“ONE OF CHILTERN’S FINEST………”

I’ve arranged to catch up with Billy Peake today but, beforehand, I duck in to renew acquaintances with one of his old stamping-grounds – the Chiltern Oval……..

Nothing much has altered in forty-five years……….Those expansive, wide wings and deep pockets used to give the impression you were playing in the middle of a three-acre paddock. 

The prospect of lining up here intimidated visiting clubs……You were invariably on the other end of a hiding, and the passionate Swans supporters would sure let you know about it………

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Bill laughs when I comment on the size of the ground: “They’ve actually bought it in a bit from when I was a kid, you know…… My first coach, Greg Tate would tell us: ‘Keep the ball moving, …..If you’ve got no-one to kick it to, kick it out in the open spaces…..Run ‘em off their legs ……’ “

Billy’s a legend around these parts – quietly-spoken,  terrific footballer in his day; terrific bloke…..

He and Faye live in High Street, which has itself played an intrinsic role in the history of this famous old footy town.

When Chiltern won the O & K flag in 1968, the side comprised no less than eight High Street residents.

“Kevin, Jock and ‘Rowdy’  Lappin lived over the road from us…..Billy and ‘Meggsy’ Cassidy were next door….Gary Howes lived down the road a bit….Dessy Lappin was up that way, too…..” Bill says.

“The Lappins had a paddock behind their house….When we were kids we used to kick the footy ‘til all hours…….. Faye’s dad ‘Cob’ (Lappin) would be there and the rest of them, even the little tackers , like his youngest son, Rick, joined in……”

“The ambition of every youngster in town was just to play for Chiltern…..That’s why most of ‘em never left. They went to school together, and played together……….”

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The Swans’ reputation as a footy leviathan grew in the late 40’s-early 50’s, when they strung together seven Chiltern & District League premierships in nine years.

“My older brothers played in a few of those sides,” Bill says. “Mum and Dad (Tom) loved the game, especially Mum, who was a fanatic……That’s all they lived for…..I was the team mascot, and grew up with a footy in my hands; no other choice, really…….”

When the CDFL disbanded at the end of 1953 Chiltern gained admittance to the Ovens and King League. But Bill reckons the best thing that ever happened to the Club was the recruitment of Greg Tate as captain-coach.

‘Spudda’ Tate had been a star during Essendon’s Dick Reynolds-John Coleman era, then coached Rutherglen to their last O & M flag, in 1954.

“He’d been working at the Springhurst Butter Factory, but Dad, who was on the Shire Council, urged him to train up to be the Shire Secretary. He moved his family to Chiltern and lived in the Shire house.”

“He was a great leader…….Everybody loved him. I was just so fortunate to be coming through when he arrived .”

“Of all the coaches I’ve heard, he was the best orator ……Even when he went crook at you, he’d put it in such a way that you didn’t realise he was giving you a burst……….”

“In my opinion, he laid the foundation for the Club’s future success………..”

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Bill was 17 when he played in Chiltern’s 1957 flag.  King Valley, under the leadership of lanky ruckman Bill Pinder, had beaten the Swans three times during the season, and started hot-favourites in the Grand Final.

Despite a howling gale blowing towards one end,  Tate won the toss and kicked against the breeze.

“We held them to a goal in the first quarter, then Tate kicked 5 of our eight in the second quarter. That broke their back a bit, and we went on to win by 44 points,” Bill recalls.

He shared in the premiership triumph with three of his brothers – ‘Jonna’, Frank and Alan ( who starred in a back pocket ) – and a cousin, Bobby.

But he was rapt to also play alongside one of his heroes, Ron Howes.

“He was the best footballer I’d seen play around here…..Never wanted to leave Chiltern, though…… “

“Ron only stood 5’8 – 5’9”, could kick either foot and play anywhere. He kicked 100 goals the previous season, lined up at full forward in that Grand Final – then promptly retired.

The Peake quintet were also members of the 1958 Grand Final side, which engaged in a titanic struggle with Greta, in miserable conditions.  

Bill started on the half back line that day, but swapped flanks in an endeavour to shut down dangerous half forward Ian Younger, who’d booted  three early goals. Chiltern had registered the first point of the game, lost the lead and trailed from then on. They finally drew level at the 25-minute mark of the last quarter……..With the clock ticking down a free kick was paid in the dying moments.

To howls of indignation from Greta fans, the umpire penalised one of their defenders for hanging onto Chiltern forward Tony Borrack.

Borrack converted from the goal-square to establish a six-point lead…..The siren blew seconds later, to give the Swans their second successive flag…………

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“Handy start to your career, Bill….Dual premiership player, and a Best & Fairest at 18,” I suggest.

“Yeah…..pretty lucky, I suppose . The only setback came in 1960, when I had a pinched cartilage….Missed about 6 games…..Then I heard about a fellah called Taylor, up at Beechworth, who was a bit of a miracle-worker…… He fixed me straight away.”

That was the only year he ever missed playing finals. 

The following season he played a couple of practice games for the Rovers, before a Chiltern icon Norm Minns enticed him to have a run with Wangaratta. Again, his run of good fortune continued….

He managed to hold his place in a strong Pies line-up which was on the march to a convincing September series. 

A side numbering multiple stars such as Constable, Mack, Killeen, Waller, Steele, Woods and Mulrooney, thrashed Corowa by 40 points, and Wodonga by 52 in the lead-up finals.

The inclusion of Ron McDonald, a talented centre half forward from Richmond, had put the icing on the cake for Wang. The Grand Final was a slaughter, as they ran over Benalla by 63 points. McDonald booted 16 goals in the three finals games.

Bill had played predominantly in the forward line during the season, but was switched to the back flank five minutes into the decider, when Rodney Swan went down with an damaged ankle.

It was the makings of him. He gathered 23 possessions and was named among the best players. “Until then I’d been battling up forward, but thereafter I spent most of my time as a Back Flanker,” he says.

