‘ENIGMATIC CAREY , A STAR OF THE DEPRESSION ERA…’

Wangaratta’s rise to sporting prominence during the Depression era coincided with the flourishing careers of a handful of champions.

Not many of them, though, could match the feats of curly-haired Herbert Wesley Carey, a dynamic footballer, explosive all-round cricketer and enigmatic personality……..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Carey’s parents transplanted their large family to Wangaratta from Devon Meadows (near Cranbourne) in the late twenties.His dad, Walter. like so many of his generation, had tried his hand at anything; from Gold-Mining, to tobacco-growing, to Carpentry. It was whilst panning for gold that he incurred syenite poisoning in his knee, which left him with a stiff leg for the remainder of his life.

With nine kids ( he and wife Margaret lost another son, Walter Steane, in his infancy ) he found that Building was the most appropriate way to sustain the family. The boys – George, Fred, Bill, Bert and Stan – possessed a variety of skills, but Bert became his principal helper.

The Carey’s would go on to construct many houses in the West End area, including a couple in Steane Street, which was named after the second Christian names of Walter and the baby son they’d lost.

Wangaratta Football Club happened upon a recruiting bonanza when the Carey gang hit town. The five boys all played together at various times. When former Hawthorn player Dermott O’Brien quit as coach mid-way through their first season, 1929, the adaptable Fred was appointed in his place.

One of the key players at his disposal was Bert, who was equally at home whilst on the ball or up forward.

Bert stood 5’10” and weighed 75kg, and had already sampled VFL football, having played five games with Fitzroy. But, at periods over the next nine years, he would prove well-nigh unstoppable in the Black and White guernsey.

He gave Magpie fans an early sample of his brilliance when he booted 13 goals in their 92-point thrashing of Rutherglen.

Bert signalled his cricketing ability in his first WDCA game with newly-formed East Wangaratta, finishing with figures of 5/8 and 6/1 and producing a belligerent innings of 85 against Footballers.

A left-arm bowler of considerable pace, he could swing the ball both ways (sometimes too much) and proved a more than handy batsman in the middle-order. Little wonder, with Bert in the side complementing the redoubtable Fisher brothers, they became a power. After a one-wicket win in the 1928/29 decider, East again took out the flag the following year.

Carey teamed with Brookfield speedsters Ken and Harry Kneebone to form a lethal new-ball combination in representative cricket.

His first Country Week, in 1929, was a raging success. He captured 20 wickets at an average of 5.6, including successive hauls of 7/21 and 5/39. He was to become a cornerstone of the Wangaratta attack, and produced some astonishing performances.

In his best individual effort, in 1933, he snared 6/11, 5/39, 5/24, 4/57 and made an undefeated 40, following this with 4/67 in the Final, which Wangaratta duly won.

His wicket-taking record over nine trips to Melbourne (1929-’37) has never been bettered, and was a factor in Wangaratta’s tally of 21 wins, 4 losses and 7 draws over that period.

In a move which inflamed tensions between the rival clubs, Bert switched from East Wang to Wangaratta in 1933/34, and was able to add another two premierships to his collection, giving him five WDCA flags in total……..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Carey’s uncanny goal-kicking skills made him a vital part of Wangaratta’s football success. He was averaging in excess of five goals per game in 1930, before he was shut down in a vital clash against West Albury. The ‘Pies lost the game, but he bounced back with hauls of 8 and 11 against Rutherglen and Corowa.

Wangaratta had incurred a financial loss of 275 pounds, after also covering the 50 pound debt of sister club, Rovers. There were concerns about the club’s ability to field two teams, so they decided to affiliate just one side in the Ovens and King League.

They comfortably won the 1931 Grand Final. Carey capped a fine season by kicking his 85th goal – a new O & K record – which was boosted by an incredible 21 goals in one match, out of a team total of 25.32. It still remains the highest individual score by a Wangaratta player.

The’Pies’ second successive O & K flag in ’32 prompted an invitation to return to the Ovens and Murray League. Much to the chagrin of the O & K, who claimed that they were again being ‘used’, Wang duly re-affiliated.

Not only that, they re-asserted their dominance, and were sitting on top of the ladder, unbeaten after five matches.

And they did it without Bert Carey, who had been lured down to Hawthorn. He booted five goals against St.Kilda in the opening VFL round and followed it with another ‘bag’ of five against North Melbourne.

He had 16 goals in six games before advising the Mayblooms that he was returning home to Wangaratta.

This was the icing on the cake for the ‘Pies. But despite finishing atop the ladder, they fell to Border United in the Second Semi Final.

They bounced back in scintillating fashion, booting 20.10 to Corowa’s 8.4 in the Prelim, with the double-pronged forward targets, Len Nolan (10) and Bert Carey (8) having a field-day.

The following week Wangaratta lined up against Border United in the Grand Final. The teams were evenly-matched, but Border took a 16-point lead into the final term.

