Matt Zurbo adds the on-ballers, interchange and coach to his Team of the Century. He’s interested in your own nominations.
Sammy Harriott is tough. Is bush football. Is a Champion. I’m proud to call him a mate. An all-time legend of the Otway Footy Club. Ruthless. No-one I’ve played alongside or against, apart from Damian Dove, could hit harder with their bodies. He won B&Fs as a fast, bashing, crashing, leathery ruck-rover, and thought nothing of kicking 13 at FF when his body was shot. He had smacked it into so many packs and pack marks and tackles there was bugger all left. Except his ability to kick impossible goals, and to turn his opponents inside out.
Not one to hog the glory then quit, he took on coaching the Two’s to help the club he played for his whole life, that gave to him, and can still be seen on Saturdays, when his body allows, between 12 and 2.
Tempting to put him FF, or, in a team this mighty, HFF, but, in his prime, the most classic, genuine Ruck Rover. Vice Captain.
Leon Burnstein was 5ft 2”, or there abouts, and head-and-stocky-little-shoulders-to-toes the best player I’ve ever seen. Relentless like Matthews, as fair as Skilton. Solid, fast, great overhead for his size – these things he was lucky enough to be born with, but he just pushed, endlessly.
At training he’d run so hard doing rabbit burrows, chunks of grass would be kicking up over my head. He was always exhausted at the end of each night, because he attacked every kick of every drill as if it might decide the match. And, sure enough, come game day, was the only bloke on the oval who could genuinely run a game out.
He had sweet timing, vision, brains and a laconic ratbag’s grin.
Once, I saw him push hard from the middle into defence, get the pill from a contest, kick it to the wing. The ball hit hands and spilled. Despite having just ran the length of the ground, he followed up and was the one to rove it when it hit the turf. Under the pump, he broke free, then did as the coach instructed, driving it long to the hotspot at CHF, where it bounced off hands again, and, sure enough, when it fell into the pack, there Leon was, a few seconds later, barging in, knocking blokes out of the way, wrestling it into his hands and kicking it forward again. Contest to contest to contest.
What an inspiration!
Won every award the Amateurs had.
The hardest position of all to pick. There can be only one. From AJAX’s Les Lavin to Uni Blue’s Justin Jamieson, I’ve seen so many greats.
As with Bayer Harris, I never played alongside Peter Featherstone. He was a monster. 6ft 100” of solid muscle and go. Remember that kid who grew twice as quick in juniors, swatting away you and your small, skinny mates? That was him in whatever senior comp he chose to play.
Like the best ruckmen, he had presence.
Smart, Peter would hit-out to teammates, talk to his rovers, make them talk to him. He could jump despite his bulk, and only having half of one foot.
To him footy was about mates and community. And he served both with flag after flag.
A Beeac boy (flat farming plains on the far side of Colac Lake), he took them to flags, moved to the Bay for love, took them to flags, then moved back to Beeac for more of the same, and never once got full of himself. Operated a crane, drove trucks, ate steak and chips on Friday nights. Never lost perspective.
A firm and passionate believer in cards and a few drinks in the clubrooms after Thursday selection.
In one game against him, I leapt to full height, dug my knee into his hip, launched, swiped, and didn’t even hit his wrist. Next time, I smacked into him with everything I had. All guns! The ball came down neutral. He snatched it out of the rover’s hands, took off before I could catch him, bowled over two or three of my teammates as he bounce twice, then delivered deep.
“Good stuff!” he smiled at me after the game.
Still hacking away somewhere near Bordertown SA. If you look up “bush footy” there will be a photo of his ugly head!
Piss easy: Sid Myers.
(apologies to Clinton Parker from Lilydale, and Mick Hickey from Otway)
I desperately wanted the ruck spot to go to Lenny “Spider” Perkins! If only because he was my best mate. I loved the bloke. Everybody did. He would turn games. Seize them by the scruff of the neck. Had the sweetest 50 meter left foot you’ll ever see. Would just stand in front of oncoming packs and stretch for the mark, daring them to trample him.
Played ruck, mostly, but also killed it at CHF and CHB. Just wanted to win!
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I saw him fully extended, holding a mark, wearing four or five charging players in his back.
Where as some players make the crowd go “Raaaaaooor!” Lenny would make them go “Ooooooohhh!”
