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Almanac Memoir: Caught in the race with Kennedy’s Commandos

John Harms introduces Richard Griffiths:

 

I’d never met Richard Griffiths until, out of the blue, he rang me in about 2002 to tell me he related very strongly to my book Loose Men Everywhere. So we went to lunch – at the Lord Stanley Hotel just up Stanley St from the famous Gabba.. It was a classic lunch. Richard was then running AFL Queensland. We used to do some NIRS radio together. It was a lot of fun.

 

Richard is a real footy person. He played at Carey Grammar and then had a couple of games with Hawthorn Under 19s in 1977. He played senior footy at Queenscliff, Coburg and Prahran.

 

He has worked at Melbourne FC (in the Neil Balme years), was CEO of AFLQ and is now Chief Operating Oficer at the rising GWS Giants.

 

He loves the game, and the life around the game, as this brilliant memoir ‘Caught in the race with Kennedy’s Commandos’ demonstrates:

 

 

Richard Griffiths and Kennedy's commandos in the race

Young Richard Griffiths, age 12, caught in the race at Glenferrie Oval, as David Parkin leads the Hawks out. [Photo: Griffiths family collection]

by Richard Griffiths

 

1969.

 

And in Australia we watched our own Johnny Famechon become the world featherweight boxing champion, Lionel Rose was named Australian of the Year, Johnny Farnham crowned King of Pop, Ronnie Burns sang Smiley in protest of the Vietnam War, Harry M Miller produced the Australian verssion of Hair, Rainlover won the Melbourne Cup and Richmond defeated Carlton to take out the VFL Premiership.

 

We watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider and the Wild Bunch on the big screen and on television Homicide, Division 4, Skippy, Pick-A-Box and, every Sunday, World of Sport much to the chagrin of some mothers hoping for a sport-free day to enjoy the family roast. Even more galling to them was flicking across to Channel O at 2pm to catch Port Melbourne versus Dandenong to the dulcet tones of Ted Henry and Maurie Gibbs and the inevitable blood bath that would ensue featuring the likes of Buster Harland, Billy Swann, Norm Brown and the great Freddie Cook.

 

As a ten year old from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne life revolved around playing footy and cricket at primary school and religiously following the Mighty Hawks each Saturday afternoon during the footy season. My father was a fanatical Hawthorn supporter (we now call them fans) and we would head off with my brother to watch them play at all of the suburban grounds scattered around Melbourne and of course that dreadfully long drive to Kardinia Park in Geelong!

 

I have vivid memories of the grounds and standing in the outer on freezing winter afternoons following the fortunes of the Hawks who in 1969 were on the improve thanks partly to a fellow called Peter Hudson who had arrived from Tasmania in 1967 and who had booted a ton of goals in 1968. Windy Hill, Princes Park, Victoria Park, Arden St, Western Oval and Moorabbin Oval each had their own distinct characteristics and landmarks. All were hostile environments that bled the suburban tribalism of the VFL competition of the day.

 

But it was the ‘sardine can’ bordered by the Ferntree Gully railway line, the Hawthorn Pool, Grace Park tennis courts and Linda Crescent called Glenferrie Oval that I considered my second home-somewhere safe and familiar and a place where magical moments would take place. The old dark brick grandstand towered over me like a monolith, the newer Ferguson Stand housed the away rooms and a small fragile structure on the Linda Crescent side wing was perched for the coach to bellow instructions to his frantic players. There was a small souvenir stall selling knick-knacks (we now call it merchandise) and a funny looking portly character affectionately known as the Peanut Man who would sell brown paper bags full of peanuts still in their shells.

 

For most games we stood on the half forward flank on the railway line side (right opposite where Peter Hudson was to crumble to the ground in Round 1 1972 after tangling with Melbourne’s Ray Biffen) close to the action and close to my hero Bob Keddie who roamed the half forward line full chested and biceps glistening in the winter sun. Trains would slow down as they crawled past the ground to catch a glimpse of the action and inevitably would toot the horn to everyone’s annoyance.

 

This was the era of Kennedys Commando’s! Fellows like Don Scott, Ian Bremner, Mick Porter, Norm Bussell, Neil Ferguson, Geoff Angus and Bruce Stevenson. Youngsters in Leigh Matthews and Peter Knights had just arrived and made their debuts in 1969-things were on the way up after some lean years following the 1963 Grand Final loss to Geelong. Gladiators them all – nothing brilliant or flashy but a team based on supreme fitness and unrelenting numbers at the ball to force it forward any way possible to Number 26 who sat one out in the goal square with his opponent-he would do the rest. One glorious afternoon in 1969 this magician booted 16 goals against a hapless Demon defence – the Hawks were on the verge!