Nolan, Bill Brown and Carey soon had the opposition defence under pressure, and with two minutes to play, Wang had gone to a seven-point lead. A Border goal lifted the hopes of the favourites, but time ran out and Wangaratta hung on to win a classic by one point.

It was a triumph for the Carey family, as coach Fred (the Morris Medallist) had led from the front and Bert, with three goals, again illustrated what a big-game player he was……

…..………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Controversy seemed to dog Bert Carey, despite his star status as a player. No more so than when he was included in the Wangaratta side late in the 1936 season. He’d been missing for most of the year, having decided to take up umpiring.

Two players, Jim Gorman and Len Irving, refused to play alongside him. He had, they said, taken the place of a team-mate who’d helped the side into the ‘four’.

Wangaratta subsequently reported them to the League. Their argument was that there had been a shortage of players when Carey was selected, and: “he had been ready to go umpiring when asked to play against Rutherglen.”

After a lengthy delegates meeting, Irving and Gorman were disqualified for the remainder of the 1936 season for their refusal to play.

Carey proved more than handy in the ensuing finals series. Wangaratta fell to Rutherglen in the Second semi, but bounced back to kick 18.20 to 11.11 against Wodonga in the Prelim.

The old-timer showed his worth by snagging seven majors, as the Bulldogs found it difficult to counter he and the burly Charlie Heavey up forward.

In another gripping Grand Final, Wangaratta turned the tables on Rutherglen, to take out their third O & M flag. It was a contest of the highest order, as Wang, despite kicking poorly in the final term, held on to win by 20 points.

Bert Carey had just turned 32 when Hawthorn called on him in the early rounds of 1937. Playing in the centre, he proved his class in four games. But injuries prevailed, and mid-way through the season he again returned to Wangaratta.

This was to be his swansong. After a handful of games the career of Bert Carey was over. He had played 104 games and booted 423 goals for the ‘Pies……

‘ A HARD-MAN…… ON AND OFF THE FIELD…….’

Ray Burns was one of those larger-than-life characters of my growing-up years.

As a recently-arrived member of the constabulary, he soon earned the respect of the town’s miscreants and scallywags; maintaining decorum by dispensing the old-fashioned form of justice – a decent, well-directed toe up the arse……..

Accentuating his reputation as a ‘hard-man’ was a flattened nose, spread generously across his ‘lived-in’ dial….. giving rise to a rumour that he’d once been a Golden Gloves contender.

He’s from an era when country football clubs eagerly anticipated the annual influx of bank-clerks, school-teachers and policemen to their municipalities. They would pray that, amongst those who migrated, they might be fortunate enough to snavel a ready-made star or two.

That’s what happened in late-1957, when ‘Burnsy’ made Wangaratta his home…………..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

He was just 16 when he left Shepparton and headed to the ‘big smoke’ to pursue his boyhood dreams.

Just as his brother Ted saw his destiny lying in the priesthood, Ray had his heart set on becoming a cop……and a star footballer.

But firstly, he had to ‘mark time’. He spent two years with the Railways before being accepted into the Police Academy.

By now he was well-entrenched at Richmond, where he’d had two years with the Third Eighteen, and was acquitting himself capably in the Two’s.

After playing a starring role in a Reserves Prelim Final in 1956, in which he received the plaudits of old Tigers for his three goals, a stint of National Service the following year took a decent slice out of his season.

Upon graduating from the Academy, and reaching the conclusion that League football was probably beyond his reach, he accepted his first transfer………

“The clubs came knocking, but there was no doubt where I was going to sign; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play under Bob Rose,” he recalls.

“It was sensational….They were the Golden Years of Country footy……..I loved regaling my kids with the stories of climbing on the train to go to the Grand Finals in Albury.”IMG_4242

“When we came back, victorious, we were greeted at the Railway Station by hundreds of Rovers fans, and the Town Band, which escorted us down to the Ground for the celebrations. Talk about being big frogs in a small puddle !……..”

Bob Rose loved Burnsy’s’ toughness and redoubtable spirit . And besides, the Hawk ‘protector’ regularly produced on the big occasions.

He was a key contributor in the club’s first flag – a 49-point win over Des Healy’s Wodonga in 1958. When the sides squared off two years later, he was best-afield, as the Rovers prevailed in a tight contest.

Casting his mind back to the closing stages of the 1959 Grand Final against Yarrawonga, though, still produces a lump in his throat.

It’s raved about as one of the finest O & M Grand Finals of all time. Here’s how it unfolded :

The Pigeons, pursuing their maiden premiership, scarp out to a 39-point lead in the third quarter.

But the Hawks produce 20 minutes of champagne football, to boot seven goals in 20 minutes, and take a 3-point lead into the three-quarter time break.

The lead changes six times in a pulsating final term. With the clock counting down, and the Rovers attacking,  Max Newth takes possession near centre half forward, fumbles, then, with a deft flick-pass, unloads to the running Burns.

