“I DON’T MIND IF YOU CALL ME A MALLEE BOY…….”

Consider, if you will, these two contrasting pathways to League football……….
(1).  The exquisite talent. He’s uncovered at an early age and ushered through the elite Development programs. He’s deemed the prototype of the modern-day player and ticks the boxes in all categories – attitude, body size, physicality, approach to training. All the experts agree – ” this kid will be a star”. Finds his way into State rep squads, shines in the Under 18 competition and is fawned over by Player Managers, Recruiters and the Media. They nominate him as a sure-fire first-round pick in the upcoming draft………..

(2). The 18 year-old shy, red-haired lad from the bush. He has moved to the city to pursue his education, but is finding it difficult to adjust to life in the ‘big smoke’ at this early stage. After a long day of lectures at Uni, he takes the long walk to Arden Street one late afternoon, to watch one of his mates from the Hostel, Ken Fyffe, who is training with North Melbourne.

An official nonchalantly asks if he plays football . Yes, he says, he doesn’t mind having a kick. The boot- studder fishes out an old pair of boots and in a jiffey he’s out on the track.

Five weeks later, in early April 1957, this unassuming ‘visitor’ is lining up for his first VFL match  against Richmond………….

 

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Keith Robertson grew up in Tempy, a tiny whistle-stop on the Sunraysia Highway, which boasted a Silo, Hall, school and sporting Oval.

His dad, Henry, who was as tough as those proverbial Mallee roots he used to gouge out of the red dirt, lived by the philosophy that : “……..you should get one good season every seven years.”

Universally known as ‘Ginger’, wheat-cockie Henry was somewhat of a sporting legend and played good footy until he was 49. He lost count of the number of games he played for Tempy over 33 years, but others estimated it to be well in excess of 500.

So it was no surprise that his six kids grew up wanting to emulate his deeds………..

It was a huge buzz for Keith when he took his place alongside ‘Ginger’ in the Tempy side. He soon made his mark, taking out the club Best and Fairest and finishing runner-up in the Mallee League award.

But, at 18, a career beckoned and he moved to the big city to study Commerce and commence a Diploma of Education.

A letter from Collingwood had arrived a year or so previously, to which he had given only a passing thought.

Originally, he felt he might try his luck with one of the Under 18 sides when he moved to ‘town’, but it all changed after that fateful night at training.

There was just one other bit of drama……He had forgotten to sign the Form Four before he had left the ground on season’s eve and a North official chased after him and caught him at the tram stop, where he put his signature on the dotted-line.

He was now a Kangaroo.

Keith played the first three games, was dropped, then returned for a couple more in mid-season. The silver lining of spending most of the year in the two’s was that he became eligible for their finals campaign and played in the Reserves premiership team.

Fitting training in with the demands of Uni lectures and study had become increasingly difficult. After the first couple of games in 1958, he pulled the pin on League footy and, instead, made the 560-mile round-trip to play with Tempy for the next two seasons.

Many at North were resigned to the fact that a highly-promising talent had slipped through their fingers.

But, by 1960 Keith’s work-load had eased and he was back at Arden Street.

North fans now savoured the skills of a top-class player with electrifying pace, safe hands and beautiful delivery, who was to justify his ranking as one of the League’s finest wingers over the next four seasons.

He was at his top in 1962, when a run of consistently good form saw bookmakers install him as a surprise mid-season Brownlow Medal favourite.

It had been another demoralising season for the ‘Roos, as they notched just four wins, but Keith was honoured with selection in the Victorian side against South Australia and Tasmania. As runner-up in North’s B & F he was the recipient of a Frypan.

You’d have thought that a lengthy sojourn at the top level  lay ahead for the speedster. Alas, a year later, at the age of 24, and after 69 games with North, he called it a day and decided that his teaching career and the country lifestyle took precedence over the glamour of the VFL scene.

With wife Gwen and a growing family he headed back to the Mallee, to a teaching job at Hopetoun.

Keith played a couple of seasons with the locals, one of which saw him win the Southern Mallee League Medal. But by the time he’d accepted a teaching transfer to Mildura, his active playing career was over.

