Almanac Footy: John Gallus – The journey through football

 

 

John Gallus at the MCG with Melbourne.

 

 

I was pleased with my career with Melbourne. I did the best I could. I kicked 31 goals in my first season and 39 for my career. I got three votes in the Brownlow. I was happy with who I am and where I stood in football with my abilities, whatever they were.

 

  • John Gallus, October 2020

 

 

The milestone…

 

John Gallus’s 100th game of senior football for Drouin was meant to celebrate his long journey through 24 years of football. Having started with Drouin at 16 in 1962, he went back in 1986, as a selector and committeeman.

 

He trained with the seniors, mostly to keep his 40-year-old body fit, and was getting a kick at training. Midway through the year, Drouin’s ruckman was sick with the flu. The coach, Eric Bott asked Gallus if he was ready to play. ‘We don’t have enough tall guys for the side,’ Bott said. ‘Play one more game and get your hundredth with Drouin.’

 

Gallus, despite his age, felt fresh. He’d barely been injured throughout his career, and training gave him confidence that he could get through one more game. He agreed on one condition. No banner honouring his achievement. ‘I didn’t want to publicise this 40-year-old thinking he can still play football,’ Gallus said.

 

The game was played at Garfield Football Club’s home ground. Rain was incessant. A squall dumped hail on the players. Terrible conditions at the worst ground in the league. A hard, tough game, the ball was mostly on the ground. Gallus’s strength was his marking, and the conditions made that impossible.

 

‘It was the worst game I played in my life,’ Gallus said. ‘I had a couple of kicks and got dragged. We lost by a point.’

 

As Gallus trudged off the sodden oval, a cliché came to mind – you’re as good as your last game. He’d been feeling good at training, and believed he could turn back the clock and be competitive.

 

‘I didn’t get out of a trot,’ Gallus quipped. ‘I think I needed to do that. It was time. That was my last game. I did hang on too long.’

 

Gallus has never forgotten his last game, but there are better memories than that wet and windy day at Garfield.

 

 

The beginning…

 

Gallus was born in Burwood on September 30, 1945. His father Bill ran Homesglen Dairies with his brother Jack and delivered milk throughout the region.  When Gallus was seven, his parents divorced. He lived with his mother Lavinia, brother Peter and sister Helen in a small one bedroom unit behind a butcher shop in Ashwood. The family struggled, and after being evicted, he and Helen moved to Ballarat to live with his father’s sister Ina.

 

In Ballarat, he spent time with his uncle, Charlie Clamp who played for Camberwell in the VFA. ‘He taught me to kick,’ Gallus said. ‘I played under 14s with North Ballarat when I was 10 and with McArthur Street State School. I remember it snowing and being freezing.’

 

In 1957, Gallus was 12 when he moved to Drouin to live with his father, who now ran Grandview Dairy and delivered milk. ‘We were battling a little bit,’ Gallus said. ‘I didn’t see much of mum. My sister worked with dad in the office. She left soon after and after living with mum in Oakleigh, married at 19 in Drouin to a local farmer. We were split up a bit.’

 

For the next four years, Gallus was shunted about. His dad remarried and worked another dairy in Korumburra. Gallus lived with his sister before moving in with a mate for about a year. ‘I wasn’t into football because of the situation I was in,’ he said. ‘At 15, I started playing for the Drouin thirds, the under 18s.’

 

After a season in the under 18s, Gallus played his first senior game for Drouin at 16 in 1962. ‘I had a few good games remarkably,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t a star. Alan Noonan was a star at that stage. He went to Essendon. There was a lot of stars around. I didn’t consider myself that good.’

 

Despite his doubts, and in the absence of zoning, Gallus was approached by Melbourne, Collingwood, St Kilda, Carlton, Richmond and South Melbourne. He recalls being overawed while training with legends like Ron Barassi, Hassa Mann and Brian Dixon at Melbourne. At Collingwood, he ran around with Ray Gabelich and Murray Weideman and Neville Crow at Richmond.

