Narrandera Sportsground: A Mecca in a heathen state

by Rod Gillet

The Narrandera Sportsground will light up on Friday night for the Sydney Swans v North Melbourne AFL Challenge match. A crowd of about 10,000 spectators is expected to attend the third game the Swans have played in the heart of the Riverina in four years. Previous games have drawn crowds of between 9-11,000.

The ground has hosted some of the biggest sports events in the Riverina including grand finals of the area’s two most popular football codes, Australian football and rugby league, as well as international cricket and rugby league.

In the 1950s and early 1960s the Narranderra Sportsground used to draw crowds of over 10,000 to the respective regional football grand finals. In fact, the ground record is still 14,000 set in 1962 for the Group 20 Rugby League Grand Final when Wagga Kangaroos beat Tumbarumba. The gate was £2,022/17/6.

Wagga Kangaroos were led by Greg “Meggsy” Hawick, who was the five-eighth for the Australian team that won the Ashes series against Great Britain that year. It was not unusual for players from the country to be selected in national teams for both league and union at the time such was the strength of the rugby codes in the country.

However, it is Australian football that is most closely associated with the Narrandera Sportsground. It has been the home of the Narrandera Imperials Football Club since 1913, now sadly, nicknamed the Eagles, but still officially the NIFC. Narrandera has always been a strong footy town. There is currently no rugby league club.

My research on the early history of Australian football in the Riverina revealed that the first inter-town game was played at the ground in 1882 when the locals hosted Hay, who travelled by train on the recently constructed south-west line.

South West became the name of the major local competition in 1910 after having commenced as the Ganmain Football Association in 1895. The football teams and their supporters used to travel along the line from Junee to Leeton passing through Marrar, Colamon, Ganmain, Matong, Grong Grong, and Narranderra depending on the fixture. It remained the South West league up until 1982 when the boundaries were reorganised and it became known as the Riverina Football League.

The greatest moment for the South West League was when it won the Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) Country Championships in 1963-64 – the final against the Hampden league was played at the Narrandera Sportsground. Paul Daffey has provided a wonderful account of this feat in the AFL’s 150th year anniversary history book. Over 10,000 packed into the ground that day to witness the locals’ momentous victory.

The ground is situated in a residential district of Narranderra, not unlike Shepparton’s Deakin Reserve, set amongst beautiful plane trees and old pavilions.

It has a 300 seat grandstand and is basically an amphitheatre with a grassed embankment inside the fence for spectators to sit on with a row of seating all around the other side of the fence with plenty of room to stand. The dimensions of the oval are 149 m x 180m.

The installation of new flood lights in 2005 has bought the ground’s lighting up to AFL standard and has rejuvenated the arena as the premier sporting venue in the region.

I have seen many great games at Narranderra over the years, especially finals. The highlight remains seeing Narrandera’s  Victor Hugo (who played a few games for South Melbourne) kick 10 goals in the second semi and another ten against the luck-less Ariah Park-Mirrool in the grand final in 1979. He was superb, and he kicked straight; I think it was 10.1 in the grand final.

Another great memory is entirely social. I used to really enjoy the afternoon tea spread put on for officials and the media by South-West president Frank Gaynor and his wife, Nell, from out of the boot of their Holden Statesman in the car-park at half-time during the finals series. Frank was a thorough gentleman, who wore a felt hat, and Nell was a wonderful hostess. She was a very keen footy fan, and her sympathies clearly lied with their home club of Coolamon.

Another chapter in the history of this picturesque ground will be added when it hosts the Swans and North this Friday night. They will tread on the turf previously played on by “Meggsy” Hawick, Hugo, Rohan Kanhai, Arthur “Stumpy” Summonds, Peter Box, “Turkey” Tom Carroll and Collingwood’s Coventry brothers, Syd and Gordon, who played on the sports ground against the South West in 1925.