Instead, he was enticed behind the microphone, covering Sunraysia League games for radio station 3MA

He sated his sporting appetite by playing cricket, which he’d always loved with a passion. He established his reputation as a aggressively quick bowler and hard-hitting batsman and was rated among the stars of the Sunraysia Association.

News of Keith’s appointment to Wangaratta High School travelled quickly among cricketing circles in early 1976 and he and his  talented sons, Rohan and Shane threw in their lot with Magpies.

The sight of the volatile paceman, his red hair flapping in the breeze as he charged to the wicket, became a fearsome sight for edgy WDCA batsmen.

Keith played a key role in Magpies’ 1975/76 premiership and the two boys shared Finals appearances with him during a successful era for the ‘Pies. This included the memorable ’77/78 flag, in which he routed Rovers, by taking 12/121.

He later transferred to United and remained a leading light in the Association  through the early eighties.

With the boys developing nicely at the Wangaratta Rovers, Keith maintained a solid link with footy.

He spent a couple of years as Secretary of the Hawks and had a long-term involvement with the Ovens and Murray Schoolboys, overseeing many of the area’s finest ,as they progressed through the ranks and graduated  to League football.

Included among them were Rohan and Shane, who created AFL/VFL history, when they debuted together, against Carlton in 1985.

Shane was versatile and a smooth-mover, but was cruelled by injuries throughout his time at North. Rohan, elusive and with a spearing left-foot, proved a handy player in his 26 games with the Roos and later became heavily involved in recruiting.

Keith and Gwen Robertson now enjoy keeping in touch with the sporting pursuits of their six grandkids. Two of the girls were fine North Albury netballers, whilst Billy, who had a stint with the Murray Bushrangers is currently at Uni, and is having a run with Cheltenham.

Their daughter Lisa and her husband, Dale Weightman, the ex-Richmond champ, have three boys who are also mad-keen on  footy . Liam is injured at present, whilst Kyle, who has trained with the Tigers’  Development Squad, plays at Strathmore with the youngest lad, Jess.

Keith’s a hard task-master and you can be assured that the kids won’t receive any faint praise . But deep down, the old fellah would be quietly proud of his clan……

 


 

 

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HARD WORK TAKES MOYHU BOY TO THE TOP

Alan Jarrott moved on from the Moyhu Football Club at the end of 1974.

Thank heavens for that, I suggest to him.

Had he hung around for another season he would have had to cope with my coaching – and that may have jeopardised the bright future that the good judges were predicting for him.

In time, he carved out a fine VFL career ; became renowned as one of the most lethal exponent of handball in his era and was acknowledged for his astute football brain.

Not a bad effort for a kid who honed his skills in the paddocks  surrounding  the family farm at Thistlebrook, a tiny speck on the map, about four miles out of Moyhu.

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Alan’s the first to admit that he didn’t establish a close rapport with the dairy cows, which were the staple of the family’s income, and to which his brothers Gordon and Neil were assigned the task of milking twice daily.

Eventually, Gordon suggested that Alan curtail his random visits to the dairy, as there was a theory that cows gave less milk when they were in the presence of strangers !

Anyway, there was no time to spare. He and his mate from the adjoining farm, John McVean, devoted most of their idle moments to playing sport.

Both were outstanding tennis players and Alan was a more than handy cricketer ( he once represented the North-East Schoolboys).

Their nightly footy sessions, on the paddock behind the McVean residence, were fair dinkum affairs. Not just a leisurely kick-to-kick, but plenty of tackling and competitive stuff, which inevitably produced a bruise or three.

Rovers President, Jack Maroney, a regular visitor to the Jarrott farm in his guise as a livestock agent, did his best to entice  young Alan to  the Hawks. But the distance from Wangaratta made it too inconvenient.

Instead, he rocked up to Moyhu’s training and impressed enough to be plonked at centre half forward in the senior side. He was just 16 and was assured by a couple of the team’s elders, John Michelini and Paul Scanlan, that they would shelter him from the rough stuff.

Not that he needed any mollycoddling . Within twelve months he had been selected to represent the O & K against the Upper Murray League at Beechworth.

“I remember that we got a hiding. And the bloke I played on was given the award for Best-afield”, Alan recalls.

