FAREWELL TO A PAIR OF STAR DEFENDERS…..

The famed hostility between the Magpies and Hawks had just reached its zenith when Bernie Killeen and Bob Atkinson made their way into Ovens and Murray football.

They were to become sterling defenders for their respective clubs.

Killeen, the high-marking , long-kicking left-footer, held down a key position spot for most of his 13 years with Wangaratta. ‘Akky’, wearing the Number 33 of his beloved Wangaratta Rovers was a back flank specialist, uncompromising, hard-hitting and renowned for his clearing dashes upfield.

Both passed away in the past week or so, after lengthy illnesses……………

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Bernie Killeen returned home from St.Patrick’s College Sale in 1956 and walked straight into the Wangaratta side. He was just 17.

Dame Fortune shone upon him, as the Magpies were in the throes of developing a powerful line-up . His form was solid enough to hold his spot in the side and bask in the glory of the ‘57 Grand Final, alongside such experienced team-mates as coach Jack McDonald, Bill Comensoli, Graeme Woods and the veteran ‘Hop’ McCormick.

It was an unforgettable day for Killeen, who was named on a half-forward flank. Wangaratta came from the clouds, thanks to a last-minute goal from champion rover Lance Oswald, to overcome Albury by two points.

This early taste of success would have given Bernie an inkling that that it was to be a forerunner of things to come.

Fate intervened. Four years later, a debilitating knee injury struck him down. He spent most of 1961 on the sidelines, and could only watch on as the ‘Pies scored a huge win over Benalla in the Grand Final.

Killeen fully recovered, and reached his peak in 1963, when was rated among the finest centre half backs in the competition. He took out Wangaratta’s Best & Fairest Award and the Chronicle Trophy, and represented the O & M against South-West League.

Perhaps his most memorable performance came in the 1964 Second Semi-Final, when he was like the Rock of Gibralter in the key defence position, pulling down 19 towering marks against the Rovers. It was a bad-tempered match, with the ‘Pies pulling off an upset, to march into the Grand Final.

A fortnight later, when the teams again tangled, Killeen found himself matched up at the opening bounce by Hawk coach Ken Boyd, whose intent was to niggle, and put the star off his game.

Boyd later moved into defence, but as the match progressed, Bernie found himself continually out of the play. The Rovers’ strategy was obviously to prevent him from ‘cutting them off at the pass’ as he’d done so effectively in the Semi.

Wang fell short by 23 points – the first of three successive heart-breaking Grand Final losses.

Bernie Killeen was a model of consistency over 13 seasons and 226 senior games with Wangaratta. He was installed as a Life Member of the ‘Pies in 1966…………

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As an angry, milling group of players swapped punches in the second quarter of the 1972 Ovens and Murray Grand Final, one of the central figures in the melee slumped to the turf.

His face was splattered in blood……. He tried in vain to resist the efforts of trainers, who were trying to escort him off the ground….. Eventually, sanity prevailed.

It was always going to be Bob Atkinson’s last game in Brown and Gold. But it wasn’t supposed to finish so abruptly ! At least, when he’d gathered his equilibrium after the game, his team-mates consoled him with the news that he’d added a sixth premiership to his collection……………

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‘Akky’ arrived at the City Oval in 1959 – a product of the South Wanderers. If there seemed to be a touch of maturity about the swarthy apprentice Motor Mechanic, it was understandable. During the last of his four years with the Junior League Club he’d already announced his engagement, to Fran, his future wife.

Young footballers of the modern era wouldn’t be so accepting of the patience that he displayed, as it took the best part of five years before he was able to nail down a permanent senior spot.

Maybe it was the proliferation of talent at the Club that saw the youngster deprived of opportunities…… Bob Rose may possibly have felt that he’d developed bad habits that needed rectifying…….like continually trying to dodge and weave around opponents.

Whatever the reason, Rose was unable to tailor a suitable role for him.

After making his senior debut in 1960, he’d played 49 Reserves, and just 26 Senior games.

His rejuvenation came in 1963, when Ken Boyd inherited a side bereft of many of its stars. His challenge to the younger guys was to place their stamp on the Club. In ‘Akky’, he found a player who relished responsibility, and jumped at the opportunity of shutting down dangerous opposition’s forwards.

‘Boydie’ also admired his aggressiveness and spirit. He urged him to attack the ball……..”And if anyone happens to get in your road, just bowl ‘em over,” he said. The re-born back flanker didn’t need too much convincing, and responded by finishing runner-up to Neville Hogan in the B & F.

This ‘Vigilante’ of the backline had some handy sidekicks in ‘Bugs’ Kelly, Lennie Greskie and Norm Bussell who were all football desperadoes.

The Rovers won 15 games straight in 1964, before hitting a road-block. They dropped the next four matches and were seemingly on the road to nowhere. That they were able to recover, and take out the flag was a tribute to Boyd and the character of his players.

