Almanac Footy: Frank Gumbleton – Ganmain to Glory

Frank Gumbleton played for Ganmain as a teenager.

I was happy playing football in Ganmain and mucking up with my mates up home. I never even thought about the VFL. I’m proud of myself for what I got out of it. I wasn’t a champion. I just worked hard.

  • Frank Gumbleton – January 2020


A threat to leave


Frank Gumbleton made his debut for North Melbourne in 1970, playing 13 games and winning the best first year player award. His coach, Keith McKenzie, played him on a forward flank.


When Brian Dixon replaced McKenzie in 1971, Gumbleton found himself at odds with his new coach. He started the year in the reserves and played just five senior games. ‘I couldn’t break in,’ he said. ‘I was getting best on ground (in the reserves).’


At the end of the season, Gumbleton arranged to play for East Fremantle and asked for a clearance. ‘I wanted to get out from Dicko,’ he said. ‘Ron Joseph and Lloyd Holyoak said you’re not going.’


Stricken by glandular fever in January 1972, Gumbleton’s wife, Margaret, called Dixon. ‘He’s sick and won’t be at training,’ she said.


‘I don’t care how sick he is,’ Dixon said. ‘I want him at training.’


‘He’s sick and in bed on the doctor’s orders,’ Margaret said.


Gumbleton didn’t go to training, leaving Dixon unimpressed. ‘I didn’t have a great relationship with Dicko,’ Gumbleton recalled.


North Melbourne finished last in 1972. Gumbleton played 18 games, and wasn’t disappointed when Dixon quit at the end of the season. Sick of mediocrity, North’s President, Alan Aylett, lured Ron Barassi. Club secretary Ron Joseph took advantage of the short-lived 10-year rule.


A few months before the 1973 season, East Fremantle officials reaffirmed their offer. Gumbleton asked them to wait. ‘Give me one more year,’ he told them. ‘I want to have a year with Barassi, then I’ll be coming over.’


Gumbleton never made the move west…


Ganmain – across the border


Born on 6 March 1951 at Narrandera Hospital, Gumbleton grew up in Ganmain, a small New South Wales town in the Riverina region. Ganmain is in rugby league territory, but the region was dominated by Australian Rules.


Gumbleton’s brother James was two years older. Their father, Clem, was a trainer at Ganmain Football Club. Their mother, Maggie, played tennis socially.

Gumbleton was 11 when Clem died at 40 from a heart condition. ‘I didn’t know much of him,’ he said. ‘We used to follow him around the football club.’


Maggie took the family to Griffith for two years, living with her brother. ‘That’s when I started playing football,’ Gumbleton said. ‘In Griffith I played in the under 12s and if they were short in the under 14s, I’d play under 14s.’


Multiple games of football on a weekend continued when the family moved back to Ganmain. Gumbleton played under 14s and under 18s on the same weekend. In his second season, he captained the under 16s to the premiership. That same year he played in the reserves premiership. ‘I was 14,’ Gumbleton said.


By 1966, Gumbleton was 15, and played two games a weekend. ‘Saturday and Sunday,’ he said. ‘Half forward flank in the under 18s and full forward in the reserves.’


Eight goals in the 1966 reserves grand final got the locals talking, how about young Frank?


Tom Carroll looked on quietly. A Ganmain local, Carroll played 55 games for Carlton and kicked 143 goals from1961-63. Returning home to the family farm, he coached Ganmain, and wanted Gumbleton to play in the seniors.


‘The VFL meant nothing to me then,’ Gumbleton said. ‘I didn’t have a side.’


Gumbleton had Ganmain, and football united the community. When Ganmain played away, club officials organised a bus to take players and supporters through the Riverina. The bus left early and arrived early, so people could watch the Under 18s, the reserves and the seniors.


Football was a day out, away from the farms and work. ‘Picnic lunches with chickens, whatever you wanted,’ Gumbleton said. ‘We’d take it with mum and Nanna and other people on the bus. It was just like one big family. That’s what kept the town going, the football matches.’


