“THE COACH WHO LIVED CLOSE TO THE EDGE…….”

Caught up with my first senior footy coach a couple of weeks back……….He’s 83, still chirpy and self-assured ……..And when he walks into a room it lights up, just as it did, some 55 years ago……..

He made the trip up from the big smoke for one of the occasional Lunches he has with a few Wangaratta Rovers players of his vintage. Someone thanked him for making the effort……”No trouble,” he replied. “I really value what we achieved together and the lifelong friendships we made …..”

He was labelled a football villain in his day……..But to us he was a fearless leader….. charismatic personality……. shrewd strategist…….idolised by his own players and supporters…….

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It’s a long way from Ken Boyd’s present abode – an elegant two-storey residence in leafy Kew – to the tiny, single-fronted two-bedroom weatherboard home in which he was raised, at 25 Napier Street, South Melbourne.

He lived there with his parents, three sisters and grandfather, and says you could hardly swing a cat in the place, which had a frontage of about 20-foot.

“Fair dinkum, mate, “ he says. “ I come from the School of Hard Knocks.”

“ I slept on the verandah, with a flapping canvas blind, a single bed and nothing else, until I got married at 22.”

“There was no such luxury as hot-water in our place, so my job as an 11-12 year-old was to push a pram around to the local factories and collect wood for the fire…..”

“We’d raid the AJC trucks which bought fruit from the Goulburn Valley…..Climb on the back and fill the front of our jumpers with fruit, on its way to the Jam Factory….We could run faster than the trucks, with their solid rubber tyres.”

On week-ends he’d catch a train to Clarkefield (out near Kalkallo) for the princely sum of four and fourpence return, to go ferreting and chasing rabbits, then flog them off to the neighbors for two bob a pair..

But he reckons some of the best skills he learned – which stood him in good stead in a highly-successful career as a salesman – came from his time as a paper-boy.

He was posted to a back street at the rear entrance of the Army Barracks, up in St.Kilda Road.

“It was a bit too quiet there……so I decided to go inside the building and, being a cheeky young bugger, the guys all took a liking to me, were giving me tips, and my sales went through the roof. I kept going back and asking for more newspapers…..Trouble was, the bloke I was selling for went crook, and said: ‘I thought I told you to stay in Wells Street, and not to go inside.’ “

“My response was: ‘Stick your job . I’ll go and sell papers for old ‘Rabbit’ White in the city…………”

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Ken left school at 14 and would ride his pushbike the 9km or so from South Melbourne to Hawthorn to his first job, as a Sheet-Metal Worker at Gardner and Naylor’s.

When he turned 15 he became a plumber.

“I worked for a local firm in South Melbourne; they were heating engineers and we were doing a lot of labouring work, installing pipe-work in Boilers……..I didn’t get any real experience as a plumber….”

“I considered transferring to a domestic plumber for experience, but found myself down at the Wharves as a Painter and Docker for six weeks.”

“Anyway, I returned to the firm to finish my apprenticeship; passed all the theory exams and got presented with this beautiful parchment certificate telling me that: ‘Kenneth John Boyd is now a qualified Sanitary Plumber, and qualified to work on all Melbourne metropolitan sewerage’. “

“I thought: ‘What a load of bullshit….I didn’t even get to see a sewerage pipe, yet here I was, qualified.’….I had to get out……. I gave sanitary plumbing 12 months and went into selling…….and never looked back……”

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He arrived upon football quite by accident, in 1955.

“Actually, Myxo had wiped out the rabbits, so that put a stop to my ferreting trips of a week-end……I’d got to know all the Painters and Dockers very well, and they asked me down to their club, the Southern Stars, to run the boundary.”

“Then they suggested I have a game. I hadn’t had a kick since school, but enjoyed it immensely, and took to it quite well…..”

I suggest to him that, from all reports the footy in the Sunday League was nice and tough.

“Yeah, brilliant…..Right up my alley.”

Reports of the young fellah’s progress filtered through to South Melbourne. Their Thirds coach Alan Miller invited him down to have a run with the Swans.

Ken fitted in playing with South Thirds on Saturdays and with Southern Stars on Sundays. Both teams were runners-up in 1955 and won flags in ’56.

“I owe a lot to Alan Miller,” he says. “He was an extremely good coach….. became my mentor……also my Accountant…..We became very close.”

Six rounds into the 1957 season, the 19 year-old Boyd was selected for his VFL debut, against Melbourne, at the MCG.

“Big Terry Gleeson gave me a nice welcome – a smack in the mouth before the game had even started…..They got stuck into me a bit, and I lost my bearings. I wouldn’t say I was concussed, but with my first possession in League footy I kicked the wrong way. “

“I wasn’t a good kick at the best of times, but this one connected. It brought a roar from the crowd, that’s for sure.”

I suggest that, after that abrupt introduction, he was able to fend for himself quite capably.

“Look, I was pretty rugged. At 6’2” I never regarded myself as a top ruckman, but I was always hard to beat…..made it difficult for opponents by being determined……and certainly didn’t shirk things at all……”

“South was a very happy Club…..had very good cameraderie……We had good big men like Don Keyter, Jim Taylor, Ian Gillett…..and Skilton and McGowan were probably the best roving combination going around.”

“In hindsight, though, the Club needed to be more professional. They changed coaches too often and skills teaching was non-existent. Probably because we were all working 44 hours a week the coaches didn’t have time to teach you as much as they could’ve…….”