 

One day I endured a terrifying experience at Glenferrie Oval. I was caught in the players’ race with Kennedy’s Commandos. Twenty brutes staring down the race with but one intent – destruction.

 

I had made my way to the souvenir stall before the game which required me to navigate through the milling crowd, away team race and the Hawks race. After purchasing a Hawk pen to mark the goals in the Footy Record, a couple player names for mum to sew onto my duffle coat sleeve and a Hawk button I made my way back. As I entered the Hawthorn race the sliding mesh gate slammed behind me and on the other side an older chap in a long woollen overcoat and cap barked at me to stay put. I was trapped, nowhere to go or move – there was no escaping. Then I heard the sound of the metal stops of the footy boots crunching on the asphalt. A strange smell emerged – a bit like the Vicks Vapour Rub mum would rub on my chest when I had a cold. I later learnt that this green pungent liquid was called Penetrene and it relaxed your muscles ready for a hard game.

 

I could hardly lay my eyes on the Goliaths before me but I did and I was in awe. The glistening biceps and quads resplendent and shining with copious amounts of oil. Some of them had pristine white ankle supports that contrasted beautifully with the polished black boots some of which had white stripes, a flash or even white diamonds. Moulded soles were on the way in – move aside Ron Barassi steel toed super boot.

 

Unbeknown to me a photographer had taken a snap of skipper David Parkin leading his warriors out to battle- and a boy trapped among his heroes with no escape until the man himself coach John Kennedy marched onto the ground with the demeanour and candour of the statesman he was.

 

The photo shows the fierce and determined face of David Parkin almost snarling as he leads his charges, followed by Vice Captain Rod Ollsson in one of his last games before heading to the Apple Isle to captain–coach Sandy Bay. Behind him is the tall and angular figure of Ken Beck the ungainly ruckman. We see a glimpse of hard man Lance Morton and behind him the left footed wingman Des Meagher who was notorious for tumbling punts in the direction of the uncanny Hudson.

 

I love the fact there are no sponsor logos on the jumper – not even a VFL logo. I love the traditional black home footy knicks with the fly and buttons at the front and those buckle things on the side to make sure they fit tight and snug. The footy jumper was changing in 1969. A more acrylic/synthetic type fabric that was close fitting. Gone was the bulky, itchy woollen jumper with the flapping collar and heavy plastic numbers on the back. Track suit tops for the 19th and 20th men were replacing the woollen dressing gowns – the look of the game was changing as was the game itself. Within five years the League introduced a diamond in the centre of the ground to curtail the Hawks game plan and quell the dominance of Hudson who was still out injured with a bung knee at the time.

 

When I was finally released from this prison I hurriedly made my way back to Dad to tell him of my surreal experience amongst my heroes. “Yes Dad I got caught in the race with Kennedy’s Commandos and it was great!”

 

After the game we would drive home in our white Valiant listening on the car radio to 3AW with Harry Bietzel and Tommy Lahiff to get all the round-the –ground scores and match post mortems. Then it was to the Fish ‘n Chip shop or the local Chinese food take away outlet with the stainless steel pots (there were no plastic take away containers in those days) for a serving of Chicken Chow Mein and fried rice. We always arrived home in time for the Channel 7 replay on the His Masters Voice tele and the Vulcan heater on high.

 

After the replay my brother and I would play kick-to-kick down the hallway with the nerf footy or we would roll up some footy socks to boot at each other. Sometimes if we had the courage we would kick a real leather Lyrebird at each other and pray our accuracy was ‘on song’ so as not to leave marks on the walls – Mum would kill us! When mum said enough so she and dad could watch the FBI with Efrem Zimbalist Junior on Channel 2 I would get out my Mobil footy cards or count how many Scanlen’s footy cards I had so I could calculate how much it might cost me to reach the full set of 44. If I could be bothered I would try and match the back of the cards a bit like a jigsaw puzzle featuring an action shot of the previous year’s Grand Final – Have Fun With Scanlen’s Gum….

 

Caught in the race with Kennedy’s Commandos is a moment in time that will remain with me forever and typifies the innocence and terror of the game at a time when footy was pure, raw and everything a young kid lived for.