In 1967, Carroll wanted Gumbleton to play senior football. Maggie, who worked with Carroll’s family, refused. ‘Mum and Tommy had a lot of arguments,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Mum said he’s too young. Tommy ended up winning.’


After three rounds in the seniors at full forward, Gumbleton had kicked 19 goals. ‘I did like playing up forward,’ he said. ‘I loved it.’


Thursday night before round four, South Melbourne officials knocked on the front door, wanting to take him to Melbourne for the weekend. The conversation was short. ‘I’m not interested in going to Melbourne,’ Gumbleton said. ‘I’ve gotta play football on Sunday.’


South’s officials took off. With a little more patience, if they’d returned in a few days, Gumbleton could’ve played for South Melbourne.


Instead, the VFL’s best recruiter and administrator of the seventies made contact.

Frank kicked 19 goals in his first three games with Ganmain’s senior team


The Form 4


Ron Joseph had been at North Melbourne since 1964. On another country trip to sign the best young players, he took a deep breath and knocked on the door. Gumbleton opened it, his arm in plaster, having broken his wrist in round four.


After a glance at Gumbleton’s arm, Joseph asked to come in. ‘He put the spiel over me,’ Gumbleton said. Luckily for Joseph, the broken wrist meant Gumbleton couldn’t play at the weekend. ‘I’ll go to Melbourne,’ he said. ‘But I’ve got to be back in Narrandera on Sunday for the football.’


‘No worries about that,’ Joseph said.


About three o’clock that afternoon, Joseph drove Gumbleton and Maggie to Melbourne. In those days, it took about five hours. Hurrying back for a meeting, Joseph ignored the speed limit. Maggie knitted on the back seat. ‘He’d look in the rear-vision mirror,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Mum was knitting. The faster he drove the faster mum knitted.’


In April 1967, Gumbleton was 16 when he signed a Form 4, tying him to North Melbourne for two years. Joseph gave him $500. Later that year, the VFL introduced the zone system and gave South Melbourne the Riverina area.


Two years later, on 24 April 1969, Joseph drove Gumbleton to Melbourne again. With the Form 4 about to expire, South Melbourne could pounce. To prevent Gumbleton slipping away, Joseph had organised a game.


‘I played one game in 1969 in the reserves against Fitzroy,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Which tied me to North Melbourne. Otherwise I would’ve been at South Melbourne because of the zone.’


Later that year, after playing in Ganmain’s premiership against Griffith, with his brother James, Gumbleton decided to move to Melbourne. ‘I thought I’m going to do my best and see what happens,’ he said.


He was 18. He stood 188cm tall and weighed 83kg.


On 4 April 1970, Gumbleton made his debut in number 38 against St Kilda at Moorabbin. North lost by 52 points. After the game, he drove back to Ganmain and played for the seniors on Sunday.

The last line of defence during a night game

Recruited under the permit system, Gumbleton could play five games for North Melbourne before seeking a clearance from Ganmain. If he wanted to stay home, Ganmain would refuse the clearance. ‘I used one permit in 1969 (with the reserves) and had four permits left,’ he explained. ‘I had four weeks in 1970 to make up my mind whether to stay or go.’


For the first four rounds, Gumbleton played two games each weekend, for North Melbourne and Ganmain. One weekend, he drove to Ganmain then to Griffith, another 200km, to earn his clearance.


North Melbourne won four games in 1970 and finished last. McKenzie was out. Dixon was in. Gumbleton didn’t enjoy Dixon’s coaching.


‘We’d do preseason for six weeks and never see a football,’ Gumbleton said. ‘It was all running. Him and Ron Clarke.’


Clarke won Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals, and set world records as a middle distance runner. During the 1971preseason, the first fitness test was a 20km run from Southland in Cheltenham to the city. Gumbleton recalls a teammate, Micky Dowdle, bleeding from chafing, and Dixon ignoring it.


‘Brian, I can’t walk,’ Dowdle said. ‘I’ve been chafed.’