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Ken’s first job in selling was in the promotion of Urinal Air Deodorisers. But he says that one of the best lessons he learned came from the experience of one his mates.

“Wally was a very good Plumber, and did a job for a client who was a Professor at the University. The Plumbing Inspector said it was the best work he’d seen on block of flats. Unfortunately the Professor didn’t pay him for months, and that was the end of Wally working for himself.”

“ I said: ‘Shit, that’s a very good lesson….Whatever I do, from here-on-in I’m going to get my money upfront….So you know what I did ?….I became a Real-Estate agent.”

“I met John Fields, through South footy club; an extrovert, but a very good salesman, and I became his protégé…..I used to specialise in War Service Home Loans on very low deposits; even piggybacking clients through unmade roads with up to a foot of mud, showing them houses. In fact, I sold every house in Staples Court, opposite Fawkner Cemetary……..”

“I worked from daylight to dusk, and became a fully qualified Agent…….”

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His first major setback in League football came in his ninth game, when he was suspended for eight weeks, following two seperate incidents involving Collingwood’s Mike Delanty.

Two years later, aged 21, he was regarded as one of the Swans’ most important players. He also deemed it his obligation to protect his smaller team-mates, including roving guns Skilton and McGowan. His loss for four weeks, after striking Essendon star Hughie Mitchell, was sorely felt.

But South were rarely able to climb above the lower ranks of the ladder. After a fine year, individually, in 1960, the Boyd career struck rocky terrain the following season.

He copped six weeks suspension – three for each incident – for striking both Carlton’s John Heathcote and John Nicholls in a match at South’s Lakeside Oval.

It was hard to believe that the return encounter would bring down the curtain on the burgeoning 60-game VFL career of the 23 year-old. It all came about when his blood boiled over after another altercation with Nicholls, the Blues’ champion……

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“One of the characteristics I have is that I have great trouble telling lies,” Ken says.”I’m fundamentally a very honest person. It’s the reason I’ve been successful in business.”

“The umpires saw nothing…..Nobody saw what happened with Nicholls…..It was just that a couple of journos fronted up and asked me about it and I said: ‘Yes, of course I hit him’, and I showed them the stop marks down my groin.”

“I said: ‘Mate, if I could’ve pulled a picket off the fence I’d still be hittin’ the bastard.’ They said: ‘We can’t print that.’ “

“The only reason I got rubbed out for hitting John Nicholls was because I gave an honest answer to a question…….When I fronted the Tribunal they asked if I was provoked…….I said ‘Yes, blah, blah, blah’…….Well, what option did they have ?……..They gave me 12 weeks…..”

Ken decided, there and then, to get out of League football. He was, thereafter, inundated with offers, from 52 clubs around the nation…..

“I sat down with my old Thirds coach Alan Miller, and we decided I should take on the biggest challenge of all – succeeding Bob Rose at the Wangaratta Rovers.”

“I liked that they had a humble background, very similar to my own ( they’d come from the Ovens & King League ), and they reportedly had a good work ethic.”

“I was realistic enough to know that I was no Bob Rose. My attitude was that he was exemplary at a lot of things, but there were things I could do that he couldn’t…….I knew I was a good communicator and I had a background of being a bit of a leader.”

“I felt I had the right personality, and was a pretty confident person.”

But the Rovers struck an immediate obstacle, when the O & M refused an application for their new coach to undertake his match-day duties from over the fence whilst serving the remainder of his suspension.

Rose was recalled as captain-coach for another season. Boyd played under Rose when his suspension finished , and assumed the coaching role in 1963……..

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The Rovers soon realised that they had struck the jackpot with their new leader. He took over a young side and moulded it into a powerful combination.

Players joked that he’d take half-an-hour to walk from one end of Murphy Street to the other, such was his personality – and propensity to talk to anybody and everybody.

The Hawks began Clubrooms extensions soon after he arrived……He insisted that the players attend the regular working-bees to assist in the construction.

“It was all about establishing a work ethic among the players,” Ken recalls. “We had a target to be the first country club to travel overseas on a Trip-Away. I said: ‘Look, we can go to New Zealand, but we don’t want to be asking people for money. We’ll work and earn it, and I’ll be the first there…… So we carted Hay and cut firewood…..and achieved it. That came through the players’ camaraderie and ability to pull their weight.”

Fifteen rounds into the 1964 season the unbeaten Rovers were white-hot favourites for the flag. Then followed an inexplicable slump, during which they lost four games on the trot, including a painful Second Semi-Final loss to Wangaratta.

Four goals down early in the Prelim against Myrtleford, and facing oblivion, they miraculously turned it around……The following week, a pulsating win over the Magpies secured the Club’s third flag, with the coach playing a crucial role in the victory.

The following year the Hawks made it two in a row, clinching a dramatic three-point win over their arch rivals……….

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Mid-way through 1966, the aching body of the Rovers coach had almost given way.

“I’d had manipulation under anaesthetic for my crook back……I was wearing a brace…. It’d take until the following Thursday to start hobbling around again……And with my style of play there was always somebody wanting to test you out,” he says.

Controversy had been his constant companion throughout his coaching reign, but a Supreme Court case in 1966 again brought him to the eyes of the wider football world.

Ken sued the Herald & Weekly Times for libel, over an incident they’d reported on two years earlier.

‘KEN BOYD IS NAMED ’ was the screaming headline on the back page of the Melbourne Herald. It pertained to a collision between Boyd and Corowa captain-coach Frank Tuck during the 1964 season. It stated that ‘Tuck was struck by Boyd behind play.’