They repeated the dose in 1965, again taking down Wangaratta in a tense encounter. The fierce opening of the Grand Final was highlighted by an all-in brawl, which saw a few Magpies nursing tender spots. Twice, in the dying stages, Wang had chances to win the game, but they fell short by three points.

The Hawks remained there or thereabouts for the next three years, including contesting the 1967 Grand Final.

But Bob had an itch to coach, and when lowly King Valley came knocking in 1969, he accepted their offer. The Valley had finished last, with just two wins, the previous season. They’d never won a flag.

‘Akky’s’ arrival coincided with the construction of the Lake William Hovell Project. Several handy recruits landed on their doorstep almost overnight.

It enabled them to sneak into the finals in his first year. But 1970 was to provide Valley supporters with their finest hour.

After thrashing Milawa in the final round, they went to the top of the ladder, but their confidence was eroded when the Demons turned the tables in the Second Semi.

The Valley made no mistake in the Grand Final. It’s handy when you have a full forward like Ray Hooper, who boots 11 of your 14 goals. Hooper, a burly left-footer, was a star, as was his fellow Dam worker Tony Crapper.

‘Akky’ was inspirational, and with the scent of a premiership in his nostrils, drove his players in the last half. His old Rovers team-mate Barry Sullivan also held sway in the ruck, as King Valley stormed to a 34-point victory………

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Bob returned ‘home’ to the Rovers, and lent his experience to a youthful side, under the coaching of Neville Hogan. The following year he was appointed vice-captain.

“It was probably the best thing that happened for his footy at that stage of his career, as he got fully involved,” recalls Hogan. “The discipline he showed provided a great example to our young players.”

One of those was Terry Bartel, who was a fellow car-salesman at West City Autos. ‘Akky’ once recounted the story about Bartel telling him he couldn’t be bothered driving to Yerong Creek to represent the Ovens & Murray in an Inter-League game:

“I’m probably going to be sitting in a forward pocket all day. I don’t reckon the other pricks will give me a run on the ball,” said Bartel.

“You never let anyone down. Jump in that car and get up there,” I told him. “I’d give my left Knacker to play in one of those games. You don’t know how lucky you are.”

“And, you know, the little bastard’s gone up and kicked 9 goals……..”

Bob capped a fine 1971 season by finishing fifth in the B & F and playing a key role in the Rovers’ 19-point premiership victory over Yarrawonga. He’d lost none of his venom, and at a critical part of the game upended Pigeon ruckman, the formidable Jimmy Forsyth.

‘Akky’ lived ‘by the sword’. He knew that retribution might come one day, and when big Jim flattened him twelve months later in his swansong game, the 1972 Grand Final, he accepted that as part of footy.

After such a hesitant start, he’d made a huge impression at the Rovers. He’d played 175 senior games, figured in four senior and one Reserves flag, was a Life Member, and had earned a reputation as one of its finest-ever defenders.

He succumbed to the temptation of coming out of retirement two years later, when he played several games with Tarrawingee.

Finally, though, ‘Akky’ decided it was time to pull the pin……………

'ENIGMATIC CAREY , A STAR OF THE DEPRESSION ERA…'

Wangaratta’s rise to sporting prominence during the Depression era coincided with the flourishing careers of a handful of champions.

Not many of them, though, could match the feats of curly-haired Herbert Wesley Carey, a dynamic footballer, explosive all-round cricketer and enigmatic personality……..

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Carey’s parents transplanted their large family to Wangaratta from Devon Meadows (near Cranbourne) in the late twenties.His dad, Walter. like so many of his generation, had tried his hand at anything; from Gold-Mining, to tobacco-growing, to Carpentry. It was whilst panning for gold that he incurred syenite poisoning in his knee, which left him with a stiff leg for the remainder of his life.

With nine kids ( he and wife Margaret lost another son, Walter Steane, in his infancy ) he found that Building was the most appropriate way to sustain the family. The boys – George, Fred, Bill, Bert and Stan – possessed a variety of skills, but Bert became his principal helper.

The Carey’s would go on to construct many houses in the West End area, including a couple in Steane Street, which was named after the second Christian names of Walter and the baby son they’d lost.

Wangaratta Football Club happened upon a recruiting bonanza when the Carey gang hit town. The five boys all played together at various times. When former Hawthorn player Dermott O’Brien quit as coach mid-way through their first season, 1929, the adaptable Fred was appointed in his place.

One of the key players at his disposal was Bert, who was equally at home whilst on the ball or up forward.

Bert stood 5’10” and weighed 75kg, and had already sampled VFL football, having played five games with Fitzroy. But, at periods over the next nine years, he would prove well-nigh unstoppable in the Black and White guernsey.

He gave Magpie fans an early sample of his brilliance when he booted 13 goals in their 92-point thrashing of Rutherglen.

Bert signalled his cricketing ability in his first WDCA game with newly-formed East Wangaratta, finishing with figures of 5/8 and 6/1 and producing a belligerent innings of 85 against Footballers.

