“Be Home Before Dark……” by KB Hill

The bloke on the door ushered me into the dressing-rooms on that wintry day in 1961.

 

The opportunity for a starry-eyed 13 year-old to catch a glimpse of the cream of the Ovens and Murray, limbering up for the clash with Goulburn Valley, was too good to miss.

 

Those icons of the game looked even more imposing in their Gold and Black guernseys :

‘…’.There’s Donny Ross, the former Footscray centreman….and the red-haired rough-nut, Lionel Ryan.…..Burly ‘Pascoe’ Ellis looks pretty calm and collected…… So does the coach, Bobby Rose, who’s offering a few pearls of wisdom to individual players, like Harold Davies and Kevin Mack.’

 

‘High-marking, long-kicking Ron McDonald played League footy last year.…… His club-mates, Neville Waller and Bobby Constable are yapping with him…..’Bushy’s’ in such good form he has pushed the prolific goal-kicker Stan Sargeant out to the forward flank today.’

 

‘Who’s the slightly-built kid sitting in the corner ? Heck, he’s got the looks of a choir-boy……must be no more than 18 or 19…..Ah, it’s Billy Gayfer from Rutherglen.’

 

Fifty-seven years later, Billy is hazy on the finer details of that game, but recalls what a thrill it was to represent the O & M. He had to pull out two or three other times with injury, he says. Playing in a struggling side, it was like a Grand Final when you got to wear the prized inter-League jumper.

 

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We’re at the Gayfer residence. You can see Barkly Park in the distance – the home of the Rutherglen Football Club. It’s an Oval chock-full of history and was virtually the hub of the Ovens and Murray in the gold-mining and pre-WWI days.

 

The mighty Redlegs picked up thirteen premierships in just 22 years, and were all-powerful. Their next flag came in 1935, under the coaching of ex-Essendon player Jack Hiskins. One of the match-winners in that game was Bill’s dad, Harry Ledwin Gayfer, universally known as Mick.

 

An intense distaste of the city prevented Mick from playing League footy, despite assurances that he’d make it without a doubt. He was chased by Collingwood, Melbourne and Footscray, but couldn’t bear to leave home. A bad knee injury finished his career, aged 21.

 

He remained involved with the Club, and passed on his fervour to his son, who made Barkly Park his second home. The only stipulation his mum gave Bill was that the wood-box needed to be filled before he left – and he had to be home before dark.

 

“I’d spend four nights a week down there, having a kick, watching the boys in action, then eventually being invited to join in some of the training. I lived for footy.” he recalls. “Greg Tate ( the coach ) kept an eye on me. He was a terrific fellah.”

 

In 1954, under Tate, Rutherglen won their last – and probably most famous – premiership. “I can still remember it. Mum and dad heading off to Albury in the family ute…… My sister and I in the back…..We were as happy as Larry on the way home….”

 

Bill was slotted in for his first Reserves game that year, aged 13. Unfortunately, when he made his senior debut two years later, the Club had begun a downward spiral.

 

“The coach was the only one who got paid. There wasn’t too much money around in a small Club like ours. In fact, we had to pay 2 bob a week into the Provident Fund. But we were a tight-knit mob, and were always hard to beat at Barkly Park; sides didn’t like coming here. And our fanatical supporters used to sometimes boot us home.”

 

A lack of depth proved to be the ‘Glen’s problem. They were always competitive, and had a few stand-outs who would keep them in the game for long periods before being worn down. Players like lanky Reggie Edwards, who was ever-dangerous up-forward; Ken and Barry Baker, Ian Auldist, John Tafft and Ron ‘Yankee’ Milthorpe.

 

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But Gayfer was the star and the midfield was his spot. He could also be thrown onto the ball with instant results, and – despite a slender frame and his height of five foot ten and a half – spent time at centre half forward.

 

The first task of opposition sides was to ensure they shut him down. But he was rarely beaten.

 

“He was a brillIant centreman……” says Neville Hogan, who had a few tussles with him during the sixties. “….had great stamina, always racked up plenty of possessions, and did a lot of damage with them.”