From 50 metres, he promptly slots it through the big sticks to regain the lead for his side.

But seemingly from acres away, the shrill sound of umpire Harry Beitzel’s whistle sends a hush through the 12,000-strong crowd. He adjudicates Newth’s  pass as a throw, much to the dismay of Newth, Burns and the rabid Rovers fans.

Yarra take the resultant free kick and the giant, Alf O’Connor, becomes a hero when he slots a major from the pocket just before the siren, to see the Pigeons home……….

“That was a travesty,” Ray says. “There’s no doubt the pass was legitimate, but old Harry pulled the wrong rein. I still replay that incident, 60 years later.”

Bob Rose usually handed Burns the task of tailing Yarra’s tough-nut Lionel Ryan when the sides met. The fiery red-head was a fearsome opponent. When the pair tangled it was akin to two gnarled, feisty old bulls going at each other.IMG_4243

“I picked him up again in this game, but Billy Stephen rung some changes when they were under siege. He shifted Lionel into the centre early in the last quarter.”

“I said to Rosey: ‘Do you want me to go with him ?’……’Nah, it’ll be right,’ he replied. I’d been ‘blueing’ with him all day. As it turned out, Lionel became a big factor in them getting back into the game. But that’s footy……”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

After a magical three years with the Rovers, Ray was by now married to Judy ( ‘the best-looking girl in town’ ) and, having purchased a house in Swan Street, decided to try his hand at coaching.

Moyhu snapped him up. After reaching the Prelim Final in 1961, the Hoppers were all-conquering the following year, and went through the season undefeated. One of his prize recruits was a future O & M legend, Neville Hogan, who dominated the mid-field.IMG_4248

At season’s end, Ray received letters from two clubs – St.Arnaud and Nhill, sussing out his coaching availability.

“Wheat was big in the West in those days,” he recalls. “I’ll never forget this; a fellah called Ray Youthmire was showing me around the club’s facilities. Nhill had never won a Wimmera League premiership. He said: ‘If you take us to the flag, I’ll personally buy you a new Holden car.’ “

“That was irresistible. I told Moyhu I was keen to put in for it,  but instead of thanking me for keeping them in the loop, they sacked me !”

“I went ahead and accepted the job, subject to getting a transfer in the Force. But the cop who was leaving the Nhill police station changed his mind, and my transfer fell through.”

“To rub salt into the wound, Nhill won two of the next three flags, but luckily for me,  Brien Stone, the President of Tarrawingee offered me their job.”

It had been ten years since the Bulldogs’ last premiership, but they set the pace for most of 1963. The Grand Final was a gripping affair, and they just staved off a defiant Moyhu, to win 7.18 (60) to 9.5 (59).IMG_4250

Tarra again triumphed in 1964, this time against a Greta side which was on the rise. The following year, Greta, despite kicking just five goals in another nail-biter, were able to pip Tarra – who kicked 4.15 – by two points.

One of the highlights of his last year as coach was nurturing an overweight, easy-going kid called Michael Nolan, who was to rise to the heights of VFL football.

“I was close to buggered by now, and handed over the reins to Neil Corrigan. I thought it would be best to spend a year just concentrating on playing.”

And that was it for Burnsy – or so he thought.

The Rovers were keen for him to act as a guiding-hand for their youngsters, and appointed him Reserves coach in 1967. But on finals-eve, with injuries mounting, they thrust him back into the senior line-up.

IMG_4246
Ray Burns ‘flies the flag.l

A broken leg to coach Ian Brewer in the second quarter of the Grand Final placed the self-confessed ‘broken-down hack’ in an invidious position. He was now the on-field leader.

IMG_4245
Ray Burns receives instructions from Rovers’ injured coach Ian Brewer during the 1967 Grand Final

He threw his weight around, and was involved in a big dust-up in the third quarter. “I was lying on the ground after it, when a New South Wales copper came onto the ground and said: ‘If you don’t behave yourself, I’ll lock you up’. I don’t know how he came to that conclusion. I finished with the free kick……”

The Rovers were eventually overpowered by Wodonga, and Burnsy promptly hung up the boots.

After 13 years in the Police Force, he embarked on a new career, as the licensee of the London Family Hotel.

Situated opposite the wharves in Port Melbourne, it was a ‘7am to 7pm’ pub, and favoured watering-hole of Wharfies, Painters and Dockers and ‘colourful identities’.

“It was an interesting place, that’s for sure……And talk about busy ! We averaged 50 barrels a week.”

Controversial Dockers such as ‘Putty-Nose’ Nicholls, Pat Shannon, Billy ‘The Texan’ Longley, ‘The Fox’ Morris and ‘Ferret’ Nelson were numbered among his clientele. ‘The Ferret’ finished up wearing ‘cement boots’, and another notorious figure met his end after being gunned down outside the pub.

