarters, with only one point separating the sides at lemon-time.

However, the expected close finish didn’t eventuate.

The Rovers dominated the final term, to win 15.8 to 11.15. Don Lappin turned on a great performance, picking up 26 kicks………Ric Sullivan, tall key defender Graeme Booth, the experienced Eric Cornelius, Simon Goodale (4 goals), and Neville Hogan were their other stars.

The Second Semi between Yarrawonga and Benalla was a game of fluctuating fortunes. The Pigeons led by 45 points half-way through the third quarter, but Benalla rallied to get within eight points at three quarter-time.

In fact, they hit the front early in the last term, but the ability of Ken Fraser and Jim Forsyth to take timely marks at vital moments enabled the tide to turn in Yarra’s favour.

They held on to win 15.18 (108) to 15.7 (90)……….

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The Rovers turned on a magnificent display of power football to destroy Benalla’s premiership hopes in the Preliminary Final.

They prevailed by 33 points, reversing the 54-point shellacking they had received at the hands of the Demons in their previous encounter.

Benalla did boot 5 goals to 1 in the third quarter, to give themselves a sniff, but from then on the boys in Brown and Gold took over.

21 year-old Doherty, who had finished equal third in the Morris Medal, exemplified his obvious class by grabbing 15 marks at centre half forward.

Bartel and Lappin eclipsed the Benalla small men; Des Flanigan, Mick Brenia and Geoff Welch defended stoutly, and ruckman Mick Nolan held sway in the air.

The battle of the mid-field proved the highlight of the game: Cornelius (26 kicks), Hogan (26) and Peter Booth (23) were prolific, as were Benalla trio Chris Elliott (20), Bill Sammon (25) and Robbie Allen (21)……….

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An estimated crowd of 9,000 flocked to Martin Park, Wodonga, to see the Rovers tangle with Yarrawonga in a eagerly-anticipated Grand Final.

In one of the early sensations of the game, Doherty fell to the turf when he was upended by tough Pigeon defender Jimmy Bourke………..The young giant was out of sorts, and 33 year-old ex-Fitzroy defender Alan Lynch kept him under close wraps.

Even so, there was nothing in the contest at quarter-time, with the Hawks holding a two-point lead.

With the brilliant Hogan showing the way, they booted the only three goals of the second term ( two of them to Steve Norman ), to lead by that amount at the main break.

A dramatic change came over the game when play resumed, as Yarra abandoned their short game and took advantage of a handy breeze, concentrating on kicking the ball long and direct.

Neil Fell plucked seven marks for the quarter, and was well supported by Fraser, and small men Lance McMillan and Billy White. The Pigeons slammed on seven goals to one, to lead by 20 points at three quarter-time.

The Hawks were in desperate straits………

In a master-stroke, Hogan placed Brian O’Keefe at centre half forward and plonked the out-of-sorts Doherty, who had hardly been sighted for two quarters, in the pocket.

The game was transformed in a trice…….Doherty pulled down three spectacular marks and converted each of them; all within the first ten minutes of the final term.

With about seven minutes left on the clock, another of his shots – which would have been the sealer – hit the post.

Shortly after, defender Mick Brenia sent the ball to Sullivan, who found Doherty dead in front for his fourth goal……..The game was as good as over……

The brilliant Hogan was the architect of the victory. He outplayed two opponents and, when the game looked to be drifting away from his side in the third term, was a steadying influence.

Norman’s six goals for the game gave him 65 for the season, whilst Sullivan, Lappin, Bartel, Flanigan, Welch, Goodale and Mick Nolan all played their part in the 16.11 (107) to 13.10 (88) triumph.

For the Pigeons, Neil Fell, Peter Ennals, Bill and Johnny White, Fraser, Forsyth and Billy McLaughlin all contributed……….

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* Of the players who participated in the 17-point Grand Final victory over Yarrawonga, several shared in multiple flags during the Rovers ‘Super Seventies’ era. They included: Steve Norman (7), Neville Hogan (4), Eric Cornelius (3), Peter Booth (3), Bob Atkinson (2), Mick Brenia (2), Don Lappin (2), Terry Bartel (2), Des Flanigan (2), Roley Marklew (2), Geoff Welch (2), Mick Nolan (2), Ian Hutchieson (2), Rick Sullivan (2).

* Neville Hogan, Mick Nolan, Roley Marklew, Geoff Welch, Steve Norman and Eric Cornelius are all inductees to the WRFC Hall of Fame.

THE TEAM

Backs: Des Flanigan, Geoff Welch, Mick Brenia.