 

After turning 17, Gallus signed with Melbourne in 1963 and asked Drouin for a clearance to play in the under 19s. Drouin refused the clearance. ‘I didn’t go down until I was 20,’ he said.

 

Gallus was happy to stay in Drouin. At high school, he met Robyn, who would become his wife, and wanted to complete matriculation. In 1964, when he was accepted into the Teacher’s College in Frankston, Drouin gave him a clearance, with a caveat. He was permitted to play just six games. Gallus trained with Melbourne during the week and played with Drouin on Saturday.

 

In 1965, Melbourne were reigning premiers. Ron Barassi was captain. Gallus was training with legends of football. It was pretty exciting,’ he said. ‘They were my idols. All the stars were daunting for a young kid. I didn’t have a lot of confidence. The year I went down Norm Smith was sacked. Checker Hughes coached us for a day. I remember him with a walking stick.’

 

Six weeks into the 1965 season, Drouin finally cleared Gallus to Melbourne and he played reserves for the rest of the season. He was playing in pain, an issue he never told the club about. A 15cm bone spur growing between the shin bones, the tibia and fibula, protruded from his left leg, and pressured those bones. Occasionally, midway through a game, Gallus wondered if he could keep running.

 

To pay for surgery, Gallus baled hay and ran milk for his father. By December 1965, he’d earned enough money to have the growth removed. During pre-season training in 1966, he could run without the pain, and felt ready to go. Melbourne’s coach, John Beckwith, felt otherwise. ‘You’re not going to go any further,’ Beckwith said. ‘We’re going to cut you.’

 

 

Go to Waverley

 

 

Gallus marking as captain-coach of Drouin.

 

 

Gallus was disappointed but pragmatic. In 1963-64 he was living in Drouin, doing matriculation and driving to training with Melbourne. For a while he lived in Frankston and drove to the MCG to play permit matches. ‘I didn’t give it a fair shot,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t blame Melbourne. It was a big thing for country kids in those days. When you were discarded, no one else wanted you.’

 

Beckwith told Gallus to go to Waverley, a VFA club and develop his game. ‘We might have another look at you at the end of the year,’ Beckwith said.

 

In 1966 Waverley were a strong side, with former Melbourne players Peter Brenchley and Kevin Mithen and Collingwood’s Ron Reebes and Alan Poore on the list. Gallus’s mate, Carl Brewster, was in the side.

 

Ian Thorogood, a triple premiership player at Melbourne, was coach and played Gallus at centre-half-forward with the occasional stint in the ruck. Journalists and opponents labelled him the Melbourne reject. ‘I was called a reject the whole year with Waverley,’ Gallus said. ‘That stung me.’

 

On Saturday 24 September, Waverley played Port Melbourne in the VFA grand final. After leading by 9-points at quarter time, Waverley lost by 43-points – 6:11:47 to 13:12:90. Gallus kicked two goals.

 

‘I did okay with Waverley,’ Gallus said. ‘I kicked 52 goals and won the goal kicking. It was the first trophy I ever won. It was bewildering to see the trophy in my hand.’

 

At the end of the year, the Education Department transferred Gallus to a school at Bundalaguah near Maffra. Gallus was 21 and engaged to Robyn. Their wedding was planned for 1967. He quit Waverley and played with Maffra in the La Trobe Valley Football League (LVFL).

 

In his first season, he won Maffra’s best and fairest award. The following year, after being transferred to Sarsfield State School at Bairnsdale, he also transferred to the local football club. In two years with Bairnsdale, he finished second in the best and fairest twice. In 1969 he won his first LVFL league best and fairest award, the Trood Award & Rodda Medal, with a record 37 votes.

 

In 1970, the Education Department transferred Gallus back to Maffra, so he quit Bairnsdale and played again with Maffra. His daughter, Samantha, was born in February. On the field, Gallus had grown into his game. Again, he won the Trood Award & Rodda Medal, and finished second in Maffra’s best and fairest award.

