‘MEETING THE GHOST OF LOCAL CRICKET…..’

The whitish pitch shimmers in the brassy sunlight……Fielders dawdle listlessly on a vast, scorched outfield…….Batsmen opt to ‘dig in’ rather than play their shots…….The quicks struggle to summon the effort to muster that extra yard……..

Cricketers and spectators alike appear drugged by the oppressive heat of this stinking mid-summer’s day……..

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I’m drawn to this solitary figure, leaning against the huge gum tree at the northern end of the ground ……

I’ve got to know all the identities around local cricket, but this fellah doesn’t ring a bell. I know I’m starting to get on a bit, but he’s positively archaic.

He sucks on a blade of grass, totally entranced by what’s happening out in the middle.

We get yapping…….Initially, he doesn’t appear keen on being distracted, but he loosens up after a while, his eyes misting over as he studies the technique of the young left-hander.

“See how he fiddles outside the off stump…..Doesn’t use his feet….I had that problem, you know. Took me years to get out of the habit.”

“Ah, it only seems like yesterday I was out there…. Course we had rolled dirt, then concrete, to play on. Not beautiful tracks like this one.”

My gentle prompting seems to kick his memory into over-drive…….

“Ever heard of Charlie Heavey?”, he says. “Made 299 in a day, over on the Showgrounds. I made sure I watched every knock he played. Geez, he could bat.”

“He hit the ball so hard that day, that a few of his sixes landed in Edwards Street ….We all  reckoned he should have played Test cricket, but Charlie liked a good time and upset a few of the snotty- noses when he went to Melbourne.”

Yes, I reply. By all reports he was a beauty.IMG_0829

“Too right. He was the best around at that time and was also downright dangerous when he decided to let ‘em go with the new ‘cherry’.”

“But heck, son, there were plenty of good players in those days…….Like Alec Fraser…. Lovely chap, Alec…Made a power of runs up the order.”

“He opened with Clem Fisher in Wang’s rep teams, and what a combination they were ! Put on 300-odd in one match at Country Week.”

“Funny, you know. They were polar opposites. Alec was a gentleman….Always giving encouragement and a bit of advice to the youngsters….Played the game as it should be played.”

“But Clem was a bloke who knew how to create a stink on the cricket field. Nice enough chap to talk to….did heaps for cricket…..but once he crossed that line he was an old bugger…..He’d resort to anything to get you out…..It’s a wonder he didn’t get punched on the nose a few times……..”IMG_2256

By now, my mate has taken his eye off the going’s-on in the middle. It’s almost as if he’s watching a flickering highlights tape and describing it to me.

I ask him his opinion of a latter-day batting hero – Barry Grant.

“Funny you should mention it. He reminded me very much of Alec Fraser, with his technique and defence. Both of them were very hard to dislodge once they got settled. His temperament was a touch more bristly than Alec’s…..Didn’t like going out. Not too stylish, but more of a run-machine. He and his brother….I just forget his name for a sec….Darren, that’s right….They were great players for a lot of years.IMG_3150

“Yes, I’ve seen ‘em all. Those Nicoll’s out at Whorouly…….Don’t know what it was in the water out there, but they were master batsmen. You had four champion brothers – Wils, Ron, Ernie and Vic. People used to debate about who was the pick of them – Wils or Ron. I couldn’t seperate them.”

“Wils used to smoke a roll-your-own when he was batting. He’d plonk it behind the stumps and have a puff between overs…….’Didn’t have much style.”

“They used to tell the story about him walking out to bat at Country Week one day, wearing a pair of black socks tucked behind his pads, and puffing on a fag. An opposition fielder slung off about this ‘country yokel’, and he proceeded to score a century in no time.”

“A few of the Nicoll progeny turned out all right, too. I had a lot of time for the chap who had polio and batted with a runner. Did a terrific job….Lex, I think it was….”IMG_0412

“Talking about families, you had the Kneebone’s from Brookfield. I suppose you knew they fielded their own family team in the local comp.”

“They lived for cricket, and got their competitive instinct from their old man.”

“I thought Ken was the pick of ‘em. He had a run-up that was smooth as silk. Did well against the Poms at Benalla one year. But a few experts rated Harry just as quick. Frankie Archman kept up on the stumps to most bowlers, but he had enough sense to stand back to those two.”

