The Perry Meka Roadshow

By Paul Branagan

I was obviously out of my inner-suburban comfort zone when I buggered up the take-a-number system at the Nagambie bakery. It was 11.30am and I was on my way to the Shepparton United / Shepparton Swans clash at Princess Park by the Goulburn River.

Innocently I picked up what I thought was a number “6” in the crowded bakery. Pleasantly surprised to be served so quickly in the milling throng, I was shocked to be challenged by a biker (not the Dennis Hopper kind) who also held the same ticket. Deserted by my travelling companions – the two Adrians – Branagan and McNamara- who confirmed I had a “9” not a “6” I had created mayhem between locals, bikers, shop assistants and the two Benedict Arnolds with whom I was going to spend the weekend.

It was nearly 35 years since I had to been to the Swans’ home round. In 1976 I had played my last game for the Shepparton Swans (nee Lemnos Football Club) which was the reserves grand final against Echuca which we lost by 16 points. The game we were heading to was crucial for both sides with the top positions of the GVL up for grabs for about 5 clubs after an even start to the season. The Swans had won well at Rochester the week before and United had easily accounted for Seymour. Bill Shakespeare couldn’t have penned a better script for such a fascinating contest. United boasted the gun goal kicker of the competition, Jason Eagle, who had scored over 100 goals consistently all over the eastern seaboard, two of Steele Sidebottom’s brothers, Ryan and Tyson (the skipper) and a very promising junior list from Deakin Reserve. The Swans had ex-AFL identities Russell Robertson, Adam Yze, Nathan brown, the Demon, their own exciting group of youngsters and” the set of steak knives”-the flamboyant , controversial and at times, maniacal coach, Perry Meka. Even in the taxi from our weekend accommodation at Mrs McNamara’s to the game the cabbie derided Meka’s performance the week before at Rochester.

He spat out that the Swans had been 6 goals down going into time-on in the third quarter and the Rochester supporters were giving it to Perry with both barrels about the money the Swans had thrown at the ex-AFL stars with, apparently, little result.  However, a couple of majors before the end of the third quarter and a ten goal last quarter- with Robertson kicking ten for the day- had coach Meka jumping out of his skin and at the final siren turning on his detractors and throwing all the loose change in his pockets in their direction, screaming, “ That’s is what you get from throwing money around!”. While the story had us in stitches the cabbie wasn’t amused and we knew we were assured of an interesting afternoon.

On arrival at the magnificent Princess Park our Shepparton United hosts, Adrian McNamara and his brother Gerard , introduced us their good mate and my ex-teammate at Lemnos, Glen Poustie, the present vice- president. Poor bugger , Glen played every game of the reserves in 1976 but was dropped for the grand final because of senior players being brought back to the seconds after Norm Smith’s ( not that Norm Smith) first eighteen had bowed out of the finals that year in straight sets. Still possessing his Shaun Cassidy youthful good looks he had just finished erecting a permanent sheltered viewing stand on the wing the previous Thursday. A great clubman.

Under this protection from the elements, imbibing some arctic cold cans of Melbourne Bitter we took in the start of this epic match. Within ten minutes Jason Eagle had two majors and Ryan Normington, also a solid mark and accurate kick, soon matched his full forward. The Swans attacked hard but the United half back line was disciplined, tough and assertive, moving the ball forward throughout the quarter. In the early, wet conditions the Swans’ defence, especially Tim Looby playing on Eagle, stood strong and stabilized in the face of United’s lighting, accurate start. At the other end Robertson looked uninterested.

We went out to listen to Perry Meka at quarter time. After a quick conference with his zone coaches he called in the players and, to my disappointment, started whispering the way Amateur coaches do in Melbourne. Well, that lasted for about 30 seconds! Then it was Barassi and Killagrew!- Blood and Thunder!- Fire and Brimstone! It was cliched and lacking in focus but the man has presence, passion and volatility and it seems to fire up his players. He had literally whipped them up into a frenzy. They bolted enthusiastically out to their positions as the weather moderated and the ground seemed to start drying out.

You’ve got to love country football! You never know who you’re going to meet. Taking up our positions for the second stanza I looked around at the netball match behind us and there was Herb Barlow whom I’d battled against in the Marcellin / Assumption College encounters of the early 70’s. We had a quick chat on life in our 50’s and how his son Michael was going at Fremantle. Wonderful to talk to a bloke happy to see his kid  getting a league game and satisfied enough with  that and leaving the rest to the boy and his club.