 

Early in 1971, Ken Carlon came knocking, as he’d done years earlier.  ‘We’d like you to come and play again,’ Carlon said.

 

Although he’d previously been discarded, Gallus didn’t have any animosity towards Melbourne. He loved the club, and was disappointed he didn’t get another year after leg surgery. Despite his excitement, he offered a caution.

 

‘I’m a bit too old,’ he said. ‘I’m turning 25.’

 

Carlon shook his head. ‘Geoff Tunbridge (former Melbourne player) came down at 25 and had great years,’ he said. ‘We don’t consider you too old.’ And Carlon offered a sweetener. ‘We think we’re going to get Barassi back.’

 

 

Back at Melbourne

 

After consecutive club and league best and fairest awards, Gallus was playing with confidence that had eluded him in his early years with Melbourne. In the LVFL, he had rucked against Ian Salmon, who went to Footscray and Barry Round, who played for Footscray and South Melbourne and won a Brownlow medal.

 

Robyn was totally supportive. ‘You didn’t have a real go when you were there,’ she said. ‘You were held back going down there in the first place.’

 

Gallus contacted Carlon and accepted the offer. ‘I felt unfulfilled,’ Gallus said. ‘They offered me $800 for the year. It was probably six times the weekly wage. I wasn’t being paid much at Maffra, about $300 a season.’

 

Shifting the family to Drouin, Gallus took a teaching job at Dandenong, which made him halfway to training. He finished work at 3:30pm and got to the MCG by 4pm, to be first out on the track.

 

Ian Ridley, a five-time premiership player with Melbourne, was coach. Gallus was 191cm tall and weighed 94kg. He was given number 5 to wear.

 

On 3 April, 1971, he made his VFL debut against South Melbourne in round one. His first two kicks were goals, and he finished with three for the day, along with 10 hit-outs. He played 20 games in 1971, which included a feature game, 20 kicks, 12 marks and four goals against North Melbourne.

 

‘Ridley was good,’ Gallus said. ‘He was a legend at Melbourne. He used to smoke and hold it behind his back while he talked to us. Players would smoke at halftime in the back corner.’

 

Gallus liked Ridley, but can’t recall spending too much time with him. ‘In those days, there wasn’t the communication,’ Gallus said. ‘Coaches barely talked to you.’

 

On Thursday nights, while driving home from training, Gallus listened to the radio broadcast to see if he was named in the team. ‘It was such a different time,’ he said.

 

Melbourne finished seventh. Gallus kicked 31 goals in his debut season, finishing second to Paul Callery, who kicked 38 goals. ‘I enjoyed the year and played well but it was hard,’ he said.

 

In 1972, the Education Department transferred Gallus to a school at Longwarry, outside Drouin. It took more than an hour to get to the MCG, and Gallus usually arrived when the squad were doing five warm-up laps outside the ground. He couldn’t do the extra work he’d done the previous year.

 

The travel, and a young baby at home increased the pressure. He started the season in the reserves and came in against Richmond in round five, gathering seven possessions and kicking two goals. A broken finger kept him out for a couple of weeks.

 

‘I was in and out,’ Gallus said. ‘I only played eight senior games, with some in defence. Not going well with travelling and getting older. No excuses but it just gets harder when you’re not in the area.’

 

Gallus played in the 1972 reserves grand final, which Melbourne lost by four points to Hawthorn. He finished second in the reserves best and fairest, missing out by one vote, but wasn’t at the function. He gathered his award weeks later, and didn’t return to the club for years.

 

After the season, he started getting calls from football clubs in Queensland and Tasmania. ‘I thought what’s going on,’ Gallus said. ‘I got a whiff that Melbourne wanted me out. You just fade into the background.’

 

 

Tasmania and back

 

Rod Olsson, a former Hawthorn footballer, was coaching Sandy Bay and wanted Gallus to cross Bass Strait. Melbourne demanded $1000 for a clearance, which dismayed Gallus. ‘I didn’t cost them that much,’ he said.

 

Sandy Bay officials had no choice. Melbourne held up the clearance until they were paid.