Occasionally, though, when the Pies needed a ‘stopper’ he’d be handed a job on the gun mid-fielders of the day, such as Hogan, Deane, Gayfer or Hanlon…….

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Greg Tate had worded up his old club, Essendon, about the likely-looking young bloke from Chiltern.

“John Coleman was coaching. He and ‘Tatey ’ were good mates, so I was invited down for a run. But I hated the city,” Bill says.

“I trained for a few nights, and played in a practice game, but couldn’t get home quick enough ! “

Wangaratta remained there, or thereabouts, in Bill’s seven years in the No.5 Black and White guernsey. They reached a further three Grand Finals, bowing out to the Rovers in 1964 and ‘65, and Albury in ‘66.

The last of his 120-odd games was another riveting Final – the 1967 First Semi against the Hawks. It was a battle of the defences at Rutherglen, but the Pies were in the horrors in front of the big sticks. 

Forward Ron Critchley couldn’t buy a goal ( finishing with 0.8 ) as their rivals sneaked home by three points.

Chiltern was calling. His old Magpie team-mate Lennie Richards was in his second year as coach and they’d recruited well.

He took out his second  Club B & F ( 10 years after the first ) and finished runner-up to Whorouly’s Billy McAuliffe in the O & K’s Baker Medal.

And, in a carbon-copy of the Grand Final a decade earlier, Chiltern snatched the flag from under the nose of their old rivals, Greta.

“They’d beaten us three times during the season, but we sniffed a chance in the Second Semi,” Bill recalls.

“We were on the smallish side….Our ruckmen, Paddy Tognello and Bob Lappin, were both only around 5’11”, but we seemed to have all the answers for Greta that day, even though we only got up by four points. It was a bit of a triumph for Len Richards, who was very popular.”

Three years later, the Swans held on to pip Milawa by 6 points.  

“Milawa had a crop of good kids at at that time. Barry Cook, Merv Holmes, Ross Gardner and Gary Allen went on to do big things with the Rovers. But ours was a young side, with the Lappin boys, John and Charlie Narres and Johnny O’Neill.”

“ ‘Skimmy’ O’Brien had come from the Rovers as coach. I liked ‘Skimmy’ and it was a pity he gave it away after just the one year.”

Bill’s fifth flag with Chiltern came the following year, when they overpowered Beechworth in the the dying minutes of a thriller. The Bombers were leading by 12 points,when the Swans hit back.

“We had a 16 year-old, Don Mattson up forward, who took three big grabs in the goal-square and helped turn the game.”

“He had plenty of talent, Donny, and went on to play with Richmond and Essendon. But he probably didn’t like putting in the necessary hard work to make the grade .”

Bill played the last of his 230-odd games with Chiltern in the 1973 Grand Final. It was a memorable, bruising affair against a tough North Wangaratta side, which was chasing its first O & K flag. The Northerners finished in strongly to deny him the perfect farewell.

He thought he’d hung up his boots…….until his brother-in-law Jock Lappin took on the coaching job at Brocklesby a couple of years later, and sought his help to drag the Hume League cellar-dwellers up the ladder.

In somewhat of a fairytale , they reached the Grand Final, but had to tackle Walla Walla without Bill, who’d suffered a broken thumb in the Prelim.

“That was definitely curtains…….I’d had enough by then,” he says.

He concentrated on watching the Swans, and in particular, his son Craig, who played 300 games and shared in three flags with Chiltern.

He spent a year as President of Chiltern, and now follows the netball fortunes of his grand-daughters Lucy and Molly who play with Chiltern U.15’s and Barnawartha U.13’s respectively………

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Bill’s confronted a few health obstacles in recent times.

He’s been living with leukaemia since 2013, then was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus two years ago.

“It came as a shock. They could’ve operated, but advised it wasn’t worth the risk at my age ( now 81). It doesn’t worry me, though……….Faye and the girls ( Ange and Natalie)probably stress about it more than me.”

“When it gets real bad I might have to be drip-fed……But that’s okay, they’ve given me fair warning.”

“It is what it is……..”

Post-Script: The Peake brothers accumulated a total of 28 Premierships: ‘Jonna’ (9), Alan (7), Frank (6) and Bill (6).

“….YA GOTTA HAVE LUCK……..”

Sometimes, winning Premierships boils down to being in the right place at the right time……………As they say: ‘Ya gotta have luck’……

The Ovens and Murray’s most prolific goal-kicker, Stan Sargeant would begrudgingly concur with that assessment . He wore North Albury’s Green and Gold in 289 games, over 17 years. As the curtain began to draw on his career he clung to one remaining dream – capturing that elusive flag.

It seemed within reach in the dying stages of the 1973 Grand Final when his massive 70-metre goal gave the ‘Hoppers a sniff of victory……. But Benalla, steady in the crisis, re-grouped and hung on to win by seven points………Despite all of his footy achievements, ‘Sarge’ was pipped at the post in his last tilt at premiership glory.

Billy Gayfer’s was an even starker hard-luck story.

He filled in for the Rutherglen Reserves, at the age of 14, in late-1954, the year the Redlegs won their last O & M title. For the next 16 years, on-and-off, Billy laboured valiantly for his beloved home club, winning five Best and Fairests and earning recognition as one of the game’s classiest mid-fielders…..without once going close to playing in a Final, let alone winning a flag……

Brett Keir stood out like a beacon in defence for Wangaratta throughout some of their darkest days. His time at the Norm Minns Oval spanned 15 years and 264 senior games. He was revered, by his own fans and highly-respected by the wider footy community. He represented the League 12 times.

Yet ‘Balls’ Keir couldn’t crack it for an O & M flag.

Conversely, I’d like to tell the tale of two old Magpie champs who, between them, managed to snare 11 premierships in 26 years…………….

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Ernie Ward was typical of many footballers who ‘spread their favours’ during the harsh economic times of the Great Depression.

