Almanac Footy Memoir: Fred Wooller and Bowl-o-matics.


Old Dog interviewed Geelong premiership captain Fred Wooller. Here’s what Fred had to say:




When I was a boy we lived in an old house on a property about 5 miles out of Bacchus Marsh. My folks were battlers. They didn’t have much money. When I was a teenager we lived in a house without electricity, no water, no running water. We had a tank and candles. I used to be a mad supporter of South Melbourne, and had a big photo of Ron Clegg on the bedroom wall.


Footy was about fun in those days. My older brothers had just got married. Sunday lunch they and some friends would come down the paddock and kick end to end. Cricket and footy, that’s all we had. Sometimes a bit of tennis.


I rode a bike 5 miles to school everyday. We played school footy once a week amongst ourselves. There was no winter school matches in those days, it was just green colour tops versus blue.


Then I got an apprenticeship in the coal mine while I was still very young. I used to ride my bike there, about the same distance. Then we moved about 3 mile out of town, so closer, but I still had the bike and rode it to footy when I first played. There were three teams in Bacchus Marsh – I started, a 15 year old playing against men.


You used to put your own leather stops in the boot… It wasn’t until, I think it might have been in the early 1960’s, when those Marathon boots came in. They were the first ones with that plastic soles, and then Adidas come in after that.


I went backwards and forwards to Geelong, until I was 21. Then I was 22 and got married, and we went to Geelong to live.


I played my first game against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval in `56. Ron Clegg, had left South Melbourne, I think it was to Wagga, to coach a couple of years. He made his comeback the same day I started, my hero.


He was a champion centre half back as well as centre half forward. Fortunately, he played centre half forward for South Melbourne this day, and I played centre half forward for Geelong. It was very remarkable.


Bobby Skilton was there, left and right foot. He could kick 55 metre drop kicks with either side. McGowan was his offsider, Freddy Goldsmith fullback… South had some good players, no worries.


I kicked 4 goals from centre half forward. So pretty easy getting goals. (laughs) We won. Probably 20 000, 25 000 used to go in those days, used to stand up all around the ground.


We made the Semi Final that year, playing Footscray. Reg Hickey was still coaching us. Just before three quarter time, Norm Sharp and Bob Davis collided, and knocked themselves out. We got beaten by two points. So we could have got to a preliminary final, though we probably were not good enough. But, they ran into each other and knocked themselves silly, so that was it.


I was 17 years old and kicked into the man on the mark in the last quarter having a shot for goal. Hickey pointed out our mistakes, so that was hard.


Well Peter Pianto he was the champion rover. Noel Rayson was in the side, Bob Gazzard was at full back…


I never got to enjoy any bus trips because I went from Bacchus Marsh to Carlton or Richmond. Living there for my first year at Geelong, I only came over once a week to train. I trained there for the other night. I only trained two nights a week.


I didn’t have a car. For the first year somebody had to drive me to Geelong from Bacchus Marsh all the time. I got my license at 18, in October, so, for my second year, a couple of people used to lend me their car to go to training once a week.


When I started I was only a teenager. All the centre half backs were stronger. Bluey Shelton was a tough nut. Tassie Johnson was a good player, Neil Roberts… oh there was a lot.


Neil Roberts was always a good battle, because if he beat you, he beat you fair and square. There was no elbowing you or hitting you back behind the head, no. If you got him, that was good, if he got you, that was good. He played the ball.


I didn’t get to know a lot of the Geelong blokes until I went out there in ’61, after we got married. Then you do a bit more socially with the people. Until then you’re with them, but your not, because you live away all the week, you don’t see them until you train or play.


There were only two training nights, a Tuesday and a Thursday. For a Tuesday it was an hour and a quarter or a half and Thursday was about a hour, and that was just a run around in circles and kick it, run backwards and forwards across the ground.


The ovals were muddy. Sometimes I pass Glenferrie Oval these days and think, ‘How the hell did you ever play footy on that little oval?’ Dreadful! It’s very narrow and all that not that long, and the old Fitzroy one, the Brunswick Street Oval, it was always muddy, a real bog, but now it’s gone, too. Princes Park, Windy Hill, Arden Street, Lakeside, Junction, Victoria Park, the Western Oval… I was in the Geelong team that playing in the very first game at VFL Park… All the grounds that I played on, all gone. There is only the MCG. And Kardina Park.