“In fact, Frank was diving parallel to the ground when I had the ball.The umpie, Lance Perkins, didn’t pay a free kick, and was a witness at the Trial,” Ken says.

I remind him that, during the Case (in my debut game) he quipped in his pre-match speech: “We’re the most famous football club in Australia.”

“Well, you’re right,” he replied. “It did hit the headlines.” “The Trial ran for 12 days, and was a huge risk to be taking, I can tell you…..Very expensive……But I had some pretty smart people working for me…”

“At the same time, Ronald Ryan and Peter Walker had killed George Hodson, the Pentridge warder, and were on the loose. Then Walker shot a tow-truck driver in the back of the head in Middle Park………People were shitting themselves left, right and centre….Well, they put Ryan and Walker on the third page, and my case was the ‘Lead Story’, on the front page. “

Against all perceived legal opinion – including those representing him – Ken was awarded considerable damages, and was congratulated by the judge for his honesty.

His 82nd, and final game with the Rovers – the 1966 Preliminary Final against Wangaratta- was a torrid affair. The game was slipping from the Hawks’ grasp when all hell broke loose in the third quarter. He found himself in the umpire’s book on four seperate charges.

Again, the National Press took immense interest in the Tribunal case, which was held the following Wednesday evening, in the Rutherglen Clubrooms – before a standing-room only audience.

“I didn’t go…..I sent a Stat Dec letter…..I’d already announced my retirement…..I just said :‘Do whatever you like’…..”

Ken departed Ovens and Murray football with eight-weeks suspension…..

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He returned to Melbourne, amidst Media speculation that he may succeed the retiring Bob Skilton as coach of South Melbourne.

Instead, his old mentor Alan Miller took over, and Ken was on hand to help out, serving on the Selection Committee for some time.

But his attention was now focused on his business career, and in this regard he became spectacularly successful.

He originally become involved in Life Insurance in Wangaratta, firstly with Yorkshire, then with National Mutual. When he moved back to the city National Mutual recruited him to management, with a team of 23-24 salesmen under him.

“I did that for about 12 years, and tried to get them to focus on the more lucrative areas, such as Superannuation, Shareholder Protection and Business Insurance.”

“I decided, eventually, to branch out into the field myself, and finished up as the number 1 Salesman in the world, out of the company’s 3,000 agents, before I retired at 52.”

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He was playing tennis with a good friend – and fellow member of the famous ‘Yabbie Club’ – David Trevethan, whilst holidaying in Coff’s Harbour, when he spotted a beautiful beachside Penthouse, overlooking the Solitary Islands.

He decided to buy it: “Best view in Australia”, he says.

That’s where he decided to settle, in his first crack at retiring.

In the meantime, he had financed 2 containers ($600,000 worth) of Prawns which went missing on the Port of Piraeus, in Greece.

“It was an inside job on the ship; the Wharfies were all in on it. However, the Insurance company refused to pay out on the theft.”

“But luckily enough, I have the knack of creating opportunities from adversity…..David Trevethan was looking to start a manufacturing business in Greece, and said: ‘Have you got any money left ? I need a bit of capital to do it’…..I gave hm a cheque for $200,000 and we formed a company, Southside Special Projects.”

“I got my $600,000 back, with the help of the Share Market, within three years, and gained a friend for life…….We’ve raced a lot of horses and had a lot of fun.”

“We won a Benalla Cup with General Booth in 2004, the Ballarat Cup with Command n’ Conquer, in course record time in 2005…..This year we won the Stawell and Colac Cups with Hard n’ Tuff……So we’ve had a pretty good run…..”

“My philosophy’s always been: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room ! “

Ken heads to Tasmania 6-8 times a year to fish for trout, and does a lot of Pheasant, Quail and Deer shooting – always in the company of his great mate – his dog Rosie.

But life hasn’t been all beer and skittles.

He broke his neck in a tumble off a Quad Bike whilst chasing Deer, and triumphed over a bout of metestatic prostate cancer about 15 years ago.

He nursed his wife Jan for five years or so, until she lost her battle with Ovarian Cancer.

Ken has had to learn to cook, wash and iron, and says he’s got his place looking like the Botanical Gardens.

“I couldn’t even start a washing-machine five years ago……Now I can pull the bloody thing to pieces….” says one of life’s true characters.

“WHOROULY BOY MAINTAINS LIFETIME BOND WITH THE SWANS…….”

Clem Goonan’s attachment to his old VFL club stretches back sixty years.

He’s remained true to them through good times and bad, and admits that only once has he seriously considered turning his back on the mighty Red and White………..

“I wasn’t too happy when South Melbourne was pressured into moving to Sydney…… I went lukewarm there for a year or so,” he says.

“I was part of the ‘Keep South at South’ brigade when things started to unravel in the early eighties, and went to a few pretty hostile meetings…….They weren’t good times…..But you eventually get over it….. I soon got back on the Swans bandwagon……”

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Clem’s love affair with footy has consumed most of his 82 years.

He’s a Whorouly boy, born and bred, and spent much of his childhood gallivanting to and from the town’s Memorial Oval. The Goonan property was a three mile jaunt on his bike. He’d watch (and take part in) training, then throw the bike in the back of the family Ute for the trip home.

His dad ( Alan ), a Club diehard, was at various times President, Secretary and committeeman, so Clem found himself saddled with the Boundary Umpire’s job in 1952.

It was a historic year for the Maroons. After being runners-up to Beechworth for the previous two seasons, they outlasted the Bombers in a hard, slogging Grand Final, to win their first flag in 27 years, by two points.