‘I’ve got a good cure for that,’ Dixon said. ‘Get up and go for a run in the morning.’


In 1971, Gumbleton was given number 30 to wear and played just five senior games, mostly up forward, kicking four goals. Playing reserves frustrated him. ‘Dicko and Clarke, they were good running coaches,’ Gumbleton grumbled. ‘We were fit.’


On 2 October 1971, Gumbleton married Margaret in Strathmore. A long weekend in New South Wales allowed friends and family from Ganmain to attend the wedding.


Dixon moved Gumbleton to the backline in 1972. Gumbleton can’t recall why, but it was an inspired move. A natural forward with a big leap, he took those instincts to defence, regularly out-marking or spoiling opponents.


North Melbourne finished last, with one win. Gumbleton had played 36 games, for two wins.


Barassi’s arrival

Frank regularly outmarked taller opponents in defence

Between seasons, Ron Joseph recruited Barry Davis, Doug Wade and John Rantall under the 10-year rule. Barry Cable, having played one season with North in 1970, came back. The biggest recruit was Ron Barassi.


‘Barassi was pretty smooth coming in,’ Gumbleton said. ‘He laid the laws down about what he wanted and what he was doing. At that stage we were a young side who didn’t know how to win.’


North Melbourne finished sixth in 1973 with 11 wins. Over summer, Malcolm Blight turned up. ‘We started to get a bit of experience and looked like a stronger side,’ Gumbleton said. ‘All the locals who were there in 1970 were starting to enjoy football again.’


In 1974, the locals from the wooden spoon years enjoyed the season. North Melbourne won 16 games and finished second. After losing the qualifying final to Hawthorn by 38-points, North faced Richmond in the semi-final, and lost again.


Gumbleton lined up on Barry Richardson, who kicked five goals. ‘So they dropped me,’ he said. ‘Brought in Bradley Smith. He played in the preliminary and the grand final.’


A five point preliminary final win over Hawthorn put North into the grand final against Richmond. The rise from the 1972 wooden spoon was rapid, but for Gumbleton, it was bittersweet. On grand final day, he watched the game alongside Blight, who had glandular fever, and Ross Henshaw, who wasn’t selected.

‘It was devastating,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Sitting in the stand and they’re out there playing in the grand final.’


Richmond won by 41-points. When the vanquished players walked into the rooms, club officials, teammates and supporters clapped them. Barassi jumped on a table and blasted everybody. ‘You don’t encourage losers,’ he growled. ‘You only clap winners. They didn’t win so don’t cheer them.’


Later that night, Barassi berated the players at the official club function. For Gumbleton, the pain was short-lived. ‘From that day we forgot about it,’ he said. ‘We had to get on with the next year. And it just built.’


A few months later, as the players gathered for the preseason, Gumbleton noticed a difference in attitude. ‘We really had a fire in our belly after losing,’ he said.


Getting dropped during the finals was motivational. Gumbleton never questioned his future at the club. ‘I put my head down and went harder,’ he recalled. ‘We were in that finals bubble so you wanted to be there for it.’


Graeme Melrose was recruited from Perth. Midseason, Brent Croswell came across from Carlton. With players like Blight, Briedis, Nolan, Kekovich and Croswell in the team, Barassi had strong personalities to manage.


Working hard at training and doing what was asked, Gumbleton was never on the receiving end of the infamous Barassi snarl. ‘He knew which players to work on, which players he could leave alone and which players he had to push,’ Gumbleton said. ‘He managed the players very well. I had no issues with him.’


Despite playing 75 games, Gumbleton wasn’t expecting to be an automatic selection during the build up to round one. On Thursday night after training, he went to the team dinner full of nerves. ‘We knew we had to earn our spot,’ he said. ‘You knew you weren’t safe. You knew you had to perform to stay there. I never was confident of getting a game.’


When the team was announced for the season opener against Hawthorn, Gumbleton’s name was missing.