A left-arm bowler of considerable pace, he could swing the ball both ways (sometimes too much) and proved a more than handy batsman in the middle-order. Little wonder, with Bert in the side complementing the redoubtable Fisher brothers, they became a power. After a one-wicket win in the 1928/29 decider, East again took out the flag the following year.

Carey teamed with Brookfield speedsters Ken and Harry Kneebone to form a lethal new-ball combination in representative cricket.

His first Country Week, in 1929, was a raging success. He captured 20 wickets at an average of 5.6, including successive hauls of 7/21 and 5/39. He was to become a cornerstone of the Wangaratta attack, and produced some astonishing performances.

In his best individual effort, in 1933, he snared 6/11, 5/39, 5/24, 4/57 and made an undefeated 40, following this with 4/67 in the Final, which Wangaratta duly won.

His wicket-taking record over nine trips to Melbourne (1929-’37) has never been bettered, and was a factor in Wangaratta’s tally of 21 wins, 4 losses and 7 draws over that period.

In a move which inflamed tensions between the rival clubs, Bert switched from East Wang to Wangaratta in 1933/34, and was able to add another two premierships to his collection, giving him five WDCA flags in total……..

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Carey’s uncanny goal-kicking skills made him a vital part of Wangaratta’s football success. He was averaging in excess of five goals per game in 1930, before he was shut down in a vital clash against West Albury. The ‘Pies lost the game, but he bounced back with hauls of 8 and 11 against Rutherglen and Corowa.

Wangaratta had incurred a financial loss of 275 pounds, after also covering the 50 pound debt of sister club, Rovers. There were concerns about the club’s ability to field two teams, so they decided to affiliate just one side in the Ovens and King League.

They comfortably won the 1931 Grand Final. Carey capped a fine season by kicking his 85th goal – a new O & K record – which was boosted by an incredible 21 goals in one match, out of a team total of 25.32. It still remains the highest individual score by a Wangaratta player.

The’Pies’ second successive O & K flag in ’32 prompted an invitation to return to the Ovens and Murray League. Much to the chagrin of the O & K, who claimed that they were again being ‘used’, Wang duly re-affiliated.

Not only that, they re-asserted their dominance, and were sitting on top of the ladder, unbeaten after five matches.

And they did it without Bert Carey, who had been lured down to Hawthorn. He booted five goals against St.Kilda in the opening VFL round and followed it with another ‘bag’ of five against North Melbourne.

He had 16 goals in six games before advising the Mayblooms that he was returning home to Wangaratta.

This was the icing on the cake for the ‘Pies. But despite finishing atop the ladder, they fell to Border United in the Second Semi Final.

They bounced back in scintillating fashion, booting 20.10 to Corowa’s 8.4 in the Prelim, with the double-pronged forward targets, Len Nolan (10) and Bert Carey (8) having a field-day.

The following week Wangaratta lined up against Border United in the Grand Final. The teams were evenly-matched, but Border took a 16-point lead into the final term.

Nolan, Bill Brown and Carey soon had the opposition defence under pressure, and with two minutes to play, Wang had gone to a seven-point lead. A Border goal lifted the hopes of the favourites, but time ran out and Wangaratta hung on to win a classic by one point.

It was a triumph for the Carey family, as coach Fred (the Morris Medallist) had led from the front and Bert, with three goals, again illustrated what a big-game player he was……

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Controversy seemed to dog Bert Carey, despite his star status as a player. No more so than when he was included in the Wangaratta side late in the 1936 season. He’d been missing for most of the year, having decided to take up umpiring.

Two players, Jim Gorman and Len Irving, refused to play alongside him. He had, they said, taken the place of a team-mate who’d helped the side into the ‘four’.

Wangaratta subsequently reported them to the League. Their argument was that there had been a shortage of players when Carey was selected, and: “he had been ready to go umpiring when asked to play against Rutherglen.”

After a lengthy delegates meeting, Irving and Gorman were disqualified for the remainder of the 1936 season for their refusal to play.

Carey proved more than handy in the ensuing finals series. Wangaratta fell to Rutherglen in the Second semi, but bounced back to kick 18.20 to 11.11 against Wodonga in the Prelim.

The old-timer showed his worth by snagging seven majors, as the Bulldogs found it difficult to counter he and the burly Charlie Heavey up forward.

In another gripping Grand Final, Wangaratta turned the tables on Rutherglen, to take out their third O & M flag. It was a contest of the highest order, as Wang, despite kicking poorly in the final term, held on to win by 20 points.

Bert Carey had just turned 32 when Hawthorn called on him in the early rounds of 1937. Playing in the centre, he proved his class in four games. But injuries prevailed, and mid-way through the season he again returned to Wangaratta.

This was to be his swansong. After a handful of games the career of Bert Carey was over. He had played 104 games and booted 423 goals for the ‘Pies……

“FLAG FLAMES AGAIN FLICKER AT THE ‘SHOWIES’………”

I’m regularly reminded of my greatest sporting disappointment when I spot a swarthy fellah striding down Murphy Street of a week-day morning.