Clem can still reel off most of the members of that side, like Silas McInnes, Mick Jess, Bill and Alan Newton, Bill Power, Tony Harrington, Kevin Mauger, and the coach, Rex Bennett, who played a starring role in the win.

The following season he made his senior debut at the tender age of 14. Several members of the Premiership side had gone their seperate ways and Whorouly spent a few years among the lower echelons of the O & K ladder.

But it was a ‘no brainer’ to punt on this talented, well-proportioned stripling, and he rapidly became one of the team’s stars. He blossomed under the coaching of the brilliant left-footer Billy Dalziel, and took out successive Club B & F’s in 1957 and ‘58.

His outstanding season in 1958 also saw him land the League Medal, as well as sharing the Chronicle Trophy with Bogong’s Eric Tye and Bright champ Tony Quirk.

For a mere 19 year-old, already with 90 senior games under his belt, that was the ‘green light’ to attract the attention of talent scouts far and wide:

“You received a letter in the mail those days,” Clem recalls…….. “Jim Cardwell, the Melbourne Secretary, wrote, asking me to come down. I thought : ‘They’re way too strong. I’ll never get a game there.’…. I knocked Geelong back because I reckoned they were too far away…….And St.Kilda were having a few internal problems. That put the kybosh on them……..So I decided to sign a Form Four with South Melbourne.”

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In the meantime, Bill Dalziel had decided to move over to Myrtleford, and helped entice Clem to have a run with the Saints, to enhance his footy education:

“I joined the Police Force on the 1st of May, 1959, and was stationed at Fitzroy. It meant travelling back to play with the Saints each week.”

“ I did a lot of my training at the Police Gym, and had a few runs with Fitzroy because their ground was close handy. They knew I could play a bit, and talked me into putting in for a clearance from South, with whom I was tied. But, of course South said: ‘No way known.’ “

Myrtleford, under the inspiring leadership of dual Magarey and Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, were loaded with talent in Clem’s two years with them.

His last game still sticks in his mind.

The Saints held a 21-point lead over defending premiers, Yarrawonga, going into the last quarter of the 1960 First Semi. But the game turned on its head, and the Pigeons, with all the momentum, led by 3 points, with just seconds remaining.

With one last desperate thrust, Myrtleford attacked again, and half forward Wally Hodgkin marked 45 yards out, right on the final siren……It was a dead accurate kick and just about everyone at the Benalla Showgrounds deemed it a major – except the goal-umpire – who signalled that it was touched on the line.

“A few of the wealthy tobacco-farmers had given the players a ‘sling’ before the game, in appreciation of our efforts during the year. Some of the senior players rated our chances so highly they suggested we use the money to back ourselves,” Clem says.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but the Yarra supporters handed the money back to us because of the conjecture over that disputed goal.”

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Clem’s senior debut with South Melbourne came on Queen’s Birthday week-end 1961, in front of 30,000 fans at St.Kilda’s Junction Oval:

“I felt pretty much at home; my opponent was Brian McCarthy, a Yarrawonga boy. And one of my old Myrtleford team-mates, Frank Hodgkin, was in his first season with St.Kilda.”

Lining up mostly on a half back flank, with an occasional stint as a ruck-rover, he had established himself in League football by the following season. He finished fourth in the Swans B & F, and was voted their Most Determined Player.

Melbourne premiership star Noel McMahon had been lured from a stint at Rochester to take over the coaching reins from Bill Faull. He was pronounced as the VFL’s first full-time coach. Clem immediately struck a chord with the likeable McMahon:

“He was a great coach, and a terrific guy, Noel. I loved playing for him. He’s coming up 95 this year……. I still pick him up and take him to South Past Players Functions.”

The South Melbourne sides of the early sixties contained stars such as Skilton, McGowan, Hughie McLaughlin, Jim Taylor, John Heriot, John ‘Mopsy’ Rantall and Graeme John.

But there weren’t nearly enough of them, and the Swans were never a major threat.

However, they always came into their own when the popular VFL Night Series was staged, between the non-finals combatants.

“The games were played at South’s Lakeside Oval, because ours was the only venue that had match-standard Lights,” Clem says.

“What an advantage it was for us ! . There were a few dark spots in the pockets, which we were accustomed to. We had a fair bit of success….I enjoyed playing in them, and the crowds always flocked to the mid-week games because they were such a novelty……….”

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After playing 50 senior games with the Swans Clem received a transfer to Wodonga in the Police Force.

“The locals said: ‘Seeing as you’re living and working in the town it’d be the right thing to play with us’. So I wasn’t too popular when I signed with Albury. (Murray) Weideman was coaching them and they were on their way to the 1966 flag.”

Unfortunately, Clem ‘did’ a cartilage in a mid-season Inter-League game against the Bendigo League, which laid him up for the rest of the season, and robbed him of his only chance to share in premiership glory.

He recovered, to play strongly over the next two seasons with the Tigers, before his old mate Frank Hodgkin talked him into helping him out with O & M rivals Rutherglen.

“They’d been a famous old club, of course, but were probably batting a bit out of their depth at this stage. I played two years under Frank, then took over the coaching job from him for ‘71 and ‘72. Despite their lack of success there was a wonderful spirit within the Club.”

His swansong as a player came in 1973 – as captain-coach of Burrumbuttock. Towards the end of the season he received notification of his promotion in the Police Force.

So he, Irene and their four kids made their way back to Melbourne.

