Weekend read: The money game


By Paul Daffey

Amid all the talk about overcoming injury, flying for the big mark and striving for the premiership, it is sometimes forgotten that football clubs need money to survive. In larger country competitions, they need lots of money. There are player payments, affiliation fees, hot showers and new footballs to provide. In recent years, the rise in insurance premiums has sent running costs through the roof. No longer does the weekly chook raffle suffice.

Money does continue to be raised through traditional means; most clubs would raffle at least one meat tray during a season. At Osborne in the Riverina, members of the ladies’ auxiliary almost upend each other in the kitchen on match days as they prepare casseroles for sale after the game. In 2002, Osborne members crutched five thousand sheep to earn money for the club. On another day they earned a fee for clearing ploughed-up stumps from a local property. Osborne referred to this as ‘picking up sticks’. Profits were put towards facilities such as training lights. The smiles were as wide as the plains when the lights were switched on.

Over the decades, though, fundraising has become more varied. Even the humble raffle – meat trays and rubbery chooks aside – has taken on a new sheen. Victorian clubs Hepburn and Rye, united by a committee member who has served both clubs, combine to hold a draw in which tickets cost $250. First prize includes the choice of a Kenworth truck, a motor home or a luxury yacht. Fourteenth prize is also better than a poke in the eye: $1000 to spend at a store of your choice. Deniliquin, a Riverina club known as the Rams, has expanded beyond raffles to make a success of a business called Rams Ice. Some volunteers fill bags with ice; others deliver them. Wonthaggi Rovers bought a rundown house and renovated it, with tradesmen donating their services at a working bee every Sunday morning. Other clubs hold games under lights, trusting that the novelty will reap extra money at the gate. Ardmona hosted a night match at Tatura in early July, a time of year when standing around after dark numbs the bones, and still recorded an increase at the gate. An Ardmona official fought back the chill after the siren to admit that subsequent night games might be held earlier in the season.

Among the more unusual means of raising funds was the Northampton goat muster. Every spring for a decade from the early 1970s, a Northampton clubman in a light plane scanned the scrub inland from the West Australian coast while the muster brigade waited on the ground. The plane followed the path of a vermin fence that had been erected to stop emus and goats drifting down from the desert country into southern farmland. On the sand plains near the fence, goats gathered to eat the grass shoots that sprouted after fire.

When a herd was spotted, a radio message from the air prompted the men on the ground to sprint across the charred earth on motorbikes or in four-wheel drives. Such pursuits could have been fraught with danger – even John Wayne had his troubles racing after game in the film Hatari – but no major injuries were reported. Phil Carson, the president and chief musterer, did, however, admit to vehicle damage. Many tyres were punctured and axles were battered and bent. ‘We knocked our buses around a bit,’ he said.
The aim was to round up the goats and herd them towards the vermin fence, where they were corralled. Some goats were as big as merino rams, with horns that forced even the toughest defenders to step back. ‘They were full-sized billies,’ Carson said. All goats were bundled onto small trucks, which transferred their cargo through the scrub towards larger trucks on the main highway. The goats were then taken into Geraldton, from where they were shipped live to the Middle East.

In one spring, the Northampton footballers rounded up 1100 goats, including 700 in a day. By the early 1980s, tightening laws surrounding national parks and the rising cost of Land Cruisers brought an end to the annual muster. The club had earned $250 000 in less than a decade, making the muster a profitable exercise. Carson said it was also enjoyable. The clubmen sometimes camped overnight, treating themselves to a bush barbecue and enough yarns to last until Christmas. ‘The trips did a lot for comradeship,’ Carson said.

Loading and unloading obstreperous animals is also required at Tyrendarra, in Victoria’s south-west. Every January, Tyrendarra hosts the Portland rodeo. Competitors arrive from all over Australia, hoping to gain points on the national rodeo circuit, while spectators come from all over the Western District, creating scope for fundraising through sales of cold beers and hot-beef rolls. Drivers making the journey along the coast between Adelaide and Melbourne often stop to see what the fuss is about. One year, a Japanese cyclist on his way around Australia pedalled into the commotion. Tyrendarra president Ron Hallinan said the cyclist parked his bike and stayed the night. ‘He pitched his tent among all the cowboys,’ Hallinan said.