“We were there for a touch over ten years and although I was on good terms with the wharfies,  I did the ‘modern waltz’ quite a few times, with some of the local ‘intelligentzia’. And my head was used for a football on more than one occasion………They sure kept me on my toes.”

Ray went on to spend some time as a rep for Carlton & United Breweries, ran Wangaratta’s Railway Hotel for three years, then moved the family to Adelaide, where he operated the Half-Way-Hotel, a busy establishment with 40 poker machines and a thriving bar trade.

After a hectic 11 years, they sold out and he and Judy decided to put their feet up. They retired to his old home town of Shepparton, where Ray admits they’re now doing life ‘on the bit’. They spend a fair bit of time these days keeping tabs on their six kids ( Di, Mick, Karen, Paul, Shane and Mark ), and 14 grandkids.

He’s been doing volunteer work for many years with a few old mates, mowing the lawns and tending the gardens of Ave Maria Hostel.

” I’d always reckoned there were two jobs that’d really suit me. One was holding up the Stop/Go sign  for the CRB.  I never achieved that ambition, but I’ve been able to tick off  on the other one – driving a Ride-On Mower !………….”IMG_4247

‘LOUIE’S 87…….AND STILL KICKING……’

Roma Cesa reckons her husband Lou is still mentally playing footy – even at the ripe old age of 87.

“He watches every game on telly. I’ll look across, and there he’ll be, twitching in the Lounge Chair, kicking and flicking out imaginary handballs.”

“It’s the same when we go down to watch the Magpies play. He can’t sit still. It’s as if he’s out on the ground. I say: ‘Lou, you’re not playing any more, remember’. His one true love is football. I take a back seat,“ she quips………..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….….

Hardly any of the current Maggies would recognise this reserved little fellah with the swarthy complexion and the trademark peaked-cap. He and Roma sit behind the goals at the Women’s Industries-end of the Norm Minns Oval – have done for more than 50 years.

He’s declined offers to move to more salubrious surrounds; and maybe sample a bit of the Club’s upstairs hospitality. He’s comfortable there, he says, and doesn’t fancy too much fuss.

“I like doing my own thing. I can criticize if I want to…..and no-one will hear me.”

Louie’s from a Golden Era. In his day he was as good as any small defender going around. But he won’t have a word said against the modern game. “I love it; can’t get enough of it.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

His is the classic story of a lad, born of immigrant parents, who completely embedded themselves in the local community.

His Dad sailed to Australia from the tiny, mountain village of Lentia in Northern Italy, in 1927; Mum followed four years later.

After settling in Melbourne, then Gippsland, ‘Pop’ landed a job out at the Glenrowan Quarry, smashing rocks. It was a tough old gig. Lou still has the sledgehammer he used; says you need to be a muscle-man to lift it.

After they settled in Wang, the old fellah used to ride his bike out to a block he’d bought at the foot of the Warbies, and cut wood all day.

Lou was born at York’s, a Private Hospital just over the Railway line in Rowan Street. It was merely a hop, step and jump to transport him home – the Cesa’s lived just up the road, in Green Street.

Nor was it necessary to travel far for work when he started as an apprentice joiner at R.M.Clayton’s.  He was 15 when he rode to their factory in Mackay Street…….. And that’s where he was to spend the entirety of his working life.

“I started off on 22 shillings and sixpence, and had to hand over a bit of board and pay off my bike out of that. The next year I got a rise to two pounds 13 and fourpence. I’ve still got that bike, you know.”

On the day he retired, his mum, who was 95 at the time, was invited to his farewell barbecue. It was her first visit to her son’s workplace of 50 years. “She didn’t know the building existed, and marvelled at the size of the machines that cost me some of my fingers,” he says……..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

When Lou was growing up, the Wangaratta Junior League comprised just four clubs. They’d introduced a zoning system and, as he was living near the middle of town, Centrals became his club, in 1946.

They were starved of success in his first couple of years. Yet, completely against the odds, they took out the ‘47 flag. I’ll let Lou explain it.

“We didn’t win any of the home-and-away games, and were stone motherless last. Then we happened to take out the First-Semi, Prelim and, amazingly, the Grand Final…… You’ll have to take my word for this, as I’m pretty sure I’m the only one still alive from that side.”

The next step in his football journey was to try his luck with Wangaratta. It was 1949, and the seeds of the Magpies’ greatest era had already been sown. The great Mac Holten had arrived to take over as coach, and duly implement a play-on style of game which was to prove fabulously successful.

Along with many other Junior League graduates, Lou became a member of the Reserves team, which played in the Benalla-Tungamah League.

“I remember buying my first pair of boots at Jack Ferguson’s Shoe Store, and getting old Maurie Adair to hammer some stops in them. Nine times out of ten the stops would be gone by half-time,” he says.

“We’d travel out by bus to places like Devenish, Tungamah, Dookie and Wilby. It was a side of kids, really, but a pretty good standard. We reckoned some of those blokes trained by kicking bags of wheat around. For instance, you had the Lane brothers from St.James who were built like Sherman Tanks-. It was tough footy….and great experience for us.”