In a pose at Arden Street for a footy card

The first premiership – 1975


North Melbourne lost to Hawthorn by 29 points in round one. Gumbleton was recalled against Melbourne, lining up in the back pocket alongside Dench at fullback and Henshaw in the other pocket.


For three seasons, that trio formed one of the strongest defensive lines of the seventies. ‘Out of the Henshaw, Dench and Gumbleton backline, I was the smallest and I used to take the tallest,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Henshaw was the tallest and he used to take the smallest.’


Gumbleton played on resting ruckmen, giving away height to Alan Martello, Len Thompson, Don Scott, Peter Moore and Percy Jones. ‘I probably had the best leap out of the three of us,’ Gumbleton explained. ‘I could take a mark where Dench could take a mark but he couldn’t really get off the ground. Ross could take a mark but he didn’t have a leap.’

Regarded as one of the game’s best fullbacks, Dench turned defence into attack with long runs down the ground. ‘Dench got all the credit,’ Gumbleton said with a laugh. ‘He’d run off his man and we’d have to look after him. Ross and myself, we keep telling Dench we made him.’


Four games into the 1975 season, North were winless. After nine rounds, they were tenth with just two wins. When they broke into the five after round 14, they didn’t drop out, finishing third.


Gumbleton had played every game since being recalled.


In the qualifying final, North defeated Carlton by 20 points. An 11 point loss to Hawthorn in the semi-final set them back. A 17 point preliminary final win against Richmond put North into the grand final.


Hawthorn waited. They’d already beaten North three times during the season.


As Gumbleton dressed to play the grand final, he figured North were due to beat Hawthorn. With Burns on fire in the centre, North led by 20 points at half time and 29 points at the last change. As the players huddled together, Barassi implored his men to keep up the pressure, SO LET’S GO!’


Gumbleton glanced about the huddle. ‘Players from the 74 grand final were spurring us on,’ he said. ‘It was fantastic. It’s a great feeling to be out there in front of 110,000 people.’


North won their first premiership by 55 points. Gumbleton, the star forward from Ganmain, was a premiership player in the back pocket.


The players went to the Southern Cross Hotel for the official function. About 9pm, they went by bus to Arden Street, where thousands of people gathered. Beer in hand, the players mingled with the supporters. ‘It was unbelievable,’ Gumbleton recalled. ‘You could not move. People came up to you, 60, 70 or 80 year olds, saying I could die tomorrow and I’d be happy because I’ve seen a premiership.’


On the back of a semi-trailer, the players looked out over Arden Street, and the supporters roared into the night. ‘The people were unbelievable,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Something you never forget. Those people had kept following us through the early seventies when we won three games.’


Gumbleton played 24 games in 1975 and kicked two goals. Much was made of the 10-year rule, but he said the premiership team was built years earlier. ‘Nine or ten of us who played in the 75 grand final were there when we weren’t winning a game,’ he said.


Dench, Schimmelbusch, Greig, Briedis, Goodingham, Farrant, Feltham, Gumbleton, Cable and Kekovich all won a wooden spoon. Now they were premiership players.


‘Most of the players in 75 were recruited by Ron Joseph,’ Gumbleton said. ‘He went out and got them. We picked up some top players apart from the 10 year players.’

Frank took a forward’s mentality to defence and succeeded

1976 – the premiership hangover


Barassi had a few non-negotiable rules. Saturday night belonged to the players. ‘I don’t care how you turn up to training on Sunday morning, but you must be there,’ Barassi said.


Occasionally, Gumbleton took his joy or misery to the pub with teammates after a game. Some nights they ran into Barassi. ‘Once he spoke to us after the game, he would never mention football until Sunday,’ Gumbleton said. ‘No matter where you saw him on Saturday night, football was never mentioned. That was our night.’


Sunday morning, the players fronted at Arden Street for training. After the injured players received their treatment, it was their responsibility to get food and drink. While the seniors and reserves warmed down by running laps and kicking end to end, the injured players went to Errol’s in Rose Street for bread and meat, then to Mr’s Flynn’s pub for beer.