The success of the rodeo at Tyrendarra prompted fellow Western District clubs to hold their own stampedes. Over the South Australian border, Mt Burr and Robe organised rodeos, only to find that it was expensive to bring in prized stock. The profit, however, made their efforts worthwhile. A feature of the Robe rodeo, which is held on New Year’s Day, is the game of poker in which six competitors sit at a table and a bull is let loose. The last competitor to flee the table for the safety of the fence is the winner.
In one game of poker, Jim Jess, the Richmond premiership centre half-forward who played country footy until his sons were almost veterans, tried the timeless poker tactic of bluffing. Jess sat at the table and willed the bull to back off. The bull snorted and narrowed his eyes on the man known as The Ghost.

A decade previously, Jess and former Essendon defender Ron Andrews had played footy for Balranald, on the Murrumbidgee River, every Saturday and gone pig-shooting every Sunday. Jess was accustomed to angry beasts, but on this occasion he came off second best. The bull, showing no respect for reputation, stepped forward and dug its head into Jess’s chest. The Ghost sailed through the air, but no sooner had he hit the dirt than he was back on the chair. His ribs were broken but his spirit was unbowed. If there were any justice, he should have been granted honorary victories for many years, but before the competition was finished even he was forced to seek the safety of the fence. A stock agent from Bordertown remained fixed to a bale of hay next to the table, thus gaining the distinction of outlasting the mighty Ghost. The startled crowd went home wondering whether it had witnessed courage or foolhardiness, or both. It was just like going to the football.

The fundraising possibilities of cattle reached their high point, in more ways than one, at a function held by the Benalla players to raise money for their end-of-season trip. All supporters were invited to the stately Benalla showgrounds in north-eastern Victoria to play cow lotto. A grid was drawn on the oval and punters were invited to nominate the square on which the cow would leave its mark. The beast was then led towards the grid and told to move around and be creative.

Spectators watched with growing anticipation before the cow revealed a lack of discipline and wandered towards the boundary. What was supposed to be a house cow, trained to perform on cue, was instead a young bull, with a penchant for roaming the field. Spectators were worried that darkness might fall before the vital evidence, but just in the nick of time the bull switched play back towards the grid. Players and supporters were relieved, but not nearly as much as the bull. The story did the rounds in Gold Coast bars during the players’ trip.

Players’ reunions provide great fodder for reminiscing over a drink. Premiership reunions are especially vigorous affairs. At Newdegate in the West Australian Wheatbelt, a reunion featured the club’s four grand final teams from the 1980s. The reunion was timed to coincide with an auction of club numberplates. Bidding was delayed until well into the night, giving the premiership players plenty of time to reacquaint over a drink and feel inclined towards loosening their wallets.

The auction was made possible by a state government offer of football club numberplates at $120 each. Newdegate bought plates numbered from one to fifty, with the club identified across the bottom. Plaques were also struck bearing the premiership line-ups, to give the old players something extra to buy. President Ken Lloyd, whose decision to delay the auction until the beer took effect seemed inspired, found cause for regret during an escalating duel with Dalton Fordham. Both men played for Newdegate wearing No. 16. Lloyd’s son Zac had also taken to wearing the number. The president held his nerve and kept bidding. ‘I ended up getting it but it cost me a lot of money,’ he said. It set him back $450.

Most plates went for about $200, giving the club a reasonable profit and a moving presence. On any given day, Newdegate numberplates can be seen throughout the Wheatbelt, in holiday towns along the coast or on the streets of Perth. In the town of Newdegate, old Holdens and four-wheel drives pull up outside the pub or the shop and supporters take heart. Many other clubs throughout the west have also taken up the numberplate offer.

At Scotchtown, a club in Smithton on the north-west coast of Tasmania, a tidy profit was earned by doing little more than finding an attractive woman to enter the annual queen quest. The idea of the quest is to raise funds for clubs in the Circular Head Football Association over a season.
A judging panel then considers the fundraising effort at a function on the eve of the finals. The other considerations are personality and presentation. The only requirement is that entrants are unmarried.

Janelle McGowan, a twenty-one-year-old Scotchtown supporter, was having a drink with friends when the topic of the queen quest came up. Some of those at the table had been entrants in the quest. One or two said they had hated it; others had found it enjoyable. The main piece of advice was to go in with a positive attitude or leave it alone. McGowan wrote a letter to Scotchtown, where her two brothers had played, offering to become the queen quest entrant. The club was glad to accept.

During the season, McGowan organised bands and discos and held a raffle at every home game. Prizes included meal vouchers from Smithton restaurants, and meat trays. McGowan said she gained from being forced to approach others. ‘I got a big boost in self-confidence,’ she said. ‘I learned to deal with strangers.’