The trips back to Wang were rollicking affairs, and Lou admits he’d often be coaxed into providing a rendition of his favourite song: ‘China Doll’.

“When we got home we’d wind down by having a few beers,  then go to the local dance at the Town Hall….a few of the older ones would go square-dancing.”

Mid-way through 1951 he was blooded for four senior games with the ‘Pies. The following season he cemented a permanent spot .

Wang were chasing their fourth flag on the trot, but Rutherglen, coached by ex-Essendon rover Greg Tate, had set the pace for most of the year.

They pipped the Pies by 7 points in the Second-Semi. The decider a fortnight later was a topsy -turvy encounter, with the lead changing several times.

Wang wrestled their way to a seven-point lead at lemon-time, but finished on strongly, to run out winners by 20 points.IMG_4193

Lou had entrenched himself in defence, and performed capably on a back flank in the Grand Final. It was, he admits, hard to get his head around being part of this team of champions.

He was now a key member of the Wangaratta side. When the O & M met East Perth at Albury two years later, there he was in a back pocket.

The following season he represented the Black and Gold in the first-ever Country Championship Carnival, joining such stars of the game as Jack Jones, Timmy Robb and Lance Mann. The side contained eight players who were on the verge of graduating to VFL ranks.

O & M proved too strong for Ballarat in the Final, with the Age reporting that: ‘… Sandral (back flank) and Cesa (back pocket) were crucial factors in the victory, and were responsible for repelling many Ballarat attacks….’IMG_4191

Wangaratta reached another Grand Final later that year, meeting North Albury in a memorable encounter .

Lou’s main focus was on the enviable task of keeping Hopper coach Tim Robb in check . “He and North’s full forward Lester Yensch were the danger-men,” he recalls.

Yensch booted a near-impossible goal mid-way through the final term, then Wang’s Lance Oswald marked superbly, and replied, to narrow the margin to four points. Suddenly, a fiendish gale blew up, with a storm erupting over the ground.

North’s Arthur Pickett, almost from the centre of the Rovers ground, booted a goal with the aid of the hefty breeze. In heavy rain, the Hoppers were content to play out time and hold their 10-point advantage to the siren.

Lou featured in his second O & M flag in 1957 – a classic contest against old rivals Albury – which looked to have slipped from their grasp in the dying stages.

The Tigers held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, but Wang slowly bridged the gap. With just one minute remaining, Lance Oswald snapped accurately from the angle, to see his side take out a sensational game by two points.

“That was Lou’s best-ever game for Wangaratta, I reckon,” says his old team-mate Bill Comensoli. “ He was named on a wing, opposed to Reggie Gard, who was one of Albury’s important players. He held sway all day.”

“I remember the siren blowing and all the emotion that overflowed,” Lou recalls. “Albury’s Jim Robison was that disappointed that he turned and whacked Rex Allen, who was standing beside him. Poor old Rex happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”IMG_4218

The 1958 season proved to be Lou’s last as a player. His legs had been playing up, and he’d been operated on to drain blood from them. Doctor Phillips, and the surgeon, Hal Stanistreet, both recommended that he give it away before he finished up a cripple.

He’d married that year…….“Yes, he also had a nagging wife telling him to give it up,” jokes Roma…….

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Lou coached Junior League club Combined Churches for a few years in the sixties, and took them to the 1967 premiership. Three of the side – Geoff Welch, ‘Manny’ Booth and Russell Stone were to play in O & M flags in the seventies. A few others had handy careers.IMG_4195

When his own two boys, Ian and Colin, became of age they stripped for Centrals. Roma says that when it was her turn to wash the Club’s Brown and Gold guernseys, she had to drape them on the fence.

One of the neighbors – a keen Rovers man – asked why she didn’t hang them on the clothes-line:

“Lou won’t let me !,” she replied.

Ian and Col both followed in their old man’s footsteps and went on to play senior footy with the Pies.

The Cesa’s also had three girls – Cheryl, Karen and Joanne. Sadly, Cheryl suffered an inoperable brain aneurism and passed away, aged 33, after being on Life-Support at the Alfred Hospital for some time.

“It was a sad time. You never forget it,” Roma recalls. “We cared for three of her kids for about three years, before their dad took them back. It hurt us when they left…..We wish we’d kept them.”

Lou and Roma headed over to Italy a few years ago, and made acquaintance with many of the Cesa clan in Lentia. They were treated like,. well, long-lost relations, and had a whale of a time.

Just the same, it was great to get back home. After all, Lou was missing his footy…………….IMG_4194

‘WATCHING THE GAME FROM THE GATE….’

I wake up on Sunday morning with a queasy feeling in the stomach.

No, it’s not from last-night’s over-indulgence……Worse…It’s Derby-Day, and I can’t see how my Hawks, who’ve been competitive this year, can be any match for a rampant Wangaratta.