 

The move to Tasmania was appealing, but Gallus quickly realised he wasn’t suited to the soggy conditions. ‘It couldn’t have been a worse place I could go,’ he admitted. ‘With the marking player I was and no ground play.’

 

Still, he enjoyed the year. He and Robyn welcomed their son, Andrew, who was born in August a week before the finals. Sandy Bay made the grand final and lost. Gallus had now played in three losing grand finals. He represented Tasmania, with Bob Pascoe as captain, but at the end of the year, with a new son and Samantha turning three, Gallus told the club he was leaving.

 

The family returned to Drouin. Gallus was quickly approached by VFA club Dandenong, but wanted to stay in the La Trobe Valley. He took a job with National Mutual and planned to build a house on a block of land he purchased in Drouin in 1970.

 

Warrigal Football Club made contact. Graham Gahan, a former Richmond player who also coached Glenorchy and Scottsdale in Tasmania, was coaching Warragul. Gallus agreed to play, but Sandy Bay refused to clear him unless they got their $1000 back. ‘It was big money in those days,’ Gallus said. ‘I think a local millionaire paid it. It was a big deal for them to have to pay that.’

 

Under Gahan, Warragul had a great season. ‘He lifted Warragul,’ Gallus said. ‘In 1974 we won the premiership. I was lucky enough to win the best and fairest.’ Gallus also finished second to Barry Rowlings in the Trood Award and Rodda Medal.

 

At the end of the season, Gahan quit and was replaced by Ken Robinson, a legend in Wonthaggi with three premierships in six years. Warrigal made the 1975 grand final and lost, but Gallus won his third Trood Award and Rodda Medal.

 

Warrigal rebounded and won the 1976 premiership. When Robinson quit as coach, the club president turned to Gallus. ‘I thought why not,’ Gallus said. ‘There’s good players around and we’d won the premiership.’

 

The exodus, and two Gary’s

 

 

Gallus with Graham Gahon after an important win for Drouin.

 

 

Before the season, eleven premiership players went to other clubs. The team Gallus was about to coach had been decimated. He worried that his personality didn’t suit coaching. He could play, but wasn’t confident he could lead or teach his players. ‘It was a challenge to see if I could do it,’ he recalled.

 

Warrigal finished fourth in 1977, but didn’t progress in the finals. Gallus had a young side, with a number of teenagers playing senior football, including Gary Ayres, who started the year in the thirds and played 20 senior games. Gallus knew Ayres was a special player. ‘He could kick 50 metres either foot,’ he said. ‘And do these torpedoes at training and mark over everybody.’

 

Midway through the 1978 season, Jim Ayres visited Gallus at his home, seeking advice. ‘We’ve been approached by Hawthorn,’ Jim said. ‘Should we go? Gary’s only 18.’

 

Gallus told Jim to accept the offer. ‘Don’t do what I did, which was wait until I was 20,’ Gallus said. ‘Get down as quick as you can to get in the system and the culture.’

 

The following week, Ayres made his debut for Hawthorn in the forward pocket.

 

Warrigal again finished fourth in 1978 and bombed out of the finals. Gallus was 33, and had been rucking without changing for five years. Despite winning another club best and fairest, retirement was on his mind.

 

In 1979, Gallus was offered a job with VFL Insurance in Moe to open and manage an office. The local club featured a giant of a man, Len Petch. Gallus, after five gruelling years rucking unchanged, spent the year playing second ruck to Petch.

 

‘I think it was a sympathy pick, but I played in the country championship game at Bendigo,’ Gallus said. ‘We became country champions. I was in that side at 34.’

 

After one year in Moe, Gallus moved back to Drouin and took up a job in real estate. Drouin appointed him as player-coach for the 1980 season. One of his players, Gary Ablett was 18 and just starting out. Gallus could see the obvious potential, but was concerned about his attitude. ‘He was a different cat,’ Gallus said of Ablett. ‘He was a bit of a lost soul. Lazy at training, but his skills were so exceptional.’

