A Balmey Evening

I  was  lucky  enough  to  get  an  invitation  to  Balmey’s  Roast  last  Thursday  night.  It  was  a  swish  affair,  sort  of  like  a  pie  night  on  steroids,  held  at  the  Hilton  Hotel  both  to  celebrate  Neil  Balme’s  40  years  in  football  and  to  help  raise  funds  for  the  Zaidee’s  Rainbow  Foundation  and  the  N.I.C.K.  Foundation.

I  went  with  Smithy  (Michael  Smith)  and  Feuta  (Greg  Feutrill)  two  mates  from  my  old  school  days  at  Whitefriars  College.  Also  joining  us  was  Tony  Borrack,  an  old  timer  who  played  over  four  hundred  games  of  footy  in  his  younger  days,  most  of  them  with  the  Commonwealth  Bank  in  the  ammos.  He  has  the  large  gnarly  hands  of  an  old  footballer  and  gets  a  twinkle  in  his  eye  when  the  beer  tray  comes  around.  These  days  Tony  is  a  regular  spectator  at  Whitefriars  old  boy’s  games  after  years  of  service  to  the  club.  The  Friars  are  currently  playing  in  Division  D1.

Smithy  and  Feuta  are  partners  in  an  accounting  practice  in  Hawthorn  and  love  their  footy.  Feuta  is  still  heavily  involved  being  the  coach  of  the  Whitefriars  old  boys,  and  Smithy  was  still  sneaking  in  the  odd  game  of  footy  for  the  Balwyn  seconds  up  until  just  a  few  seasons  back.  Both  are  just  the  wrong  side  of  mid  forties  but  haven’t  let  life’s  complacencies  get  hold  of  them  physically  just  yet.

They  say  that  opposites  attract  in  all  aspects  of  life  and  Smithy  and  Feuta  are  proof  of  that  in  their  business.  I  was  lucky  enough  to  play  school  boy  football  with  them  at  Whitefriars  and  therefore  got  a  good  insight  into  their  contrasting  sporting  talents  and  approaches  to  life.  Smithy  played  football  like  he  was  wearing  overalls  in  the  mould  Joel  Selwood,  Dane  Swan,  and  his  boyhood  hero  Stan  Magro;  no  pretense,  no  fashionable  flair,  no  wasted  sentiment  and  nothing  left  in  the  tank  at  the  final  siren.  We  used  to  shut  our  eyes  with  anguish  when  we  watched  him  charging  into  packs.  Usually  he  came  out  OK,  but  sometimes  not.  He  would  have  been  one  of  the  first  picked  because  the  coaches  knew  exactly  what  they  would  get;  endeavour  and  skill  and  a  few  sore  heads  on  the  opposition’s  side.  He  had  legs  like  marble,  a  torso  like  an  aged  river  red  gum  and  he  attacked  the  ball  harder  than  a  charging  rhino.

Feuta  on  the  other  hand  played  in  a  suit.  Class,  polish  and  time.  He  played  with  a  low  centre  of  gravity  and  was  able  to  simply  drift  away  from  opponents  to  find  space.  He  was  hard  at  it  but  seemed  to  instinctively  rotate  or  swivel  or  blind  turn  until  he  found  a  better  option  than  getting  crunched.  Smart  player  I  reckon.  Now  he  and  Smithy  help  operate  their  accounting  practice  together  like  a  well  oiled  machine.

When  we  all  arrived  at  the  Hilton  I  was  immediately  conscious  of  being  surrounded  by  footballing  royalty.  Of  course  Neil  Balme  was  prominent  but  other  “faces”  included  Dermie,  Bucks,  Lingy,  Brad  Sewell,  Cowboy  Neil  (looks  the  same  now  as  when  he  was  playing),  Gavin  Brown,  Craig  Kelly,  Brendan  Gale,  David  Neitz,  Barry  Richardson,  and,  how  could  I  leave  out,  Straughnie.

Brian  Cooke  was  there  as  was  Gary  March  and  whilst  I  didn’t  see  him  there  was  a  large  round  of  applause  when  it  was  announced  that  Jimmy  Stynes  was  in  the  audience.  Sam  Kekovich  called  in  via  a  recorded  video  message  and  duly  made  the  whole  thing  about  him  (very  funny  nonetheless),  and  Neville  Roberts  from  Norwood  footy  club  in  South  Australia  was  also  interviewed  via  a  phone  hook  up.

But  the  night  was  made  by  the  MC  Kevin  Bartlett,  whose  control  of  the  night  and  brilliant  repartee  was  at  times  biting,  at  times  controversial,  at  time  hilarious,  but  always  first  class.