It’s 49 years ago, almost to the day, that he pranced on to the Showgrounds Oval, and proceeded to become a decisive figure in Myrtleford’s electrifying, historic Premiership triumph.

The first thought that comes into my mind is usually: ‘There’s the little prick that helped cost us a flag’.

Johnny Bianco chuckles at this, and recounts the circumstances that ultimately delivered him a premiership Medal in just his ninth senior game for his home-town Club:

“I’d not long graduated from Uni as a teacher, and received a posting to Meadow Creek early in 1970. Moyhu came to see me and I said: ‘Yeah, I’ll play with you.’ I was driving an old Morris Major Elite at the time, and travelled over from Myrtleford each day.”

“Anyway, as luck would have it, the Morris ‘carked it’ and Dad gave me a loan to buy a brand-new Renault from One-Mile Motors. The only proviso was that I had to give up footy, and concentrate on my teaching career.”

“A few weeks later, though, a three-man deputation from Myrtleford – the coach, Martin Cross, President, Len Ablett and the Parish Priest, Father Frank Jones – arrived at the farm and convinced Dad that I should play with Myrtleford.”

After six games in the Reserves ( during which he picked enough votes to finish runner-up in the League Medal ) John broke into the senior line-up. He strapped himself in for a dream ride, as the Saints stormed into the finals, and comfortably won the First Semi against Wangaratta. They sensationally knocked over previous flag favourites Wodonga by a point in the Prelim, to set up a Grand Final clash with the Rovers.

There was a touch of romanticism about the meeting of the O & M’s two fledgling Clubs, who’d been jointly admitted to the League twenty years earlier. Hence, a mammoth crowd jammed into the Showgrounds – a large percentage of them adorned in Red, White and Black.IMG_4382

Alas, the fairy-tale appeared destined to end in tears. The Rovers had looked the better-equipped team, and held a decisive 17-point lead at three quarter-time.IMG_4398

But a withering last quarter saw the Saints storm back into the game. The elusive Bianco proved to be their ‘energiser’. He made his presence felt by snapping the first major and his fresh legs were a factor in their scintillating fight-back.IMG_4384

When Graeme Ward booted a goal from well-out at the 24-minute mark, the game had slipped beyond the grasp of the Hawks. The piercing sound of the siren was the signal for hundreds of Myrtleford fans to swarm the ground and release two decades of pent-up emotions……..

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Grand Finals always produce a back-drop of yarns that make each of them unique……..Some are tinged with sadness………others conspicuous for their stories of brutality……or brave performances against the odds………

Myrtleford’s Cinderella-like triumph in 1970 is the most memorable of the eight O & M Grand Final battles that have been waged at  Sunday’s venue – the Norm Minns Oval (The Showgrounds). It may be worth plucking out some snapshots from the others……….

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1947: ALBURY v. BENALLA

Tommy ‘The Turk’ Lahiff’s Albury are chasing their third flag in four years, and have convincingly outpointed Benalla in the Second – Semi.

But Benalla, with ‘Iron-Man’ Bob Chitty booting nine goals, storm back into contention with a 44-point win over Corowa in the Prelim.

It’s anyone’s game at lemon-time in a riveting Grand Final, as the Demons lead by a solitary point. Chitty has been dynamic in the first half, but begins to fade out of the game.

Albury’s forwards, who have been wayward, to say the least, begin to hit the target, and with classy left-footer Jimmy Matthews controlling the mid-field, prove too strong in the latter stages, winning 11.18 (84) to 10.9 (69)……….

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1962: BENALLA v WANGARATTA ROVERS

Much of the pre-game hype centres around the ‘Swansong’ appearance of Rovers maestro Bob Rose, who has overcome mid-season injury to lead the Hawks into the ‘big-one’.

And he’s in rare touch, picking up 26 kicks by half-time, as the Rovers lead a battle of attrition, three goals to one.

Rovers fans ponder why Rose has left incumbent coach Ken Boyd to cool his heels in the back pocket for much of the game, whilst Benalla’s Alf Sikora and Terry Putt are playing such a key role in the big-man duels.

The Hawks still lead by five points – 4.8 to 3.9 at three quarter-time, but it’s obvious, in this battle of the defences, that the Rovers are tiring.

Demon star Neil Busse nails an early goal, and Putt scoops in a magnificent mark in the goal-square, to give the Demons the lead. Johnny Hogan kicks the sealer in the dying stages to give Benalla the flag – 7.14 (56) to 6.10 (46).

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1973: BENALLA v NORTH ALBURY

The fists fly early in a series of sensational flare-ups, as North use their physical strength in an attempt to counter the Demons’ pace and slick teamwork.

Brilliant Hopper mid-fielder John Smith is the first to go into umpire Ian Coates’ black book. The report is to have consequences for Smith the following year, as it costs him consecutive Morris Medals. Burly Joe Ambrose is also reported, but Benalla are able to withstand the pressure, and go into each of the breaks holding a narrow lead.IMG_4395

There are thrills aplenty for the crowd of just on 15,000 in the final term. Benalla slip out to an 18-point lead, but a 70-metre goal from Stan Sargeant and a snap from Fulford in time-on reduce the margin.