Shepparton Swans played a lot better in the second quarter. Their performance was more sharply directed and they got goals. But then so did United. The United defence was still very solid but the attack went too much to the flanks taking the key forwards too far out to score or to score accurately. And Looby wore Eagle like a glove. Normington drifted out of it and for the Swans Shane Sali and Luke Jarjoura were starting to come into the game. The Yze’s were doing the same, especially Adam who was gaining a lot more poise as the ground dried out. Ramadan Yze was starting to quell the early brilliance of Shaun Huy. Damien Yze was linking effectively and Roberson was starting to get a sniff.

As we went into the Swans’ rooms at half time I asked my brother whether United’s 4 goal lead would guarantee a victory. He indicated the ominous storm clouds on the horizon but we concurred that the Swans were probably looking more threatening than any inclemency in the weather. The third quarter ebbed and flowed but the tackling and pressure by both sides was relentless. And the weather improved! Durbridges ‘ profanity to the heckling from some United supporters in our stand would have made a publican blush, showing a lack of discipline, but then he was one of the man combatants in the five or six minutes of brawling that ensued. Even in the huddle at three quarter time he was conducting himself like “Mad Dog Muir” on crack.

But it was tactically in the third quarter that Meka took over. United coach, Marc Quarrell, had told us his boys at quarter time that the four goal lead was not enough and that they had to be proactive rather than reactive. It’s fair to say that his direction wasn’t executed. Meka moved the bustling, brawny , long kicking Jarjoura into the pivot and ruckman Brodie A’Vard to centre half back which gave influential rebound from the half back line. In the still damp conditions the massive but slippery Jarjoura’s poise, reading of the play and accurate, penetrating kicking constantly drew the Swans closer to their opponents on the scoreboard and Adam Yze, who had worked hard all day, was starting to play like an AFL footballer in the GVL.

Meka’s strut to the three quarter time huddle was almost messianic. Like Kenny  Everett’s “Brother Lee Love” he yelled, “They know we’re comin! They know we’re comin!’”It was the full on Perry Meka Roadshow as he laid it on that they would repeat the comeback that they’d executed at Rochester the previous week.  Little was said of tactics and strategy but again he had his troops fired up.

Although United played as a team and fought hard, reminiscent of Mick Mulligan’s tight units of the seventies, they seemed to fade as the Swans gained the ascendancy. The Sidebottoms and Ryan Butler, especially, battled their guts out but then early in the final stanza the skipper, Tyson Sidebottom, missed a very gettable shot at goal.

The momentum was all with the Shepparton Swans and a penetrating kick from Ramadan Yze to Robertson and the subsequent goal   neutralized all of United’s early toil. A Sali long kick to a very questionable mark by Robertson ( the umpires are definitely influenced by reputation!) resulted in a major to put the Swans seven points up. By my rough calculations this gave United about eight minutes to fight back. The final siren blasted at what I reckon was the twenty three minute mark of the quarter which seemed to shock supporters of both sides. However, the Swans had scored their fourth win in a row and their second consecutive comeback from behind.

Was Perry Meka gracious in victory? As he strode out to join his elated charges he suddenly turned twenty metres out from the boundary towards his perplexed and seething coaching opponents . With a nasty leer that evinced memories of Jack Palance he laid down in front of them a media article from the previous week in which United coach, Mark Quarrell, had stated that United were the pacesetters and that the Swans would have to catch them. Meka made some unsavoury accusations towards Quarrell then turned to his triumphant troops.

The epilogue was in the Shepparton Swans’ rooms where the club song was delivered without any players feigning asleep on teammates shoulders. Perry congratulated the boys on a great win  explaining that some coaches might try to keep a lid on it at this stage. “But not Yours Truly”!

He belted out, “Did we win today? (raucous screams)  Did the seconds win today? (hysterical affirmation) Did the thirds win today? Did the netballers win? Well let’s kick on and all get to the eighties night at the club tonight”. Motivation and promotion had the right fit for the players and supporters.

But then Perry asserted to the massive, receptive gathering that they should they aware that the “ big end of town”, i.e. Shepparton Football Club and Shepparton United, were going to bring about the total and complete demise of the Shepparton Swans. Class warfare was rampant in unsuspecting capital of the Goulburn Valley. The fanatical crowd was bemused if not dumbstruck!