Half Backs: Bob Atkinson, Graeme Booth, Peter Jack.

Centres: Eric Cornelius, Neville Hogan, Peter Booth.

Half Forwards: Roley Marklew, Philip Doherty. Simon Goodale.

Forwards: Brian O’Keefe, Steve Norman, Don Lappin.

Rucks: Mick Nolan, Rick Sullivan. Terry Bartel.

19, 20: Ian Hutchieson. Mick McDonald.

‘DERBY DAY LOOMS……..’

Think of sport’s great rivalries……..

Baseball’s Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees; Glasgow’s two ‘Old Firm’ soccer teams – Celtic and Rangers ; the AFL’s famous antagonists Carlton and Collingwood; and Test cricket’s heavily-conflicted neighbours, India and Pakistan………..

Whenever each of them meet they wage something akin to open warfare .

Now, I know I’m drawing too long a bow when I lump this Sunday’s ‘Local Derby’ in the same category. But when the old foes – separated by just a laneway – are both up and about there’s that familiar sniff of hostility and animosity in the air…………….

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It’s been going on for 72 years…….ever since the Rovers were granted admission to the Ovens and Murray League.

Suddenly the Magpies, who’d had exclusive access to most of the promising young local players wishing to play Major League footy, now had to compete with the ‘new boys’.

Bitterness was rife, as charges of ‘player pilfering’ and underhand recruiting tactics were laid by both sides.

Old-timers recount the passions which were elicited in the ‘50’s, when the rough and tough stuff on the field of play was sometimes matched beyond the boundary by cantankerous spectators…….

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The Rovers’ first coach was a burly ex-Hawthorn journeyman, Ken Bodger, who assumed his role just four weeks before their 1950 O & M debut.

Bodger was on a hiding to nothing, and was powerless to prevent Wang posting a 25.16 to 8.6 massacre over his undermanned charges. In the re-match later in the season the ‘Pies booted 11 goals in the last quarter, to win by 105 points.

Bodger, of course, became the victim of his Club’s unrealistic expectations. After they registered just two points for the season (for a draw against Rutherglen ) he was ‘sacked’. But, to his credit, he served on the committee and played on with the Hawks for two more seasons.

Then he committed an ‘unforgivable’ sin. He crossed the laneway, in search of an elusive flag, and attracted the wrath of Rovers supporters when he stripped in Black and White.

“Boy, did I cop it !”, he reflected years later. “People with whom I’d become closely attached, and established good friendships, turned on me, particularly when I collided with the new Rovers coach, Jock Herd the first time I played against the Hawks.”

Bodger finally realised his long-held premiership ambition the following year when he headed out to Greta as captain-coach. By that time the aura of the ‘Derby’ was gaining momentum……………

It was only compounded when the Hawks landed Bobby Rose as playing-coach. ‘Mr. Football’ had been in high demand and his signing was a major coup for the battling club. He agreed on a fee of 35 pounds per week.

One of the additional clauses inserted in his contract was that….’for a period of five years after its termination he was not allowed to play for, or coach, the Wangaratta Magpies. If he did he would be liable to re-imburse the Rovers 500 pounds by way of liquidated damages……..’

Rose also ignored the ‘warning’ from some quarters – no doubt a last-ditch attempt to dissuade him from taking the job – that the Rovers were a Catholic club.

His old Collingwood team-mate Mac Holten, who had enjoyed fabulous success in an eight-year term as Wangaratta’s coach, took up the pen upon retirement to cover matches for the Wangaratta Chronicle.

His description of an altercation between Rose and dashing ‘Pie forward Bob ‘Bushy’ Constable in one combustible encounter, irked the Hawk leader to such an extent that he rang Mac to complain about the bias in the article.

By way of protest he even stopped frequenting Holten’s Licensed Grocery. After all, he reasoned, half of Wangaratta was now boycotting his Sports Store after the grilling he’d received.

The Holten-Rose friendship was restored after a brief cooling-off period, but years later old Magpies still harked back to that incident………

The late ‘Hopper’ McCormick, one of the Magpies’ favourite sons, recalled the day he was handed the ‘hot potato’ of shadowing Rose in one of the champ’s early games.

It was a match which had already produced its fair share of fireworks. Out of the blue, ‘Hop’ reeled from a pack, and it was up to Wang’s Club Doctor, Howard Marks to attempt to revive him with a whiff of smelling salts.

His dad, a dead-keen supporter, took umbrage at ‘Hop’s’ treatment and tangled with some vocal Hawks; the result being that there were spot-fires raging on both sides of the fence. The timely arrival of the Police paddy-wagon restored peace among the warring spectators.