Being in the first ever game at VFL park felt like history, but, as it’s not a ground anymore, that sense of achievement diminishes with your age. It was a fantastic, big oval, with a new grandstand, which was probably the best thing. But it just didn’t have any public transport to it.


Reg Hickey was very much a contrast to Bobby. Bobby Davis started coaching in 1960. As far as coaches go, Reg was probably a stronger individual, more disciplined. He had a great deal of success in the early 50’s. You respected him because of what he was. He was strong. He would tell you if he thought you did something wrong, like if you weren’t strong enough going for the ball, or punching it. He wasn’t tough but he was hard. Nobody questioned his methods.


Whereas, Bob, he was a bit more flamboyant, he wanted people to show their skills, he encouraged a bit of flair, running with the ball, moving it long and fast, and teamwork – he did the lot. He wanted us to love our footy, and kick goals. Bob probably didn’t command the discipline within that group, but he had some fantastic individuals.


It was just different styles. As a technician, I don’t know whether he was any better than Hick, but he had Tommy Morrow who played in the premiership sides, and John Hyde as assistants/selectors. They always sat out on the fence with him offering good advice.


Blight was a bit the same a coach as Bobby Davis.


We signed Blight when I was on the Board. He was a very good coach, it was just a bit of bad luck that he missed out on a premiership. He had good sides but some of the better players didn’t fire in the finals for him. In ‘89 Ablett nearly nearly won it off his own boot, but the other two Grand Finals… Geelong had Couch, Bairstow, Brownless, Stoneham, Hocking… Nearly as good a group as the recent Geelong team were. They were the best side for a couple of years but just didn’t click the day it mattered. West Coast out-gunned us a bit, but we had our chances to beat them. Blight went to Adelaide and won two Premierships, so it wasn’t because of him.


Anyway, so there in ’57, my second year. For most of the year they put me into full forward and I was the leading goal kicker. That was the only reason I got picked in the Interstate side, they automatically picked the leading goal-kicker. (laughs) I really stole to get into that. Fitzroy’s Kevin Murray and I, both 18 year olds.


Kev was never rowdy and was always self disciplined. He didn’t go out and do stupid things. He always loved his footy and wanted to be better at it. I have a lot of time for Kevin.


Unfortunately, around about then, Geelong, we started to drop down. We didn’t make the four in ‘57, ‘58, ‘59. One of those years we dropped all the way to the bottom of the ladder. We had a pretty ordinary side. Then we got Davis, he took over in ‘59.


We wanted to improve. We probably didn’t have as good a list as we should have Maybe they didn’t recruit as hard as they should have when they had a good side going. Maybe they didn’t spend enough time.


From 1960 to ‘62, Bobby Davis and Leo O’Brien recruited about 12 of our 18 premiership players in two years, and we won it in 63. So in the matter of three or four years, we went from the bottom rung, up to having a premiership side. That was one of Bob’ greatest skills – not so much as coach, but as a recruiter. They were phenomenal! They got, they got the two Lords, they got West, Walker, Wade and Devine. They got Polly in ‘62. Hinds came in ’63. There was only Billy Goggin, myself, John Yeates, Colin Rice… probably five of us who were there in ‘59 that played in the premiership side.


Davis didn’t have a heap of recruiters. They did it all themselves. It hasn’t been focussed enough in the accolades. It was a remarkable thing.


I got up to, I suppose, about 75 games by then. I had 4 years by 1960. The whole goal line was made up of four people who came to the club from 1960 onwards, plus myself. They wouldn’t be able to do it nowadays.


When Polly came down, the feeling was, oh, fantastic! You could tell his calibre straight away, and he had so much publicity. Everybody knew of him, even when he first came. We had our own internal practice games and we would get 10,000 people there to see Polly. The club was charging two bob or five bob, not too sure, and the 2000 pound they had to pay West Perth for the transfer fee, they got it back before he had played his first game. Incredible! Brian Peake came on a helicopter. Nothing like Polly, he just had the whole town come to see him play.


We got 8 pound, plus 4 pound into a VFL providence fund for when you retired. But you had to play at least 50 games to get it, so a lot of players lost out. Geelong would pay 4 pound in to their own providence fund for you, too, so when you finished it would equal 16 pound per game. Most clubs would have been about the same.