 

The year Hogan took out the Morris Medal – 1966 – Gayfer finished fifth. It was the closest he came to winning the coveted gong, despite being perennially tipped as one of the favourites.

 

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Bill won his first Rutherglen best and fairest in 1960, and also saluted in 1962, ‘63, ‘66 and ‘69. As one of the O & M’s young guns in the early sixties, he was strongly pursued by several VFL clubs. Like his dad, the wrench of leaving home proved too strong.

 

He signed a Form Four with Collingwood at one stage. They suggested he spend a week down there training with them. But when it came to booking accomodation, they told him they couldn’t afford it.

 

Later on, Graeme McKenzie, the North Albury coach and former Fitzroy captain, pushed him in the Lions’ direction. Bill played on a half back flank in a practice match, alongside the legendary Kevin Murray, and went okay, he says.

 

As was the norm in this era, VFL clubs named their official lists on the eve of the season. Bill picked up the ‘Sun’ on the Monday morning to find himself on Fitzroy’s Final List.

 

But he had no further contact from them, and remained a Redleg.

 

Bill was around 25 when he finally made the move from Rutherglen, to accept a coaching appointment at Balldale. He was later lured out to Brockelsby as playing-coach. “We looked a chance to play finals, but lost a few handy players in the latter part of the season, and bombed out,” he says.

 

So he headed back to Rutherglen to complete his career, and help out by coaching the ‘two’s’.
With a growing brood, and flat-chat with his work as a builder, footy, as ever, was his outlet.

 

His wife Rosemarie says that Bill’s pre-match ritual was to do a spot of ‘craying’ down at the Murray River, then have a steak for brunch, washed down with a couple of sherries……,”Got the blood flowing,” he says.

 

 

When he retired at the end of the 1970 season he had chalked up 175 senior games with the Redlegs – without ever playing in a Final.

 

He received recognition for his illustrious career in later years; being named in both Rutherglen’s 1950-1978 ‘Best-Ever’ Team and Corowa-Rutherglen’s Team of the Century. He was inducted to the Ovens and Murray’s Hall of Fame in 2012.

 

But Bill and Rosemarie’s football involvement was far from over. With eight kids – Michael, John, Tony, Susan, Peter, David, Ben and Will – their time was pretty much consumed with sporting activities. The boys all learned the fundamentals at Barkly Park, but their careers diverged.

 

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Rosemarie says she’d sometimes attend four games of footy a week-end – whether it be Coreen League juniors, O & M, Bushrangers or beyond. “Our 16-seater Bus came in handy for transporting kids to games,” she says.

 

Bill used to take the mickey out of local die-hards whenever they’d start to spruik about the Mighty Magpies. But he had to change his tune once his eldest son became entrenched in the Collingwood line-up.

 

Michael was to become a close-checking, highly-effective back man during his eight-year, 142-game stint at Victoria Park. He figured in the drought-breaking 1990 Premiership and when delisted at the age of 28, soldiered on for several years in country football.

 

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“He had great concentration, Michael,” says Bill. “People labelled him as a ‘stopper’, but when he left League footy he became a really attacking player. He won the Medal as the best player in a National Country Carnival.”

 

Tony, a strong ruck-rover, and adept with both feet, was a key player in good Corowa-Rutherglen sides for years, and later coached Rutherglen and Tatura…… “Had a bit of shit in him…” Bill adds.

 

Peter made his name as a half back flanker with North Old Boys, Redan and Hamilton. David, who once trained at Hawthorn, later played with Ringwood and Banyule.

 

Will, after starring in defence in the 2003 TAC Cup Grand Final, was surprisingly passed over in the Draft of that year. He went on to play with South Adelaide, Keysborough and The Basin.

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When Michael’s time was up at Collingwood, he was enticed to Tatura by his his old Collingwood team-mate Paul Hawke. The G.V Bulldogs took out the flag in 1995. Also in the side was a 20 year-old David Gayfer.