“Graeme John, who was back coaching South Melbourne at this stage, got wind of it and rang me. He asked what I was up to and I said: ‘Dunno, I’m thinking about playing a bit of local footy.’ “

“He said: ‘Give it away, you silly old bugger. I want you to be my runner.’ “

“That was an experience; particularly when Ian Stewart took over from Graeme a couple of years later.”

“ ‘Stewie’ used to get so excited that it was impossible to understand a word he was saying……You’d be out there delivering a message…..The crowd would roar, and you didn’t know what had happened because you had your back to it………’Stewie’ would be there abusing me and mumbling something…….You’d ask him again and he’d almost go berserk, and grab you…push you….You daren’t ask him again, in case he went right off the air ! “

“I’m not sure if he was a good coach…..He expected everybody to be able to play to the standard that he did……He probably had good ideas…..if you could understand him !………. “

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Clem did some Specialist, and Junior coaching with local clubs Norwood and Donvale, and got back to following South Melbourne, once his involvement as a Runner concluded.

He retired from the Police Force in 1989 with the rank of Sargeant.

In hindsight, he says, things worked out really well with the re-location of the Swans to Sydney:

“Feelings ran really high at the time, because of the pressure that the VFL were putting on the Club……. We were all pretty devastated with the way it was done, but there was no use remaining cranky about it……. At least the Swans have managed to maintain a presence in Melbourne.”

“They needed all the support they could get……. I’ve been on the Past Players’ Committee for the past 20 years or so………… Tony Morwood does a great job, along with one of my good mates, John Heriot.”

Clem’s been working part-time at the MCG, as a member of the Event Day Staff since 1999 which, he jokes: “has allowed me to have a sneak look at the action occasionally………”

Particularly when the Sydney Swans took out the flag in 2005 and 2012……..”Yeah….they were two of the most memorable days of my life………”

Ovens and King League Hall of Fame Inductees 2006. Richie Shanley, Clem Goonan, Ray Burns,

A LIFETIME AT THE BAR……….

Lou Cesa casts his mind back, as he peruses a grainy photo from his junior football days.

He went on to enjoy a fine career as an erstwhile defender for Wangaratta, but this Centrals premiership team of 1947 still remains a highlight for Lou.

“There were only four teams in the Wangaratta Junior League that year, and we went right through the home-and-away rounds without winning a game.”

“Then something must have clicked. Somehow we won the First-semi and Preliminary Finals before taking out the Grand Final.”

Lou goes through the names and, with the help of a razor-sharp memory, provides a pen picture of how most of the players’ lives panned out. He concludes that, besides he and another local  – Dave Dent – the lad in the front row, Brian Bourke, might be the only other survivor.

“Had the makings of a handy player,” says Lou. “Brian was one of the biggest in the side….. Went on to become a pretty well-known legal man……….”

Indeed, I tell Lou, the same Brian Bourke was honoured in the recent Queen’s Birthday list. Awarded an Order of Australia for:  ‘…..Significant service to the Law and the legal profession, to Australian Rules and the community’.

“Wow,” says Lou. ” The boy sure kicked on…………”

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Brian’s 88 now, and is still practicing law. In fact, he holds the record as the state’s longest-serving continuously-practicing barrister.

His family were steeped in the hotel trade. At various times, he tells me,  they ran Wangaratta’s Albion, and other pubs around the area, such as Glenrowan, Wodonga and Seymour.

When they returned to Wangaratta, he attended Brigidine Convent for three years and was influenced by a ‘wonderful nun’, Mother Columbanis.

He’d finished Year 11 and moved to Melbourne for work, but she encouraged him to get his ‘Matric’ Certificate and study Latin if he wanted to fulfill his ambition to do law.

So the kid who ‘showed a bit of promise as a footballer’, shelved his aspirations of footy stardom, in preference for a lifetime in the legal profession.

Brian started his Law articles in 1948, and was a solicitor from 1953 to ’58. He came to the Bar in 1960, thus commencing a 57-year unbroken stint as a barrister, that has produced a million and one anecdotes.

He reflected on his experiences in an interview conducted for the Bar Oral History, several years ago:

“I think I was a bit of a wild boy in my very younger days and that gave me an insight to the other side of things. I mixed with fellows who were pretty rough and tough. I didn’t drink, which was a salvation, I think, but it gave me a view of life. The years I spent with clients, and out at Pentridge gave me an insight as to the fact that there’s good in everybody.”

“The late Jack Cullity once told me: ‘Never get too close to them (criminals)’. Graham Kinniburgh and I used to have lunch now and again and I got to know him pretty well, and a few other blokes, like the Kanes and the Morans that I’ve known; they’re just names now……Blokes like ‘Mousey’ Baker………”

“I did a trial for Mousey once. He was charged with some factory breaking down in East Richmond. We had to have a view on the morning of the trial.”

“We’re driving down this little street in Richmond and we’re in a truck.  He says: ‘Do you like oranges, Brian ?”

” Yes, Mousey, I do,” I replied.

“He stops the truck beside another truck – just completely blocked the street. He hops up, chucks 6 or 8 oranges down into the truck, knocked them off, and off we go.”

“I said: ‘You can’t steal other people’s oranges.’  ‘I know,’ said Mousey.  But he wasn’t real bad. I liked him a lot,” he said.

One client was so moved, after Bourke’s final address to the jury that he confided to him : “I didn’t think I was innocent of this thing, but after listening to you, I reckon I am……..”