I can only go on media reports and local scuttlebut, which indicate that they’re flag favourites, boasting a side chock-full of talent. Aside from an aberration up at Tigerland, they’ve swept all opposition aside with consummate ease.

To further aggravate matters, I’m working on the Gate, and will have to contend with chirpy Magpies filtering through – all with that look of smug satisfaction on their dials – their only irritation being that they have to begrudgingly hand over some of their ‘hard-earned to these Rovers pricks’………

Being on gate-duty once the siren blows, is like watching life unfold through the bars of a dingy prison cell. You peer across, and catch a glimpse of the scoreboard -if you can -through the heavily-populated bank to the right of the Hogan Stand.

And it’s not a happy tale……

The roar of the crowd is a sure-fire indicator. Sounds like it’s all one-way traffic, after a promising start. The Pies pile on the goals. To my surprise, one fan is departing, even though it’s only half-way through the second term….or maybe, he’s going out to fetch something from the car.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (17)

“Want a Pass-Out ?” …..”Nah. I’ve seen enough. They’re too slow……Keep turning the ball over. It’s gonna be a belting.”

Gee, that doesn’t sound promising. Am I seeing right ?…..Looks like it’s blown out past six goals.

To confirm this, I switch on the trannie, and pick up Gambie and Omo on OAK-FM. They’re full of praise for the Magpies, who are chopping up the Hawks through the mid-field. And big Josh Porter is causing headaches up forward……… Then they utter the words I didn’t want to hear : “……the Rovers are flat-out trying to keep tabs on their classy opponents, and seem to be losing control…….”

Just before the half-time siren blows, we start packing up, and see that there’s only four goals in it. Are the Rovers slowly creeping back into the game……or will the Pies run away with it? For verification, I consult a couple of knowledgeable experts in the rooms, and, though they’re usually ‘Glass Half-Full types’, they’re of the latter opinion.

Wang are too strong all over the ground, they tell me; they’re using the ball better, and have capitalised on the Rovers’ skill errors…………….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

So I take up my usual position, leaning on the inter-change box in front of the rooms. From this vantage-spot you can also watch the ‘Crezza Show’. He’s in fine form today. Fully-animated…. gesticulating….arms waving….offering priceless morsels of advice to youngsters coming off…..and a blast to those of his players who’ve deviated from the game-plan.IMG_4149

He couldn’t be any closer to the action, and you can see by his body language, that he likes what he sees in the early stages of this third-quarter.

The Hawks are kicking to the ‘Gum-Tree End’. After hearing the prognostications of those at half-time, I’m staggered by what I’m seeing. Early on, diminutive Patty Hourigan takes possession of the pill deep in attack, and snaps a ripper, which enthuses the packed Rovers supporters on the balcony.

Then the ‘Brodie-Filo look-alike’, Matt Medcraft contemplatively takes a long-range shot from deep on the far flank. It evades flailing hands and bounces through. A miracle goal…..and what a team-lifter.

A change has certainly come over the game which, those around me say, has gone to another level. The tackling and ferocity is Ovens and Murray footy at its best from both sides.O&M Wang Rovers vs Wangaratta (17)

But the momentum is certainly with the Hawks. When dashing Jack Gerrish bolts through the middle of the ground, bouncing and skilfully keeping control of the ball at full-pace, it illustrates what a game of inches it is.

Had he faltered, the ball would have been quickly rebounded to the other end. But he steadies, and it ends up in the hands of his 2018 Thirds team-mate, Sam Allen, who slots a major, mid-post high, through the big sticks.

Amazingly, the Hawks have drawn level, and there’s a buzz around the ground reminiscent of those fabled Derby clashes of days gone-by.

Minutes later, young Sammy pops another one through, once again demonstrating his forte – a lethal right foot – and proving that  a footballer can be transformed. from a ‘turd to a camellia’ in a matter of twenty minutes.

The Rovers hold the ascendency by a goal at three quarter-time, and both camps are reasonably confident of their chances.

Will the Pies steady, and with their big-game experience, regain the upper-hand ? Or, with adrenalin pumping in their veins, and taking their chances, can the Hawks hold on?

Wang do most of the attacking in the early-to-mid stages of the final term, but can’t land the blow which would swing the game their way.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (10)

In one of the key moments, the big fellah, Ed Dayman, tackles and scores a free kick, then lines up a pressure shot for goal. This shot’ll test him surely, I surmise. No problems, it doesn’t deviate. He’s a gun, young Ed.

Matt Grossman, who has been thrust forward by the Pies, is free-kicked, and the 50-metre penalty which follows, aids him in nailing their first goal in a half.

They boot four successive behinds; the last of them a flying shot which causes the post to shake like most of the nervous fans. It reduces the margin to two points, but it’s only when Stuart Booth runs in to hammer a goal home with less than two minutes remaining, that the game is finally put to bed.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (18)

The siren, which brings finality to a contest and a half, prompts an overflowing of emotion, as the players congregate in mid-field.

