VINNIE’S DREAMS COME TRUE……

I half-expect to hear strands of ‘We’re from Tigerland’ wafting through the air when I pull up in Garnett Avenue the day after the famous victory.

But no, all is quiet. Except when Vincent Costantino greets me at the back door, and the dulcet tones of Bruce McAvaney are excitedly chirping away in the background.

Vinnie explains that this is the third time he’s watched the Grand Final. “Each version gets better.”

Our conversation leads to an extensive post-mortem of the game. He was a tad worried early on when Rory Sloane was cutting loose; was happy to see Jack Riewoldt take a couple of grabs; liked the way the ‘Tiges’ were applying pressure; and loved it when they began to pile on the goals in the third quarter.

“That’s when I started to feel comfortable,” he says.

It’s only my opinion, but Vinnie gets my vote as Wangaratta’s most ardent Richmond supporter.

Out of the corner of my eye, I admire the limited-edition Royce Hart painting on one wall of the Lounge Room…..The Tigers’ 1997 Reserves Premiership team is proudly displayed on another ( “that’s the last flag we’d won before yesterday”)…..framed photos of ‘Captain Blood’…..an assortment of Yellow and Black memorabilia……the strong Richmond flavour of the bookshelf, with some illustrations in the books accompanied by autographs he’d collected from old Tiger
legends…….

Of course, on the table, I notice the Black phone with the Gold sash. And he explains his vehicle number plates – 178 RT Richmond Football Club – are his tribute to past champs Maurice Rioli and Michael Roach.

This is indeed a Tiger shrine. But then, so is Vinnie. He’s dressed in the number 9 Trent Cotchin shirt and matching dacks, and a heavily-inked ‘Richmond’ tattoo adorns his forearm.

“I got a half-price deal from Jake King on that one,” he tells me. I suggest that there may be room for a Premiership memento. “That’s for sure………….”
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Like most of us, Vinnie’s sporting ambitions far exceeded his ability. He loves his sport with a passion……Always has.

He’s proud of the fact that he played in an Imperials Junior League Premiership team, alongside Dean Harding, who went on to Fitzroy. Short stints with the Magpie Thirds and King Valley followed.

He was also mad on cricket and played a couple of WDCA A-Grade games with United. An opening bat, if I remember rightly.

But he ‘did’ his knee, and that was that.

In a bid to stay fit, Vinnie could be seen plodding around the streets of Wangaratta……Always decked out in the Tiger guernsey, shorts and socks. He was a walking – or running – advertisement for the Richmond Football Club.

“I used to run three times a day…..then come home and spend an hour on the exercise bike,” he says.

Just for extra effect he would wrap a bit of plastic around his torso in a bid to lose a bit more ‘juice’.

He became as recognisable as any of the city’s landmarks. Even in the aftermath of yet another shocking Richmond season, and even in the sweltering heat, he portrayed a picture of proud defiance, when others were cutting up their membership tickets.

Then, one year he stopped people in their tracks. He began wearing a number 4 Port Adelaide guernsey.

It was early 1998. “Vinnie’s dumped the Tigers,” several gobsmacked observers remarked. But there was quiet relief when it was discovered that he’d only purchased the Power jumper in deference to one of his Tiger idols – ex-Wang boy Chris Naish – who had been traded to Port in the off-season.

Soon he was back in the familiar regalia……..
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Vinnie describes his occupation as a ‘Public Toilet Cleaner’, or to be more explicit, a ‘ Cleaning Professional’. He says he has risen in the council’s ranks, from his previous role of ‘Garbologist.’

“Someone’s gotta do it,” he jokes.

I often strike him in the city’s business area in the early hours. He’s always up for a yarn and a dissection of the AFL and O & M scene.

The week-end was the culmination of his ‘Dream Year’.

He travelled down to Etihad the previous Sunday, to watch the Richmond VFL team lose a dramatic Grand Final to Port Melbourne. You may recall that Tiger Ben Lennon had a shot after the siren to clinch the game, but it drifted away.

The day before, Vinnie had guided the other love of his life – the Wangaratta Magpies – home to an against-the-odds premiership against the League’s powerhouse, Albury.

He knows a few of the young Pies pretty well, but more importantly, he’s the unofficial Chairman of the Brad Melville Fan Club.

Brad’s his nephew, and one of the League’s brightest prospects. He enjoyed a terrific season, building on a fine 2016, when he was voted the O & M’s Rising Star.

I suggest to him that Brad should be happy with his game in the ‘Grannie’, but Vinnie, the master of under-statement, simply replied: “He went okay.”

It’s nearing decision-making time for Brad, who also has a burgeoning cricket career. A middle-order bat and off-spinner, he played for Melbourne in last season’s District Final and some experts predict that he could be headed for higher honours.

