‘A SALUTE TO THE CENTURIONS……..’

The dreaded Covid-19 Crisis has created confusion on a global scale……and local Football has become entangled in the maelstrom.

The proposed regulations are still hazy, and are changing by the week…..When will it be feasible to kick off again ?…….Won’t the absence of crowds have a devestating effect on Club finances ?…

It’s an open-ended debate. But compare it to the quandary facing the game in the aftermath of the Great War.

The nation was still recuperating . Having been bereft of organised competition for three and a half years, local footy was sluggish on the uptake. Clubs had to basically start from scratch….. the shadow of the Spanish Flu was also lurking ominously……..

Yet once the initial steps were taken to resume, administrators found that players and supporters, having been deprived of the sport they loved for so long, responded enthusiastically………

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Wangaratta is commemorating a famous premiership this year…… It’s the Centenary of their 1920 Ovens and King flag triumph over Eldorado.

The two Clubs had developed an intense rivalry from the time they first tangled, in 1903. The Red and Whites ( or the ‘Blood and Bandages’ as they were often dubbed ) had won three flags and were always at – or near – the top of the O & K ladder.

They reaped the benefit of having several handy players employed on the Dredge, and their proximity to Wangaratta added a ‘Local-Derby’ type flavour to clashes with the ‘Pies.

When the O & K resumed in 1919, so did hostilities between the arch rivals. Sharing a win apiece during the Home-and-Away rounds, they were slated to meet in a crucial Final at Beechworth.

The start of the Mid-Week game was delayed a couple of hours, due to the late arrival of a special train from Wangaratta, jammed with 600 spectators. Dusk was falling on Baarmutha Park when the match concluded at 6.30.

The large crowd witnessed an epic encounter. Wangaratta sneaked home by a point – 2.3 to 2.2, but because Eldorado had been the minor premiers, League regulations allowed them the right of challenge.

This time Wangaratta hosted the game, which attracted 2,000 spectators; the majority of them barracking for the home team.

It developed into a bloodbath. Eldorado held sway virtually from the first bounce and led 2.10 to 0.5 at three quarter-time. They went on with the job in the final term, adding 4.6 to a solitary point.

It was a decisive victory, but the ripples of discontent from the demoralised Wangaratta camp developed into a crescendo the following week.

The newspaper report of the Council meeting was headlined: FOOTBALL, OR BULL-FIGHTING ? The Mayor, Cr. Billie Edwards said he watched the game in horror. He added: “I am satisfied that football is now a rotten sport.”

Councillor Tweed was more expansive: “I am disgusted with the displays of savagery that took place in that Grand Final. The piece of Silver Plate that was the cause of all the trouble should have been given to the winner long ago,” he thundered.

“Wangaratta played good, clean football, but they were subjected to viciousness and brutality. I must protest against the Wangaratta ground being used for such a degrading display……….”

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The Magpies spent the summer months licking their wounds.

Recruiting had been kept to a minimum. Of course the League’s Radius Rule restricted them to landing players who resided no more than five miles from town. This was designed to curtail the bigger Clubs from lavishing money on expensive imports, or pinching players from the smaller towns in the League.

But there was certainly a sense of solidarity within the Wangaratta camp. Part of that could be attributed to the solid leadership of Arthur Callander, a local businessman, who became the Club’s first Post-War President when elected in 1919.

Callander had attended St.Patrick’s College, Ballarat, a well-known football nursery. When he returned home to take his place in the family Emporium, he quickly involved himself in the sporting affairs of the town.

In fact, you’d liken him to a 1920’s version of Eddie McGuire. He was 26 ( younger than many of his players ) when he took over the leadership of the footy club, and was also promptly voted in as O & K President.

With a stable bank balance of 6 pounds 12 and sixpence and a healthy list of players, there was genuine optimism around the Wangaratta camp.

On-field problems, though, needed to be dealt with. Long-serving Peter Prest resigned from the Captaincy. There was a suggestion he was offended that some players were always kicking to their mates, to the detriment of the side.

The loyal veteran Harold Hill, who had begun with the Pies back to 1908 and had also acted as secretary/treasurer, was nominated for the role, as was another old-timer, Les Kewish.

Hill was elected, but later stood down because he felt unsure he had the full support of the group. The position was eventually handed to Bob Metcalf. Decorum seemed to have been restored to the playing ranks.

But consistency plagued their performances during the season. They scored percentage-boosting wins against bottom-rungers North Wangaratta, Everton and Milawa, but it was a different story against tougher opposition.