By now this mystery-man has me gob-smacked, having touched on all the names down through the ages in Wangaratta cricket – Carey, Trebilcock, Lidgerwood, Charlie Ladds, Thomlinson, Beeby, Bill Hickey, Sid Docker, Max Bussell, Rosser…….IMG_1022

“I thought he might have played for the state, that  fellah. He had the ability and played some good hands out on this ground. He got close when he went down to play District cricket, they tell me……”

His mate was nice and slippery when he was in full flight  – Welchy – with the curly hair. Had a bit of shit in him, too. Course his knees went on him in the end.IMG_0180

“And the boy Broster – the left-hander- who played a few games for the Vics, I’d have preferred him to serve more of an apprenticeship before he got his chance. His Shield career was virtually over before he’d got started.”

“You’d have seen his dad bat when he was in his prime, wouldn’t you. Golly, he could play, and his grandpa, Alec, was terrible hard to get out.”

“I watch these kids coming through now and think: ‘Have they got what it takes to go on ?’ “

“All of the Welch’s were handy, and  Hilly’s still making runs down at Camberwell. Surely he deserved a chance in the State side. But, I suppose they must have seen a shortcoming in his game.”IMG_1024

I mention the changes that have taken place in the modern era. Like the local competition now expanding its horizons to include Mansfield, Benalla, Rutherglen and Bright. And the great teams, and players, from Corowa, Yarrawonga and Beechworth that had plenty of success in recent decades. I’m surprised that he’s all for it…..IMG_0882

“Well, you’ve got to embrace change, son. On the same note, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be watching the  lasses playing cricket. Terrific………”

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That steel trap of a mind doesn’t miss a beat, and when he diverts again to tell me about Billy Henderson scoring a big 100 in a Final, he describes his cover and straight-driving as if he was there.

“When was that ?” I ask.

“Oh, back in the 1890’s,” he replies.

We have barely paid any attention to the cricket, so engrossed are we in his reminiscences. But the umps lift the bails to signify the tea-break and, momentarily distracted, I turn to resume our journey into the past.

But he is hobbling down the bank and out of sight.

“Hey, just a minute, do you remember………..”IMG_1549

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s a true football fanatic, is Ray Card……..
IMG_3564

THE GENTLEMAN FAST BOWLER…………

It’s stretching a long bow to suggest that one of cricket’s legendary opening batsmen, Desmond Haynes, was troubled by the pace and venom of Gary Lidgerwood………….

“Hardly,” ‘George’ says, with a grin. “The first time I played against the West Indies at Benalla, he miscued a pull shot and hit it straight up in the air. He was out for a ‘duck’. Then when we met them at the Showgrounds the next year, he tried to belt me over the fence and was bowled – for 1.”

Still, as the years roll on, sporting stories have a knack of ‘growing legs’ and, over a few beers his mates sometimes refer to ‘Dessie’ Haynes as ‘Lidgerwood’s bunny.’
‘George’ laments the absence of those Country XI matches, which used to be an eagerly-anticipated part of International touring teams’ fixtures.

“You grasped the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the greats of the game. Good crowds turned up and there was a buzz around town for weeks beforehand.”
“Unfortunately, there’s not enough room in the schedule these days.”…………

Gary’s regarded as an icon of North-East cricket. A fast bowler who could produce a bit extra on the big occasions – and a personable type who was a fine leader and ideal team-man.

He thrived on competitiveness and camaraderie and – in something that sat well with selectors – made himself available for any representative match that was on the horizon……..
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The tiny hamlet of St.James, perched almost equidistant from Wangaratta, Yarrawonga and Benalla, was the launching-pad for the storied sporting career of Gary Lidgerwood.

When barely a teen-ager, this slightly-built kid, who hailed from a nearby farm, laboured enthusiastically on the  hard wicket and dry terrain of the St.James oval. Gnarled veterans of the Lake Rowan competition nodded sagely, as he made them hurry their shots and withdraw from rearing deliveries.

In winter he lined up on a wing for neighboring Tungamah, and did enough to prompt an approach from O & M club Benalla.

It was 1974; he was travelling in to attend Benalla Tech and saddling up with the Demons’ senior side. A stooped, persuasive old recruiter called Alan Killigrew – one of the most recognisable faces in football – pulled him aside one day and suggested he might consider having a run with North Melbourne Thirds.

That suited. He was heading down to attend Swinburne Tech the next year, so he came under the influence of Raymond Clarence ‘Slug’ Jordan, a coach with a reputation for colourful language and a confrontational approach.