It was in defending another for detonating explosives, against an overwhelming prosecution case, that Brian opened his final address to the jury with: “Well, we’ve all played with matches haven’t we…..”

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Brian was Junior Counsel to Philip Opas at the murder trial of Ronald Ryan, the last person to be legally executed in Australia. He appeared for both Ryan and Peter Walker at their committal hearings in 1966. ( Ryan was found guilty of the murder of prison warder George Hodson in their break-out from Pentridge Prison).

“I was in communication with Ron when he was on the run and went out to see him when he was returned to Victoria. I said to him: ‘You know, Ronnie, if you go for this you’re in for the big jump.’ He said: ‘You don’t need to tell me.’ ”

“Ron wasn’t a big-time crim. He was a thief and burglar. I got pretty close to him over the last 12-13 months and we became friends. He was the toughest and most courageous bloke I ever met. He faced the gallows without fear.”

Days before Ryan’s death, Bourke broke down and ‘cried like a little kid’ as the condemned man comforted him in his Pentridge cell.

“I’ve got this bloke holding me by the arm. ‘Look you’ve done everything you could for me. Don’t worry. I know how to go to the gallows,’ Ryan said. ”

Over the years he appeared for many of Victoria’s most notorious criminals, but these days he’s more likely to be appearing ‘pro bono’ for lesser-known figures.

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Brian became involved in League football in 1960, when he was asked to join the South Melbourne committee.

He initially served as the club’s delegate to the VFL , a role for which his skills as a lawyer were well-suited. Besides this, he stepped into one football’s hot-seats when he became President of the Swans in 1967.

Undoubtedly the highlight of his ‘reign’ was his role in the appointment of Norm Smith as coach, in 1969.

The Swans had been perennially unsuccessful. In fact, their previous finals appearance had been way back in 1945. But they stunned the football world with the announcement that the six-time Premiership coach had been persuaded to take over at the Lake Oval.

Smith explained that, due to his health, he was unable to get out on the ground like he used to. He suggested to Bourke that, if he was able bring along three of his former Melbourne players as assistants, he would accept the coaching position.

“I told him ‘ the job is yours.’  “The deal was done within about 20 minutes of arriving at Norm’s house. I had no idea Norm Smith was interested in coaching again, so it was a complete fluke that we got him,” he stated in the Smith biography, ‘The Red Fox’.

VA year later, South completed a remarkable transformation when they played in their first final for 25 years.

Brian Bourke held the reins as President until 1972, but has remained a committed ‘Bloods’ supporter and is a VFL/AFL Life Member of over 30 years duration.

He continued his involvement in football as a Tribunal member from 1976 to 1982 and has sat on the AFL Appeals Board for 15 years, but admits that he doesn’t get to the footy much these days.

He jokes, though, that if he “fielded a team of footballers I’ve  represented over the years, they’d win every Premiership.”

This man of many hats has co-authored two books – ‘Bourke’s Liquor Laws of Victoria’ and ‘The Australian Debater’ – and was the first member of Amnesty International and the Doxa Youth Foundation. He represented Victoria as a debater on five occasions.

He shows no sign of slowing up and is adamant that retirement is “not on the agenda yet.”

It’s been a remarkable life for the former Centrals ruckman…….

 

 

P.S:  Brian Bourke’s brother, Kevin, played in Wangaratta’s 1946 Premiership team, under the    great Laurie Nash and also figured in Wang.Rovers’ Ovens and King flag in 1948.

(With help from: The Bar Oral History, and Victorian Bar News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“…..I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW, I INVENTED THE BLIND-TURN………”

I’ve just spent a couple of laughter-filled hours talking sport with a delightful old couple from Swinburne Drive.

He’s a former South Melbourne champ ; she’s his trusty side-kick. His memory is reasonable-enough, but whenever he falters with a name from the past, she’s there to fill the missing link. Or warn him not to over-embellish some of the yarns he’s telling.

You’d have to be of my vintage – or beyond – to be vaguely familiar with the name Eddie Lane.

In the halcyon days of the fifties , when you’d fork out a penny ha’penny for a Coles ‘special’, or dive into the Kornies cereal box for the complimentary footy swap-card, Eddie’s was one of the most sought-after.img_2722

He was dealt a rough deal about 36 years ago, when he contracted Retinitis. It’s left him completely blind, but with his wife Margaret at his side they still manage to find the bright side of life.

That’s the way it has always been……….

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They grew up across the road from one another in Albert Park. He’s six years older, but Margaret was mates with one of his sisters and they inevitably hooked up.

Marg’s grandfather, Jack Hudson, was a long-term Head Trainer for South Melbourne, Victoria and the Australian Test team. The Swans were part of her family’s DNA.

Eddie played with both his junior team, South Colts, and Amateur club South Districts on week-ends. When he arrived at the Lake Oval in 1951, he was a ready-made player.

It was the dream of every lad in the area to turn out for their beloved Bloods. They didn’t enjoy a lot of success in this era but boasted a few individual stars of the calibre of Billy Williams, Jim Taylor, Bill Gunn, Jimmy Dorgan and Ron Clegg.

Along with a couple of his brothers, Eddie scored a job on the wharves. Most of his work-mates were dyed-in-the-wool Swans and made sure he didn’t expend too much energy, particularly on the eve of a game.

If he was rostered on night shift of a Friday night, for example, they would tell him to make himself scarce and find a quiet spot to have a snooze.

He stood just 168cm, but was clever, courageous and dynamite around goals. South had spent years around the lower-reaches of the ladder, but rose dramatically in 1952. Eddie personally had enjoyed a fine season.

