‘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

” TWELVE FORGETTABLE SECONDS…….”

Ovens and Murray football was at its scintillating best in 1960.

High-profile coaches and big-name players attracted huge crowds and created massive interest. Of the 10 coaches, five had played in a VFL premiership, three had captained their VFL club ; there was a Brownlow and dual Magarey Medallist among them, and all were relatively still in their prime.

The pick of them was Bob Rose, who had enjoyed a dominant season at the helm of the Wangaratta Rovers. ‘Mr.Football’s’ inspirational play was a major factor in his side finishing four games clear at the top of the table.

Despite the space between the Hawks and the rest, there were four other legitimate contenders . Coming into Round 18, the battle for the one vacant finals spot had narrowed down to two clubs – Myrtleford and Benalla.

The equation was simple. The Demons, who clung to fourth position by just two points, had to defeat the Rovers at the City Oval to cement their finals spot. The Saints were sweating on them, as they were red-hot fancies to topple the winless Rutherglen.

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Myrtleford were untroubled, and went on to trounce the Redlegs by 70 points. The buzz of transistor radios could be heard around McNamara Oval, as fans nervously listened to the coverage of the Rovers-Benalla clash. It had developed into a classic.

The Hawks got away to a flier and led by 22 points at quarter-time. But it was the mercurial Demon forward, Bob Hempel, who revived his side’s fortunes with a devastating second quarter. He booted two goals, hit the post and narrowly missed with two other shots, as Benalla took a 10-point lead into the half-time break.

Rose firstly swung Les Clarke, then Bill McKenzie, onto the star, without great effect. The pendulum swung wildly for the remainder of the clash, which produced more than its share of rough stuff.

The Hawk leader, as well as being his dominant self throughout the game, had to work overtime to placate his players. He reasoned that he could ill-afford to have any of them reported at such a delicate stage of the season.

In the dying stages, the Rovers had regained the initiative. They led by two goals and looked to have the game in hand.

Then big Benalla ruckman George Aitken goaled and the big crowd tensed again.  Surely the Demons, even though they had a run-on, couldn’t kick another goal ?

The bounce of the ball had barely re-started play when the siren sounded. The Rovers had won by a goal – 11.6 to 10.6. There was wild cheering 30 miles away, in Myrtleford, as the Saints had clinched their spot in the finals.

Or had they ?

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The thousands listening to 3NE’s coverage of the game had heard a voice in the media box shouting : “No, no, no”, as the  blast of the siren halted play.

In the resultant wash-up, Benalla protested and the O & M decided to investigate the game. One of the time-keepers disclosed that he had accidentally pressed the siren instead of the time-on button when the ball was bounced after the final goal.

The clock indicated that there were still 12 seconds of play remaining in the game – enough time to have conceivably allowed Benalla to kick another goal.

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Thus it came to pass that, on September 3rd 1960, the Hawks met the Demons in the only re-play of a home-and-home game in the 123-year history of the Ovens and Murray Football League……….

But there were subsiduary issues to sort out. The Rovers requested ( and were granted) a quarter of the gate-takings for the re-play. They were asked to provide additional parking and media facilities for the anticipated large crowd, and to ensure that check-scorers and time-keepers were on hand.

Then there was the issue of the Morris Medal. Benalla’s roly-poly back pocket star Richie Castles had led  Bob Rose by one vote, going into Round 18.

The Medal-count,traditionally held on the Sunday after the last game, revealed that Rose had polled two votes to overtake Castles – by one vote..

Benalla claimed that the votes from that game should be declared null and void. The League decreed that, no, the status-quo stood and that Rose was still the Medallist.

Just to further complicate the argument, the brilliant Rose turned in a ‘pearler’ in the re-play and was widely-regarded as best afield. Castles, though, was not far behind him.

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The re-play attracted a semi-final sized crowd that paid £721 through the gate. Another battle-royal ensued. The rainy day and soggy conditions produced a hard, slogging game which was notable for its intensity.

Little separated the sides, but when the Hawks drew away to lead by 21 points early in the last quarter, it looked all over.

The Demons again counter-attacked. They were lifted by an inspired burst of play from Castles and goals to Ian Hughes and Bob Hempel, which again put them in the frame.

It prompted Rose to go onto the ball. He steadied the Rovers, but they missed his influence up forward.

Castles marked and drove Benalla into attack time and again, but the Hawks were able to hang on and win by 8 points.

So Myrtleford, who had been waiting patiently for a fortnight to confirm their finals booking, confronted Yarrawonga in the First Semi-Final. They booted 16.20 to lose a thriller by 3 points.

Who knows whether the extra game that the Rovers had to play fine-tuned them for the finals ?

They engaged in a titanic struggle with Wodonga, to win the Second Semi by two goals. A fortnight later, they were always in control against the tired Bulldogs in front of a record crowd of 12,000, to take out their second flag.

Again, it was Rose, whose 4.6 in the Grand Final, provided the impetus to a talented line-up. But it was fearless big man Ray Burns, left-footed half-forward Neil McLean and the effervescent, elusive winger Les Gregory who rivalled him for best-afield honours.

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The Hawks didn’t have much time to rest on their laurels. Their meeting with VFA premiers, Oakleigh, the following Sunday was touted as a match-up between the ‘two best Victorian teams outside the VFL’.

And it wasn’t just an exhibition game. The Devils supporters brought a barrow-load of money to back their team, and were well-accommodated by local punters and bookmakers – all of them keen Hawk fans.

The keenly-anticipated clash proved to be an anti-climax. The Rovers dominated from the opening bounce, to win by 73 points – 14.17 to 3.10.

Of the 22 games they contested during 1960, the Hawks had dropped just one – by a point to Corowa. It had been a season for the ages, and it was time for the celebrations to begin……………

 

Postscript:

*   Benalla played in the next three O & M Grand Finals, taking out successive flags in 1962 and ’63.

* The re-play proved to be Bob Hempel’s final game with Benalla. He coached Euroa for two seasons, then transferred to the Rovers, with whom he played 100 games and figured in the Hawks’ 1964 and ’65 premierships.