Almanac Footy Memories: Drinking with Billy Serong Part 1


Bill Serong passed away recently, a couple of weeks after his 88th birthday.

Rod Gillett, who grew up at Rochester, remembers Bill as the coach of Echuca, Rochy’s great rivals.

In the first of two Almanac pieces about drinking with Bill Serong, Rocket tells the story of having one with him at the Shamrock Hotel in Rochester in 1964.

The Collingwood Past Players tribute to Bill follows at the end of Rocket’s piece.

Vale Bill Serong.





Drinking with Billy Serong – at the Shamrock Hotel, Rochester – 1964

By Rod Gillett


Perched on a stool at the end of the main bar in the Shamrock Hotel, a glorious old double-story pub with a verandah, in Rochester, I had a raspberry and lemonade and packet of Colvin’s chips in hand, a veritable feast. All around me, the men were swilling glasses of draught beer and rejoicing in Echuca’s long awaited win over arch rivals Rochester.

The person at the nucleus of all conversations was Echuca star player, Bill Serong.

Bill had just accumulated 45 possessions in a match-winning display in the centre and led Echuca to its first win over Rochester since 1956 thus ending a run of 25 defeats.

The 1958 Collingwood premiership player, who had been runner-up for the 1959 Brownlow medal, had been recruited as captain-coach by Echuca in 1963, from North Melbourne, for the express purpose of beating Rochester and making Echuca a power in the Bendigo League.

Rochester had ended that bid in a controversial preliminary final defeat when the Murray Bombers bought in Serong’s Teachers’ College mate, Neil Roberts, who had retired as St Kilda captain at the end of the previous season.

It didn’t end well. Named as 19th man, Roberts came onto the QEO in Bendigo in the third quarter but had been promptly run through and taken out of the game. Rochy went on to win easily and then beat Golden Square in the grand final for its fourth premiership.

Serong returned as a player for the 1964-65 seasons winning the Michelsen medal in 1965.

And at that moment on the night of 15 June 1964 I was in the same pub as Billy Serong!

While the supporters, including my father, thronged around him as Billy held “court”, those closest to him were officials of the Echuca footy club. But I was within range not that I can recall anything he said. I was only nine years old.

Bill told me in an interview I did with him in 2009 about his time playing at Echuca that he distinctly remembered that occasion because the Rochy footy club secretary came to him at about 7.30 pm to tell him that mine host was concerned that given the closing time was six o’clock he really should be closing.

The response of Bill’s drinking partner Keith McLeod, the district licensing inspector was “tell him he’ll be in even more strife if he closes up!”

I can’t remember what time we got home but I do remember that dad and his mates were so happy that Echuca had finally beaten the mighty Rochester.



Read Collingwood Past Players’ tribute to Bill Serong HERE.


Read more from Rod Gillett HERE.


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  1. Rochester Rocket says

    FROM RAY WILLETT – former Collingwood team-mate and Rochester opponent

    I came to the Pies straight from high school as an 18 yr old in 1960.
    Bill was a talented senior player and l,, just a raw rookie but Bill was immediately accepting of me and helpful not just in footy stuff but with good advice on overcoming some difficulties l was having in becoming a teacher ,,l was at teacher,s college at the time.
    He treated me as an equal which l guess may have been a factor in the heavy tackle he hit me with at training one night,,it knocked me out!!!

    I was aware of the role Bill played in that historic 1958 Pies premiership which prevented Melbourne equalling Collingwood’s record of 4 consecutive flags
    In fact l was in the crowd that day,a 17 yr old school boy , never dreaming l.might be out there one day myself
    Bill,along with 17 team mates gave a stirring performance that day.

    Yes, we were team mates in the Collingwood team playing Melbourne in the 1960 grand final
    We were thrashed,,,he did bit better than me,, l hardly touched the ball and at the end of 1961 after a lacklustre 2nd yr l left Collingwood to take up a teaching position near Rochester..

    Bill arrived as coach of Echuca about the same time via a season with North Melbourne
    So we were destined to meet each again as Rochester and Echuca in those days were both in the Bendigo league ,,,bitter enemies in the Bendigo league !!!

    We met Echuca in the first game and gave them a hiding,,, Bill was given a hard time by our coach, Con O’Toole ,a rugged, talented player = he took no prisoners
    I’m glad l didn,t have to play against him.

    Over the years l would run into Bill at past players functions and he would always give me a warm welcome and we would reminisce about the traditional battles between the MURRAY BOMBERS and the ROCHESTER DEMONS.

    I could see in later years that his health was failing but he would greet me always with that big grin and a happy slap on the back


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