They got home by less than 10 points in each of their clashes with Beechworth and Whorouly, but had fallen well-short against the well-equipped Eldorado and ever-improving Moyhu. At the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds Wangaratta were entrenched in fourth spot, with a 10-4 win-loss record.

Both Semi-finals produced surprising results. The Magpies finished on strongly to defeat Moyhu, whilst Beechworth caused a shock by clinging on to a three-point win over Eldorado.

This pitted Wangaratta against Beechworth in the Final. They’d scored one-point wins over the boys in Red and Black in both of their 1920 meetings. It proved another nail-biter, with the Pies falling in by 5 points – 7.7 to 6.8.

The game’s aftermath , sadly, was shrouded in controversy. Wangaratta’s Peter Prest claimed that he’d been offered 10 pounds by a well-known citizen to ‘throw’ the Final.

Rumours also circulated that several Beechworth players had been bribed to ‘play dead’. It prompted one of them, ‘Brahma’ Davis, to pen a firm denial to the newspaper. “We just played poorly,” he stated.

The League decided to take no action on the matter.

Thankfully, too, as Eldorado, the Minor Premier, had exercised their right to challenge Wangaratta for the flag………

Wang shocked their opponents with an electrifying first quarter, and, to the surprise of the large crowd, which had paid 73 pounds 5 shillings at the gate, went on with the job.

They had a virtually unassailable 32-point lead at three-quarter time. But Eldorado fought back valiantly. In the dying stages they had all the play. The siren beat them, as they went down by nine points – 10.11 to 8.14.

“Norman McGuffie was the most consistent and best player. Les Kewish was ever-clean and ‘Scotty’ McDonald, the most popular man in the team, played well as usual,” said the Chronicle scribe.

The Pies were basking in the glory of their first premiership in 15 years……….

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Two years later, under the guidance of Arthur Callander, Wangaratta returned to the Ovens and Murray League, then took out their maiden O & M flag in 1925.

An inspirational figure, Callander was to remain at the helm for eight years, during which the Club played in seven Grand Finals. At one stage, in the mid-twenties, he was wearing multiple hats as President of Wangaratta, the O & M, the Wangaratta Athletic Club, Wangaratta Turf Club, St.Patrick’s Race Club and North-East District Racing Association.

It was said of Callander that: “Everyone who meets him becomes his friend. He has the facility of combining dignity and good fellowship.”

But, as we glance through this 1920 line-up, we recognise several others who were to make a sizeable impact on the town in the decades to follow:

…….Like Gordon ‘Scotty’ McDonald, who stood just 5 feet 4 inches and was renowned for his bravery throughout 147 games in Black and White. He played on until the early thirties, rejecting frequent approaches to try his luck in League football. He opted instead, to stick with his job as a grocer at the Co-Store, which he held until just before his death.

When Wangaratta fell upon hard times McDonald combined his playing duties with the role of Secretary from 1927-‘30. He remained a fervent Magpie.

……..Martin Moloney, along with ‘Scotty”, figured prominently in Wangaratta’s 1925 O & M premiership side and was a fixture in the line-up for many years. The family’s Butchery, on the site of the present-day Moloney’s Arcade, in Reid Street, became Martin’s domain.

………Norman McGuffie’s sojourn with Wangaratta lasted from 1919 to 1962. He proved to be a star in his 107 games. Upon hanging up the boots in 1927, he joined the Committee and stayed for 35 years. Incorporated in this was four years as Secretary/Treasurer, from 1935-‘38, and two spells as President, from 1949-‘53 and 1959-‘62.

……..Vic Woods possessed the tall, lean physique of his son Graeme, who became one of the O & M’s finest ruckmen in 249 games with Wangaratta. Graeme was a regular inter-League representative and played in 6 premierships. His son Richie carried on the family tradition, playing with Wangaratta during the seventies.

………When Marty Bean retired as a player he took over as Wangaratta’s Head Trainer for 17 years. Many footballers, searching for that extra yard, sought the tutelage of the astute ‘Old Fox’. The Showgrounds was Marty’s stamping-ground in summer, as he fine-tuned athletes for more than four decades, training three Wangaratta Gift winners.

………..One of Marty’s protege’s was the Club’s boundary-umpire, Jim Larkings, who pursued a lengthy, successful athletics career. He filled the minor placing in Gifts around the State on so many occasions, without ‘greeting the judge’, that they nicknamed him ‘The Shadow King’.