‘That was our Sunday morning,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Players used to turn up under the weather but Barassi didn’t care. He put them out on the track. You still had to do your warm down.’


Gumbleton played his 100th game in round one. Lowly Melbourne knocked off the reigning premiers by 23 points. North lost the first three games of the year. After seven rounds, they had two wins. ‘We had a bit of a hangover,’ Gumbleton admitted. ‘But Barassi got us around.’


North finished third, and lost to Hawthorn by 20 points in the qualifying final. Wins against Geelong in the semi-final and Carlton in the preliminary final put them into the grand final. Hawthorn waited again.

Frank in uniform, delivering money for Armaguard

Gumbleton remains disappointed by the 1976 grand final. Hawthorn led all day, turning a 10 point lead at the last change into a five goal win. From defence, Gumbleton watched Hawthorn smother North’s opportunities. ‘I thought we were well and truly in it,’ he said. ‘I believe we could’ve won that game. Hawthorn just got so strong down the backline. We couldn’t kick goals.’


In the last quarter, North didn’t kick a goal. ‘We had the ball down there enough times but we couldn’t get it to our forwards and they couldn’t get away,’ Gumbleton said. ‘It’s a game that got away from us. We had our opportunities and failed under extra pressure.’


Gumbleton played under extra pressure, concussed by Kelvin Matthews during the game. ‘He was coming one way and I was going the other way and he got the elbow up and caught me across the forehead,’ Gumbleton said. ‘That was it.’


The 1976 season was Gumbleton’s best. He played every game, 26 in total, and gathered 322 possessions from the back pocket, taking 106 marks. Dependable and consistent, he was an accurate kick, wasn’t afraid to fly in a pack and could gather the ball on the ground at speed. In round 21 against Carlton, he snuck up forward and kicked a rare goal.


1977 – a remarkable year.


Ten rounds into the 1977 season, North Melbourne had won eight games and sat equal second on the ladder, behind Collingwood on percentage. When Gumbleton missed rounds 11 and 12 with a sore stomach, North lost both games.

By round 15, Gumbleton could barely move. The doctor diagnosed an abdominal strain. ‘I played with it for a while but couldn’t handle it any longer,’ Gumbleton said. ‘I remember going to Barassi and saying I can’t play.’


Scans confirmed the injury. Gumbleton missed six weeks and returned in round 22.


North finished third. A 38 point qualifying final loss to Hawthorn stung Barassi, who didn’t hide his disgust. His players responded with a 47 point win against Richmond.


During the build up to preliminary final, Gumbleton said Barassi told the players not to fear Hawthorn. ‘He didn’t mention Hawthorn were the side that kept beating us,’ Gumbleton said. ‘He wanted to keep the negative part out of it.’


North thrashed Hawthorn by 67 points.


On 23 September, Collingwood and North Melbourne players assembled at Parliament House for the inaugural Grand Final Parade. Gumbleton was at work, and slunk out about 11am for the short trip in the back of a car from Parliament House to Myer. ‘I’m sitting in the car going down Burke Street and the boss is watching me,’ Gumbleton said. ‘He didn’t know I was gone.’


The 1977 drawn grand final was a classic. After an even first quarter, North didn’t kick a goal in the second or third quarters. At three-quarter time, the deficit was 27 points. Barassi gathered his players, and begged them for one more quarter. ‘You’ve got to give everything,’ he implored. ‘You’ve got to go, and see what happens.’

Side by side with Barassi after the drawn grand final

Phil Baker turned the game with three goals in the last quarter. ‘It was Snake kicking those goals and taking those big grabs,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Being 27 points down at three-quarter time, it was amazing the way we came back.’


Late in the game, the ball floated into Collingwood’s forward line, where Gumbleton was opposed to Twiggy Dunne. The pack flew. Gumbleton recalls his hands being on the ball. The umpire, Ian Robinson, awarded Dunne the mark. ‘I thought I had a bit of it,’ Gumbleton said. ‘It was a brave decision to pay the mark in that pack with so many hands on the ball.’


