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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s a true football fanatic, is Ray Card……..
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LOCAL BOY FIRES IN CROWEATER COUNTRY

When I first spotted Luke Norman, he was performing acrobatics behind the wicket.

As an up-and-coming ‘keeper in Wangaratta, he had a bullet beside his name. The experts predicted that he was undoubtedly destined for higher honours.

He possessed all the attributes of a top gloveman – agility, an eye like a dead fish, clean hands – and an abundance of confidence. Medium-pacers who had the knack of troubling the batsman by way of swing and guile, had an ally in Luke. He took them up on the stumps – and would have the bails off in a jiffy.

Like so many of his era, though, he drifted away from cricket – seduced by his first sporting love…………….

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He was born to be a Magpie. An uncle, Basil Schubert, patrolled the wing in their 1961 Premiership team. His dad Tom was a tough-as-nails back flanker who played 150-odd games in some fine Wangaratta sides of the sixties, including three losing Grand Finals.

It would have been four, only for Tommy, in a moment of madness, smacking Rovers hard-man Ken Boyd during a frenzied third quarter of the 1966 Preliminary Final.

There was an element of Tom’s toughness, and well-muscled physique, about Luke when he first arrived on the scene.

He’d played his junior football with Tigers, and graduated to the Magpies’ Thirds, providing a glimpse of his promise during an outstanding 1989 season. But he probably still reflects, with bewilderment, on what transpired at Morris Medal night that year .

Luke was one of six players who had finished equal top in the voting for the Thirds’ Award. The O & M opted for a count-back to decide the winner, and the young Pie was declared the Leo Dean Medallist.

Acting on advice from Wodonga Raiders the following day, League officials re-checked the team sheets and found that votes in one game had been allocated to the wrong players. Philip Partington, of the Raiders was handed three extra votes, to move him one vote ahead of the unfortunate Norman.

But that was a mere hiccup. He had debuted with the seniors that year, and was regarded as a star of the future. His first senior coach, Ray Card, saw his rapid improvement from one season to the next.

“All of a sudden, he developed from promising, to a player with the X-Factor about him……. Strong overhead, rather impetuous, dynamic and adept on both sides of his body……I could see he had the potential to be a star,” Card recalls.

Norman was part of a Wangaratta side which scraped into the finals in 1993. Pumped up by hot-gospeller Brian Walsh, they comfortably accounted for Corowa-Rutherglen in the Elimination Final, then survived a thrilling First Semi against Yarrawonga.

“Walshy had us really convinced we were on the march to the flag,” Luke recalls. “It should have been a Rovers-Wang Grand Final. We had most of the play in the last quarter of the Preliminary Final against Wodonga, but couldn’t put them away. Jon Henry had a shot for goal with the last kick of the game, but it went out on the full. Wodonga had held on to beat us by four points.”IMG_3519

A mate of Walsh’s put Melbourne in touch with Norman. They added him to their Supplementary List, and in 1994 he played 15 games with their Reserves, interspersed with occasional appearances back with Wangaratta.

The Demons had liked the look of him, and decided to give the bullocking utility his opportunity. Selected at pick 68 in the National Draft later that year, Luke Norman’s prayers had been answered.

He made 16 AFL appearances over the next two seasons. “I certainly wasn’t a standout,” he says. “I played some handy games, I suppose, and it was an enormous experience, but there were too many of my type of player on the list.”IMG_3510

The highlight, in Luke’s opinion, was his final game – the so-called ‘Merger-clash’ between Hawthorn and Melbourne. “It was billed as a dress-rehearsal for the ill-conceived marriage of the two clubs, and there was a fair bit of hype surrounding it. Hawthorn got up in the dying stages, to beat us by a point, in front of 60-odd thousand.”

Flicked by Melbourne at season’s end, he was enticed over to Adelaide by a team-mate, Clay Sampson, who was heading back home, to play with the Crows.

Luke signed with Sampson’s SANFL club, South Adelaide, and played 38 games with the Panthers. Standing 6’0 and weighing a touch over 13 stone, he proved adaptable, and well-suited to the South Australian game.