Off the field, well, there was nobody better. He could drink for three days, always laughed and loved life and put on a show. Yet when I coached juniors, I always noticed him at the back of the quarter time huddle, letting the kids know some senior players gave a shit about them. Under 13s, 17s, for half of the ressies, he was always there.
“Go boys! Come-on!”
That’s the stuff clubs are built on. Character. Passion. Humour. Guts on the oval, good times off it. Changing with Featherstone in the ruck.
Brian Noseda was a barrel-chested battler for the Apollo Bay twos. Slow, couldn’t leap, but heart a mile wide, and so passionate about his footy club. Always gave everything his talent and body permitted. I know he was only reserves. But this is a “Not AFL” team, so the level is irrelevant. As long as they gave everything, and you could build a team around them and they always strived to be a little better than they could possibly be. If these are the criteria, then hell, yes!
Can still be found plodding along in the McGoos alongside his son. Must have played 800 games! Haha!
If only for the battlers. The draughthorses. As a reward for services rendered. Nosey, you’re in!
I’m going to do something different for my final interchange. I never even saw Guy Permezel play. Even though I saw his son go from Juniors, to AFL Falcons, Senior Captain and teammate, to eventual well-earned retirement.
Guy played about 14 years as a tough, key backman, then, getting too old, was thrown forward early in his last year on a looky-see. He kicked 144. A club record that stands to this day.
He looks you fair in the eye and grips your hand firmly when he shakes it. Having played most of my footy until then as a backman, I was curious about his goal-kicking record and asked:
“Do you regret not being put forward earlier in your career?”
Again, always, he looked me in the eyes and said:
“Eh, that was just something that happened at the end. I’m a backman,” as if they are born. As if that’s a thing of absolute, rock-like pride.
Apologies to so many. Stewart Sutherland, Khan Beckett, Justin Robins from Otway, Connor Tuckerman from Lilydale, David Tanis, Virg Morrow from the Bay, Coutes from Lorne, and so on. The list is endless.
If Pride had a name it would be Damien Dove. Laconic, witty, sharp, 6ft2” or thereabouts. A bit overweight, but of the strong kind, with acceleration, hardness, and skill for a big man like I’d never seen. A genuine big forward. Was not unusual to see him go into the middle for a game, the biggest genuine ruck-rover I’ve ever seen. He’d kill people off three steps. Snap it up as it came in at his ankles, full pace, kick them from fifty, loved a grab, to use his strength/body, and always played well in big games, because he was a big man. Larger than life.
He was insanely proud. Night after night after training, we’d get someone to kick it up to us for fifteen minutes. Me and him. Every single time, with no-one watching, we’d bash into each other as if each and every contest was life or death.
Everybody in three leagues knew Dovie, respected him. No-one who was on his team was scared of anything. He was a leader, too. 200% personality, loyal to his teammates. You build Premierships around men’s men like him. We must have been ordinary at Otway to not give him one.
Peter Guertz was a freak! Everything about him was Ablett Sr. Naturally strong, fast, powerful. Thought nothing of kicking seven from CHF. Took speckies, pack marks, always, always landed on his feet. Only one problem. His head. Never trained, rocked up to games drunk.
One function, after he’d kicked eight, then wrote himself off on grog, I found him standing in the drizzle, in a puddle, in the car park, snoring like a saw. Even when unconscious he kept his feet.
Yes, he should have played AFL, and killed it. Yes, but for his head he would have. But, then, we would never have had the pleasure of playing footy with him. Watching all those goals, that strength, that power. Natural? On song he was mighty. Unstoppable.
I remember one final, a few points down, minutes left, the ball kicked to a pack at fifty, totally out of position, he leaped anyway. Copped a ride off his opponent, like Roach, noticed the ball was on a different line to him, still a full body above the pack, threw his hands across and marked it two feet from his hip. Went back, kicked the goal.
I thought he was the best bloke, everybody did. Except the coach, not that I blame him. CHF, with Dovie beside him, in case his head goes AWOL.
Bayer Harris won league B&Fs at any and every level he played at. But found a home in the CDFL because he had a good business going and young kids. His family is Otway, and he returned there, when on the wane, but not in my time. He is one of only two opponents I have put in here.
I’ve seen footballers of all shapes and sizes. Those that have played AFL, those that were destined to. Those that simply should have been playing at a higher standard, and were proving absolutely nothing to me. Bayer was different, because, no matter the level, (and I did watch him when he won the league B&F in as very powerful comp), he always made his teammates look good.