I got paid more in my first year of coaching Penguin in Tasmania than I got in the 9 years playing for Geelong. That’s why a lot of people went away in their prime. Even at the end of ‘64 we were still only getting 25 pound a game. Not a lot when you could pick up 2000 pound a season.


We all knew Polly Farmer got a little bit more to sign, and maybe he was getting a bit under the carpet, but we all accepted that. He fitted in so well, a lot of us were really good mates with him, with Pol.


We would see him quite often, and go visit him once or twice a year. Our wives are very close. They would ring and write, and the kids all mucked around together at weekends, with out little kids in Geelong.


Pol was a little shy in some ways, but he was happy to be in public company. He was a teetotaller, so he didn’t get carried away with the alcohol. He didn’t do anything different to what he did everyday. He was the same whether it was football or what. We wouldn’t have won a premiership if Polly had not had come, no way.


The relationship with Polly Farmer and Billy Goggin didn’t just happen, it developed. He had a relationship with some others, too. Gordon Hinds out on the flank, or Sharrock, Alistair Lord on the wing. If he knew they were out there by themselves, he wouldn’t worry about Billy. He involved a lot of people.


Billy was under his feet most of the time, so he got a lot. He was on the ball more than Ricey, Colin Rice, I suppose. He might have spend 65% on the ball and Colin was up in the forward line, so he hadn’t the opportunities.


Pol had the sixth sense, he was fantastic.


Pol versus Nichols, you don’t realise until after, you know? You’re more interested in playing the game than watching somebody else. You reflect on some of the battles, but it was never talked about. You read it in the papers – They had a good battle, and you’re – oh, they probably did.


One of the best? Polly Farmer is the best. He is the best player I have seen. I think Gary Ablett Snr is probably equal to him now, and the little bloke, little Gary is getting close. Some of these blokes at Geelong over the past ten years are shooting up near that level, too.


After we won the premiership in ’63 we flew to Honolulu to play the first international game against Melbourne, then in San Francisco. As captain it was a pretty satisfying experience, something you would never forget. Geelong were meant to be the first Australian Rules football team to set foot on another country’s soil, it was a big talking point, but then Melbourne caught an earlier flight so they could beat us by a few hours. (chuckles)


At Honolulu a big fight started on the oval, and then out at Golden Gate Park. I think we got about 15,000 at Golden Park. If we played the next day after all the publicity of the fights and the press and the tv coverage, we would have got 50,000! I don’t remember what started it, just skirmishes around the ground and then a couple of trainers got involved. It happened throughout the game.


There were a lot of ex-pats there, I have no idea what the locals thought of it. There wasn’t anything saying we were the pioneers, the start of Australian Rules getting bigger and bigger, no. It was just a demonstration game of Australian Rules overseas.


We got a free trip to America and all expenses paid! God, I mean, that was unheard of in those days!


In San Francisco, the place we stayed wasn’t a flash hotel, but a motel, with some devious sorts, very doubtful people around the streets and that. It wasn’t the Hilton or anything like that. (laughs).


In those days, you used to be appointed captain by the selection committee. Yeatsie had the job before me, but got hurt before the start of it in 62′. John Devine was injured, or something, so they appointed me as acting captain. We made it to the finals in ‘62, but just got beaten by Carlton. The next year, the match committee put up two names for the playing list to vote on. Myself, luckily, and John Devine.


Unluckily for John, when I left the committee changed the system again, and didn’t give the players a say. They installed Polly. John missed out twice.


Being made captain, it was an honour, oh yes. It’s just, those things come along to so few people and you don’t think you are worth it, but when you are given it, you try your best.


I was fortunate to be at Geelong. I was fortunate to get a game first up and then I was fortunate enough to be still there and on the list when Davis came, and there was a change in recruiting. so I was lucky enough to be there and part of a resurgence in the list quality, and then pretty fortunate to be acting Captain, and then (laughs) even more fortunate to be nominated captain, and get a vote. You can be damn lucky in footy! There were a lot of other people in that side who could have done it and you are just fortunate you are there, and circumstances sort of help.


