Ken Piesse’s favorite 10 footballers from… THE LA TROBE VALLEY


Throughout season 2010, respected sports writer Ken Piesse is writing of his favourite players from the regions of the VCFL.

This week he looks at the Latrobe Valley.

In the days before zoning, League clubs had their own spheres of influence. St Kilda’s stronghold was the La Trobe Valley and so many players were recruited from Sale and beyond in the ‘50s that the players re-named the train from Gippsland, “The St Kilda Express”.

Among the very best was the club’s premiership ruckman Alan Morrow, his best mate injury-plagued full-forward Bill Stephenson, ruckman Brian Muir and a talented allrounder who you’d miss if you looked at him sideways, Bill Young.

“Billy was nine stone wringing wet,” said the lionhearted Alan Morrow. “But he could play. He was a seriously good sportsman.”

Now in his 70s, Young was good enough to make top score of 56 against Len Hutton’s 1954-55 touring English cricket team at Yallourn (see picture of him in his creams), as well as head the VFL goalkicking in his very first year with St Kilda Football Club (in 1956).

On several occasions he played with St Kilda Cricket Club in the District cricket grand final and the following Saturday would line up at full-forward in round 1 with the footballing Saints, who in those days also used to play at the Junction Oval.

“As soon as one season finished I’d be into the other,” said multi-gifted Bill, who is a legend in and around Stratford.

“You could do it on those (semi-professional) days. I loved every minute.”

Young says the St Kilda Footballers used to take on the St Kilda Cricketers once a year and occasionally beat them too.

“We had people like Lance Oswald from Wangaratta who could really play.  Jimmy Guyatt could handle a bat and ‘Mocca’ (Morrow) was a good opening bowler. We’d play social games up at places like Warburton. The Footballers even fielded a team each week in the Victorian Junior Cricket Association.”

Young says he loved cricket and cycling…  but received “more kudos” from football.

When Stratford’s first hotel was opened in 1956, Young was given the honor of having the first drink: a lemon squash!

One of the great guys in any company, Young says the friendships he made from sport were as important to him as the actual matches.

In a star-studded field which includes several Brownlow Medallists, Young is my favorite all-time footballer from the La Trobe and immediate environs… but it was a tough selection!

My “top 10”, as always in alphabetical order, is:

Gary Ayres:  The Hawthorn legend, one of the best “big occasion” players of them all, Ayres was a star junior at Warragul, winning the goalkicking and being awarded best afield status in the Under 15 LVJFL grand final in 1975. He had 20 games at senior level too before beginning his auspicious career at Hawthorn which saw him play more than  250 games and be the first to win two Norm Smith Medals, for being best afield in a VFL Grand Final.  Answers to one of the great sporting nicknames: Conan the Barbarian!

Rob Ballingall: A local great who holds the Warragul and LVFL record of 373 senior games before playing another 150 matches at Ellinbank, many with his son Steven. Few laurels escaped him. He was a premiership captain, coach, three-time club best and fairest winner and a Vic Country representative. You name it… Rob achieved it.

Alan Morrow: Strong, tough and capable, “Mocca’ was just 6ft yet he competed brilliantly against even the tallest League ruckmen of the late ‘50s and the early ‘60s.  He was involved in three flags at Sale, his first at 17  and never played a reserves game anywhere – at Sale, St Kilda or Dandenong.

Alan Noonan: A Big V representative at the age of 19, Noonan was known for his “Beatle’ haircut and habit of outmarking opposing ruckmen drifting back a kick behind play. He had poise and rare judgement and having debuted at Warragul as a 16-year-old, he went on to win the goalkicking at Essendon on seven occasions.

Bernie Quinlan: A finer player at 30 than he was at 20, Quinlan was one of post-war football’s most enduring and the first to amass 300 VFL/AFL games, win a Brownlow Medal and kick 100 goals in a season. Recruited from Traralgon, he was the outstanding kick in the game in his heyday, a drop kick in 1966 being measured at 85 yards.

Barry Round: A joint winner, with best mate Quinlan of the 1981 Brownlow Medal,  Round was a trailblazer in Sydney’s success after starting his career at Footscray via Warragul. Later he dominated in the VFA with Williamstown and kept turning heads at  the local beach at “Willi” with his habit of swimming every morning, 365 days a year, in nothing but a pair of Speedo’s!

Brian Royal: Little “Choco’ remains just about the best kick, on either side of the body, I’ve ever seen. He was class with a Capital “C”. Originally from Bairnsdale, he was an all-Australian and it was a sad day at the MCG when he broke down with a knee injury in his 199th game, forcing his premature retirement.

Kelvin Templeton: The only footballer to win a  Brownlow from centre half-forward , Templeton was the ultimate professional who would read “check” cards at half-time to make sure he was doing everything he could for himself and the team. Good enough to once kick 15 goals in a game (for Footscray against St Kilda at Moorabbin), he would have smashed Fred Fanning’s League record but for inaccuracy. In all he had almost two dozen shots on goal.

Alf Weidner: The oldest player on my list, who first played at Warragul  at the turn of the century, Alf played upwards of 550 games at Warragul, Williamstown and Prahran, including his last match back home at the age of 48! In all, he figured in five flags and in his hey day was even offered a pound to come and watch Richmond play, part of a lure to  take him away from the VFA and into the VFL. He refused, won a pay rise and continued to play at Willi where his strong mark provoked calls of “Up there Weidner” – long before the days of Roy Cazaly!

Bill Young: One of Gippsland’s  most-celebrated and fittest sportsmen, Bill was a true dead-eye-dick and able to kick the ball around corners long before the likes of Blair Campbell and Co.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF KEN’S FAVOURITE  TEN PLAYERS?

IS THERE SOMEONE ELSE YOU THINK IS WORTH A MENTION?

Email your feedback to Ken at kenpiesse@ozemail.com.au

The best replies will be in the running to win a suite of sports books from the author.

About Ken Piesse

I am a journalist, commentator and the author of almost 50 cricket and football books. I also sell the new Wisden and cricket and football books and cricket cards and ephemera on the internet via my website www.cricketbooks.com.au

Comments

  1. Phantom says:

    Good stuff Ken. Always interesting.

    You could do worse than look across bass strait some time.

    One or two champions.

  2. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says:

    Speaking of swimming every morning, K. Templeton swims every morning in the Arabian Gulf Sea in Abu Dhabi from the boardwalk down to the Sheraton and back, a distance of 3 kilometres. Like Roundy, he also wears Speedos, no need for a rashie over here!

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