Too many talented dickheads would rack up the stats, votes and accolades. Bayer would get the hard ball, feeding it off to runners. He’d wear two or three blokes at ball-ups, and squeeze it out to the man now free. He took hits, blows, slapped it on, wore flying tackles taking that extra second to make sure the ball found a teammate’s hands. Always.
He could twist and turn and had the power through his core to shrug tackles. He wouldn’t just kick goals in this team, he’d make others kick them, too. He could turn a forward line from chaos to order. A prick of a thing on the grog. Haha! Good for rotations, too.
Box is that touch of class every team needs. A 45 per year goal kicking on-baller, who also pushes back into defence. Can take a great grab. Is not scared. Is a totally likeable, down to earth bloke. At 21 has won most of all there is in Tasmanian bush and city footy, GF BOGs, League B&Fs, and finally, this summer, has left our club for the Statewide League, as good as Tassie’s got, goddamn it! He tried once before, but was still Under 19s and hated it.
“The Seniors are separate from the rest, so are the Ressies. At a club like ours everybody mixes, there’s nobody better than anybody else. Isn’t that what footy’s about?” he told me.
“But don’t you want to see how good you can be?” I asked.
“Sorta, but I’m studying full time and love that, too. Footy is about getting away from that and spending time with my mates.”
Thank Christ! The power of his first two or three steps, his judgement and awareness of big moments won us a few flags. Never, ever went to ground – the true sign of a champion. The way he can take the piss out of himself, and does, won hearts.
Now that he’s playing Statewide, he’s even improving at picking up girls! Great to see him taking the next step, and killing it there too!
45 while on-ball? A higher level of footy would free him up to be one of the best forwards you’ve ever seen. The perfect random, both in and around the 50 as he choses. Let him run hard. Forward Pocket.
Holts is a full-forward. Head to toe. Solid, strong, proud. He was playing at Rochalea when I met him working on the plantation crews. Of fifty desperadoes on piece rates, he was the best worker. Not the fastest, just never stopped. He plays footy the same way.
Leads, doubles back, leads again, doubles back, leads more. There’s no rocket science to how he plays. Reads the line, puts his solid frame out there, leaps, dares them to try and knock him off it.
Holts used to be made to dummy lead for another gun FF. He came down to our club and was told ‘You’re the Man’. And he was and then some. He kicked a hundred, easy, it was our turn to win a flag.
Full-forward is tricky. There are so many good ones. What sets Holts apart, to me, is he trains harder than the on-ballers, cuts a path for rovers when the mark spills, does everything he can to get the most out of what he’s got… and kicks goals. A club man, a team man, a game winner. You can’t ask for more than that.
Every single person at the club, from tough nuts to trainers, thought the world of Holton. That stuff will always get you over the line.
Sonny Whiting is all silk. A Premiership Statewide forward pocket/flanker. But country boy through-and-through. He would train with them in the city, then, with their witches hats still spinning, be back at our dunny block clubrooms, drinking with the boys he grew up with. Every function, every Thursday night, every time his mob play Friday nights, or Sundays – back with the boys.
He returned as a player for a year. Just to be local. A small, skinny man, he kicked 114 in about 15 games. In one marking drill I set up, I pitted myself against him. He was faster, ran like liquid, a motor so smooth it makes no sound. Skills galore. In marking, I reckoned, I had him.
And I did for five or six, then started putting it on him. Giving him the full, baited raz.
“Okay, then,” he said, and went all steel.
How the hell can you body a person when they leap from so far away, so high? Then when you take that big run-up with him, he uses that speed to get in front of you. If there’s a pack, he marks over everyone. The fucker!
He’ll be back one day. But, then again, he’s never really left. Forward Pocket, keep him fresh with stints on the ball.
Brenton Talbert. Seen better players. Was just a kid. One of the most likeable people you could ever meet. Just plain grouse. A forward pocket of the rarest kind, who knew he wasn’t a full forward. Ran to the right places, and started in them, too. Put the forward structure first. But, mostly, in a Big Dance year, they started him on the ground 11 times, in 9 of them he kicked the first goal of the game. You can’t buy that shit in finals.