I learnt a lot being captain, still do. It was probably easier for me than some others because I probably wasn’t as highly rated as a lot of some other people in the side. But it makes you work harder and to think about the team issues more than if you are individually brilliant. Maybe it makes you think, ‘How can I get the best out of him?’ Encourage your mate here, more so than the more brilliant ones who will get the ball.


That sort of made it easier for me. Later in life, when I was manager of different operations within the company, you always fall back to the footy things – What would you do if it was me? Or ask you the same question – What does this fella need to lift him up?


The players Bobby recruited, no doubt they had more brilliance, but it didn’t make them any stronger and harder than the ones there before, no. You could say they brought Watts over, but he wasn’t any more forceful than what Rosenhall would have been. Wadey was physically stronger than previous forwards. Westie was slight, he wasn’t heavy. He wasn’t a run through a pack and knock them out type, nor was Peter Walker. Alastair Lord, he had a lot of brilliance, but wasn’t a strong hard nut.


One pre-season he took us down to Barwon Heads. There were shocking big sand dunes you had to run up, could hardly get to the top. You would go up, but your feet would slide down until you were exhausted! We did that for a couple of nights and Billy Goggin and I thought, ‘This is stupid, this stuff!’ We hid behind the bend, in these little sand dunes. ‘When they are coming back, we will just jog in behind them’ Someone saw us, and told Davis. We had to go and do an extra session by ourselves.


He was always good, Bob. On the trips away he was always the centre of attention. He would get on to a piano in the big hotel, and very flamboyantly play the first two or three bars of this concerto, fingers twirling through the air, then stand up and say, “That’s it!” We’d ask him to play more. “No, that’s it.” He couldn’t play anymore, that is all he knew! (chuckles)


They would have these shots, Paul Vinar would have Schnapps or something, and they would drink and Bob would throw his glass over his shoulder into the fireplace in the hotel lounge. Good company, a real showman.


When Davis first went away on footy trips, he liked to go to the races and have a bet. He would come back and pull out a big wad of notes! You’d be thinking, ‘Bloody hell…!’ Then, one day he pulled a note, but something happened, it fell out. He had this twenty pound note on top and about 100 ten shilling notes, the little cheap ones! (laughs) He was a little showboat, it was good. He loved to be the centre of things.


Even in our era, in the 60’s, there was the Sleepy Hollow problem. One team, one town. There was so much attention, so much adulation, some players got lost to what it was all about. You had your own local radio station, your own paper. You had 300,000 people in Geelong. In Melbourne you had 3,000,000! You walk around and they wouldn’t know if you were a Collingwood player, a Geelong player or a Hawthorn player. It was one of the big problems for many, many years. We got caught up with having too much publicity, and we weren’t winning enough to be honoured with that.


We had a huge home ground advantage at Geelong. Other teams tried to come down by train, or bus, or the night before… We were the only ones who had that travel component. People forget, though, we had to travel every second week up the road. We would get a bus up, and stop at Werribee to walk and stretch. It was only just single-lane traffic, you’d walk along the verge of the road which is only 2 metres wide, stretching, cars and trucks tooting as they shot past, twenty Geelong footballers, drinking Horlicks or some other damn thing for sustenance! (laughs) You think about it now, one vehicle could have easily wiped out the whole team, but we just thought it was normal.


We would get to the ground an hour before the game, stand in the race and watch the seconds up until half or three-quarter time, go in and get your ankle strapped, get dressed – you were ready.


Players used to have a smoke at half-time. Johnny Brown used to have a puff on a pipe. On a very cold afternoon, at three-quarter time somebody would bring out a port wine. You’d have a swig, put some liniment on your arms and try and get you a bit warmer.


The good thing about those days – when we lived in Geelong – after a game you had your drink with the opposition, then someone would say, “Let’s go to Wooller’s tonight…” “Or “Go to Brown’s tonight…” Or somewhere else… The trainers would buy hamburgers or pizza’s, and would bring them around and have a few drinks. That’s why this group of ours has been so solid in friendships for 50 years.


It is probably one of the most valuable parts of your life, most of my best mates are footy related. A couple through work over the years through different things, but I think your closest mates are your mate’s through footy. We have a ‘63 week, a little dinner about the second home-game of every the year, get about with the seconds and all. All three teams won that year. All three teams come. There’s still about five of us who have New Years Eve together every year.