On the night of the judging, McGowan’s nerves were heightened by the wait for the interviews. Dinner was served and the football trophies were awarded before entrants for the queen quest were called for judging at 11 p.m.
‘It was very nerve-wracking,’ McGowan said. In previous years, one or two entrants had stormed from the venue after failing to win the judges’ nod, but on this night there was no such controversy. All entrants accepted the result when the Trowutta City queen was named the winner; most were relieved that a busy year had come to an end. A league official later told McGowan that she had raised the most money. Scotchtown were $22 500 better off for her tireless fundraising. ‘I had a great time,’ she said.

Riverina club Ganmain–Grong Grong–Matong earns money through a scheme that is unusual, though less hair-raising than mustering goats or playing poker with bulls. The club gleans a small percentage of money earned through a personal savings scheme. A large graph in the shape of a thermometer at the Ganmain oval records the rise in earnings.

The scheme has its origins in England. Glenn Elliot was a soccer supporter who moved from the Old Dart to Western Australia and back to England, where he was recruited to manage the West Bromwich Building Society. After returning to England, Elliot was struck anew by the fervour of supporters for their local soccer club. In the part of the Midlands where he lived, the club to follow was West Bromwich Albion.

At every home match, more than 25 000 fans bellowed for the Baggies, as the club is known, no matter how superb or indifferent their form. ‘I thought, if you could harness this, it’s got to be a winner,’ Elliot said. He set up accounts in which clients gained 3 per cent of the interest on their savings and the Baggies gained 1 per cent. Support was so strong that Elliot was able to present the club with a cheque for $500 000 after less than two years. He then replicated the scheme at clubs such as Coventry City and Manchester United.

It’s a long way from Manchester United to Ganmain–Grong Grong–
Matong, but Elliot made the leap after returning to Australia. He was appointed head of the Wagga Mutual Credit Union, a role that required him to accompany Prime Minister John Howard to Ganmain, 50 kilometres west of Wagga, for the opening of a new branch of the credit union. Ganmain enjoyed its day in the sun because a new building had not been opened there for decades. The town might have been suffering from dwindling fortunes, but Elliot was impressed by its pride. A lot of that pride he put down to the town’s football club. ‘It’s a phenomenon,’ he said. ‘Absolutely everybody gets involved.’

In seeking to tap that spirit and promote the credit union, Elliot set up savings accounts emulating those in England: clients gained 3 per cent interest on their savings and the footy club gained 1 per cent. The thermometer at the oval recorded steady rises in savings in the two months before the end of the financial year. In all, club members deposited
$750 000, leading Elliot to believe he would receive a gala reception when he presented his cheque at the awards night after the season. ‘I thought I might have been carried in on their shoulders,’ he said.

It wasn’t to be. Elliot gained new insight into the tough world of football finances when he handed over a cheque for $7500 and received hearty applause – only to be trumped by the club’s ladies’ auxiliary, which handed over a cheque for $10 000 and brought the house down. ‘I felt quite small,’ Elliot said.

Pay dirt

In 1995 debate raged in Donald, in the East Wimmera region of Victoria, on whether to take a plunge and buy a farm. Old hands had been stung by too many droughts and swings in produce prices to consider putting their footy club at risk. Others thought the cheap deal and location, about 5 kilometres west of town on Sheephills Road, were too good to ignore. After several spirited meetings, the speculators won. Donald paid $75 000 for 125 hectares and became the first country footy club in Victoria to buy a farm.

The first task was to clean up the mess on the property. Supporters cleared debris, fixed fences and renovated the woolshed, which was rotting. The yards were painted in the club colours of blue and white, and firewood was stacked for sale. Sheep were grazed and crops were rotated, giving soil that had been described as rubbish the chance to regenerate. Returns on grain were poor before two bumper crops ended any worries. The loan was paid off and the land rose in value to $100 000. A sign over the entrance to the property says ‘The Footy Farm’. To Donald supporters, it is a source of great comfort and satisfaction.

Volunteers regularly file through the Footy Farm gates to check that everything is all right. Andy Griffiths, the president when the club bought the farm, drops in to spray the crops. Other volunteers pile through the gates to do their bit during sowing and stripping. Numbers are greatest on Sunday mornings, when players and supporters gather for the weekly working bee. After the tasks are finished, the pot-belly stove in the machinery shed warms the workers while they wind down over a few beers.