Dunne kicked the goal. The siren went soon after, as Shane Bond ran down the wing and kicked into the forward line.


‘I saw Twiggy after that game,’ Gumbleton said. ‘He said he got away from me when the ball was coming down. Lucky Bond never got the ball up there.’


The following week, North led at every change and won their second premiership by 27-points. Gumbleton was a dual premiership player. During the presentation, he removed his boots and socks, and did a victory lap barefoot. In the Punt Road pocket, he held the premiership cup aloft and roared in delight. ‘It was a great feeling,’ he said. ‘The celebration was a bit bigger in 77 than it was in 75.’

The celebrations were bigger in 1977 than they were in 1975

1978 – the broken ankle


North led Richmond by 73 points late in the last quarter at Arden Street in round two. In front of the player’s race, Gumbleton went for a mark and landed awkwardly on his right ankle.


Later that night, the ankle was X-rayed. Sunday morning at Arden Street, the doc examined the images, diagnosed ligament damage and put Gumbleton’s ankle in plaster. Ten days later, the plaster was removed and the doc and physio worked the ankle. Sent to run a lap, Gumbleton retuned in pain. ‘There’s something wrong with it,’ he said.


For seven weeks, the doc treated him for ligament damage, but Gumbleton could barely run. ‘I thought it must be me,’ he said. ‘It must be in my head that there’s something wrong.’


He had an ankle brace made and played in the reserves against Carlton in round 9. The following morning, the ankle was a pink, swollen mess.  He took the mess to an orthopaedic surgeon, who had a glance and shook his head. ‘That ankle’s been broken,’ the doc said.


It wasn’t a mystery injury residing in Gumbleton’s head. ‘They’re treating me for ligament damage and I had a broken ankle,’ he said.


Gumbleton finished the season in the reserves, and North won the premiership against Hawthorn. Gumbleton took a few players into the rooms, where North’s senior team waited to play Hawthorn. ‘To try to stir them up for the grand final before they went out,’ Gumbleton said.


When Gumbleton emerged from the rooms, North were three goals down after 10 minutes. Hawthorn won the 1978 premiership by three goals.


1979 – the final game

Barassi depended on Frank on the last line of defence

Gumbleton’s ankle was surgically repaired in December 1978, resetting the ligaments and cleaning up the scar tissue. During the preseason, the Gumbleton’s welcomed their daughter, Erin, who was born on 17 February 1979.


Despite a solid preseason, when the team was named for round one, Gumbleton was named in the reserves and given the captaincy. Despite the honour, Gumbleton worked harder. ‘I thought I had a good chance of getting back in,’ he said. ‘I was getting good results in the reserves. Among the best every week.’


As the season slipped by, Gumbleton didn’t approach Barassi for a chat. For two seasons, he’d been stuck on 146 games while North’s senior team was entrenched in the top three. He felt being named reserves captain was a consolation prize. ‘I was desperate to get back in,’ he said. ‘I thought a few weeks I could’ve been in the 20. It was a frustrating year. I just couldn’t crack it for some reason.’


To prove there is sentiment in football, Barassi selected Gumbleton against Melbourne in round 20. Played mostly off the bench, Gumbleton had four kicks in a 72 point win. ‘They gave me one game in 79 to qualify me for life membership,’ Gumbleton said. ‘In those days you had to play ten years of senior football for life membership.’


On Friday 28 September, North Melbourne defeated Collingwood by 25 points on a wet night at Waverley for the reserves premiership. ‘That was my last game,’ Gumbleton said ‘We won back to back premierships in the reserves.’


Reserves coach, Ray Slug Jordan, confirmed Gumbleton’s career was over a few days later. ‘Slug put a hint to me,’ he said.


‘Why don’t you go out coaching?’ Jordan asked. ‘I’ll have a look around for you.’