Comments

  1. Julian Morison says:

    Rocket

    One of my sisters has lived there for 20+ years – their house was the first (proper) pub in Narrandera built circa 1860 – they recently replaced the roof and under the old corrugated iron were the original wooden shingles and under that approximately 150 years worth of bat shit – nice work. Apart from that two memories of Narrandera footy ground. The first from 1968/69 (I was 11) Country NSW v the West Indies. Unfortunately the country boys were sent into bat (can’t imagine they elected to), and opening the batting were Mr McDougal (science teacher, Albury High School – all my siblings were then boarding in Albury and attending AHS – so great interest in his performance. Unfortunately Charlie Griffiths snared him with a lively one first up, caught behind, 0) and Const Kevin Wales (one time policeman in Henty, no less!) who went on to top score with 23 or 27?? Out to the spinner Carew. Country made an unlucky 87 in about 25 overs (8 ball of course). WI breezed pass the target and went on to make about 250 (all out) in not many more overs than the country boys’ innings (maybe 30-35?). Among the batsmen were Rohan Kanai, Clive Lloyd and Basil Butcher. Can’t remember who scored all the runs (I would’ve had a scorecard at one time) but still have most of their autographs in my old autograph book at home in a cardboard box that Jen has labelled ‘Relics’. Gary Sobers didn’t play nor did Wes Hall who had a forehead full of stiches from walking through a glass door in Hobart the week before – but I still got his autograph. I remember him as being the biggest man I’d ever seen, except perhaps for ‘Whoppa’ Willis who played full back for Henty. Mostly I remember wearing a new T-shirt with very short sleeves and getting an unbelievable band of sunburn on the top of my arms where I still have an unusually high concentration of freckles. My other memory is playing there for the Farrer League in 1975 against the South West League. Played on the forward flank and was stood by Teal cup team mate from the year before, T. Daniher. By half time I’d gathered approximately 0 possessions while my opponent had kept the statisticians very busy. Was mercifully moved to full forward for the second half, adding 2 to my half time possy tally; importantly it included one behind. It was a NSW carnival of sorts as the Sydney and Mid-Murray leagues had teams there as well. The following day (Sunday I guess) the two winners played each other, as did the two losers. And although the Farrer League had many underperformers in our thrashing at the hands of the South West, I was omitted and sat on the bench on the wrong side of the 20th man (didn’t even get to wear a dressing gown).

    JMoro

  2. Rocket,

    Great report. The ground is obviously dear to your heart. I can taste the tea and cakes out of the boot of the car from here.

    I remember being fascinated when Victor Hugo played in a night series match for South Melbourne. The commentators made much of the fact that he was 26, which admittedly was old, and his bikie beard. They even stretched it out to say that he was a bikie when in fact he drove a trucks for a living.

    His beard and exotic name seemed to excite the commentators. They must have done something for me as well to be able to remember it all these years later.

    Victor played the opening two games of the 1980 VFL season for South Melbourne (not hard to imagine after kicking ten goals in two country finals the previous year). He got a head injury in the second game and returned home to drive trucks and kick goals for Narrandera.

  3. Moro,

    Well done on taking the technological leap to post that comment. Cracker, too. Terry Daniher still talks about you.

  4. Narrandera was always our first stop on the long trips from Melbourne to Brisbane in the Kingswood in the 70s. I remember wandering around that ground as a kid. Was it near the camping ground?

  5. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Awesome crowd numbers. What a buzz it would have been to have a visiting international team coming to town giving the local talent a chance to test themselves against the stars.

  6. johnharms says:

    Narrandera: another Newell treasure. The Handicapper and I stayed there en route to Brunswick Heads one year.

    Moro, your last comment should be studied in university classes – numerous disciplines encountered.

  7. Never heard of Narrandera, but hopefully North Melbourne has a good win against the Swans on Friday! Go Roos.

  8. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Thanks for all your Comments – let me respond in batting order:

    Moro – I know what a leveller the Narrandera ground can be – in my only game there when playing for Turvey Park in 1981 I got the “hook” – just before half-time on the grandstand wing… you will be astounded to know that I struggled for pace on that vast arena. My opponent wore #47.

    Daff – ran into Victor Hugo just a few years ago at a Swans reserves match – he was in Sydney to watch his son Dale play for a Canberra team – Dale is now back at Narrandera. Vic looked just the same – still got the beard. Still drives a truck.

    Dips – the footy ground is in the showgrounds complex but it is not the main arena – there is no camping ground there now, but maybe have been back then.

    Pamela – the best Australian football crowd was 12,000 in 1959 when Coolamon led by ex South Melbourne captain Ian “The Heap” Gillett (no relation) defeated Turvey Park. It still eclipses the crowd of 10,979 that went to see the Swans beat Collingwood in March 2007.
    I reckon there would be very few grounds used for AFL where the crowd for a local match has been higher than a game between two AFL clubs. Be interested to know if there is.

    Darky – five pubs in Narrandera – the Imps used to drink at the Royal Mail – in the days you travelled the Newell this would have been the first town coming down from Qld where you could CUB on tap and the Melbourne newspapers first thing in the morning.

