Almanac (Footy) Memoir: Snakes in the goal square



By Ron Reed


I HAVE long had a theory that in most footy teams there will be at least one player whose team-mates regard them as a bit unusual for reasons not necessarily linked to their ability to get a kick, but just their general outlook on life.


I’ve been closely associated with a few good examples from the big league over the years. My old mate Perc Jones at Carlton, for one. North Melbourne’s Sam Kekovich, who I see a lot of these days. Another long-time acquaintance, ‘Crackers’ Keenan at several clubs. Hawthorn captain Don Scott, who once enlisted me as an assistant when he coached a VFL under 17 team on a tour of Ireland.


Unorthodox characters, one and all.


We certainly had one in the Dennington team that won the 1966 premiership in the Warrnambool District League, a photograph of which appears below my recent Footy Almanac post about our old coach Don Grossman, – who, come to think of it, was pretty unorthodox himself, as that story explains. More about him shortly.


Dennington Dogs FC premiership side 1966.


In the photo, that’s me third from the right in the back row and to my immediate right is Peter Robertson, our erstwhile full-back.


Robertson had twin hobbies: catching and keeping snakes, and getting on the beers – hiss and piss, so to speak.


It was a not-to-be recommended combination that was never likely to end well.


I recruited Robbo to the club after he came from Ballarat to Warrnambool to work as a journalist at the local paper, The Standard, where I was doing the same thing. It turned out he had not long before been kicked out of Melbourne University for keeping snakes in his room while studying zoology.


My colleague David Dark and I didn’t take long to suspect we might have encountered someone a bit different when he arrived for his debut shift on a Sunday afternoon obviously having calmed his nerves with a couple of hours in the pub.


When we knocked off that night, we adjourned to the home of a local copper for a few nightcaps, as we were occasionally invited to do in the interests of police-press relations. With a few more under his belt, the newcomer produced a hessian bag from the boot of his car, reached in and came up with a live tiger snake – holding it by the head. Squinting through the alcoholic haze, he dropped it back into the bag, exclaiming: “Shit, wrong end!”


He rented a house in town and installed a well-stocked snake-pit in the backyard, which  for some strange reason failed to meet with the approval of either the neighbours, the landlord or the council.


But for Dark and I, it was an entertaining and intriguing diversion, to the point where Robbo (has there ever been anyone named Robertson or Robinson who has not had Robbo as nickname?) persuaded us one day to help him eat a large copperhead, which we did with the help of several tinnies. Tasted OK, too, but perhaps a nice chardonnay might have gone better with it.


Robbo turned out to be not a bad footballer, too, even if the other players were a bit wary of what might be in his car every time he rocked up to play. Sometimes he would bring his pet – a two-metre carpet snake named Cuthbert, which was harmless but made all the girls squeal and some of the boys squirm.


On Grand Final day, Cuthbert made an appearance in the dressing room before the game, designated as our official mascot. I am prepared to bet money that  to this day, 55 years later, no other coach anywhere has ever conducted a premiership rev-up with such an extra-curricular, fully-accredited member of the audience as a distraction. We still won. But we did draw the line at Cuthbert attending the dinner celebrations that night.


So how did the Robertson story end?


In a word, predictably.


At age 42, by then chief sub-editor at the Standard in his second stint in the town, he was spending his holidays in Cooktown in north Queensland  as he always did, trying to hunt down king browns, one of the most venomous reptiles in the world.


One  large specimen objected to being put in the sugar bag and took him out. He died in hospital 90 minutes later. He had been bitten so often by then over a long period that anti-venenes were no longer effective.


Back in Warrnambool, nothing much had changed, according to Dark, who told other newspapers that our mate had six snakes in cages in his lounge, more in his kitchen and an exotic tropical mouse-eating frog on top of his fridge, plus a few other lizards and whatnot in a shed.


And, I’d like to think, a premiership photo on the mantelpiece.



BEFORE we consign Dennington to the history books, those who enjoyed the Grossman tale included Colin Duck, a former Editor of The Sun whose career started in Warrnambool where he became known as the Lou Richards of the Bush because of his colourful coverage of the local footy.


Duck reports: “I had many conversations with Grossman and he was always entertaining company. He recounted how he formed a partnership with a boundary umpire in those days when clubs supplied them. This guy travelled with Grossman wherever he coached, no matter what club. Together they had developed throw-ins into a science. The ump knew precisely where to toss the ball to give his master the best possible access. As the ageing Grossman often took some time to reach the contest, the ump had contrived numerous delaying tactics to assist. Grossman told me that one day he was so far off the pace that he thought his mate would be forced to throw it in without him. Not likely. He looked down the field and saw the puffing ruckman far away, so he placed the ball on the ground and walked over and ushered a group of kids behind the boundary fence. On another occasion, Grossman credited the ump with a goal, against a raging gale. Grossman kept punching it forward and the ump kept signalling it out until they reached the forward pocket. Then, in a masterstroke of timing, he tossed it in at precisely the moment Grossman arrived, giving him a running jump at the ball which he calmly palmed to the rover for the only goal scored that day into the wind.”



Read about Ron Reed’s most recent book War Games HERE



The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE


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