 

 

Comments

  1. What a great read, my memories of football in the late 60’s & 70’s down to a tee, just one issue with it – ‘right opposite where Peter Hudson was to crumble to the ground in Round 1 1972 after tangling with Melbourne’s Ray Biffen’ – i think you will find it was Barry Bourke, NOT Ray Biffen, cheers!

  2. I’ve trawled through a lot of old footy photos in compiling various pieces and there is a dearth of really good quality colour shots of the 1960’s and before. Many are merely black & white photos that have been artificially coloured. This one always stood out, though I’d never noticed the boy trapped in the race, or at least thought twice about why he was there.

    I love these quirky stories, and the memories that an image like this can spark. I used to play school matches and train at Glenferrie Oval and it fascinated me how it could have once been a VFL ground. Thanks Richard for painting a vivid picture beyond the pic.

  3. Peter Fuller says:

    Wonderful moment for you Richard; many of we older blokes will be envious of your special experience, while younger Almanackers will marvel at some kid achieving such proximity on match day. Your account is marvellously evocative of another time, as far removed from contemporary AFL a the i-pad is from the non remote controlled HMV (probably a 24 inch, since you made it to Carey). Btw Phil Gibbs not Maurie; my mate used to label him glib Phil.

  4. I’m a South Australian by birth but visited Melbourne on family holidays a few times in the late 60’s. Went to Lakeside Oval and the MCG for VFL games and was stunned by the ferocity of the crowds compared to genteel Adelaide. Dad had friends in Maningtree Road in Hawthorn and we visited the old Glenferrie Oval during the week during training to see the great Peter Hudson. The place was so tiny and claustrophobic. Seemed like a toy ground rather than a real footy oval, but it must have been ferocious on match day.
    Thanks for all the cultural memories.
    We were still a white colonial outpost at the bottom of the world in the 60’s. Vietnam and Gough and technology changed all that. We can’t go back – except in share memories.
    Thanks Richard.

  5. Great story Richard and what a fantastic photo. As a Blue I love David Parkin. Would love to know when you first learned about the photo.

  6. Peter Vodicka says:

    I’m the other 12 year old standing outside the race behind Lawrie Langdon (wearing the cap), who was on the door for 20 years, as well as managing the Hawthorn swimming pool in summer. According to David Parkin, this photo always creates some interest/debate. Even Dermot Brereton apparently says its his favourite football photo of all time.

  7. Brilliant. Thanks Richard

    What an awesome and scary photo of Parko

    Really evocative writing and love the transport back in time to a simple life

    I was at Glenferrie Oval only last Saturday, watching my 16 year old son training on these same hallowed grounds, wearing Hawks colours. The ground is still beautiful

    sean

  8. Thanks Richard.

    Made me feel better.

  9. Brilliant Richard and what an awesome photo

  10. Great story Richard. That photo was used in a book The 500 Club, written by Warwick Hadfield and Kevin Sheedy.
    I was fortunate to live accross the road from the famous Glenferrie Oval when Scwabby was coaching the Hawks and despite being a Carlton man, often watched training and grabbed a snag or two – classical Hawthorn.

  11. charlie brown says:

    Loved your article Richard. As others have mentioned it is written in such a way that your reader is taken back in time to recollect and reminisce about their own Saturday afternoon and evening footy rituals.
    Being from Adelaide i did not have the opportunity to get to Glenferrie to watch a Hawks match. I am intrigued by the references to the size (or lack thereof) of the Glenferrie Oval. How big was it compared with, say, the SCG? Was it much smaller than say the Junction or Punt Road ovals?

  12. Terrific Richard. I looked at this photo and knew there was something different about it, but couldn’t quite place what it was. Then, in the piece, you told me – the footy jumpers are free of logos and crap!! They look so clean, uncluttered and genuine.

  13. Earl O'Neill says:

    Great piece Richard, thanx. Tho I grew up in Sydney, much of your piece rings true. We followed the Berries (now the Bulldogs) and Belmore Oval, not much smaller than Glenferrie but more spectator space, bordered a train line, yep, they’d slow down as they went past.
    I was down at Cronulla when I was 12, the rooms were a couple of sheds behind the small stand, you could listen to the coach berate the players, when they came out for the second half I was stunned. These men had thighs bigger than my torso!
    Many memories triggered; played fine, son.

  14. Hi Richard you might enjoy this one I wrote a few years ago
    http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/vfl-round-16-1968-hawthorn-v-collngwood/
    Cheers
    Noel

  15. Thanks for the memories, Richard.
    And what a wonderful photograph.

    It seems that many of us had footy rituals which were oh so similar.