Then came the call of home. Wangaratta had fallen on hard times, winning just the one game in two seasons. They pleaded with one of their favourite sons to help extricate them from the mire.

He gave them good value. Now nearing his thirties, Norman probably played his best footy in the Black and White guernsey. A far more-rounded player, explosive, and difficult to contain, he was Best and Fairest in 2000 and ‘01, represented the Ovens and Murray League five times and won VCFL selection. And in 2001, he finished fourth, behind Robbie Walker, in the Morris Medal.IMG_3517

But unfortunately, in his three years back at the Norm Minns Oval, the Pies remained entrenched on the bottom of the ladder; seemingly eons away from the glory that was to await them seven years later.

After chalking up 140 games with Wang, he and his now-wife Mardi ( a South Australian ) decided to head back across the border. A good mate, Ian Borchard, had taken on the West Adelaide coaching job, and was keen for Luke to join him.

It proved an handy decision. Borchard was succeeded by Sean Rehn in 2003, and Norman, now in the veteran stage, hit it off well with the big ex-Crow.

“He introduced an AFL touch to his coaching, and the players loved him. Opportunities were provided to a few young kids, like Adam Cooney, Sean Tuck and Beau Waters. There were 11 players drafted from his three years as coach. We improved to the extent that we were a genuine challenger for the flag,” he says.

‘Westies’ nipped at the heels of the dominant Central Districts in the Second Semi, before going down by 18 points. Having earned the right to have another crack at them in the Grand Final, they weren’t quite strong enough. Districts controlled most of the game, to win the flag by 34 points.

Rehn appointed Norman captain in 2004, and he responded with a fine season, taking out the club Best and Fairest and Best Team Player awards.

He was again voted the Best Team Player the following year, but at the age of 34, knew that the end was nigh.

He retired at season’s end, after 67 games with Wests and a total 105 SANFL games under his belt. Sean Rehn, in farewelling him, said that : “……Norman was a player who extracted 100% effort from himself every time he played. As captain of West Adelaide, he typified the best qualities in a footballer and a person………..”

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Luke took on a role as Assistant and Forwards coach at Woodville-West Torrens in 2006. The SANFL colossus of the 2000’s that was Central Districts, were chasing their fourth straight flag. But WWT dismantled them by 76 points in a boil-over of a Grand Final, that shocked the large crowd.

Rick McGowan, who had been a fellow Assistant at Torrens, was appointed coach of Sturt in 2007, and snavelled Luke as Reserves and Assistant-Coach of the Two Blues.

Then, when McGowan was lured to Hawthorn in 2009, Sturt opted for Norman as senior coach.

“There are only nine people who can coach League footy in South Australia, so it was a privilege, and a great opportunity,” he says.IMG_3512

He took Sturt to the Grand Final in his first year, with a young, talented side, but found Central Districts too strong. It was Centrals’ eighth SANFL flag in ten years.

“We reached the finals again in 2010, despite missing a bunch of kids who’d been drafted. Then we had to deal with the loss of 18 players at the end of the year. It put a hell of a whole in the list, and in 2011, I played 24 first-gamers. We finished equal-bottom.”

“I’d been busy recruiting for six or seven weeks when I was called in early in November and told  I was being replaced. There was still a year to go on my contract.”

“But that’s footy. I was a bit hurt, but pretty philosophical about it. Coaches come and go…..and the club’s bigger than the individual.”

“It gives me a bit of satisfaction that Sturt have won the last two premierships with many of those 24 kids we introduced in 2011 playing an influential role.”

“I loved coaching. It’s an emotional roller-coaster. There are a lot of negatives, of course, like telling a player he’s been dropped……..But I enjoyed playing my part in educating kids about footy……and life.”

Luke stayed in touch with coaching during another two-year stint as Midfield Coach at Woodville-West Torrens in 2014-15, before moving over to Glenelg as Assistant, and forward coach last year.IMG_3513

He’s been running his own business – Norman Family Transports – since he retired from footy. It involves plenty of interstate travel and long hours, and Luke and Mardi have been contemplating re-locating back to Wangaratta with the kids – son Carter and the girls, Tommi and Milla.

The ‘welcome mat’ would certainly be rolled out for this local boy made good………….IMG_3515