LOCAL FOOTY: 137 YEARS OF WAR- Rochester v Echuca

The eternal desire by the Rochester Football Club to beat Echuca will be magnified ten-fold when they meet at the Rochester Showgrounds in the final round of Goulburn Valley Football League this Saturday.

At stake for Rochy is more than the immense pride and satisfaction that always comes from beating their arch-rival but a place in the final six. While a victory for Echuca would seal second place and secure the vital double-chance.

Rochester is currently sixth – just two points clear of last year’s premier Mansfield which played a draw with Tatura last week. The Craig Kelly coached outfit travel to take on lowly Benalla where they should get the four points.

This makes it imperative for Rochy to beat Echuca and hold their place in the six.

The Rochester-Echuca rivalry is incredibly fierce – fuelled not just fired by longevity (they’ve been playing against each other since 1874!) – but by the strong desire to be one-up on each other for all sorts of civic and social reasons.

I have recently begun to research the nature and source of the rivalry for a chapter in Paul Daffey’s forthcoming book, Local Footy.

I have had the chance to talk to former coaches, players, and supporters of both clubs. I have a particular interest in the subject because I was bought up in Echuca but when the family moved to a farm near Rochester that’s where I played footy.

As a young boy I became very conscious of the rivalry. My family ran a milk bar in Echuca and the selected team used to be posted in the shop window.  When Echuca were due to play Rochy all the talk in the shop was about the clash between the two great northern rivals, then in the Bendigo League.

At that time Rochester was enjoying its most successful period in the Bendigo League – they played in every grand final from 1958-1965 – winning four flags.

When I spoke to Collingwood 1958 premiership star Bill Serong about his time coaching Echuca for an Almanac story last year he told me about his experience of the rivalry.

“My first match as coach of Echuca’s was against Rochester. They beat us by 29 goals – they were far too good for us,” Serong told me. “Our players were in awe of them, they revered them. They were like Melbourne in the VFL”.

Recently, I interviewed Hawthorn’s first premiership captain Graham Arthur who coached Echuca from 1969 to 1974 (including a premiership in 1970) about the rivalry. “The intensity at training and around the club always increased when we were due to play Rochy”, he told me.

“Rochy is a very proud club and they were always very determined to beat us”, he said.

“Mort” told me that when Rochester left the Bendigo league at the end of the 1971 season for the Goulburn Valley league that interest in the Echuca Football Club declined markedly. “People stopped following us and instead went to see (Echuca) East or South play, even Moama. It hurt the club financially. Our nearest game was in Bendigo”.

“The decision was made to follow Rochester into the Goulburn Valley league. I coached them for the first season, but we were beaten by (Shepparton) United in the first semi. It was a strong league, the move saved the club”, he added.

The rivalry resumed. As Paul Daffey pointed out in an article in The Age several years ago the two clubs cannot seem to exist without each other. For well over a century they have followed one another into and out of various leagues including several stints in both the Bendigo and Goulburn Valley leagues as well as different carnations of local leagues.

For Rochester people there has tended to be a perception of arrogance about Echuca and its football club. Bob Knight, a former Rochy star in the Bendigo league and later club president recalls Echuca advertising a “Victory Dance” in the local paper after a scheduled match against Rochester in Echuca in the late 70s.

“We beat them, and then stayed to celebrate our victory” he fondly recounted. “We had “Rosa” (ex Geelong player Geoff Rosenow recruited from Echuca) coaching and he was stationed as a policeman in Echuca at the time – he was very keen to win that game!”

Former Kyabram premiership winger Bill Fry who opened a sport store in Rochy in the mid-1980s told me, “I was aware of the great Rochester-Echuca rivalry when I was playing for Ky – we used to have great battles with “Tonnie” (Tongala), but it was nothing compared to the outright hatred between Rochy and Echuca. It was really intense”.

““Dirty” (David Williams, a Rochy boy who played with Melbourne) reinvigorated the rivalry when he returned home to coach (in 1992). He loved nothing better than beating Echuca and he really got the boys up for games against them”, Fry, who was the club runner at that time, told me.

Williams’ father Ron was a key member of the famous 1958 Rochester premiership team coached by Melbourne legend Noel McMahen.

At a reunion of the 1958 team on the occasion of the 50th anniversary McMahen told those assembled that in addition to the premiership one of his proudest accomplishments in football was that Rochy never lost to Echuca under his command.

Rochester will go into Saturday’s clash with their backs to the wall. Injuries have decimated the ranks with All Australian country rep Guy Campbell, full back Sam O’Brien and star mid-fielders Ash Watson and Dylan Cuttriss all certain to miss. To make matters worse, defender Brad Collins has been called up for the Bendigo Bombers in the VFL.

