Ken Piesse’s Favourites of the Bush: City slickers who loved the bush

by Ken Piesse

City reputations mean nothing in the bush. Ask charismatic ex-Brownlow Medallist Neil Roberts (pictured).

‘Coco’, as he is known to all and sundry, had been talked into playing a game or two up at Echuca in the early ‘60s by ex-Woodsman Bill Serong. A wealthy local had guaranteed the star St Kilda import 200 quid for every game, handy petrol money in anyone’s estimations, so up he went, keen to be involved.

‘Bill had organised the press to come to training on the Thursday night,’ said Roberts. ‘I hadn’t played for four years and wasn’t too fit for anything. During the warm-ups I told Bill I was feeling crook and he looked me in the eye and said: ‘Coco, if you’re going to have a heave, do it on the far side of the ground where it’s dark. All the press are over this side of the ground!’

‘I only just got through the session and was duly named in the 18, Bill telling me that come the day he’d start me on the bench and let me work my way into the game.

‘I wasn’t very popular to have taken the place of one of the local kids.

‘We were soon five goals down and Bill put me into the ruck, hoping I could give the boys a bit of a lift.

‘I ran straight at the ball the first time and a big bushie by the name of Randall… Trevor Randall, ran straight at me and knocked the stuffing out of me. He busted me right open. I vaguely remember someone saying “Good one Trev” and thought it must be one of his teammates giving him some encouragement. I looked up and it was the bloody umpire!

‘I got up, played on and we only just got nutted on the bell.’

‘Stewie (Ian Stewart) had come up to see me play and we put the 200 quid on the bar at a place named Diamond Lil’s and didn’t emerge until very early the next morning. It was some night!’

Don Grossman, who rucked for South Melbourne in the infamous 1945 Bloodbath Grand Final, was another star from the Big Smoke to make an immediate impression when he crossed to Warrnambool in 1948, beginning a 50 year association with football in the south-west.

He was one of dozens to leave League ranks early. Country football was at its zenith in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s and salaries were ever-so-lucrative for the big names from the city.

Grossman piloted South Warrnambool’s 1954 premiership, Fitzroy legend Freddie Hughson making a comeback at the age of 40 to help out.

“He played only six or seven games with us,” said Grossman, “but he kept the opposing full forwards down to just five goals in total. He was one of the most underrated star footballers to go bush.”

Grossman said every team in the region had players capable of walking into League ranks. ‘Guys like Thorold Merrett (Cobden), John O’Neill (Warrnambool) and Norm Sharp (Camperdown) were all to be outstanding players having started down here,” he said.

Goalkicking record-holder Fred Fanning was the highest-profiled  player to leave the big city for bush ranks in 1948. Hamilton offered him 30 pounds a week, 10 times his wage at Melbourne and at 25, his League career was over.

He’d been the VFL’s leading goalkicker in three of his four previous seasons and the year before, when he represented the Big V in the Australian championships in Hobart, he kicked a new high of 18 goals in a game against St Kilda, a record which still stands today.

Fanning was tall, strong and had a vice-like grip when marking. In the 1951 Western Border Grand Final, he kicked 10 goals (out of 18) as titleholders Hamilton edged out Portland, despite conceding more scoring shots.

The year afterwards, he kicked a club record 153 for the season.

Bobby Rose, the Collingwood legend, most responsible for the club’s famous 1953 premiership, left League ranks to coach Wangaratta Rovers in the Ovens and Murray League in 1956. He was just 27.

So was football’s oldest-living Brownlow Medallist, Swan Fred Goldsmith who crossed to Albury while he still had years of League football left in him. He had three years at Albury and kicked 100 goals in his final season.

“I loved the bush and the way everyone was involved,” said Freddie, now 77. “It was one big team effort on and off the field,” he said. “The whole town was involved.  The kids would run around with each other. We formed friendships which are still strong-as today.”

TELL US YOUR FAVORITE BUSH FOOTBALLER &WIN!

Football expert Ken Piesse is selecting his 10 Favorite Bush Footballers from every major region as part of his popular Ken Piesse: Favourites of the Bush column this season.

What makes your favourite player so special to you? Is he a current star or a blast from the past?

Is your favourite player a ball magnet like Neville Hogan of Wangaratta Rovers fame, or is it one of the high-profile League players who went bush like a Fred Fanning or Ken Fraser? Maybe it is someone current like new Myrtleford coach Stan Magro?

Look forward to publishing as many of your entries as possible. The best entry will win a football library to the value of $500 from Ken Piesse’s specialist football and cricket books site: www.cricketbooks.com.au

Send your email entries to: vcfl@aflvic.com.au

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. Peter Flynn says:

    Fanning’s 18.1 were kicked in his last VFL game. I think a stronger point could have been made of this.

    David Cloke played a pretty good last game but I reckon old Fred has him covered.

  2. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    The city slicker who loved the bush in this tale is Trevor Randall (not Bill Serong who only lived in Echuca for a year nor Neil Roberts who was an ex-radius player from Melbourne)

    Trevor Randall was not a “bushie” – he went up to play with Rochester after playing a handful of games with Hawthorn (his father Viv is a club legend). He played in the side that went through unbeaten in 1962 and then again in the 1963 premiership team. He then took over as captain-coach and led Rochy into grand finals in 1964 and 1965 – but alas Golden Square were too good.

    A carpenter by trade, Trevor loved the bush but his wife Margaret wasn’t so keen on country life and they returned to the city.

    I developed a close association with Trevor when he was involved in starting up the Sapphire league on the far south coast of NSW when he was based at Merimbula. But again, he returned to the city.

    I used to catch up with him in Sydney in the late 80s when he used to come up with Hawthorn for matches against the Swans – he was the runner for the seconds.

    I have seen him at Goulburn Valley grand finals in recent years when Rochy were involved – he usually sits in the grandstand with his great mate Bobby Knight – a team-mate in those glory years.

    Trevor loved the bush – but even more he loves the Rochester Football Club.

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