” ‘HAWK EXPRESS’ BRINGS 1960 CUP BACK HOME…….”

Sixty years ago this week Roley Marklew enacted a boyhood dream, the details of which are still clearly embedded in his mind……

He’d been thrown into the Wangaratta Rovers senior line-up mid-way through the 1960 season, aged 16. His first assignment was to replace the injured full back Lex James. His opponent ?…….One of the Ovens and Murray League’s glamour players, celebrated North Albury spearhead Stan Sargeant.

A solid performance led to him being tested in a variety of positions; back flank, back pocket, forward flank, a turn as a ruck-rover, …….It was a sort of apprenticeship on the run……and who better to nurture him than the legendary Bob Rose.

After just nine senior games Roley had cemented his spot in the side……But as the days rolled on towards the Grand Final, doubts start to creep in.

He’d heard tales of selectors sometimes opting for an experienced old-timer, in preference to a raw kid like himself, who may be prone to suffer ‘stage-fright’ on such a momentous occasion….

He needn’t have worried………. Bob Rose assured him after training that he had a role to perform……He was in……But that didn’t stop him mentally rehearsing the game, over and over………

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By the time the ‘Hawk Express’ pulled out of the Wangaratta Railway Station, bound for Albury, excitement in the Rovers camp was at fever-pitch.

The train was chock-a-block with players, wives, girl-friends, officials…and a couple of hundred supporters, all wearing some sort of Brown and Gold paraphernalia.

Roley couldn’t help but be swept up in the atmosphere of the day, particularly as every second person was wishing him all the best……..

He couldn’t wait to get onto the Albury Sportsground and spring into action……………………..

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The recruitment of Bob Rose in 1956 had provided the impetus for the Rovers’ ascension as an O & M power. They’d been more or less an irrelevance during their first six years in the league, but the Collingwood champ’s arrival enticed record memberships and crowds, fostered enthusiasm and acted as a magnet for recruits.

The premiership that transpired in 1958 was the reward…….1960 would, hopefully, provide ‘redemption’ for the close-shave the Hawks had suffered against Yarrawonga in the previous season’s decider…………

Coleraine’s Lex James, who was rated one of country football’s finest defenders, was added to an already imposing list. Greta winger Brian Hallahan, and a strongly-built key position player from Moyhu, Billy McKenzie, shone out, as did a batch of Junior League hopefuls, including devil-may-care backman Bob Atkinson from South Wanderers and, of course, young Marklew, the blossoming utility from Combined Churches.

There was a steely resolve in the Hawk camp during the season, as they swept to a dozen conclusive wins; the most ruthless of them a 103-point belting of Albury – 15.20 to 0.7.

But they were ‘off the boil’ against middle-rungers Corowa in Round 13, and trailed by 32 points mid-way through the last term. A withering five-goal burst left them one point shy at siren-time.

That was the only blemish on the road to the finals. But a slight hiccup occurred in the Round 18 clash with Benalla.

The Demons went down by a goal in a riveting encounter, which left them out of the finals by a mere two points. After it was revealed that the siren-button had been accidentally pressed 12 seconds too soon, the match was ordered to be re-played.

It was a case of ‘déjà vu the following week. This time the margin was eight points – also in the Rovers’ favour. Benalla’s season was over……

The backdrop to the controversial finish was that Bob Rose’s three-vote game in the original clash secured him the Morris Medal – one vote clear of Benalla’s back-pocket dynamo Richie Castles.

So the Hawks finished four wins clear of second-placed Wodonga. The two clubs had developed an intense rivalry since Collingwood mates Rose and Des Healy had arrived to lead the respective clubs.

The teams were locked together at three quarter-time of the Second Semi, but the Hawks steadied in the final stanza to prevail by two goals, and march into their third successive Grand Final.

They awaited the Bulldogs, who overcame torrential rain, and a persistent Yarrawonga, in the Preliminary Final…………..

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A record crowd, the majority of them leaning towards the unfancied Wodonga, saw the powerful Rovers at their best, in a game that was never really in doubt.

Roley Marklew fondly recalls the humbling experience of running out alongside some of the finest players of that era………

“You had ‘Long John’ McMonigle, a tall, lean fellah who would be instructed to belt the ball clear of the packs. I’ve never seen anyone dominate the centre bounce like him. Sometimes the ball would land in the arms of the centre half forward. He was such a docile person, but when he got fired up he could do anything.”