There was no time for celebrating the Magpies’ flag, as he had to duck over to Cobram-Barooga the next day for a State Under-19 trial match.

He has already represented Victoria Country in several Under-Age fixtures and Vinnie reckons, when push comes to shove, that cricket might have to take precedence over footy.

Vinnie and the family have watched most of Brad’s footy and cricket from their vantage spot, on the bank behind the town-end goals at the Norm Minns Oval.

He’ll be sad if he doesn’t continue with the Magpies, but there’ll be regular trips down to the ‘big smoke’ to follow his progress in Premier Cricket. He couldn’t be happier with how the young bloke’s sporting career is progressing.

He escorts me  to view his other ‘shrine’, in the bedroom. Two signed Richmond guernseys take pride of place, along with the Trent Cotchin Doona cover and sundry other paraphernalia.

“But hang on,” I blurt, “what’s Johnny Farnham doing here.”

There’s a big framed photo of Australia’s pop legend hanging on the wall. It seems to me like he’s an interloper in Tiger territory.

“Yes,” he admits, “I’ve always been a huge fan.”

With the multitude of Premiership mementoes already being offered to Tiger fans, Vinnie’s keeping a close eye on what’s available.

But you can be sure that a Tiger Premiership tattoo will be on his agenda………

PREMIERSHIP TIGER DREAMS OF A 1967 REPEAT

Is there no stopping this Tiger army ?  Like an invading force it marches on….. plundering those in its path, and converting new disciples along the way.

90,000, or more of them, proudly garbed in the tribal Yellow and Black, convened at football’s citadel on Saturday night. After another battle had been won, multitudinous, decibel-shattering renditions of the army’s War Cry rang out across inner-city Melbourne…………..

John Perry was there.

“It was moving stuff,” he says. “To see families – parents, their kids and grandkids – so happy; sharing the joy of a Richmond victory……I’d forgotten what it was like.”
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John’s football lineage is impeccable. His grandfather, Bill Strang, a hard-hitting ruckman and key forward, came from the bush, to play 69 games with South Melbourne,  including  the 1907 Grand Final.

Bill’s son Allan, followed him to the Swans. Another lad, Colin, made a couple of appearances with St.Kilda, whilst Doug and Gordon became household names when they arrived at Richmond in 1931.

Gordon (‘Cocker’) took 12 marks on debut , and proved a champion at either centre half forward or back, in 116 games with the Tigers. Doug was renowned as a magnificent mark. His ability to scale the heights, was balanced against his sometimes wayward kicking. However, this was not apparent in his second VFL game, when he booted 14 goals against North Melbourne.

Doug’s son, Geoff ( John’s cousin) – a dashing half back flanker – was  also to become a dual premiership star in Richmond’s strong sides of the late ’60’s……
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John’s mum Edna (‘Bobby’) was just 12 when her parents first took her down to watch her brothers, Doug and Gordon, in action with the Tigers. One of her idols was their team-mate, the great ‘Captain Blood’, Jack Dyer.

“Jack made a bit of a fuss of Mum. She loved him,” John says.

“Our family owned the Blazing Stump Hotel, and, later on in Jack’s life he used to spend the week between Boxing Day and New Year with us. That was his annual ‘pilgrimage’.”

“He just enjoyed being among Richmond people, away from Melbourne. Fishing, shooting and relaxing – that was his ‘go’.”

“ Jack would regale me with the same footy tales that he’d told Mum, about my uncles. I couldn’t get enough of them.”
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Thus, it was inevitable that John’s pathway would lead to Punt Road.

One of the many qualities of the legendary Tiger administrator Graeme Richmond was his unparalleled skill as a recruiter. “If someone played a good game at a place like Swan Hill, Graeme would know about it on Saturday night and be up there on Sunday to talk to the guy,” President Ian Wilson once reflected.

So when John Perry took out Wodonga’s Best & Fairest and finished runner-up in the 1963 Morris Medal,  aged  18, the astute Richmond invited the youngster to the Tigers’ pre-season training early the next year.

“I think he wanted to make sure that someone with a strong Richmond pedigree didn’t slip through their fingers,” John says. “And, just to re-inforce it, old coaches Des Rowe and Jack Dyer came up to visit me.”

Through circumstances beyond his control, Perry’s League career stuttered for the first three seasons. In just his second game he sustained a broken shoulder in a collision with Essendon’s Barrie Davis ( “Probably the only time Barrie ever hurt anyone,” he jokes.)

Then, having been conscripted to National Service, he was able to fit in just a handful of games in each of the ‘65 and ‘66 seasons.

He gave Richmond fans a taste of his capabilities, though, when slotted in against Geelong, late in 1966 . With 25 disposals on the wing in a losing side, the pacy blonde left-footer was a standout.