All that was required to clinch a finals berth was to knock over Footscray at the Western Oval in the final round. But the Dogs proved too strong and South lamented one of their worst performances of the season. They missed the finals, just two points behind fourth-placed Carlton.

In the aftermath, the club relieved key forward Gordon ‘Whopper’ Lane (no relation) of the coaching job. He had been a fine coach, in Eddie’s opinion, but some committee-men were keen to move him on.

“There was always a bit of politics going on at the club. The coaching position was a revolving-door for a few years,” he says.

Eddie took out the club Best & Fairest in 1954 and finished equal third in the Brownlow Medal. But he regards the following season as his best in Red and White.

The interstate selectors obviously thought so too, as he was named in the squad of 21 to travel by train to Adelaide in mid-season.

“The night before the game they announced the side and I was the one to miss out. One of the officials plonked a schooner in front of me and said: ‘Here, Ed, seeing as you’re not playing, you may as well wrap your hands around this.”

“I was 26 and had never touched the grog, but thought it’d be polite to drink it. Then they followed with a few more and I had the staggers.”

“You wouldn’t believe it, a while later Essendon’s Jack Clarke tripped on the front steps of the pub and sprained his ankle. So the officials have dragged me under the shower to try and sober me up.”

Margaret, his fiancée at this stage, listened in to the game on the wireless the next day, and heard the commentators describe ‘a goal booted by the lively Lane” in the final quarter, unaware of the circumstances behind his unique interstate debut with the ‘big V’.

The Vics won, 15.11 to 9.10, and celebrated heartily on the return train journey. Margaret was proudly waiting at the station, but couldn’t track Eddie down.

“I went home to mum’s house. I said ‘Something must have happened to Ed. I can’t locate him.”

” ‘They dropped him off here. He’s in bed, drunk,” Mum replied’.

Eddie reckons that, although he was a slow starter on the grog, he caught up pretty quickly.

South finished tenth in 1955, but, come the night of the Brownlow count, he was tipped as the favourite. The word had been out for quite a while that he was the ‘hot’ chance.

“I was working that night and a lot of the boys on the wharf were gathered around the wireless, listening to the count. I was called away for a while and just got back to catch the dulcet tones of 3AW’s Norman Banks announcing, ‘…………..from South Melbourne is the winner of the 1955 Brownlow Medal.’ ”

” ‘You bloody beauty’, I said under my breath………Lo and behold, our full back Freddie Goldsmith became the only full back in history to take it out. No one rated him at all. I ended up fourth, equal with Denis Cordner of Melbourne and Carlton’s young Johnny James.

It was an era when League stars were being lured to the bush with the offer of attractive coaching jobs. The Coulter Law dictated that all VFL players were on a standard payment of 7 pounds a game.

“Bairnsdale came down and offered a bit over 20 quid a week. That was good money at the time, so I decided to leave South.”

Eddie had played 99 games and booted 130 goals in his six years with the Swans. They awarded him a Life Membership on his departure.

He had a bit of success in his four years at the helm of the Bairnsdale Redlegs, then took charge at neighbouring Lindenow for another three. They dubbed him the ‘Mayor of Lindenow’. “Some of the best years of my footy life,” he reckons.

When they returned to the city, his original club, South Districts, chased him up and offered him the coaching job. After another three enjoyable years he decided it was time to hang up the boots.

He spent many years working at the Par-3 Albert Park golf course, but eventually, with his eyes the way they were, had to give it away. “I knew I was in trouble when I was mowing the grass and ended in the lake a couple of times,” he says.

Marg used to drive him up to Wangaratta to watch their son Robert -‘Rocky’ – playing with North Wang each week. “I said to Ed : ‘We may as well live up here.’ Then Marty, our other son, made the move. And later, our daughter, Jennine shifted over from Tassie with her family, to be close to us.”

‘Rocky’ and his mate Les Goonan took Eddie down to the great Bobbie Skilton’s Testimonial, at Crown Casino 20-odd years ago.

“I tell people Skilton wouldn’t have won his three Brownlows if I hadn’t taken him under my wing, but the truth is, my last game with South was Bob’s first,” he says.

He was delighted to be in the company of the Swans ‘family’ again. “It took ages to get him to his seat. All these old South diehards wanted to catch up with him,” Les recalled …….

“Unfortunately, when we were leaving, Eddie and Rob both took a tumble down the escalator. Ed was upset because his prized Victorian blazer and a brand-new pair of dacks he’d bought for the occasion, were ruined. But he wasn’t in very good shape, was taken away in an ambulance and spent a bit of time in hospital.”

Eddie takes up the story : “….Rob and Les convinced me to leave my wallet with them for safe-keeping. When they returned it to me, it was empty. The bastards had the rest of the night on me at the Casino ! ” he jokes.

Ed’s 88 and is just back home after spending a few days in hospital. “They nurses said they’ll miss me. I kept ’em on their toes,” he jokes.

He and Marg celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. They look forward to their 5 grand-kids and 2 great grand-kids regularly popping in.

He had a ready answer for one of the grandkids, who asked him a few years ago how he came to be such a great footballer  when he was blind.

“Easy…….I’ll have you know, I was the one who invented the blind turn………..”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GREAT ‘L.J.’

The wounds inflicted by a vicious global war, which had torn nations apart and wreaked untold damage, were still tender in late 1945. Now it was time for communities to rediscover their sporting obsession.