  16. Brilliant story Richard, and what a photo! PH is the reason my father decided to go with the brown and gold after arriving here from Ireland in 1969. What a blessing. I spent many Saturdays watching the Hawks play at VFL Park some years later and I reckon the same bloke was selling peanuts there as well. Classic. Thanks for the story.

  17. Richard Griffiths says:

    Thanks everyone for your kind comments and recollections. Of course it was Barry Bourke who tangled with Huddo and Phil Gibbs on Channel 0-who was Maurie Gibbs?…
    Incredible reply from Peter Vodicka the kid outside the race! We should catch up and get a pic with Parko. I rang him before i wrote the piece and he loved chatting about the Hawks and that pic. Thanks again-a time when footy was footy.

  18. Rick Kane says:

    Great story for such a stunning picture. And what a moment for you. Thanks Richard.

    There are so many elements of the picture, your story and the times that signify a different time. No tatts for a start! However, footy beyond the AFL structures is pretty close to the sentiment of this snap. I love how close to the action you can still get at a VFL game, including sitting behind your team’s bench and going out on to the ground at quarter time to hear the coach’s address. When Hodgey played a VFL match a couple of years ago against the Pies we literally sat within arm’s reach of him as he stood on the boundary bellowing orders. Loved it.

  19. Warwick Thomas says:

    Great piece Richard, and what a well dressed young man, no doubt Saturday Footy was a big day out. I remember the peanut guy, he carried a sack over his shoulder and was a deadly accurate throw in delivering those small bags of peanuts to the customers – hard worker too, used to front up to the VFA on a Sunday as well. The great Bob Keddie was a teacher at my school, South Camberwell Primary, and in 1967 he organized our school team to play the all powerful Ashburton PS at half time Hawks Vs South Melbourne. I played full back and saw a lot of the play down my end. I remember some guy in the crowd giving me a bit of a sledge for some reason. The Hawks put on a bit of a do for us kids afterwards with cold pies and warm Marchants soft drinks, what a great day full of memories for me. I like to think that Bob Keddie, who is a terrific guy, gave the VFL the idea for what was the Little League half time matches (now Auskick). By the way, I think that Maurice Gibb was a singer so gngwriter who along with his brothers had some success around the 1970’s.

  20. Anna Galbally says:

    Thanks Richard, such an evocative piece so many touchstones for that era. Memories came flooding back. When did we become “fans” and not “supporters”? I much prefer to be a supporter, it suggests a bond and a relationship which is how I feel about my team even today despite the commercialism.
    I am a little bit younger than you and never got to see Hawthorn play a match at Linda Crescent but I have many fond memories of watching them train there and being in the rooms afterwards watching the giants up close – and collecting autographs (which I still have): Moncreiff, Martello, Moore, Matthews’ (Leigh and Kelvin) to name but the ‘M’s. One of the trainers was also our Postman in East Hawthorn and was always good for some news as he made his rounds. Al Martello was an electrician and the Kennedy’s were the local plumbers. My mum told stories of going to dances at the local church where John Kennedy would have mustered many of his young charges into attendence. Maybe it is nostalgia, but it felt like football was woven into our community.
    Thanks again of the story and stirring the memories.

  21. Hi Anna, your comment reminded me that in the Latin languages ‘nostalgie’ is ‘returning to what has formed you’. It comes with a hint of sadness and lament. In English we use ‘nostalgia’ differently. I think what you and Richard describe is a lament for the loss of a personal, community, club-based footy. I had a crack at explaining this in Loose Men Everyhwere. Great days, as Richard describes.

  22. Peter Haby says:

    Hello from the Hawks Museum …
    Thanks Richard for posting your fascinating story … when we were putting the book, ‘We are Hawthorn the Pictorial History of the HFC” together back in 1990 … published in 2001 we used that photo of David Parkin leading the team down the race at Glenferrie … we search far & wide to who the young boy may have been … now 15 years later we now know who he is … thanks for telling us the story …

  23. Peter Haby says:

    Hello from the Hawks Museum …
    Peter Vodka & Richard Griffiths have you been able to meet up? … it would be great to get together with David Parkin to get a photo of you 3 together … would you both be appearing in Melbourne during the finals where we maybe able to arrange a photo … I’m sure Kenny Beck, third in line in the original photo would like to be included …

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