KB  came  out  with  some  superb  one  liners.  When  Balmey  had  a  go  at  him  for  being  a  lousy  tackler  in  his  playing  days  Bartlett  retorted,

“I  was  no  good  at  tackling  because  I  always  had  the  ball.”

And  when  he  was  talking  to  Balmey  about  Balme’s  sacking  from  Melbourne  as  the  senior  coach  by  the  then  president  Joe  Gutnik,  Bartlett  added,

“And  by  the  way  Balmey,  Joe  Gutnick  sends  his  regards  from  a  diamond  mine  in  South  Africa.”

But  the  best  story  involved  Balme’s  time  coaching  Melbourne.  It  was  during  this  time  that  David  Schwartz  exploded  onto  the  scene.  He  went  through  a  purple  patch  where  he  was  tearing  games  apart  single  handedly  and  due  to  his  size  and  strength  got  the  nickname  “The  Ox”.  As  David  Neitz  relayed  “Schwarter  got  a  bit  ahead  of  himself”  when  he  went  out  and  purchased  a  Saab  convertible  sports  car  and  attached  the  number  plate  “THE  OX”  to  his  beloved  machine.  One  Sunday  morning  training  session,  after  a  tough  Melbourne  loss,  Balmey  arrived  ill  of  temper  and  lacking  sleep  only  to  see  the  Saab  with  “THE  OX”  number  plates  parked  in  his  spot.  Balmey  decided  it  was  time  to  deflate  Schwartz’s  ego  a  bit,  so  he  stormed  into  the  changing  rooms  and  bellowed  at  the  top  of  his  voice,

“Who  the  fu!*  is  THEO-X”

During  the  night  Cameron  Ling  spoke  of  Balme’s  influence  at  Geelong  and  Nathan  Buckley  about  his  lasting  impression  at  Collingwood.  All  through  these  chats  Kevin  Bartlett  sarcastically  referred  to  Balme  as  “the  world’s  greatest  football  operations  manager”.  It  was  done  with  fabulous  humour  and  underlying  respect.

We  watched  some  highlights  of  Balme’s  playing  days  featuring  the  inevitable  display  of  “Balmey’s  hits”  including  the  infamous  belt  on  Geoff  Southby  in  the  1973  Grand  Final.  After  the  video  Bartlett  quipped  that  they  had  invited  Southby  but  his  RSVP  simply  read  “Get  stuffed  Balmey”.

We  were  then  entertained  by  a  collage  of  photos  from  Balmey’s  past.  There  was  Balmey  asleep  in  a  deck  chair,  Balmey  as  a  teenager  with  a  few  mates,  Balmey  firing  a  rifle  whilst  out  hunting,  and  a  disturbing  photo  of  Balmey  standing  on  the  beach  with  flippers  on  his  feet  and  dressed  only  in  speedos.  The  roasting  of  Balmey  was  about  complete.

When  it  was  Balmey’s  time  to  speak  we  got  an  insight  into  why  he  is  now  so  respected  in  footy  circles.  He  spoke  fondly  of  the  game  itself,  the  people  he’d  met  along  the  way  and  especially  of  his  time  at  Norwood.  He  joked  about  criticism  that  he  wasn’t  great  at  attending  pre  season  training  sessions  by  saying  that  “I  liked  to  train  in  secret  a  lot”.  He  talked  about  how  football  clubs  can  be  serious  places  at  times  but  ultimately  they  are  “just  footy  clubs”  and  that  the  most  important  part  of  them  is  the  people.  His  style  is  naturally  inclusive,  relaxed  and  easy  going  but  perhaps  the  most  endearing  part  of  his  character  is  that  he  doesn’t  take  himself  too  seriously.  He  would  be  to  young  footballers  what  an  inflatable  jumping  castle  is  to  little  kids;  somewhere  to  go  to  bounce  around  for  a  while  knowing  that  you  will  leave  safe  and  grounded.

The  night  ended  late;  far  too  late.  Smithy,  Feuta,  Tony  and  I  were  the  last  to  leave  as  we  stood  at  the  back  of  the  room  having  a  few  quiet  beers  –  and  shooting  the  breeze  with  Balmey.

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sorpranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Phantom says:

    Dips,

    my information, from a few decades back, on Neil Balme was that he was referred to as ‘mum’s boy’ when he first went to Richmond.

    Apparently his mother came over to help her little boy settle in because he was a long way from home. This fact was duely noted.

    Some one may be able to confirm that.

    Probably wouldn’t be wise to ask him.

    Cheers Phantom.

  2. Phantom – reference was made by K Bartlett that Balmey was a sook. Got the audience laughing very loud when he described Balmey’s whinging at chafing between his thighs during pre season running work. Bartlett reckoned it was Balme’s excuse for leaving the track early.