Apparently one player gave a bit of lip, which prompted Maggie Daniel Boyle to react. Nothing wrong with that, I reckon. More to the point, it’s nice to know that the old home-town rivalry is alive and well.

What is worth a rap, though, is his effort to come into the Rovers rooms to apologise. That’s character for you……………..O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (20)

Special thanks to Melissa Beattie of the Wang. Chronicle, for the photos.

‘THE KNOCK-ABOUT ‘JOURNO’ WHO MADE HIS MARK……’

There he is, rejoicing in the aftermath of the 1976 Grand Final, ……. Pandemonium reigns at Wangaratta’s City Oval…….. With long hair flapping, arms raised to the heavens, he flashes a gap-toothed grin, and acknowledges the cheers of the delirious fans.IMG_4083

“I might have been saluting all you Rovers supporters, too…….! ” quips Phil Nolan.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

That was arguably Phil’s proudest sporting moment. Long after the event, he has become an iconic figure in Wangaratta – and beyond. Even veteran Hawks, who were once tantalised by his aggressive style of play, have come to accept that he’s a ‘top-notch bloke…..for a Maggie’.

Any wonder. He has made an immense contribution to sport and the community  over almost five decades.

When I suggest having a yak about his footy career, he’s initially reluctant. Someone had mentioned he might be difficult to pin down, as he’s not over-fussy about self-promotion.

But I think the old journo sympathised with my persistence……

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

He was born into the bosom of the Echuca Football Club, so to speak. “Dad (Eddie), who had been a rear-gunner during the War, was a premiership player. I think the races ended up grabbing him more than footy, though,” says Phil.

Eight of his mum’s brothers – the Kenna’s – stripped for the Murray Bombers, including an uncle, Kevin (Grumpy) who was to become a coaching legend in the Goulburn Valley.

Phil moved through the Thirds, and figured in a Reserves flag in 1969. Luckily enough, he’d come under the influence of Hawthorn champ Graeme Arthur, who had taken over the coaching job, and was keen to bring on the youngsters.

“‘Mort’ Arthur made a difference to a lot of people – me included,” Phil says. “Not only on the footy side of things, but also by  placing particular emphasis on being a decent person.”

His introduction to Wangaratta came early in 1970, when Echuca played a practice match against the Rovers.  The energetic big man was keen to show his mettle.

Sides used to go in with four ruckmen in those days, and Phil was able to hang onto his senior spot for most of the season . Despite the loss of coach Arthur, with a broken  forearm , Echuca won their way into the Bendigo League Grand Final. They  met Sandhurst whom they had rolled in the second-semi.IMG_4095

“The old Hawthorn hard-man ‘Delicate’ Des Dickson, was Sandhurst’s coach. He’d ‘fixed-up’ our centre half forward in the semi, and there was some concern that he may try to repeat it in the Grand Final.”

“Our back pocket player, Ray Murphy, a timber-cutter from Mathoura ( and the toughest bloke I ever played with), said: ‘Leave him to me’. Sure enough, he’s snotted ‘Delicate’. He stayed on the ground, but had no impact. We went on to win the flag,……….”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Phil was almost through his Journalism Cadetship with the ‘Riverine Herald’ when he received a phone call from an old colleague, Geoff Easdown, with the offer of a job at the paper in Devonport.

“Young and ambitious, I decided to take it up. I left the ‘Riverine Herald’ on the Friday, Kerry and I got married on Saturday, and we flew down to Devonport on Sunday.”

“The only thing I’d forgotten was to organise a roof over our heads. We were met at the Airport by officials from the Devonport Football Club, who queried where we were staying. ‘Ah, actually, nowhere yet’, I said. So they teed up a motel for a couple of weeks and I duly signed with them.”

Tassie football was really strong in the ‘70’s. The N.W.F.U, with which Devonport were affiliated, boasted players of the calibre of Darrell Baldock, Alan ‘Bull’ Richardson, Vin Waite, Max Urquhart, Bob and Barrie Pascoe and Geoff Cayzer.

But for the lean, lanky Nolan it was a valuable learning experience. He handled the role of lone ruckman with ease, representing the NWFU and taking out the club’s B & F in his first season. And he really responded to the coaching of Paddy Martin, the sage non-playing leader.

“Old Paddy’s still going strong; he’s just on 92, I think. A lovely bloke. I still catch up with him occasionally. He was named as a coaching ‘Legend’ in Tassie’s Hall of Fame a few years back .”

Phil found the going a bit tougher in his second year in Tasmania. As a key player , he reasoned he would need to adapt, as he was becoming a target in the big-man duels.

”When George McInnes, the former Corowa player, who was at Wynyard, knocked out my two front teeth, I decided I’d better start giving a bit back…. Just to let ‘em know I was around……”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

His father’s serious illness in late 1972 persuaded Phil and Kerry to re-locate to the mainland, to be closer to the family. He sent away applications to half a dozen papers, and received two responses – from Camperdown and Wangaratta.