“Les Clarke was the vice-captain. He’d been there since the Club joined the O & M….An inspirational player………And Lennie Greskie, who was just a young rover at the time, and ended up as a tough back pocket.”

“Max ‘Pigsy’ Newth, was an ex-rover from Greta. He was just 5’6”, yet played as a decoy full forward and kicked a lot of goals.”

“I was privileged to play alongside all of them…….and what a thrill it was to watch the ‘Bob Rose Show’ from a vantage spot………….”

Leading by 25 points at half-time, the Rovers’ pace and aerial supremacy made it hard for the Dogs to even get a sniff. Small men Johnny Hawke and Des Healy, who had been key factors in Wodonga’s recent good form, were well held, and they had no answer to the magical Rose.

Reg Pendergast had the unforgiving task of being assigned as his ‘shadow’, but ‘Mr.Football’ was unperturbed, and was well-nigh unstoppable, booting 4.6 and assisting in a few other scoring sorties.

The tired Dogs were unable to conjure anything which would reduce the margin. They trailed by 30 points at three quarter-time and, after a lack-lustre final term the scoreboard read: 11.17 to 8.13.

Rugged Ray Burns, who chimed in with three majors, did loads of heavy work around the ground, whilst irrepressible left-footer Neil McLean showed his class at centre half forward.

McMonigle and his ruck partner Ray Thompson held sway in the ruck. Wingers Les Gregory and Claude Rogers were on top, and centreman Tony Chambeyron saw off three opponents.

The Chronicle reported that: “……….There were tears in Rose’s eyes as he was carried from the ground, spattered in confetti and stripped down to his shorts. The Hawk supporters had watched in awe whilst he and his 19 team-mates had effected what amounted to a slaughter,” …………

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More than 1,000 adoring fans waited patiently back at the Wangaratta station, to acknowledge the triumphant Premiers.

They arrived nearly two hours late; held up by a goods-train derailment at Wodonga.

“It was an amazing atmosphere when we pulled in,” Roley recalls. “ The Brass Band was performing and each player was cheered as we touched down on the platform…..Then they serenaded us down to the ground, where the celebrations were in full swing.”

If that wasn’t enough to whet the appetite of a football tyro, he saddled up for the Rovers against VFA premiers, Oakleigh, in a highly-publicised Challenge-Match the following week.

Big money was allegedly wagered on the game by some of Oakleigh’s financial backers, who were willingly accommodated, but it became a boil-over, as the Hawks won in a canter, by 73 points…………

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The good judges predicted that Roley Marklew was destined to be one of the Rovers’ greats.

They were ultimately to be proved correct, but in the meantime, like many a highly-touted youngster, he experienced his share of ups and downs.

After failing to fulfill his early promise, he moved to Tarrawingee for three seasons, regained his zest for the game, and played in dual premierships, in 1963 and ‘64.

Back with the Hawks in 1966, a ruptured spleen and punctured lung cost him most of the season. But once fit, he showed that he had become a more mature and well-rounded player, applauded for his desperation, adaptability and hard edge.

Opposition fans had a different slant on him ; often taking offence at his inclination to dish out punishment. But, to his credit, he was rarely put off his game when the time came for retribution.

As a ‘Collingwood six-footer’ he was handed various roles, sometimes giving away inches to key position players, but compensating with fierce endeavour.

The best footy of Roley’s career was possibly played in his last five years with the Hawks. Positioned mainly as a half-forward, he was more than many back flankers bargained for.

As an ‘elder statesman’ of the 1971 and ‘72 premiership sides, he ‘grew another leg’ when finals-time arrived.

The last of his 162 games with the Club came in the 1973 Preliminary Final loss to North Albury.

Invited to coach North Wangaratta for two seasons, he spent a third as a player and wound up his career by kicking six goals in North’s 95-point demolition of Beechworth, as the O & K Hawks cruised to the 1976 flag.

After playing 300-odd games, and often incurring the wrath of opposition supporters, many fans saw it as rather ironic when Roley warmed to the idea of becoming a ‘Man in White’.

He umpired for 14 years, and of the 500 or so games he handled, a good portion of them were at senior O & M level. As you’d imagine, he was a target of opposition supporters whenever he was allocated a Rovers match.

One of his footy highlights came in 1986 when Rick, his 16 year-old son was elevated from the Thirds to play the first of his 229 senior games with the Rovers. From that point on Roley ceased umpiring and became a fixture at the Findlay Oval.