Going to Melbourne, we used to play cards at the back of the bus, blind poker. There was the trainer, the time-keeper, Davis, myself, Hydie was the selector, Billy Goggin played, three or four others, the treasurer sometimes! (laughs) 20c rises.


Bobby, we used to clean him up at times! He would try to bluff us, but we would catch him. It is a game of patience, poker. Coming back, the trainers would fill up a plastic rubbish bin and put the beer in it on ice, and we would have a few cans.


I was an electrician when I left the mine. I did an apprenticeship down there, but when I went into Geelong they talked me into selling cars! (laughs). Well that was good, you get a car to drive around, that was a perk. I didn’t like selling cars, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did it for 12 months and then the ten pin bowling started, they built this Bowl-o-matic in Geelong.


The Managing Director of Geelong, Pat Whelan, was a chairman of the Bowl-o-Matic ltd. When they set one up in Geelong they made me manager. I had three assistant managers, we were operating from 8o’clock in the morning, and on Saturday nights we would go through to 6am, with people coming from the cabarets and things, playing after hours. An enormous amount of people! 24 lanes, flat out most of the time. I was playing footy, so when we played at home I would do the night shift from 8 o’clock to 2 or 3 in the morning.


The players would come, some of them I gave them jobs as instructors! (laughs) Alistair Lord met his wife there. The hardest part was trying to sneak the players games in front of the queue! Sleepy Hollow is what people used to say, but it wasn’t sleepy at all! Working at the Bowl-o-Matic, it created something a lot of clubs didn’t have. Yes, Geelong could be insular, but on the other hand, we all lived there. We all went to the Bowl-o-Matic. We were friends.


The ’63 Grand Final, yeah, fantastic. I can remember that like it was yesterday. I was crook in the morning. I used to get nervous before every game, feel sick. This time I was vomiting. It was the fear of failure. I was never a good enough player to say – I could go out there and beat my opponent every week. So you are worried about how you were going, how your team is going. It was awkward. That day, that morning, God it was awful! I couldn’t even eat breakfast.


We got on the bus in Geelong and went to Melbourne The only good thing was that we played cards which took away a bit of pressure. But when we got to the MCG, I started to feel sick again. I was spewing before I ran out onto the ground.


We had Happy Hammond and his mate the Cat to run out with us. You could feel the buzz of 100,000 people. That was good. But when we lined up for the Anthem, I was sick on the ground, dry heaving, while it was playing. I’m sure it was the fear of failure. Some people can handle the event better than others.


Then there was the first bounce. Terrific! Here’s part of the game in which you get involved in.


My first touch was at half forward. I had a couple of drop-kicks. Wadey only kicked one goal in the Grand Final, so we changed between centre half forward and full forward a couple of times through the third and the last. There was no message, we just changed it.


Hawthorn were leading, but they’d had a couple of hard games. They really had to be in front of us at three quarter time. Polly was starting to dominate the game, too, giving the drive. Then I kicked a goal at the end of the third quarter that put us 4 points in front. Then Ricey kicked one just before the quarter was over, 10 points in front. We had come from being touch-and-go and, suddenly, we had the break. The last quarter, you know, it was just…


There were parts of that quarter… Westy kicking it out, Polly marking the ball and handballing to Billy, who then run up and kicked it to Sharrock, Sharrock handballed to Billy who then kicked it over to Yeates, and Yeates kicks it to me in the goal square. It was just… Bomp, bomp, bomp… They never touched the ball. Once Polly got the mark, not a Hawthorn person got near. We kicked six goals and really put a stamp on it.


The most significant thing I can remember is getting presented with the cup, then turning around to the Southern Stand where all the Geelong supporters were holding out, and to hear the roar! I can still… Every Grand Final I can close my eyes and see that again, even after 50 years! You can still – it makes no sense – but you still dream of doing it. It doesn’t happen to too many people. The other significant part was coming back to Geelong.


On the Bus, we had a police escort from between Lara and Corio, two motorbikes and squad car in front with the sirens going. The first set of lights at Corio there were hundreds of people! All in their blue and white, just tooting their horns and waving and standing on the side of the road, that kind of thing. Then, we come into North Geelong, even more people cheering! Kilometre after kilometre, tt was the same all the way through.