    Josh – Narrandera is on the Murrumbidgee River and the junction of the Sturt & Newell Highways – about 220 km north of Waaia. A young Wayne Carey would have played on the ground for North Wagga.

  9. Ian Syson says:

    Harmsy, whenever I drive up to Harvey Bay I use the Newell (of course). The first footy ground I see in Queensland is the one one the western side of the Highway just south of Gympie. It sticks out like a sore thumb on the side of the road. It looks like a ground that just has to have an interesting history.

  10. Rocket,

    The South West league defeated the Ovens and Murray, Waranga North East and North Central leagues en route to the final of the VICTORIAN country championships at Narrandera in July 1964.

    I’ve lifted the following from my piece in The Australian Game of Football, GSP 2008, page 248.

    “… The match was televised throughout the Riverina. The visiting team, the Hampden league, which is based in Victoria’s wet and muddy Western District, flew up for the match. Hampden captain-coach John Beckwith, the former Melbourne premiership captain who was now captain-coach at Colac, kept the SW’s Ganmain full-forward Tom Carroll goalless, an outstanding effort considering that three years earlier, in 1961, Carroll had topped the VFL goalkicking with Carlton.

    Despite Beckwith’s heroics, the SW won by 22 points. The SW’s star players included centreman Peter Box, Footscray’s 1956 Brownlow medallist, who was coaching Grong Grong Matong, and former North Melbourne rover Gerald Eastmure, was coaching Leeton. Two other Leeton players, centre half-forward Des Lyons and centre half-back Max Kruse, the father of early 1980s South Melbourne defender Max Kruse jnr, were among the best players.

    The SW captain was former South Melbourne captain Ian Gillett, a ruckman from Coolamon. The vice-captain was Barry Connolly, a former Footscray rover who was coaching Ardlethan. Connolly, the father of former Fremantle coach Chris Connolly, worked in a tin mine. Ardlethan wingman John Kelly, the father of 1990s Sydney champion Paul Kelly, once helped save him after an explosion at the mine. Connolly went on to serve Victoria’s Goulburn Valley Football League, based in Shepparton, for 18 years.”

  11. Richard Jones says:

    Rocket, you got me thinking about the ways in which southern NSW and northern Vic. footballers travelled to games pre easy access to motor vehicles.
    It was of course by the train. My first sports sub-editor at the Bendgo Advertiser, Roy Taylor, who retired at the end of 1977 (my first year at the Addy) used to speak fondly of memories from his NSW days.

    Roy and a longtime player and administrator in NSW, George Flagg, penned a little book entitled — Australian Football: Along The Line, published in 1992. I went searching through our book shelves last night and finally found it.

    It covers the development of Australian footy 1890-1990 in the Barellan, Ariah Park, Tara and Ardlethan associations. There’s pics of the 4 Daniher brothers and Ricky Quade, naturally, but also other not-so-well-recognised identities such as Tom Quade, Ross Elwin and Jim Prentice among others.

    Although localities such as Beelbangera and Walleroobie rate high, my favourite club is Moombooldool. They were known as the Greens, apparently.

    It seems one Saturday in the 1930s (the Greens were formed in 1911) a well-known player by the name of Matt McInerney missed the train. It was a pouring, wet day.
    Not fazed by the sight ofthe teain disappearing towards Beckom, Moombooldool’s opponents that day, Matt urged on his faithful horse Molly and the pair arrived at Bckom just in time for McInerney to take his place in the team.

    So taken by this act of dedication at the season-ending function in the Moombooldool Hall (where else?) a poem in McInerney’s honour was read out. That task fell to local school teacher Mr R.F. Cooke.

    A couple of the stanzas went like this: For sure I missed the train said Matt,
    ‘Twas all that flamin’ rain
    I pushed old Molly to the boards
    But it was all in vain.
    We didn’t miss by very much
    Still smoke-filled was the air,
    I said: “C’mon old Molly horse,
    “You’ve got to get me there”.

    ‘Twas soaking to the skin Matt was,
    The road was long and rough
    But Molly rallied to the fore,
    They both are pretty tough.
    And so ’twas Matthew saved the Greens,
    [the local press observed].
    Took out the club’s gold medal,
    Which surely he deserved.