You’d find him filling in as a goal-umpire, assisting the medical staff, and doing maintenance jobs around the Club.

His match-day usually started before 8am and involved loading up the Thirds equipment-trailer to head off to away games. A swag of kids passed through the ranks in his time, not least of them his grand-son Alex, who carried on the family tradition by moving up to make his senior debut in 2013.

Many of the youngsters Roley closely monitored over the last 30-odd years didn’t kick on, others become stalwarts of the Brown and Gold, striving, as he did, to emulate the glory that came his way back in 1960 ……………

“BEST KICK I EVER SAW…….”

The subject of this yarn politely declined an interview. “That’s okay,” I said. “Do you mind if I do a bit of a resume’ of your considerable sporting career.” “Go for your life,” was the reply……

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You’ve probably spotted him on his daily walk around the streets of Wangaratta…….. The gait is instantly-recognisable…..Long arms pumping……Legs striding out purposefully……..Head down…

Someone suggested he’s either attempting to unravel the problems of the universe……Or on the look-out for a stray 50-cent piece to add to his collection………..

Another route often takes him from his Templeton Street residence, down to Evans Street, where he might complete three or four circuits of the bank at his old Home Ground………..

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There was a time, more than five decades ago, when the crowd on those banks would roar with delight, as the big number 15 plucked a mark – reaching into the sky like a giant cherry-picker.

“Line ‘em up ‘Thommo’ “, they’d yell…….And from some obscene distance he’d bomb the pill through the big sticks.

No, I’m not dreaming.

Nostalgic old-timers recall the day Gary Ablett landed one from close to the centre of the ground for Myrtleford in a 1983 Semi-Final. It’s grown in distance over the years, to be labelled the longest goal ever kicked on the Findlay Oval.

Ray Thompson booted those regularly.IMG_4319

He had hands the size of meat-plates, and wore a pair of boots which amply protected his ankles. They were tailor-made for him by a city cobbler called Hope Sweeney, recognised as the best boot-maker in the business. ‘Thommo’ modestly vouched that the ‘Hope Sweeney’s’ were the reason he could hoof the ball a country mile……………

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The Thompson’s arrived in Wangaratta from Wagga in 1956, settled in Orwell Street, and began operating the town’s major Brickworks’.

It was a family concern, and Ray left school, aged 14, to join the business, toiling alongside his dad Sidney, and brothers Ron and Alan. The demanding, physically-taxing nature of the work no doubt hastened the development of his imposing physique.

He was still a teen-ager when Sidney passed away, so the boys took over joint operation of the Brickworks. Ray became the designated Employment Officer.

I came knocking on his door a decade or so later and became yet another of the itinerant employees of ‘Thompson’s’.

I’d just landed home from a casual, year-long Northern Sporting Safari and Ray warned : “I’m not sure whether this’ll be your cuppa tea.”

He was right. I advised him at lunch-time on the second day that I’d had enough.

‘Thompson’s Brickworks’ continued on to be an integral part of the local building landscape for almost 40 years, before the boys sold out to Boral in 1983…………

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When Ray was first invited to the Rovers, to train after the completion of his Junior League commitments at Centrals in late-1958, one jokester likened him to a new-born foal – all arms and legs.

He was slotted straight into the senior line-up in Round 1, 1959, as a back pocket, with the occasional run on the ball. That position, he always said, was a footy ‘sinecure’ . Just read the play, back yourself to out-mark your opponent and send it back from whence it came.IMG_4321

At 18, it was obvious that the young fellah was a star in the making. He finished fourth in the B & F in his first year, then played a starring role in the 1960 flag.

He was in awe of the dynamic Bob Rose, who had a big influence on his development. Even today, get him yapping about those ‘Golden Days’ and he can unveil a host of Rose stories, depicting his brilliance and coaching prowess.

Like the time ‘Thommo’ earned his first O & M guernsey, in 1961, and had the honour of playing alongside the great man in a Country Championship match against the Goulburn Valley.

He recalled ‘Rosie’ hardly being able to stand, or lace up his boots without assistance, before the game. The selectors tried to talk him out of playing. But he would have nothing of it. “With the stars that are playing in this side feeding the ball to me, I’ll be okay,” he said.

Ray was on fire up forward at Benalla one day, and booted five majors in a quarter, before rolling his ankle.

Reasoning that he’d be no value to the side in that condition, he advised Rose, who said: ‘No, we’ll plonk you in the pocket. They’ll be that focused on keeping you under control that it’ll release a couple of our other forwards to do some damage.”