The team came down to the back of the Town Hall, we all come in, walk out onto the balcony… and there’s just a sea of people! Thousands of them! You never forget those sort of things. To have those photo’s as a memento, as a memory, as a scrap book, it never dies! They are the days you live for as a sporting person.


Everybody that plays in a premiership side, when you walk off the ground, everybody in that team has an equal share of that Cup. Nobody says, “Oh, I’m better than anybody else, I have 20% or 10% or 25%.” Everybody has their 5%. That’s the important thing for me, to remember that it is a team. We may have had champions like Polly and Wadey, but they do not get a bigger share than Johnny Brown or Hughie Routley.


I got on well with all of my teammates. Wadey was good. In those days Wadey was a… not a lay preacher, but very Church orientated. I think Athol, his father, may have been a lay preacher or something. They had a farm over at Horsham, but they were Church-going people. There were some stages where he wasn’t going to play on a Sunday because of the Church commitments. Not that he was over the top, but it was just the way, you know, very strong beliefs. After I left he (laughs) came out of his skin a bit. He got involved with Sam Newman, and probably got a bit surrounded with some of the outside pleasures of life.


I wouldn’t say Sam led him astray. They got into selling bloody perfume or something, hairdressing products. There were a lot of glamorous hair dressers around and so that suited Sam (laughs). I always got on well with Doug, and still do, I have a lot of time for him. He married one of my girls – the Bowling instructors – from the Bowl-o-Matic.


Sam played in the seconds side in `63. So my last year was 64′ as he started. I think he might have still been going to Geelong Grammar? He always had a bit of a jump about him, but not to the extent that he showed five or ten years down the track when he became the dominant ruckman. Yeatsie was still there as a second back up to Polly. Polly probably spend 65% of his time on the ball, but even when he was up forward…


He was so good, Polly, he was bloody fantastic! Ahead of his time. He would have loved playing footy nowadays, absolutely loved it! Because he was the most self-disciplined footy person I have ever met. He just… Perfection, he just wanted to be better all the time, just wanted to be the best. His bloody handball, he would practice and practice and practice the handball through the car at home. I used to go up there to pick him up to go to the dogs or the trots. He would be standing in the rose bush and his son, Brett, would be about 15 yards away in the car. Polly would be handballing it through the window, and young Brett would be throwing them back out. Oh, we did a lot together Polly and I! A bloody lot together, and our families.


Even just tighten a little towel. He used to have this little towel and he would put it inside his jumper, because he would sweat a lot and he didn’t want it to affect his vision. He would sweat as he was walking along the road with his hobble – his short-legged walk – he would wipe his throat and put it back in there.


Even practice, he would be there half an hour before anybody else, practicing kicking goals. He just wanted to be the best. Other people who had a lot of ability at Geelong, if they had had the determination and discipline that Polly had, they could have been even better than they were.


Polly had one leg about 20mm shorter than the other. He had a bit of a short step because of that. He could still run okay, and he was only 6’2″ or 6’3″, Polly wasn’t tall. But to perfect that jump… He would jump a split-second earlier then them, make contact, and as they rose, they would carry him a bit higher. Opposition teams tried to get the umpire to free-kick him. That is how good he was, they could not beat him. The VFL nearly brought a rule in, to try and eliminate Polly.


He loved football. He would go to work, but he just wanted footy. In todays’ environment, going to that ground six days per week, would absolutely be bloody right beside himself! Not a lot of us would have been able to play league footy now, but Polly would still have been able to make it.


’64 we made the finals again. There was only half a game between 1st and 4th. In the Preliminary Final we had six more scoring shots than Collingwood, but kicked 5 goals 14 points! They won by under a goal, we never got there. We should have won it. We should have won it, but we didn’t! That was a big disappointment, and I left then.


Geelong continued on, of course. They got into the 67′ Grand Final and that was a good, high scoring game against Richmond. It was the only time that Polly ever went down with cramp. Only for about three minutes, but Richmond kicked two or three goals. It was 16 goals to 15, a big scoring day. Never had a cramp in his whole time or history, the only time it happened.


Poll was a huge influence. He is not travelling as well now unfortunately. So I have been across to WA three times in the last four years to have a couple of days with him. That is all we go over for, to see him. It’s a bit sad.