Benalla, desperate in defence, hold on to win a classic – 12.12 (84) to 11.11 (77).

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1978: BENALLA v WANGARATTA ROVERS

Benalla enter the Grand Final as raging favourites after chalking up 15 consecutive wins. But when the chips are down in the opening stanza it is the Rovers who take command.

They’ve made several pre-match positional changes which seem to catch the Demons on the hop, and by half-time the game is as good as over.IMG_4389

Benalla issue a brief challenge in the third quarter and, for a while, halt the Hawks’ supremacy. But their moment of glory is short-lived and their opponents sprint away again, to notch their sixth flag in eight years, winning by 54 points – 15.18 (108) to 7.12 (54).

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1991: YARRAWONGA v WANGARATTA ROVERS

Yarrawonga out-play Wangaratta Rovers in the Second Semi, and earn favouritism when the two sides meet at the Showgrounds a fortnight later.

This time the Hawks are well-prepared and blitz the Pigeons with a dominant first quarter which almost puts the game beyond doubt.

It’s typical Grand Final football, with plenty of tackling and smothering, which makes the job of kicking goals a difficult proposition. Robbie Walker is on fire at centre half forward, and the Pigeons swap several players onto him without success.IMG_4391

At the last change it is feasible that Yarra may still pinch the match, but the Hawks put it to rest by adding another 7.7, to win effortlessly – 17.16 (118) to 7.7 (49).

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1994: WANGARATTA ROVERS v WODONGA

A blustery wind blowing across the Norm Minns Oval eliminates the long-kicking, high-marking game for which both sides are renowned.

But the unbeaten Rovers signify their intentions early by hitting the ball hard and tackling ferociously. They kick five goals to nil in the first quarter, and continue their dominance. The third quarter becomes somewhat farcical, as the Dogs initiate several stoushes and are minus three players thanks to the umpire’s yellow card.

Did Simpson Medallist Robbie Walker is unstoppable and the usual suspects – Tossol, the Wilsons, Caruso and O’Donohue – reap the rewards of Wodonga’s ill-discipline, as the Hawks go on to win 14.14 (98) to 5.9 (39).

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2018: ALBURY v WANGARATTA

Albury, the League’s pace-setter for the best part of a decade, have to fight like the Dickens to preserve their unbeaten record in a riveting match.

With a strong breeze reaching almost 40kmh at times, both teams struggle to master it. The Tigers lead by 21 points at half-time, but the ‘Pies perform brilliantly to force their way back into the game, and trail by just 3 points at three quarter-time.IMG_4388

Albury get some breathing space through a piece of Jake Gaynor magic, but a Michael Newton goal- a snap for his third – cuts the lead back.

The game is full of desperation – particularly when Jimmy Grills marks on the goal-line to prevent a Magpie goal with just three minutes left.

In one of the most thrilling Grand Finals for years, Albury hang on to win: 11.12 (78) to 10.10 (70).

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POST-SCRIPT:   The 1970 Grand Final was Johnny Bianco’s last game for his beloved Saints. His profession took him to a variety of towns throughout the state, where he continued playing footy. In 1977 he shared in another flag, with Rushworth, under the coaching of former North Melbourne star Bernie McCarthy.

He settled in Wangaratta in 1984 and became renowned over the next 30 years as a much-loved teacher and musician. Last November John’s world was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with cancer.IMG_4396

“It’ll probably get me in the end,” he tells me. “But in the meantime I’m enjoying life as best I can. Hopefully,  I can live long enough to see Myrtleford’s second premiership………..”IMG_4387

“NO REST FOR ‘WOBBLES’…….”

The first question I put to this dapper super-veteran is how he happened to acquire one of Wangaratta’s best-known nicknames.

“It was back in my younger days, when I’d been invited down to train with Collingwood…….” he explains. “During the course of some heavy socialising one of the players, Bill Twomey, remarked that I’d got a bad case of the wobbles. It seemed to stick, and I’ve been ‘Wobbles’ ever since………”

Kevin Allan invites me into the spare bedroom of his Thomson Street house, and produces a small batch of yellowing newspaper cuttings, which he proceeds to spread out on the bed.

“Nell ( his late wife ) kept these. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. I suppose I should’ve put ‘em in some sort of order, but never got around to it,” he says.

No matter…..’Wobbles’ has enough memories of his almost-80 years in football to fill a couple of books……

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He’s the eldest of six kids…..Grew up on a dairy farm at Milawa…..He tells me his dad, Jack, who was mad-keen on footy, was President of the Redlegs for many years, dating back to the thirties.

“I can remember when I was about 9 or 10. Dad had a ‘28 National Chev which he’d drive into Wang to pick up players for training. Our first stop was Bullock’s Store in Murphy Street, where a bloke called Vin Coram would jump in, then he’d collect the three Oates boys, and a few others.”

“In the end the Sedan would be chock-a-block. I had to stand on the running rail. You couldn’t have players standing there…..They might have fallen off !…….”