In 1961 ‘Thommo’ was in his prime, and took out the Club Best & Fairest. The departure of veteran Les Clarke the following season saw him handed the vice-captaincy, under Rose. He was 21. By now he was used to spending most of his time at centre half forward, where he proved a near-insurmountable obstacle for defenders. If he got a sniff of it in the air those huge hands would clamp the ball.IMG_4323

He resisted the overtures of five VFL clubs. On one occasion he was at the Western Oval, watching Rovers player Barrie Beattie go around in a Footscray practice match. Teddy Whitten, who was notified that he was in the crowd, invited him to strip for the last half. ‘Thommo’ declined.

His mates reckoned that “he’d probably have had a crack at League footy if they’d set him up in a Brickworks down there”.

One of his most memorable performances came in the 1964 Grand Final. The Hawks had won the first 15 matches that season, before losing the next four, which included a demoralising loss to Wangaratta in the Second-Semi.

After a shaky start, they overcame Myrtleford in the Prelim, to earn another shot at the ‘Pies in the big one. ‘Thommo’ had copped a heavy knock against the Saints and was unable to train on Tuesday or Thursday night prior to the Grand Final.

He was still receiving pain-killing injections minutes before the match and limped and hobbled around ten minutes after the start.

The ‘Chronicle’s’ journo Lester Hansen summed up his performance…….

“In an inspired patch of football in the third quarter, Thompson kicked four of the Hawks’ six goals. The big fellow hauled down incredible marks, moved around the ground with the poise of a ballet dancer and burnt off opponents with speed that must have amazed even himself. It will forever be remembered as ‘Thommo’s quarter………….”IMG_4320

The Hawks made it successive flags the following year . One of the tactics of coach Ken Boyd was to start Thompson in the back pocket, then move him to centre half forward as the game unfolded.

The ‘65 Grand Final was no exception. Boyd had been having trouble with Magpie defender Bernie Killeen. But when big Ray moved onto Killeen he added life to the attack and combined well with elusive flanker Laurie Flanigan to help swing the pendulum in the Hawks’ favour.

‘Thommo’ injured his knee in an inter-League match against Bendigo in 1966 and it began to cause him no end of trouble. He thought if he had a good spell and tried again, that might help.

He could only limp his way through eight games in that horror year. And when he consulted South Melbourne’s Head Trainer Bill Mitchell, the diagnosis was heart-wrenching.IMG_4324

Thinking the pesky limb had settled down again over the summer, he decided to have a run with his old Rovers team-mate John Welch, who was coaching Whorouly. But after half a season he accepted the inevitable…

He retired at the tender age of 27, after playing 143 games for the Hawks. A stint on the committee, and as Chairman of Selectors, followed………

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‘Thommo’s’ fascination with cricket almost rivalled his passion for footy. As a middle-order batsman and purveyor of off-breaks, he was a member of the all-conquering United teams which dominated the local game through the sixties and seventies.

He featured in all nine of their WDCA flags. And when he and Brenda and the four kids moved out to Tarrawingee, he was one of the king-pins – on and off the field – in the resurgence of the ‘Bulldogs, who became a Sunday cricket power.

No tale about ‘Thommo’ would be complete without the re-telling of his finest stroke of golfing fortune. He was a regular on local courses and tackled the game with typical gusto. A handicap in the high 20’s had eventually been whittled down to the 12-mark.

He credited his improvement to a set of state-of-the-art clubs which were unfortunately snavelled from the back of his Ute after a game at Waldara. He promptly reported their departure to the Police and decided it was best to move on with life.

A call from the Prahran police, weeks later, notified him that they’d been ‘flogged off’ to Cash Converters for the paltry sum of $60, and if he came down to identify them, he could be re-united with his prized ‘Lindson’s’…

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Lester Hansen, the journo who wrote an aforementioned piece about the 1964 Grand Final, has now retired to Port Macquarie. He occasionally rings to touch base, catch up on the latest O & M gossip, and enquire as to the welfare of some of the old acquaintances of his Chronicle days.

The conversation eventually meanders to one of his favourites……..”How’s Thommo going…..What a player he was……Best kick I ever saw………..”

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P.S: Keen Rovers man that he is, ‘Thommo’ will be watching Saturday’s clash between the Hawks and Pigeons at the Findlay Oval. The Rovers Past Players are holding a Get-Together as part of the day.

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