I’ve always regarded Mickey Bone as a latter-day version of Lou Richards. They had plenty in common. Both were cheeky Collingwood rovers…….Pint-sized…Ruthless……Effervescent……..Irrepressible……… Always a quip on the tip of their tongues…….
I first laid eyes on Mick at Victoria Park. We’d just finished a Country Week cricket match, and this young fellah was leaving pre-season training, bag slung over his shoulder, cheerily whistling, as he waltzed blissfully out of Magpie-land………
Three years later I met him at close quarters, in the 1967 O & M Grand Final. A ‘blue’ started; naturally the little number 24 was in the thick of it, zeroing in on the first Brown and Gold Guernsey he came across…..
He coached Wodonga to their first-ever Premiership that day, thus entering the ranks of the immortals at Martin Park.
Mick hasn’t lost his happy-go-lucky demeanour, half a century on. “Rosie (his wife) goes crook at me; tells me I should take life more seriously. But the more you laugh, the better you are,” he says……………..
Mick’s a city boy – one of a tribe of seven who all grew up loving their footy. Dad, a ‘salt of the earth’ type, was a plumber, and his mum, who was born in Easy Street, near the Victoria Park station, had a lifelong passion for the Mighty Magpies.
She passed it onto all of the kids. One of them, John, tried out for Collingwood and, despite booting four goals in a practice game, was ditched. “They told him: ‘Many come, but few are chosen’ “ said Mick. John was later to have a season under the great Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, at Myrtleford.
Mick originally lined up alongside his mates at Thornbury. He used to play with the CYMS side on Saturday, and the Thornbury YCW every Sunday.
Undeterred by his brother’s ‘cold-shoulder’ from the ‘Pies, and when barely old enough, he rode his bike down to Victoria Park, to train with their Thirds.
He describes the reception he received upon his arrival: “Someone asked: ‘Who invited you ?’ I said : ’Listen, I’m as good as any of these blokes’ “.
“ Anyway I trained all right, but one of the officials – Charlie Pannam, I think it was – told me I’d have to stop playing with the YCW. I said: ‘Righto, I’m off then. Those kids are all my mates.’ “
“He said: ‘Ah well, let’s see how you go’. So I kept on with the YCW on Sundays, and played in a Premiership with Collingwood Thirds. Seven or eight of the kids in that side went on to play VFL footy in the next couple of years.”
The same Charlie Pannam later predicted that Mick was headed for ‘a brilliant VFL career’.
He played a season with the Reserves and was rewarded with senior selection the following season.
His ferocious attack on the ball – approaching every contest as if his life depended on it – soon made him a favourite with Magpie fans.
The Bone-David Norman roving combination was considered one of the reasons for
Collingwood’s success in Mick’s third season -1964- but he was surprisingly named on the bench for the Preliminary Final.
His outstanding last half, when unleashed onto the ground, earned him a spot for what was to prove a highly dramatic Grand Final, against Melbourne.
He again played well, but will always remember the dying stages of the game.
“There were only a couple of minutes to go and we were two points up. I was resting, and thought I’d go down and see if I could get a kick. I dived for a mark, missed it and their back pocket, Neil Crompton, who’d followed me down, kicked a goal.”
“If only I’d kept my nose out of it, we’d have won.”
Mick played with Collingwood for another two seasons, and admits he didn’t hit it off all that well with coach Bob Rose.
“He gave me the arse in the end, but I reckon he played favourites a bit. ‘Gabbo’ and his brother Kevin were in the first ruck, I was their rover. Trouble is, Kevin used to sit back 30 yards behind the play, as a loose man. I told Bob: ‘ If you’d get your bloody brother into the centre, where he should be, we’d be a lot better off.”
“So I was on the outer. We were playing Carlton late in 1966, and this bloke John Ryan, a mad Collingwood fan who came from up this way, sidled up to me at half-time and whispered: ‘Would you be interested in coaching Wodonga ?”