Like ‘Old Marty’, Larkings’ preferred mode of transport was a trusty bicycle, which was still conveying him around town – and down to the footy from his Swan Street residence – well into his nineties……….

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P.S: As a sidelight to the recollections of Wangaratta’s 1920 Premiership, the Club was recently contacted by descendents of Jim Gleeson, a key member of the team.

The Medal that Jim received as the Most Popular Player of 1920 (Best & Fairest) has been handed down through generations of his family. They’re keen to pass it on, for inclusion among the Club’s Memorabilia.

Covid-19 has jeopardised a planned function, but some time in the future the Pies hope to formally ‘Salute the Centurions’…………..

‘JOVIAL JACK FERGIE……’

Sporting careers flash by in the flick of an eye.

It’s easy to empathise with today’s athletes, who have parked their ambitions on hold whilst the world deals with the threat of coronavirus. I know there are more important things to contemplate , but there’s a distinct possibility that the crisis could rob a young footballer of a full year of his sporting life.

It got me wondering how hard done by were the lads who, in their prime, ran headlong into either of the World Wars……….

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My dad, for instance, never privately whinged about sacrificing five crucial years whilst dealing with the threat of the pesky Japanese…….. Nor did a couple of his team-mates, who settled back into civilian life and played their part in helping Wangaratta snatch the 1946 O & M premiership.

One of those was Jack Ferguson.

Many of my vintage can remember jovial Jack as the ‘Voice of the North-East’; 3NE’s first football commentator, who did his best to enliven the dullest of games during the fifties and sixties.

This, of course, followed a footy career which spanned 17 years and earned him a reputation as one of the League’s finest-ever full backs……….

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Apart from the time he spent away at War, Jack never deviated far from Wangaratta.

Floodwaters, which would sometimes break the banks of the Ovens River and threaten residents of Wilson Road, never tempered his love of the area. He was raised at number 30, and when he married the love of his life, Esme, they moved in next door, to number 28.

He was 17 when he received an invitation to train with Wangaratta…….It was 1936; the country was still struggling to wriggle free of the crippling Depression, and there was no greater honour for a local youngster than to wear the Black and White of the Mighty ‘Pies.

But he declined at first, surmising that he was a touch immature and light – and would surely struggle for a game.

Instead, he considered O & K club Waratahs a better fit, but was taken aback by their lack of interest. He decided there was no other option than to return to the Showgrounds.

Six months later, he was lining up on a wing in a Grand Final, alongside long-time champs Fred and Bert Carey, Charlie Heavey, Alec Fraser and ‘Shady’ James.

There was nothing in that game at half-time, with Rutherglen holding a seven-point lead. The Magpies booted six goals to one in a dominant third quarter, to take control. The Redlegs defended stoutly in the final term, but were unable to rein in the opposition’s dominant forwards.

A comfortable margin of 20 points separated the sides, as Wangaratta swept to their third flag.

The side’s long-term full back, Stan Bennett, retired not long after, and the lean, wiry Ferguson stepped into the position.

Jobs weren’t readily available when Jack left Wangaratta High School. He found initial employment in a shoe shop, then dabbled in a couple of part-time jobs before being offered a position with Norm Nunn’s Shoes in Murphy Street.

He dropped all that to serve in New Guinea and Bougainville with the 58/59 Division. His colleagues included a host of like-minded young fellahs who took their minds off the solemnity of the battle being waged by playing scratch games of football.

They levelled out a stretch of open ground with a bulldozer, scraped the dirt into shape and placed jagged-looking tree saplings at either end, to act as goal-posts. In their mind’s-eye it could well have been the MCG.

Some pretty fair players strutted their stuff. A handful had already made their mark in VFL football; others were stars in their own right. The games were of a good standard, and highly-competitive, and Jack used to say he played some of his best football in these surroundings……….

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He walked straight back into Norm Nunn’s on the completion of his Army duties, and was to remain there for the remainder of his working life, taking over the business in 1961.

His outgoing personality ensured that Jack Ferguson Shoes would remain successful. You’d walk into the store and be greeted by wise-cracking and laughter.

One of his employees for several years was a long-time mate and fellow Magpie, Doug Ferguson ( no relation ). Both were bubbly, happy fellahs who, besides having the ‘gift of the gab’, were able to extract your money with a minimum of fuss…….