He was 14 when he debuted with Milawa in 1940, and had played just two seasons when the O & K League was forced into recess because of the War. It was 1945 before he could again pull on the beloved Red and Blue guernsey.

Kev’s first job was on the Farm. He hated it but, because it was classified as a Restricted Industry, had to stay there for the duration of the War.

“The moment the whistle blew at the Butter Factory, to signify the end of the War, I high-tailed it into Wang on my bike to join in the celebrations and start looking for a job,” he says.

He became one of Milawa’s stars of the post-war era, and played in both the 1945 and ‘47 Grand Finals.

“They were good times, but it’s amusing when you look back. For instance, the Methodist Minister, Reverend Perry, had a three-tonne Truck. When we played away games, he’d throw a couple of church pews on the back and we’d all pile in. We used to call it Perry’s Circus, and it’d cost us two bob each for the trip.”

But the blossoming Allan career almost drew to a close one late-summer evening in 1948, soon after he’d bought a Motor-Bike off a mate, Tommy Hourigan.

Apparently Tommy’s family had pleaded with him to get rid of the Bike after he’d had a prang, but Kev thought he was Christmas when he took delivery of it and headed off on his first jaunt.

“I came to grief at Thompson’s Bridge, just off the Hume Highway. Old George Robbins found me there, unconscious, and drove me to hospital.”

“When I came to, all the family were at my bedside. A list of my injuries included burst ear drums, a broken collarbone and facial paralysis. I was ever-grateful to Doctor Phillips, who pulled me through. But he gravely advised me that my footy career was over.”

‘Wobbles’ was ever-grateful to the old ‘Doc’, but says on this occasion his prognosis was about 20 years premature.

He missed the 1948 season and, somewhat injudiciously in the opinion of a few, pulled on the boots again in ‘49. Just to show that he’d lost none of his class and ball-winning ability, Kev took out Milawa’s Best & Fairest – the J.Allan Cup.

The Award, which acknowledges his dad’s lengthy contribution, was re-named the Jack Allan Memorial after his death later that year. A succession of Jack’s offspring have had their name etched on Milawa’s prized gong over the succeeding seventy years……

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Wangaratta, after being on his hammer for a few years, finally enticed him into town. Milawa were reluctant to release their star, and agreed to give him six match permits to see how he performed.

“But I’d fallen off some scaffolding in the meantime, and did an ankle, so it was half-way through the 1950 season before I started playing.”

“I’d decided, though, that I was definitely staying at Wang……Best thing I ever did,” he says.

‘Wobbles’ timed his move to perfection. He slotted onto a wing in those magnificent Mac Holten sides and figured in a hat-trick of premierships.

It was a team of stars, of course, but, in Kev’s opinion, Holten was able to get them pulling in the same direction.

“He just had a way about him. He was often able to get the message through without saying a word. A bit theatrical sometimes, I suppose, but gee he knew how to get us going.”

The 1952 side, he reckons, was the best he ever played in.IMG_4366

“We trailed Rutherglen at half-time of the Grand Final, but ended up knocking them over by 20 points. That was the year we played a challenge match over at Ararat at season’s end, against the Wimmera League premiers.”

He says it’s the only Trip-Away he’s been on where he returned home with more money than he took……IMG_4377

“The Ararat people must have had plenty of dough. They came to our hotel on the Friday night with a swag of money to back the home team. Then they returned twice, to lay more money….We all got on. Holten asked the hotel-keeper to lock the money in his safe…….We had some sort of a ‘do’ when we won the game and ‘divvied’ it up, I can tell you……”IMG_4370

Kev had played 128 games over seven years, including four Grand Finals, when he was lured back to Milawa as captain-coach. He was 30, but still playing top footy, and was keen to itch the coaching bug that lay within.

The side included his two younger brothers, Tom and Laurie, and a few old mates who had been loyal to the Demons.IMG_4368

“I enjoyed coaching the boys, but I had a few run-ins with the committee,” he says. “I don’t think they were really fond of me in the finish. It didn’t help matters, either, when I took a few players over to North Wangaratta with me.”

The Northerners were playing in the Benalla & District League at the time, and finished Third and Runners-Up in his first two seasons.

When they – and Glenrowan – both sought admission to the O & K in 1961, Kev was the delegate who pleaded their case at a historic meeting, held at the Everton Hotel..

“Glenrowan’s delegate was a fellah called Bill Olliffe. We had a bet on the side about the result – a quid each – but after we’d both put our case we had to wait for the verdict in the bar. The meeting went on for ages, and we were both fairly merry, when they called us in to advise us that North had gained admittance…..”

Kev coached North Wang for six seasons, won five B & F’s and picked up the B.D.F.L Medal in 1960.IMG_4381

He stood down in 1965, and played on for one more year under Billy McKenzie….