”I said: ‘Piss off, will ya, I’m trying to get a kick.’ “
“I didn’t even know where Wodonga was. Dad brought me up and we met the officials at the Carrier’s Arms Hotel. Things went along okay, until they said: ‘We reckon you’re too dear.”
“ ‘Jeez,’ I told ‘em. ‘I’ve wasted a couple of days getting up here and you tell me that.’ I made out as if I was heading off. Until I heard: ‘Hang on, You’ve got the job.’ “
So Mick, Rosie and baby Simon packed up and headed for the bush……..
Mick had never given much thought to coaching, but adapted immediately. “The Wodonga club was terrific…..all good family people. I was everybody’s mate.
But as soon as I put my coach’s hat on, I was the boss. Friendships didn’t come into it……..”
He took over the reins of a Wodonga side which had been under-achievers, and moulded them into a powerful unit.
Those 1967 Bulldogs would stand tall alongside any of the great O & M teams. With stars of the calibre of Gary Williamson, Brian Gilchrist, Dick Grimmond, Ronnie Hill, Ken Goyne and Eddie Rogalski, they were well-balanced, disciplined and skilful.
And inspirationally-coached. Bone personally enjoyed a terrific season, and finished equal-fourth in the Morris Medal, nine votes behind his champion team-mate, ruckman Williamson.
The ‘Dogs lost just three games during the home-and-away rounds, finishing 6 points clear of second-placed Myrtleford, who they belted by 61 points in the Second Semi.
12,000 fans flocked to the Albury Sportsground to watch the Wodonga-Wangaratta Rovers Grand Final clash. ‘Dog fans shuddered when Williamson, a key to their hopes, broke down in the warm-up.
Little separated the teams all day. As the Hawks fought back strongly in the closing stages , Brian Gilchrist stood firm, pulling down seven marks in the last stanza. Wodonga held on, to win by 18 points.
Amidst the euphoria of that first premiership, the popular assumption in O & M circles was that a dynasty had been created.
As the dominant side of that era, Wodonga were to snavel two flags, but it
could realistically have been four in a row.
Corowa, which had snuck into the finals on percentage, came from the clouds to pinch the flag from them in 1968. They were always in charge against Wangaratta the following year, but the one that always sticks in Mick’s craw is 1970.
“We were unbeaten going into the Second Semi and had won 27 games on the trot. Trouble is we got a bit ahead of ourselves. The Rovers shocked us, then Myrtleford knocked us off in the Prelim.”
“It was heart-breaking.”
He says the Corowa fans never let him forget that 1968 boilover. “They gave us a hard time every time we played ‘em , and there were usually a few stoushes. After one game, a woman hurled a shoe at me. I just picked it up and kept walking…..”
“You know, they invited me to their Premiership re-union a few years back. I took a shoe with me. When I got up to talk, I held it up and said: ‘That lady that hit me with her shoe 40 years back, here it is ! “
Neville Hogan regarded Bone as one of his most uncompromising opponents, yet gained new admiration for the hard-man when he played under him in inter-League sides.
Mick once told me: ‘When you’re only 5’6” you fight with everything you’ve got….Anything goes…’ recalls Neville.
Mick elaborates: “I used to cheat as much as I could. I whacked plenty of blokes, but some people just got in my way……And they claimed I kicked on purpose….. I wouldn’t say that, but then, I never jumped over anyone to avoid them….”
The eight-year Bone coaching reign ended in 1974. He played on for another couple of years at Wodonga, under Johnny Smith, before finally hanging up the boots, after 144 games with the ‘Dogs.
He goes on the gate at Wodonga two or three times a year, but spends a lot of time on the golf course these days. That, and keeping tabs on his kids and grandkids.
If you happen to run into a chirpy character with an engaging personality, it’ll be the old Magpie who became a legend of the bush……….
P.S: Mick and Simon Bone have been inducted into the O & M’s Hall of Fame. Josh and Justin both played at the Wodonga Raiders for several years.