As money was scarce and jobs had dried up in the city they hot-footed it to the bush. Their ability to kick a footy often swayed star-gazing country clubs to arrange employment and hand them a few bob for stripping with the locals.

Ward had played with Coburg, then moved on to Bendigo League club, Eaglehawk, who offered him five shillings a game. To supplement his meagre work and footy income, he’d head out to the ‘scrub’, trapping rabbits and selling their skins.

The 24 year-old arrived in Wangaratta with his young family in early 1935, settled in Templeton Street and landed a job driving a Brewery truck.

The Pies, who had come off a disappointing season, and were eager to return to the top, hailed

their good fortune in recruiting Ward, a strong, high-marking key-position player, and Charlie Heavey, a swashbuckling, record-breaking forward.

They weren’t disappointed. Heavey booted 109 goals in the home and away games, whilst Ward proved a revelation with his adaptability, either in defence or attack.

Wang finished third in ‘35, but made amends the following year, convincingly outpointing Rutherglen by 20 points in the Grand Final, after kicking seven goals to four in the last half…………

The gregarious, and highly-popular Ward took his game to another level in 1937. Despite Wangaratta tumbling to the bottom of the ladder, he was their stand-out. It severely impacted them when he was knocked out in a marking duel at the Albury Sportsground.

The result, a fractured skull, compound fracture of the nose and fractured upper jaw, cost him the last four games and -probably – the Morris Medal.

He finished one vote behind the eventual winner, Yarrawonga’s George Hayes, but more importantly, doubts were cast about his ability to recover from such a severe injury……

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Wangaratta launched a Fund-Raider for their stricken champ, to offset his considerable medical, dental and Hospital fees. The Appeal elicited a generous response from supporters. At the club’s end-of-season banquet, they applauded warmly when he was presented with a gold, initialled cigarette case as Wangaratta’s Best & Fairest Player.

The Pies rebounded strongly in 1938, under the leadership of another footy nomad, Norman Le Brun. Ward was appointed as his deputy and the pair formed a close friendship.

Although he’d been left with a couple of permanent reminders of his injury, it had little effect on Ernie’s playing ability.

He and Le Brun both booted four goals to make a telling difference, as Wang snuck home from Yarrawonga by four points, in an enthralling Second Semi-Final.

They were also the main perpetrators when the sides met again in the Grand Final. Ward (6) and Le Brun (3), along with the veteran Alec Fraser helped Wang to a 12.15 (87) to 7.16 (58) victory over the Pigeons.

The Pies had created O & M history by going from from Premiers, to wooden-spooners, to Premiers, in three roller-coaster seasons.

Ernie took on the coaching job of Ovens and King League club Waratahs in 1939, leading them into the Grand Final.

The clouds of War were hanging ominously over the football landscape when he returned to Wangaratta in 1940. Despite the season being curtailed to just 10 home and home games he managed win the B & F and land 53 goals, to be the go-to man in attack for the Pies.

With War now raging he was keen to enlist, but a hole in the pallet of his mouth, and a weeping eye duct – a legacy of his old footy injury – precluded him from playing his part.

Instead, he led Rainbows ( an offshoot of the Wangaratta Football Club ) to the O & K title in 1941, and was a key member of the Wang team which enjoyed an unbeaten 1945 Murray Valley League season.

When Ovens and Murray football resumed in 1946, after the cessation of war-time hostilities, Wangaratta spared nothing in their efforts to regain their standing as a League power. Their prized signing – for a hefty fee – of the great Laurie Nash as captain-coach was their contribution to rejuvenating the game.

Nash delivered in spades, and his now-veteran deputy Ernie Ward also showed that he hadn’t lost his touch.

Wangaratta and Albury tangled in a riveting Grand Final at Rutherglen, which was a nip and tuck affair. Nash incurred a torn muscle during the third term, and sent Ward to Full Forward.

The Pies hung on to win 14.10 (94) to 13.11 (89), with key forwards Ward and Nash both finishing with four majors.

Ernie Ward had played in five premierships in his nine playing years in Wangaratta ( including three O & M titles). He accepted the position of playing-coach of the fledgling – and poorly-performed – O & K club Wangaratta Rovers in 1947.

It was a marriage that was never really consummated. After a 111-point hiding from Milawa in the second round, Ward promptly resigned, and was ultimately replaced by his old Waratahs and Wangaratta team-mate, Len Hill.

Ernie, his wife Vivian and four kids moved on to Wagga in 1948, where he took on the coaching position at North Wagga. Rising 38, he guided his side to a flag and picked up another B & F.

After a stint as coach of Collingullie in 1949, he returned to North Wagga, where he played out the remainder of his colourful career.

Ernie Ward was named at Centre Half Forward in Wangaratta’s Team of the Century, and was awarded Life Membership in 1947……………..

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Graham Woods was a spindly schoolboy when he watched ‘big guns’ like Ernie Ward strut their stuff in the 1946 Grand Final.

It was envisioned that he’d be a died-in-the-wool Magpie, as his dad Vic had played with the Club in the twenties. But the Woods family farm was located at Boorhaman North and Graham had. a leaning towards playing with nearby Rutherglen.

However, there was little encouragement forthcoming from the Redlegs of Barkly Park and he formed the opinion that they didn’t rate him all that highly.

Thus, the career of one of the great Ovens and Murray ruckmen of the fifties was played out on the wide expanses of the Wangaratta Showgrounds.

Woods started at Wangaratta in 1948. He was showing considerable promise when the Pies’ ‘Dream Team’ began to assemble. By post-war standards he was a bean-pole, yet by comparison, would be dwarfed by the giants of the modern era.

It was a matter of learning his craft on the run, against such tough opponents as Stan Rule (Wodonga), Ron Bywater (Rutherglen), Percy Appleyard ( Wodonga), Barry Takle (Albury), and John Waldron (Wang.Rovers).