“I’m not sure whether it was Rosey or Ray Burns who collected me, but Bob paid me a visit a few days later to enquire of my health. It was a nice gesture and we became good mates,” ‘Hop’ said…………

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Neville Hogan, a Rovers legend, and the only person to coach both clubs, can remember the feeling among supporters in the lead-up to the ‘Derby’.

“When I was playing we’d prepare for each game just like it was a Final. The tempo at training would increase, we’d have a Dinner on the Thursday night and outline our plans; everyone would be keyed up.”

“For most of that time, both Clubs had strong sides and had some terrific battles. Bernie Killeen took 19 marks at centre half back to dominate one semi-Final….. I remember Des Steele giving me the run-around in another……and Ron Critchley kicking 1.9 against us in a tight Final which we won………”

Billy McMillan, who was an aggressive defender in his 116 games for Wangaratta, relished tangling with the Rovers.

“You always found a bit extra in those games,” he said.

McMillan’s swansong with the ‘Pies was the final round of 1987, when they defeated the Hawks and tipped them out of the finals. He’d played in five straight wins against the old enemy.

He then took a coaching job at Whorouly, but ventured down to see a ‘Derby’ game a couple of years later.

“I went over and sat near the scoreboard at the Rovers ground with my daughter. You

know……keeping out of everyone’s way.”

“Something happened which displeased me and I muttered a few words. This bloke in the distance must have been sweating on me because he bellowed: ‘That’s right McMillan; you were a prick on the field and you’re no better off it.”………

Rick Marklew began with the Rovers in the mid-80’s. “When I started,” he says, “there were kids I went to school with who were playing with Wangaratta. You talked about it the week before the game, then chewed it over for a week after.”

“Wang had good sides in those days……the Mulrooney’s, Gary Voss, ‘Spud’ Adamo……’Spud’s clashes with Matt Allen were worth watching.”

Marklew’s cousin Robbie Richards, a long-serving player and ex-Magpie coach, agrees…..”There’s a real atmosphere when the teams meet. I reckon if you couldn’t find a bit extra in those games you never would.”

Alex Marklew, Sam Allen and Joe Richards – sons of guns – will all take part in Sunday’s ‘Derby’……..

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Ken Boyd couldn’t disguise his dislike of the Black and White and thrived on the extra edge and atmosphere that the ‘Derby’ engendered. He succeeded Bob Rose as Rovers coach, and by 1964 had a side which looked every inch a premiership contender .

They won 15 games on the trot before stumbling, and dropping the last three home and home matches. Their form was no better in the second semi-final against Wangaratta, who proved too strong in a 14-point win at Barkly Park, Rutherglen.

Bernie Killeen had been a tower of strength in the Semi, but when the Hawks and ‘Pies met again in the Grand Final, Boyd sidled up alongside him.

As the last strains of the national anthem rang across the Albury Sportsground, Killeen lay spreadeagled on the turf.

Was it the heat, the occasion, or an errant elbow that had got to the star defender………?

Boyd was an inspirational player, and figured strongly in successive flag victories over Wangaratta. Even in 1966, when a back injury curtailed his movements, he was still able to make an impact.

In his final O & M appearance, the Preliminary Final against the ‘Pies looked to be escaping the clutches of the Hawks, who’d been outclassed, and trailed by 20 points at half-time.

But they began to creep back into the contest during an extraordinary third quarter. Mayhem ensued, as the game erupted in a series of flare-ups. Boyd was the catalyst in each of them .

The Hawks trailed by just one point at three-quarter time, but when sanity was restored Wang gradually wrested the initiative and went on to win by 25 points.

The curtain came down on Ken Boyd’s colourful career at the Tribunal hearing the following Wednesday evening, when he was handed a total of eight weeks suspension on four seperate charges……..

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The Magpies had to play second fiddle to the Hawks during the early 70’s, despite having a more than competitive line-up. They’d lost 11 ‘Derby’ clashes in a row before they cast their demons aside on a fateful late-September day in 1976.

Phil Nolan’s boys were simply irresistible in outpointing their opponents ( who were chasing their fifth flag in six years ) by 37 points. They proclaimed ‘Big Phil’ a coaching guru.

Many ‘Pie fans still become misty-eyed when they tell you that it was the greatest sporting day of their lives.

It’s said that soon after the siren, someone scaled the Wangaratta Police Station to pull down the Brown and Gold flag which had flown before and after the ‘Derbies’ of the ‘70’s. It was replaced with Black and White streamers………………

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Football’s pendulum has swung wildly in the case of the local clubs during the modern era. The Pies are riding high at the moment…….the Hawks have again emerged as a Finals contender……….