    Roy and George’s book doesn’t carry any mention of the scribe who penned these immortal lines.
    The Greens won premierships in the Barellan League in 1939-40, then when the competition resumed in 1945-46 and again from 1948-50, inclusive. The club folded in 1951, merged briefly for two seasons with Barellan in 1952 before linking with Kamarah — an association which lasted until 1970 when that club went into recess.

  12. DES HUNT says:

    HAVING LIVED IN NARRANDERA & ONLY A BLOCK AWAY FROM NARRANDERA SPORTS GROUND DURING THE DREAM TIME, I HAVE NOT ONLY PLAYED FOOTBALL & CRICKET ON THIS OVAL BUT WITNESSED MANY GREAT SPORTING EVENTS THIS OVAL HAS HOSTED.
    MANY GREAT SPORTMEN, BOTH LOCAL, REGIONAL & INTERNATIONAL HAVE GRACED THE SURFACE OF NARRANDERA SPORTS GROUND.
    NOW LIVING ON THE MID NORTH COAST MAYBE THE MANAGEMENT OF COFFS HARBOUR INTERNATIONAL STADIUM CAN GO TO NARRANDERA SPORTS GROUND TO SEE HOW A LARGE COUNTRY EVENT IS RUN, SO AS THE SPECTATOR IS ACCOMODATED EFFECTIVELY.
    NARRANDERA SPORTS GROUND A TRUE GEM IN RURAL NSW.

  13. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Hi Richard,

    Great piece of prose from the Riverina – where, of course, Lawson and Furphy were similarly inspired during their stay in the area.

    Yes, the book All Along the Line is a great account of footy in the MIA/northern Riverina.
    I know George Flagg well, a great footy man from Barellan, but I didn’t know Roy Taylor.
    Because of the scale of railway branch lines across the Riverina built by the NSW colonial government in the latter part of the 19th century to capture the wheat trade from Victoria, footy competitions developed all throughout the region.

    Most astute local footy observers rate Pat as the best of the Quade brothers – unlike his three brothers he didn’t venture off to the VFL. His duels with Ganmain coach Mick Grambeau in South West grand finals at the Narrandera Sportsground in the late 50s are still talked about.
    Great to see you acknowledge Rossie Elwin and Jimmy Prentice – both went to South Melbourne – and came back to be great players in the Riverina.

    As always there is a point of reference to Rochester…
    I recall travelling by train to Kyneton for a Bendigo league match in 1971.
    Rochy often hired a train to transport players and supporters to games down the northern line.

    By the way, what is the record crowd for a BFL grand final? Is it higher than that for a VFL/AFL match?

  14. pauldaffey says:

    Richard,

    Great stuff on Moondoolbool and the galloping footballer. Rocket actually leant me that book at one stage and I enjoyed reading such titbits.

    Rocket,

    The QEO record is 16,600. I’m pretty sure it was the 1957 Bendigo league grand final in which Eaglehawk beat South Bendigo. The Eaglehawk coach was ruckman Basil Ashman, the only one of the 10 BFL coaches not to have played league football in Melbourne.

    Rochester started making grand finals the following year and crowd numbers declined.

  15. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Daff,

    So did crowd numbers continue to decline for the next eight years that Rochy were in the GF?
    I reckon they must have taken a lot of interest out of it, winning year after year…

    I always had it in my mind that the 1958 GF when Rochy beat Castlemaine was the record crowd…
    but then again I look at BFL footy through a red-and-black lens.

    Richard,

    Wagga Tigers’ long-time official Barry Stevenson is called Mumbles because he originally hailed from Moombooldool… he certainly has no issues with his voice amplification!

  16. Richard Jones says:

    YAIRS, Rocket, Daff has hit the nail on the head.

    It was the ’57 grannie when 16,600 attended. One of thes photo on the wall in QEO House shows a sea of people — the men, all in hats as the custom of the day dictated and the women decked out in their Sunday best. Another photo shows Basil Ashman being chaired off the ground.

    Final scores that day: Eaglehawk 14.17 (101) def. Kyneton 10.11 (71).

    There have been crowds of 10,000 for AFL praccy matches, euphemistically named NAB Challenge games or some such these days, but none better than the 1957 gate. I remember Geelong played Essendon there one March in the mid-Noughties — might have been the day when Lloydie broke the bone in an arm — and you could not move in the joint.

  17. pauldaffey says:

    Rocket,

    Well, maybe crowd numbers were fairly good during Rochy’s reign. The late 50s-early 60s era was arguably the golden era of country footy.

    I just remember getting that record figure for a piece I wrote on the QEO a few years ago. Numbers were big through the 50s.