And it helped that he formed a solid combination with tall-timbered team-mates Kevin French, Ray Warford and Bill Comensoli, who gave small men Timmy Lowe, ‘Wobbles’ Allan and Jackie Stevenson an armchair ride with their adept tap work.

Woods was 19 when he sat on the pine in the 1949 Grand Final, but from then on became an integral part of the four successive premierships that earned Mac Holten’s team recognition as one of the finest O & M line-ups of all-time.

Strong and reliable, and with a competitive streak that belied his gentle off-field nature, he first represented the O & M in the touring team that toured New South Wales in 1952.

The following year he starred in what became the fore-runner of the Country Championships – the clash between Bendigo and the O & M, at Echuca.

Bendigo looked every inch a winner at three quarter-time, leading comfortably by 22 points. But coach Mac Holten pulled off the winning move when he swung himself out of the centre, to full forward, enabling the brilliant Billy King to take charge of the mid-field.

A snapped goal in the last seconds by Woods’ Wangaratta team-mate Tim Lowe, gave O & M victory by two points.

Woods excelled on the big occasions, and was a regular O & M rep during the fifties. He may have thought he was in line for his fifth flag when Wangaratta waged a topsy-turvy battle with North Albury in the 1955 Grand Final.

As the seconds ticked down in the final term North regained the lead. Almost as if by divine intervention, a storm broke out over the ground, and in gale-like conditions they were able to cling onto a 10-point lead.

Two years later, Woods played a key role in Wangaratta’s two-point win over Albury. With one minute remaining, Lance Oswald, who had been well held by the Tigers, snapped truly to clinch a thriller.

Graham Woods was in the evening of his career when he lined up in the 1961 Grand Final.

He and coach Neville Waller dominated the centre square as the Pies ruthlessly mauled Benalla. They had the game in hand at quarter-time, leading 6.1 to 1.0. Champion forwards Ron McDonald and Bobby Constable were irresistible.

Wang went on to win 17.15 to 7.12, to hand Woods his sixth premiership in 14 years.

He bowed out the following season, with a then-club record 249 games under his belt. The ‘Gentleman Farmer’ from Boorhaman had won the Best Clubman award on three occasions. Installed as a Life-Member in 1958, he was named on the Interchange Bench in Wangaratta’s Team of the Century………….

‘DERBY DAY LOOMS……..’

Think of sport’s great rivalries……..

Baseball’s Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees; Glasgow’s two ‘Old Firm’ soccer teams – Celtic and Rangers ; the AFL’s famous antagonists Carlton and Collingwood; and Test cricket’s heavily-conflicted neighbours, India and Pakistan………..

Whenever each of them meet they wage something akin to open warfare .

Now, I know I’m drawing too long a bow when I lump this Sunday’s ‘Local Derby’ in the same category. But when the old foes – separated by just a laneway – are both up and about there’s that familiar sniff of hostility and animosity in the air…………….

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It’s been going on for 72 years…….ever since the Rovers were granted admission to the Ovens and Murray League.

Suddenly the Magpies, who’d had exclusive access to most of the promising young local players wishing to play Major League footy, now had to compete with the ‘new boys’.

Bitterness was rife, as charges of ‘player pilfering’ and underhand recruiting tactics were laid by both sides.

Old-timers recount the passions which were elicited in the ‘50’s, when the rough and tough stuff on the field of play was sometimes matched beyond the boundary by cantankerous spectators…….

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The Rovers’ first coach was a burly ex-Hawthorn journeyman, Ken Bodger, who assumed his role just four weeks before their 1950 O & M debut.

Bodger was on a hiding to nothing, and was powerless to prevent Wang posting a 25.16 to 8.6 massacre over his undermanned charges. In the re-match later in the season the ‘Pies booted 11 goals in the last quarter, to win by 105 points.

Bodger, of course, became the victim of his Club’s unrealistic expectations. After they registered just two points for the season (for a draw against Rutherglen ) he was ‘sacked’. But, to his credit, he served on the committee and played on with the Hawks for two more seasons.

Then he committed an ‘unforgivable’ sin. He crossed the laneway, in search of an elusive flag, and attracted the wrath of Rovers supporters when he stripped in Black and White.

“Boy, did I cop it !”, he reflected years later. “People with whom I’d become closely attached, and established good friendships, turned on me, particularly when I collided with the new Rovers coach, Jock Herd the first time I played against the Hawks.”

Bodger finally realised his long-held premiership ambition the following year when he headed out to Greta as captain-coach. By that time the aura of the ‘Derby’ was gaining momentum……………

It was only compounded when the Hawks landed Bobby Rose as playing-coach. ‘Mr. Football’ had been in high demand and his signing was a major coup for the battling club. He agreed on a fee of 35 pounds per week.

One of the additional clauses inserted in his contract was that….’for a period of five years after its termination he was not allowed to play for, or coach, the Wangaratta Magpies. If he did he would be liable to re-imburse the Rovers 500 pounds by way of liquidated damages……..’

Rose also ignored the ‘warning’ from some quarters – no doubt a last-ditch attempt to dissuade him from taking the job – that the Rovers were a Catholic club.

His old Collingwood team-mate Mac Holten, who had enjoyed fabulous success in an eight-year term as Wangaratta’s coach, took up the pen upon retirement to cover matches for the Wangaratta Chronicle.

His description of an altercation between Rose and dashing ‘Pie forward Bob ‘Bushy’ Constable in one combustible encounter, irked the Hawk leader to such an extent that he rang Mac to complain about the bias in the article.

By way of protest he even stopped frequenting Holten’s Licensed Grocery. After all, he reasoned, half of Wangaratta was now boycotting his Sports Store after the grilling he’d received.

The Holten-Rose friendship was restored after a brief cooling-off period, but years later old Magpies still harked back to that incident………

The late ‘Hopper’ McCormick, one of the Magpies’ favourite sons, recalled the day he was handed the ‘hot potato’ of shadowing Rose in one of the champ’s early games.