The Ovens and Murray competition had been in recess since 1940. Wangaratta re-joined, along with six other teams. It was almost a case of starting from scratch, as recruiting got under way and the search for a coach began.

Eventually, in early March of 1946, the Pies announced the appointment of one of the game’s legends- Laurie Nash – as their captain-coach. His salary of 12 pounds per week was regarded as an astronomical sum in those days, but the opportunity to play with the ‘Great L.J’ excited many of the youngsters in the town.

 

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Nash is acknowledged through the ages as one of the finest and most controversial Australian sportsmen ever produced. Born in Tasmania, he played two games of Test cricket, despite never having appeared in the Sheffield Shield competition.

His 10 wickets at an average of 12.80 per wicket and 30 runs at an average of 15 make you wonder why he wasn’t a regular Test player, but he reportedly faced opposition from the cricket establishment for his poor attitude towards authority. This led fellow cricketer Keith Miller to write that the persistent non-selection of Nash was “the greatest waste of talent in Australian cricket history”.

The reasons given for the apparent bias against Nash included his reputation for blunt speech and his abrasive personality, which included sledging.

He was probably the biggest name in sport through the thirties. Joining South Melbourne in 1933, he starred in a Premiership triumph in his first season, being credited with 13 marks and 29 kicks in a dominant performance at centre half back.

The following year, selected for Victoria for the first time, he had kicked two goals from centre half forward in the first quarter. An injury to Bob Pratt prompted him to be shifted to the goal-mouth, where he proceeded to finish with 18 for the day.

He later claimed that he would have booted 27 but for the selfishness of the rovers, who refused to pass the ball to him.

During World War II Nash rejected offers of a home posting and instead served as a trooper in New Guinea, stating that he wished to be treated no differently to any other soldier.

He returned to South Melbourne after the war and played a prominent part in the infamous “Bloodbath Grand Final” of 1945, in which the Swans went down to Carlton in a brawling, nasty clash which featured 16 reports.

He was South’s leading goalkicker and still a star, but possibly not the champion who, when asked pre-war who was the greatest player of all time, replied : “I look at him in the mirror every morning when I have a shave”.

Only a couple of weeks prior to his signing with Wangaratta, Nash had played quite well in a South practice match. But he was rising 36, suffering from arthritic knees and knew that he would struggle to get through another League season.

So when Wangaratta came with an offer that he couldn’t refuse, he brought his outrageous talents and wobbly knees up the Hume Highway.

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Nash left his wife and young child behind (returning regularly to visit them) and was accorded a room at the Council Club Hotel. He didn’t deem it necessary to work and filled in time during the day playing poker with racing personalities and having the occasional beer.

He had lost a fair bit of fitness and was carrying a few extra kilos when he lined up for the first game against Benalla. He played himself in the centre and guided his team to victory.

In the first few games, he certainly didn’t set the world on fire, although he was being acclaimed for his coaching knowledge and ability to pass on the message.

But, as the season progressed, he started to ‘turn it on’. His move into the forward line proved a winner for the Pies and his 10 goals from centre half forward in the return clash with Benalla proved that the old class was still there.

The Wangaratta side was basically made up of locals and they had improved steadily as the season progressed. Players like big man Tommy Bush, Kevin French and Jack Sullivan, key forward Ernie Ward, small men Max Berry and Jimmy Hoysted and defenders Jack Ferguson and Jack Plaisted formed the crux of the side.

Doug Ferguson, a classy half forward, was still in the Army and used to travel by train from Melbourne on Saturday mornings to take his place in the line-up. He is the only surviving member of the famous 1946 side.

“It was a good, settled team and we were well-coached “, Doug recalled when I yarned with him at St.Catherine’s Hostel the other day. “Nashy topped us off nicely. He was a big, burly fellow and could kick the ball a mile.”

My dad Len, who played across the half-back line, was also a Nash fan. “With the reputation that preceded him, we didn’t know what to expect. But he was an astute footy person”, he once said.

Wangaratta finished second on the ladder to Wodonga at the completion of the home-and-away rounds and belted the Bulldogs by 65 points in a one-sided second semi. Nash and Ernie Ward kicked nine of their 15 goals.

The Pies met Albury at Rutherglen in the Grand Final, before a crowd of around 5,000. They went to an early lead, but Nash went down just before half-time with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

“He laid it on the line to us in his half-time address”, Doug Fergy, now 93, recalled . “He pointed out that his knee was crook and that he was moving to full forward. He said ‘Just kick it up to me in the goal-square. I’ll do the rest’.

Wang trailed by seven points at three quarter-time and had both its 19th and 20th man on the field.

Nash, despite hobbling badly, kicked another two goals in a tense final term to finish with four for the game.

The Pies had hit the front in the dying stages and held on to win by five points – 14.10 (94) to 13.11 (89).

Nash’s coaching had been well-received and he was feted by the town. But he had one more duty to perform. He was good friends with Fred O’Brien, the incumbent Greta coach, who earlier in the season had talked Laurie into taking on his job. As Greta didn’t train during the week, its only non-match contact with the coach was on Sundays, when O’Brien (the match-day leader) would bring Nash out to Greta to take the boys for training.

So Nash was able to oversee their 27-point win over Myrtleford, giving him the unique honour of coaching two premiership teams in the one year.

Laurie Nash was later to take on the coaching role at his old club, South Melbourne, in 1953. He was inducted into the inaugural AFL Hall of Fame in 1996 and was admitted to the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 2012.

He died in 1986.

 

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