1966 St.Kilda Premiership Reunion – 5 Years On

Five years ago today, the players from St.Kilda’s 1966 premiership team held a reunion in Tasmania. Warwick Nolan was there. They say it not always good to meet your heroes.

 

The great man is already here. So too is Gypsy. Of course. This is Baldock country. They own this island.

 

The bus door swings open. Champions step down in an orderly way. In our heads we call their names and numbers as they alight. Just like we did around the race at Linton Street. There is clapping, perhaps even cheering. No streamers. Plenty of humour on board it seems. The whisper is that Cowboy has just completed the pre-match.

 

Rodger Head is with walking stick. John Bingley and wheelchair. If not for the name tag, you may not have recognized Jimmy Read. Ian Rowlands is here too. Now there is a story.

 

My wife tells me she is having a good time. She made a cuppa tea for a lovely man named Ross. She doesn’t know who he is. She doesn’t recognize former club captains, club coaches or Brownlow Medalists. She chats with Ross Oakley too. He looks pretty fit. He’s wearing jeans and a polo shirt. He confides to her that he is now embracing semi-retired. She asks him what he used to do for a living.

 

Formalities now. Doc speaks. Everybody listens. Yabby speaks. Everybody listens.

 

Soon it is mingle time. Bugsy talks of golf in Shepparton. Kevin Billing still lives in Oakleigh. Coop’s Scoops was a catchy business name. Verdun sold his Brownlow. Cowboy looks like he has lost weight. Mocca doesn’t look like he will be turning forty any day soon. Big Carl is thoughtful and well spoken.

 

Then it dawned on me – these men are nothing like heroes at all.

 

They have actually lived lives during the past 40 years. How dare they? Can we forgive them for not appreciating that these memories actually belong to us? They have turned into fathers, husbands and neighbours who have enjoyed and suffered thousands upon thousands of life’s experiences far in excess of any deed accomplished on that gusty September weekend. All of them had careers beyond 1966. All of them had lives beyond 1966.

 

The supporters know them well. Very well. Some heroes went on to further sporting fame. Some did not. We define them by what they did (or didn’t do) on that day. But they don’t. We remember details about their sporting achievements that they cannot fathom. Ridiculous really.

 

We survey the room now.

 

We look beyond the obvious. What is it you really see? We see men. Normal men. Some are a little bald. Some are a little plump. Some are loud. Some are not. We see family men. We see men who married, divorced and married again. There are men here who have been elected to parliament. Three have Ph.Ds. Two are Order of Australia recipients. One has been bankrupt. Another had his house burn down. Another a recovering alcoholic. Two endure the unimaginable agony of having to bury their own child.

 

Premiership glory over forty years ago is only a part of their life’s achievements. A small part. For some, maybe a very small part. These are just men who enjoyed a sporting memory. Men who, a lifetime ago, unwittingly, unknowingly were to be frozen for life in the glassed cabinet of sporting folklore.

 

We put them there in 1966 and we won’t let them out. Not yet anyway.

 

The semi-occasional tease of a second St.Kilda premiership rejuvenates the interest. Ironically, it is the continuing failure which perpetuates the celebrity. Success would change everything. Bittersweet really.

 

So whose sporting memory are we actually celebrating today? Theirs or ours? Could it be that the actual heroes in this self-indulgent novel are ourselves? Have we used this occasion to reaffirm who we are and what we stand for? Many other clubs have enjoyed half a dozen premierships or more in the same time space, yet here we are.

 

St.Kilda supporters just don’t jump ship. The day may be about the players and their reunion but the motivation for the others here is primarily spiritual. Who we are and what we stand for. More importantly, who we have been and what we have stood for over a virtual lifetime. These heroes have become a part of our own personal stories now. Our manuscript.

 

We are proud to be linked to their sporting deeds. We use it to help define our lives. That grainy, black and white, “hit the boundary line” part of our lives that we are so proud to be associated with.

About Warwick Nolan

Cricket tragic. Football tragic. However, he did enjoy glory early in his career. His zenith was as a ten years old when Simpson and Lawry opened the batting, Baldock wore a Collingwood jumper and a UFO landed on the school oval.

Comments

  1. Beautifully written Warwick. Great memories, and I loved the way that you gently reflected that winning a flag was not the most difficult challenge many of them faced in life.
    You walked a delicate line with grace. Thanks.

  2. I don’t think these guys will see another saints premiership in there lifetime unfortunately,they had there chances and blew it against Collingwood,too many politics at the saints have caused players to leave and build there careers elsewhere,maybe they should merge with the bulldogs

  3. Absolutely loved this piece Warwick!

    So what is the Doggy Rowlands story?

  4. HI Warwick, this is so beautifully written and I feel that I have been at that place with you. I am glad you had the counterbalance of your wife, after all, they are just a bunch of older guys to her. Thank you for sharing this, and you are correct when you talk about the different meanings for the players and the fans.

    Well done

    Yvette

  5. A very poignant piece, made even more so when you recall that in the five years since the Doc and the Yabbie have both passed on, as has Roger Head, and Travis Payze, the team junior in 1966, was already gone.

    Richmond’s back to back teams of 73 and 74, as far as I can recall, are the oldest Premiership sides still with a full list to choose from. Enjoy your next reunion, fellas.

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