Gumbleton was 29 and pragmatic enough to realise it was over. He trusted Slug’s judgement. ‘I had a pretty good relationship with Slug,’ Gumbleton said. ‘He probably got in touch with people in Brisbane.


Windsor Zillmere – another premiership


Murray Cox, the secretary at Windsor-Zillmere football club, called Gumbleton a few weeks later. Cox arranged flights and flew the Gumbleton’s up for the weekend. They stayed at Cox’s house, and toured the clubrooms. The offer, captain-coach, was firm.


Gumbleton tried arranging a stint in Perth, to keep playing at a higher level, but it fell through. Cox kept ringing, wanting Gumbleton’s knowledge and experience. Australian Rules was set to boom in Brisbane, Cox said. The VFL would eventually expand.


One afternoon, Gumbleton put the phone down. ‘And that’s where we ended up,’ he said. ‘In Brisbane.’


In 1980, the Queensland Australian Football League attracted reasonable crowds. Former players from the VFL were making the trek north. Bruce Burgoyne, who coached Footscray’s under 19s and reserves was in Brisbane. Norm Dare was already there. Mick Nolan arrived in 1981, along with John Blair.


Gumbleton’s three year stint in Brisbane was successful and satisfying. ‘I captained Queensland for three years and coached them one year,’ he said. Windsor-Zillmere played finals each year, including a premiership against Kedron in 1981.


When Brisbane hosted the 1982 Commonwealth Games, Queensland and Canberra played an exhibition match at the Gabba. ‘I was captain coach of that side,’ Gumbleton said.


After the season, Gumbleton quit. Erin had a disability, and the family moved back to Melbourne for her education.

Premiership captain-coach with Windsor-Zillmere

In 1983, Gumbleton spent a year with Brunswick in the VFA’s second division, playing in another grand final, this time a 17-point loss to Springvale. In 1984, Gumbleton drove to Wangaratta every Friday night, a 250km trip, to play for the Wangaratta Magpies. In 1985, Craigieburn enticed him with an offer as captain-coach.


Two years later, Gumbleton retired. He was 35.


Arden Street – going back


In the mid-eighties, Gumbleton took a job with Qantas. Shift work gave him days off and he found himself at Arden Street, watching training or going to games. When Wayne Schimmelbusch was appointed as coach in 1989, he made Gumbleton an offer.


‘I was runner for two years,’ Gumbleton said. ‘It was voluntary.’


Manipulating or swapping shifts, Gumbleton would start at 4am on Saturday to finish by 12pm and get to the games. Working for Qantas gave him access to flights. ‘To save the club the money, I used to pay for my own airfare to go interstate,’ he said.


Schimmelbusch instructed him to keep the messages quiet. ‘You can’t run out and say listen Carey, come down here,’ Gumbleton said. ‘You couldn’t get halfway out there and sing out and tell them to make a move. You had to go to every player.’


Gumbleton loved running messages to players. In that era, clubs could use just one runner. He was on and off the field all game. ‘It was a lot harder than playing,’ he said. ‘But you’re not getting the knocks and the bumps.’


Looking back

Joy after a remarkable season – the 1977 victory lap

January 2021, Gumbleton and Margaret went to Torquay for a couple of days. Early one morning, he booked in for a game of golf. The woman at the counter took a step back. ‘Frank Gumbleton?’ she asked. ‘You’re not the Frank Gumbleton.’


Gumbleton confirmed his identity. The woman had followed North Melbourne for decades and remembered him. Gumbleton is a memorable name. His deeds made the name famous.


‘Occasionally I get recognised,’ he said. ‘The older ones do. Some of the young ones wouldn’t have a clue who I was.’


At 69, he still follows North Melbourne. His premiership jumper is framed, surrounded by the life membership medal and the premiership medals. Poster sized photos of the premiership teams he played in hang on the walls, with a couple of photos of his spectacular marks. He’s kept the trophies he received for the milestone matches.