What an experience ! In the time he spent under the brutal ‘Slug’, who, it was claimed, had a tongue like a Chainsaw, he learnt plenty about the rigours of sporting life. But it was a pleasure to be around Arden Street at that time. Barassi’s Northerners were en-route to their first-ever flag.

And, as a lowly Thirds player he was also along for the ride……. At the end of the day, however, Gary deduced that he had a limited future in League footy.

He had, though, considered accepting one of the several approaches he’d received about playing District cricket. Instead, he decided to travel back to play in Benalla each week-end.

He joined Goorambat – perennial BDCA finalists and home club of the Cleary and Trewin clans – sharing the new ‘cherry’ with experienced campaigners John Cleary and Johnny Ashton.

And he became a valuable component of a Benalla football line-up which had been barking at the heels of the flag contenders for a few seasons.

They had been building up to something – and in 1978 it all came together. Under the coaching of local boy Billy Sammon, they chalked up 16 wins on the trot, to secure a Grand Final berth.

The Demons went in as ‘red-hot’ favourites, but were blown away by a Rovers side which dictated terms, almost from the first bounce, to win by 54 points………….
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Gary had played 110 senior games with Benalla -and was a vital member of their rep cricket sides – when he accepted a shift to Wangaratta in 1981, as Manager of Paterson’s Furniture Store.

He threw in his footy lot with Wangaratta, and linked up with City Colts, a club which was making steady progress after years in the WDCA wilderness.

Colts hadn’t played in a finals series in their first 20 years of existence. With Lidgerwood in their ranks they appeared in nine of the next ten.

Younger players grew taller alongside the inspiring fast bowler. In his first season there was immediate success. Colts were defending 116 in the semi-final against powerhouse, United.

Lidgerwood and his bowling partner Bruce Hookey smashed through the United line-up to have them 9/30 at one stage, before finally dismissing them for 76.

Unfortunately, it was Colts’ turn to be humbled in the Grand Final, when they could only muster 52 against Whorouly.

Four years later, they finally broke through for their first – and only – WDCA senior flag. Sneaking into the finals by just 1.1% they squared off against Corowa in the big one.

It was a decisive victory, as Colts responded to a score of 141 with a mammoth 414.

‘George’s’ remarkable consistency in club cricket saw him finish in the top three of the Association’s bowling averages in eight of his first nine seasons. He won the ‘double’, the Chronicle Trophy and Cricketer of the Year Award in 1982/83, with 49 wickets and 381 runs.

His batting style in amassing those 381 runs could simply be described as unorthodox.

Coming in down the list, he would back his eye and tee off with a shot that sent the ball over the field, anywhere from backward point to deep mid-wicket.

Defensive prods were negligible and bowlers who felt they had broken the back of the Colts batting would be frustrated by a flurry of late-order runs.

His second Cricketer of the Year gong came in 1985/86. On the eve of that season, he had played in his only football flag, as a member of Wangaratta’s ‘85 Reserves team.

He’s pretty handy at socialising, is ‘George’. Two years ago he and his old Magpie team-mates gathered together and made a great fist of celebrating the 30-year Anniversary of that Premiership. The flag was all the more memorable because it was the last game of footy he played.

He was just 29 when he hung up the boots, but he reckons it helped to elongate his cricket career.

Back then, in his halcyon days, he had a long, rhythmic run-up. Straight, black hair would flop in the breeze, as a slightly round-arm action propelled the bright red ‘Kookaburra’ at a decidedly slippery and uncomfortable speed.

The ability to bowl a decent out-swinger and a dose of old-fashioned cricket nous made him a formidable opponent.

There was occasional criticism that he needed a touch more mongrel, but ‘George’ replied that he’d rather attack the stumps than than the body. “I preferred not to go head-hunting,” he says.

As his pace began to wane in latter years, he became a dependable ‘stock bowler’, tying up an end with accuracy and subtle variation of pace.

He opened the bowling for Victorian Country in the first-ever National Country titles in Brisbane.

Appearances against New Zealand Under 21’s, the ACT, and those two West Indies sides were part of a bulging CV.

He took 4/50 in the Showgrounds match against the Windies, but hastens to point out that, after he had claimed his fourth victim, opposition captain Richie Richardson proceeded to take 22 runs off his next over.

“He told me I’d bowled one over too many.”