It was a match which had already produced its fair share of fireworks. Out of the blue, ‘Hop’ reeled from a pack, and it was up to Wang’s Club Doctor, Howard Marks to attempt to revive him with a whiff of smelling salts.

His dad, a dead-keen supporter, took umbrage at ‘Hop’s’ treatment and tangled with some vocal Hawks; the result being that there were spot-fires raging on both sides of the fence. The timely arrival of the Police paddy-wagon restored peace among the warring spectators.

“I’m not sure whether it was Rosey or Ray Burns who collected me, but Bob paid me a visit a few days later to enquire of my health. It was a nice gesture and we became good mates,” ‘Hop’ said…………

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Neville Hogan, a Rovers legend, and the only person to coach both clubs, can remember the feeling among supporters in the lead-up to the ‘Derby’.

“When I was playing we’d prepare for each game just like it was a Final. The tempo at training would increase, we’d have a Dinner on the Thursday night and outline our plans; everyone would be keyed up.”

“For most of that time, both Clubs had strong sides and had some terrific battles. Bernie Killeen took 19 marks at centre half back to dominate one semi-Final….. I remember Des Steele giving me the run-around in another……and Ron Critchley kicking 1.9 against us in a tight Final which we won………”

Billy McMillan, who was an aggressive defender in his 116 games for Wangaratta, relished tangling with the Rovers.

“You always found a bit extra in those games,” he said.

McMillan’s swansong with the ‘Pies was the final round of 1987, when they defeated the Hawks and tipped them out of the finals. He’d played in five straight wins against the old enemy.

He then took a coaching job at Whorouly, but ventured down to see a ‘Derby’ game a couple of years later.

“I went over and sat near the scoreboard at the Rovers ground with my daughter. You

know……keeping out of everyone’s way.”

“Something happened which displeased me and I muttered a few words. This bloke in the distance must have been sweating on me because he bellowed: ‘That’s right McMillan; you were a prick on the field and you’re no better off it.”………

Rick Marklew began with the Rovers in the mid-80’s. “When I started,” he says, “there were kids I went to school with who were playing with Wangaratta. You talked about it the week before the game, then chewed it over for a week after.”

“Wang had good sides in those days……the Mulrooney’s, Gary Voss, ‘Spud’ Adamo……’Spud’s clashes with Matt Allen were worth watching.”

Marklew’s cousin Robbie Richards, a long-serving player and ex-Magpie coach, agrees…..”There’s a real atmosphere when the teams meet. I reckon if you couldn’t find a bit extra in those games you never would.”

Alex Marklew, Sam Allen and Joe Richards – sons of guns – will all take part in Sunday’s ‘Derby’……..

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Ken Boyd couldn’t disguise his dislike of the Black and White and thrived on the extra edge and atmosphere that the ‘Derby’ engendered. He succeeded Bob Rose as Rovers coach, and by 1964 had a side which looked every inch a premiership contender .

They won 15 games on the trot before stumbling, and dropping the last three home and home matches. Their form was no better in the second semi-final against Wangaratta, who proved too strong in a 14-point win at Barkly Park, Rutherglen.

Bernie Killeen had been a tower of strength in the Semi, but when the Hawks and ‘Pies met again in the Grand Final, Boyd sidled up alongside him.

As the last strains of the national anthem rang across the Albury Sportsground, Killeen lay spreadeagled on the turf.

Was it the heat, the occasion, or an errant elbow that had got to the star defender………?

Boyd was an inspirational player, and figured strongly in successive flag victories over Wangaratta. Even in 1966, when a back injury curtailed his movements, he was still able to make an impact.

In his final O & M appearance, the Preliminary Final against the ‘Pies looked to be escaping the clutches of the Hawks, who’d been outclassed, and trailed by 20 points at half-time.

But they began to creep back into the contest during an extraordinary third quarter. Mayhem ensued, as the game erupted in a series of flare-ups. Boyd was the catalyst in each of them .

The Hawks trailed by just one point at three-quarter time, but when sanity was restored Wang gradually wrested the initiative and went on to win by 25 points.

The curtain came down on Ken Boyd’s colourful career at the Tribunal hearing the following Wednesday evening, when he was handed a total of eight weeks suspension on four seperate charges……..

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The Magpies had to play second fiddle to the Hawks during the early 70’s, despite having a more than competitive line-up. They’d lost 11 ‘Derby’ clashes in a row before they cast their demons aside on a fateful late-September day in 1976.

Phil Nolan’s boys were simply irresistible in outpointing their opponents ( who were chasing their fifth flag in six years ) by 37 points. They proclaimed ‘Big Phil’ a coaching guru.

Many ‘Pie fans still become misty-eyed when they tell you that it was the greatest sporting day of their lives.

It’s said that soon after the siren, someone scaled the Wangaratta Police Station to pull down the Brown and Gold flag which had flown before and after the ‘Derbies’ of the ‘70’s. It was replaced with Black and White streamers………………

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Football’s pendulum has swung wildly in the case of the local clubs during the modern era. The Pies are riding high at the moment…….the Hawks have again emerged as a Finals contender……….

The Clubs certainly wouldn’t want to re-visit the dark days of the late 90’s when they were both encountering troubled times.

The dreaded word ‘merger’ was even mentioned by some of the bar-flies around town.

Heaven forbid……..that would have been equivalent to the Orange and the Green joining forces in Northern Ireland…………

*Derby update: The clubs have met 153 times. The Rovers have won 94 games, Wangaratta have won 58, with one drawn.

‘THE NEW PONSFORD…….’

Alec Fraser had just begun to exhibit flashes of his precocious cricket talent in the mid-1920’s when the good judges handed him a moniker – ‘The Next Ponsford’……..

Bill Ponsford, the thick-set Victorian, was every kid’s idol in the pre-Bradman era. An opening batsman and run-scoring machine, his deeds have been forever immortalised by the naming of a Grandstand in his honour at the MCG – the scene of many of his triumphs.