After he was done with football, Gumbleton helped train Erin for the Special Olympics. ‘We put a lot of time into the Special Olympics,’ he said. ‘Erin was a swimmer.’


Margaret was head delegate for the National Championships in Adelaide and they took a team to Hobart and to Cairns. ‘We were involved for 25 years,’ Gumbleton said. ‘Erin swam in the Asia-Pacifics in Newcastle in 2013 and said I’ve got my green and gold jacket, I’m retiring.’


In 2016, Ganmain officials invited Gumbleton to the 40-year reunion for the club’s back to back premierships in 1975-76. He didn’t play in those premierships, but went anyway. ‘They presented me with a Ganmain football jumper,’ he said. ‘I am the only player to play in a VFL or AFL premiership from Ganmain.’


Frank Gumbleton played 147 games and kicked 19 goals for North Melbourne during their first era of success. The clichéd kid from the bush went from Ganmain to glory…


More from Matt Watson HERE

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About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Warwick Nolan says

    Hi Matt,

    How fantastic is this article? Thank you.
    Frank Gumbleton pethaps a lesser remembered player from an exceptional era for North.

    Dual premiership player, seniors and reserves, life member and successes QLD and other walks of life.

    Really enjoyed this writing, Matt.

  2. David Lambert says

    Hi Matt, what a great story and Frank was great player in a great team!!How you put his story forward was magnificent!! Beautiful content and what he did in QLD was outstanding!! Best story you have written!! David Lambert

  3. Hi Matt

    I never got to see Frank Gumbleton play live, all I knew about him was from old Grand Final videos. It was great to learn more about a dual NMFC premiership hero. A remarkable man and humble champion.

    Looking forward to your next story.

  4. Thanks for this, Matt. There is much of this story that I did not previously know.
    I was fortunate enough to see Frank Gumbleton play many times – he was as solid and reliable a defender as you would ever see.
    He was a favourite of my dad’s.

  5. Excellent story……very well written……we love all your stories……they are usually about sports forgotten heroes
    I remember seeing him play and listening to the games on the radio but your stories fill in the missing pieces they humanise the hero……keep up the good writing Matt

  6. Good stuff Matt.

    Frank Gumbleton was a fine back pocket. Apart from hay bale houses he is Ganmain’s main claim to fame. Not much up that way, with adjacent locations including Ardlethan known for its kelpies, also Ariah Park home of the footballing Quade’s of whom two played for North Melbourne, one who played for South Melbourne, later coaching Sydney.

    I recall Brian Dixon coaching your team in 1971, 1972. He was a fine player for Melbourne, prior to my time, also a Liberal MP. His first game as coach saw your team beat the reigning premiers: not too many other claims to fame about his two seasons coaching. The comments/treatment he made to Frank Gumbleton are similar to how he treated another member of the 1975 premiership team, Peter Chisnall. Peter left in response to how Dixon acted, not returning until Ron Barassi lured him back.

    On a final point you mention about the 1975 premiership side having 10 players who had played in a winning spoon side, with the name Schimmelbusch among them. He made his debut in 1973 the year Ron Barassi arrived, so i’m perplexed at his inclusion in that list of players.


  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Another fine piece Matt. Keep them coming.

    I saw Gumbleton captaining Qld against SA in 1980. The team included country goalkicking legend Trevor Sutton who was playing up there that season.

  8. matt watson says

    Thanks everyone,
    I loved putting this together. I had no idea he broke his ankle until we talked.
    Glen, you are right – the Schimma error is mine.
    Cheers to all.

  9. matt watson says

    I must add….
    In the 1974 qualifying final, North defeated Hawthorn by 38 points…

  10. Hi Matt,

    Good piece about one of Ganmain’s finest products.

    Ganmain has always been a footy town, they’ve never had a rugby league club.
    The territory around Ganmain,- essentially the old South-West league from Coolamon to Narrandera is footy territory. And the region, depending how wide and far you go, AFL and rugby league pretty much share the mantle.

  11. Well done Matt, another great read, keep ’em coming!

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