‘George’ played 250 games for City Colts, and took 600 wickets. He was a key player in 14 Melbourne Country Week trips as a player, and was captain in eight of these.

He also figured in eight North-East Cup victories.

When he finally left the playing-field he Managed the Country Week side for several years, then had a five-year stint as President of the WDCA.

It was the least he could do, he said, to repay the debt he owed to cricket…………………

“THE EPITOME OF ELEGANCE……”

They called him ‘Hollywood’.

The nickname seemed to stick after one of his team-mates compared his sartorial elegance to that of the flamboyant Sydney punter of the fifties and sixties, ‘Hollywood’ George Edser.

That was one of the colourful characteristics of Peter Nicoll, who was a true personality of Wangaratta cricket for almost three decades.

There was no more imposing sight for an opposition player than to see the bulky frame of Nicoll striding purposefully to the wicket. A gifted left-hander equipped with the full range of shots, he could murder an attack when in full flight. You probably considered yourself a reasonable chance to pick him up in slips early, but if you didn’t, then … ‘look out’.

Peter Nicoll was part of a blue-blooded cricketing dynasty at Whorouly. His uncles, Ernie,Ron and Vic were all champions, as was his cousin Lex.  Brother Ian, a future proficient Carlton winger, could wreak havoc with his ruthless hitting, whilst his father Wils, a fellow ‘Hall of Famer’, had a peerless record and scored over 10,000 WDCA runs.

Yet Wils and Peter were poles apart in the rudiments of batting. Peter, stylish and playing through the lines, was a conventional stroke-player. Wils, more rough-hewn, relied on a superb eye to plunder the bowling. But both shared an appetite for runs which produced monumental results.

The story is told of Wils, striding to the crease at Country Week, looking like he’d hastily changed after a tiresome day on the farm. Trousers tucked into black socks, well-worn pads offering scant protection. And carrying a single, spiked batting glove.

There was collective derision from the fielding side. Someone sneered: “Get a look at this yokel will ya !” It was just loud enough for the ‘yokel’ to hear, and store in his memory bank.

After a commanding knock,  during which he’d taken toll of a highly-rated attack, he quickly departed, in search of a relaxing ‘roll-your-own’ as his method of winding down.

Peter, to the contrary was all sophistication , replete with  finely-tailored creams and the most up-to-date equipment.

He was just 13 when he lined up alongside Wils in the Whorouly side. Two years later he was hailed as a prodigy when he shared a 240-run opening partnership with his father. His contribution was 104.

He was one of the youngest-ever Country Week players when selected that year. A season later he was representing a Wangaratta team against the visiting Victorians. It was all very heady stuff for the lad, but he handled a Shield attack with aplomb.

“Ian Meckiff routed the remaining bats, although young Peter Nicoll provided stubborn  resistance with a fine innings of 17. He certainly justified his selection and played a fine array of shots to score his runs”, said the Chronicle reporter of the day.

Peter headed to Melbourne , where he spent a couple of seasons with Richmond. To the surprise of most WDCA followers, who rated him an excellent chance of playing District Firsts, his time was spent in the Seconds and Thirds, with a Third XI Batting average and a top score of 99* being the highlight.

Employment as a livestock agent took him away from Whorouly for a period. He represented Mansfield at Country Week on three occasions whilst working in the town and he had spells at Ariah Park and Wagga in the early seventies. But for 27 seasons he was one of the cornerstones of a usually-strong Whorouly line-up.

Besides his formidable batting he adopted another string to his bow, as a medium-pace swing bowler. He was under-estimated in this role, but showed accuracy and guile to trouble the best of batsmen.

Nicoll enjoyed an excellent season in 1967/68, scoring three centuries and taking out the Chronicle Trophy. But he would probably rank ‘71/72 among his most enjoyable. It was a season of one-day games and he totalled 623 runs, finished runner-up in the Chronicle Trophy and played in his first Whorouly premiership.

He had scored 114 not out in the final-round and played a lovely hand of 46 to help the Maroons defeat Tarrawingee in the semi-final. He then hammered a top-class United attack to the tune of 116 not out to assist in knocking off the hot favourites in the Final. Some people rate this as his finest and most disciplined innings, but then again, any of his other 11 WDCA ‘tons’ could rival that honour.

Nicoll played in two other premierships with Whorouly – 1974/75 and 1981/82, but figured in four losing Finals.