They started him on the bench in the GF. We lost by a goal. Underrated by almost everyone. In a forward line with a lot of muscle, a starting pocket, easy. Then replace him with Box or Whiting on the rotations. Or leave him if on song.
Alec McLelland is not an on-baller. Too slight for the bash and crash of centre bounces, but, damn, he is the most genuine winger I’ve ever seen. Runs just like Jetta! Exact! Gets the ball, does this stupid little Fred Flintstone leap, and ZIPPP! He breaks lines, and spirits, and is often the deciding factor with just fifteen or so stats.
When he takes them on, we all think, “No way…”, but off he goes, even though the bloke is right next to him, and two more waiting just beyond. He runs, he bounces, he arches his back and weaves, always forward, while we, whether we’re watching from the sidelines, or on the field, give that baffled chuckle to each other, chock full of jealousy and awe.
He is, without a doubt, the nicest bloke I’ve played footy alongside. Cheeky, generous. Young and young at heart. Not one tag on himself.
One game, this big, burly donk gave him shit.
“You squibbed that ball,” the bloke growled.
“Yeah, mate,” Alec said, scooping up the pill as the pack fumbled it back towards them, then dodged the donk, bouncing it twice along the wing, before dodging another bloke as he cut back into the corridor, bouncing it twice more, then delivering long and deep to full-forward, who kicked the goal.
Mate, I let the donk know! It was our job to clash heads and give each other splinters. Alec’s was to run, and love life. Job done! Wing.
Malt was the hardest footballer I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. He was borderline AFL, but, somehow, just, almost, sorta, didn’t quite get there. Nobody at AJAX new why the hell not? After stints at Sandringham, where he slayed it, getting 40 touches every week, and in WA, where no AFL recruiters noticed, he came back to our club. We were down a few divisions. There was no questioning he was a cut above, but what gets him in my team above the countless other “cut-above” players I’ve shared a team with, what stood out, to me, was every other team down in the lower grades tried to kill him. Because he was good, because he was handsome, because he was Jewish. Any one or all of the above. He wore forearms, elbows, king-hits, knees, and every time, every damn single time, he would shake it off and push on as if they were not even there. Not so much as a backward glance. They weren’t worth it. Not a second of it. Neither were pain or fear. He never, ever let it make him hesitate in his attack on the pill. Not once.
I remember one game, this skinheaded, sour bloke had it in for him. Double forearms to his head. Down he went, up he got, jogging on towards the pill. Elbow to the head. Down, up and away. I was on the sidelines that day, shouting abuse at the knucklehead with everybody else. Malt just kept on charging, getting kicks.
I’ve seen nastier, better fighters, even the stupidly brave, but for shear resolution, for grit and silky class, Malt gets my vote.
Andy was Clifton Hill YCW. All tatts and no teeth and biff. The whole league was like that. His boots only had about three or four stops, but he played like Cunningham. Tough, fast. Mullet spreading as his bashed into opponents without fear, or trailing behind as he cut a path forward. I was just a kid playing seniors, trying to not get my head ripped off by crims, bikies and truck drivers who resented youth. The whole thing was a brilliant, scary education. An adventure that more than once knocked me out. Not that our team were saints.
If someone pissed Andy off, he’d go back for a torp with the muddy, leaden ball, and kick it as hard as he could into the head of the man on the mark. A lot of fights seemed to happen around him.
He also knew how to pull a fifteen meter penalty. When he went to pick up the ball at the man on the mark’s feet, he’d bump into them and throw himself back, wailing as if kneed in the head! Then, when he was standing a mark, and the opposition would try to switch rolls, they would bump into him while picking up the ball at his feet, and, before they could throw their head back, he’d double over, as if shouldered in the nuts. Kick reversed.
Every team needs some colour.
The whole comp was for the forgotten, the dinosaurs. Woollen jumpers and old school ways. I can’t even remember his last name, but Andy both belonged and stood out.
….and here’s last week’s instalment: Matt’s backmen.
It ain’t all AFL.
There are Champions out there. With stories attached. Having played the game at many levels, across many leagues and three states, for 30 years, here is my all-time team. And would love to hear about your non-AFL Champs!
My team, in hindsight, has a lot of the Swans about it. Toughness over flair. Balance over individuals. Unlike the AFL’s All Australian squad, it is a TEAM. Lots of leadership. I’m happy about that.