A likely big-out for Echuca is ex Collingwood player Chris Egan, who is reportedly serving time for traffic fines of up to $52000. He missed last week’s win over Shepparton Swans and his availability for this important clash is in doubt.

Rochy will be looking to a trio of players from the Thirds (currently on top of the ladder) namely Nathan Marrone, Mitch Bright, and Dylan Williams to come into the senior team and lift the Tigers to what would be a famous victory.

Williams, the son of club great Wayne “Crowbar” Williams and grandson of Ron becomes the third generation of the Rochester football family to wear the club colours into battle against the old enemy o.

Comments

  1. George Callum says:

    One important detail in your excellent article on this incredible rivalry Rocket is the fact that Rochester have won the last 7 games against Echuca by an average margin of 66 points. Echuca have not beaten Rochester since round 12 2006.
    My informants tell me Chris Egan has been released from gaol after paying half the fine, not sure that the Echuca footy club paid any of it. He has been named in the side for the game.

  2. Mark Gullick says:

    Hi Rocket,
    Great article.
    I’ve also found a lot of interesting stuff regarding the rivalry during my research for my book about the Rochy club, especially regarding the roots of the conflict.
    Since I last spoke to you, I have interviewed a heap more Rochester players; such as Con O’Toole, Trevor Randall, Bob Knight, John Williams, Barry McIntyre, Ken Colvin, Brian Jones, Kevin Shinners, Bill Simmie and Bob Kelly.
    These are in addition to a dozen more, including Noel McMahen.
    Talking to all of them was fantastic. Bill Simmie was recalling finals matches – blow for blow – from 1949!
    I have changed email addresses and have lost yours. Please feel free to contact me at markpgullick@gmail.com.
    Cheers,
    Mark

  3. Warwick Nolan says:

    Hi Rod,
    I was at Moon oval on Sunday watching my grandson play cricket. I note Noel McMahon’s name is mispelled (several times) on the honourboard. Such a shame considering the rich history?

    I also note (from the honourboard) that after leaving Bendigo FL – Rochester disbanded completely for a season before joining GVFL. What happened there?

    Thank you for this article.

  4. Rocket Singers says:

    Thanks Warwick for your comment.

    So is it spell McMahon on the honour board?
    As you know, its Noel McMahen.
    At the same time John McMahon was playing.
    Father of former Australian netball captain Sherelle.
    Irish spelling idiosyncrasies….

    Rochester did not disband after the Bendigo League.
    They wanted to transfer to the Goulburn Valley FL but were forced out by the VCFL.
    A very sore point, still.
    All brilliantly captured in Paul Daffey’s recent history of the VCFL, Behind the Goals.

    Rochester actually did field a team in the GVFL that year, 1972 – a 3rd XVIII.
    I played.

    In reading the piece again I noted that Rochy had established a strong winning run over Echuca.
    The recent run is up to 12!
    Echuca trained at Carlton’s complex last Saturday – Andrew Walker is back playing for Echuca.
    Rochy have lost two key players to the VFL.

  5. Paul Daffey says:

    Hi Rocket et al,

    Interesting point about idiosyncratic spelling of the Irish name. My surname is a case in point. We’ve got a reason for the rogue “e” in Daffey but I’ve never been able to confirm it. The Daffy mob from Colac and Camperdown certainly think the “e:” is superfluous!

    Thanks for the mention of the book.

    You mentioned Andrew Walker now coaching Echuca … last Saturday I was coaching the mighty Edinburgh under-10 Black team (one of seven under-10 teams at the Edinburgh CC) when two very tall and athletic young men sauntered around the boundary and sought my attention. They mentioned that they had the oval booked from 9.30am for a camp. And when would the young cricketers be off the ground?

    Sorry, mate, I said. We’re on this ground every Saturday morning until the end of cricket season. You might have mixed up the details.

    I asked what club they were from.

    “Echuca,” they said.

    I twigged with the Andrew Walker connection. The boys might have been seeking the Doug Nicholls Oval, home of the Fitzroy All Stars rather than the Fitzroy Footy Club.

    I told them to continue back up St Georges Road and they would find the Doug Nicholols Oval. They sauntered back off, with the smiles of young and fit men across their faces.

    I wish I had got the boys’ names. Their organisational skills let them down, but they looked every inch like footballers, and I just reckon they could play.

    The Edinburgh under-10 Blacks won easily.

  6. Rocket Singers says:

    Thanks Daff,

    Echuca players turning up at the wrong ground has happened before!
    In 1892 the Echuca players came to Rochester on the train, but found no one at the Rochester oval.

    Well done to the Edinburgh Under 10 Blacks cricket team for winning and seeing off the Murray Bombers!

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