Alec’s performances fell well short of the legend to whom he was compared, but nevertheless, he was to carve out a brilliant sporting career in his adopted home town………….

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Born and raised in Albury, his parents were Highland Dancing enthusiasts. Alec was just four when his father passed away, leaving his mum to single-handedly raise the four Fraser siblings.

There was never any chance of the lad, nicknamed ‘Tony’, pursuing the noble art of Highland Dancing……….he was enraptured by football and cricket, at which he showed exceptional promise.

Wangaratta Football Club first made contact with him when he was playing with Albury Rovers, in the Albury & District Football League.

After starring in premierships in 1926 and ‘27 alongside future triple-Brownlow Medallist Haydn Bunton ( who was two and a half years younger), Alec moved down the highway to join the ‘Pies, who teed up a job for him at the Co-Store in May 1928.

Wangaratta’s fortunes had plummeted since their glorious, unbeaten Premiership of 1925. A mass exodus of players – added to a financial crisis – forced them into a solid re-build. The first signs of a revival were shown when Fraser, and two other newcomers, Jim ‘Coco’ Boyd and Stan Bennett bolstered the side.

Against the odds, they held onto fourth spot – and a finals berth – despite going down by 29 points to St.Patrick’s in the final round. The arch rivals re-engaged the following week, in the First Semi-Final, and the ‘Pies held onto a smidgeon of hope of causing an upset.

Alas, disaster struck. St.Pat’s booted 30.12 to 9.8, with the dynamic, unstoppable, future Richmond captain Maurie Hunter snaring 19 goals. It remains the highest score, and biggest Semi-Final winning margin in O & M history………..

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19 year-old Fraser had certainly lived up to expectations at his new Club, and was selected in the Ovens and Murray team which played a VFL rep side at the Showgrounds in mid-season.

With five minutes remaining in a classic contest, O & M led by a point, but the VFL steadied, to win 16.15 to 15.14 . Skipper Harry Hunter, ‘Coco’ Boyd ( 5 goals) and old Albury Rovers team-mates Bunton and Fraser were their stars.

Whilst Bunton was lured to VFL football amidst a much-publicised recruiting frenzy which resulted in Fitzroy procuring his services in 1931, Fraser’s elevation came about in low-key fashion.

He received letters of invitation from Hawthorn, St.Kilda, Fitzroy and Footscray and, despite anguishing about making the move, agreed to turn out with the Saints.

They arranged employment at Leviathon Men’s Store in the City, but from the moment he arrived Alec was decidedly uncomfortable. He made a promising debut against Collingwood, and followed up with strong performances in losses to Footscray and Carlton, then headed home.

Wangaratta had, in his absence, begun a two-year hiatus in the Ovens & King League. The champion mid-fielder was warmly welcomed when he returned, mid-season. He figured in their successive O & K flags, and took out the B & F in 1932.

When the Pies resumed their place in the O & M in 1933 he was installed as vice-captain to the eventual Morris Medallist Fred Carey, and played his part in a nail-biting, pendulum-swinging Grand Final.

With the aid of a strong breeze, Border United led by 18 points at quarter-time, but the Pies proceeded to kick seven straight in the second, to hold sway, 7.2 to 4.4 at the long-break.

United again took over, adding 5.4 to three points, to take a 16-point lead into the final term, which developed into a pulsating affair. With the seconds ticking away, Wang doggedly preserved a seven-point lead, then United fought back with a late goal. They continued to attack strongly, but the siren blared, to signal a famous one-point Magpie victory.

An adaptable player with a good turn of pace, Fraser was initially tried as a winger, but gravitated to the midfield, where he was to stay for the next 14 years. His fitness, which he worked on assiduously, was maintained by competing in occasional district Athletic Carnivals.

He proved a loyal side-kick to the great Fred Carey, and the pair guided Wangaratta to another flag in 1936. Surprisingly, the Pies slumped, and won just two games the following year, to collect the wooden-spoon.

This heralded the arrival of a new coach, Norm Le Brun. Wang rebounded strongly to convincingly outpoint Yarrawonga in the 1938 decider. “It was the greater all-round strength and teamwork of players like Ernie Ward (6 goals), Norm Le Brun and Alec Fraser that took them to the flag….” the Border Morning Mail reported.

The nomadic Le Brun departed after one more season, and 11 applicants signified their interest in the plum Wangaratta coaching post.

Fraser was appointed, for the princely sum of two pounds 10 shillings per week. There were many obstacles ahead, with the season being played against the backdrop of World War 2, but the League heeded the Prime Minister’s call to ‘carry on regardless’.

It was hardly an ideal scenario for a rookie coach to be thrust into. The Pies found the going hard in this condensed 10-game season, and bowed out of the finals when knocked over by Yarrawonga in the First Semi.

It was an anticlimactic conclusion to the O & M football career of a 203-game Wangaratta champion……..

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One of the first people to make Fraser’s acquaintance upon his arrival in Wangaratta had been a rough-hewn ‘cockie’, Clem Fisher.

The pair were to become as ‘thick as thieves’ as footy team-mates in 1928, but more to the point, also went on to establish themselves as undoubtedly Wangaratta’s greatest-ever opening batting combination.

They were poles apart as personalities.

Fisher could bluntly be termed a ruthless, ‘win at all costs’ cricketer who had no qualms about bending the rules of the game if it meant victory could be achieved.

Fraser was his direct antithesis. Universally admired as a true gentleman, he was a quietly-spoken, well-respected, humble soul.

And whilst Fisher would assert his dominance at the crease early, and was inclined to bludgeon the bowling, Fraser was a stylist, with excellent timing – a caresser of the ball.

Alec had already provided a glimpse of his class by becoming the first Century-maker on the newly-laid Showgrounds wicket in November 1928. It was the first of 15 centuries and 37 half-centuries he scored in WDCA cricket, many of them carved out on this strip of turf he was to call his own. He went on to compile 7131 runs in Club matches.