    Personally I wouldn’t put this fact to him unless I was in a different postcode.

  3. Phantom says:

    Dips,

    we had a bloke at Old Scotch they used to call the moth.

    Used to leave the training track early and spend a lot of time under the lamp.

  4. Phantom – at school I played footy with a bloke who could not only name the injured muscle, but could give you the Latin medical name for it as well. Like “I can’t play because I’ve pulled a rectus abdominis.”

    Sometimes I reckon the heart string is the most vulnerable muscle for ordinary footballers.

  5. Phantom says:

    What about ‘torn an attitude muscle’

  6. Richard Jones says:

    DIPS: pls. excuse a very prosaic geography question.

    Where in the world is Whitefriars College? It sounds as if it could be based in the green English home counties, perhaps even within the hallowed walls of Oxford or Cambridge. Again, it might be a college which pops up on an episode of ITV’s Midsomer Murders.

    But given that u and mates played Aussie Rules footy, I imagine it might be a Victorian secondary institution under the banner of the Vicar of Rome.
    My uneducated guess is that WC is located in the bayside area — say Cheltenham, Chelsea or perhaps closer in at Elwood.

  7. Richard – Whitefriars College sits amongst the trees in a far flung suburb of Melbourne called Donvale. Donvale is situated near other larger burbs like Mitcham, Warrandyte, and Doncaster.

    It is run by the Carmelite Order which operates within the one true Catholic Church. Called Whitefriars because the Carmelites used to dress in white hooded gowns (no not the KKK) in the tradition of European friars.

  8. Phantom says:

    The unique white kit would get a bit messy frying fresh Friday fish for for all those students.

  9. Dips,

    When I was young, I used to write down the goals and behinds in the Footy Record at Richmond games. I recall being about seven when I ran out of space one day in the section next to No.21. Balmey had kicked so many goals that I had to encroach into the space for behinds. From memory, he kicked seven that day, which was a lot to a seven-year-old.

    After that, I was given a yellow windcheater on to which I drew a big No.21 on the back in black Hobbytex.

    I thought of Balmey as a glamorous player but he also had a dangerous edge. It’s that combination which has beguiled me and others throughout his footy life.

    Great piece. I’d like another one where you just concentrate on your Whitefriars mates. They sound like good footy blokes.

  10. Phantom says:

    We like Balmey down at “Sleepy Hollow” just quietly Daff.

    Along with a few other astute off field pick ups he has played no small part in the current Cat status.

    (Was his hair style “mullett” or just long?)

  11. Phantom says:

    Daff,

    yellow windcheater with black Hobbytex.

    That sounds like its worth a mention in the “Outer Wear” section of Crio’s current Question.

  12. Richard Naco says:

    I would have expected Carmelites to wear a pale brown get-up.

    (Or am I mixing them up with the latest incarnation of Mars Bars?)

  13. Richard – they used to wear brown outfits, now they wear jeans and a T-shirt.

    Daff – when I was a little kid Balmey scared me. Mad bastard! Now he’s cool and calm and very easy with his lot.

  14. Phantom,

    No mullet. Balmey had long hair.

    And just quietly, did he approach coaching the same way he does footy managing?

    Talking to people in an affable way is great for personal relations, but it might have lacked the required intensity as a coach.

  15. Daff – I don’t think Balmey had the killer coaching instinct. Apparently when he was coaching he was heard to say to a young recruit, who was having a horrible day, that if the young fella kept playing the way he was “You and me will no longer be friends.” Hardly the stuff to fire the young man up!

  16. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Talking footy (especially the past), drinking beers with mates – nirvana.
    Great piece Dips – what is the nickname for the Whitefriars? Could be interesting…?

  17. Rocket – The MIGHTY FRIARS !! Sounds better when you say it out loud.

  18. johnharms says:

    Daff

    Hobbytex just hasn’t kicked on the way we all thought it would.

    A bit like those glass cutters that turned long-necks into brandy tumblers.

    And Rocket, I did a piece on Glencoe (SE South Aust) on Saturday on SA Grandstand. They are maroon and gold and are known as The Murphys. OUtstsanding. because Glencoe was full of potato farmers.

    They lost their centenary match to Kalangadoo.

    Kybybolite is on top of the Kowee, Narracoorte, Tatiara (or whatever that league is down there). Jack Trengove is from Kyby. He will be a champion. I think he and young Dangerfiled should think about the good life in The Pivot.

  19. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    All very Celtic down at Glencoe, SA.

    Are they self-proclaimed as the Murphys or was the nickname assigned to them?

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