His name was regularly thrown up when representative fixtures came around and he was selected for two international games. The first, against England at Euroa in 1965 was washed out, but he opened the batting against the West Indies at the Showgrounds in 1969, defying the pacemen Wesley Hall and Richard Edwards for more than half an hour, for 13.

Nicoll was a permanent fixture at Melbourne Country Week and his 17 trips as part of the Wangaratta team spanned 26 years. Only Max Bussell, Clem Fisher and Barry Grant  made more journeys down the highway for the best country cricket around.

He was always a vital part of the upper-order, with his highest score, a breezy 86, helping Wang to defeat Ballarat in 1966. In his last innings, at Coburg in 1985, he promised the boys, on heading through the gate, that he would ‘turn it on’ for them. True to his word , his 69, against Colac ,was a classy swansong. In latter years his bowling at Melbourne had  also proved invaluable,

There were few more recognisable players in local cricket than “Holly”. His competitive nature was a vital part of his make-up. There’s no doubt that occasional sparring sessions with opponents may have rubbed some of them up the wrong way.

But he gave great service to Whorouly in his 286 games and the stark statistics of 7561 runs and 466 wickets speak for themselves. So does his record with the WDCA – 17 Country Week trips and 50 North-East Cup games.

His prowess as a footballer often faded because of his cricket achievements. But he was an aggressive, strong defender, who starred in key position roles with Myrtleford during the sixties.

The Nicoll residence borders the Whorouly oval and if the present-day merged Ovens Valley side happen to be playing there he usually sidles up to peruse the state of the game . Old-time cricket watchers would say that , when he was in his pomp, there was no more attractive sight than watching “Holly” unveiling  his repertoire of shots.

 

‘GREAT CRICKETER…………..ORDINARY SPORT……’

His portrait hangs in a position of prominence in Wangaratta’s cricket headquarters.

It’s the classic stance of a right-hand batsman – upright, comfortable, with a glint in his eye. The look of defiance is seemingly inviting the bowler to ”bring it on – if you’re good enough”.

He was the scourge of all opponents, this gnarled, crusty codger, who was an unforgettable character and a mainstay of local cricket for over 50 years.

Many adjectives were applied to Clem Fisher by opponents whom he rankled, including : ‘shocking sport’, ‘tough as nails’, ‘stubborn’ and ‘pig-headed’.

He knew, for instance, how to get under the skin of my father, who waged war with him on the field for a couple of decades. Dad once overheard him make a snide comment, something like – “they can’t handle the pressure, those Hills” – and never forgot it.

He would ‘up the ante’ when Clem strolled to the crease, and invariably grab the ball himself, in an endeavour to ‘get rid of the bastard’.

Yet, like everyone, he was full of admiration for the contribution that ‘Old Clem’ made to the game, and for the ‘father-figure’ he became to young players when he finally hung up his boots……….

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Clement Roberts William Fisher was born in 1905. His idol was his father, John, who once took 10 wickets in an innings for Whorouly, and played for 53 years.

The Fisher boys were tutored on a concrete wicket at the family property, ‘Glen’, at East Wangaratta. Clem played his early cricket with Tarrawingee, and later, with Everton-based Brookfield, alongside his cousins, the Kneebones.

With an enthusiastic old man and an uncle, Eugene Kneebone, who detested losing, it was no wonder the young bloke developed a competitive streak which was almost beyond compare.

Brookfield transferred from the O & K to the WDCA in 1926/27 and the three Fisher brothers combined with the Kneebone family to make up the team.

Clem was a noted all-rounder. He bowled with plenty of aggression and, with bat in hand, produced a resolute defence and a good range of shots.

In the style of a true opener, he loved taking up the challenge to the quickies, and it was in this role that he was to become renowned.

His first trip to Country Week produced successive knocks of 61 and 91. He relished the good Melbourne wickets and would become a key figure in the famous Wangaratta sides of the 1930’s.

The Fishers formed a new team, East Wangaratta, in 1928 and played their home games on a ground shaped on the family property.

They immediately became a power, partly because they recruited vigorously, with some of Wangaratta’s stars joining their ranks.

East Wang edged past Wangaratta to win an exciting Grand Final by one wicket, in 1928/29. They repeated the dose the following year, prompting Clem to boast that East was capable of defeating a team comprising the rest of Wangaratta.

The challenge, issued through the ‘Chronicle’ prompted an outcry from many cricket ‘officianados’, including his old antagonist, Tom Nolan, who despised the ‘arrogant’ tone of the letter.