 

One night at training, Ablett walked off the ground. Gallus followed him and told him not to come back. The next training session, Ablett returned, as though nothing had happened. He played six games under Gallus then went to Hawthorn. Ablett was a star, like Ayres. In two years, Gallus had coached and lost two players would become legends of the game.

 

Drouin finished fourth, and lost their first final. Gallus, at that point, had never coached a club beyond fourth position. He was 35, and wanted to retire. Briefly, he thought about going to Warrigal, in an administrative role. But Graham Gahan was appointed as Drouin’s coach, and asked Gallus to play on in 1981 for $150 per game. ‘I wanted to eke out everything I could from my body,’ Gallus said.

 

Kevin Ablett played with Drouin in 1981, and the club made the grand final and lost. Gallus won another best and fairest and was named player of the finals. ‘I thought there’s a bit of life in the old boy,’ he joked.

 

In 1982, Drouin made another grand final, for another defeat. Gahan went back to Warrigal, where he would win another premiership. Gallus still wanted to play, and dropped down to the Ellinbank Football League, coaching the Warrigal Industrials in 1983-84. ‘I was really getting old, 38 or so,’ he said. ‘I coached them to third and fourth position in those years.’

 

By 1985, he retired and returned to Drouin, helping out with selection and eking out his 100th game for the club in 1986. Before the 1988 season began, a club meeting was held to fill vacant positions. ‘No one wanted to be president,’ Gallus remembered.

 

At the meeting, Doug Lockhard, who Gallus played with at Waverley, asked him to be president. Gallus refused. ‘I hate being in those sort of positions,’ he said. ‘I struggled enough being coach.’

 

After another meeting, Gallus agreed to serve as president for the 1988 season, a voluntary role. He recalls being busy all the time. ‘It was a lot of work, an education to see what people in administration do. Clubs just can’t operate without volunteers. I have so much respect for club volunteers.’

 

A different era of football

 

Gallus had this to say about the brutality of football back then…

 

You had to have eyes in the back of your head. You had to prove you weren’t scared. Often it was hard to do that. I remember Don Scott. He was just so brutal and I know him well, but he’d take your head off. Carl Ditterich was so tough. I think every club had a player that was pretty dominant. Sam Newman, Cowboy Neal, Don McKenzie and Russell Crow. Hard tough guys that frightened the hell out of you and you had to try and get a kick and keep your poise and survive the game. Make out you were tough and strong.

 

Throughout his career, Gallus was never reported and never fronted the tribunal as the aggrieved. But violence on the field in that era was everywhere. Thankfully, he was never concussed, and can’t recall being deliberately hit too often. ‘There was all these tough guys around and I never hit anyone,’ he recalls. ‘I was pretty soft actually. They called me gentle.’

 

In the ruck, he copped errant knees and elbows. He accidentally whacked opponents back, but set his own standard of play. ‘If there’s no nonsense they’ll go and pick on someone else,’ he said with a laugh.

 

He described playing senior football at 16 as an eye opener. Up against men. Country football was worse than the VFL. Just one umpire, and players who didn’t always want the ball. ‘It was different football,’ Gallus said. ‘Brutality was an accepted part of the game.’

 

After his first two years with Melbourne, playing under permit in the reserves, Gallus felt lucky to survive and get back to Drouin. When he returned to country football with a reputation after playing with Melbourne, opposition players wanted to knock his head off. ‘I think we just accepted it,’ Gallus said. ‘You loved the game, you’d get out and get a kick and do the best you can.’

 

 

Looking back

 

 

John, with his mementos, including three league best and fairest awards.

 

 

As the years rolled on after getting cut by Melbourne the first time, Gallus thought his chance was gone. In those days, it was rare for a player to get another chance, particularly at 25. But he was dominating in the La Trobe Valley. Certainly, he would’ve liked to have played more VFL games, but said his second chance was a privilege and a huge achievement.