I feel obliged. He made such a huge contribution to us as a team, and to me as a friend, that you feel that you need to keep following up with him and Marlene, to see how they’re going. Terry Callan and I pick Polly up and two year ago we took him down to a club there, that has got a TAB with it, because he used to love the horses, but he had lost his interest, because he didn’t really know how to put a bet on. So we sat there and had a good time, he doesn’t have alcohol so he had a few lemon squashes and we would have afternoon tea with him. But they’re good. They see a lot of our fellas.


That’s why I feel fortunate to have made some very good friends out of footy.  If I go to Bendigo, I would stay with Ricey and his wife; If I was there overnight I would go and say I am coming up and they will say come and stay with us, don’t stay at a motel. If I go to Albury, I have stayed with John three or four times, John Sharrock, and you would talk about the same sort of things. You go over to Westy’s. Before he got crook, I used to see him a fair bit, and Billy Hoskins is there on the way. He didn’t play many games in the seniors but he was part of our young family group when we were in Geelong. You would go and stay with him and I would go on the way back tomorrow, I would go and have lunch with Paul Vinar over in Launceston on the way, I would go to Hobart and stay with John and Marie. I feel pretty lucky, these things have developed out of football.


The better players in my day, Ron Barassi, oh, he was tenacious! Not as hard as a Selwood, but he didn’t mind putting his head over the ball and getting around. He could take marks too. He seemed to have long arms he could reach up like a bloody monkey at some stages, and just grab things. But, mostly, he would never give up. A bit like Kevin Murray, but a different build. Good close to ground, good controller, good foot…


You had your Jack Clarke of Essendon, you had the North Melbourne blokes, Allan Aylett and John Brady, he played CHB or CHF, he was good. Thorold Merrett was at Collingwood, Skilton at the Swans, Fitzroy had Billy Stephen and Kevin Murray, Tony Ongerelo. Butch Gale, he was a great ruckman. One of the nicest, best blokes was Roy Wright at Richmond, a marvellous player but also a marvellous person. Ken Hands. Ken was coach of our interstate side. Also for Carlton Ian Hendy was in the centre in those early days. Johnny James was in his element, winning a Brownlow. Wes Lofts, he was a tough critter, hard as nails, Alec Epis at Essendon, for Footscray, Teddy Whitten was always up in front…


Whitten wasn’t just good, he commanded the ball. He was Footscray, more so than Charlie Sutton, the coach. Most of the game went around Ted. He was bloody good for his size, like he wasn’t a big man.


I left in ’64 for the money. Penguin, a small club in Northern Tasmania made an offer to me. They were good, but it was just… I didn’t realise until I was committed to them, Penguin was only a town of 1800 people playing against small cities like Burnie and Devonport, which were much bigger bases. We had one good year out of the four I was there. We come with a late finish and had to win the last game. We put a good side together, but we got beaten in the last part of the game. That was the closest we got. With those teams, you lose players all the time, they go somewhere else or they go down south, or they go to Queensland to play.


Coming from captaining a VFL premiership team, I found it difficult to coach – because you’re more than a coach. You have to be the psychiatrist, the employment officer, you have to be all sorts of things in relation to the team, there’s nobody to help you. Still, I started doing a footy clinic with school kids at some of the more remote schools and towns of the area. You could get 100 little kids there on a Sunday morning. I probably wasn’t a good enough coach anyway, I got into trouble (laughs).


As a player I found it was difficult. It was a slower tempo game and more congested too, so you had to work at it. I won the leading goal kicker, but that is nothing…


So I went from there to Kyabram in the Goulburn Valley Football League. That was good, I enjoyed that. Oh, it was all enjoyable you make some life long friends out of footy.



This is an extract from Matt’s book of player interviews:  Champions All. Read more about the book HERE.


Champions All



Read more from Matt Zurbo HERE.


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  1. Kevin Densley says

    Enjoyed this, Matt, particularly for its representation of what can be seen as a “simpler time” for top level football. Loved the depictions of such things as Bobby Davis playing the piano, his attitude that football was fun, Polly the prowess figure, the players and staff card games, players having a smoke at half time, these kinds of things …

  2. Great story Old Dog.

    Bought my first pair of footy boots from Freddy when he had the shoe store in Kyabram when he was coach.
    A very good man.

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    ice one, fellas, cheers. Yeah, Rocket, I found him to just be a ripper person. Honest and caring.

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