The Tigers missed the finals by just half a game that year, but it was obvious that they were on the rise. Tommy Hafey had introduced a tough edge to their game, and the host of young players coming through were beginning to blossom.

“We all loved Tommy and played for him. He was such a caring person, but he worked us hard.”

“One of his greatest assets was his wife Maureen, who brought all the wives and girlfriends together, “ says John.

1967 proved to be the coming-of-age for the Tigers. They lost only three home-and-away games en-route to belting Carlton by 40 points in the Second Semi.

John was selected on the bench for the epic Grand Final clash with Geelong, played in front of 109,000 fans. Grainy highlights of the game always feature the two long goals from lanky ruckman John Ronaldson, and a ‘screamer’ from Royce Hart, who rose to the heavens at a telling moment in the last quarter. It went down to the wire, as Richmond hung on to win by 9 points.

There was an out-pouring of emotion from Tiger fans, who savoured the club’s first flag in 24 years.

That victory lap and the celebrations that followed, were made all the sweeter because he shared them with his cousin Geoff Strang. They are still clearly embedded in John Perry’s mind………
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A bout of Hepatitis, and its after-effects, provided another impediment to John’s bid to claim a regular senior spot over the next couple of seasons . He also found himself typecast as a winger, and the brilliance of the incumbents – Dick Clay and Francis Bourke – resulted in scant opportunities.

But he remained deeply involved at Tigerland. He continued his education in the ‘pub game’, working at his future brother-in-law Graeme Richmond’s Vaucluse Hotel, and pushing hard for senior selection.

John played only four senior games in 1969, but tied for Richmond Reserves B &F, was runner-up in the VFL’s Gardner Medal and represented the VFL Reserves in a State game. He was named as first emergency for the seniors’ Grand Final – and ultimately – Premiership side.

So when North Melbourne coach Keith McKenzie came knocking at the end of the season, dangling a regular senior game in front of him, he decided to take the plunge and leave the Tigers.

“I knew I was good enough to play League footy and wanted to give myself the best chance. A good friend of mine, Frank Dimattina, went to the ‘Roos the previous year, and it seemed like a good fit.”

“I loved my time at North. I was still living and working in Richmond although, a bit later on, I moved over to the Junction Hotel in St.Kilda, which was run by Graeme and a business partner, Todd Shelton.”

John established himself as a regular in his four seasons at Arden Street, becoming a prolific kickwinner in his 56 games. A season at Caulfield, which was coached by an old team-mate Tony Jewell, saw him finish fifth in the VFA’s Liston Trophy.

After another year at Williamstown, under Ted Whitten’s coaching, he decided it was time to head back home, to play his part in operating the family’s businesses.

Wodonga promptly appointed him captain-coach in 1976 –  a coup for the ‘Dogs, who welcomed the return of a favourite son. But in his first game at the helm, against Myrtleford, he copped a heavy knock, which necessitated spending the rest of the year in  hospital.

His career was over…

John was actively involved in the early development of Birallee Park, the home of the Wodonga Raiders, and still follows the club’s fortunes from a distance.

Nowadays he has an interest in the Blazing Stump Motel, which is situated next to the family’s old landmark pub. And he spends plenty of time on the 40 acres he has ‘out the road’, on which graze several thoroughbred racehorses.

But this week John’s attention has turned to the Tigers. He rates them a real chance. “The way the forward line’s operating”, with those little fellahs around Jack Riewoldt, is terrific. They’re ferocious. I reckon 90 per cent of Victoria will be barracking for them.”

In an idle moment, John might permit himself to dream what might be, come 5 o’clock on Saturday. “……The siren sounds……Richmond have hung on to record a famous victory…….The players, delirious with excitement, begin their victory lap……Waving the Premiership Cup…….Offering salutations to the screaming, long-suffering fans……..”

It will be a reminder of that day in 1967, when he took the same journey………….

CLEVER SMALL MAN STILL KICKING GOALS

Mary Naish was a loving, saintly woman, who, besides looking after her husband Les, and their brood of six lively kids, had a variety of interests.

Football wasn’t one of them.

So when her son, Chris, a 15 year-old Year 10 student at Galen College, was selected for his first senior game with Wangaratta, she wasn’t exactly turning cartwheels. In fact, she was aghast at the thought that he would be thrust into the hurly-burly of Ovens and Murray football at such a tender age.

On occasions such as this, when her dander was up, her kids reckoned she was transformed into a 4 foot 11 inch firebrand.

It was Magpie coach Ray Card, who smoothed the waters. “Mrs.Naish,” he said, “I’ll give you my guarantee that I’ll keep him under my wing. He’ll be as safe as a church”.

Thus, a glittering career was born.