 

Three years later, when Tat appointed Tony as captain-coach, he guided the side to another title, sharing in the triumph with Michael, and Peter – who was working at Echuca.

 

Bill Gayfer coached heaps of kids in junior footy over the years. But he has no doubt who was the stand-out. I’ll let him tell the story:

 

“I got a phone call from Christine Longmire one Friday night, asking if her son could be squeezed in for a game with our Coreen League junior side.”

 

“How old is he Christine .”  “Thirteen,” she said.   “Sorry, he’s too young.”

 

“Oh, come on Bill.”    “Okay then, send him along.”

 

“As soon as I saw John Longmire, I knew he was going to be something special. And he was one of the nicest kids you’d ever meet.”

 

“Ironically, he ended up keeping  Peter out of the side.”

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KB’s original article can be read here along with other fine works at his site, “On Reflection” here.

 

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Comments

  1. george smith says:

    OK, Mr Gayfer had a winery at Chiltern, which turned out the most amazing ports, muscats and durif wines. Unfortunately when the freeway went through, it went right through the winery. Mr Gayfer then retired, so no more wine. It’s still available at exorbitant prices from various wine merchants.

    For a Canberra boy driving to Melbourne to visit relatives and see the mighty Magpies, it was a special place indeed.

    I had some left over bottles after the winery closed. Of course my brothers drank them in my absence.

  2. Rocket Singers says:

    Another great piece from KB.

    Fascinating account of the Rutherglen footy club and their success and then subsequent demise in the O & M. Fifteen premierships!

    The great shame is that after the de-merger with Corowa that they didn’t become the Redlegs again. Now they’re the Cats or some such thing.

    The 1995 Tatura team that won the premiership under “The Fox” Paul Hawke that the Gayfer bros played in is regarded as among the best-ever in the GVL. However, they’re about to be eclipsed by the current Kyabram team that has not been beaten since the 2015 GVL grand final.

    Mick Gayfer was known as “The Blanket” when he played in the NSW Origin teams in the early 90s such was his prowess in shacling his opponents. Did a superb job on Dermot Brereton in the historic 1991 win over Victoria at the SCG.

  3. I only went to the Rutherglen ground once. My grandparents took me to a match on the first weekend of the 1973 season finals, though i’m struggling to remember who played.

    It certainly wasn’t the old Redback Spiders nor was it the Saints from Myrtleford. It may have been Wodonga, or the ‘hoppers’ from North Albury, possibly against Benalla; now no longer in the O & M league.

    Anybody recall who played in that match ?

    Glen!

  4. Rocket Singers says:

    Benalla won the their last ever O & M premiership in 1973 by beating North Albury.

    Defender Brian Symes kept the legendary Hoppers star full-forward Stan Sargant in check.

  5. G’day Dr Rocket.

    Thanks for that news.

    Do you know who played in that final at Rutherglen? I’m sure it wasn’t the GF, being the first week of the finals.

    Glen!

  6. Singers Rocket says:

    No mate, can’t you remember? Too young???

    And who was the coach of Benalla in 1973?
    Met him at a Swans game at the SCG…

  7. Dr Rocket Nguyen, i was a happy 10 years old back in 1973. Some things are clear from that halcyon period,other like this one are gone in the fog of time.

    George Tobias was still playing for Corowa,i recall names like Phipps, Eales, Witherden in their line up,but i’m struggling to remember who we saw play in that finals match @ Rutherglen. I can discount a few side; i feel maybe it was Benalla Vs Wodonga or North Albury,but where would i find a repository of O&M results?

    Glen!

  8. Peter Clark says:

    Glen, it was the 1973 Qualifying Final, North Albury v Wangaratta. The Hoppers tore the Magpies apart winning by 69 points.
    The O & M web site has scores of all all the grand finals through the years but not other finals.

    Peter

  9. Ta Peter, it’s a memory, though a vague one.

    My grandparents parked the car alongside the fence, brought the food,thermos,etc. My first O&M final.

    ‘ave a good weekend.

    Glen!

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