The appointment of South Melbourne champ Laurie Nash as playing-coach was the first move made by Wangaratta to resuscitate the Club, as the the post-war era kicked off.

Jack Ferguson was appointed his vice-captain.

Although the ‘Great L.J’ was nearing the end of his brilliant career, he was still an inspirational figure, and finished fourth in the 1946 Morris Medal.

He tore a leg muscle in the early stages of the Grand Final in which Wang had been rated warm favourites. It was to develop into a classic encounter.

Both defences were on top in the first half, as Albury went in with a slender 1-goal lead. Ferguson had come under particular notice for his superb play in repelling the Tigers at full back.

Albury still held sway by 5 points at lemon-time, but Wang’s key forwards, Nash and Ernie Ward, became a real factor in the final term.

The ‘Pies eventually prevailed by five points in a heart-stopping affair.

Their premiership celebrations no doubt hindered preparations for the ‘Challenge Match’ they played against Nash’s old side, South Melbourne, on the Showgrounds the following Saturday. The Swans cleaned up – 13.26 to 3.8.

Ferguson’s outstanding season was rewarded with the club Best & Fairest. He continued to play consistent football under Tom Tribe’s coaching over the next two seasons, but when the Pies bombed out of the finals in straight-sets in 1948, the ‘Holten Era’ was ushered in.

Jack Ferguson, like most of his ilk, was a fervent Holten disciple, as well as being his vice-captain. He believed the players were instructed to have such a focus on ‘team’, and were so well-drilled in the play-on game, that they changed the face of O & M football.

The pair became great friends and were to share starring roles in the next three Ovens and Murray flags. Ferguson was named best afield in the 1949 triumph, but always claimed the 1951 line-up was the best of the famed ‘Four-in-a-row.’

Jack lowered his colours to an old rival, North Albury’s Norm Benstead, in the 1950 decider.

Benstead snagged seven of the Hoppers’ ten majors in their 11.20 to 10.10 defeat. It was the last of his goals which caused considerable discussion, particularly among the punting fraternity.

The North champ outmarked Ferguson just as the final siren sounded. He had hoped to keep the ball as a souvenir and, pushing it up his jumper, began to walk from the field.

The umpire requested that he return and take his shot for goal, which resulted in full points, reducing the margin to 16 points.

Many losing punters had backed Wangaratta to win by 3 goals or more, and argued that when Benstead began to walk from the ground it constituted ‘Play-On’ and the shot shouldn’t have been allowed.

It meant little to Jack Ferguson and his mates. They’d already commenced their celebrations.

Jack retired after the 1951 Grand Final, and was lauded for a sterling 160-game career with Wangaratta, which had been spiced with five premierships and rewarded with Life Membership.

Two years later, though, he again pulled on the boots when an old team-mate Kevin French talked him into spending a season under his coaching at Tarrawingee. The ‘Dogs duly saluted with their first-ever flag, in a 43-point win over Greta.

That’s when Jack was invited to get behind the microphone. He didn’t need much prompting, as it was a way to stay involved and, after all, he’d never been short of a word.

He proved a godsend and his style soon endeared him to the public. There’s no doubt his favourite player was another full back, Wangaratta’s Terry Johnstone.

“….Aaand….Rinso….Johnstone……” was the Ferguson catch-cry, as the acrobatic Magpie full back would float through the air.

The eloquent Ron McGann ( 2AY ) and the excitable Jack Ferguson ( 3NE ) shared the microphone at O & M finals for years, and, in my opinion, have been unsurpassed for accuracy and entertainment-value.

Jovial Jack……..personality, commentator and Wangaratta’s ‘Team Of Legends’ full back, left a lasting football legacy…………

‘OLD PIE TREADS DOWN MEMORY LANE……’

We first encountered him in the late-summer of 1965, on a sporty Princes Park wicket.

After back-to-back Country Week victories, our reasoning was that a third win, against the formidable Warragul, would have Wangaratta on the cusp of a spot in the Provincial Group Final – within reach of the most prestigious prize in country cricket.

But we hadn’t factored in Trevor Steer – a quickie with a high action, who could move the ball and make it steeple off a good length.

He and his slippery opening partner John Kydd proceeded to scythe through our batting; routing us for 71; then having us teetering at 8/55 when we followed-on – eons away from their total of 201……

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Fifty-five years later, Trevor’s hazy about the finer details of that game, but distinctly recalls a large group of kids from Princes Hill Secondary College clustered in the Robert Heatley Stand, giving him a ‘razz’ as he ran in to bowl:

“They must have been mostly Carlton supporters, and obviously twigged that I was the big, lanky bloke they’d seen trying to get a kick for Collingwood…….”