The Clubs certainly wouldn’t want to re-visit the dark days of the late 90’s when they were both encountering troubled times.

The dreaded word ‘merger’ was even mentioned by some of the bar-flies around town.

Heaven forbid……..that would have been equivalent to the Orange and the Green joining forces in Northern Ireland…………

*Derby update: The clubs have met 153 times. The Rovers have won 94 games, Wangaratta have won 58, with one drawn.

‘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 ………….

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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…………….

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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…….

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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……..

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Another WDCA flag returns to the Findlay Oval

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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………

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‘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…..

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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……

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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…..

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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.

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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…..

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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 ………..

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THE LOCAL DERBY

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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.

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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……….

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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.

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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…..

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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.

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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 …………..

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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

‘THE WIRY, TOUGH AND TALENTED NEVILLE POLLARD….’

Our footy post-mortems were often held at the Sale-Yards, around 6.30am on foggy, crisp Monday mornings. Still  a touch seedy after a week-end of playing, celebrating or commiserating, we’d conduct a thorough review before  the Sheep Market rudely interrupted us.

He was a precociously talented utility player who’d taken on a job as captain-coach at the ripe old age of 20…… I was his coaching adversary; a plodder, reaching the end of my tether………..

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Forty-odd years on, I again catch up with Neville Pollard.

He’s had a rough time of it lately, has old ‘Nifty’. Nearly five months ago he was diagnosed with a rare fungal infection behind the left eye.

Two corneal transplants failed to rectify the problem; nor did a series of injections. His surgeon put forward a few scenarios of further treatment. One of them – the most radical – included removing the eye.

“I decided that was the most risk-free way to go. So they whipped it out a fortnight ago,” he says.

I’m sure he welcomes changing the subject when I suggest having a yarn about his lengthy, varied, 400-game footy career………

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The Pollards were domiciled at Buln Buln, in the heart of Gippsland dairy country, when nine year-old Nev debuted with the local Thirds.

He later made the odd appearance with the seniors, but, going on 15 – and mid-way through the season – moved over to play with Drouin in the stronger West Gippsland League.

He finished the year with their Thirds, who were pipped by a point in the Grand Final, then booted 72 goals with the seniors the following season, to win the League goal-kicking award.

Under the VFL’s old zoning system, Drouin was part of Hawthorn’s territory. The Hawks helped themselves to a host of players from this lucrative recruiting area, including, of course, the famous Ablett family.

Neville had played alongside Geoff Ablett in the Drouin Thirds side, and also received an invitation to train ‘down town’.

But, in the meantime, his parents Arthur and Ruby, sold their farm and re-located to Bobinawarrah. He was momentarily out of Hawthorn’s clutches…….

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“Pollard was one of the few players I went out of my way to recruit when I was coach,” says Wangaratta Rovers legend Neville Hogan.

“I remember heading out Milawa-way to see him early in 1973, then bringing him to training a couple of times, as he still didn’t have a licence.”

“Gee he could play. He came to us as a full forward, but we started him in the back pocket because we wanted to fit him into the side.”

“There’s always conjecture about whether this bloke or that would have played League footy. Sometimes it boils down to being at the right club at the right time. But I think Neville would have given it a really good shot………..”

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He was a touch under 6 foot and as adaptable as they come. Proving himself ultra-capable down back, Hogan swung him into attack at one stage of the 1974 Grand Final. He booted two quick goals, to put the game completely out of Yarrawonga’s reach.IMG_4035

Andrew Scott recalls the coach’s plea to his side at three quarter-time of a soggy ‘75 decider against North Albury: “We led by 5 points in a real tight one, and ‘Hogan’s last words were: ‘Make sure you bring the ball to ground at all times.’ “IMG_4036

“In the opening minutes of the last quarter, Pollard’s caught off balance and brings down a spectacular one-hander across the half-back line, completely contrary to the coach’s instructions. It might have been one of those things that inspired us because we went away to win by 19 points.”

Scott and Pollard were members of the O & M team which trounced the VFA by 56 points that year.

“We played 18 a-side in the first half and reverted to the VFA’s version of 16 a-side in the second. I was playing on the wing and was supposed to go off at half-time, but Billy Sammon (our coach) decided to keep me on for the rest of the game. It was a terrific experience,” Neville recalls.

At season’s end, North Melbourne invited several potential recruits to play in a practice game at Arden Street. Hawthorn’s three-year hold on Pollard had expired and the Roos chief, Ron Joseph was keen to get hold of him.