The following day the McNamara’s and the Branagans attended “the barrel” at the Shepp United’s rooms at Deakin Reserve. North Melbourne premiership player Peter Chisnall, hosted Paul Van Der Haar and Terry Daniher. It was one of the funniest and most informative afternoons that most of the gathering of one hundred or more had experienced in ages.

The United boys were fascinated at being referred to as the “Toorak Toffs” of Shepparton by Perry Meka. Sunday’s hospitality of Ray Dobson, John Gilmartin and John Huston was equally matched by that of Matty Selman and Glen Poustie on the Saturday. It was great to see my old team mate Peter Pearson. You’ve got to love country football!

11.10-76 Shepparton Swans
def.
10.6-66 Shepparton United
Shepparton Swans

Goal Kickers: R. Robertson 3, D. Yze 2, J. McDonald 2, J. Charles , S. Sali , N. Barolli , L. Jarjoura
Best Players: T. Looby, R. Yze, S. Sali, J. Finnen, L. Jarjoura, J. Rachele

Shepparton United

Goal Kickers: S. Huy 3, R. Normington 2, J. Eagle 2, M. Davies , R. Sidebottom , S. Dawes
Best Players: R. Butler, N. Gemmill, S. Huy, S. Scott, D. Vidler, M. Rendina

Paul Branagan with thanks to Marc McGowan

Comments

  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Thanks Paul – really enjoyed this although I would never describe Princess park as “magnificent”… a bog-hole between Shepp and Mooroopna more like it! Even Darky Harms romantices it by recalling riding his bike along the levee banks that surround the ground in his childhood in Shepparton. It was always wet and muddy.

    I always liked John’s description of the Lemnos players and his observation of the mixed ethnicity which he captured very well in Loose Men Everywhere. Not very prevalent amongst the other GVL clubs at the time that were mostly comprised of white farm-boys like me from Stanhope.

    You too have captured the essence of the intense rivalry between the three Shepp teams – and the social differences: Shepp have always been the establishment club, and City United – although initially made up of workers from the SPC cannery have become an amalgam of social types.

    Great to see Ray Dobson back involved in footy at United – Dobbo used to do a lot of catering for the Swans in the Edelsten-Prichard days – always a contra-deal – but we enjoyed the return hosptitality at games!

  2. PJ,

    Love it. Magnificent description of a colourful day at the footy.

    It seems country footy is just more colourful than its suburban cousin. Not sure why that is.

    I could write a book about Perry’s antics over the years. You’ve just given a few more items to include. Never heard of a coach throwing coins all over the turf.

    What’s wrong with blowing the lid off anyway?

    Peter Chisnall is one of footy’s great characters. He asked me to his old pub in Burrumbuttock. I didn’t get there but I’m keen to go to his current pub, in Tungamah, one weekend.

    I reckon you should come with me.

  3. Look at you with your colour
    And completely absent of quotes off SEN, I’m impressed.
    Meka certainly kept me entertained during my time.
    I love that he produced the paper, never underestimate the power of the Shepp News.

  4. George Callum says:

    The Nagambie Bakery is a must-stop on the way to the Goulburn Valley grand final. I do it every year. I love going up there the day after the AFL Grand Final, it gives me the last footy fix for the year. Have seen some cracking games. The win by Rochester over Seymour just a couple of years was a memorable one. I don’t think I have seen the Shepp Swans play in a grand final for a long time, can’t remember the last time.

  5. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    George, the reason why you won’t have seen Lemnos play in a GVL GF is because they haven’t played in one since 1970! The Swans assembled a great squad that year under local hardman Roland Crosby.
    They comfortably beat a Kyabram side led by former Geelong premiership captain Fred Wooller.

    Not sure if the Swans have the goods this year despite them paying out the buck$ as the Rochy supporters so eloquently told Perry Meka a few weeks ago – he had the last laugh on that occasion.

    According to fellow Almanacker Tavis Perry, Rochester are the sleeping giants of the GVL. Hope he’s right!

  6. Swannie Swan says:

    Rocket Rod, the Swans played in the 2007 Grand Final you twit.

  7. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Apologies Swannie Swan -I’m still coming to terms with the change of name…

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