Less than two years on, he was still wearing a Black and White guernsey, but now it was as the newly-appointed captain-coach of Wangaratta…………….

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He’s 81 now, and has a trove of sporting memories:

….Like the time an uncle, George Hulett , took him for his first visit to the MCG: “I was nine years old, and Australia were playing a Test series against India. I’ll never forget laying eyes on that green oval , the huge stands, and seeing Bradman, Lindwall, Miller, Hasset, Barnes, Morris, Johnston and Tallon in the flesh,….”

“And to top it off Bradman scored a century. It made me determined that, one day, I’d get out there and play on that magnificent arena.”

He was raised at Drouin, spending his early years on a Dairy Farm before the family moved into town. He credits Bruce Tozer, a legendary teacher at Warragul High – and future State cricketer – as a tremendous sporting influence on he and his school-mates.

When Trevor headed off to boarding school at Scotch College he was a skinny, little tacker – just on 5’8”, and barely able to hold his place in Scotch’s Fourth 18 footy side.

But in his 18th year he grew roughly 7 inches. “I was playing with a church side, St.George’s, East St.Kilda. From struggling to get a possession one season, the next I was kicking bags of goals and starting to kill ‘em in the air. I thought: ‘How good’s this ?’ “

He travelled back home for a season, and played in Drouin’s 1958 premiership, before spending two years with University Blacks whilst completing his teaching degree.

That’s when Collingwood came knocking.

“Actually, they offered me a couple of games in late 1960, but I knocked them back. I couldn’t let Uni Blacks down by leaving during the season.”

The Steer VFL career ignited early in the opening round of 1961 when the Sherrin floated over the top of a charging pack, he ran onto it and nailed a goal with his first kick in League football.

He booted two goals on debut, but learned how unforgiving the ‘Pies fans were, as they reacted savagely to a 39-point mauling at Geelong’s Kardinia Park.

That boyhood dream of treading the hallowed MCG was realised two months later, in the Queen’s Birthday clash with Melbourne, in front of 78,465 fans. He nailed four out of Collingwood’s seven, in a 69-point defeat.

Trevor was teaching at Wonthaggi at this stage. His random training appearances at Collingwood mainly came during School Holidays. But the Magpies made sure to arrange a job for him back in the city in 1962.

For the next six seasons he revelled in the big-time atmosphere of League football. He occasionally muses how, but for two cruel twists of fate, he could easily have been a dual-premiership player.

In 1964, it was a dramatic goal from Melbourne’s pocket player Neil ‘Froggy’ Crompton which stole victory from the ‘Pies…….And St.Kilda fans still relate, with glee, Barrie Breen’s long, tumbling kick in the dying seconds of the ‘66 Grand Final, which registered a point and delivered their only flag.

1965, though, was Steer’s finest season. Big Ray Gabelich, the club’s key ruckman, went down early on and the 6 ft 3 inch, 84kg Steer was thrust into the role. He adapted so well that he took out the Copeland Trophy – Collingwood’s B & F – and was rewarded with the vice-captaincy the following year.

Trevor still found time, with his busy footy schedule, to return home to play cricket at Drouin. “Our coach Bob Rose, being an old cricketer himself, had no objection, as long as I organised it around practice-matches.”

His new-ball partner Des Nottage – an accurate medium-pace swing bowler – was a quality back-up, and the pair ran through most batting line-ups in the district. Along with prolific run-scorers like Tom Carroll and Stuart Pepperall, they helped Drouin Gold to five successive flags.

Besides fitting in two years of Country Week cricket (including the 1965 Final against Warrnambool at the MCG), Trevor also made two cameo appearances with District club Northcote.

“Someone from school who was tied up with the club invited me down there to train. I remember Bill Lawry was in the nets when I started bowling. They said: ‘Don’t upset him by giving him anything short, he’s got a Shield game on tomorrow’. I decided to try and get one to move away from him and bowled him. That must have impressed the experts; they picked me for a Cup-Day game.”

“Thinking back, I should have kept on at Northcote, but it was just too big a commitment at the time……..”

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A young Collingwood ruckman, Len Thompson, had arrived on the scene in 1966, and was being touted as, potentially, the finest big man in the game.

