KEN PIESSE’S 10 FAVORITE FOOTBALLERS FROM … BALLARAT

How can you have 35 goals kicked against you, in one game and yet be a Hall of Famer at both the Redan and the North Melbourne Football Clubs?

Fun-loving extrovert Barry Cheatley has never been one to allow the facts to spoil a good story so yes… he did have the misfortune to run into Brownlow Medalist-to-be Johnny James one memorable day in Ballarat and yes…  James did kick a cool 35 as powerful St. Pat’s thrashed Cheatley’s team, Ballarat High, 39 goals to one.

“But I was only 13 years old!” said Cheatah, “and anyway he kicked only eight or nine on me. They moved me onto him only in the last quarter!”

James was to win the 1961 Brownlow, from a back pocket. Cheatley also had a distinguished career both at country and city level, amassing 81 games, almost all at full-back and later representing New South Wales, his drop-kicking a delight.

Now 71, Cheatley is not the best or highest-profiled player to hail from Ballarat and beyond – Tony Lockett, Percy Beames and Bobby Davis surely share that honor – but he remains one of the most important as a groundbreaking marketing guru, responsible for lifting the profile of North Melbourne F. C. like no other with his visions like the Grand Final breakfast and brunch, now such a part of every AFL club’s corporate activities come the last Saturday in September.

In a stellar field, Barry remains my favorite player to hail from Ballarat, only just ahead of “Woofa” Davis, the Geelong Flyer and best mates Danny Frawley and “Plugger” Lockett who along with Greg Burns enjoyed many a training night escapade on the road from Ballarat to Moorabbin in the ‘80s.

I assisted Plugger in the writing of his life story back in the ‘90s and during the finishing touches, ventured down to Devon Meadows where he kept his family of greyhounds and after knocking on the front door for a few minutes, went around the back and ambled down to the sheds where Tony was in seventh heaven mucking around with his dogs, who he trusted implicitly.

Seeing me, he said: “Geez… where’s Tiger?”

Telling him I hadn’t seen his favourite watch-dog, Tony said: “Geez, yer lucky Ken. He would have gone ‘ya if he was loose!”

Walking back to the house for a cuppa, we passed an encaged Tiger, who had a face only his mother would love and growling menacingly at the presence of a stranger. Seeing my discomfort, Plugger thought it hilarious. I’m still thanking my lucky stars today that I lived to tell the tale!

My top 10 all-time favourite Ballarat boys are as follows, in alphabetical order:

Percy Beames:
The only man to captain Victoria at both cricket and football, a three-time premiership rover at Melbourne, Percy was the chief cricket and football writer at The Age when I started at Spencer St. in the ‘70s and very competitive both in his writing and also on the golf course. He claimed a long drive competition one Age golf day after my ball rolled just 2-3 inches off the cut portion of the fairway. And I’d out-driven him by 50 yards!

John Birt:
Played in four ‘Big Smoke’ Grand Finals with Essendon, but says two matches back in Ballarat are as equalled treasured, especially the time, in 1954, tiny Ballarat College defeated powerful, star-studded St Pat’s, denying them of a 50th consecutive Ballarat schools premiership. “And we didn’t beat them just once that year,” said Birt, “we beat ‘em twice.”

Barry Cheatley:
No-one, not even Max Walker, would talk under-water with a mouth full of marbles quite like “Cheatah”. Legends such as Malcolm Blight, Ron Barassi and Allen Aylett remain among his best mates in an outstanding 50 years in footy. He was named full-back in Redan’s Team of the Century.

Bob Davis:
Star of the 1951-52 Geelong teams, Bobby went from Clunes to Golden Point and onto Geelong where his blinding speed won him the nickname of “The Geelong Flyer”. Still known for his post-football tv appearances alongside Lou Richards and Jack Dyer on Channel Seven’s iconic League Teams, a Thursday night “must-see” – only occasionally would they bother to read out a team – “Woofa” is still much-loved and in demand. I’d take my Frankston Peninsula third XI cricketers down to Geelong for an annual Saturday-Sunday game of Premier League and we’d always stay at Bob’s motel. He’d shuffle into the foyer in his slippers and introduce himself to each and every one of my players. It was priceless.

Danny Frawley:
From Bungaree to Brighton, from farming spuds to appearing on Fox Sports, it has been quite a transformation for “Dapper Dan”, one of the great modern-day full-backs, with only one failing. He couldn’t — and still can’t — kick with his left foot! Played with East Ballarat before beginning his 200-game career which included All-Australian selection in 1988.

Jim Gull:
The much-travelled Daylesford legend topped the Ballarat League goalkicking for seven years in a row from 1958-64 and in 1961 amassed a career-best 159 goals for the season. He’d played League football with South Melbourne (as did his son Stewart). Together they played a game for North Ballarat in ’71, Jim making the game notable by booting a goal with a place kick!  He still holds the VFL record of 21 goals in a game. In all he played for 31 years and clocked up 550–plus games! His daughter, Robyn Maher, captained the Australian Opals, winning a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. All-up, she played 375 internationals.

Tony Lockett:
Started at North Ballarat, aged seven, in the Under 12s and had played 100 competitive games including four Grand Finals before he’d turned 16! He kicked a goal with his first kick in BFL competition and was an instant star at St Kilda where he was to win a  Brownlow, a rare feat for a full-forward, and later in Sydney where he advanced his career goals tally to a record 1360 at almost five a game and at a conversion rate of 70 per cent! One of the game’s true greats, now living in the southern highlands, Don Bradman country, outside Sydney.

Mick Malthouse:
He may be surly to the journalists and tell an occasional fib, but there’s no doubt his contribution to the game as player and coach. Season 2010 is his 27th consecutive coaching year, his stints including two premierships at West Coast and two losing Grand Finals at Collingwood, where he has coached since 2000. He’d first played at North Ballarat in the ones as a 16-year-old and played in Richmond’s last flag in 1980.

Mick McGuane:
Originally from Sebastapol, St Kilda’s territory, McGuane was left off a junior development list by the Saints before being immediately signed by Collingwood where he was to become a frontline member of the famous 1990 premiership team. Who could ever forget his eight or nine bounce run at the MCG earlier that year! Has been a loyal and laconic radio colleague, too, of mine for years at Sport 927.

John Northey:
One of Ballarat’s proudest sons, “Swooper” was a star at Richmond, having originally come from Derrinallum in the Western Districts. Redan won three flags in a row under him from 1975-77s. A senior League coach at four clubs with time to talk, he returned to Ballarat as senior coach of the Swans in 2005. In one game last year he had laryngitis and had to let his assistant do all the spruiking, but Swooper still coached and the Swans still won!

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF KEN’S 10 FAVOURITE FOOTBALLERS FROM BALLARAT.

WHO WOULD BE IN YOUR LIST?

SEND YOUR THOUGHTS TO ken.piesse@ozemail.com.au . THE BEST RESPONSES WILL BE PUBLISHED NEXT WEEK ON THE VCFL WEBSITE AND BE IN THE RUNNING FOR A SELECTION OF KEN’S SPORTING BOOKS.

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. Matt Zurbo says:

    Ken, just stumbled across this list while researching my latest book. A ripper. Thanks heaps! (no idea how you left Burnsy and Joffa out!) Used to love reading your work. Hope you are kicking goals!

Leave a Comment

*