    Will have to dig out the piece.

  18. pauldaffey says:

    Rocket and Richard,

    Found the piece!

    Sporting Postcodes — Bendigo 3550

    While Melbourne was suffering through a crippling Depression in the 1890s, goldfields towns in central Victoria were given to ostentatious displays of wealth. In the case of Maryborough, Ballarat and Bendigo, one such display was the stately grandstands that were built at the town’s main sporting venues. A century later, we can all be grateful.

    The Bendigo stand was built in 1901, in time for the Ashes cricket tour of that summer. Using bricks and ironwork cast by a renowned local foundry, the workmanship was superb. But besides the robust display of confidence by the city burghers, arguably the stand’s greatest achievement was its nod to the common man.

    The late Bendigo historian Frank Cusack wrote that the grandstand was a striking expression, in bricks and mortar, of the egalitarianism that animated Australian politics around the time of Federation. Boot-makers and street-sweepers could watch the game alongside councillors and engineers. It was a far cry from members’ enclosures at racetracks.

    Jim Evans, the president of the Bendigo Historical Society, this week took The Age through a short history of the grandstand and the ground that was known as the Upper Reserve before being renamed the Queen Elizabeth Oval. He confirmed that the grandstand was a statement of prosperity — “it reflects the boom times” — but he was unwilling to sit on its wooden seats.

    On a cold day, he said, the stand failed to offer protection against the wind. While a lonely teenager listened to his Walkman in the grandstand, Evans explained that the louvres at the back of the stand ensured a draught. “They were put there to make sure there was a breeze during hot days at the cricket,” he said.

    The best alternative was to sit in a brick dugout on the boundary line. Behind the dugout were the grandstand and the charming wooden press box. Ahead was a view over the oval towards the elms and peppercorns that lower over the wooden shelter on the far wing.

    Behind the city-end goals is the caretaker’s house. In the 1950s, the caretaker would place a large radio on his verandah during Bendigo Football League games to enable spectators to hear the races from Melbourne. Before each race, the spectators would place a bet with the SP bookie then crowd against the caretaker’s fence, cocking their ears towards the radio. After the race, they would return to their spot behind the goals and prepare to repeat the process during the next quarter.

    The 1950s is widely considered the golden age of Bendigo football. In the days before car ownership and television began diverting attention to Melbourne, the Bendigo grandstand would heave and crowds would pack six- and seven-deep to watch heroes such as Noel McMahen, a Melbourne premiership captain who went to Rochester.

    In 1955, spectators saw arguably Bendigo’s greatest individual performance in the grand final between the QEO co-tenants, Sandhurst and South Bendigo. Kevin Curran, a former war hero and Hawthorn captain, was playing-coach at Sandhurst. South Bendigo burst ahead early before leading by nine goals to one at half-time.

    Teeming rain seemed to rule out Sandhurst’s chance before Curran imposed his will on the game. Like a bullock dragging a stump, he hauled the Maroons within sight of victory before South Bendigo held on to win by a point. In the grand final two years later, Eaglehawk defeated Kyneton by five goals before 16,600, an attendance that remains the record.

    It was also during this era that the oval was renamed in honour of Queen Elizabeth. The iron gates at the entrance to the oval continue to commemorate the monarch’s 1954 coronation tour.

    This season, the main visitors to Bendigo’s sporting showpiece have been VFL teams taking on the Bendigo Bombers, which is the club formed by the alliance between Essendon and the Bendigo Diggers. The alliance has proved fruitful on the field, with the Bombers about mid-table, but off the field many Bendigo people remain wary of the interlopers from Melbourne.

    The feeling was enhanced last month when the Bombers’ coaching staff was dissatisfied with the surface of the QEO, specifically the boggy cricket pitch area, and moved a game to Windy Hill. Bendigo footballers have been dragging their feet from the centre wicket for two decades; the Essendon boys were thought to be spoilt.

    Until two decades ago, the centre of the QEO would have been no boggier than the wings. In those days, there were two cricket pitches, one towards the city end and the other towards Barnard Street. Square pockets provided the chance to create two uniform fields of oblong shape.

    Last year, the Bendigo city council sparked outrage when it ruled that, since there was now only one central cricket pitch, there was no need for square pockets. In keeping with almost every other ground in Australia, the pockets would be cut off by nine metres to create an oval. The distinctive picket fence would be brought in accordingly.