“They didn’t really want ‘Thommo’ being stuck in the back pocket, guarding the resting ruckmen, so that job fell to me. It didn’t really suit me, and I wasn’t all that happy,” Trevor recalls.

“I was teaching at Murrumbeena, but had received a promotion to Monbulk, which would mean a fair bit of extra travel to get to training. I gazed out the window of the classroom one day and saw these two bushy-looking blokes wandering around the school……Someone knocked on the door and said there were a couple of chaps who’d like to speak to me.”

“That was my introduction to Jack White and Gus Boyd. They said: ‘We’re from the Wangaratta Football Club and we’d like you to coach us. Are you interested ?’ “

“Sure,” I said, “but there’s one problem, you’d have to do something about organising a teaching transfer.” “Leave it to us,” they replied.

“The long and the short of it was that I went to Parliament House and met the local Member, Keith Bradbury, who somehow negotiated a transfer to Beechworth High.”

So, after calling it quits on his 88-game VFL career, Trevor and his wife Jill settled into a house in Swan Street, and embraced their new Club.

Wangaratta had been the ‘Bridesmaid’ in the previous three Grand Finals, but held high hopes that their new coach, and ace ruckman, could guide them to that elusive flag.

Wodonga, led by an old Collingwood team-mate Mickey Bone, were a revitalised unit in 1967, and loomed as the early favourites, but the ‘Pies were among several other worthwhile claimants.

Their hopes were vanquished by wayward kicking in the First Semi-Final at Rutherglen. Former coach Ron Critchley booted 0.9, as the Rovers prevailed by 3 points.

They remained contendors in each of the four Steer years, missing the finals by percentage in 1968, losing the First Semi to eventual premiers Myrtleford in 1970, and bowing out to powerhouse Wodonga in the 1969 Grand Final.

They felt the loss of their skipper in that game. He watched on as the ‘Dogs gained control; having sustained a broken hand in Round 18.

Trevor ranked among the best of a talented band of big men who ruled the air during this strong late-60’s era of O & M football. He represented the League each year and turned in one of his finest performances in the Country Championship Final of 1968.

10,000 spectators converged on the Horsham City Oval, as O & M turned on a paralysing last half to defeat Wimmera by 35 points.

The Wimmera Mail-Times reported that : “……It was ruckman Trevor Steer who made sure the O & M’s dominance in the latter part of the game never flagged.”

“Assisted by a mere handful of players, Steer created sufficient energy to keep O & M alive in the first half, and was a giant among giants in the last……….”

Magpies Cricket Club recruited Trevor when he first landed in town. He helped transform them from battlers to a gun combination. In his three and a half years in the WDCA he captured 153 wickets, played in three Grand Finals and helped them to their second flag, in 1967/68.

His strong performances in the North-East Cup competition justified selection against the Victorian Shield side at Benalla. Two years later, and after 49 wickets in just 11 Cup matches he was chosen to lead a Victorian Country XI against the touring West Indies at the Wangaratta Showgrounds in 1969.

That, Trevor says, provided the highlight of his cricket career. “To be rubbing shoulders with legends of the game like Hall, Lloyd, Nurse, Gibbs……. I have a photo on the mantlepiece, of tossing the coin with Garfield Sobers……then to mix socially with them….it was a huge thrill.”

…….That was just one of the many fond memories of his time in Wangaratta, he says….”Two of the kids were born there…..we made some lifelong friends.”

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The Steers moved to Healesville, and Trevor coached Kilsyth in 1971. In his final year of footy- with Healesville – in 1972, he snagged five goals in the Grand Final, to help the Bloods to a premiership.

“That was as good a time as any to go out, I thought. I was nudging 34. It was an privilege to have captained Healesville to both cricket and footy flags in the same year.”

But he continued to play cricket – at Inverloch, Bendigo, Mandurang and Mirboo North finally hanging up the spikes at the age of 53. School-teaching took he and Jill and their kids ( Peter, Leesa and Rodney) to East Loddon P-12 School as Principal, then to Mirboo North Secondary, also as Principal.

After leaving the teaching profession, Trevor operated a 288-acre Beef Cattle farm in South Gippsland for 18 years, but now, in retirement, the Steers are domiciled in the seaside town of Inverloch.

His passion for footy and cricket remains as intense as ever, but he admits that nothing surprises him too much about sport these days…….

Except for the occasion, six years ago, when Life Membership was bestowed up him by the Collingwood Football Club.

“That was the ultimate honour,” says the big fellah……….

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……