Clem further fuelled the fires with another outburst, saying in part that: “…….the challenge was issued in friendly spirit. The Wang chaps are good cricketers as long as they are winning. But when they strike top opposition they drop their bundles……”

He had to eat his words, as East were well beaten in the keenly-anticipated match-up.

Widely regarded as the district’s best all-rounder, Clem guided his club to another flag in 1931/32.

In the semi-final the following year, he clubbed a dashing 127 before being run out. But, as the game wore on, Wangaratta gained the upper hand and needed a manageable 123 to win.

The ‘Chronicle’ reported that “……..they faced hard going against the bowling of Clem and Clyde Fisher. The former gave the batsmen little chance to score, most balls being of the Larwood variety, and bouncing over the heads of the ducking batsmen. Time was called with 4 down for 105.”

“Just how far players can go is a matter for cricket regulations. Spectators gave unceasing barracking to East Wangaratta. In two hours only 20 overs were bowled.”

Wangaratta protested and East Wang were suspended for the rest of the season.

The opening partnership that Fisher formed with Alec Fraser served Wangaratta admirably in representative cricket.

Although opposites in personality and batting technique, they melded perfectly at the crease and the runs usually came in a flood.

Their 304-run partnership against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 remains a Country Week record. On another occasion, in 1937, they flayed the Wimmera attack with an unbroken 250-run stand.

Wangaratta won three Country Week titles during the golden ’30’s, with a side which played hard and celebrated keenly – winning 30, drawing 3 and losing just 6 of its matches in the decade.

People were busily picking up the threads of day-to-day life at the cessation of World War II, and cricket was not a high priority. For Fisher, though, it was at the top of his list.

The WDCA was slow to start, and eventually cranked up in late 1946, with Clem at the helm.

His forthright manner no doubt alienated a few and he wouldn’t have been much of a help in patching up the testy WDCA – Social cricket relationship, which was simmering at the time.

But his love of the game was contagious and he was a hands-on President for four years. He was a valuable consultant to clubs who were installing turf pitches in the early 50’s and kept a watchful eye on their development.

Although Clem’s Country Week playing days had drawn to a close, he continued to make the trip as manager. As guardian of a playful group, he was bestowed with the nickname ‘Pimp’ for his vain efforts in trying to curb their nocturnal activities.

He did heaps of behind-the-scenes work to help secure the visit of Peter May’s Englishmen in 1959. Besides his sundry other duties he produced a ‘pearler’ of a wicket. It was no fault of his that the ‘Poms’ spoilt the party by routing the Country XI for just 32.

He resumed the WDCA presidency in 1964, succeeding Alf Kendall, a prim-and-proper Englishman, who liked to see cricket function according to the text-book.

Fisher was rough and ready, his bush upbringing prompting him to bend a few rules and call a ‘spade a bloody shovel’.

He had not long retired from playing, aged 57, and was still the Showgrounds curator, but for the next 10 years slipped easily into his role as the ‘elder statesman’ of local cricket and president of both the Wangaratta and North-East associations. He was a key figure in luring the West Indies to the Showgrounds in 1969.

But appreciated just as keenly was his attendance at the WDCA matches every Saturday.

Like clockwork, his green Chev would chug into the ground and Clem would alight, smoke in hand, to survey the proceedings.

He had excellent rapport with the younger players and would delight in conversing over a few beers after stumps. The boys joked that he would climb into the old ‘chariot’ late at night, turn it onto automatic pilot and it would miraculously find its way back home to East Wangaratta.

What wasn’t so funny was the unwitting part he played in the 1967 Provincial Country Week Final.

Wangaratta was chasing a formidable Euroa target and had got away to a reasonable start on duck-opening eve.

Clem was absorbed in the game, but was distracted by the shuddering realisation that he’d run out of cartridges.

What to do ? His first thought was to conscript lower-order batsman Billy Fitzgerald to chauffeur him into ‘town’ to pick up fresh supplies.

Delayed in heavy traffic, they arrived back much later than expected, to the news that the game was over. Wangaratta had lost a succession of quick wickets, and ‘Fitzy’ was also out – Absent (0) !

Clem Fisher died in 1978, but every so often his name crops up when old-timers yarn about the legends of the game.

The tales about Wangaratta’s ‘Mr.Cricket’ could fill a book………….