“Then I talked Ron Wales into doing the job. Walesy said: ‘I’ll do it if you keep playing.’ But I was 40, and buggered. Walesy wasn’t too happy with me for a while, but I became his off-field ‘adviser’ “

So after a career, which had spanned 26 years and 426 games, ‘Wobbles’ hung up the boots……

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Inevitably, he drifted back to the Showgrounds Oval to begin a period of unstinting service which has even overshadowed his on-field achievements.

One of his titles for decades was ‘Bar Manager’, which included being on duty for every Club Function. All told, he devoted thousands of hours to the Magpies.

On match-days he’d collect the food and drinks for the Kiosks, stock the fridges, organise till floats, operate the Bar and entertain the patrons.  It meant an 8am start and a 9pm finish ( or 2am if a post-match function was held).

One old Pie joked that modern technology had caught up with him in recent years, and he re-located to operating the Sav & Refreshment Stall in the Past Players’ Stand – ‘Wobbles’ Bay 13 Bar’.IMG_4375

Each week-day morning throughout the year, ‘Wobbles’ and a a group of three or four stalwarts meet to clean up and effect any maintenance that’s required around the Clubrooms.

“We carry on with a bit of ‘bullshit’ of course, and review all the subjects of the day over a cup of coffee,” he says. “But I really enjoy the company.”

One of their principal topics at the moment would be discussing whether Wang can live up to their hot-favouritism and take out their 16th O & M flag.

‘Wobbles’, the 93 year-old Ovens & King League, Ovens & Murray League and Wangaratta Football Club Hall of Famer, is confident that they can do the job…..provided they get away to a good start.

“It’s my only worry.” ……..That, and making sure I reach 94………..IMG_4374

‘LOUIE’S 87…….AND STILL KICKING……’

Roma Cesa reckons her husband Lou is still mentally playing footy – even at the ripe old age of 87.

“He watches every game on telly. I’ll look across, and there he’ll be, twitching in the Lounge Chair, kicking and flicking out imaginary handballs.”

“It’s the same when we go down to watch the Magpies play. He can’t sit still. It’s as if he’s out on the ground. I say: ‘Lou, you’re not playing any more, remember’. His one true love is football. I take a back seat,“ she quips………..

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Hardly any of the current Maggies would recognise this reserved little fellah with the swarthy complexion and the trademark peaked-cap. He and Roma sit behind the goals at the Women’s Industries-end of the Norm Minns Oval – have done for more than 50 years.

He’s declined offers to move to more salubrious surrounds; and maybe sample a bit of the Club’s upstairs hospitality. He’s comfortable there, he says, and doesn’t fancy too much fuss.

“I like doing my own thing. I can criticize if I want to…..and no-one will hear me.”

Louie’s from a Golden Era. In his day he was as good as any small defender going around. But he won’t have a word said against the modern game. “I love it; can’t get enough of it.”

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His is the classic story of a lad, born of immigrant parents, who completely embedded themselves in the local community.

His Dad sailed to Australia from the tiny, mountain village of Lentia in Northern Italy, in 1927; Mum followed four years later.

After settling in Melbourne, then Gippsland, ‘Pop’ landed a job out at the Glenrowan Quarry, smashing rocks. It was a tough old gig. Lou still has the sledgehammer he used; says you need to be a muscle-man to lift it.

After they settled in Wang, the old fellah used to ride his bike out to a block he’d bought at the foot of the Warbies, and cut wood all day.

Lou was born at York’s, a Private Hospital just over the Railway line in Rowan Street. It was merely a hop, step and jump to transport him home – the Cesa’s lived just up the road, in Green Street.

Nor was it necessary to travel far for work when he started as an apprentice joiner at R.M.Clayton’s.  He was 15 when he rode to their factory in Mackay Street…….. And that’s where he was to spend the entirety of his working life.

“I started off on 22 shillings and sixpence, and had to hand over a bit of board and pay off my bike out of that. The next year I got a rise to two pounds 13 and fourpence. I’ve still got that bike, you know.”

On the day he retired, his mum, who was 95 at the time, was invited to his farewell barbecue. It was her first visit to her son’s workplace of 50 years. “She didn’t know the building existed, and marvelled at the size of the machines that cost me some of my fingers,” he says……..

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When Lou was growing up, the Wangaratta Junior League comprised just four clubs. They’d introduced a zoning system and, as he was living near the middle of town, Centrals became his club, in 1946.

They were starved of success in his first couple of years. Yet, completely against the odds, they took out the ‘47 flag. I’ll let Lou explain it.

“We didn’t win any of the home-and-away games, and were stone motherless last. Then we happened to take out the First-Semi, Prelim and, amazingly, the Grand Final…… You’ll have to take my word for this, as I’m pretty sure I’m the only one still alive from that side.”

The next step in his football journey was to try his luck with Wangaratta. It was 1949, and the seeds of the Magpies’ greatest era had already been sown. The great Mac Holten had arrived to take over as coach, and duly implement a play-on style of game which was to prove fabulously successful.

Along with many other Junior League graduates, Lou became a member of the Reserves team, which played in the Benalla-Tungamah League.