It is important to note: a few of them are not necessarily the best I’ve ever seen in ability for their position, but who left the biggest mark. The best for their club, at that time. Character counts. These things count.
Once you’ve read, share your players, your stories, please. Remember, though, this will be done in stages. This week, tell us about your greatest backmen, and why.
Johnny Kanis, from Uni Blues (yes, I played there even though I never went to university), and I were a total personality clash. As much as you could get. But credit where it’s due. Damn he could weave, handball, get around a bloke. No-one could lay a damn finger on him! Even at training. When we did an eight group kamikaze handball drill off only three steps, somehow, he’d get through untouched. Every time. Same on the field.
He must have been close to AFL at some stage. Back pocket. Could play.
“Doggy” Middleton was a solid bloke who could run fast. In straight lines, usually. He was very Otway Districts. Totally down to earth, blue-collar country man who could fight, but never snarled, never started. He was tough, determined to not be beaten, just lacking that bit of flair that good forwards are made of.
I remember one year, he was leading the vote count in the seniors until half way through, from which point he smashed the votes in the reserves. Combine the two, he won easy! The coaches insisted he was too slow, but form is form. We were all a bit perplexed by that. Full Back.
Grant Budge was my hero. The toughest bloke I have ever played alongside, or against. This half-cut, mellow-eyed tripper with the most slothful, non-aggressive, likeable grin, was just so damn hard on the field. Average height, average build, any big donk was serving it up to our little blokes, and WHACK! No fight-picker, ever, but when he was in the team no-one was ever, ever afraid. He took to being a defender with the exact same grit. Would wear all sorts of hits just to get a touch on, take on monsters at full back, hammer and claw, match pacey forward flankers, charge into packs. I remember one Grand Final, in the pouring rain, playing Full-Back, hopelessly outsized, the ball came in over his head, his opponent muscling him out. Budge smacked into the man as hard as he could, throwing himself back on the recoil, full stretch, through the air, with every damn thing he had, getting, literally, a fingertip to the pill just as it skidded through the mud for a sure goal. His team won by a point.
Only bloke to ever play at 4 clubs in the CDFL and win four flags. Budge didn’t chase Premierships, they followed him. Back pocket.
Chris Hall was the opposite of your typical Otway player. Myself included. Articulate, smart, long blond hair, headband, he came to our club with about five other Ballarat uni boys, as a bit of an adventure, and stayed. The others were handy at such a small club, good blokes, for sure, but uni boys. Chris was always smiling, never judging. Every bloody person loved him. The loggers, the bitter old duffs, the kids. At a straight-ahead, bash-and-crash club, he always looked for the switch, or ran for it, his blond hair catching our peripheral vision. He swooped around back for the hands. Chris played modern footy until we all did. He opened the vision of a club. Slow as a wet week, it didn’t matter a damn.
When he got his degree he went off to work in Africa, then Asia. I think he’s now in England. A man about town. Friend to all nationalities, even mountain footy clubs. What a champion! Back flank.
Dags Enright was taller than me, maybe 6’4”, but was suited better to CHB at Otway. Not scared of a biff, or a gun opponent, or the scores. Not scared of anything. He was, I reckon, your perfect CHB. Honest. Head-to-toe. Knew when to mark, when to punch. Was strong, without being overweight. Landed on his feet. Could be thrown into the ruck, CHF, FF, as a genuine option.
He once clipped a drugo with brittle bones. Just a jab or two to get the man out of his face. The drugo then told everyone his head was caved in. It made all the back pages. Darren got 20 weeks. The drugo was full of shit and played after missing one game. That’s how it was told to me, anyway. It finished Dags as a player. So what? CHB.
Jake “Mus” Tuckerman is the ratbag cousin everybody wants. As a mate, at their club. A perfect 6 foot rebounder who can play on ball, wing or in attack. On talls or smalls. Always lands running. Always does extra, 12 months of the year, always fit. Always letting off the fire hydrant, or siren, at functions. Always on the move. I love the bloke!
The second of four Tassie brothers at Lilydale, in NE Tasmania, you’d think it’s all fun and games until you see him train, until you see him play. He got up from being knocked out and WON last year’s flag when we were the rank outsiders. 35 touches while concussed. Was everywhere. Silky, and loves work. Living proof that pride and commitment can still have fun. Total Aussie prankster! Blokes like that keep a club alive. HBF.
Who are your legendary backmen?