 

‘It’s pretty thrilling to think I did that,’ Gallus said. ‘There’s so many guys in country football that never get the chance or don’t get second chances.’

 

He believes if Drouin cleared him at 17 and his leg was surgically repaired earlier, his career may have been different. But he’s satisfied that he made it. ‘I got the most out of it for what I could do,’ he admitted. ‘I got three Brownlow votes one day. Not bad for an old guy or a guy that didn’t have confidence.’

 

Gallus got the ball mostly by marking it. He was strong in the air. Poor conditions could reduce his effectiveness, but when the ball was on the ground, he could chase and tackle. ‘They talk about either side of the body,’ he said. ‘Turning and delivering and I was nothing like that. I didn’t have those skills.’

 

He played for eight or nine clubs, played interleague games, represented Tasmania and immersed himself in football, forging relationships as he went. He’s not sure he could’ve played under the scrutiny current AFL players are subjected to. ‘Training wasn’t as intense,’ he said. ‘You trained two days a week and everyone played on Saturday. It was different.’

 

These days, Gallus still gets to Drouin to watch the team. He no longer volunteers, but attends fundraising events and club functions. ‘I’ve been lucky to get in the Hall of Fame at Drouin and at Warrigal and feature on honour boards at other clubs,’ he said.

 

Gallus attends past-player events at Melbourne, reminiscing with former players like Gary Hardeman, Frank Davis, Stan Alves, Greg Wells and Paul Callery. ‘It’s great to mix with those players, he said. ‘I still love football. I love Melbourne and Drouin.’

 

Now 75, Gallus reflects fondly on his career in football, the awards, the VFL and the administrative positions he held. ‘I just enjoyed the ride as I went along,’ he said. ‘I was able to experience a bit more of life in football. Most of it wasn’t deliberate.’

 

 

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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…

Comments

  1. Good stuff Matt. I remember John Galus at Melbourne.

    That opening game of 1971 Melbourne took on the side people knew as South Melbourne. It was a damn hot, sunny day, but for Melbourne it rained goals, as a 100+ point victory over South Melbourne set them on their way for the season. John Gallus’s 3 goals made him equal leading goal kicker for the day.

    John must have felt his first season at Melbourne would see the Demons return to their glory days. Nine wins in the first twelve rounds with one of the two defeats being in a match of the day against Collingwood @ the G, a game where the atmosphere, crowds, would have rekindled of the halcyon days of these two clubs clashes. However Melbourne didn’t make the finals that year, or at any point in Johns spell with them. As it was, 1987 was their next time in the finals !

    Thanks for the work Matt. 1971 is the season I have the earliest real memories of. John Gallus is a name i recall.

    Glen!

  2. David Lambert says

    This site is just fantastic!! The stories are so interesting and even not so well known players makes for great reading and it brings back memories of days gone by!!

  3. Great story Matt!
    Well told, covered all bases.
    I too remember John Gallus playing at the Dees.
    A good mate of mine roved to him at Warragul.
    He told me he was a wonderful player and terrific bloke

  4. Super profile Matt. Makes me want to invite John Gallus to an Almanac lunch. Thanks for putting this together.I will try to get on to the MFC Past PLayers. They’d also love to read it.

  5. Peter Fuller says

    Fascinating story Matt, well done. You’ve drawn out the details of a very interesting life in football, even though your subject seems to be quite self-deprecating. John can be very proud of what he achieved and that he managed to accomplish so much in football. I admire his reservations about taking on coaching and the presidency, but then it seems pretty clear that he made a decent fist of jobs where he doubted his capacity.
    I was reminded of the old tv series Naked City and its signature line “there are eight million stories in the Naked City, this has been one of them.
    Thanks again.

  6. matt watson says

    Thanks Glen.
    I was a bub when John played.
    He made a comment on Big Bob Pascoe’s story, which is how I made contact with him.
    He certainly had a great story to tell.
    Peter, John was extremely humble, and he really made the most of his life in footy.
    Such a nice, funny man.
    John, it would be great to get it to the past Melbourne players association.
    Cheers

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