Feeling a bit downhearted at the after-match, he was introduced to former North Melbourne coach, Alan Killigrew, The O & K was part of the Kangaroos’ recruiting zone and ‘Killa’s’ role was to be their ‘P.R’ man in the area.

“He spoke to me for about 10 minutes……. didn’t draw breath. When he finally stopped talking, he said: ‘I like you, son…..you listen’ .”

Alan finished High School and chose to undertake a Phys.Ed course at the Footscray R.M.I.T. Whilst playing in the Victorian/Australian Tennis Open early in 1975, he was tracked down by a bloke who was to have an enormous influence on his life – Raymond Clarence ‘Slug’ Jordan.

” ‘Slug’ was coaching North’s Thirds and Reserves and invited me to have a run . He sort of took me under his wing, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have played a game of League footy, but for him”.

” He was also North’s full-time Development Officer. My hours at Uni were pretty flexible, so I helped him out at school clinics. I absorbed everything that he taught the kids and then put it into practice.”

“He reckoned I kicked the footy like a bag of spuds, and needed to sharpen up my handball. I was determined to improve. For instance, I’d always avoided using my left foot. In the end, after heaps of work, that became my preferred kicking option”.

On the trips to and from clinics, ‘Slug’ spelt out his philosophies on football. And, with typical, brutal honesty, would analyse Alan’s match-day performances. He became, so to speak, his personal ‘tutor’.

After a lengthy apprenticeship, he broke into North’s senior side late in 1977, and was given a decent initiation – the task of keeping an eye on Richmond champion Kevin Bartlett. The elusive, cunning, wispy-haired ‘K.B’ proved a handful for the youngster, who nevertheless, acquitted himself well.

It was his introduction to the art of ‘tagging’, a form of the game at which Alan was to become adept. He confronted, at close quarters, many of the stars of the game, like Leigh Matthews, Tim Watson,Gary Wilson, Michael Tuck, and Gerard Healy, whom it was his task to negate.

So it was as a tagger and occasional ruck-rover and half back flanker that he made his mark. His ability to concentrate deeply, position his body, defend grimly,  and shoot out a bullet-like handball from a scrimmage made him a valuable cog in the North side.

His coach Ron Barassi had a great appreciation of the no-frills Jarrott and once offered this assessment of one of his favourite players: ” He turned out better than I thought, mainly through really applying himself to skill acquisition. He started off as an ordinary kick and ball-handler. If he had been a bit speedier he might have been one of the greats…..”

It was little wonder, when Alan was delisted by North at the end of 1981, that Barassi and Jordan, who were now at Melbourne, were keen to lure him over.

“When the Krakouer brothers arrived at Arden Street, I got the flick. I’d played 79 senior games, and was happy with that. I was considering some offers from interstate and the VFA, then ‘Barass’ made contact. It was great to get another opportunity”, he says.

He played more as a back flanker and in the back pocket in 91 games over five years with the Demons and provided valuable service during a struggling era for the club.

“Early in the 1987 season, I broke a bone in my hand and that really hastened my decision to retire. I told the CEO I was pulling the pin and he suggested: ‘would you be interested in coaching the Thirds, we’ve just sacked the coach.’ ”

“So I retired on the Tuesday and was coaching on Thursday night,” Alan recalls.

He stayed in that role for the next year and a half, but declined to apply when it was broadened into a full-time position.

He’s had a few other flirtations with football over the last 27 years. A foray into journalism saw him covering League games for the Sunday Age ; he coached University Blues for a season ; and took an assistant-coaching position with ‘Slug’ Jordan, at the Prahran Dragons.

When Jordan suffered a stroke whilst recruiting for Collingwood, Alan offered to help out his old mate, and concentrated on scouting the interstate teams for some time.

He’s now back at North, and has been Vice-President of the Roos’ Past Players for the past three years.

Post-footy, Alan sampled an array of jobs, but for the last 15 years has been an Insurance specialist. Three years ago he launched his own Insurance brokerage.

These days his competitive juices are discharged by playing A-Grade tennis, alongside an ex-Wangaratta boy Ross Spriggs.

From Moyhu to the wide expanses of the MCG, and beyond, Alan Jarrott’s 170 VFL games stand as a tribute to one of football’s hardest workers…………..