    The refurbishment of the oval was all set go before the drought forced a delay. Traditionalists took the opportunity to muster forces, bombarding the Bendigo Advertiser with letters while the Bendigo Football League prepared its submission towards keeping the pockets. Sandhurst and South Bendigo were especially vehement that the pockets should remain. In the end, the council was forced to reverse its decision.

    Works are now set to go ahead after this season. As well as a refurbishment of the famous oval, a multi-sporting complex is to be built behind the Barnard Street goals. The square pockets are said to be safe, but some Bendigo people remain unconvinced that the debate over the ground’s shape is closed.

    Such is the passion aroused by one of Victoria’s premier sporting venues.

    An edited version of this article appeared in The Age on August 23, 2003

  19. Richard Jones says:

    Rodney, Rochy certainly made the grand final eight years in a row but it was a 50% return: four flags, four runners-up.

    The rivalry with Kyneton was a beauty. Rochy triumphed over the Tigers in 1959 and again in 1963. Kyneton took the flags in 1960 and ’61.

  20. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Love the tale about the horse and the train.

    Very interesting to read about the grounds and crowds.

    The 50’s and 60’s were great times for country footy and being a kid!

    You guys are fantastic with all your history and knowledge.

  21. Reggiethet says:

    Great read about a ground that is a faint memory from my days living in Wagga. My Father coached extensively thoughout the Riverina and Ovens and Murray leagues for over 35 yrs. I remember travelling to many country grounds and seeing the unique ability of the local footie to galvinise the local community. Not just footie as there would have been a netball game between the 2 towns being played next to the oval followed by a big get together afterwards. My Brothers, mother and I attended a 63′ 64’Grand Final reunion at Collingullie a few years back and it was like stepping out of a time machine. The oval covered in Patterson’s Curse, cars around the boundary, the girls running around on the courts next door, the same score board and I’m sure the same bloke putting the scores up. The canteen had been renovated and now has some brick work and windows. The feed put on by the Ladies Auxillary was sensational and Gullie wopped the players can still have a gasper after each quarter.

  22. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Thanks Reggie – you’ve captured the essence of country footy in your Comment.

    Great to hear how members of your family attended the premiership reunion at Collingullie.
    Always a tough hard game at the Gullie followed by a fair few convivials across the road at the aptly named Crossroads Hotel.

    I meet up with former Gullie great Geoff Sharp at a RFL grand final at Narrandera in 2007. Sharpie had played with a lot of clubs: Prahan, Minyip, Narrandera, Collingullie, Kyabram and Lancaster. He coached the Gullie to a flag in 1969. He now lives in Narrandera – but at the game in which Narrandera were playing in – he was with Gullie blokes. They love their own out at the crossroads!

  23. Hi Rod, I may be a little late in this reply, as it’s now early August. I was born on Narrandera in 1946, and lived there with my mum and dad until I moved away with work in about 1964 or 5. I must have went to the Narrandera sports ground hundreds of times. Nearly every Sunday, dad and mum never missed a match following the Imperials. I was with them most times. Going in their 1938 Buick. Dad would go early to the Narrandera ground and park the car on the east side right at the walk way and fence. This was a magnificent view of the ground. I would walk home with dad, and then later about 1pm we would get a taxi to the ground.
    In those days, the ground was a bitumen bike track. This is where the slope all the way around comes from. It is grass now.
    As a boy I was a bike rider. Dad built me a light bike, a fixed wheel, and I went in many track races at the ground. Dad was an official of the bike club.
    I have various pictures of the footy matches some where that I took with my Kodak Retinette. They would be slides filed away somewhere in my many boxes.
    I remember Peter Box. I think, but only think, he came to Narrandera as the coach. Also, I don’t know if he was a school teacher, but I think I was taught at the school by him. I know I was taught by a famous footballer.
    Also, at school, for sports afternoons, we would go to the ground to play footy. We would also play footy at the show ground which is over the road.
    Yes, the sports ground was a camping ground too. But I think only up to the mid fifties or so. The town council then built a new one I think.
    The Sundays watching the Narrandera Imperials was so cool. The crowds were enormous in those days. Especially the grand finals. I would also watch the game, and at the same time listen to it on my tiny new transisitor radio I carried in my pocket, with the broadcast from radio 2RG Griffith.
    It’s good to look back. Take care. Cheers . Ken Day.

  24. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Cheers Ken – glad it triggered some fond memories for you.

    I liked the bit about you getting a taxi to the ground with your father – which emphasises just how far the ground is from the centre of town.

