” ‘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………

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

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……………………..

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

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…………..

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

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,” …………

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

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…………

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

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 ……………

A FAMILY TRADITION.

Brown and Gold blood courses  through the veins of Rick Marklew.

Any wonder. His family links with the Wangaratta Rovers can be traced back almost 60 years.

His grandfather was the secretary in a premiership year, and his dad played in a flag in his first senior season, at the tender age of 16. In 162 games with the Hawks there were few tougher, or more uncompromising players than Roley, who, by the way, also managed to forge a sizeable reputation at Tarrawingee.

Roley officiated in more than 500 games as a central umpire, upon hanging up his boots and remained oblivious to carping comments from fans. Perhaps it was because they had seem him previously eliciting unsociable deeds as a player.

And for the last couple of decades, on his return to the Club,  he has been the epitome of devotion.

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

So it was a no-brainer that when young Rick began to show a bit of promise in the primary-schools competition,  his destiny had already been charted.

In 1985 the Rovers thirds won an unlikely premiership when they tossed previously undefeated Wodonga in the second semi and Grand Final. Rick was at centre half forward. He pulled down 12 marks and booted five goals to be best -on-ground in the decider. Two of his team-mates that day, Michael Wilson and Howard Yelland, were to share senior triumphs with him in time to come.

To underline his sporting talent, he also played in the first of successive  A-Grade flags with the Rovers Cricket Club, performing strongly as an all-rounder.

The following year, aged 17, Rick found himself lining up alongside such respected  champions  as coach Merv Holmes, Laurie Burt, Mark Booth and Leigh Hartwig. Within two seasons, he was part of an Ovens and Murray premiership team.

Although the Hawks had dominated the first half of the 1988 Grand Final, the scores were level at half-time. The youngsters were giving away considerable age, weight and a height advantage to the experienced Lavington. The expectation was that they would wilt under pressure as the game wore on. To the contrary, they lifted and ran away. Rick more than played his part, kicking four goals in the second half.

“One of them was sheer poetry”, recalled Chas Wilson…….”It gave the Rovers a breather after Lavington got to within 3 points half-way through the final term. Rick read an acrobatic leap and knock-on from Rob Hickmott, roved it perfectly at top-speed and nailed the goal on the run. Soon after, a frustrated Blue flung him to the ground after he had marked and the 50-metre penalty allowed the brilliant youngster to kick the goal that sealed the game….”

Rick’s studies then took him to Bendigo, where he signed with Northern United and played alongside a fellow Hawk, Matthew Allen. The pair figured in Bendigo League’s Country Championship triumph of 1989. It gave him particular comfort to star in Bendigo’s  convincing semi-final defeat of the Ovens and Murray League at Lavington.

He took another ‘sabbatical’ from the Hawks  in 1991, when he was living and working in Melbourne and decided to throw in his lot with Diamond Valley League club, Heidelberg. He doesn’t retain fond memories of that stint, particularly as he missed the Rovers’ flag triumph over Yarrawonga.

He re-joined the Hawks the following season and was a prominent member of their great 1993 and 1994 premiership teams, which chalked up 36 consecutive victories in a period of dominance.

Adaptability was the name of the game with Rick. He was able to be thrown into any position on the ground with effect, was a superb overhead mark and an accurate kick.

His total of 351 goals has him slotted fourth on the Rovers’ all-time list, behind Steve Norman, Rob Walker and Neale McMonigle. This includes a bag of 8, one of 7 and five hauls of 6 goals. A natural forward, he could ‘smell’ a goal, but on many an occasion was sent to shore up a backline under intense pressure.

He was one of those old-fashioned blokes who played for the comradeship and the opportunity to share the glory. He was rapt to spend the bulk of his career  alongside many long-time mates. In fact, when he ran out for his 200th, there were five other ‘double-centurions’ – Rob Walker, Peter Tossol, Anthony Pasquali, Michael Wilson and Ron Ferguson alongside him.

Rick’s 229th – and last- senior game came in 2000. He was battling injury and managed just 8 senior games for the season.

So he headed to the O & K Hawks, North Wangaratta, where a cluster of old Rovers were gathered. He spent three seasons at North and figured in one losing Grand Final, before returning ‘home’ for the closing chapter of his playing career.

It is a crucial ingredient of any successful team to have a vibrant, competitive Reserves group, applying pressure to the senior players, but also contributing to the spirit of the Club.

Rick, ageing though he was, played a vital part as the elder statesman of the group, sidekick to coach Bob Murray and an outstanding clubman. And he was still a very handy player. The ‘twos’ contested Grand Finals in 2005 and ’06, then broke through in 2007 for the club’s first Reserves premiership in 23 years.

It was another career highlight for the old-timer. He was highly-regarded by his team-mates and considered this an excellent way to bow out.

He was happy to ‘fill-in’ on a couple of occasions over the years, and a cameo appearance in 2014 was his last – 29 years after his debut with the Thirds.

His final Games tally for the Club stood at 347 – ( 229 with the Seniors, 101 in the Reserves and 17 Thirds appearances).

Rick continues to pull his weight in various capacities around the Club. Currently he is undertaking his third term as ‘Interim Secretary’.

He’d be rapt if someone volunteered to take over on a permanent basis, but until then he’s busy ticking off the 101 tasks that are part and parcel of a new footy season.

Rick’s son Alex is currently chasing his football dreams, as he attempts to nail down a permanent spot in Essendon’s VFL line-up. He spent most of 2016 with EDFL team Doutta Stars, but broke into the Bombers’ side towards the end of the season.

Possessive of loads of talent and with the good fortune of being adaptable, like his old man, Alex burst onto the O & M scene four years ago. He was touted as a star of the future in his 46 senior games with the Rovers and was voted the  O & M’s Rising Star in 2013.

In an ideal world, Alex will satisfy his football wanderlust, then return home to continue what was already shaping as a glittering career with the Hawks.

And further enhance the Marklew tradition at the Findlay Oval……….