“We reckoned the Western District was too cold, so we settled on the Wangaratta Chronicle,” he says.

A former Echuca boy, Geoff Rosenow, held the coaching reins at Wangaratta, so that pretty much prompted Phil to throw in his lot with the ‘Pies.

He was introduced to O & M football in a fiery clash with Wodonga, when he brushed with feisty Bulldog coach Mick Bone. This was to be the first of many such entanglements which would earn him a reputation as one of the League’s ‘enforcers’.

But he also deservedly ranked among the finest ruckman in the game.IMG_4085

The ‘Pies were there or thereabouts in his first two seasons, finishing fourth and third. They again reached the Prelim Final in 1975, under Harry Skreja. But when the star forward announced later that year, that he was relinquishing the coaching job and returning to Melbourne, it left the club in a pickle.

“They had to tee someone up in a hurry. Jack White ( President) fronted me and said: ‘Listen, son. What about it ?’ “

“I’d already given it a bit of thought, and, having been heavily-influenced by two of my former coaches, Graeme Arthur and Paddy Martin, I said: ‘Alright, I’ll have a crack at it.’ “

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

So Wangaratta had appointed its first coach from ‘within the ranks’ since Alec Fraser took the job on in 1940.

The players were in no doubt that he would make a go of it. He was highly-popular, a brilliant orator, and had proved an inspiration on-field in his first three years at the Club.

But it was also a matter of blending in with work ( he had recently taken on the Editorship of the Chronicle ) – and a growing family.

Righto, Phil, tell us about ‘76,  I ask…….”How many pages have you got left in that note-book ?,” he jokes.

“I remember being pretty toey before we ran out for the first game of the season. Bob Comensoli, our Chairman of Selectors, motioned me over. I thought to myself….. ‘this’ll be interesting’.”

“He pulled me close, clenched that boxer’s mitt of his, and muttered: ‘Phil, ya gotta look after ‘em a bit.’………I got the message. “IMG_4086

“We certainly weren’t a team of stars. Jack O’Halloran was the stand-out, but we had a good even side, all decent blokes. And we played quite a few kids that year……..”

The ‘Pies finished second after the home-and-away rounds, then belted North Albury, and snuck home from Albury in successive weeks, to march into the Grand Final.

The much-anticipated Rovers – Wangaratta clash  was a promoter’s dream. The Hawks, who had held sway through most of the seventies, had come from fifth, but rated their chances.

They’d won the previous 11 ‘local-derby’s’ and had snared six flags since the ‘Pies’ last success, in 1961.

But they were never really in the game, with Wang dominating early to lead 8.6 to 4.5 at half-time. As the crowd settled down in anticipation of another typical Hawk fight-back, it failed to eventuate. The Pies ran away, to triumph by 37 points.

“We’d had a run on the City Oval on the Thursday night before the game, and trained the house down,” Phil says. “I knew then that we were in with a real chance.”

 

IMG_4092

It has gone down in local folklore as a famous Wangaratta victory – maybe the most memorable in their history.

Wang, minus a few players in 1977, were second-last at the half-way mark, but scraped into the finals and battled their way into another flag-decider. There to meet them again were the Hawks, who exacted their revenge over a tired opponent, to win by 52 points.

Phil had led the O & M to victory over South-West League in the Country Championship clash that year, and also took out the ‘Pies B & F. He was at the peak of his form, but after another season in charge, he resigned as coach in 1978.

“I thought three years was enough. Besides, we now had three kids ( Kellee, Hayley and Annalee), so I decided to concentrate on playing,” he says.

Then, in 1982, he was asked if he’d like to have another stint as coach.

“I enjoyed coaching,” he says, “But I shouldn’t have taken it on again. My hammies were playing up and I was just about knackered.”

Half-way through the following season he finally hung up the boots, after 175 games with the Pies……..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Phil says he gets his footy ‘fix’ these days by regularly watching O & M games, and being involved with the North-East Border AFL commission.

But he served footy dutifully, post-retirement, spending 14 years (1991 – 2004 ) as an Ovens and Murray Board member, a regular MC at sporting functions, and a member of a few Tribunals. As an old footy protagonist he’d have pre-empted the evidence of most Tribunal defendants, I would expect.IMG_4081

Along the way, he’d been awarded an Order of Australia Medal, and been inducted to the Magpies’ and O & M Hall of Fames. In 2017 he was announced as the Rural City’s Citizen of the Year’: ‘for his unswerving loyalty to the community of Wangaratta’. . It took into account, of course, a staggering 31-year stint as Editor of the Chronicle, and the number of organisations with which he was involved.

That wasn’t a bad tribute, I reckon, for a bloke who landed in town 46 years ago, as a laid-back journo and knock-about footballer……………..IMG_4082