    My mate, Ab the concreter from wagga maintains that Peter box was the best mark he has ever seen play in the Riverina. He used to go to the match of the round every unday with his step-father, Galva Nietche, who was calling the games for 2WG.

  25. Well, Narrandera Sportsgorund is very famous for footy. It’s an interesting blog, cheers.

  26. Great read, Rocket. We recently overnighted at a pub in narrandera, on the way to Mildura. Reading this, I am sorry we did not get out to the home of The Imperials! Undoubtedly other country grounds have similar histories, but not yet so effectively chronicled!. While there, I was also very impressed with Narrander’s array of war memorials!! A long traffic island, which had memorials for every war from the Boer to Vietnam. I have never seen the like of that anywhere, let alone a country town of 5 or 6,000 population.

  27. ROGAN WARD says:

    I CAN JUST REMBER THE FRENCH RUGBY TEAM PLAYING AT NARRANDERA I THINK
    AROUND 1953 ?

  28. Rocket Nguyen says:

    Hi Rogan,

    I searched that impeccable source, Wikipedia, for a reference to this, nothing. The French toured in 1961 and 1968 but no game listed at Narranderra. Hopefully, you can come up with more details because it would be interesting to know. It would certainly add to the narrative about the Narrandera Sportsground.

    BTW, Narrandera won its first Riverina AFL premiership since the early 90s this season – a great boost for footy in the MIA.

  29. Graeme Lynch says:

    I also remember the ground extremely well,played many games as a junior footballer from Leeton , playing for St Francis College against the Narrandera boys in the 60’s – always struggled to get a kick but loved it.
    Beautiful ground as I remember,also a vivid memory is the year the Leeton Redlegs won a Grand Final there , I am guessing around ’63 , my Father Des Lynch,who played for Leeton for many years previously,went to alot of trouble with our VW by dressing up in Redleg colours a large 1metre high doll and placing it on the roof with one leg extended kicking a goal through the posts!
    My late sister Robyn,about 10 at the time and Kim Gordon ,besties, were dressed as red devils and ran around beside the car in the parade prior to the game
    Great days,great players – Des Lyons was my school boy hero!
    Moved away from Leeton when I was 17 and have not been back much,now live happily in Queensland but remember those days fondly
    Cheers

  30. Rocket Nguyen says:

    Glad it revived some fond memories for you Graeme.

    Alas the Reddies were beaten by Turvey Park in the 1963 decider. It was a very competitive competition in the 50s and 60s with the premierships being shared around except for Whitton and Ardelthan. Leeton won in 1958. Also beaten by Turvey in 1961. But alas no flag since Roger Matthews (Swans permiership player Ben’s father) got Leeton up in 1978.

    Des Lyons must have been a ripper. After coaching Moombooldool in the Barellan league in 1962 he returned to the Reddies in 1963 and won the Gammage medal.
    He was a key player in the South West rep team that won the VCFL Country Championship in 1963-64.

    Leeton celebrated its centenary this year. Many of the churches, schools and other institutions also did likewise given that Leeton was a purpose-built town designed by Walter Burley Griffin to service the newly created Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.

  31. Graeme Lynch says:

    Hi Rocket
    Must have been a vivid dream , obviously time heals all wounds!!!!
    Did the Redlegs win Reserve grade that year ?
    Captained by n Uncle of mine – Wally Breed
    Cheers
    Graeme

  32. Rocket Nguyen says:

    Hi Graeme,

    Have looked up the results of the Reserves grand finals in my old Sou-Wester footy match day programs…

    No wonder you can’t remember the year! Leeton played in every grand final from 1958 till 1963! Missed GF in 64 – despite finishing 2nd on the ladder, then won again in 1965.

    The Reddies bt Turvey Park in 58, lost to Turvey in 59 & 60, beat Narrandera in 61, Ardelthan in 63, and won over the Imps again in 1963. A great run!

    Recall Daniel Breed from Leeton playing with the Swans in the early 90s.

  33. barry ross says:

    Riverina 29 beat France 27 at Narrandera on Wednesday 1 June 1955. Crowd just over 9,000.
    If anyone can get me the Riverina team for this game and the Riverina scorers, it would be very helpful. Thanks, Barry Ross

  34. Rocket Nguyen says:

    Ah, so when Rogan recalled the French playing rugby at the Narranderra Sportsground he meant rugby league….

    Good to see Riverina won! Reckon Jim Daniher would have have played – after he scored two tries when Riverina beat Great Britain in Wagga in 1954.