Naish was blooded for just the one game , against Myrtleford, as he had a busy program of Junior League and representative football that year, but the experts nodded sagely. It confirmed what they already knew – he was a star in the making………

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Imagine a football-mad young boy, dreaming of emulating the deeds of his hero, Peter Daicos, being told that he was to refrain from any physical activity for three years.

That was the ‘torture’ inflicted upon the seven year-old Chris Naish when he contracted Perthe’s disease, a hip disorder that affects the top of the thigh bone.

And it was little wonder , when he fully recovered, that no-one could contain his enthusiasm and urge to improve his skills in the game that he loved.

It was obvious to junior followers that he had that something special . He was named in the All-Australian Teal Cup side, alongside Wayne Carey, Robert Harvey and Jose Romero and it was a given, after an excellent debut season with Wangaratta, that he would be keenly-sought.

Richmond picked him up with draft-selection number 5. Shortly afterwards, Tiger coach Kevin Bartlett paid a visit to the Park Lane residence of the Naish family to introduce himself to Chris’s folks.

“Mum had hardly heard of ‘KB’. All she was interested in was making sure her baby was going to be looked after. I wondered what she was going to say next. One thing she was adamant on, though. I had to do my Year 12 at Galen the next year “, Chris recalled.

Besides playing three or four Reserves games with the Tigers, he spent 1989 with Wangaratta and represented the O &M League during a fine season.

His AFL debut came on a sweltering March day in the underwhelming environs of the Brisbane Bears’ home-base, Carrara Stadium, in Round 1, 1990. It was one of four games that the developing youngster was to play in his first season.

From that point on he became a regular and lived up to Richmond’s high expectations of him in 143 quality games. He didn’t have the body to be a genuine mid-fielder, but made the forward flank his own, as a clever, inventive, creative player, with a penchant for kicking goals.

Under a succession of coaches – Bartlett, Alan Jeans, John Northey, Robert Walls and Geoff Geischen – he was involved in an era that didn’t yield a lot of success – apart from a memorable – 1995 season.

It was the Tigers’ first finals appearance since 1982 and they were to ultimately finish fourth, as they got on a roll under the guidance of the inspirational Northey.

Naish didn’t miss a game for three seasons during that period and probably produced the most outstanding football of his career.

At one stage he was pursued pretty keenly by the Sydney Swans, but rejected their advances and, soon after, experienced one of his greatest football thrills when he was selected to represent Victoria.

He had a mediocre 1997 season and played only 12 games, but, as a mild consolation, captained the Tigers Reserves side to the flag.

It was a bit of a surprise when Richmond released him to Port Adelaide. He produced steady form in his first season with the Power, but battled persistent hamstring niggles in 1998 and accepted the inevitable – that his nine-year AFL career was over.

He had played a total of 161 games in the ‘big time’ and booted 212 goals. There were few classier, or more opportunistic small forwards during his era.

Things fell into place perfectly for Chris Naish, post-football.

He studied Sports Business at University and was invited to do a traineeship with AFL Sportsready, an AFL-sponsored organisation.

Upon graduating, he permanently joined the group as a Project Manager, assisting AFL players in their transition to employment, post-retirement.

His expertise in this field led to his appointment as AFL Sportsready’s Chief Operating Officer, where he directs the advancement and implementation of employment and education programs across the AFL Corporate and Community Development sector.

That sounds like one hell of a mouthful, but he insists that it has been a terrific career-path and he’s gained great fulfilment from the role.

One of his passions has been the creation of opportunities for indigenous youngsters, and, to this end he has helped to develop an Indigenous Employment program. In 10 years, the number of trainees in this area has gone from 10 to 1,000.

Whilst still remaining a keen Tiger fan ( he is a Life Member of the Club and tied up with the Past Players organisation), his direct football involvement has been with Scotch College. He coached the Senior 18 in the Public Schools competition for fifteen years, during which 20-odd players under his charge were drafted.

Chris and his wife, Leah, live at Ivanhoe, just walking distance from the local football ground. Late last year he was approached to coach, Ivanhoe Amateurs this season, when the incumbent leader resigned after accepting an employment opportunity.

He liked the idea of a fresh challenge and has enjoyed working with a new group. He relishes returning to clubland and is excited about the coming VAFA season.

A fortnight ago, he welcomed Rovers skipper Tyson Hartwig and half-a-dozen of his city-based team-mates, who will use Ivanhoe as their base this season. The training arrangement was made with his brother-in-law, Chris Doyle, the Hawk Treasurer.

Chris’s eldest son, Patrick, is showing loads of promise and has been named in the Northern Knights U18 squad. The other kids, Xavier, Rose and Charlie are all footy mad.

On any given Sunday this season, when the Tigers are baring their claws at the MCG, the Naish clan will be there in force.

And, you never know, some time in the future, one of them could be donning the Black and Gold number 6 guernsey, worn with distinction by their old man.

 

 

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