He collected his first WDCA batting average in 1932/33 and the last in 1954/55, when he averaged 69.7, at the ripe old age of 46.

He and Clem ‘clicked’ as a pair when they first came together at Country Week in 1929, and thereafter rarely failed to give Wangaratta the start they needed.

Their stand of 243 against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 took Wang to a total of 2/319 ( Fraser 158*). Three days later, Alec retired on 119, in a score of 8/393. The Fraser/Fisher unbeaten partnership of 250 against Wimmera in 1937 remains a WDCA Country Week record.

His five ‘tons’ and nine half-centuries at Melbourne were a contributing factor to the three CW titles that Wangaratta clinched during their Golden Era of the thirties.

With the drums of War beating loudly, sport was put on the back-burner, but Alec’s application to join the Army was denied because of his flat feet.

Instead, he, his wife Bess, and their two young daughters Noeleen and Desma moved to Melbourne in 1942, where they took over a Greengrocer’s shop in Whitehorse Road, Balwyn. Alec played with the local Sub-District side, winning the batting average in two of the six years in which he played .

On their return to Wangaratta, he operated a Mixed Business on the corner of Baker and Rowan Streets and again threw himself headlong into local sport.

He accepted the captaincy of the newly-formed St.Patrick’s Club. Some observers rated a century he made ( 104 out of 173 ) in the 1949/50 Semi-Final as his finest WDCA knock. St.Pat’s had finished on top of the ladder, and rated their chances of winning the Grand Final, but had to share the flag with Wangaratta when bad weather ( and the encroaching football season ) brought a halt to proceedings.

Alec played his last WDCA season in 1955/56, with new club Magpies, an offshoot of the Wangaratta Football Club. As its Secretary and elder statesman, there were glimpses, in a handful of games, of the Master of the crease that he had proved to be for over two decades………..

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The shy, teen-ager who arrived in Wangaratta as an unproven commodity in 1928, departed the playing field as a WDCA Life Member and Hall of Fame inductee ; a Wangaratta Football Club Life Member and Team of the Century centreman.

Alec Fraser passed away in 1983, aged 74……..

‘THE CHAMPS OF 1950………’

For every footy flag that’s won, there’s a story that begs to be told……..

Cast a glance at Grand Final Day portraits of 10…30….even 70 years ago, hung for posterity in Clubrooms throughout the nation……….Geed-up players ooze confidence; their impenetrable eyes gaze through the camera; minds focused solely on the game ahead.

As the decades roll on their reputations are enhanced……so too, are the tales of their march to premiership glory.

But dig deep, beyond the photo and you may uncover hidden anecdotes….. Of an old champ, who’d been desperately clinging to his spot, despite aching limbs and sub-par form…..only to be unceremoniously dumped on Grand Final-eve……..

Or a much-hyped kid, thrown into the side when injuries threatened to derail the Club’s chances…….who went on to perform brilliantly – the first of several ‘pearlers’ he would produce on the big stage……….

And a star recruit, just starting to show his class, whose involvement in a tragic accident provides the inspiration for a famous flag………………..

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Norm Newbold was an outstanding all-round athlete at Scotch College and was playing with suburban team Gardner when he first came to the attention of Collingwood’s recruiting scouts. Having landed at Victoria Park, he was being groomed as a key forward. Several fine performances as he was coming through the ranks, illustrated the obvious potential of the high-marking, mobile youngster.

Hopes of a budding VFL career were put on hold when he was transferred to the bush with the E.S & A Bank in early 1950. It was a ‘given’ that, once he arrived at his posting , he’d play with Wangaratta, considering that their coach had already been alerted by his former club.

He took little time to adapt to O & M football. His partnership with spearhead Max ‘Shiny’ Williams provided the side with a multi-pronged attack.

On a typically wintry early-June day at Myrtleford, Newbold snagged six goals in what was, to date, his biggest haul for his new club……….

That evening, on his way to visit his sister in Euroa, a motor-bike on which he had hitch-hiked a ride, collided with a semi-trailer on the Hume Highway, just outside Glenrowan.

His football career was over.

Doctor Roy Phillips, who was, coincidentally, also the footy club medico, rushed to the gruesome scene. The rider of the bike was killed. ‘The Doc’ was obliged to amputate the leg of the young forward he’d seen starring earlier that day…………..

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The Wangaratta players made a pact that the hospitalised Norm Newbold would be the inspiration behind their bid to win the 1950 title.

After a 9.21 to 5.7 win over Myrtleford on that fateful day, their win-loss ratio stood at 4-2. The defeats had come at the hands of Rutherglen and North Albury, both expected to figure prominently in the run home.

But, despite being the reigning premiers, and warm favourites for the flag, the Pies knew that they still had the job in front of them……..

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Since joining the Ovens and Murray League in 1893, Wang had snared six premierships, and Norm McGuffie had been involved with all of them. He was a player in 1925, committeeman in 1933 and ‘46, Secretary/ Treasurer in 1936 and ‘38, and President in 1949.

Mac Holten once recalled his introduction to McGuffie, who had travelled to Melbourne to meet him at a pre-arranged destination, early in 1949.

McGuffie had advised him: “If you see someone wearing a red rose in the lapel of their suit coat, that’ll be me,”. By the time they’d finished talking, shook hands on it, and went their different ways, Mac was Wangaratta’s new coach.

The O & M had been basically a mark and kick game in the late forties, until Holten augmented strands of his old club Collingwood’s play-on style, with a particular emphasis on handball.

And he subjected his players to tougher training than they’d ever experienced – including loads of sprint-work.

He was a born leader, and the instant success he achieved added to his lustre. His players regarded him as something of a magician – a tactical genius………….

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The side that had swept to the 1949 flag was laden with talent. There were a handful of departures over the succeeding summer months, but the quality of the recruits more than compensated for the losses.