The stove keeps company with a small bar and a tatty carpet. Kevin Anderson, the newsagent who played two hundred games before becoming club president, like his father before him, pointed to the carpet. ‘That’s the dance floor,’ he said. One night, after shuffling around the carpet into the small hours, Anderson drove the club tractor home. He would have walked if the dance had been held in the spacious social rooms overlooking the oval, where most club functions are held, but Donald supporters hold the occasional dance at the farm because they like the feel of the place. The door of the shed is opened to the night air and a fire leaps at the stars. Mike Hogan, also a former president, explained that the toilet outside the shed was constructed with social functions in mind. Few machinery sheds in Australia could boast such a quality convenience. ‘It’s a push-button job,’ Hogan said, ‘for the fillies.’

In 2002, Donald ended a decade without success and won the North Central league premiership. Celebrations were long and strong. On the Monday, the players were eager to kick on at the Warracknabeal races, but the committeemen were not so keen. They could see no point in going to another town. They wanted to go to the Footy Farm and celebrate their good fortune in the place that is dearest to their hearts.

Which is just what they did. While the players were at the races, the committeemen cooked a barbecue, had a few beers and scraped their boots in their own dirt. ‘It was run-of-the-mill stuff,’ said Kevin Anderson, ‘but it was what we wanted to do.’

This is an excerpt from Beyond the Big Sticks: Country football around Australia (2003); Photos: Ian Kenins; Words: Paul Daffey. Copies are available for $20 plus postage from pauldaffey@hotkey.net.au

Comments

  1. Rod Gillett says:

    I think Ganmain footy club may have had a more direct method of eliciting finances from club supporters in the 1950s that involved direct cash payments rather than using a financial intermediary such as a Credit Union.
    When Mick Grambeau went there to coach in 1956 after a controversial ending to his VFL career with North Melbourne he was reputedly the highest paid player in Australia on payment of 70 pounds a match, a house (owned by the club) and a milking cow. Apparently Mick chose not to milk the cow and sold it off to cover a short-fall in his investment portfolio… The town had a street parade to welcome Mick to Ganmain with hundreds turning out. He took them to premierships in 1956 & 1957 – his ruck duels against Ariah Park Mirrool’s Tom Quade (older brother of Rick) are legendary in the Riverina.
    Brian Mani (grandfather of current Hawthorn rookie Will Sierakowski)told me that after he had played in Moorabbin’s VFA premierships in the late 50s that he got an offer to coach Ganmain that involved highly lucrative match payments, housing and a sheep. Being a city bloke, Brian didn’t know how to shear a sheep and knocked back the offer.
    Ganmain rejected Tom Hafey’s application to coach in 1960 I think it was. Tommy went to Shepparton instead, and of course, coached Shepp to three flags in a row, 1963-65, before going to Richmond in 1966.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Loved reading this Daff. So amusing. Perhaps the AFL clubs short of a quid could pinch a few ideas!

  3. Thanks Rocket and Pam,

    Mick Grambeau has intrigued me since I heard about his parade down the main street of Ganmain while talking to Ken Warran in the Ganmain secretary’s office in 2002. That entire Ganmain team from 1956-57 is charismatic, mainly because of the Carroll contingent. I think there were nine Carrolls in both premiership years. One of the Carrolls, Frank, went on to be the Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. The youngest one, 16-year-old Tom Carroll, went on to play for Carlton and be the leading goalkicker in the VFL in 1961 – and promptly returned to Ganmain. I’ve always promised myself to follow up on those Ganmain stories. I’ve just never managed to do it.

  4. Rod Gillett says:

    Hi Daff,

    Yes, the Carroll dynasty at Ganmain is a fascinating story.
    In 1969 I think it was the Carrolls played Ganmain in a social match in both adults and kids – they had enough for both! You’re right about Frank (who started in that game), he went on to be the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn.
    In the kid’s game youngsters such as Wayne and Dennis played alongside their brothers and cousins. Both later went to play for South Melbourne/Sydney Swans in the VFL/AFL.
    Dennis’s father, Dooley (who played a few seasons with St Kilda) coached Ganmain to the 1955 premiership but was replaced by Mick Grambeau.

  5. Craig Little says:

    At the Deakin Uni Sharks we hired a helicopter for the day and had a player (all kitted out in the club gear and a parachute) get in the helicopter with a parachute to jump from 1,000 feet. For $5 punters could guess how far he’d land from the centre square.

    The helicopter buzzed around to the Apocalypse Now soundtrack and made its way 1,000 feet above the ground.

    At this stage we pushed an identically dressed mannequin out of the helicopter.

    Not everyone was in on the gag.

    It was not well received. At all.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    A fascinating read Paul as a fundraiser loved the ingenuity of so many of the ideas
    Thanks Paul

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