“I’ve only got vague memories of the practice match,” he says, “.. but I do recall Scotty driving me down and getting pulled up for speeding. He was a cop at the time, and managed to talk his way out of it in convincing fashion.”

The Rovers were half-expecting to lose the youngster to North. He’d played three stellar seasons; featured in two flags….. But to their dismay, he accepted a coaching appointment at Milawa in 1976.

“I had a lot of mates out there, but may have been a bit naive taking the job on so young. In hindsight, I still don’t know whether I did the right thing,” Nev says.

“We were a young side; not over-tall, but they gave everything. I’d like to think I was honest and approachable as a coach, but it was tough……. I had to be an amateur psychologist, doctor and mentor besides concentrating on my own game.”IMG_4032

Milawa had won just three games the previous season, but again became a force under Pollard, and eventually ‘bombed out’ in the Preliminary Final.

They reached the Prelim in three of the first four years,  plunged to the bottom, then recovered to reach successive Grand Finals in his seven seasons in charge.IMG_4038

He was their dynamo, and took out the O & K’s Baker Medal ( as well as the club B & F ) in 1978 and 1980. Some old-time Demons rate him their best-ever player.

The last of his 141 games with the club was in the ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final of 1982.

“We were 19 points up at half-time against Chiltern, and looked to be travelling well. But we just got hunted. At one stage there was talk of calling the game off. It was the worst match I’ve ever been involved in.”

In the end, the Swans ran away to win by 74 points. Neville was one of several who appeared at the resultant Tribunal hearing the following week and was quizzed about  one incident.

“I told them I’d got belted from behind. They gave the bloke one week…… I couldn’t believe it.”

“I decided to have another crack with the Rovers the next year. It wasn’t because of what happened in the Grand Final…..I just wanted to test myself back in the higher standard before I got too old.”

“I’d thought about coming in a couple of years earlier, but I suppose I got a bit stubborn and decided to stay.”

At 27, Neville was probably a better-equipped player than in his previous incarnation with the Hawks. He enjoyed stints in the midfield and on-ball and took out Best & Fairests in 1983 and ‘84.

A regular selection in the O & M side, he was voted the League’s best in a Country Championship semi-final clash against Ballarat. He lined up in the centre, alongside another old Drouin boy, Gary Ablett, who started on the wing.IMG_4033

That year,1983,  signified Pollard’s return to the top, as he also finished runner-up in the Morris Medal.

Again emphasising his versatility, he kicked 10 goals from centre half forward, in a memorable match against Albury  three years later.

His old mate Andrew Scott also booted 10 that day. They still debate the merit of their respective performances.

“Well, I kicked 10.7 and Scotty, who wasn’t fit enough to move out of the goal-square was gifted a handful. I reckon he touched a couple of my shots on the line !” he says.

After 13 years in the livestock game, Neville and Judy bought a property at Tocumwal and moved over with the four kids – Krystal, Carly, Elise and Ash. It signalled the end of his 139-game career with the Hawks.

“I’d fully intended to play with ‘Toc’, but on the first night of training only about eight fellahs turned up. It didn’t get much better for the next couple of weeks.”

“ Laurie Burt kept in touch and was keen for me to travel over and keep playing for the Rovers. I said: ‘Look, just reject the first clearance application. We’ll see how it goes.’ “

But he decided to stick it out . Tocumwal endured a gloomy, winless season and didn’t fare much better in in the next. Neville picked up successive B & F’s, however, and continued to star, as the Bloods began to gain momentum.

They thrived under the leadership of rugged Stuart Roe, who had come across from Shepparton to coach.

He took them to Grand Finals in 1989 and ‘90. They took the next step in 1991, after Philip Nicholson had succeeded Roe.  Pollard was part of a lethal half back line at this stage, and picked up his third flag when he starred in the Bloods’ premiership win over arch rivals Finley.IMG_4034

He continued to serve Tocumwal long after his glittering career had drawn to a close. ‘Nifty’ was 38 when he decided to pull the pin in 1992, but then spent seven years as Chairman of Selectors and six years as coach of the Thirds.

One of his biggest thrills in football came twenty years later, when fleet-footed Ash burst onto the scene in the first of his 40 senior games with the Rovers.

‘Nifty’ – O & K Hall of Famer, veteran of Buln Buln, Drouin, Wang Rovers, Milawa and Tocumwal – would be tickled pink if the young bloke again donned the Brown and Gold.

“All you can do is hope,” he says “…..but he might have left his run a bit late……”IMG_4039