Besides Norm Newbold, a strongly-built big man Alan Whittenbury, arrived from the Diamond Valley League. Ron Carmichael, a classy 5’6” winger was transferred in the Railways, a dimunitive school-teacher, Jackie Stevenson landed in town, and stylish winger Kevin Allan, was lured from Milawa.

There were big raps on Allan, who had won the Demons’ B & F. His old club was reluctant to lose the popular small-man with the catchy nickname. Eventually they agreed to grant him six match permits ‘to see if can make the grade ’.

In the meantime, though, ‘Wobbles’ fell off some scaffolding and twisted an ankle, which delayed his debut until mid-season.

But the prize ‘get’ for the ‘Pies was a rugged, sandy-haired dairy-farmer whom they’d been trying to extricate from Greta for several years. At last, Lionel Wallace had decided it was time to ‘give it a go’.

He created an immediate impression. “He was the best country footballer I ever came across,” Mac Holten said many years later. “We could only get him to train one night a week, but he played some great games. ‘Lioney’ would have been a sensation in Melbourne……………”

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Wangaratta suffered only two hiccups in the remaining home-and-away rounds – a narrow loss to Wodonga and a nail-biting draw with Benalla.

They finished on top, two games clear of Rutherglen, whom they steam-rolled by 38 points in the second semi-final.

Their full forward Max ‘Shiny’ Williams booted four of the team’s total of 12, whilst ruckman-forward Alan Whittenbury chimed in with three.

The fast-leading Williams, who stood just 5’10”, had become a vital cog in the Magpie structure. He followed up his 71 goals in 1949, to again top the League goal-kicking list with 84. He relied on the conventional flat-punt for his deadly accuraacy.

Playing in front of him at centre half forward was Ken Nish. Both hailed from Peechelba, but it was Nish’s ability to perform despite profound deafness that earned the admiration of his team-mates.

Nish, who was Wang’s leading vote-getter in the Morris Medal in 1950 and their B & F the previous season, was a star. Despite being born deaf he was able to communicate capably, and was a master of lip-reading.

Tall ruckman Graeme Woods, from neighboring Boorhaman, often lined up beside them in attack. He had developed rapidly in his two years of senior football.

Woods was a mere baby compared to seasoned veterans Kevin French, Jack and Doug Ferguson, who were the only survivors of the Pies’ first post-war flag of 1946.

If asked to nominate their favourite player, many die-hard fans would opt for the brilliant Timmy Lowe, who seemed to have an innate ability to read the play and accumulate multiple possessions. He would, this season, win one of the five Best & Fairests that came his way in 122 quality games………

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North Albury had overcome Rutherglen in the Preliminary Final, to earn a crack at Wangaratta in the decider. Nine thousand fans crammed into ‘The Glen’s’ Barkly Park, in anticipation of a ‘battle royal’……..

The game opened in dramatic fashion when two of the Hoppers’ stars – Don Ross ( bruised thigh ) and John Murcott ( broken ankle ) were off the field within the first five minutes.

Even so, after being 16 points down mid-way through the first quarter, North managed to wrest a four-point lead at quarter-time.

Their inspirational skipper, Don Wilks, was everywhere, as he attempted to lift his side. Wilks, the former Hawthorn player, had guided Echuca (1946) and Auburn (‘47-‘49) to flags, and was hell-bent on adding another to his collection.

But Wangaratta slowly began to gain the ascendency. Dynamic mid-fielder Norm Minns, who was in everything, appreciated the absence of the silky young prodigy, Donny Ross. ‘Shiny’ Williams and elusive forward flanker Doug Ferguson were also ‘on song’ up forward for the ‘Pies. The only negative was that full back Jack Ferguson had his hands full with old rival Norm Benstead, who was to finish with seven goals.

Wang’s all-round strength proved telling in the finish, with unsung defender Bill Parkinson, hard-working Kevin French and Rex Bennett prominent. The evenness of the Pies enabled them to overcome woeful inaccuracy in front of goal.

Their tally of 11. 20 (86) gave them a 16-point win over North -10.10 (70), in what had been a ruthless, unforgiving encounter………..

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Wangaratta handed Mac Holten a contract extension of five years, at a stipend of £12 per week, such was their determination to retain the much-lauded coach.

And his boys duly went on with the job, taking out the 1951 and ‘52 titles, thus equalling the ‘four in a row’ feat of the great St.Patrick’s outfit of the twenties.

Some of them stuck around for a lot longer. Graeme Woods, for instance, played the last of his 249 games in the 1961 Grand Final, bowing out with six flags to his name. ‘Hopper’ McCormick returned from a coaching stint at King Valley, to take his part in the 1957 premiership side – his fifth in Black and White.

Several others tried their hand at coaching: Lowe headed up to Beechworth, Bennett to Whorouly, Bill Challman to Greta. French had success at Tarrawingee, Allan returned to take charge of Milawa, then spent several years at North Wangaratta.

Norm Minns, who had played such a key role in this Golden Era, was nabbed by Benalla, and led them to the 1953 flag. It was his fifth straight – an O & M record, which still stands.

Minns, along with team-mates Col Sturgeon, ‘Hopper’ McCormick, Challman and ‘Wobbles’ Allen, later returned post-retirement to devote decades of service to the Club.

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When Wangaratta nominated their Team of the Century in 2006, ten members of the 1950 team were selected : Holten, Jack and Doug Ferguson, Kevin French, Timmy Lowe, Norm Minns, Lionel Wallace, Jack ‘Hopper’ McCormick, Graeme Woods and Ken Nish.

History has looked favourably upon this famous side of seventy years ago…….and deservedly so…………

Postscript: Norm Newbold passed away eight years ago. His son Greg ( the current non-playing coach of Greta) says that he didn’t dwell on his misfortune , but was ever-grateful for the support he received from the Wangaratta Football Club.