“I remember buying my first pair of boots at Jack Ferguson’s Shoe Store, and getting old Maurie Adair to hammer some stops in them. Nine times out of ten the stops would be gone by half-time,” he says.

“We’d travel out by bus to places like Devenish, Tungamah, Dookie and Wilby. It was a side of kids, really, but a pretty good standard. We reckoned some of those blokes trained by kicking bags of wheat around. For instance, you had the Lane brothers from St.James who were built like Sherman Tanks-. It was tough footy….and great experience for us.”

The trips back to Wang were rollicking affairs, and Lou admits he’d often be coaxed into providing a rendition of his favourite song: ‘China Doll’.

“When we got home we’d wind down by having a few beers,  then go to the local dance at the Town Hall….a few of the older ones would go square-dancing.”

Mid-way through 1951 he was blooded for four senior games with the ‘Pies. The following season he cemented a permanent spot .

Wang were chasing their fourth flag on the trot, but Rutherglen, coached by ex-Essendon rover Greg Tate, had set the pace for most of the year.

They pipped the Pies by 7 points in the Second-Semi. The decider a fortnight later was a topsy -turvy encounter, with the lead changing several times.

Wang wrestled their way to a seven-point lead at lemon-time, but finished on strongly, to run out winners by 20 points.IMG_4193

Lou had entrenched himself in defence, and performed capably on a back flank in the Grand Final. It was, he admits, hard to get his head around being part of this team of champions.

He was now a key member of the Wangaratta side. When the O & M met East Perth at Albury two years later, there he was in a back pocket.

The following season he represented the Black and Gold in the first-ever Country Championship Carnival, joining such stars of the game as Jack Jones, Timmy Robb and Lance Mann. The side contained eight players who were on the verge of graduating to VFL ranks.

O & M proved too strong for Ballarat in the Final, with the Age reporting that: ‘… Sandral (back flank) and Cesa (back pocket) were crucial factors in the victory, and were responsible for repelling many Ballarat attacks….’IMG_4191

Wangaratta reached another Grand Final later that year, meeting North Albury in a memorable encounter .

Lou’s main focus was on the enviable task of keeping Hopper coach Tim Robb in check . “He and North’s full forward Lester Yensch were the danger-men,” he recalls.

Yensch booted a near-impossible goal mid-way through the final term, then Wang’s Lance Oswald marked superbly, and replied, to narrow the margin to four points. Suddenly, a fiendish gale blew up, with a storm erupting over the ground.

North’s Arthur Pickett, almost from the centre of the Rovers ground, booted a goal with the aid of the hefty breeze. In heavy rain, the Hoppers were content to play out time and hold their 10-point advantage to the siren.

Lou featured in his second O & M flag in 1957 – a classic contest against old rivals Albury – which looked to have slipped from their grasp in the dying stages.

The Tigers held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, but Wang slowly bridged the gap. With just one minute remaining, Lance Oswald snapped accurately from the angle, to see his side take out a sensational game by two points.

“That was Lou’s best-ever game for Wangaratta, I reckon,” says his old team-mate Bill Comensoli. “ He was named on a wing, opposed to Reggie Gard, who was one of Albury’s important players. He held sway all day.”

“I remember the siren blowing and all the emotion that overflowed,” Lou recalls. “Albury’s Jim Robison was that disappointed that he turned and whacked Rex Allen, who was standing beside him. Poor old Rex happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”IMG_4218

The 1958 season proved to be Lou’s last as a player. His legs had been playing up, and he’d been operated on to drain blood from them. Doctor Phillips, and the surgeon, Hal Stanistreet, both recommended that he give it away before he finished up a cripple.

He’d married that year…….“Yes, he also had a nagging wife telling him to give it up,” jokes Roma…….

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Lou coached Junior League club Combined Churches for a few years in the sixties, and took them to the 1967 premiership. Three of the side – Geoff Welch, ‘Manny’ Booth and Russell Stone were to play in O & M flags in the seventies. A few others had handy careers.IMG_4195

When his own two boys, Ian and Colin, became of age they stripped for Centrals. Roma says that when it was her turn to wash the Club’s Brown and Gold guernseys, she had to drape them on the fence.

One of the neighbors – a keen Rovers man – asked why she didn’t hang them on the clothes-line:

“Lou won’t let me !,” she replied.

Ian and Col both followed in their old man’s footsteps and went on to play senior footy with the Pies.

The Cesa’s also had three girls – Cheryl, Karen and Joanne. Sadly, Cheryl suffered an inoperable brain aneurism and passed away, aged 33, after being on Life-Support at the Alfred Hospital for some time.

“It was a sad time. You never forget it,” Roma recalls. “We cared for three of her kids for about three years, before their dad took them back. It hurt us when they left…..We wish we’d kept them.”

Lou and Roma headed over to Italy a few years ago, and made acquaintance with many of the Cesa clan in Lentia. They were treated like,. well, long-lost relations, and had a whale of a time.

Just the same, it was great to get back home. After all, Lou was missing his footy…………….IMG_4194