  35. G’day Julie

    I’ll pass your email address on to Richard.

    Cheers
    JTH

  36. Dr Rocket says:

    Hi Julie,

    The book is called All Along the Line – it was published locally.

    The late George Flagg – who was a friend of mine and fellow official in the old Central Riverina League – kindly sent me a copy.

    Hopefully Comrade Richard Jones can hook you up with Roy Taylor.

  37. goswannies says:

    What is Victor Hugo up to these days? Is he still living and working at Narranderra?

  38. Dr Rocket says:

    Last time I saw Vic a few years ago at the footy in Sydney he was living in Narranderra and still driving trucks. He was with 1979 Imps premiership winning coach Warren Finger. Son Dale played in last year’s Narranderra premiership winning team.

  39. DR Rocket, three years down the track i found your article. Terry O’Neill, former South Melbourne/Fitzroy, and Port Melbourne, defender is the best player i can recall from Narranderra. How do you rate him ?

    Glen!

  40. Rocket Nguyen says:

    Hi Glen!

    Terry O’Neill is certainly the best credentialled player from Narrandera in recent times. He went to South at a young age so I didn’t see him play for the Imps.

    Vic Hugo, David Scott, the Durnan bros – John, Neal and Russell all had short stints at VFL clubs in the 70s – and were premiership players for Narrandera in 1979.

    A new star on the horizon is Zac Williams now at GWS who played in the drought-breaking 2012 Narrandera premiership team – the first since 1986.

    But maybe the best player from Narrandera was Perc Bushby:

    From Wikipedia:
    Percy “Perc” Bushby (27 May 1919 – 29 August 1975) was an Australian rules footballer who played in the Victorian Football League (VFL).

    He played in the Essendon premiership teams in 1942 and 1946. He won the Essendon best and fairest award in 1944.

    Bushby captain-coached Stawell to a premiership in 1950 and led Ararat to four flags from 1955 to 1958.

    My favourite Narrandera player was Wayne “Nuggett” Evans from neighbouring arch rivals Grong Grong Matong who coached the Imps to the flag in 1981 before returning to play for the merged Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong.
    Nuggett was full of courage and relentless at the ball – used to run all day – good footy smarts too – maybe just lacked a bit of explosive pace for the VFL.

  41. Dr Rocket, thanks for the reply. The Durnan brothers i have a vague recollection of. Jim was at Melbourne, John firstly at Geelong then off to St KIlda. I have some recollection of him running around in the magoos. The other two Durnans, Neal, and Russell, don’t come to mind, nor does David Scott Victor Hugo, in spite of his marvellous name, also does not register in my memory. The 2 games he played for South Melbourne, i can’t recall.

    i’m pretty sure Terry O’Neill played in the Port Melbourne premiership of 1980, in his interlude from South Melbourne to Fitzroy. Another Port Melbourne full back of the period, Rod Carter, played for both of those VFL clubs, but in a different order to Terry.

    Glen!

  42. Julie McInerney says:

    Hi, I’m Julie McInerney, granddaughter of Matt McInerney as described in the poem posted by Richard Jones on March 11, 2010:
    It seems one Saturday in the 1930s (the Greens were formed in 1911) a well-known player by the name of Matt McInerney missed the train. It was a pouring, wet day.
    Not fazed by the sight ofthe teain disappearing towards Beckom, Moombooldool’s opponents that day, Matt urged on his faithful horse Molly and the pair arrived at Bckom just in time for McInerney to take his place in the team.

    So taken by this act of dedication at the season-ending function in the Moombooldool Hall (where else?) a poem in McInerney’s honour was read out. That task fell to local school teacher Mr R.F. Cooke.

    A couple of the stanzas went like this: For sure I missed the train said Matt,
    ‘Twas all that flamin’ rain
    I pushed old Molly to the boards
    But it was all in vain.
    We didn’t miss by very much
    Still smoke-filled was the air,
    I said: “C’mon old Molly horse,
    “You’ve got to get me there”.

    ‘Twas soaking to the skin Matt was,
    The road was long and rough
    But Molly rallied to the fore,
    They both are pretty tough.
    And so ’twas Matthew saved the Greens,
    [the local press observed].
    Took out the club’s gold medal,
    Which surely he deserved.

    A few posts back I made an attempt to get a copy of Áll Along The Line’, a book which apparently contains this poem, but no luck. I would dearly love to get a copy by whatever means I can. Is there anybody out there who could help me? Thanks

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